Monthly Archives: December 2017

“SIX PENNYWORTH OF MIRACLE!”

George Gissing was thirteen when Charles Dickens died then he died of pneumonia in 1903. I would like to have met Dickens, I think, but I suspect Gissing would have been too intense most of the time to want to take time for me. Maybe that’s not true. The reason I say that is because it’s difficult to know who, of the people who’ve written about him, really got to know him. In fact his friend, Morley Roberts who wrote about Gissing under the title, The Private Life of Henry Maitland said this about people in general:
“We know very little of each other and after all it is perhaps in biography that one is most acutely conscious of the truth in the pragmatic view of truth. Those things are true in Henry Maitland’s life and character which fit in wholly with all my experience of him and make a coherent and likely theory. I used to think I knew him very well, and yet when I remember and reflect it seems to me that I know exceedingly little about him. And yet again, I am certain that of the two people in the world that I was best acquainted with he was one. We go through life believing that we know many, but if we sit down and attempt to draw them we find here and there unrelated facts and many vague incoherences. We are in a fog about our very dear friend whom but yesterday we were ready to judge and criticize with an air of final knowledge. There is something humiliating in this, and yet how should we, who know so little of ourselves, know even those we love?”
On the whole, though I feel a lingering disappointment or perhaps unease, I think Roberts is correct. (I don’t know our daughter or two sons or very dear friends? Hmmm, I don’t like that thought but I’m sure of this—long before I read Roberts’ remark I often wondered how well I knew me.)
Moving on. Gissing wrote plenty about poverty and slums but some still some wonder if he knew by experience the profound poverty of which he wrote, but one thing is sure, Peter Ackroyd, the acclaimed novelist, literary critic and biographer spoke of Gissing as “that epicure of London’s uglier aspects” (meaning the slums). In any case, and because I’m no specialist in Gissing (or anyone else for that matter), and so my opinion might not count for much, I’m nevertheless content to believe that the man knew plenty about hard times, thin soup, stale bread, and a very little of that—the best he could buy with pennies while he lived in a freezing upstairs room and then later in a colder damper basement. (I’ll spare you the details that explain my contentment.) If Yates and Harrison and some others are correct it was later, when his literary work began to generate some money, that Gissing said a definitive goodbye to serious need (well, there were further brief periods of hunger).
As Roberts wrote about Gissing under the name of Maitland Gissing wrote about himself under the name of Ryecroft in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft. He presents himself as a man who finally made it through seriously tough times and was enjoying life to the full when telling us of this thing that happened.
“That reminds me of an incident. Near a hamlet, in a lonely spot by a woodside, I came upon a little lad of perhaps ten years old, who, his head hidden in his arms against a tree trunk, was crying bitterly. I asked him what was the matter, and, after a little trouble I learnt that, having been sent with Sixpence to pay a debt, he had lost the money. The poor little fellow was in a state of mind which in a mature man would be called the anguish of despair; he must have been crying for a long time; every muscle in his face quivered as if under torture, his limbs shook; his eyes, his voice, uttered such misery as only the vilest criminal should be made to suffer. And it was because he had lost sixpence! I could have shed tears with him—tears of pity and of rage at all this spectacle implied. On a day of indescribable glory, when earth and heaven shed benedictions upon the soul of man, a child, whose nature would have bidden him rejoice as only childhood may, wept his heart out because his hand had dropped a six-penny piece! The loss was a very serious one and he knew it; he was less afraid to face his parents, than overcome by misery at the thought of the harm he had done them. Sixpence dropped by the wayside and a whole family made wretched! What are the due descriptive terms for a state of civilization in which such a thing as this is possible? I put my hand into my pocket and wrought six pennyworth of miracle.”
I love the story and I’m taking the incident at face value. I want to take it at face value for I vividly remember being such a boy, leaning against a brick wall on the Kashmir Road in Belfast.
It must be all of seventy years ago and my mother had sent me with money (I don’t remember how much but it had to be a lot though it couldn’t have been a lot) to pay a money lender her (weekly?) installment. I wasn’t five minutes from her when I reached in to get the coin ready to hand over that I discovered it was gone. In absolute panic I plundered the same trouser pockets again and again—no money! I backtracked down the sloping Kashmir Road hunting every square inch of it—No! With my back to the wall I stood there sobbing. I had two women to face. I finally got up the courage (but sure I had no alternative so it was hardly courage) went and told the woman with strong crying and tears the gutting experience. I don’t remember what she said. Before God I don’t remember what my wee mother said; I only know it was a sore time and I don’t know how far the ripples went out at that time.
But she didn’t die and I’m here today and the poverty we shared with countless people around us in those days is now nothing much more than a conversation piece in the right company and setting. (And yet, such things shape us, don’t they? For good or ill they become part of what makes us who we are so they remain part of us and not mere conversation pieces.) On that occasion no George Gissing turned up to work “sixpenny  worth of miracle.” But since then, I’ve had more than one Gissing who came my way at critical and anguish-filled moments to provide a “miracle”.

