Monthly Archives: July 2016

OF WORLDS AND A NEW CREATION

  1. What do we mean when we say, “North Korea is our enemy”?
  2. What do we mean when we say AMERICA declared war on Japan or Germany?
  1. What do we mean when we say, “The allies defeated Germany”?
  2. What is Peter talking about when he says [2 Peter 2.5] God brought the flood on “the world of the ungodly”?
  1. When God destroyed BABYLON what is it he destroyed?
  2. How does He picture its destruction in Isaiah 13:1-22?
  3. How does he picture his judgment on EDOM [and her allies] in Isaiah 34:1-17?
  4. And Judah in Zephaniah 1:2-4, Jeremiah 4:23-28?
  5. And ROME in Daniel 2:44; 7:3, 7-10, 17, 23, 26-27?
  6. This prophetic speech speaks of the “end of their world.” It’s the end of the empires or structures [religious, social, military or otherwise] they have created. The destruction of an empire is described in terms of uncreation. [See the texts above.]
  7. These creations are the creations of the powerful and not the marginalized, poor and vulnerable. Note texts like Ezekiel 16:49-50 and Daniel 4:27 with 2:37-38.
  1. Note that God raises up the various kingdoms [Daniel 2:37-38; 4:25, 32; 7:2; Romans 13:1, 4, 6; 1 Peter 2:13-17; 1 Timothy 2:1-4] and holds them responsible for the state of the world under their dominion [texts in previous paragraph]. These powers [governments, authorities and such] are structures God purposed to enable humans to live and prosper under Him [Colossians 1:15].

Rome, one of the powers God raised up to do good and to serve Him [Romans 13:1, 4], like Adam rejects God’s purpose and becomes satanic [Revelation 13:4] and God brings it down as he brought down Egypt. Note the use of the images of the Egyptian plagues as God attacks the Roman world. The Egyptian and Roman “worlds” that these two empires claimed were created by the gods and human power were dismantled by God who established he is the one true God to whom all the powers should subject themselves and serve. He ends the Roman world [Revelation 21-1] and brings about a new creation—it’s a world without Rome, a world without a sea out of which Rome will rise!

God destroys Babylon’s world and brings in a new creation [Isaiah 65:13-23; 66:18-24]. This is not the physical destruction of a physical world or the description of a new physical world—these are visionary descriptions of deliverance from an old satanic world—a world created by the corrupt and corrupting powerful ones.

The “world” that Jesus condemns is a satanic empire that makes itself visible and expresses itself through structures it has corrupted and by which it corrupts and abuses the vulnerable. Courts, schools, economic programs, military might, political and financial evil, religious perversion, industrial, educational, social and civil evils. The powerful, corrupt themselves, breed resentment and violence and despair and poverty and so make the world like themselves, hating and being hated.

Had God not brought Hitler and his Nazis down the world now would be unrecognizable. Germans would have been corrupted even more than they were—those that were—than they were while Hitler lived and ruled.

If God had not brought down Stalin’s regime who knows how deep and how wide the gulf would be between the nations though we can hardly be happy about how bad things are now who can say how much worse they might be. I purpose to develop this last point in a later piece.

To be continued, God enabling.

MAYBE THIS IS USEFUL (1)

Keeping this simple risks making it too simple I must take the risk. For a number of good reasons scholars don’t read my work so I don’t worry much about being critiqued by them. But I don’t enjoy the thought that I might be misleading people—that troubles me quite a bit as I would suppose it troubles all conscientious people. Pursue me on this if you wish.

Church Order

Preaching the gospel I not the same as explaining “the qualifications of deacons”. Elders, deacons and such are apostolic structures by which the already gospeled Community lives as a community. For convenience sake and for clarity such matters have come under the heading of Church Order. These rules and structures enable the congregations to maintain order and shape and to function that way rather than to be a chaotic number of free-standing individuals. The structures are critically important for many reasons and God has seen fit to so create humans that they must have them to exist and function as communities!

