Monthly Archives: November 2017

BAPTISM AS A PRAYER & A WITNESS & A COMMITMENT

This piece is too long. But I can’t help it.

Barry Reed, a highly respected trial lawyer honored in a number of important ways by his peers died in 2002. He specialized in medical malpractice, retired and wrote The Verdict, which was adapted by David Mamet for the screen and came out in 1982 with Paul Newman playing the lead.
Newman plays Frank Galvin, a lawyer who spirals down to being nothing more than an “ambulance chaser” and his wrestle with alcohol was a major factor in that downward plunge. But he gets a shot at redemption when he is offered a case involving a young woman who is given wrong medical treatment and is now in a permanent vegetative state. The medical people are guilty and clear evidence is offered to prove it but the testimony is stricken due to a genuine legal ruling. It seems clear that like countless millions in various situations down the centuries the stricken girl and her family will be denied justice and it’s at that point Galvin, deeply grieved, offers an emotional but accurate summation to the jury. Hesitant and groping now and then for the right words and recognizing the difficulty facing the jury he says this:
“Well…so much of the time we’re just lost. We say, ‘Please, God, tell us what is right; tell us what is true.’ And there is no justice. The rich win and the poor are powerless. We become…tired of hearing people lie and after a time we become dead, we think of ourselves as victims. We become victims. We become weak. We doubt ourselves, we doubt our beliefs; we doubt our institutions. We doubt the law. But today you are the law. You are the law! Not some book. Not the lawyers. Not a marble statue or the trappings of the court. Those are just symbols of our desire to be just. They are, in fact, a payer, a fervent frightened prayer. In my religion they say, ‘Act as if you had faith and faith will be given to you.’ If we are to have faith, faith in justice we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice. I believe there is justice in our hearts.” 1
The jury returns and renders a verdict in favor of the patient and her family..
What I find compelling in Galvin’s speech is that the longing for righteousness is not entirely absent from human hearts though as in this movie it isn’t always present—for here the church and the medical fraternity were suppressing it.  Jesus would tell you this wasn’t the first time religious people and the powers were united against justice.
Galvin reminds the jury (and us) that the visible structures and written laws bear witness to something deeper. He reminds them (and us) that in a very real sense these things are “a prayer, a very frightened prayer” that our longing for justice will be heard. The structures, the “trappings,” the marble statues and the thousands of law books all speak and they speak falteringly; they speak sometimes poorly and they speak to people who feel helpless and unsure, people who don’t always know what is right or how to bring it about.
Still, in a world, a big round teeming world, where injustice is rampant, where the liars and the powerful hold sway these buildings and judges and trappings and laws continue to protest.  And we need to remember that the movie originated in the heart of a real-life Barry Reed and isn’t just a movie—it describes life as it is in this fallen world. And when a movie has the impact that this movie had it’s only an ignorant cynic that dismisses it as having nothing worthwhile to say.
As the visible structures that are part of the judicial system point to something beyond themselves and become a sort of prayer for the best and for what is right so it is that the visible act of Baptism is a profound act of trust and commitment and it’s a prayer that reaches out in trust to Someone who lived, died and lives again for the entire human family. Baptism proclaims and in its very action it images the resurrection of Jesus. In doing that it shouts to an enslaved human family that it has a champion. Baptism says, “The One who lives again and forever is not your enemy; He is the enemy and conqueror of your enemies!”
In Acts 17:30-31 Paul contrasts the years that passed before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ with what is now revealed about God and he speaks of them as years of ignorance. God had never been concerned only about the welfare of a single nation or a particular group! In Christ who died for all in all the ages we learn that all tyranny in all the nations will be taken into account and dealt with. Victims and oppressors will all be treated with fairness, a righteousness that only God can exercise, a righteousness that’s perfectly imaged in the person of the Lord Jesus. “Look at Him, “ baptism says, “That’s the embodiment of fairness and righteousness that will judge the world.”
And our assurance of that is what? Once more, God assures us that this will take place by raising Jesus Christ from the dead. Every man, woman, boy and girl that rises from the watery grave announces the coming righting of all wrongs! The groaning, anguished world needs to hear that truth—all wrongs will be righted—and God appointed baptism as a witness to that truth.
It’s too easy to reduce this true word about judgment and the entire section to threat and ignore the assurance, the promise, and it’s too easy to leave the impression that God is nothing more than a heavenly legalist. The section is not threat so much as it is assurance for it identifies the one true God who will judge the world in faithfulness and fairness as the giver of life and everything else; it tells us that He gives these because we are His children and because He wishes for us to seek after Him and find Him (Acts 17:25,27-29). Seek after Him guided by His abundant provision, seek after Him and find Him! God wants us to find Him; to find Him!
God loves to be longed for,
He longs to be sought
For he sought us Himself
With such longing and love.
He died for desire of us,
Marvelous thought
And he yearns for us now
To live with Him in love. 2

