Acts: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit (Part 67)

Watch the latest video from McGuiggan Reflections.
For the next few months, we will be exploring the book of Acts in a series titled Acts: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit. We hope you enjoy and can benefit greatly from this study. To contact Jim, feel free to email him at holywoodjk@aol.com or visit his website at: http://www.jimmcguiggan.com.
Watch on Youtube via IFTTT

“Babes In The Woods”

C.S. Lewis has somewhere said that if a young man wants to remain an atheist he can’t be too careful what he reads. God has a way of sneaking up on you (as He sneaked up on CSL when he read G.K. Chesterton). The same is true of love in the form of compassion. If you want to stay cynical you have to be careful what you look at or listen to or read. But bolting all doors against love is more of a job than it appears—some I know personally and a great number I’ve read of found it impossible.

Short story novelist, O. Henry (died 1910), tells us that J. Pinkney Bloom was a swindler with a fifty-two inch waist and a really fat money belt. He bought some useless land at forty-five cents an acre and sub-divided it, on paper, into sections that sold for from five dollars to five hundred. He had parks, markets, trade-halls and a place for the public school all laid out. There was the “Exposition Hall” and a place for the “proposed” opera house. Investors saw the circulars, maps and such that Bloom mailed out and they sent their money into the Skyland Real Estate Company. Each of them got a deed and now owned a prime piece of desolate land on which lived a contingent of indigents whom Bloom had put up in some dirt-cheap box houses (so he could speak of “the population”).

He was going to make one final visit to Skyland aboard the Dixie Belle that was contracted to drop off mail at Skyland (though the bag was almost always empty). J. Pinkney knew the captain well, a fellow rapscallion. As the little boat was about to shove off the Blaylocks arrived, rattling up to the pier in a rickety, hired carriage, an elderly gentleman dressed in black, and his wife.

They hailed from Holly Springs,  Georgia and were two throwbacks to the days of the old South. They adored each other and were heading up the lake on business. Their clothes were well-worn and so was the charm that simply poured from them. Her husband, said the delicate elderly wife, looking toward Colonel Blaylock with unworldly, childlike eyes, “Is so devoted to business. He has such a talent for financiering and markets and investments and those kinds of things.” She went on, “I think myself extremely fortunate in having secured him for a partner on life’s journey—I am so unversed in those formidable but very useful branches of learning.”

The Colonel rose and took a bow—the kind that belonged to the era of lace ruffles and silk stockings.
He told of his wife’s ill-health, of her home back in northern Georgia, of her gentle spirit and poetic giftedness and of her dependence on him to look after her in the practical areas of life. How pleased he was to be her champion and protector and how glad he was that he had expertise in the investments area. He had arranged a new home in a glorious area and with the little money they had left he would like to buy a book store that would bring in just enough money to support them.

All the while Mrs. Blaylock is looking rapturously at him, hanging on his every word. Colonel Blaylock was so competent and after carefully studying the field of opportunities had sold their property for eight hundred dollars, spent five hundred of it on a wonderful piece of property in a newly developed place called Skyland and that’s where they were heading.

“Did you pay five hundred dollars for a lot in Skyland?” J. Pinkney asked him. “I did, sir” said the Colonel with the air of a modest millionaire explaining his success. “A lot most excellently situated on the same square with the opera house…” He went on again to lay out their dreams; dreams he had mapped out with his vast experience in the financial world. The move would do Mrs. Blaylock good, restoring to her face, as the Colonel put it, “those roses that were once the hope and despair of Georgia cavaliers.” Then another bow as he touched the pale but girlishly blushing face of Mrs. Blaylock who gave him a gentle “what a silly boy you are” tap.

Bloom’s mind was now racing. This lovely old couple had sunk all their hopes in a parcel of waste ground at the back of nowhere, and their money was in J. Pinkney’s money belt that hung around his prodigious waist. Even this heathen was unzipped and thought frantically how this wrong could be righted.

He went to Captain McFarland and persuaded him to stop off at Cold Branch. About ten minutes later the little boat nosed into the lovely little community of Cold Branch and the captain announced it as Skyland! J. Pinkney helped them off, led them to a fine little hotel where they decided they’d rest and look at their purchases tomorrow. This suited Bloom perfectly and he footed the bill.

He found a lawyer, hired him, headed to the little community’s book-store and made the owner an offer he couldn’t refuse for his store and the house that went with it. Shooed him nicely off the property, paid the lawyer well for his trouble and had him deliver the deeds of the house and book-store to the Blaylocks when they would be up and around. Even a two-bit thimble-rigger like J. Pinkney Bloom knew what it was to see his prey as people in need of compassion. Even that ‘heathen’ felt costly pity. I like what he did!