Rule of Faith

The Gospel is not the same as the Rule of Faith (a convenient as well as a helpful phrase). The rule of faith has to do with how the already baptized believers respond to their Lord and Savior. The RF is teaching addressed to and focuses on how believers are to embody the Spirit-revealed truth of the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ by which the Church is created, shaped and commissioned.

That RF is not a call to live up to a list of moral imperatives which may or may not be included in the convictions and cultures of non-Christians and which many of these non-Christians take very seriously. The RF at heart is a call for believers in the Lord Jesus to imitate the Holy Father and his Holy Son who is the image of the invisible God  in light of the guidance and enabling of the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 5:1-2; Colossians 1:15; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Galatians 5:16-26 and elsewhere].

An attentive reading of Church Order and Rule of Faith material in Scripture identifies those who are members of Christ and the NT elect [1 Peter 1:3 with 3:21 and 2:4-10 and elsewhere].

The Gospel

There is no exhaustive “definition” of the gospel nor is there any attempt to produce one in the Bible. It is simply beyond our full grasp [compare Ephesians 3:14-20].

The “Gospel” begins and ends with the Triune God and the NT will in numerous places choose various aspects of the way the One True God has unfolded his nature, character and purpose as these relate to His loving creative and redemptive will and deeds that affect his entire creation.

The NT development of the “gospel” enables us to continue to understand what the gospel is not. A single illustration from many will do. Whatever the anti-gospel message of Galatians was [dispute continues about what it was precisely] it involved a perversion and a denial of the gospel because Paul says if what his opponents were saying were true then, “Christ died for nothing” [Galatians 2.21]. From numerous and various texts we are shown what truth is essentially gospel in nature and even heresies trigger a NT response which reveals fundamental truth of that gospel [see 1 John].

One aspect of the gospel is the truth that Jesus is Lord! This is an announcement. God has made Jesus Lord of all whether we choose to believe it or not. We are not coerced into believing that and we are invited to acknowledge it so that we can be saved in Him [Romans 10:9-10 with 6:3-11. These two texts speak of the same thing from different angles. One is a confession of faith that Jesus is Lord and the other shows how his Lordship is to work out in our living in Him.

[To be continued, God enabling.]

 

 

 

A PEOPLE OF UTTERANCE

[A while back I wrote this to a dear God-loving friend. I’ve doctored it now only a little.]

I am a weak one! I confess that I didn’t become weak all by myself—I had help and continue to have help being weak. Still, I wrestle with so much that I am sure I should have outgrown. I’m speaking the truth here: the only thing that keeps me on my feet and in the adventure is that I’ve been privileged to hear and come to know the gospel about God and I have a small handful in my life that [toward me in particular] embody the truth and goodness of that gospel.

I love it that you have the sense of the “poetry” of God and his gospel. Poets [good ones] work with words in a way that even philosophers don’t. Their aim is different and they give us words that enable us to express truths that run around in us as a jumble of feelings and part feelings and half-wishes. They help us to give form to them without systematizing them or making them only sensible.

With well-chosen words they show us unseen facets of things and they do this by their gift as “seers” and by their word choice. They refuse to “specialize” as they speak. Robert Coles, Harvard child-psychiatrist, medical professor and literary figure, reminds us that 1st year med students spend a lot of time telling one another about the patients’ autobiographical material but a 4th year student’s language becomes altogether clinical and about the medical condition of the patients. The first year students “story,” they “preach”. The 4th year students “lecture”.

I’m not suggesting I’m an expert in this particular area [or any other] but I’ve lived long enough and listened closely enough that I’m sure that in my experience I find the same is true with people who newly hear the Story of God, his biography. Later, under a steady diet of explanation, exegetical endeavor, particular doctrinal stresses, dry lexical emphasis, schooling at a particular school—with a steady diet of these their speech and their expectations and responses become merely descriptive, clipped, “to the point,” “proof-texted” and when they speak they “lecture”. I’m certain that I myself could not live—continue to live—on that. I myself would have no energy to stay on my feet with a strong feeling of assured hope. With my make-up I’d trudge my way through life and whatever else would be true my faith wouldn’t be contagious with what other troubled people need—troubled people like me, I mean.

