Monthly Archives: January 2017

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!

GIVING THE WORLD A SONG TO SING

Ancient Jews weren’t scared witless by the sea but there was enough about it that generated unease in them when they looked at it. Whatever else Genesis 1 taught them, 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 17:13-14). The sea was no god to be worshiped as it had been worshiped in Egypt, where they 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, as did other nations.

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.” Hearing the pounding of huge waves as they smash against one another with destroying force is a graphic sound/picture of clashing armies and nations. In their wickedness they never ceased to cast up muck and debris (Isaiah 57:20). It was out of the restless Great Sea (Mediterranean) 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). No wonder that when John describes the conditions of the world freed from the oppressor that he says of it (and there was no more sea)—Revelation 21:1.
With thoughts and images like these circulating in a little nation that—on and off— for centuries had felt the power of oppressors the psalmist’s defiant words in Psalm 46:1-3 ring out all the finer and braver and more trustful. These words aren’t sung by people who’ve known no trouble—they’ve known more than their share! These aren’t the words of a people who think the world can be fixed if only it had “enough information”. This man speaks for his entire people who expect the world to be wild and oppressive and who know that either today or tomorrow they’ll feel the hurt that powerful nations bring to others. Knowing all that, fully aware of all that, certain that it will come to that he says this:
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 standing on top of the cliff, watching the huge waves building out there and then rushing for the cliff face with increasing speed and power. There’s the shudder he feels in the ground when they thunder against it, again and again, unrelentingly, threatening to bring down the entire shoreline and him along with it. As he waits for the next bg one he looks 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:
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.
This song is sung by modern believers as well. I know a lot of them personally! They’re intelligent, wide-eyed, politically aware, as realistic as anyone you could meet and when they feel the shudder under their feet they note it well but still get on with their business of world-transformation by “gospeling,” in all the various ways that each of them is able do it.
But look what another believer did in Psalm 117 with such faith-generating truth. This singer is no bigot, no racist, no patriot that confuses rabid nationalism for love of country and nation and no self-centered worshiper. He knew he was part of God’s chosen people but he knew something about his God that needed to be told to the entire world! He must have had his tough times like everyone else; he might well have had long stretches of agony when the first half of Psalm 22 was most often in his mind and speech and then came to experience the last half of Psalm 22. It would have been when he had come through the long scalding experience and not only survived [see Psalm 124] but was filled with a new experience of God, His power to save and His faithfulness—that’s when he would have jumped up in the middle of the congregation and said, “I have something I must sing.” And he sang this for his people but—more importantly, more immediately and directly—for the world!
Praise the Lord, all nations
Extol Him, all people.
For His kindness overwhelms us,
And the Lord’s steadfast truth is forever.
Hallelujah.     (Alter’s Translation)

He calls on all the peoples and nations of the earth to praise God—Yahweh! And why should they? What reason does this believer give the entire human family to praise Israel’s God? Here it is, “Because His kindness overwhelms us.” His kindness overwhelms Israel—that’s a reason for the entire world to sing His praise? It’s clear the psalmist had a richer understanding of God than many of his fellows. He and the little woman in Matthew 15 had much in common.
This psalm is about the experience of the People of God as a whole and it’s about the non-Jewish nations as a whole. It’s cosmic in scope, it’s humankind in breadth; it’s about the God and Father of all of us and the psalmist says, “Look at us and learn about Him. About Him! Like you, we’ve been in and through trouble but here we are (Isaiah 43:1-7)—alive and well. In his goodness to us and his sustaining covenant faithfulness He speaks a message of His faithful love to you. Rejoice in Him. Rejoice in Him because His kindness overwhelms us.” Rejoice in the one true God that is the God of His chosen People because He is the God of the entire world and He has called His People to tell the world that He is for them also!
Tell that to the NT Church and to the abused and plundered and kept-ignorant people of the world! Give them a song to sing!

