Monthly Archives: February 2017

THE EMPOWERING GOD

It is God who empowers! All things were made by Him and without Him nothing was created that was created. God sustains all He created and it is by Him that all things hold together. The “laws of physics” which all material things obey are nothing other than the free and sovereign will of their creator. So that when the Psalmist says the heavens declare the glory of God he was speaking more truth than he could unpack. By the sustaining will of God mountains and seas, red dwarfs and colossal quasars have their place alongside galaxies and expanding space.
Paul said that God has given us life and breath and everything else (Acts 17). He permitted rebellious nations to go their own way but did not leave them without witness of Himself but did good, giving rain and sunshine and food and filling their hearts with joy (Acts 14). All this we might call “naked power”—He wills it in keeping with His purpose and it comes to be and it is sustained by that same divine power.
(I’m purposely stressing His “free and sovereign will.”)
By this same creative power He freely chose to create something unlike the mindless mountains and stars and seas something that He chose and something that He gifted with self-consciousness and choice. In freely and sovereignly choosing to do that He was freely and sovereignly determining how He would relate to the humans He created. He wouldn’t relate to Humanity as He would relate to mountains or monsters of the deep because He willed to have humans as His active companions and to enjoy fullness of life with Him as the creator and sustainer. His free and sovereign choice of the nature of humans determined by free and sovereign choice how He would communicate with the humans and how He would reveal Himself to them that they might know Him, serve Him and enjoy Him.
As the Holy Scriptures tell it, humanity exercised its freedom to choose and introduced Sin into the world (Romans 5 & Genesis 3) and so alienation from God and fullness of life became a reality. God freely and sovereignly chose not to obliterate humankind but purposed to fulfill his creation intention to bring a human family to immortal glory with its Head and Lord as Jesus of Nazareth (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:16). To complete that creation purpose God freely and sovereignly purposed to reconcile a sinful human family to Himself. This purpose He graciously pursued down the centuries, working with creatures whose will and desire to please Him was weakened by their sins and they became blind in their sinful ignorance and dark in their minds.
Yet the sovereign God pursued them, revealing Himself in various ways suited to the nature of the human creature He had created. It wasn’t trees and rocks and rivers He was dealing with but humans whose hearts He wanted in a free choice. He could have forced them to serve Him but that was the kind of response that Pharaoh looked for and not the kind of relationship He freely and lovingly sought. The ultimate expression of His free heart’s desire for reconciliation with the human family was when He became Incarnate in the one we know as Jesus of Nazareth. In that particular human God’s desire to be at one with a sinful human was spelled out as it could not be spelled out in any other way. The Word who was with God and was God became (a) human and was came in the likeness of sinful humanity (Romans 8:3) and in Him, in keeping with all the ways God revealed Himself before, humans came to know the God they rejected and the “world” they had chosen and the soul-hunter who made them his prey and himself the prince of that “world”.
Reconciliation is what God freely, lovingly and graciously sought and that was more than “pardon” and more than “forgiveness” for it was friendship, companionship, glad and happy obedience that God sought and that could not be gained by mere pardon. Nor could it be gained simply by some grand act of self-giving on His part when in and as Jesus Christ he lived and died to bring forgiveness. A heartless human with a divine pardon in her pocket might have been pardoned but she would not have been reconciled. Reconciliation would require a change of heart so that the sinner’s heart would be realigned with the heart of the God she chose to make an enemy of. Without an reorientation of life that flowed from a realignment of heart toward God there could be no reconciliation and it is that that God freely and lovingly and sovereignly wants—that’s His heart’s desire and He finds no pleasure in the death of the impenitent wicked (Ezekiel 18).
Faith and repentance are distinct words and speak of distinct aspects of a rich experience we may call “conversion”. We can speak of them as distinct in order to understand them better but they cannot be isolated or severed in an actual conversion experience. There is no reconciling faith without repentance and repentance cannot exist without such faith. As with all big rich words there is no exhaustive definition. We can describe them and illustrate to some degree but in order to speak of them in the area of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ we have to gain a sense of who it is and through whom it is that we are reconciled and takes us beyond exhaustive understanding.
It is the goodness of God that leads sinners to repentance (Romans 2) and repentance that results in life is a gift from God (Acts 11 & 2 Timothy 2). The same God is the one who opens the sinner’s heart and brings them to faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16 & Philippians 1:29; Acts 18:27; Romans 10:17).
Faith in the incarnate Lord overcomes the world (1 John 5:3-4) because in faith (the ­ commitment of faith) the believer receives as true and commits to Jesus and what He means and stands for as the self-revelation of the God who reconciles sinners. His faith is not in his faith but in the Incarnate God, the One who has come in the flesh (as a human).
This is something of what happens (but only something) in saving faith: the person and work of Jesus is embraced and in that repentant faith the evil usurper Satan, the god of the corrupted “world” is rejected and Jesus the true Lord and King is embraced and allegiance is offered. This is the foundational act of the sinner who is reconciled to God in Jesus Christ (compare John 6:27-29). The faith that overcomes the world is the sinner’s personal embracing of “the faith” (that is Jesus and what is savingly true of Him). It combines subjective faith and objective faith.
Such a faith not only results in life with God it is a definitive triumph over “the world”. That is not a triumph over this sin or that sin, it is victory, triumph over the entire “world” that is cosmic evil, organized corruption that is anti-God, anti-life and anti-human. The victory of faith is not because of its quantity or strength but because of its reality and who it is in whom it is placed—Jesus Christ. God in Christ did not deal simply with this sin or that, or with a huge quantity of specific sins—He dealt with Sin in principle. He dealt with that which makes a sin sinful. He neutralized Sin so that it isn’t a barrier between the sinner and the God who seeks at-one-ment. Anyone’s sins are neutralized, any number of sins is neutralized because Sin has been neutralized, made impotent. The Sinned-against-One will not allow Sin or sins to keep His alienated children from fullness of life with Him. Anyone can be reconciled with God in and through Christ—no one need stay away thinking that his/her sins are an immovable wall. The wall itself has been torn down! Point to a person whose sins were not dealt with by the reconciling God?
This faith we’re talking about does more than bring forgiveness, it conquers the world! It brings to those who want it a share in the triumph of Jesus Christ (John 16:33).
God empowers us to defeat the world! Defeat THE WORLD! And He does it by bringing us to faith in the Incarnate One. Is that power or what?
Faith and hope are distinct words that speak of distinct aspects of the conversion experience. They can be completely severed in a lexicon but not in an actual conversion experience. Hope empowers and maintains energy (1 Corinthians 15:58 and context, Hebrews 11:1; Romans 5:1-5; 1 Peter 1:3-4).
None of this means anything if there is no God and no gospel of which He is the source. But if there is such a God, deeper than we know, richer than we know, kinder than we know, more loving, more faithful, more generous then the truth about Him changes everything! The truth about Him! Yes, the truth about God is the revelation of God’s self! And how does that come to us?
God doesn’t do magic. If we want magic we go to the movies. God makes Himself present to us and in us by his self-revelation in Jesus Christ and that comes to us through the proclamation and teaching of the Word of God given to us by the Holy Spirit. “The words that I speak unto you are spirit and life,” said Jesus (John 6:63). “Sanctify them through thy truth, Thy word is truth,” Jesus said to His Father (John 17:17). “God chose you to salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief of the truth, to which He called you by our gospel,” Paul said (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 with 1 Thessalonians 2:13). “You were born again not by corruptible seed but by incorruptible, through the word of God…desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby,” Peter said (1 Peter 1:23; 2:2). “Now I commend you to God and the word of His grace which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified.” Paul said that in Acts 20:32. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…(Colossians 3:16). “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) “I am not ashamed of he gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation…for in it is revealed the righteousness of God.” (Romans 1:16) “The message of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…the power of God…” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-25). “The word of the Lord is alive and powerful…” (Hebrews 4:12). “Every scripture inspired of God is profitable…that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against thee.) Psalm 119:11.
We pay lip service to the word of God and look for some mystic spatial indwelling of the Trinity inside our bodies to do nobody knows what to assure us that we’re going to win through against sins. (“Muslims don’t have Mohammed inside them but we have Jesus/Holy Spirit inside our bodies and that’s why we can overcome sin.” I think that is sad.)
To sever the Spirit-inspired word of God from the Spirit of God is nonsense. Prophets wrote the word only because the Holy Spirit moved them (2 Peter 1) and the word of God is the “sword of the Spirit” (not our sword, His sword (Ephesians 6).
The Spirit of God brings the word of God He inspired to people in countless ways and He uses it to transform our hearts and minds, to sanctify us initially and progressively. By making God present in our lives by the truth about God He guides us and produces His fruit in us. What Christians have that no other religion offers is the truth about the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ revealed by the Holy Spirit of God and exhibited in the Incarnate Lord Jesus. If that gospel doesn’t generate faith, inspire, thrill, enrich, stabilize, energize, console, comfort and encourage and equip us for every good work I don’t think there is any hope for us. But obviously that isn’t enough for some; it seems we must have Jesus and the Holy Spirit spatially and literally residing inside each person’s body.