All the gods in the world’s ancient and modern marketplaces make their claims and offer their credentials and promises but one of them stands out above all the rest. Other than this one, the rest have kept their distance from the human family, living in myths and in imagination on far away mountains and in “once upon a time” periods—playing games with mankind and feasting as the lords they were imagined to be.
Heinrich Heine died in 1856. He was a highly regarded German-born poet, journalist and literary figure and he wrote about his travels in Travel Pictures. In the book he quotes the Homeric description of the feasting gods and then he imagines and says this:
“Then suddenly approached, panting, a pale Jew with drops of blood on his brow, with a crown of thorns on his head, and a great cross laid on his shoulders; and he threw the cross on the high table of the gods so that the golden cups tottered, and the gods became dumb and pale, and grew even paler till at last they melted away into vapor.” (I wish I’d written that!) He goes on to say this.
“Anyone who sees his god suffering finds it easier to endure his own pain. The merry gods of the past, who felt no pain, did not know either how poor tortured human beings feel, and a poor person in desperation could have no real confidence in them. They were holiday gods; people danced around them merrily, and could only thank them. For this reason they never received whole-hearted love. To receive whole-hearted love one must suffer. Compassion is the last sacrament of love; it may be love itself. Therefore of all the gods who ever lived, Christ is the god who has been loved the most.”3
Paul claimed that the one true God permitted the human family freedom to reject Him and go its own way but He left a witness of Himself. He didn’t go into a ceaseless divine sulk and rage, He continued to do good, to give us sunshine and rain, fruitful seasons and to fill our hearts with gladness.4 And the final proof, the climatic proof, the astonishing truth (hard for some to believe) is Jesus!
We must come to understand that it’s life God offers to the world in Jesus Christ. God isn’t like a vain man or woman who is interested only in being told how wonderful He is. He created humans to love and be loved, to live in righteousness and enjoy life in which warm and gladly expressed righteousness prevails.
Those who have little concern about justice for all haven’t yet understood the mission of God. He is about the forgiveness of sins but He is about humanity and about humanity’s needs; He is about dying but He is about living. When He came to us in and as Jesus Christ He not only forgave, He healed and fed and He called on people to do the same (see Acts 10:38). “Religion” that is not “life” is not the religion God is about. The OT is saturated with the truth that God is profoundly concerned about injustice, the deprivation of people, about their hunger and their needs. Because this is so we hear about Him dismantling national and political structures that abuse and deprive the poor and needy [Ezekiel 16, Daniel 4; Amos 7 illustrate].
How people live and die matters to Him! And one vast and complex aspect of His mission to reconcile the world to Himself and to one another is to bring about life and peace and joy under the kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ!
All our best dreams in our best moments include life that is joy-filled and with reachable opportunities for all that will permit them to grow and love and live in the fullness of life. Our wise reforms smash on the rock of human wickedness. Despite our best efforts in our best and wisest moments horror stories reach us about cruelty, humiliation, slavery and despair that defy adequate description.