(“But JPB was only a character in an event in a piece of fiction!” I’ve never had much patience with such a view. Great characters in great fiction are shaped by great characters or events in life itself.)

I read O. Henry’s story several times and more than once recognized the face of the Colonel as my own. Whatever impression I give to others, and whatever story I like to tell to myself, every now and then, however briefly, with shocking clarity I see the absurdity in my thinking that I’m in control. I’m so dependent on others. It’s true that I’m more experienced than a 10 year old boy and that there are some areas in which even I can be trusted to make a sensible decision but overall I’m a Colonel Blaylock who’s more to be pitied than laughed at because I’m just another “babe in the woods.” If only I could consistently live out that insight, but it’s a passing experience and I find myself back to believing I’m more than capable of handling the complex challenges of life. I’m not alone in this. I see it in the best-intentioned governments and populations.

The Blaylocks were no more out of their depths, no more conned and fleeced by JPB than we’ve all been by the god of this world. Somebody’s got to show us compassion!
Speaking as a sometimes perplexed  Christian, maybe Christians will be out-talked, out-maneuvered or out-gunned but surely they shouldn’t be out-compassioned! Yes?

I would guess there aren’t many J. Pinkney Blooms in the fraternity of professional con-men, but maybe I’m wrong even in that.  It’d be nice if I were.  One has to be careful not to count God out. I’ve personally seen Him show up in people and places I didn’t expect Him to be. You too?

 

IS WOOD MAGIC?

In letter to the Ephesians ‘size’ matters. Paul isn’t content with talking about mercy or grace or love or power. He adds superlatives. He talks about the exceeding greatness or riches of or the unimaginable nature of God’s love or mercy or power or grace. The will of God, he tells us, stretches from one eternity to another and the stage on which He shows himself (limited though it is) is the entire universe. The God we’re face to face with in Ephesians bankrupts description and His wisdom is something the principalities and powers in the invisible realm must be instructed in and are privileged to catch a glimpse of (3:10).

And why would such a GOD bother with the likes of us? Yes, we’ve been told why but while that means we’re not left utterly in the dark, how much light does it really give us? He’s infinitely above and beyond us. It isn’t just His power and wisdom—it’s His character, His love and mercy and grace, they drive us to pile up words on top of words and phrases on top of phrases in a vain attempt to grasp and express something of the mystery of it all. It doesn’t surprise us to hear David ask in Psalm 8, “What are humans that you bother with them?” But incredible as it seems and however often we look around to see if anyone else can believe it or if we’re the only ones who find it difficult to take in—incredible as it seems, it’s true! He cares about us.

All right then, so it’s true, but can we gain access to Him or must we always speak of Him and deal with Him at a great ‘distance’? If we do gain access to His presence, what is it that gives us this privilege? What hoops do we have to jump through? What great feats do we have to accomplish? What Herculean tasks do we have to undertake to be assured of entering into the company of the Great God? (See Romans 10:6-9.) What assures us, even now, of His favor and that in a coming day that communion we now enjoy by faith will have an added dimension—His nearer presence? What gets us from the gutter, through the door and into the palace?

A wooden stake, a public gallows, on a little hill just outside ancient Jerusalem!

Why is that? Is there some magic in wood? Is there a mysterious power in a public gallows? Does the cruel and brutal death of some young man make God cry and go all weak and sentimental? There have been millions of deaths like that down the centuries! How does that one, that particular one, enable us to enter God’s presence in peace (2:17-18)? What is it about that death that opens the gates to breathless wonder?

It’s that one because in that one as in no other, in that death as in no other event in all of creation’s history that God makes Himself known.

It isn’t God’s love of shed blood that opens His home to us! It’s God Himself—His nature and character. His shed blood didn’t make him a loving or welcoming God—it proclaimed that He has eternally been like that! The hanging tree didn’t turn God into a gracious God—it revealed the truth that He already was and remains this!

Nowhere else in time or limitless space can we find the proof that God wants us to be home with Him. Nowhere else, only at the hanging tree! There’s no crime in exploring the vastness of God’s creation (though motives matter) but no matter how far we go it’s only here on this planet that we’ll find the truth that explains why we exist at all and how we will find new life, new life beyond this life, new life now as well as new life in the future.