THE “INDWELLING” GOD

Christians make the claim that Jesus Christ indwells each of them. They make the claim that the Holy Father indwells them. They agree with Paul that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God and of the Son of God indwells each Christian. There are texts that say those things and I for one, among millions, believe those texts. I believe the living God, His Living Son and the living Holy Spirit of God dwells in each Christian.

If I truly believe that (and I do) is that enough for me to be regarded as faithful to the Holy Scriptures?
I never have a dispute with a biblical text (I know a number of teachers who think we should have—after all. “Paul was just another guy with theological views.” I’ve heard that said. Moving on.)
Is it worth trying to gain some clear understanding about what it means that God “dwells in” us? Or is it one of those “academic” questions that has no “practical” value? Or is it one of the “unanswerable” questions that there’s little point in our discussing?
I sometimes think I will leave it entirely alone and then I hear things said that I think are injurious as well as incorrect. Not long ago I heard a preacher list sins against the Holy Spirit and the first one he listed was this: to deny that the Holy Spirit literally resides inside the Christian’s body is sin. I heard him say something close to that and let it pass but this time he said it was a sin if you didn’t believe it. Then just recently I heard another teacher assure his hearers that the reason they (Christians) could defeat all kinds of evils was because Jesus was inside them. Jesus was spatially located inside their bodies.
Myself, I’m content to believe that the Holy Spirit helps Christians in their struggle against the evil they wrestle with. I know He does. I’m also content to believe that He can do it whether or not He’s spatially located inside our bodies.
But is it sin if Christians do not believe the Holy Spirit literally takes up spatial residence inside our bodies? I’m certain it’s no sin! There are enough sins to deal with without preachers inventing more.
Is it correct/wise to teach Christian assurance that moral transformation is possible because Jesus is spatially located inside our bodies?
I don’t think that is either correct or wise and I wish we would stop saying it. I’ll give you my opinion about that shortly.
I’d like to make a few things clear:

  1. I believe the Holy Spirit is a “person” (rather than a good force or influence or attitude).
  2. I believe the Holy Spirit is a “member” of the one Triune God, as are the Holy Father & the Holy Son. Whatever makes God to be God, the Holy Spirits shares that.
  3. I do not believe the Holy Spirit is the Bible or the words of the Bible—I do believe that He superintended the writing of the words and the canonizing of the Holy Scriptures, the Bible.
  4. I believe He is the Spirit of the Holy Father and the Holy Son and by Him the Father and Son indwell the Church (and consequently each member of the Church which is Christ’s Body).
  5. I believe the Holy Spirit “indwells” Christians!
  6. I believe the moral transformation and growth of Christians is due to the work of the Holy Father and His Holy Son accomplished through the Holy Spirit.

