Monthly Archives: January 2017

THE MESSAGE OF A DYING CHILD

A reader asked about some issues generated by Luke 13:1-5. “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were guiltier than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’”

There are several things that seem to clear to me. 1) Christ saw these events as judgment on sin. 2) He told his hearers they “too” (also) were heading for judgment if they didn’t repent. 3) He refused to accept the notion that the sinners that were already slain were worse than the sinners he was speaking to.
He takes it for granted that the deaths were God’s judgment in dealing with sin. His “you also will perish if you don’t repent” clearly implies that. Well, it does to me. He doesn’t say, “No, their perishing was just random/bad luck.” He ties in the death of the people alluded to with judgment and sin. Had it been the case that an innocent child was killed in the fall of the tower, along with the eighteen sinners, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that the eighteen were judged for their sin. The innocent child is not judged for its sin, it has committed no wrong—it is caught up in the judgment on others. (Compare embezzling parents being jailed and their innocent children suffering in the process. One is punishment and the other suffering. I wish we would keep that distinction in mind. It’s eye-opening to note how easy it is for us to slip from one to another.)

Assuming that the above is accurate, these verses tell us that these particular sinners were judged by God but that these particular sinners were no worse offenders than the rest that lived in Jerusalem or Galilee. That all sinners have earned the expressed judgment of God may be true but it may also be true that God in these cases chose to judge some specific ones at that time, rather than all Galilean sinners.
That he didn’t at that point choose to judge others doesn’t change the truth that he did choose to judge the ones he judged. Had there been eighteen other sinners near the tower that escaped death it wouldn’t have changed the truth that the eighteen that died were guilty and God judged for them for it. Why He chose those eighteen and not all thirty-six or the other eighteen or a different combination of the total number (why not “Joseph” instead of “Isaac”, “Jonathan” rather than “Simon”?) there’s no way for us to know.
It isn’t hard to speculate that it’s simply because Simon was strapping his sandal and didn’t react quickly enough to escape the stones and that Jonathan by chance was standing in a strong archway at the critical moment. These may well be the facts, but it’s nevertheless true that the falling tower and the deaths were God’s judgment against sinners.

Those that were not simultaneously judged (let’s say Jonathan is one of them) thought they were a cut above the rest morally but Christ trenchantly rebukes that insolence and assures Jonathan that his day is coming if he doesn’t change.
So does our inability to answer numerous questions mean this wasn’t the work of God in judgment? No—Christ “said” it was. If we’d been there, saw the whole thing and concluded that it was nothing more than a random tragedy—we’d have been wrong. We might have talked about the age of the building, the poor workmanship and other such things—and all of what we said might be accurate. But if we made that the entire explanation of the event we’d still be wrong.
Yes, but the only way we would know we were wrong is because Christ told us. True, but being wrong and knowing we’re wrong are two different things. We’d have been wrong even if Jesus hadn’t told us.
But would we have known it was a judgment of God if Christ hadn’t told us? Listen, as the Genesis narrative teaches us, death is in the world because the human family rebelled against God (Genesis 3). As the biblical record has it, had humans not sinned God’s gift of fullness of life would have continued but since we cut ourselves off from the source of life death was the inescapable consequence. God did not will that we could have fullness of life apart from Him so loss of life wasn’t a “logical” or “mechanical” result, it was how God willed things to be. His move was not one of spite or sheer retribution—it was a redemptive move. (That truth needs developed.)
We don’t know if someone’s death is God specifically marking that person out for death because of personal wrongdoingbut we do know that his or her death is embraced in the universal judgment triggered by the human family. Death exists because of sin. Little babies don’t die because they have personally sinned but they do die because they are caught up in the tragedy brought on by human sin (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Not only does God know that that is so, God has so structured human life that it could not have been otherwise! Death doesn’t just “happen” to exist—it exists according to the nature and will of God. It exists according to the will of God who linked it to human rejection of Himself who is the only source of fullness of life. That rejection is satanic in nature and so death and all that is anti-life is linked to Satan (Hebrews 2:15; Luke 13:16).