(Holy One, we thank you for showing us in the Lord Jesus what holiness is—for showing us that it isn’t a stiff-arm aloofness and forever forbidding. Thank you for showing us in Him, in His permanently choosing to be a human, living, dying and dealing with the Sin of the entire world—thank you for showing us what grace is. Thank you for calling out an elect People to tell that good news to a plundered, tormented world and give them something and Someone to believe in and to sing about. Help us to be faithful to our hope-bringing and joy-bringing message about Thyself so that we will not stuff ourselves with more and more while millions of Lazaruses lie dying all over our world.)

A ROMANTIC CREED

Sylvester Horne put it this way in his Yale lectures all those years ago: “What is the Gospel? It is contained in a verse of one of the greatest Christian hymns:
‘Were the whole realm of Nature mine; That were a present far too small! Love so amazing, so Divine, Demands my soul (my life my all)!’
That is to say that my soul is a greater and bigger thing than the whole realm of nature. Do you believe it? I agree it is the most romantic of all beliefs. It affirms that the soul of every forced laborer on the Amazon is of more value than all the mines of Johannesburg, all the diamonds of Kimberly, all the millions of all the magnates of America. It affirms that in God’s sight all the suns and stars that people infinite space, are of inferior worth to one human spirit dwelling, it may be, in the degraded body of some victim of drink or lust, some member of the gutter population of a great city who has descended to his doom by means of the multiplied temptations with which our so-called society environs him. It is a romantic creed. But if it is not true, Christianity itself is false.”
If you gained the creation, Jesus said, “and lost yourself  you made a bad bargain.” Jesus said that! Not a philosopher, not a mathematician or a renowned religious leader—Jesus! The evil magician kept crying in the street, “New lamps for old” and a servant girl in Aladdin’s house exchanged the world for a piece of shiny metal when she threw Aladdin’s lamp down to the evil sorcerer who knew the worth of Aladdin’s lamp.
Jesus knew the worth of a human. Knew what they were destined for and why they were created by God. He knew the sickest of them was worth His living and dying and rising for (see Matthew 9:11-12; Jeremiah 8:22; Revelation 3:17-18). Paul knew that too for he said that “all things” (the entire creation, humans included) were made in and through and for Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-16). “You were made for me,” Jesus would say to the most burdened human on the planet.
But unless they meet Jesus—in person or via the Church’s gospeling about Him—the burdened soul will never know who it is that looks back at him/her from the mirror. They will never know that God lovingly created them to be His  companions; nor will they get a glimpse of the glory they were made for. The very wealthy and the very gifted, the marvelously educated, housed, employed and powerful will never know how God views them or how He wishes to further bless and use them (see Numbers 10:29-31 where one of the elect, in the name of God, speaks to one of the non-elect and sought his expertise and help in the service of God).
God seeks to narrow no one, to rob no one; He doesn’t want them to sell themselves to gain the beautiful when they can have Him and all the honorable and joy-bringing things that are part of fullness of life. He longs to open their eyes and their hearts to the recovery and experience of the greater glory, usefulness, adventure and life as a helper and companion of God who is the God of healing, enrichment and life!
(
Oh God, we pile up words like high hills in a vain attempt to give you what you deserve—we know before we utter them that they fall short but we can’t not make the attempt. Unless you enable us we know that we will continue to swap the wondrous for the shiny metal and ourselves for the galaxies. We know that we will cheat and rob our beloved little children before you will ever purpose to rob any of us. Bring to us, then, we pray, those who teach us by word and deed, by attitude and behavior about you that we might be delivered from death and dishonor and brought deeper into the romance of life and adventure. And Holy Father, we pray for all those who never do and never will in this life get to hear about you and so they are impoverished. We think noble thoughts of you and believe that you will do what is generous and right by them in a coming day. This prayer in Jesus Christ who has re-visioned you for our salvation and enlightenment.)

HOW LONG?

Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool…but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” John 5:5-9
This is the word of a confessor, a confessor who admitted his utter and absolute need of help or there could be no hope even though his heart longed for health, for freedom and for fullness of life.
Jesus gave him no lecture about God helping those who help themselves. He gave him no good advice about avoiding a victim mentality before walking away to some other person who could contribute to his own healing. I have only one point to make here and I know that what I have to say needs balanced. If you tell me what I have to say here needs balanced you’ll be wasting your breath—I know it! I do know it!
But balance is for those who can contribute to their own healing and I am not “God enough” (nor is anyone else) to know who these are and I’ve seen enough people, like little animals caught in cruel snares, vainly struggling to get free; in agony and without hope unless someone strong comes and patiently works with the captive, even if and while the captive protests and mistakes rescue for further torment.
The story of Christ meeting that powerless man is more than (not less than) the meeting of two persons; we’re not to read the story that way!
It was the meeting of two worlds—an old world and a new world. One was a world where the powerless were left to do the best they could (or not) the other was a new world that was made new by God walking into it. Every incident we read involving Jesus is about God on a mission of deliverance—a deliverance of a world and not just some individuals lucky enough to meet up with Him.
One world is the survival of the strong, the other the strengthening of the weak. The one would support only those who could contribute to hope and the other sought out those who had sunk into despair. This lame man well illustrated “a world” without pity because his malady was desperate and no one had the time for him or the patience for him—there were no one prepared to help him to healing and joy and joyful righteousness.
Understand this: I’m not saying there were no kind and humane people in the world—there were such people. Jesus was not the first kind man! I am saying there existed (and exists) “a world” that is shaped by the forces of evil that humanity turned loose and ended up imprisoned in that world. I am saying that when we see disease and abuse, despair and cruelty, selfish indifference and a shrugging at the state of the oppressed we’re seeing the “world” in which this man was living.
I am saying that “the world” that that man was a part of is human existence lived out under the spell of satanic and demonic power; it is this world, there aren’t really two; it’s this life; this life under evil, godless mismanagement.
We humans invited the powers in and this world and human existence became something other than what God made it for and intended it to be. But rather than obliterating it and humanity with it, God came in and as the human, Jesus of Nazareth, to redeem and reconcile it to Himself “in Christ!”
Something has actually, really, happened since Jesus came and is now Lord! Another Adam, the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45), now has dominion and is God’s servant Son undoing the work of the first Adam (Romans 5:12-21) and when He completes that undoing and has destroyed the last enemy He offers to God the dominion. In doing that He does precisely the opposite of what the first Adam did and as the Head of the redeemed humanity He acknowledges God’s overarching dominion.
I’m saying that Jesus, being God being a man, represents and brings another “world”—it’s this world, not another, it’s this world re-visioned and seen by the eyes and hearts of faith as under new management in Jesus Christ. It’s this world since Jesus entered, showing that the prince of this world has been kicked out, the usurper has been exposed and his corrupt and corrupting vision of human existence is false. A world seen and acted in by Jesus is reconciled to God!
Jesus doesn’t represent a kind humaneness, He approves kindness and humaneness (its the work of God though He isn’t given the credit for genuine kindness and compassion and warm justice). but Jesus, being God being a man, represents and brings into reality a “new” creation where Sin and Suffering and Death don’t belong.

This evil threesome made themselves at home in humans and so humans came to be known as “sinful flesh” and God came in and as the man Jesus Christ in the very image of that sinful flesh (Romans 8:3) and in Jesus of Nazareth, His life and work, God “condemned Sin in the flesh” and re-visioned humanness and so re-visioned the world. That vision is only seen by faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that insists that the new world already exists but will be brought to glorious completion in a coming day.
This sinner in John 5 lay for thirty-eight years waiting deliverance but others have waited longer than that, much longer than that, for their deliverance. A life-time!  Waiting for spiritual power, spiritual wealth, for health to flow through them, for the inspiration to joyfully live righteously more consistently, more holistically and more thankfully and all of this as a result of seeing GOD walking into their lives, making them believe that not only can they be healed but that He has come to bring that very thing about!
Jesus announces the arrival of a new world!