If galaxies, constellations or black holes or quasar clusters don’t speak to us now it’s not because they don’t speak of Him. For they do speak of Him and though we don’t realize it they speak of us also. God not only created this incredible universe He created humans capable of oohing and aahing over it, humans capable of rejoicing in it and humans capable of coming to admire the God who made it all.

But such magnitude can frighten us and make us feel we’re too tiny to matter. The good news is that this planet “too tiny to matter” is the “visited planet”. It was here God’s young Prince dwelled with us, loved with us, rejoiced and suffered with us from us and for us and it’s here that He would return to and indwell us (See John 14:1-3, 15-20, 25-29; Ephesians 2:14-22.)

It’s only because of that, that sinners like us dare to imagine this as our home and that we are welcome here. We’re not (as some fool spoke of us) “fungus clinging to the surface of a nowhere planet.” Denigrate and despise God’s human creation, keep on telling them they are the mindless product of countless mindless and pointless events and then try telling them to act reasonably and compassionately; try telling them that and then tell them that vulnerable humans are worth protecting, worth listening to, worth working for, worth teaching. Tell them “even their highest thoughts are nothing more than chemical reactions” and that we must stamp “UNYIELDING DESPAIR” on them as their inescapable future. Try sowing that seed and expect something other than thorns and thistles and stinking swamps.

And here is the Christian’s “lunacy”: Every Lord’s Day they gather and defy everything that preaches ultimate death and despair and they do it as they proclaim the death of their Lord Jesus until He returns. They proclaim the meaning of that death and they do it with full confidence for the Holy One Himself vindicated the young man hanging on a tree by raising him from the dead to immortality and making him Lord of all principalities and powers and might and dominion and every name that is named not only in this world but in the full unveiling of “the world to come.” Those who are even now being transformed into the image of their Lord (2 Cor. 3:18—4:4) and who by faith have “passed from death to life” (John 5.24) experience something of the glory of that final disclosure in a post-resurrection inheritance with Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:3-7; Heb, 6:4-5 with context; Romans 8:16-17;
1 Cor 15:20-57 and see 2 Cor. 1:20-22). The blessing of Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8:3-6; Hebrews 2:5-9.

In God’s Christ alone our hope is found!

 

A Note To A Dying Friend

D: You know of course, that I’m sorry to hear of further severe health complications, But my feelings, however deep and genuine, don’t cure your disease or take away the pain you do now and will endure until you leave. That sounds glib. Trust me, that isn’t how it feels and you must know that by now. I suppose it’s, what?—a bit of sad realism?

But your note still has a realism that doesn’t have the tone of despair. It sounds a bit like someone getting ready to face something she’d rather not face but has buckled on her armor to go do it just the same. I call that gallantry. But you have reason to be gallant. Your young Lord was (and continues) like that and you have done & are doing the best you can to be like Him.

In this phase of human living and in this ‘world’—the one we the human family built— for you, me and EVERYONE else, Death trumps all. That’s what Jesus had in mind when He says in John 6 that “the flesh profits nothing” and “working for the food that perishes” is a blunder; we’re not to make that the center of our goals.

Moses fed them bread, they ate and lived but then died. Jesus fed them bread, they ate it, lived but are now dead.  Here and now with all its limits of one kind or another life ends in DEATH.  And it doesn’t matter whether we’re currently healthy or not. Those that survive the C-virus will die later. Glib? No at all! But, depending on whose figures you use, something like 2 and a half million people die yearly in the USA. And these have nothing to do with the current C-virus issue.

Yesterday my friend Ray and I had a lengthy Bible study.  He’s past 90, bright as a button, survived WWII, but he’ll die soon. Death finally comes. It happened to Jesus and He said it would. It’s what we do in this ‘world’ we built. If it isn’t disease, old age or starvation or murder it’s of something else. Jesus said, “Watch for Me! My glory follows dying.” (See Luke 24:26; 1 Peter 1:11 and elsewhere.)

For those of us who will not!!! have anything to with or for God, DEATH is what we earn; it’s our “wages” (see Romans 6.23). If alienation from God is what we choose, it’s Death we choose and it is a forever death we get—it’s the everlasting loss of LIFE.

For those in Christ DEATH is a door to glory. In John 6:50; 8:51; 11:25-26, and elsewhere, Jesus says those who believe in Him don’t DIE.  Of course He knows they die because He says “I will raise them up in the last day” (6:40, 54). But He means they don’t die the same kind of death that is the wages of Sin. For those in Christ, those who trust in Him and NOT themselves, sins are not written down against them [Rom 4:4-8] so their death is not a ‘Sin-death’. It’s the prelude to LIFE.