So when we look at the tragic death of an innocent child, should we say it is a judgment of God on that child because of its sin? The very question is obscene. The answer’s plainly no! But if we ask if the tragic death of that child is the outcome of His judgment on guilty humanity, the answer is plainly yes!* We should allow the tragic deaths of all the babies on our planet (born and not yet born) to speak to us a word from God! That broken-hearted parents can only think of the anguish they feel makes perfect sense. To enter into their pain and do what we can to console as well as comfort is what we should be about. But to leave it at that—to say that that’s all there is to say—is to reduce what’s staring in the face of the anguished parents and us.
These children are an indictment of humanity’s great wrongs! These children are a proclamation of God’s profound earnestness in dealing with our sin! These children are an exhibition of God’s relentless love (yes!). They say to us, “We wouldn’t be this way if you (the human family) weren’t as you are. God so loves you that not only would he not spare His own unique Son, He wouldn’t spare us. Pity us, weep over us, feel your awful loss at our passing but please don’t miss the message we carry from God to you! Don’t reduce our suffering and death. Let our hurt and loss serve his glorious cosmic purpose. Don’t reduce it to bad luck and happenstance.” You understand, I’m not trying to take the tragedy out of tragedy. I don’t wish to suppress tears or discourage warm and practical sympathy. I want to lift the whole experience beyond that, to make it more than that and not less; I’d like to point out the glory as well as tragedy. If it’s said that there is no glory in the agonized death of a child I’d say that’s untrue. Note Galatians 6:14 where Paul glories in the cross.
A child hung on a public gallows somewhere outside Jerusalem and even his friends saw it as nothing but tragedy (Luke 24 and elsewhere). If it’s said that God can use tragedy to bring about good I’d say that’s true but it isn’t the whole truth. The whole truth is greater and more wonderful than that. God didn’t just find Christ on the gallows—he sent him there to share in the suffering of the world (Isaiah 53 and the NT). To reduce the death of a criminal or an innocent little baby or a nation to mere tragedy or calamity is to rob it of what matters most. We don’t honor Christ most by weeping at what we did to Him. We honor Him most by embracing what His death means. I do understand that Jesus is unique but I’m insisting that a dying innocent child and the Lord Jesus have a lot in common.

  • A summary statement:
  • God purposed to give life to human creatures
  • God purposed that that life could only exist in fullness in relation to Him
  • Anything that severs that relationship results in death
  • Anything that severs that relationship is satanic

Humanity’s alienation from God introduced into humanity’s experience all that is anti-life (disease, death and all the wounds self-inflicted and inflicted by others). Such consequences flow from alienation from God—that is inevitable in light of the nature of God and the life He offers in relation to Him.
Because God knowingly and by free sovereign choice created humans to be interdependent, babies and the righteous suffer along with the guilty in God’s redemptive judgment on the guilty. God does not punish the innocent.

  • God enabling, I purpose to say something more about “judgment” and “punishment”

 

I’D RATHER BE….