If I believe all that why would I make an issue of a “literal, spatial locating” of the Holy Spirit inside the bodies of Christians?
First, because I think it’s a misunderstanding of what the “indwelling” texts mean to say.
Second, because I think it rests Christian assurance of moral transformation on a faulty foundation.
Thirdly, because I think it generates needless offense among non-Christians many of whose moral character and behavior is as good as the moral behavior of many Christians.
It appears to me that when Jesus calls his disciples (John 15) to “dwell/abide in Him” that He wasn’t talking about their spatially locating themselves inside Him. When He prays that his followers will be “in God” (John 17) as He was “in God” and would be in them that He wasn’t spatially locating Himself or them inside the Person of God or vice versa. When Paul speaks of Christ “dwelling in our hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3) I’m certain he isn’t physically locating Him in the physical pump or the physical body. When people by faith are baptized into Christ (Romans 6) they don’t physically, spatially locate inside Christ.
I think these are all temple or tabernacle metaphors or spatial metaphors that speak of relationship, union and intimacy.
The Corinthians were not literal physical “temples” or a temple, either individually or as an assembly. They were not literally physical “parts of Christ” nor were they literally “one spirit with Him” nor did they literally become one physical body with the temple prostitutes. The entire section is saturated with metaphors and there is no good reason to say the Holy Spirit is literally spatially located inside the bodies of these Christians. We’re told they were “bought” with a price but we don’t believe there was a literal exchange—it’s ransom metaphor.(See 1 Corinthians 6.)
The Spirit of God “wrote” the Holy Scriptures but He used humans and their speech to do it. Spatial metaphors are all over the place and so are relational or event metaphors and other figures of speech..
God does not “come” or “come down” from “somewhere” though we hear such speech all over the OT. (Genesis 11, Isaiah 19, Psalm 18.) Paul says his heart is “wide open” (2 Corinthians 6), he has Philemon “in” his heart. People obey “from” the heart (Romans 6) and make melody “in” their hearts (Ephesians 5), the world “lies in” wickedness (1 John 5), Satan “dwells enthroned” in Pergamos (Revelation 2) and “enters” Judas (Luke 22), Christians are “living stones” that make up a “temple” and Christ is a “foundation stone” (1 Peter 2), Christians are “resurrected” and “sit with” Christ “in” the “heavenly places” (Ephesians 2). The Holy Father “dwells” in Jesus and He “dwells” in the Father (John 14), God dwells in His faithful ones and His faithful ones “dwell” in Him (1 John 3 & 4), Sin “dwells” in people (Romans 7), God does not “dwell” in man-made structures (Acts 7 & 17) and God “dwells” in man-made structures (Psalm 9), those who eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood “dwell” in Christ and He “in” them (John 6), God “walks” among and “dwells” in the obedient (2 Corinthians 6), Christians “live in” and “walk in” the Spirit (Galatians 5). There’s nothing in any of this to do with physical, spatial location. Revelation repeatedly speaks of those that “dwell upon the earth” and the phrase has nothing to do with their location but with their “non-heavenly” hearts and lives (compare Colossians 2:12 & 3:1-3) while the phrase those who “dwell in heaven” has nothing to do with spatial location but with their relationship with God (Revelation 3 & 6 & 11 & 13 & 14 & 17 and 12:12). We don’t notice how saturated the Bible is with metaphors and other figures because our own speech is so saturated with them that we don’t recognize them as figures of speech.
Correct or incorrect I take these “in” and “indwelling” texts as metaphors the way I take “body” to be a metaphor when it refer to the Church as Christ’s “body”. What do you make of this:

I have a sinful habit I’m finding hard to overcome.
Don’t worry about it, Christ is literally inside your body and He can overcome it.
What does His being literally inside my body got to do with my overcoming this sin?
That’s how you overcome it with Christ literally being inside your body.
Yes, but what does His being literally inside my body got to do with my overcoming this sin? You mean just the fact that He’s literally inside me is my assurance that I can beat this sin?
You can’t beat it by yourself but His being literally inside your body makes the difference.
Does His being literally inside my physical body do something to me?
His dwelling in you makes a difference.
Yes, but by “indwelling” you mean His being physically located inside my body  and that makes the difference to my strength?
Look, don’t worry about your sin if you’re not able to beat it, He can beat it and He’s literally inside your body.
Well, I know He can beat it but I don’t understand how His being spatially located inside my body affects my ability to overcome this sin.
Just believe it. Mohammed isn’t inside Muslims, Buddha isn’t inside Buddhists, Confucius isn’t inside followers of Confucius but Christ is inside Christians and it’s because He is inside them that’s why they can beat sins.
So that’s why Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and atheists and any other non-Christians can’t overcome evil habits because Christ isn’t inside them?
Well, actually non-Christians can and do overcome sins.
Without Christ being inside their bodies? So Christians must have the Holy Spirit or Jesus inside their bodies in order to overcome sins but others can overcome sins without Him inside their bodies? I wonder how that works?