Though it is many things baptism is a confession and a prayer. It is a confession that humans cannot cure themselves and that if a warm justice is to prevail God will have to step in and see it is done.5 Baptism is a prayer, sometimes a hesitant prayer, because we humans are so vulnerable and easily frightened by power that’s demonic; but it is a prayer that what is right will triumph because Jesus Christ who is truth and right has triumphed. It’s a prayer based on the truth that He didn’t triumph just for Himself; He didn’t triumph simply to show how much wiser and stronger God is than humans—He triumphed for us—for His human family, for his Father’s children. 6
This truth is an aspect of the gospel! Whatever else we take to humans that live in distant lands or close to home, and live under oppression or in ceaseless deprivation; whatever we take we must take that truth!
Of course we’ll tell them that they too are sinners but we must tell them that God has sent us to tell them that He sees their pain and suffering and that in Jesus He will right all wrongs and will “restore the years that the locusts have eaten.” We need to tell them that and then we need to tell them that God wills it that they join Him in telling this to their family and friends and enemies and nations. God is more than a judge; He is a Savior who is their Father!
And when they go down into the water and rise again they say to all those powers that oppose Christ and his Spirit, “Your day is coming! You think we’re beaten because you enslave, torment and kill us? You’re wrong! You’ve done that with millions of us but one day you did it with one who had your number! In us, in our faith and our living hope He continues to defeat you even now and He’s returning and will obliterate you!” And to all the victims of oppression, all the multiplied millions that have gone down or are going down under the heel of oppressive governments, under unjust laws and systems their baptism says, “You are not forgotten! All wrongs will be righted and life that spills over with life will go on forever!”
[Holy Father, help us to believe in the Son you love and who simply by being Himself is the Judge of the world. We can’t deny that we believe in Him but there are times when we look inward and around and we know with a disappointing certainty that we desperately need you to help us in our unbelief. Now and then and for a while we realize how difficult faith in Him is for those whose lives are one long experience of rejection or ill health or economic oppression or humiliation or loneliness—they hear His name spoken and sung but they know only hurt and loss and a daily trudge toward old age, feebleness and the grave, while the rich and powerful and their content supporters, the lairs and those that manipulate the truth and control the flow of information are blessed. In truth, at times we wonder how anyone can be saved. In our sinfulness we have helped build a world that has become our master, it frightens us and it is too strong for us. We find our faith is fervent within the walls of a place of public worship but find it listless when intimidated by daily life that confuses and hurts us so that we put our trust in power and shrewdness and lies. We remember sometimes that you will gain your eternal loving purpose even if we do not help you but in our hearts we do not wish you to do it without us. Leave us not, continue your patient work with us and trust in us and equip us better for your service. Though we deserve it not, keep us ever near to your heart that ours might find its rhythm in yours. Deliver us from the temptation to make alliances with the gloomy and savage powers of the world as did your People in ancient times and if need be rip away all the props we use to support ourselves and leave us with no option but to trust in you through Him. Help your Church to remember our Baptism and to daily live its message that poor tortured suffers might hear and be drawn to trust and to live in vibrant hope because of Jesus Christ. This prayer in the Lord Jesus.]