In Psalm 84 we have a believer who lives a long way from the Jerusalem temple, one who finds his traveling there to be a marvelous thing,  something to look forward to and something to remember and smile about. He muses on the wonder of it all and describes the experience in brief but vivid images.
He isn’t a solitary figure, he never was. He’s part of a nation, a people, a heritage. His people aren’t perfect, they never were. But for all their floundering, for all their shameful behavior their gracious God, through wise chastisement and His preserving faithful hearts within the nation, kept faith with His people and always would keep faith because he cannot be faithless and that’s because He is who He is (2 Timothy 2.13). The psalmist thinks of these, his own people, as they also make their way to glorious Jerusalem, the House of the God.
From scattered communities they came, a family here and a family there, they had parted ways last festal season, happy to be going home after the long trip but they shout happily to one another, “Next year, in Jerusalem!” and now the time had come again. Once more they were done with all the packing and were heading for the little paths that would lead to little roads where they’d meet up with another family or two and those little roads would lead to other little roads where other families had met. The little roads converged and became a larger road and more and more families met each other and the many little trickles became streams and the streams became a river and the river grew in size until in some wide open spaces the huge number became like a lake. All of them, happy pilgrims, seeing many familiar faces of happy pilgrims and getting to know new faces of more happy pilgrims.
What began in happy quietness and controlled excitement with packing and such is now happy bedlam as the roads begin to climb to the Beautiful City that the God of Israel had chosen as his house and to which He invited His People that He might bless them in all the ways that a gathered people are blessed.
This psalmist looks up to the ceilings of the temple houses and sees the sparrows (84:3)—the wise and lucky sparrows and swallows—that make their homes and raise their children in the house of the Lord who welcomes them there. (And in light of that, is it really surprising that Jesus will speak of God being well aware of sparrows even though they are sold as sacrifices for so little? What a God! What a Lord Jesus!)
What was it about the House of God, the place God peculiarly, but not exclusively, made Himself present to His people? Obviously it wasn’t the stones and the furnishings alone; but then, the stones and furnishings were never “alone” and they were never mere stones and furnishings. Together they were a witness to the God of all grace—the Magnificent God who created a heaven that couldn’t hold Him and an entire planet that could hardly serve for His footstool. And yet this building He chose to dwell in and this planet He turned into the “visited planet” were unlike anything in all this vast and expanding universe.
And when the pilgrims arrived, what was said there, what was done there, what was experienced there, what did the gathered people bring there? Because humans are humans we recognize the strengthening power of special days and special occasions and places. Those who love their country, if they attend a good-spirited and well-intentioned gathering in honor of it come away energized and happier and more devoted to it.
Ancient Israel under God’s gracious guidance and wisdom has much to teach us so we mustn’t dismiss its story as or reduced it to a graceless religious system. Sigh.
Certainly putting the best face on it, when they gathered for focused worship who was center, ceaselessly center? What was said, what was sung that showed the center to truly be the center? What was rehearsed? What was taught? When Israel spoke or sang about herself what did she say of herself and how did she understand the reason for her existence as a called out People?
When the Exodus was remembered in song and act and speech, who was interested in the physical measurements of Egypt, the length of the River Nile, Egyptian burial customs or the content of the Book of the Dead? Who showed a serious interest in being able to quote all the places of wandering in the Wilderness?
Was it matters like these that led this psalmist to exult in his opportunity to be at the place of worship? Was it things like that that led him to say, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand…I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than…”
I want to be a good and serious student of God—which of us doesn’t? Two hundred and forty-five mules made the trip with Zerubbabel from Babylon. I know that’s true because Ezra said so. But frankly I don’t care. If it had been 392 Ezra would have said so. These numbers of camels, horses, mules and donkeys only have profound significance if they’re seen as a minor but truthful part of a description of a procession of 42,360 Jews leaving captivity with God at their head. I’m not interested in a discussion of the terrain, of the things they would have brought with them nor am I interested in memorizing the genealogies of names.
I’ve no wish to dismiss all these (and more) as utterly unimportant (much less false) but I want someone to thrill me with the meaning of the entire picture. I want to be reminded that this movement of these people speaks of God’s faithfulness even in the face of Israel’s unfaithfulness; I want to hear that this we’re looking at means God is sovereign over the nations of the world and uses (even the wickedness) of the nations to serve his cosmic purpose; a purpose that comes to its fullness and climax in Jesus, the Son of Man, the Incarnation of God, the fulfillment of his promises to Israel through whom He longs to bless the entire human family. I want to be reminded that all this activity, the “trouble” that God has gone to in wrestling with humans who so fiercely resist Him, means that what is happening on this planet ends with glory—such glory that it is worthy of God’s hand in it.
I want to “go to church” and come away believing more, rejoicing more, hoping more, expecting more for if that is hgappening the world is changing before my eyes and more and more it is truly becoming the Lord’s world. If that happens then when I say “Jesus is Lord” I will say it more fervently, joyfully and fiercely. I don’t want God smothered under a mountain of information that no one remembers, not even those who speak it. I know I can’t live every moment as though I were floating but dear God wouldn’t it be lovely to be as eager to “go to church” as the pilgrim of Psalm 84?
I don’t need exemption from the troubles of life and in any case I’m not going to get it; I don’t need ceaseless coddling. I desperately need a gospel that gives me something I want to shout to the world! A pain-racked, ignorant and kept-ignorant world. I need a place to go to where I’m confronted with GOD, in company with people who are hungry to meet God and along with them to be fed by words that are spirit and life (John 6:63), words about Him so that we can tell the big round teeming world some truly good news!