I get it, of course, that some doctrinal truths should not be denied or sidelined. I don’t mind that—in fact I’m happy about it because some doctrinal truths are the foundation on which everything else rests. These are the massive, bed-rock truths about God as he has shown himself in the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures and culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That’s the Story, how we go about telling it is profoundly important. Even if it’s badly told it has power as long as it is the Story that’s being told, but there’s no point in being silly about this—how it’s told makes a difference because how it’s told is how it’s heard and how it’s heard is how it’s believed and how it’s believed leads to how we feel about it and how we feel about it is how we act on it.

You are blessed with gaining the sometimes wild and always roomy, free, glorious aspect of it via this way of hearing. Words create moments that won’t exist until certain words are spoken.

I told an assembly some time back about the prayer in a little book of prayers I have. A young boy [maybe 9 or 10] must have heard that God needed volunteers to help him save a world. He wrote, “Dear God, count me in. Your friend Herbie.” The response from numerous people focused not on my overall message which moved in that direction but on Herbie’s marvelously phrased response to God’s call. One [a God-loving wife of a shepherd I know], out of two pieces of thrown-away wood and white paint, even made me something to hang on the wall with Herbie’s words on it. [It hangs upstairs on the wall of my daughter Linda.]

I heard others shout it over at one another on their way to Bible class and a number shook my hand and one of them, a mature man of God, tearfully repeated it and said, “I want to be counted on.” The point I wish to make is that—please reflect on this for a while when you have the time—something happened when those words went out into the air, something that wouldn’t have happened if they had not. Herbie’s words gave us the speech with which to express a sense of things we already possessed but hadn’t been able to express well; what we truly wished for, but his words set the wish on fire, they drove it home and opened not only our minds and hearts but our mouths, “we are a people of utterance.” In rebuking leaders In Jeremiah 2:6-8 God says, “They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ ” We are to be a “saying” people.

Words. The right words do it even better than the poorer words [though we’re not to despise the tongue-tied or slow of speech—Exodus 4:10-12]. It doesn’t matter that the exhilaration of the moment passes away after a day or two—the memory remains and lovely vivid memories, memorably expressed, continue to bubble around in the subconscious, affecting us at the conscious level by shaping us.

Nothing is ever the same when such things happen. No wonder Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit and life.” No wonder he said, “The truth sets you free.” No wonder Paul said in [1 Corinthians 1.21] that God in his wisdom purposes to save the world by a preached message.

But we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that words themselves do that—only gospel words do that because they are based on and shaped by actual events of which the words are an expression. It remains true, however, that if the events are never made known they have no effect on us—“faith comes by hearing the word of God” [Romans 10.11-17].

We need no pretense of gallantry in behavior—tough times are real and they tire and test us [and they are experienced as “more” real for countless oppressed and suffering]—but God and his Story, they’re both real too. We are “a people of utterance” and we should thank God for people he has gifted [Christian or non-Christian] with speech who can teach us how to speak—to speak tenderly, memorably, clearly, passionately, joyfully, boldly about matters that are worth talking about.

And, of course, we should thank God for those who speak truth and enable us to grasp and rejoice in truth for if what we speak passionately, memorably, clearly and joyfully is not true…

If we are to be “freed” it must be TRUE and it must be foundational!

 

“MATCH THAT!”

f we believe the biblical Story is about a God who did not choose to be God without creation and humankind so he loved us into existence. [See Psalm 136.] He did that with a view to completing his purpose concerning us by bringing us into the image of Jesus—the immortal man, glorious in righteousness and who as a human is the perfect image of God. If we believe the Story it means that God purposed fellowship, communion, life together and that human response is to be human response and not simply God responding to himself. In short, he freely chose out of his infinite joy and love of life to have a family of holy and joy-filled companions.