Notes

  1. I’m well aware that that speech will offend many serious church-going people who might mutter, “Humanism.” But I’m not interested at this point in discussing the weaknesses of the “theology” in the speech. I wish only to say before moving on that God does not bring justice about by magic. And he does not bring it about solely through people who have a perfectly worded theology. He does it through flawed humans; humans that are not so flawed that they can’t recognize and long for social justice in this world; humans that God has helped to so shape whether they know it or not and sometimes—as in the situation in view—they that are able to see that it’s done. In this book/movie he does it through a jury of twelve ordinary people.
  2. The closing verse [last line slightly adapted] of F.W. Faber’s great poem, The Desire of God. Easily found online.
  3. Archipelago Books, 2008, translation by Peter Wortsman, page 174. 4. Acts 14:15-17
  4. Baptism calls Christians to live life now in the image of Jesus Christ who is the embodiment of the fullness of life in the final unveiling of kingdom life. We’re not given the right to yawn and say God will make the difference when he comes so noting is asked of us.
  5. & 6 See Acts 17:23-29

“LOOKING OR BEHOLDING?”

The KJV and others render John 1:36, “Behold the lamb of God.” The NIV and some others render it, “Look, the lamb of God.” Look  works, of course, but behold works better. In Revelation 21:5 we hear that he who sat on the throne said (KJV), “Behold, I make all things new.” The NIV renders it, “Look, I make all things new.” Again, look works but behold works better.
If people in the kitchen are searching for the salt and someone finds it, he might say, “Look, the salt!” Unless he means to be amusing he won’t say, “Behold, the salt!” The word look would work if he wanted people to know he had found the salt but behold wouldn’t. Why is that?
We know the word behold doesn’t work for the very ordinary, the very familiar. It’s a word we’d reserve for something grand, something out of the ordinary; it’s a word we’d tend to associate with pageantry and the blowing of trumpets, with something wondrous. It has, for perfectly good reasons, an old English sound because that’s what it is—an old English word that has dropped out of use because people have lost something of the sense of wonder and if you lose that then you have no use for the speech of wonder. And it works in a vicious circle for part of the reason we have lost the sense of wonder at life is because we cheapen it with speech that cheapens it. You only have to think of the long list of tasteless slang used for the lovemaking between two who love one another. So many words that have dropped out of common use and we’re the poorer for it. I’m glad that some versions have had the good sense and good taste to retain the word behold.
It’s a word that promises the looker something mezmerizing if he looks. Behold, says the King who sits on the throne, as he draws attention to a glorious renewing of the entire creation. Behold, says John and focuses their attention on something, on someone, more wondrous than the entire creation—the Lamb of God! Behold said the angel of God to the trembling shepherds when he came to announce the arrival of the Messiah, the incarnate Son of God.

It doesn’t matter that the human family didn’t understand; it doesn’t matter that the human family still doesn’t understand the reality and nature of its misery, the depth of its alienation from the Holy Father or the cure for it. Voices here and there with some sense of it all have asked the questions for us. We’ve always sensed that something was wrong and Dwight and Adams spoke the truth about us and for us when they wrote something we could sing and confess: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining/ till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” There is a great multitude of us that has felt and do now feel a desperate need for some assurance outside ourselves that our souls are worth something, for we can’t find that assurance in ourselves.
It isn’t only that we find us doing outrageous again and again; it’s more than that, but not less. Many of us, beyond the outrageous, see our lives as pathetic, weak, inglorious—lives with nothing we feel worthy to bring and lay at the feet of our Savior as a gift. We aren’t seeking to earn His favor, we seek only to please Him but unlike the Magi the things we have to offer Him and have offered Him are shabby, threadbare, pitiful. Sigh
This is true not only of individuals—it’s true of the human family as a single family. We’ve tried everything to bring peace and satisfaction to ourselves. We’ve murdered our brothers as Cain did, we’ve cheapened marriage as Lamech did, we abandoned ourselves to self-actualization, swore we’d build towers and glorify ourselves by ourselves and our masterful skills and we’ve armed ourselves to steal and keep what we grabbed. We’re still doing it—aren’t we!

Then every now and then (wouldn’t you hope?) the awful realization of the depths of evil to which we can plunge and have plunged fills us with self-loathing and we thought ourselves—God’s creation, God’s children—we thought ourselves unworthy of His redemption. We heard Him say, “After you’ve done all you were asked to do, consider yourselves unworthy servants,” and completely misunderstood what He meant.
His Bethlehem arrival to rescue us showed that God thought more of us than we thought of ourselves. He said, “You’re worth it to me!”
One day God visited the ancient city of Ur not far from the river Euphrates and knocked on a door.
“You Abram?” he said to the man who answered.
“I am sir, and who are you?” the man asked.
“For now, just call me El Shaddai.”
“And what is it you want, sir?”
“I want you to come with me, you and your wife. I want to save a
world and I want you to help me.”
Then one day God sent Abraham on a three-day ride with his future riding beside him, his future embodied in a boy called Isaac. They got to the place and the boy asked, “I see the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb?” His faith-filled father said God would provide and so the question became, “Where is the lamb of God?” Now there was a ”lamb” (ram) that kept Isaac from death and God assured Abraham that He thought highly of sinful but faithful Abraham (Hebrews 11: 16) and that He too was faithful to the human family through the faithful old man.
Then later came a fearful night when God strode into Egypt and thundered on Pharaoh’s door demanding that the king let his son Israel go and Pharaoh refused. He continued to refuse until one awful night when an angel of death visited every home in the land of Egypt and spared only the homes of those who took shelter under the blood of lambs. Now there was a lamb that redeemed Israel from death and enabled them to begin their journey to a promised land. This Passover lamb too bore witness to God’s faithfulness to Israel and their father Abraham.
And on another day a psalmist called the nations of the world to sing God’s praises. Notice how he puts it:1

O praise the LORD, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.
For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of
the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD.