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT & A PLEA FOR HELP

Holy One, you who are the Father of that wondrous Son who has opened our hearts and eyes and exhorts us to become and continue to be your faithful children. To you, Lord, we pray; you the supreme Truth, for all truth that is, is from you. You we implore, O Lord who are the highest wisdom, and it’s through you anyone is wise if they are indeed wise. You are the supreme Joy and if anyone is happy it’s you who have made them happy. You are the highest loveliness and from you all beauty springs. You’re the Light and from you the people derive their understanding who do indeed understand.
Hear us O Lord, for you are our God and we have no other, you are our Lord, our Father and we want no other. You are our Creator, Our Ruler, our hope, our wealth, our honor, our country, our salvation and our life. Hear us O Lord. We don’t understand you very well but at least we love you, yes, and we see you as the One to love above all else for we are glad to know that all else—our beloved ones and all other things—are gifts from you.
We seek to follow you, we are ready to serve you; under your power and guidance we really do want to live and knowing you are a “man of war” * we fervently wish to join with you in a war against all you are against; a war against all the corruption that corrupts us and all our fellow-humans; a war against all that narrows and cheats us, that cripples and shames us into silence when the world so desperately needs us to speak, a corruption that would corrupt our comfort into complacency and our blessings into an unholy contentment and lead us to many sickening but plausible substitutes for the gospel which is you your blessed Self; your self-giving Self. We wish to follow you in a war that not only dismantles but builds, a war that not only destroys but renews, that not only exposes the rotting and fungus-covered but that reveals a coming glorious world refreshed and made new by your “obsession” with life that is brimful of life, joy, adventure, accomplishment, warm and Christ-like righteousness.
Redeem the leaders of our congregations from ceaseless musing over the mundane and enable them to see themselves as having been called to lead the army of the Living God, redeem our preaching ministers from the ceaseless moralizing sameness, from excessive fine-tuning of views and interesting “talks” that leave people to look at one another with a “so what?” feeling as congregations of God’s People leave unfed and unmoved, un-thrilled, uninspired and unequipped to meet un-blessed men, women, girls and boys. Redeem us from preachings (!) and prayers that are not worthy of your eternal and cosmic and glorious purpose that once led women and men, young and old, to sing and dance as they went to their death that that gospel about you and your Son might remain with us to this day. Deliver us, won’t you, Holy One, please, from killing blandness so that our young men and women with vitality and drive will engage in embodying and proclaiming a gospel worthy of you, the One True God.
This prayer in Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord.
* Exodus 15:3