With the advent of sin (which came as no surprise to God) it might have been thought that God would jettison the entire enterprise but not him—not this God! He had committed himself and would see the enterprise through and despite the God-denying look of much of human life that was the gospel that was proclaimed in numerous ways down through history. As surely as God’s overarching purpose was true companionship with creative human response just that surely he wanted people to work with him in securing it.

So woven into the fabric of the entire biblical witness is the picture of God walking through the earth looking not only for the lost and the troubled but looking for people who would trust him; people whose gallant faith would test him and provoke him to come up with the substance of the things he led them to dream about and envision.

More often than enough the search came to nothing and there were times when faithlessness became so marked even in his own people that he would say things like, Go find me one righteous man and I’ll forgive the city! (Jeremiah (5:1), or to Ezekiel (22:30), Find me one man to stand in the gap and I won’t destroy the city!

To faithless Israel he said (Isaiah 48:18); If only you had paid attention to my

commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. See this too in Asa in 2 Chronicles 16:7-9 and in trustless Ahaz to

whom he said (Isaiah 7:10-11), Test me and I’ll meet your request no matter what it is. In fact, when the prophets (OT and NT) looked over Israel’s history it might be fair to say that their summary would have been Isaiah 65:2-3, All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people…a people who continually provoke me to my very face. But Hebrews 11 makes it clear that his search wasn’t always a failure and that he had reason to go back to the Land of the Trinity smiling to himself and with a sparkle in his eye. To the prematurely old Abraham and his barren wife (see Genesis 17:15-16 and 1 Peter 3:6.) he said, I will make you father and mother of countless children—can you trust me to accomplish that? They said yes and God walked off with a smile saying, I’ll be back. (See Genesis 18:10.)

And then there’s that marvelous psalm (Psalm 23) where some glorious believer couldn’t keep his mouth shut any longer and jumped up in church to say, I just want to say that I trust God come what may!

Whatever Genesis 1 and Exodus 14:10-31 taught the ancient Jews, it taught them that God was the Lord of the waters and everything else that existed. He spoke and it obeyed him (see also Isaiah 17:12-14). The sea was no god to be worshiped as it had been worshiped in Egypt, where Israel had spent so many years. Still, its restlessness, its destructive power and the fact that they couldn’t control it were enough to make it a symbol of threat and chaos. They often spoke of it in those terms. Isaiah said (17:12) Oh, the raging of many nations—they rage like the raging sea! Oh, the uproar of the peoples—they roar like the roaring of great waters.

Hear the pounding of huge waves as they smash against one another with destroying force is a graphic picture of clashing armies. In their wickedness they never ceased to cast up muck and debris (Isaiah 57:20). It was out of the restless Mediterranean (the Great Sea) that the four great Gentile kingdoms arose like monsters from a science fiction movie, devouring all before them and oppressing the people of God (Daniel 7:1-8). It’s no wonder then that when John describes the condition of the new heaven and earth in which the enemy has no place that he says of it, And there was no more sea—Revelation 21:1 with 13:1 .

With thoughts and images of cruel seas circulating in a little nation that for centuries had felt the power of oppressors, the psalmist’s defiant words in 46:1-3 ring out all the finer and braver and more trustful. People who had known no trouble didn’t sing the words he speaks—they’d known more than their share! These weren’t the words of a people who thought the world could be fixed if only people were given enough information. This man speaks for his entire people who expected the world to be wild and oppressive and who knew that either today or tomorrow they’d feel the hurt that powerful nations bring to weaker kingdoms. Knowing all that, fully aware of all that, certain that it will come to that, here’s what he says:

God is our refuge and strength,
An ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
And the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
Though its waters roar and foam and the mountains
Quake with their surging.

Picture this believer at some point in his life standing on top of the cliff, watching the huge waves building out there and then rushing toward him, picking up speed and power and they come. Imagine the shudder he feels in the ground when they thunder against the cliff face, again and again, unrelentingly, threatening to bring down the entire mountain and him along with it. Think of him, then, looking landward, to his home and people and the irresistible forces lined up against them.