He calls the entire human family to sing God’s praises because he was good to Israel—“to us.”  But why should the non-Jewish nations sing praise to God because he is good to Israel?
Because this psalmist knew that a God so great and so generous as Israel’s God would be good also to the entire human family He created.
If in His goodness He would deal with sinful Israel’s need, in keeping with His promise to Abraham, He would deal with the need of all the nations in keeping with His promise to Abraham concerning “all the families of the earth.” 2
The question, “Where is the lamb of God?” became, “Where is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world?”
The Baptist having witnessed Jesus fully identifying Himself with His sinful Israelite family by being baptized with a baptism meant for them and having seen the Spirit of God descend on Him later points Him out and says: “Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!”
Was that a sight or not? Do you “look” at Him or do you “Behold” such a one?
Sometime when you’re able, sometime when you’re alone and nothing else is demanding your attention, sit down, dismiss the talk of the preachers (sometimes Jesus is hidden under our talk—too much talk, too much “explanation”) and behold  Him; envision and take a long lingering, thoughtful look at the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—yours and mine included.

(1) Psalm 117
(2) Genesis 12:3: 22:18; 28:13-14; Psalm 67:1-5

GOD MAKING HIMSELF PRESENT

Stan Cunningham’s father Joe died (11-19-2017). Stan and Linda brought him to their home to spend his final days. I watched him slowly dying, getting ready to make his way to the Holy Father as the Lord Jesus Christ did, through suffering. He lay upstairs for more than a month lovingly attended to by these two, with good support at needy times from attentive and kind medical people.

I’ve watched this happening repeatedly in the last couple of months and it reminded me again of the bankrupt nature of religious lecturing that’s so often offered as a substitute for constant gospeling. “Gospely” words spoken in subdued and pious tones close to the end are themselves a judgment on our month after month and year after year lecturing fashion. That judgment remains sharp even when the “gospely”words are sincere.

No one lists the towns of Paul’s missionary journeys under the above conditions. No one wants to explain “the qualifications of deacons” at such a place. And how pathetic and tragic is it when those who ceaselessly offer some version of the “health & wealth now” story whisper their parting words to the sufferer rather than the public “religion of the healthy mind” they peddle.

The throbbing center of the Christian faith, the heart of the Gospel is God Himself. He makes Himself present via the foundational truth of the Bible’s message and the embodiment of that divine presence in lives lived before us. GOD is the Gospel and it is the Gospel that is “able to build us up and give us an inheritance among all those that are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). It isn’t a Bible God gives us! He gives Himself in giving us the truth He tells about Himself! That’s how He makes himself present in us and to us. It isn’t information He wishes to give us—it’s Himself via the transformative information (truth) He gives us. Bible texts are no substitute for an absent God, they are the way GOD makes Himself present.

It’s long past time when we try to “prepare the dear sufferer for his/her death” with some pious words about “the more important matters.” The business of those who are called to minister for GOD is to help prepare us for life and if they purpose to be faithful to that calling and have the wisdom enough to know the difference between “gospel” and the rehearsal of interesting material that we can live and die well without knowing, they will constantly gospel to us from behind pulpits or lecterns.

I don’t say they can do it flawlessly! I don’t expect that they would! But it’s GOD people like me need—not just any old God; the God of the Bible, the God of historical reality, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God who entered, actually and historically, into the human situation as Jesus of Nazareth. We need teachers to take us seriously and speak constantly to us the world creating word of Truth in and through which GOD makes Himself present.

(Holy One, come to our aid that we might come to the aid of others that life might become life, here and now and that then we will understand that those who believe on your Holy Son do not die. John 6:50; 11:26, your truth-filled claim. This prayer in Jesus our Savior.)

