Monthly Archives: August 2016

THE PURSUIT OF KNOWLEDGE

In the stage script of the children’s fantasy book, The Green Children [by McGuiggan & Chumbley] Mary Kate McCauley is taking her nearly fourteen year-old son to her Dada’s house. Sean is being asked to spend the evening with his Grandfather and he thinks this is a great burden because his grandfather’s old and he would know nothing of modern technology—particularly smartphones, which are Sean’s current object of worship.

His protests don’t work, his mother must deal with some business and Sean will stay with his grandfather for some hours. He sulks but comforts himself by telling her: “At least I’ll have my phone.”

She rebukes him severely! He is not to disrespect this good man and he is to put that gadget away for a while. She herself, she says, knows more about the top of his head than the color of his eyes because his head’s always down and his eyes glued to “that blessed thing.”

She doesn’t deny the greatness of the phone but she insists that marvelous as they are they’re not as wonderful as grandfathers. She knows there’s a world full of important information to be found in phones but she claims that life has a way of hiding wondrous things from people who aspire for more and more knowledge but have little interest in friendship or family. “Thank goodness we don’t have to choose between them,” she says, “for I don’t know if I’d prefer you brainless or heartless.”

Those who dismiss knowledge don’t know what they’re talking about but the whole of life can’t be reduced to holding correct views nor can it be reduced to the pursuit of them. Truth really matters and everyone knows it but the pursuit of knowledge can suck the life out of life and when it does we discover one day that the tree of knowledge is not the tree of life.

Imagine, said, Robertson of Brighton, coming to the end of your life knowing everything and loving nothing! Imagine at one time being happy pagans together with your dearest friend, being found by and finding Christ together, gaining some advanced insight and now jeering at your friend because compared with you he’s ignorant? “Knowledge puffs up,” Paul tells the knowledge-worshiping Corinthians, “love builds up.”

I suppose that even those among us who truly appreciate the power of phones and use them almost ceaselessly—I suppose even they become irritated sometimes when the people they wish to speak to [especially their children?] are too busy to even look their way.

There’s nothing wrong with these media—God has gifted humans with brilliance and adventurous curiosity—but because we’re sinfully flawed we misuse the gifts, don’t we?

Ah, it’s inner transformation we need. Get that and the wonder of the media will become the more wondrous. Get that and Truth becomes more than (not less than) knowledge!

(If interested, contact Kenny Chumbley about The Green Children.      klchumbley@aol.com or 217-493-8905)

THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT

  1. If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,
  2. Let Israel now say—
  3. If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us:
  4. Then they would have swallowed us alive, when their wrath was kindled against us.
  5. Then the waters would have overwhelmed us, the stream would have gone over our soul:
  6. Then the swollen waters would have gone over our soul.
  7. 6Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as a prey to their teeth.
  8. Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
  9. Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Praise God, some of us have never felt we were on the brink of disaster, never teetered on the edge of the abyss, never felt the loss was too great to bear, never lost sight of comforting landmarks as we sailed beyond familiar waters. We know the source of our blessing and we sincerely thank Him for his protection and generosity.

But many among us have been through hell and back.

We had heard this psalm of David [124] read to us, may even have read it ourselves many times and thought how fine it was. We may even have heard a good sermon on it [or preached one] and thought it assuring so we tucked it away in our hearts as something fine to tell others who were in trouble.

Then imminent disaster stared us in the face, calamity smashed through the doors of our happy homes and obliterated all sense of comfort and all our good answers, handy quips, fine verses and great sermons vanished like vapor and we knew we were doomed.

But God was magnificent!

We survived. Were saved, and now we were stronger and braver having come through the horror.

Psalm 124 was a familiar song from a psalmist, a lovely-sounding text but now it has become a throbbing personal experience. It was no longer just David’s song; it was ours.

We knew that such a deliverance was the work of God. Now we read the text with new eyes and tell our families and friends and fellow-strugglers, “Were it not that the Lord was on my side I would have been swallowed up alive. The swollen waters would have gone over my soul.”