It’s with all those images and realities in mind that he sings into the wind and later in church: Read again what he defiantly sings out of a faith-filled heart.

Modern believers also sing that song. I know many of them personally! They’re intelligent, wide-eyed, politically aware, as realistic as any you could meet and when they feel the shudder under their feet they take note of it and get on with their business of world-transformation by gospeling in all the ways that they do that; they’re some of the people, ancient and modern, who test God by placing their faith in him.

But no one ever tested God the way Jesus did! No one ever challenged God to the limit as Jesus did by his life of ceaseless devotion and trust. He laid it out before his Holy Father from the beginning right up to the moment when even in the midst of his awful feeling of abandonment on the cross he committed his spirit to his Father’s keeping.

His entire life and vision is described by Peter in the words of David (Acts 2:25-28 and Psalm 16:8-11):

I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.

As the psalm shows us, David knew the reality of a faith like that in his own life but only Jesus could fill his words to the utmost—nobody tested God as he did! But the words as a description of Jesus depth and breadth of trust in God, give us Jesus’ view of God. He saw God as worthy of even a perfect trust like his! In life Jesus gave his stamp of approval to all the lives and words of God’s ancient servants who told a worried nation in troubled times: “God can be trusted!”

Still, even the best of them wavered at times, whether it was Abraham, Moses or Samuel—but Jesus never did! Since the dawn of time God has been calling people to trust him and there were times when he got a grand response but one day he called to a child named Jesus and said, “Trust me!” and the little boy said, “I do and will!”

And one Friday, when He consummated his entire life of sinless holiness and warm righteousness, when he offered himself up in death, he laid it all out before God and said: “Match that!” And He did it with the utmost confidence that his Holy Father would do just that—He would match it!

                                                     And then came Sunday morning!

 

“I THANK THEE O FATHER…”

He said, I think of you a lot and when I think of you I’m filled with joy and every time I pray I pray for you with confidence believing that he who began his good work in you will see it through to completion in the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1.6

Even to that congregation that had so many spoiled brats in it–richly blessed, lacking in no gift of utterance and knowledge but argumentative, self-promoting and childish–to them he said that the God who blessed them so richly in Christ was faithful and would confirm them to the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

And to that same group, as he defends himself against severe criticism he still makes God central and says that in Jesus Christ every promise of God is YES! 2 Corinthians 1.

I don’t say we’ve arrived at where we’re going but I am saying that we have already been transformed!

Chesterton, in his little book called Orthodoxy cuts through to the heart of things on the size argument by materialists, “The scientific universe…went on forever but…there was nothing that could be really interesting; nothing like, for example, forgiveness or free will or self-consciousness.”

The human race was and is in a prison. When materialist scientists with their wondrous telescopes and their marvelous mathematical minds tell us more and more and more about the size of this expanding universe, what are they doing but saying to prisoners [Chesterton again], “You’ll be glad to hear that the prison you are incarcerated in is even bigger now.”

You can travel through the universe from one end to another, through the limitless corridors of lightless space, meeting up by and by with blazing suns, big suns, little suns, giant suns, dwarf suns and then more suns and more lightless space and then black holes and more black holes and then…forever the same.

But what you would never see is a smile, two lovers choosing to spend their lives together, a toddler learning to talk and then becoming aware of itself as a distinct individual. You’d never see an act of loving trust, you’d never see someone running to the aid of someone in desperate need; you’d never see a young woman or a young man growing big and strong in integrity and honor, rejecting the call of the worst forms of human society and embracing strong sweetness of spirit and saying yes to mesmerizing self-giving. You’d never see gatherings where good people go to pray and to seek to be better, kinder, stronger, more faithful or more just and tenderer.