WHAT ASTONISHED CHRIST

Jesus was brought up in Nazareth and He moved to Capernaum (“the village of Nahum ”) and it became a center of His ministry. There He became noted as a teacher and a healer (Luke 4:16, 23) and it was there that He was stunned by a pagan. Twice in the New Testament we’re told that Jesus was astonished and in both cases it had to do with faith.
Luke 7:1-10 (see also Matthew 11:5-10) tells us of a foreigner, a Roman officer, who despite being a part of the forces of occupation loved Israel and honored them and as a consequence he was esteemed by the Jewish leaders.

He had a servant he really cared for and that servant was very ill so the foreigner sent Jewish people to ask a favor of this young Jewish prophet. He wanted him to heal the sick man and Jesus was on his way to do just that. Before Christ got to the house the soldier sent word that he didn’t mean for Jesus to come to his house, only that he speak and the healing would be done. The soldier said he knew what authority was. He had soldiers under him and he himself was under others. When he or his superiors spoke the response was immediate–the order was carried out. He saw it as sufficient that Jesus simply command the disease to leave and it would.

Luke 7:9 tells us that Jesus was amazemed and turned to the crowd saying He hadn’t seen faith like that in His own nation. We’ve become accustomed to the idea that Jesus wept, became angry or was tender, that He was moved with compassion and pity but is there not something astonishing about Jesus being astonished? How did He look when He heard what the centurion had to say? What registered on His face? More important, what are the implications in the fact that He was astonished at the man’s great faith?
It implies that something utterly unexpected had happened, doesn’t it? But what are the implications in that? Did Jesus not see Himself or His Father as worthy of such trust? No, that wasn’t the problem, He knew they were worthy. What astonished Him then? We can guess about the man’s pagan raising and that he was living in a town that Jesus cursed for its arrogance and hard heart (Matthew 11:23-24). Maybe that enters into it. Be that as it may, whatever the man’s past or present environment, it’s clear that Jesus thought it astonishing that such faith could be found in such a person. And that should remind us that it isn’t always easy to believe or to believe with deep conviction. If believing and believing profoundly were as simple as hearing the gospel there would be no reason to be astonished. Exodus 6:7 reminds us of that.
That’s what’s so fine about Jesus Christ. That’s what leads millions to not only love Him but to like and admire Him. He just blurts out His pleasure when He meets up with something glorious and weeps His heart out when He meets something tragic. There’s an openness about Him that while it makes Him vulnerable to His enemies makes Him adorable to those with eyes to trust Him.

Neither Matthew nor Luke gives us a psychological study of Christ on this occasion but it’s not hard to see and sense His joy. “Can you beat that?” we can hear Him say to the following crowd. We understand very well that faith is God’s work in us but it isn’t coercive work; the believer is not turned into a mindless being, he or she must personally and freely give themselves in the process. And people can choose not to believe (see Mark 6:6). When we come across a believer we come across someone who has gladly allowed God to have His way with them.

All of that’s plain enough but still, Jesus was astonished! Given the norm, this man shouldn’t have that faith. Imagine Jesus with his eyes shining, turning to the centurion (compare Matthew 8:13 ), smiling and saying, “How’d you do that?” We can easily imagine the centurion saying, “Oh, sir, we both know that God accomplishes all such things in us.” Christ would totally agree but He is still mesmerized at a lovely human response.

We’ve met people who were raised and continue to live in horrendous circumstances and there they are, up to their hearts in trust. And I don’t find it difficult in the least to imagine Christ with joyful astonishment on His face looking at them and saying, “How’d you do that?”

Here’s to all you “centurions” who provoke in God’s chosen people a godly jealousy and a Christlike astonishment.

“YOU’RE MISSING THE POINT!”