There are two ‘worlds’ to live in. This one with all its creaturely limitations, this one that’s sustained by food and other fleshly (human) necessities. To spend our lives trying to stay in this ‘world’ is to toil to keep what perishes (see John 6:26-27).  To “save our life” while rejecting the LIFE God is eager to give us means we lose ourselves (Mark 8:35-37).

So, should we despise this life, trash it so we can get a better one? God in Jesus Christ became one of us—to despise life now and the potential for lives of love within our limits would be nonsense and cowardly. That there are those who suffer so severely that they wish for death is no surprise. We’re humans for pity’s sake.

Our death is unavoidable—Christian or non-Christian. To those who have by faith made His death and resurrection theirs, that is, for those who BY TRUST embrace their destiny in CHRIST’S experience. For them the last word is not DEATH but resurrection to immortality and ceaseless joy and adventure and freedom from ALL that brings sorrow and loss, within us and around us.

When those who came to know Jesus stepped into the water of Baptism they were saying I embrace His death as mine and when rising out of the water they were saying I embrace His resurrection as mine (see Romans 6:3-6). We can’t finally avoid biological death but we can avoid everlasting cessation of existence and so the everlasting loss of EVERLASTING LIFE

If you slip away before me, D, I’ll know where to find you. Where my Ethel and many of my beloved ones are waiting for me and others.

jim

 

Acts: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit (Part 66)

Watch the latest video from McGuiggan Reflections.
For the next few months, we will be exploring the book of Acts in a series titled Acts: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit. We hope you enjoy and can benefit greatly from this study. To contact Jim, feel free to email him at holywoodjk@aol.com or visit his website at: http://www.jimmcguiggan.com.
Watch on Youtube via IFTTT

Acts: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit (Part 65)

Watch the latest video from McGuiggan Reflections.
For the next few months, we will be exploring the book of Acts in a series titled Acts: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit. We hope you enjoy and can benefit greatly from this study.To contact Jim, feel free to email him at holywoodjk@aol.com or visit his website at: http://www.jimmcguiggan.com.
Watch on Youtube via IFTTT

When Things Change For Us…

Holy Father, help us to believe in the Son you love and who simply by being Himself is the Judge of the satanic world. We can’t deny that we believe in Him but there are times when we look inward and around and we know with a frightening certainty that we desperately need you to help us in our unbelief and in our poor grasp of who you are.

Now and then and for a while we realize how difficult faith in Him is for those whose lives are one long unchanging experience of rejection or ill health or economic oppression or humiliation or loneliness—they hear His name spoken and sung but they know only hurt and loss and a daily trudge toward old age, feebleness and the grave, while the rich and powerful and their happy supporters, the ruthlessly ambitious who seek to make a name for themselves and the liars that manipulate the truth and control the flow of information are ‘blessed’.

In truth, at times we wonder how anyone can be saved. In our sinfulness we have helped build a world that has become our master, it frightens us and it is too strong for us. We find our faith is fervent within the walls of a place of public worship but find it faltering when intimidated by daily life that confuses and hurts us so that we put our trust in power and shrewdness and half-truths. We remember sometimes that you will gain your eternal loving purpose even if we do not help you but in our hearts there is a longing that never leaves—we do not wish you to do it without us.

So, leave us not, continue your patient work with us and trust in us and equip us better for your service. Though we deserve it not, keep us ever near to your heart that ours might find its rhythm in yours. Liberate us from the recurring conviction that we can fix this world if we just try harder.  Rescue us also from the notion that because we cannot do everything that it is all right with you that we do nothing but wring our hands and whimper. Give us power by an energizing trust in you that we may live among the fearful as a Holy Nation, a Priestly Nation, assured that the end of all things Christ conquerors Death & Sin.

Thrill us from time tot time with the thought of Jesus Christ, the Living Bread and while feeding on Him worry none that there really is no other assurance & that all is truly in His hands. Keep your People from making alliances with the gloomy and savage powers of the world as we did again and again in the past and if need be rip away all the shrewd and violent props we use and have used to keep ourselves safe and ‘alive’. Help your Church to remember its Baptism and to daily live its message that poor tortured suffers might hear and be drawn to trust, not in the Church but in the LORD, Jesus Christ, that they though bone-weary and unable to expect change, the plundered poor, who only exist, it seems, to be food for the feeding parasites and predators—that they might despite all that look to you, the ONE GOD and be gladdened by hope and on that day experience DELIVERANCE, FREEDOM FROM FEAR, and know JOY, PEACE, ADVETNURE AND EVERLASTING RIGHTEOUSNESS.
This prayer FOR THE WORLD, loving Father, the WORLD!; a world where agony, anguish and despair is their only expectation and where there will be no change for them until the ONE comes—-in the Lord Jesus.]