In trusting in Jesus Christ we have already been transformed. There are numerous faces of Christian transformation, of course but it remains true that for the Christian something has actually happened to “the world” since the Lord Jesus made his appearance. The trusting one now sees it in a different light! Through faith in Him it has come under new management—God has always been Lord but in the divine drama God has committed all authority to Jesus Christ who is God being a man! Not God being God but God being a man! He has given the world over to another Adam and to those who by faith are joined with him the union with the first Adam has been severed and the “old man” has died—they are now part of the new man, part of a new humanity living in a new creation that will be fully experienced in a coming day. It’s a change of vision, don’t you know! Jesus leads us to believe things about the creation [human and non-human] that we didn’t believe before; He enables us to believe that it is heading somewhere, that the end of it all is not as materialist scientists tell us it will be—a “big crunch,” due to irresistible gravity or a “a big rip” due to unstoppable expansion or a “big lightless freeze” due to the loss of all available energy. As Stratonician atheist, Bertrand Russell, once famously said, “Humans must build their hope on unyielding despair.”

Resurrection will one day be experienced in fullness and in personal reality when the bodies of our humiliation will be transformed into the likeness of his glorious body. But there is resurrection life NOW! You know the texts, or you can find them if you look. “You were dead in your trespasses and sins,” he said, “but you were made alive together with Him” [Colossians 2.13; Ephesians 2.5].

Size of the universe. You’ll never come across anything interesting, says, Chesterton. “Oh, look at that volcano eruption, oh look at that collision between those constellations—isn’t that astonishing?” Probably, but not after you’ve seen such things a million times.

And what has the materialist described when he described the limitless universe? A bag of reacting bio-chemicals [why bio chemicals?] is re-acting to a universe of mindless matter. The bags of bio-chemicals are prisoners in a colossal prison and what they’re oohing and aahing about is the size of the prison. No wonder atheist Sartre went around muttering “absurd, everything is absurd.”

One Grand Canyon will take your breath away; thousands upon thousands of them would be a bore. Your first sight of the Niagara Falls might take your breath away but to see it day by day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade for a generation……..

One man, one man who is God being that man, Jesus Christ, destroys the materialist’s Alcatraz by a single fragment of a happy prayer, “I thank thee O Father, Lord of heaven and earth…”  [Matthew 10:25]

And so he turns from the pages of the Holy Bible to look steadily at us and ask, “Do you believe in me?” And if we do, our vision of life and the entire creation is transformed because we have been transformed.

 

YOU COMIN’?

Jesus is to blame. The Christ of the cross is to blame. If it weren’t for him I might be able to find some peace but he and his cross disturb me and won’t let me be content with what I see when I look within and around me. If your loved one is quadriplegic you know that in many ways he or she isn’t physically able to help you care for them and in some sense you adjust to the situation—you expect nothing and in that respect you aren’t disappointed. If you truly believe there’s nothing better to be hoped for in this world I suppose you might rage in your hopelessness or eat, drink (or starve) and die tomorrow; but if hope was dead, would there not be some kind of resignation, a reluctant, numbed acceptance of things as they are?

Maybe, but would that not be better than vainly hoping? Is that not what the old Greek story means to say in the story of Pandora’s “box”—when she opened the forbidden box everything in it escaped except…hope. And it became the source of torment to all because they could never be content with things as they are.

In an early essay the young Bertrand Russell said that because we know the truth of human existence—that it’s a pointless accident—we must face it and build a future on “unyielding despair.” Well, it’s into this world, with all its pain, loss, disappointment, loneliness, cruelty, entrenched evils and invincible selfishness that Jesus came and he came making claims and promising much.

In the first century he offended the Romans and their view of power and empire. He offended the Greeks and their view of God and wisdom. He offended the Jews and their view of God’s faithfulness and their place in his purposes. And he continues to scandalize us all to this day. Don’t you know I’m talking about the real Christ and not the one we hear about in so much preaching. Or the real one we don’t hear about in so much preaching. The one who’s hidden under ceaseless explanations of what this or that verse means, who’s hidden behind the patter of the wise who handle all the “difficult questions” people ask, the one who’s buried under the same unending calls for us all to be morally better—as if we hadn’t heard this call ten-thousand times. Christless moralizing with the usual Bible verses thrown in to prove we’re different from the secularists who preach the same Christless moralizing—and who now and then use Bible verses.

