Monthly Archives: November 2017

“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