Please pursue me on this if you wish. My email is holywoodjk@aol.com

 

 

KING JESUS & CAMELOT

Tennyson tells us that King Arthur established the order of the Round Table. A table without a head or foot, where all were equal in their commitment to justice for all and might was for right. His dream drew knights from all over England and Europe and the effects of it were felt all over the land so that women could walk out in the evening alone without worry, doors were left unlocked,  the roads were cleared of robbers and tyrants were overthrown.
But just when things were flourishing, the greatest knight of them all, Lancelot, set his eye on the king’s wife, Guinevere and she on him. The wickedness became known and Lancelot rode away only to return when he heard that the knights had demanded that Guinevere be tried for treason. She was tried and condemned to death but Lancelot came and rescued her and carried her off to France where she entered a convent. The knights and Arthur raged and for a while there was nothing but inflamed pride and vengeance in their hearts and so they sailed to France, to make war against Lancelot and his forces.
Arthur is broken-hearted and dispirited. The dream had failed, the purpose had died. The great sin of Guinevere and Lancelot had also exposed the underlying sin of all of them when violence, vengeance and bitterness reigned and offended pride had proved stronger than brotherhood and forgiveness.
In the musical adaptation the king is putting on his armor in the dawn of the day of battle when he hears a rustling in the bush; it was a boy about twelve who had stowed away on one of the ships—to kill the enemy and be a knight, he said. Arthur wanted to know why he would want to be part of an extinct fellowship. Had he ever met a knight, was his father a knight or had his mother been rescued by a knight? The answer to all these questions was no, so what did he know of knights? Only the stories he had heard, the boy said, and when the king asked him what stories, he spoke of justice for all, the round table and might used in the service of right. As the boy spoke the astonished king was mouthing the words with him.
Stories! The story of the dream had kept the dream alive. The stories of righteousness and justice for all kept the vision alive in the heart of a boy who’d never even seen a knight. The deeply depressed and weary king gained new heart and energy and knights the boy Sir Tom of Warwick with a commission to go home and grow old telling the story of the meaning of Camelot. Part of his instruction was this:
Every evening from December to December
Before you fall asleep upon your cot
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.
Ask everyone if he has heard the story
And tell it loud and clear if he has not
Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one bright shining moment
That was known as Camelot.
At that moment an aide comes to remind the king that they have a battle to fight and win but the king, all smiles and optimism, assures his companion that their victory already stands before them in the heart of a boy who cherishes the story and what it means; a boy who will tell it everywhere he goes. What happens at the approaching battle is now irrelevant.
The massive truth on which all great fiction is built is that God’s great purpose for the human family was and is accomplished in and through Jesus Christ and that it is God’s wisdom by the foolishness of a preached message—a Story—to redeem the world (1 Corinthians 1:21). The victory has already been won and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Church’s mission is to learn and love and be shaped by that message about God’s dream and purpose that cannot finally be thwarted and keep that Story alive in each new generation.
Truths associated with the Gospel must be taken seriously, congregational structures must be taken seriously so that assemblies (God meant them to exist!) can function as assemblies that are how the living Lord Jesus is made concrete and visible in societies (these are Jesus Christ making Himself present in congregational form—Romans 16:16). But undergirding all these and others, the foundation on which all these and more are built are the breathtaking truths about God, His incarnation in and as Jesus of Nazareth as He has come to redeem and bring a new humanity to glory—a glory He eternally purposed. These are central to the Gospel of God (Romans 1.1 and elsewhere) People are not brought to salvation in Jesus Christ by a correct understanding of the “qualifications” of deacons or anything of that order, though we must pay attention to these things.
In ultimate truth, the world isn’t saved by science or philosophy or political reform or a correct understanding of all the ways believers are to respond to God however needful these are and no matter how true it is that these are instruments of God at His pleasure. The human family is saved and all things in heaven and on earth are reconciled to God and find their ultimate state of blessing in Him about whom the Story is told.
And the victory over the world is gained in the name of Jesus Christ through those who cherish the Story and will not let it be forgot (1 John 5:4-5).
Preachers and teachers and the entire church of God (the “fullness of Christ”) have a commission and a destiny—to tell and live out the Story about GOD and consequently about us!

(Holy Father, draw us to believe that the war against the Enemy has truly been won. Win us to believe, even if we don’t understand very well, that the telling of that Truth is the way you have chosen to save this world. Convict our schools, preachers and teachers that to know you and your Holy Son is eternal life. Fill our pulpits and classrooms with those who do more than pursue truths here and there but who are rich in and fervent to teach nothing other that Jesus Christ, crucified and raised. Give us teachers who glory in nothing but the cross and what it means in light of the One who slew the world there. Get them to give us something to tell! Fill and thrill your People with that cosmic good news, for the poor oppressed world’s sake, for our own sake that we might leave here and come to you not unhappy servants, and for your own dear sake who merits all our happy admiration and worship. This prayer in His name.)