PREACHING “JUST” PREACHING

“Some trades and professions, it is clear, will die out as the kingdom of God comes to its own. But for every voice that carries inspiration to its fellows; for every soul that has some authentic word from the Eternal wherewith to guide and bless mankind there will always be a welcome.
No changes of the future can cancel the commission of the preacher…Let every village preacher who climbs into a rude rostrum, to give out a text and preach a sermon to a meager handful of somewhat stolid hearers, remember to what majestic Fraternity he belongs and what romantic tradition he inherits.”
Charles Sylvester Horne said that at the Yale Lectures on Preaching. At the right moment it can give you goose bumps. Is this what we’re doing when we get up to proclaim the gospel? If so, how privileged we should feel. Who was it (Charles Campbell, maybe) that said that a Sunday sermon was an eschatological wrestle with Satan? Bless me, if that’s anywhere near true, God forgive us if we stand up to preach without a surge of adrenaline. And God rescue any assembly from its apathy (chosen or preacher-manufactured) as “the word of God” goes forth.
In truly proclaiming the gospel of God in the Lord Jesus the feeblest, lisping and stumbling preacher has, in the name of the Lord Jesus waged war on the predatory kingdom of the prince of this world and the preacher does it for the peoples of the world, not just believers.
In the name of the Christ of Colossians 2:15 and John 12:31 he rises to his feet and announces that the prince of this world was cast out and that the seemingly unbeatable powers of evil that shape a world have already been sentenced and their prince cast out by One who is for us; One who is for the entire human family (1 Timothy 2:6; 4:10).
How silly all that sounds (even to some poor believers). No wonder Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 1 & 4, about preaching foolishness and being fools.
The measure of the preacher’s feebleness is the measure of the power that is at the back of him for who could persuade him to tell people that the world has been conquered? Who could lead him to believe and proclaim words that bring down the forts of folly that have stood for thousands of years? What makes him think he can bring galactic heresy to its knees and make it captive, bringing it to kneel before the Lord of truth? (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) In his stumbling way and in his fumbling through from one gospel text to another he defies the reality of entrenched evil, sounds the bell of doom over the inhabitants of the satanic Pandemonium and stands as a knight of God who strikes his lance against the shields of sin, suffering, death and Satan. Where else do you get a chance to tear down forts that are dedicated to resist God and his purpose for the human family? As you can do in preaching/teaching, where else do you get a chance in God’s name to wage war with truth against satanic lies? Where else but where the gospel is preached and taught do people go to hear the glorious gospel that shakes the foundations of the invisible satanic capital and fearlessly expose the evil visible power structures that oppress and cripple millions?
We take the pulpit too much for granted if we don’t imagine angels leaning over the walls of heaven to listen intently to the grandest Story of endless ages (enjoy the imagery of 1 Peter 1:12).
But see how they turn away in bitter disappointment when they hear our guesses and platitudes and the latest advice on how to be more virtuous instead of a message of wonder and mystery and eternal truth about the God of justice whose kingdom, embodied in the Lord Jesus, will become the unbroken experience of a redeemed and just human family. How disappointed they must be to ceaselessly hear preaching and teaching that implies that our congregations have arrived and need only to be kept afloat in “sound doctrine” or to be morally fine-tuned until the members die off or Jesus comes to take us all to heaven. “Well, aren’t they all ‘saved’ and doesn’t the grace of God in the Lord Jesus cover their sins—so what else is preaching and teaching for but to increase the moral excellence of the members and make sure they don’t fall away until they are safe?” Would you think this is a summary of much of what’s preached?
And tens of millions of the oppressed and humiliated in every generation look to the heavens and sigh with broken hearts! They don’t know what they need, they don’t know who’s in charge; they’re caught up in the evil world they were born into and are coerced into following the line of least resistance.
All the while—while preachers drone on or dabble in the latest theological stress—Someone carries on His work as He sees fit and working to His own schedule, Someone who once hung on a tree and uttered words we can’t quite hear but they’re something like, “Tell the plundered poor, the ignorant who are kept ignorant, that what they endure is not ‘life’. Tell them that from where I hang I see what’s happening, I ‘get’ it, and that what I experience as I hang here is no more the end of the Story than what they now experience.
Tell them, that come Sunday morning, I will rise in triumph over all the seductive and oppressive powers and I will rise not just for Me but for them!
Tell the thugs of the world, whether they’re the militia-dressed heartless brutes or the faceless ‘suits’ pulling the political/financial strings from behind closed doors, that their day’s coming. In that day they won’t be facing the frightened, voiceless villagers or the brutalized and starved masses that huddle together in squalor in ruined towns and wilderness places. No, they’ll face me and I will right all wrongs in all the ways that wrongs need to be righted.
Say that one day the millions will come stumbling out of the dark places into the warm light to find Me welcoming them—no militia, no being herded into wired-off refugee centers, no more grubbing around in a desperate attempt to find enough food to keep their children alive, no more fighting fellow-victims, stealing while feeling guilty for doing it. Tell them that the loveliest dreams they ever dreamed will come true and more.
Tell them I will not rise just to bless some group lucky enough to be born in the right place at the right time but that I rise to rescue the voiceless and helpless plundered whoever they are and wherever they are—raped and abused by the exulting servants of malignant evil that slithers and spawns and infects everything it touches. Tell all who know Me to tell that!”
I’m fairly sure we have “a gospel” for the planet itself and I think it’s right that we should talk about it though I think we need to do more than assert that gospel by stringing together a lot of verses from here and there. (When someone as astute as Brueggemann can on one day see creation theology to be the work of dominant forces and the next day gush about it as the truth of the Bible—in light of that perhaps we need more than assertions and image-building and (possible) cosmic metaphors.)
But putting the debate aside, it’s probably comforting and pleasing for many believers to be told that this wondrous world will be their playground, nicer than before, their happy workplace. And why wouldn’t it be?
I wonder what the dazed, bewildered and hurting masses, who are ignorant of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ—I wonder what they’d think of our new and fashionable “gospel for the planet.” I mean, if they had the time to think of it; I mean if they had the time and the capacity to assess it.
Completely and all their lives, generation after generation, they are ignorant and left ignorant and often forced to be ignorant of the God who simply adores the planet created by Lady Wisdom. I wonder if they might think what’s in it for them? Will they have an opportunity for happy employment in the planet adored by the God they never get the chance to know? Or do they come—all of them—out of the darkness and earthly torment to inherit eternal torment or destruction?
(Oh Holy One, do you have a gospel for the planet and none for the countless sinners who are sinned against, who are ignorant of you without ever having chosen it, and are kept that way? They are our brothers and sisters and now and then we grieve very deeply over them and we want to believe that you sent Him and He came for them as well as us who have been blessed to come to know Him and through Him to know you.)