There are people who care nothing for him—and never did—they’re not affected by him. The crass hedonists who think life’s a one way ticket so, to the degree that they can manage it, they party the nights away. The world can’t be made better—certainly not in their lifetimes—so why worry about it? Get what you can as quick as you can, throw a handful of coins in the direction of the world’s needy during a big public musical concert and get back to the usual partying.

They ignore the churches with their inner squabbles. [That might be a smart thing!] Or, they listen for a while to their squabbles and discover how pathetic they are in the face of the world’s great needs and wrongs—before they go back to the partying. Not a bad philosophy that; a happy life and an endless sleep at the end.

It’s the people who hear him, I mean really hear him, that the Jesus of the cross disturbs. Look around you at the state of the world and the church and our own personal situations.

If you hear him at all, Jesus is too stubbornly real and we can’t get away from him. Not that we’re trying to, don’t you know. We neither try to nor want to get away from him but being in his presence and listening to his kingly promises that are written in blood can make us impatient with the chaotic, oppressive, confused, rebellious and cruel world. Why hasn’t he in his sovereignty transformed the world already? Matthew Arnold in his sad poem said that in the beginning, the tide of faith was fully in and covered the earth like a garment. But now, he said, all we hear is the faint sound of its “melancholy long withdrawing roar” as it retreats and leaves bare the naked shingled shores of the world. Sometimes we sorely want the present King of Kings to show himself more powerfully—more powerfully, that is, in the more common understanding of power. We’d like him to obliterate all the oppressive structures of the world—structures that we have neither the desire to destroy nor the  strength or wisdom to do it, even supposing we had the desire. And why would we desire it, aren’t we the ones that build them? The state of the world seems to “prove” that the Christian’s claim that Jesus is Lord of Lords is sheer nonsense.

And when we muse about the church as a whole don’t we at times lament how pathetic and weak it can be and often is, how self-serving, as it fine-tunes its theology and gorges on rich truth and wants more to gorge on while a world of Lazaruses starves. Not content to draw lines of fellowship in places where the heart of the gospel is attacked and perverted, many church leaders insist on keeping us all in separate pens based on the flimsiest differences and they call it “defending the faith.” We pay our ministers to “stand for the truth” if they’re willing to stand for the truth that we pay them to stand for. In a world of tortured and tormented, sick and oppressed, humiliated, blind and despairing fellow-humans in their thousands of millions and our latest inner-church crusade is what? IS WHAT?

It’s much easier to believe the too-rich-to-be-fully-grasped doctrines of the person and work of Jesus Christ in and as whom God revealed and reveals himself than it is to believe in the Church as it church-shops its way from one assembly to another. And as we shop our first question is not, “What’s your gospel here?” it’s, “What programs do you have to suit me here?” “What are my rights here?” “Does this church know we’re living in the 21st century?” At one end of the spectrum we have these prime-time hucksters that ceaselessly beg for money to fund their programs (or other hidden things) and on the other there are churches that are offended if there’s talk about sharing our wealth. Time and money is spent on leadership agendas that usually have to do with “making our church grow.” Then there’s the “preaching” [?]. Ceaseless support for the religion of the healthy mind that is said to be gospeling. And in more recent decades, isn’t there reason to wonder if the Church will take a stand against anything?  Arrrrgh!