 

ONCE UPON A BIG BANG

Here’s a story that begins with ONCE UPON A BANG. Some billions of years ago there was a hot spot sitting no one can say where. In that hotspot, tiny beyond human imagination, was all the material out of which this universe is made. It became so dense and hot that it exploded with a Big Bang (“explosion” is still used but think more of a balloon expanding due to some sort of “ferment” inside) though no one knows why or how it could have since no one knows anything about the physics that governed it (assuming that physics governed it since there was no knowable physics prior to “the bang” ). Still, the material spread out, so the story goes, and during the unthinkable, unknowable process physics was created along with space and everything in space, quasars, galaxies and all else. That material is still flying away from that explosive center. It cooled and settled and became suns and planets and such and on one of them, no one knows how it could have happened and much less why, what we call “life” came into being.
But because the universe is furiously expanding (it’s said) at something like the speed of light the stars (suns) are growing farther apart, it’s getting darker and colder and its heading for the Great Freeze when the universe itself will “die”. Another version of the story says that gravitation will become so strong that the universe will shrink in a Great Crunch. One way or another: OBLITERATION! Obliteration that is just as mindless and as pointless as the pointless, mindless beginning.
Bertrand Russell (Stratonician atheist) said that that story is clearly true so what humans must do is to build their future on “unyielding despair.”
H.J. Blackham (atheist) said the most powerful objection to that story is this: “Its pointlessness! It’s too bad to be true.”
This is the story Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking (more recently), Stephen Weinberg all urge us to believe.
If it’s true, it’s true.
Just so you know what it is.
Imagine this: Tomorrow morning the entire human family wakens to discover that that story is true. It’s not a rumor, it has been proven to the point where no one can deny it, everyone without exception knows that it’s true.
What does the human family now know?
It knows the grave is the final end; the universe is a massive “dead” thing, freezing and dark beyond human imagination and buried in this eternally silent mausoleum is all the gallantry, all the noble struggles, all the marvelous achievements of people we called glorious; all that was daring and gentle and self-giving is gone. All those we now adore no longer exist. Nowhere in time or eternity was anyone or could there be anyone better for all the loveliness or all the dreams or all the costly achievements. All the truths uncovered, all the heights of goodness won by the patient, long, glorious endeavor—all gone! They never meant anything.
Each human always was the product of mindless matter and a bag of reacting chemicals (“humans are nothing but bags of bio-chemical” one man told me). The chemicals came up with words like justice, love, compassion, hatred, cruelty, oppression, guilt, blame, praise but the words themselves were chemical reactions spawned by reacting chemicals and “electricity”. It might be different if there had been beings that made choices, purposed kindness and such—but there was no such thing.
Neuroscientist, Wolf Singer (atheist) assures us that matter is all that exists and since it is governed by physics there is no such thing as choice—we are matter acted on by and in keeping with physical laws which are nothing more than a description of how matter behaves and that description is itself reacting chemicals. Reacting chemicals and electrical circuitry are describing themselves. There never was nor is there now anyone in the bag of chemicals “choosing” or “intending”—there is no “ghost in the machine” (Gilbert Ryle), there is only the “machine” working, there is/are only chemicals reacting. One of these days these bags of chemicals will react and  robots will come on the scene, centers of “artificial” intelligence, that will feel and be and think all that the humans now are and then surpass them. It’s simply a question of configuring the structure of atoms. There will be no “ghost in the machine” (no spirit or soul, the kind of words religious bags of reacting chemicals use of themselves)—there’s nothing more than material stuff put together in a certain way that it “works”. It’s all very simple.
Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Weinberg (atheist) assures us that even our highest thoughts are chemical reactions. (Obviously Weinberg forgot that his own thoughts, high or low, are chemical reactions. It is this kind of thing that made it almost amusing to hear Mr. Hitchens (atheist) tell university students they did not have to agree with him, that the “choice” was theirs.)
Bertrand Russell confessed that there were things going on in the world that horrified him but, he said, he had no rational grounds on which to condemn them. In light of the above story the human family knows that there never was “justice” nor will there ever be. Multiplied millions of bags of reacting chemical were and are acted on by other reacting chemicals and that’s the entire story.
So from that morning when the human family wakened to discover the truth, that the above story was true, Jesus Christ was exposed as just another bag of reacting chemicals that “thought” it was God incarnate. (We would pity that particular bag but that would require us to be more than reacting chemicals. Reacting chemicals don’t and can’t really “pity”.) All prayer would cease, all hope would die, unyielding despair would set in, there’d be no comforting last words for anyone, Bibles and religious books would be trashed and burned, crosses in cemeteries become witnesses of the bizarre form some chemical reactions took. Hymn books are trashed, all hymn singing is hushed, all sacred music is hushed, all church buildings are monuments to false reactions of these reacting chemicals. (But how can chemical reactions be false or true? Neuro secretions and transmissions makes no claims; they simply are. The interpretation of those transmissions and secretions are also secretions and transmissions. There is no truth or error in such a world.) All talk of justice or injustice would be hushed, “love” would become a sound, nothing but chemicals; loyalty and devotion and faithfulness would be chemical sounds generated by groups of reacting chemicals. Joy in the presence of a new born baby or picnicking with the family, sadness when a beloved one went off into oblivion, affection that fills up our senses, hunger for “truth” and the desire to help the homeless or sick would go on for a brief while out of habit and then it would sink into the gloom with the realization that nothing is what it seems—God alone knows what else would arrive.
Atheism can only be preached in a world where atheists are empowered by the beauty and truth and hope and freedom that’s in it; things they say are only words by and about reacting chemicals and electrical circuity. If they really believed their story they couldn’t live in a world like this. They would have to be speechless. Dawkins is said to have recently admitted that he uses speech that makes no sense. He said if he didn’t use it he’d go crazy. You can’t rationally praise your car for running well, you can’t rationally blame the refrigerator for breaking down or a light bulb for burning out so how can you rationally praise bags of reacting chemicals?  And why worry about rationality if it is nothing but chemical fireworks in a bag?
Finally there’s this, Many years ago in Denton, Texas, I watched (the then) atheist Antony Flew repeatedly refuse to answer the question: On what grounds would you condemn what the Nazis did? Like Bertrand Russell, Flew hated it but had no rational or moral grounds on which to condemn it. That’s where the story that begins with the BIG BANG ends.
There’s another Story that might well begin with, “ONCE UPON A TREE…”
(Holy Father, teach us your Story and fill us with the joy and wonder of it. Forbid us to let unbelievers set the agenda so that we spend our time following them around. Tell our teachers and preachers and help them to become rich and enthralled with it so that they will speak it to us that we will be empowered and with joy and assurance abd tell it to a world that desperately needs it. This request in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