Acts: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit (Part 64)

Watch the latest video from McGuiggan Reflections.
For the next few months, we will be exploring the book of Acts in a series titled Acts: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit. We hope you enjoy and can benefit greatly from this study. To contact Jim, feel free to email him at holywoodjk@aol.com or visit his website at: http://www.jimmcguiggan.com.
Watch on Youtube via IFTTT

Acts: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit (Part 63)

Watch the latest video from McGuiggan Reflections.
For the next few months, we will be exploring the book of Acts in a series titled Acts: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit. We hope you enjoy and can benefit greatly from this study. To contact Jim, feel free to email him at holywoodjk@aol.com or visit his website at: http://www.jimmcguiggan.com.
Watch on Youtube via IFTTT

“Hanging on a cross you don’t need…”

In 1923 one of the greatest earthquake disasters in history hit Japan and reduced Tokyo and Yokohama to smoking ruins. Millions were homeless, starvation, disease and anarchy were the only things flourishing and the government and military could do nothing about it.
They knew a man who could reorganize and restructure things but he was in prison. The common people almost worshiped him but the government, the capitalists, the radical nationalists and the military people hated and feared him. He was in prison for orchestrating a vast non-violent strike in the docks and even though the workers got all that he had demanded for them he himself was thrown into prison for his leadership in the strike action. His name was Toyohiko Kagawa. They let him out of prison and he began the work of rebuilding the nation. The government offered him a huge wage and all the privileges that went with such a role but he turned it all down saying, “To work with the poor I must be poor.”
He was born in 1888, the illegitimate son of a wealthy and high-ranking politician and a geisha. The father took a liking to the child and adopted him but before the boy was five both his parents had died and although he was officially a samurai and head of nearly twenty villages he went to live with his grandmother and a stepmother. The stepmother hated him and his life was one of unrelieved misery until when he was eleven a rich uncle adopted him and planned great things for him. If his stepmother’s house was the frying pan his boarding school was the fire.
But he met and learned English from Henry Myers a Presbyterian minister. He learned more than that—he learned about Christ and Myers baptized Kagawa into Christ. Horace Shipp said, “Young Kagawa became a Christian. He did a rarer thing: he began to practice Christianity.” He was a pacifist to the core, at times he literally turned the other cheek and he insisted on giving away all his possessions and often his food. In 1904 Japan without warning attacked the Russian ships at Port Arthur and destroyed their entire Baltic fleet. Japan as a nation hailed this as a great triumph and justified it on the basis of less obvious but threatening developments in Russian foreign affairs.
At the seminary where he now attended Kagawa dared to speak against Japan’s act of war and the students would take turns to beat him up. Finally he was expelled, he fell ill (tuberculosis) and went away to die in a little fishing village. But a boat was wrecked on the coast and Kagawa worked until he was absolutely exhausted helping to rescue people. This experience made him determined to live and later his stated aim was “The salvation of 100,000 poor, the emancipation of 9,430,000 laborers and the liberation of twenty million tenant-farmers.”
He took a header into the infamous slums at Shinkawa and for nineteen years he lived in a cubicle six feet by six feet, with one side open to act as door and windows. As part of the lowest of the low, even by Shinkawa standards, he shared his living quarters and for four years he held the hand of a murderer that couldn’t sleep alone. He got a little income from a Training school and he doubled it by working as a chimney sweep and gave it away or gave away all the food and clothes it bought.
It was from one of his ceaseless stream of visitors that he contracted a fierce eye disease that moved him closer and closer to blindness.
The slum bullies robbed him with violence, burned down his shack, knocked his teeth out and challenged his faith by demanding that he give away his clothes. He did that on more than one occasion and had to wear a woman’s robe until he could replace them.
Once he was on the verge of taking on a jeering and threatening bully who was going to stop his preaching but instead he turned and ran. The crowd roared with laughter but he was back the next day in the same place preaching Christ.

It’s no surprise then that when the earthquake hit and Japan was in awful need that they let him out of prison and asked him to be Chief of Social Welfare. Once as he visited an American University two students went to hear him speak but when he was done, unimpressed one said to the other, “He didn’t have a lot to say, did he?” A woman behind them leaned over and said, “When you’re hanging on a cross you don’t need to say a lot.” He died in 1960.

Toyohiko Kagawa is one face of God’s love for the world.