“Their camels four hundred and thirty five, and their donkeys six thousand seven hundred and twenty.”
That’s Ezra 2:67. Ezra says that’s how many there were and I believe him.
We would have been just as happy with Ezra’s accurate record if he had recorded 438 and 6725. A few camels or donkeys more or less wouldn’t trouble us. What we got in Ezra 2:67 is accurate information but it doesn’t generate a lot of interest on its own. But we’re not supposed to read it “on its own.” We’re supposed to get up on a high place and look down.
If we were in the mood we’d count the number of camels and donkeys. “Yes, he got it right,” we might say, “for we saw it with our own eyes.” But then we’d notice horses and mules and maybe we’d count them to assure ourselves of Ezra’s accuracy. Then we’d notice there were flocks and herds! Then people; boys and girls and women and men—250 of them are singers. We give up all counting and recognize on Ezra’s count that the entire assembly numbered 42,360.
We might walk over to him and commend him for his accuracy as a chronicler. He’d probably thank us but if we made the throbbing center of our speech something about his good counting he would tell us, “You’re missing the point!”
Ezra wasn’t counting heads or hoofs—he was recording a momentous event of which the details were a part. He wasn’t just logging information—he was telling a story, he was rehearsing an event filled with glory! This event said things about mighty Babylon! The herds and donkeys, the flocks and the camels, the mules, horses, singers and the rest of the host sang the fulfillment of Isaiah 44 & 45 where Cyrus is named as God’s deliverer of His people.
To isolate two verses about the animals reduces the message that even the animals proclaim. Mules and camels, horses and donkeys all kicking up dust and chaos were stirring the dust of freedom and and proclaiming the chaos of freedom. These animals meant and mean something! But they only man something if we let them be what the Bible means them to be!
They function as a part of a great Return with the faithful God fulfilling His promise to bring them home. But He is more than faithful; He is capable of doing the wondrous things He promises. And that means He is the Lord of nations and the God who shapes and uses history.
Isolating verses, atomizing scriptures, slavishly repeating what they say without giving them their place within the Cosmic Adventure is no good kind of Bible study!
It not only misses the POINT of the text, it is robbed of the POWER of it; the power it brings! God makes His presence felt in the truth He gives, John 6:3.

(Holy One, thank you… but please…!   This prayer on the Lord Jesus Christ.)

 

I TRAPPED A MOUSE

A mouse showed up in my basement. I chased it but…

I got some traps, set them down. No luck. I was moving stuff out from under the sink and found a trap I didn’t know was there. It was set by a vermin man many months earlier. It was one of those black sticky ones. And there lay the poor wee thing, dead on it. A slow traumatic death. Maybe they can’t reason but they can suffer and I attribute to the little creature the panic and wondering that maybe it didn’t feel and it’ll be a while before I can like what I see in the mirror.
I don’t live where such creatures are a threat to me and I have no criticism for those who must deal with them as disease carriers. It’s the world we live in and we must deal with threats of this kind for many good reasons. Finish this off for me so I can move on without further discussion of it.
The sight of the mouse with its limbs outstretched, striving for freedom, and now the memory of it, haunts me. If you write and criticize me for having the trap I won’t complain. Currently I feel I deserve all I’d get. Later I’m sure I’ll calm down and reason my way to my “freedom”.
But the incident has led me to think about the doctrine of everlasting, conscious and ceaseless torment (a doctrine I cannot hold).
There are kind, generous and deeply religious people who fervently believe that God is going to everlastingly and ceaselessly torture human beings. These are not insensitive people; they hurt, and weep over people in far-off lands who go on hurting day after day without hope of change. They sometimes sob over people that live much nearer; people born in stinking tenement buildings, vermin infested, oppressed, unemployed and often unemployable. Many of these sincere believers are kind even to their enemies and they do them good. And yet they believe that God will everlastingly and ceaselessly torment humans and they believe it because others teach them that this is what God has said He will do; that the God and Father of Jesus Christ is the kind of God that would do such a thing and that Jesus is such a one in whose presence this endless torment will go on (Revelation 14:10-11 is used).
These sensitive and kind people see the brutal and impenitent torturers of fellow-humans and are horrified that they would do such things and then believe that God will ceaselessly inflict torture, unendingly, on His enemies.
This their teachers say He will do even to multiplied millions who’ve never heard and will never hear anything about God and His glorious Son, Jesus Christ. They will only come to know this loving Father and His loving Son on that day when He consigns and subjects them to endless and unceasing conscious torment. Sigh.
Don’t be afraid to doubt such teaching!
Is it not interesting how a little confused and hungry mouse, tormented on a sticky trap makes one think of God and life and the oppressed human family?

Write me if you wish:   email: holywoodjk@aol.com