 

 

 

 

A CALL TO WAR

Ignoring for now any discussion of the complexities of how or why God leads us to or “allows” us to be led to where we and to be caught up in such places, here we are! And the psalmist assures us that He is a good shepherd.
“Has my Father not brought me to this hour?” the troubled Lord Jesus said (John 12.27), and is He not a good shepherd? He is and so though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death I will fear no evil for He is with me; He comforts me.” And with that He turned His face toward the hill where He exposed an evil world for what it is and spelled out its defeat and final doom, it and its gloomy cruel prince (12:31)!
The gallant Lord Jesus having joined us in the war and took the lead in it went to the cross believing that this was where His Father led Him and though it troubled His soul He gladly raced to it knowing that what He had been doing and was about to do was to destroy an alien world and its alien tyrant to glorify His Holy Father and liberate prisoners of war.
And more than that, astonishing as it is, He believed that there were thousands and more thousands that would follow Him into that war when they saw what He was doing. “And, I, if I am lifted up I will win the hearts of men and women from everywhere and in every age.”
One good deed, one genuinely good deed done with honor, especially if it is done at great personal cost defies a world of evil! It claims our attention and we look at one another and believe—if we’re blessed with a heart still sensitive—we believe and we realize that God has not abandoned us to evil and gloom. We believe that evil is not invincible, we believe it should not be thought invincible, we believe it should be defied and in every way available to us to we will oppose it and live with brave, even gallant, hearts in a war against it.
We talk much, we who speak, about the evil in the world. We tell no lie when we say with John that the whole “world” lies in the evil one but we’re not to over-read John’s statement. God has ceaselessly been at work in the hearts of the human family ad has kept goodness alive even in the hearts of those who don’t know to credit their health, their friends, kindness, gallantry, patience and self-giving to the one true God who is the source of all and anything that is good in this world.
Christ knew well the nature and extent of the evil and heartless spirit that has usurped God’s place in the hearts of humans and yet He will walk up to people busy with their own affairs in life and tell them that if they really want to live they should get up and follow Him. This He said believing that they would—and they did! Crucify me, He said, and that won’t be the end of Me, people will see and hear of it and they will come flocking to me in their millions—and they have done!
To His first disciples Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me; I chose you.” There’s something about that call, that being “chosen” and the sense that “this is my destiny to which I have been called.”
Many have told us of those they saw in war who were picked for a very dangerous mission. Before setting out, they tell us, the chosen would scribble notes or whisper some message to be sent to a mother or someone beloved in case the worst should happen. Usually there was a certain strain and nervousness showing on their face and yet, they say, there was something of a light and sparkle in their eyes, their heads were held high, sometimes there was a bit of laughter and a dismissal of the danger ahead. Chosen! And willing to be chosen and with it a thrill, edged with some sense of pride, that they were chosen! We hear such stories and think them wonderful. We believe then that there is more in the world than crass selfishness and heartlessness. It’s the work of God and we ought to see it as such and speak to non-Christians, urging them to make use of it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. God gifts non-Christians and depends on us to gospel to them and instead of denying their grand character traits, fully acknowledge them and say to these people, “Come with us, bring your richness of character, help us, help God in His work of love for the world. We have no wish to narrow you, we wish to be aided by you and to aid you to make war in the name of the incarnate God.” The choosing God in His gospel is calling people to something more magnificent than, “Let’s all be nice people.”
Paul in Ephesians 1 says, “He chose us…” Never that He coerced us, bullied us, forced us or shanghaied us! God comes seeking and finding and believing that if only His call is made known that people would flock to Him. And they do it, men and women, girls and boys, entire families, sometimes entire villages. But they flock to God only when it’s the call of God they hear. They’re called out of their fear, their boredom, their daily grind and life without adventure into His presence, chosen for a peculiar exploit. They’re asked to make a commitment to a God whose heart is saddened by the the anguish of His human family and He wants it to be assured that He sees all and will right all wrongs. “Tell them that,” He says, “tell them I’m coming, tell them I want them to join Me in spreading the word to their friends and enemies that I am coming.”
Chosen to engage in “war” at its finest (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Chosen to proclaim freedom from Sin and guilt and lifeless life, chosen to proclaim a Message from God to all the nations, a warning to all the cruel impenitent servants of the prince of this world and a message to all the abused and plundered that One is coming and He is coming with love and fairness. There’s a new world coming! And those currently “chosen” by the Gospel bear witness to that— they’re the visible expression of “God’s righteousness” and not their own.
Think noble things of your calling!
Think noble things of God!

“I SEE NO GLORY!”