PAINTING PICTURES & INSTRUCTION

This piece loses its way somewhere. At this moment I can’t fix it and part of the reason for that is that I don’t have the discipline others have. If you choose to continue to read it, you’ll have to be patient with me and make it better than it is.
One person is more than one person and the relation between a beloved one (or an enemy) complicates any one person. I can’t be known in relation to my children, Jim, Linda or George—they complicate and enrich who I am. That greater complexity adds to my inability to know myself well so how can think I know others well?
So I tend to think, strongly tend to think, that my best response to my children is to paint a picture of a future rather than give “instructions”. I think this is true also about our congregations. I listen to a lot of preaching and I’m bound to say I hear more “generalized” advice, more “we need to respond” material than the bringing of the God of the Bible out into the open and giving us who hear a solid opportunity of “seeing” Him.  (I’m currently not consistent enough in that but I’m satisfied that I should work toward being so.)
If my children or friends ask for instruction I feel bound (and want to feel bound) to give it but if they don’t ask for it, more and more, I want to paint a picture of a world, a future, as it will look on a coming Day, a world painted in light of the stories about Jesus and God in the grand Narrative where worlds collide and the wondrous world wins.
More and more I (first) want to tell those who are especially precious to me of the beauty and stability and magnificence of the world to come under the Lord Jesus. Paul does something of that in 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 and then having spoken of that glorious Resurrection day he uses the profoundly good and inspiring truth to bless life as it now is (15:58).
I’m not opposed to “instruction” or “advice”; I believe in such things! Bless me, how could we live without them? Still, much depends on the instructor or adviser, his or her modesty and good “common sense”. There’s this also: instruction/teaching takes different forms and we engage in it with different tones and there are times when we offer “instruction” that doesn’t merit the name. We offer generalized advice as if it were something new and something focused enough to be helpful when it’s just more “patter”. Bless me, haven’t I done that often enough to recognize it!
I want to help my children to see (here’s “instruction” that doesn’t too directly take issue with their current sense of themselves and the world) that the Gospel stories are not merely Jesus meeting this needy person or that one or His meeting some hyper-critical person in a particular historical moment. We’re seeing worlds in conflict, a cosmic collision. Embedded in the events and as the foundation on which they are grounded is GOD, His nature, character & unchanging purpose that arises out of His love for humans. This is a God, who could  explain all His ways, His “delays” or His “allowing” this or that, but He is One who knows that we can’t receive His explanation—One who knows that we humans so often don’t want His explanation—we just want Him to stop something or bring something about now! 

Because we’re humans and hurt ourselves and others, because we long for peace rather than war, for comfort rather than severe affliction, for life rather than death and love rather than hate. Because all this is true, in a hard and harsh world, a world we have helped to create and in which we suffer and make others suffer, a place where, precisely because we love deeply we suffer deeply when our beloved ones suffer—once more, because all this is true we want someone to fix everything and fix it now with or without explanation.
Whatever His reasons He has called us to trust Him and the “call” is grounded in the incarnation of God in the human we know as Jesus of Nazareth. This is the God who makes Himself known to us and this is the incarnational way He has done it and these are the stories that tell us of the deeds and the words of the self-revealing God who assures us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31) that He will indeed right ALL the wrongs.
This is the God who continues to embody His truth in the persons who sit across the table from us, who work down the aisle from us, who sleep beside us or who fall asleep in our laps, who often look patiently at us from hospital beds or smile at us as they provide the temporal things we need. Where families gather for meals there at the end of the table, smiling and listening is the Lord Jesus, rejoicing in and sometimes saddened by what He sees and hears; nevertheless there.
There’s a day coming when joy and righteousness and adventure and work will be everywhere experienced and it’s all right to paint that world in whatever images best suit its coming reality and our current setting. Until that Day comes we’ll just have to live without a fully satisfying explanation. The One who sits at the end of the table speaks to our hearts and says, “Trust me! Trust Him! Tell people about Him and about Me.” (John 17:3)