How God worked that deliverance is a complex matter though it isn’t vague or obscure; It’s simply too rich, too multi-faceted, too deep for us to follow all the many ways he carries out his acts of rescue. But Paul doesn’t mind telling us that God most often does his magnificent work through things that look ordinary, things that are explained as nothing more than ordinary by many people. If he wants to work a miracle He does it! But read the Bible for yourself; miracles are recognized as “miracles” because they aren’t usual.

In 2 Corinthians 7 Paul is profoundly worried about the troubled and hostile Corinthian congregation so he sends Titus to see how things are. He can’t wait for the report so he leaves a successful evangelistic situation and runs to meet the young man. He finally meets with a smiling and assuring Titus—good news!—and he is comforted. There are those who will plausibly tell you that it can all be explained in social and psychological terms and that’s the end of it. Paul wouldn’t believe a word of that! He says it was God who comforted him through Titus and social/psychological means. God made us humans and works with us as humans. There’s no need to deny that God enables us through “ordinary” means—the blunder is to reduce the comfort to nothing but “ordinary” means. How do we think God answers our “give us our daily bread” prayers? So it suddenly appear on the table or float down through the ceiling?

God keeps us through friends he has already put in place, truths already stored away in the heart, sights and sounds of brave people around us, bearing their awful losses in a gallant spirit, prayers offered on our behalf, people who gather around us and provide what they can provide under the circumstances—these and so many other things are the already-in-place instruments of God who delivers us. There are too many of them; they’re as complex as life. Evil comes at us in similar ways—we’re humans, for pity’s sake and God works with us as humans

The crucial point at this moment is this—it is God who delivers us through these lovely realities. In the medical realm we don’t thank the antibiotics or the EKG machine of the surgeon’s scalpel; we thank the people who produce and use such things to bring us health.

In the end it’s about persons and in the end it’s a Person believers turn to and applaud and thank for his gracious power when we are blessed and/or delivered.

For believing people, prayers may well be for deliverance from social, economic, family and other calamities—that’s no surprise, believers are as human as any other humans. As Shakespeare reminded us via Shylock in The Merchant of Venice when they’re hurt do they groan, when cut them they bleed, when they’re thirsty they need to drink?

But down below their felt need for these basic human necessities there’s the desire to stay on their feet in the matter of faith.

Some years back when asked what their greatest fear was when first going into actual combat a great number of soldiers agreed that the overriding fear was not about dying but about failing to live up to expectations, fear of shaming themselves under pressure and consequently shaming their beloved families. That’s no surprise either.

What is true of soldiers is true of those who name the name of the Lord. Their social or physical agony matters but for them the fundamental thing is to stay on their feet as soldiers and servants of God. Understandably, under the burden of pain or loss or bewilderment there is the appeal for God to remove the burden but it is to God the believer turns for help and it is to God they bring their tears and agony if the calamity wrecks all around them.

Standing, perhaps stunned, in the middle of the debris of a life in social ruins they maintain their faith in God and that is a magnificent deliverance. It isn’t just things or relationships—however precious they are—that are under attack, it’s their souls, their personhood, their very being.

Then with hearts broken, chests heaving and eyes streaming they realize they’re still on their feet. They might once have thought they’d fold or fall apart under disaster, they might have thought that calamity would obliterate their trust in God but now they know better.

But they know this also:

  1. If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,
  2. Let Israel now say—
  3. If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us:
  4. Then they would have swallowed us alive, when their wrath was kindled against us.
  5. Then the waters would have overwhelmed us, the stream would have gone over our soul:
  6. Then the swollen waters would have gone over our soul.
  7. 6Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as a prey to their teeth.
  8. Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
  9. Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

[Holy One, we do not know ourselves at all well so we don’t pretend to be able to know you well; we cannot see your face; you are too great and glorious and your ways of working are past finding out. But we have caught glimpses of your “back” as you work in the lives around us and as fully as you have shown yourself we see you in your Holy Son as we come to know him. And because we have seen in Him how you reign we know that all that is truly good in the lives of your human children comes from you. So we believe and so we speak not only for ourselves but for all humans so many of whom live in hell-holes at home and around the world. We believe that you will right all wrongs and we believe that the blessings that so many of us enjoy are prophecies and promises that one day all the victimized and humiliated and abused and despairing will have reason to think noble things of you for Thou art righteousness & love.