God continue to bless you and yours. He has promised and He continues to fulfill such a purpose. The promise of blessing is never to obliterate trouble, since He insists on working in an incarnate way through you in a world that hurts; as He has done in Jesus Christ and continues to do in you. He promises He will be with you in any and all anguish and that He will neutralize it as a destructive force. (Reflect on Isaiah 43:1-4 a while.)
My friend asked about God’s glory particularly in John 17.22, 24 and I thought you might think some of this helpful.
In blessing us (in a multitude of ways) He glorifies us and in this way He glorified Himself. At such times we are in “a place” of refuge, peace with Him because we are “in Christ” (John 16.33) and we are where Christ is (14:3 with 12.26 with 8.21 as contrast).
Christ’s People are glorified with the glory that attaches to Him and that glory is the glory that attaches to God and that glory is fathomless; there’s no grasping all the angles but it is reflected in how He has revealed Himself to and in the human family (of which Christ is the supreme exhibition—Colossians 1:15, “first born of every creature (human),” also 1:18 where we’re told that He who became a human like us was raised from among the dead that in all things (and everywhere) He might have the preeminence.
He is now the representative glorified human and in the finale we shall be “like Him” (1 John 3:2). Rom 8:17-39 (a section on assurance of God’s faithfulness despite trouble) we’re told that the people of God are to be conformed to the image of Christ (suffering and then glory) who in “all things” is to be the firstborn among many brothers/sisters—8:29. The People of God of all the ages are those who have shared and do share the suffering of the world as like their Lord they journey on their way to final glory. In this they reflect the glory of God that has been reflected in His Holy Son. God’s elect people are created “in the image” of Christ. As His Body they are the extension of His own life and character—incarnation, suffering and glory. The glory of God seen in Jesus Christ includes His eternal purpose to redeem His creation by sharing their suffering and fallen state and rising to immortal glory in eternal righteousness. (Paul’s call to image him as he images Jesus includes his own life of suffering on its way to glory—Philippians 3:4-11 compared with 2:5-11.)
Before that fullness of glory is reached in the resurrection life those who are blessed to be “in Christ” share his glory by faith—a faith that embraces Him and His agenda and finally his “method”.
It’s in this way that His followers are “where He is” (John 12:26). “Where I am” is a spatial metaphor and like so many figures of speech they speak of a life-situation. We hear it fairly often today though I don’t remember hearing it when I was very young. “I’m in a bad place right now” someone might say. They’re speaking of their current condition or situation in life. There is also a “good place”; a good state or condition or situation. That “place” is “in Christ” which is “in God” (John 16.33; 17:21, and elsewhere). Those who reject Christ cannot be “where He is” (John 8:21).
Where Jesus “is” is always in relationship with His Holy Father but that is experienced in a situation of suffering and rejection as well as in an exalted and glorified state. He is never out of the Father’s favor or presence (see John 8:16, 29) but sometimes this means suffering and at other times the idea is exaltation and sometimes both are embraced (see Acts 2:24-28; John 12:23-33). Both are glory within the will of the Holy One who is on an errand of salvation. (Christians who suffer greatly must be helped to see and believe this—they share the world’s suffering and in them the Lord Jesus’ person, life and work is revealed. See Colossians 1:24 with Matthew 8:16-17 which uses Isaiah 53, The Hebrew text rather than the LXX.)
When Christ shares His glory with the disciples (John 17:22) He is in fact sharing the glory of God.
Sharing the glory of God has nothing to do with our sharing the essence of God. It’s has to do with us sharing the gift of Himself in any or all the ways we are able to do that. It isn’t His essence, it would be (I would say) His character, His way, His joys and purposes.
The amazing thing that comes out of all this it that divine “muscle” is never in view. (He has plenty of that, Isaiah 40 and Genesis 1, passim, but the self-revelation of God in relation to and in humans reveals Him as loving humans beyond imagining—John 1.14 illustrates.)
There are varied levels of our experiencing the glory of God. We don’t “get it” completely, now or ever. Some aspects of it we sense but when we dive down into it we return quickly—there’s no bottom. Even the wonder of Jesus Christ isn’t enough to reveal all—this He said Himself in John 14:28. “My Father is greater than I.”
The more we become like God by becoming more like Jesus Christ the more we will sense Him and the deeper we’ll be sharing His glory. God’s glory is Himself and He is ceaselessly revealing Himself and we share in that glory as we enter deeper into His image! (1 Corinthians 11:7) As humans we have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23; Psalm 8:5)—the fullness of that glory was/is seen in the face of Christ and not Moses (John 1:14-18; 2 Corinthians 3: 7-18; 4:6). Jesus is the last & new Adam who is the image of God (Colossians 1.15; Hebrews 1.3; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49). It’s in humanity God is glorified, it’s in Jesus Christ who is God being a human that we see what humanity was created to be and it is in Christ, the glorified human that we see what we are what we will be.
(Glory is used in so many ways and one of them is in how God exercised His dominion, in creation, and we were created to reflect that—Genesis 1.26-28. The Hebrew writer says we don’t yet see the dominion by humans—using Psalm 8—but we see Jesus, who shares our humanity, crowned with glory and honor but experiencing death for everyone (2:5-9) and, astonishing thing, this was all experienced by Christ because it suited God, it looked God on God, it was the appropriate thing for God to do and this God is the source of everything that is wonderful and glorious–2:10ff. Who can fathom the depths of the glory such a One?
It’s possible that John 17.24 speaks of the depth of the glory Jesus in his pre-incarnate state shared with the Father. We know the man Jesus Christ did not exist prior to the creation but prior to His birth as a man the one we know as Jesus was/is the Word who was God and with God (John 1:1-12).
A difficulty with that view is that the glory Jesus wants them to see in 17:24 is “given” to Him by the Holy Father. If we’re thinking about Jesus’ pre-incarnate glory as God—He was God—it’s a bit difficult to see how the glory could have been “given” to Him by anyone. Perhaps the glory He has in mind in 17:24 is the purposed glory that God had in mind for the incarnate One (maybe Revelation 13:8 & 1 Peter 1:19-20 help here). If that is the case then Jesus might have in mind His complete exaltation—which was the eternal plan of God—and Christ wants the disciples to see that and enter into that grand enterprise with Him (see Acts 2:33-36) in a fuller way than they currently can and in that way they would be “where He is.”.
John’s [Jesus’] point would then stress that the glory the human Christ rejoiced in—His likeness to the Holy Father and His exaltation as Lord of All—was not a chance occurrence or divine reaction to the world’s rejecting Him but was eternally purposed and Christ and His people would share in that purposed glory through suffering.
I was told a few years back that we must be careful what we say about the suffering of Christians. I think that is profoundly true! I think we’re not to reduce it but give it it’s full import. God came into the world in and as Jesus Christ to redeem the world and in order to do that by becoming a human He took on Him all that humans suffer (pay attention to Matthew 8:16-17), and He came through it and came out into glory and said to the human family: “The glory of God is seen in His love of the entire human race and I have come to tell you that the agony of the world that has been triggered by the Fall is not the last word! The Holy Father’s purpose is to bring you out of all the Sin and anguish and bring you through to glory! And I am the revelation of all that! I came through personal suffering to glory and I continue that experience in your presence in and through the Church which is my Body and which rehearses My Story before your very eyes.”
Shrugging. Walking off. “I just don’t get it. Do you? Where’s the ‘glory’?”   Sigh.