 

NOT LYING DOWN

“Why are you hanging around all the moral riff-raff and the outer fringe people?” That’s what they said in Matthew 9:11-13.
“They’re awfully sick and I’m a doctor!” That’s what Jesus said in Matthew 9:11-13.
That’s holiness! That’s God’s holiness!
That’s God’s holiness flawlessly exhibited in a human life—the life of Jesus of Nazareth who was/is God being a man.
God’s holiness isn’t a stiff-armed moral uprightness.
Whatever “holiness” is unlike His holiness isn’t holiness!
And Christ prayed for me and people like me in John 17:17 and Paul took His prayer seriously in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 when he said that God Himself would make us holy all the way through and because He is faithful who called us and He will do it!
So I’m going to do it! Weak or not, sick or not, stumbling or not, sinful or not, I’m going to finish this adventure; it’s my destiny and calling. I’m not talking about the pursuit of moral uprightness where I check my record against a list of moral imperatives! I’m talking about the pursuit of God’s likeness in Jesus Christ; I’m talking about walking worthy of the God who has called me. I’m not talking about merely “keeping God’s commandments,” I’m talking about coming to know and love Jesus Christ who said if I trust Him to help me that I will be empowered, I will be kept by the power of God through faith (1 Peter 1:5) and that I’ll come to know what it is to be ecstatically happy to do what He calls for. I’m not going to finish this phase of living lying down!
I’m here expressing the hearts of a great host as well as my own. We’re not elite  but we are elect!
So I’m not walking away. I’m staying! And I’m not alone in this (how could I be alone?). I’m one of multiplied millions down the years in whose steps I follow and even now I’m in the company of a massive throng of women and men of the same faith and the same heart as mine (2 Timothy 2.22). We’re here for the entire adventure against the powers of darkness that work to destroy us and our hurting & sick human family.
And we’re going to stop comparing ourselves favorably with other fellow-servants in this war. We’re going to help one another buckle on the armor of God (the kind of armor Isaiah said God put on to deliver the oppressed—Isaiah 59:17); the kind the Messiah wore in his work of redemption, judgment and peace-bringing (Isaiah 11:5).
If you see or hear that one of us has fallen and floundered be sure that you keep looking and listening for the story that he or she got back up. By God we’re not staying down. And if it’s me and I disappoint you I won’t have disappointed you as much as I’ve disappointed me. And if your eyelid flickers with that disappointment it won’t be as genuine as God’s is but His Son will come to me and He will help me to my feet again and when He’s done talking to me He’ll help me buckle on the armor He has provided. He won’t do it with a smoldering sulk or an icy coolness. No, it will be with a royal and brotherly concern and passion that is an aspect of His wondrous way that means He won’t allow His servant to give up the fight. “Stand up straight,” He’ll say, “and let me tighten up those gospel shoes.”
This is the holiness of God! It is ethical! It does have that “forbidding” sense attached to it but that’s not the whole story about holiness—it never was! His holiness is the presence of joy, the presence of warmth, brother and sisterhood; it’s the presence of anything that God has given to humans to honorably rejoice in because God would have it so! It’s God-given human well-being enjoyed and exercised in happy well-doing and it’s not confined to the overt “religious” activities.
Holiness has beauty and loveliness as well as strength; it has social expression as well as inner transformation and it shows itself in human loves and human lovers, human acts of kindness, human courage that opposes injustice and in humans who “come to stay.”
So, I’m not going to finish this phase of living lying down!
I won’t do it!
At the end when Death or the Lord comes calling one way or another I’m going to be on my feet rather than lying down. “Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world!”
We’re not going to do it, are we?! We’re not going to finish this lying down!