This prayer in Jesus Christ.]

WHO KNOWS BUT GOD?

So this ancient king whose lovely palace sat secure in the middle of his dominion that stretched far and had many borders and many enemies sent one of his most trusted aides to get an update on kingdom affairs. The king was greatly loved and his servants were fiercely loyal so he wasn’t expecting a report that disappointed him though he knew that in some distant areas his enemies were constantly making war. Off went the ambassador and within a few days he had visited a couple of strong forts not far from the palace. They were manned by competent, loyal and cheerful troops whose commander assured the ambassador that these well-drilled and disciplined troops were at the king’s command. The peace they enjoyed in those areas lifted the heart of the ambassador and because the praise of the king rang out from every corner of the settlement and his colors flew high above the battlements the king’s aide knew that his master’s honor was safe with them. Wanting to do a good job for the king he loved he visited many such forts as he moved farther and farther from the center of the kingdom toward its borders. As he travelled outward the reports of skirmishes with enemies became more numerous and the skirmishes were often more than skirmishes—sometimes they were major battles.

After more than a month he arrived late in the night at a fort right on the edge of his lord’s dominion, weary and ready to get back home to his own comfortable surroundings with his close friends and family. In spite of his high rank and the fact that he had sent ahead to say he was coming he was treated curtly, in fact, almost offhandedly, and taken to quarters that showed no sign of having been prepared for him. Smarting a bit he wanted to tell the officer in charge to have a more civil tongue in his head but he was too weary—he’d do it tomorrow. He rose early and made his own way around the settlement and saw the ill-kempt soldiers, many of them unshaven, few of them giving him even as much as a glance, some of them sleeping on the ground, hugging their weapons. The entire place had a markedly run-down look and there wasn’t a smile in the entire garrison much less laughter. He climbed stone steps that led up on to the wall to look out over the land and was roughly pulled down by a young soldier who yelled at him, “You want your head blown off? Idiot!”

In a few moments, the commander who met the aide in the dark the night before—now looking a wreck, blood-shot eyes, stained uniform and unwashed—yelled to soldiers everywhere, “Up, they’re back again.” A full scale attack had begun and lasted most of the day. Later, as he shared whatever supplies there were with the leader of the settlement the aide asked if what he had seen this day was common. “As common as mud,” the soldier said, “but, believe it or not, a man gets used to it and when you know it’s for a good king and his people it makes it easier.”

Several days later, in a lull between battles, the ambassador headed home; his own clothes stained and his own eyes a bit glazed. He kept thinking of the words he would report to his master about the faithful servants he had in all the garrisons—their wishes for honor and long life for their king. He especially thought of the forts right on the border where the battle raged fiercely and the last words of the commander with the abrupt tongue; “Tell the king there isn’t a man here who would not die gladly in the king’s service and for his honor if that’s what’s called for.”

I don’t know who serves the King of Kings best—only he can tell that. Only he knows the whole story, the hidden depths of a life, the strength of the currents that flow against it or with it, the purity or lack of it that beats in a heart and the support or lack of it that comes from outside it. I know there’s more to be taken into account than appearance and I know that for some tired souls that face daily battles they never asked for and who struggle against drives they inherited and wish they hadn’t—I know that for them, just to stay on their feet is a glorious tribute to the love of their Master who has graciously called them to his service.

I know that clean, cheerful lives filled with praise for the King and that enjoy peace close to the centre of the King’s dominion—I know they should be congratulated. To wish that everyone everywhere should experience a daily hand-to-hand brawl to the death with “enemies” of various kinds might be nothing more than frustration tinged with resentment. To rejoice with those that rejoice is like the King. Joyful, thankful souls at peace in their service should please us all.

I know this too: there are those whose lives aren’t neat and tidy, who aren’t always cheerful and courteous, who often blunder and stumble in the heat of battle but who would, without hesitation, throw themselves in front of an express train if the King asked them to.

Maybe all his servants please the King.

If that’s not true, would somebody explain to me how the King could speak Luke 22:28 to that band of misfits?