(Holy One. We apologize.)

 

A GLIMPSE, AT LEAST A GLIMPSE

There’s always “more to be said” and there’s certainly more to be said than I’ll be saying here. You balance what I’m not balancing or take issue me if you think I’ve distorted the picture too much.
It isn’t mere fickleness that makes a child weary of its toy; it’s also the sight of something more attractive, more appealing. In many cases unrest is born of clearer brighter vision though there is a difference between better vision and a hunger for novelty, still, it isn’t always easy to know what that is—the hunger for novelty, I mean. There’s little point in denying it that while familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt it certainly takes the edge off awe. I don’t say this was His point but Jesus does take note of a wise student of Holy Scripture and says out of his treasure he brings things new as well as old (Matthew 15:32).
I’ve not made a survey and I’m sure I never will but I’ve seen and heard enough to lead me to believe that boredom is killing a lot of our young people. They might have thought they were being offered adventure, a part in the war of worlds, and what they get is the one voice from the pulpit , month after month, droning out the same moral maxims, pulpit and lectern, youth ministers learning their trade from the same single voice. Then we wonder why they’re bored. Add to that a new perspective on how we should be responding to God’s love for the world and off the young people go to build houses, dig wells, plow fields and do other lovely things in His name and (sadly, maybe tragically) lose touch with “organized religion” as it comes to be known. And that title isn’t always off the mark.
So what are we to do? Is there a “cure”? I know that Jesus did all things perfectly and many, though they gave Him a hearing at first, still walked away. “Nothing worth anything there,” they said, “just a lot of words attached to some extraordinary works.” If people, for one reason or another, can resist the Lord Jesus they can resist anyone (see also Acts 7:51-52); if His life and words didn’t set the hearts of His hearers on fire we shouldn’t be surprised if what we say and do fails to enthuse them. But whatever else was true of Jesus—He wasn’t a bore. Author Dorothy Sayers in that trenchant way of hers said she understood that Jesus would not be believed but that preaching or teaching should make Him appear dull was beyond forgiveness. If people are to reject Him it would be best if we offered them the real Lord Jesus rather than weekly moral or informational bulletins.
Still, Jesus didn’t think His ministry a failure, even when they hung Him on a tree (Acts 5.30) and there were times when He did set hearts on fire. Two men on the Emmaus road swore to it. And wasn’t it interesting what Jesus talked about that lit them up like a glorious summer morning? He talked about Himself! He had a habit of doing that and so did the Holy Spirit. (Luke 24:25-27, 32; 4449; John 5.39; 16:12-14; Acts 26.22-23; 1 Peter 1:10-12 and elsewhere).
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we got that habit? Can you imagine, just once, once would do, bumping into someone who’s leaving the church building and being startled because she/he is too hot to touch? You ask for an explanation and wide-eyed she says, “I was just confronted with the Lord Jesus.”
Once we see Him—truly see Him, once we get even a clear glimpse of Him, for better or worse, nothing will be the same. It’s true we may be more easily fretted than in time past; but in some ways for the love of God, maybe we should be. Our unrest is in proportion to our standard.
Oh, Son of Man, this is the vision that now and then we glimpse and we’re profoundly grateful for a glimpse but we seek more—more, that will shape and inspire us an lead us to speak in your name.
We can’t look at you without being disenchanted with less than you even while we see something of you in countless people around us. Before your coming we settled for less; by your beauty you make us know our deformity and make us hunger for loveliness. By your life you have made us realize what it is to be dead and hunger for life—for fullness of life. By your gallantry you have made us admire cheerful courage and inspire to us want to live and speak against injustice and for fairness. By your glad race to the cross to redeem a world from Sin (Matthew 16:21-23; Hebrews 12:1-3) you have shown us to look less at what we’re running from and more at what we’re running to—who we are running to—your glorious self. Not only have you brought new things you have set the world on fire with glory and it’s the warmth and brightness of your coming that has consumed our petty little fires (Isaiah 50:10-11).

(Holy Father, as your People we need more of Him that we might be more, more to you and to the world that is in such desperate need of Him. A glimpse, a real glimpse, at least one sustained glimpse of Him…How will we gain blessing that we might be a blessing if you don’t open the eyes of your churches and their leaders? If they don’t see, how will we who listen come to see? Come to our aid Holy One. This plea in Jesus name.)