IMAGES OF THE INVISIBLE GOD

Whats the cure for or at least the best help toward stabilizing a wavering faith? Whatever others might think, whatever others might major in, in their teaching, the Hebrew writer in 11:6 says a faith-filled vision of GOD is what’s needed.
What led Abel to please God in sacrifice? What took Enoch straight to heaven, what drove the ark-building Noah to build and save a human family, what sent Abraham off in search of a land only God knew where, what led Joseph to say no to a possible pyramid in his honor and Moses to say no to possible kingship? Faith in God. (In this letter, I’m satisfied that the trust aspect of faith is in the writer’s mind.)
And how does such faith in God begin and deepen? By faith Moses saw the invisible, by faith Abraham saw a city not built by man, by faith Israel shouted and saw God’s invisible hand dismantle Jericho. Faith is the substance of things not seen! Without faith in God the heart becomes blind and while it’s true that the mind still functions well enough in various areas, without heart it gathers mountains of raw material but doesn’t know what to build with it. And who will help us to gain a faith-filled vision? And how will they help us—by gathering massive amounts of biblical or theological “information”?

 Mark 14:4-5 has this phrase, “It might have been sold…” That complaint came from Judas (though he was not alone, see John 12.4). That was all he could find to say about the precious ointment poured out of its alabaster flask in the service of love. A meal was served in the house of Simon the leper. The Master’s in the place of honor. Then a hush, Mary’s behind the Master, a broken flask, a lovely aroma filling the room. The complaint breaks the silence and suddenly the room is invaded by the noises of the market and they overwhelm a love-laden, life-laden moment. Judas saw and vulgarized something Jesus and says will never be forgotten as long as the world stands.
Judas stood among priceless things that evening in Simon’s house and saw nothing. His fault here wasn’t that he did nothing but that he saw nothing; he was heart-blind. “The fact that he put a price on the gift proves that he never saw the gift. If he had seen it he would have known it was priceless.” It’s obvious he hadn’t learned to see as His Master saw. Jesus saw more glory in a field of wild flowers than in Solomon and all his grandeur, Jesus said that. A poor widow’s two nickels were worth more than the hefty contribution of the rich and God in heaven wrote an I.O.U. every time a cup of cold water was given by a loving heart. Jesus said that too. All of that Judas must have heard but he hadn’t learned that there are things too beautiful to be sold. He saw love and thought it was waste! He didn’t know what he was dealing with. “But he wasn’t dealing with alabaster and ointment.” And in thousands of moments like this one we never are.
There in front of us, right there, faith-filled and loving hearts are doing things that God is keeping a record of; there, right there in front of us are people whose glory isn’t seen in some specific act, it can only be seen by someone who sees the life lived out over years.
We can’t be God and He doesn’t hold us responsible for not being Him but we profoundly need help if we are to gain a rich vision of God and His Holy Son in whose image we’ve been made. We honor prominent leaders and salaried preachers and teachers—a godly and lovely thing under the right circumstances—but there’s a day coming, I like to imagine, in a better world, when God will bring out a host of unknown, a host of never mentioned people and He will honor them and there won’t be a prominent figure among them. Paul and Peter and Moses and others have their share of praise and glory. And God sees that too and takes note of it.

A man told me of a visit he enjoyed with a charming lady and during a brief lull in their talk about God and life she saw him glancing at a lovely picture on the table beside her. “That’s my daughter and her daughters,” she said. They were pretty and all dressed in white—it was a wedding picture. With joy she began to tell him, he said, about her daughter, her love for God and her mission work in foreign lands. Understandably thrilled she told him about it all. The man told me, “I said to her, if God walked into this room, sat down beside you, put His arm around you and whispered in your ear, I really love that girl,” you’d say, “I know you do.” Then He’d say, “Oh? Why do you think that is?” Then you’d say, “She reminds you of someone.” Then He’d say, “And who would that be?” Then you’d say, “She reminds you of you.” Then God would smile and say, “You’re absolutely center of the target.”
He said, “This woman who didn’t need to be told about her daughter’s loveliness, smiled big and made it clear that she now saw her daughter as even more beautiful than before.”
Life is made up of things that defy all valuation and it’s missing these things that reduces and vulgarizes life. Part of the fullness of life that God even now brings through Christ is to be able to see through new eyes—it’s a new way of seeing life and that only comes via a new and better vision of God to whom to know, said Jesus, is life eternal.
(In this piece I’ve leaned a bit on something George Matheson said many years ago. F.D. Maurice took a different and useful direction on the Judas incident that (God enabling) I’ll make use of some time.)