And then there’s the personal, bitter disappointment with oneself. There are times when you think you see real progress and then like a bolt of lightning and a thunderclap events expose your heart—it’s seems as shriveled as ever it was even after years of longing for better. Just when you think you’ve experienced significant growth you’re brought face to face with outrageous meanness or corruption or bitterness that pours out of you. Those who know nothing of such experiences often find themselves with a smug smile of self-congratulation at their moral maturity and consistency and out of that smugness stems isolation from society–we wouldn’t want to attract into our congregations “the wrong sort” so our “outreach” (where it exists at all) is carefully tailored. When our eyes focus on all this and more Jesus seems more and more distant and beyond us. And in our worst moments disillusionment sets in—weariness comes with it and, Pack it in—walk away, comes to mind. It’s then you understand what Dorothy Sayers was getting at when she wrote:

I am battered and broken and weary and out of heart,
I will not listen to talk of heroic things,
But be content to play some simple part,
Freed from preposterous, wild imaginings…
Men were not made to walk as priests and kings.

Thou liest, Christ, Thou liest; take it hence,
That mirror of strange glories; I am I;
What wouldst Thou make of me? O cruel pretense,
Drive me not mad so with the mockery
Of that most lovely, unattainable lie!

And for a while, a day, a week, a month, a year we sulk and snarl and prowl and criticize and, God help us, we sneer, at the Church we were once thrilled to be part of. Then we see him! He’s always been there; we just didn’t notice during that wretched period. We see him looking at us with those big eyes of his, calm and compelling, and as he moves away he looks back and motions with his head, “You comin’?”

Ahhhhhhhh!

Why can’t He leave us alone? 

Why can’t You leave us alone?

Why can’t we who have met Him leave Him alone?

GOD’S WORD versus EXASPERATION

     Whatever else we read in the book of Judges that spells gloom we need to bear Judges 2:1 in mind.
     The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you.’ ”
     This exalted being who stands in for and speaks as God appears in Bokim and
identifies God as the one who brought Israel up out of Egyptian oppression and gave them the land as he had promised. He reminds them that he not only fulfilled
the promise he had said he would never break his covenant with them.
     When he appears to Gideon who is threshing wheat in a winepress it is in support of the
prophetic word in 6:7-10 about deliverance from bondage and the fulfillment of the land promise.
     That message must have been ringing in Gideon’s ears as he savagely flailed the wheat for when the angel of the Lord tells Gideon the Lord is with him Gideon’s sharp response is one of unremitting exasperation (6:13).
     He had heard the stories, he said, from the fathers, about God bringing them out of Egyptian bondage but where had He gone since then? Even if the stories were true! In bondage in Egypt or under Midianites—what’s the difference?—bondage is bondage. What happened to all the wonders he had heard about? What good is it that the Lord brought them out of slavery  if he had now abandoned his people and given them into the hands of Midianite hordes? How can it be that one of God’s covenanted people are threshing wheat in hiding in their own land—God has broken his covenant!“
     But I haven’t broken my covenant,” God could have said.
     “You have too,” Gideon and a host of his people would have said.
     “But I haven’t,” God would have said. Great pain and loss, unanswered and currently unanswerable questions were no proof that God had abandoned them but that
was hard for  Gideon and others to believe.
     “If I hear about the Exodus one more time I’m going to throw up”we can hear him say,
veins bulging and patience close to gone. “I’m always hearing about what you have done in the past or what you’re going to do in the future—it’s NOW that matters; you’re not with us now!
     Hmmm.
     “If I hear one more time about the cross of Jesus, the eerie darkness and the earthquake, the splitting rocks, the stone being rolled away, the soldiers paralyzed with fright and the resurrection, glorification and exaltation of Jesus I’ll…”
      “Where are all the wonders now? We have plenty of stories. God has either done wonders in the past or he going to do wonders in the future—what is he doing now? Now, while I’m in dire need and have been for years?”
               The Lord is with you brave woman!
               The Lord is with you brave man.
               The Lord is with you brave boy/girl.
               “I will never break my covenant with you!”
               “Never! Never, will I leave you or forsake you!”
     And from the cross, before the resurrection, before the ascension, before the glorification, the young man spiked to the hanging tree speaks this word, “No matter what you now see or think you see, the Holy One IS with me—even now—and he IS with you. Never more than now do I trust myself to Him. I know Him and he NEVER lies and He never proves faithless.”