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.

“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!

 

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?