Yes, yes, too sweet an ending.
I don’t care!
Praise God for all the “Gissings” who redeem a child or some agony-filled soul with an act of God-imaging kindness.

DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER?

Do you think Sin began with you? Do you think it will end with you? Do you think that you should have been the exceptional one—that you should have been born into a world that is infected with the Sin virus and that you should never have become sick with it? Does it ever occur to you that you have not sinned or that you are not now capable of sinning? Do you imagine that there are children born into this world that will mature and leave this life without having sinned? Do you think it is inevitable that we humans will sin? I say “inevitable” and not necessary!

Do you sometimes think you could have lived your life without sinning? Whenever it first happened that you sinned, why do you think you did? Do you ever think that Adam and Eve were the only ones to get a clear shot at not sinning? Do you ever think that it’s somehow unfair if God judged us as if we were Adam and Eve if Adam and Eve had a better shot as living sinlessly than we their descendants do?
Do people who have been raised in a loving and wise home and who have plenty of the fine things that make life pleasing—do they have an advantage over the oppressed who live in unchanging squalor, an advantage to live without bitterness or resentment and in cheerfulness; do they have an advantage to live uprightly? If so, does God know that? Does that shape His view in the area of judging people?
Do people who have been privileged to have a deeper understanding about God’s sense of what is righteous and what is evil—do they have an advantage when it comes to fighting against unrighteousness within them? Do people who have been privileged to know that God loves them and seeks to enrich their lives in all the lovely ways that life can be enriched; do they have a moral/spiritual advantage over those who are destitute of such wondrous truth? Does living in a setting filled with encouragement to living nobly and having a network of friends who embody that kind of living give people—does that give them an advantage over those who live where corruption, intimidation and godlessness reign?
When we see a boy or a girl raised in a godly, loving and wise home and richly blessed with the social and economic blessings that make life comfortable—are we (at least) surprised or perhaps shocked if they turn out to be very wicked? Why is that?

When we see a young man or woman raised by corrupt and brutal parents in a ghetto of violence and filth—when we see such a one become a person of moral beauty and uprightness are we happily astonished? Why is that?

Does God see that? Is He astonished? (If Jesus is the self-revelation of God as a human, does His astonishment at the warm faith and trust of the centurion in Luke 7 say anything about God? What does it imply that Jesus was astonished?)

1. Does any of the above make any difference to anything?

2. Does it come down to this: Some of us are “lucky” to be born in the right place to the right people in the right set of circumstances in the right age and others are “unlucky” not to be?

3. Should we conclude that all the “unlucky” will be eternally punished but some more than others? If we conclude that are we not faced with perplexity and does good or bad “luck” determine the destiny of the vast majority of the human family in all ages?

4. Should we simply dismiss all such questions and say, something like, “We don’t need to trouble ourselves with such questions. God will do what’s right at the final judgment.”?

5. If we do that, have we any gospel truth to announce about the “unlucky” majority of the powerless of the ages?

 

THE HOLY ONE & A BABY’S TOES

In Bloomsbury’s book on English literature (is Bloomsbury correct? I don’t have the book in front of me. I’ll check later). the author who contributed a piece on GK Chesterton pretty much dismissed him as not worth much. I don’t remember that author’s name but Chesterton’s is remembered by millions though he died in 1936.
There are many biographies of Chesterton but the one I enjoyed most was by his friend Maisie Ward. I suppose that the majority of biographies these days works on being “realistic” and to those writers that means discussing at length “the warts”. I’m not utterly opposed to that. There is only one Jesus and the rest of us fall far short so if biographers do a thorough search on any of us they’ll find plenty of “warts” (and plenty of alleged warts as well, no doubt). Sometimes I think I can spot the relish with which some writers write to bring down “a god”. I think, for example, (though this is perhaps a bit harsh) I see it in Wilson’s biography of CS Lewis. Of course, I never thought Lewis was Jesus (nor did he!) so I “get it” when people show us some truths that make our heroes less than “Sir Galahads”.
I think “realism” is legitimate and important (unless we begin to worship it as at a shrine) and I think that writing or speaking that doesn’t at least take some account of truth that is less than pleasing to a subject’s friends or family isn’t helpful. But I can’t help thinking that covering a beloved’s wrong is a good thing and important. I think the same is true of one we esteem and are grateful to for many good reasons. But, understand, I do think that some things need to be dealt with openly and judiciously.  Sometimes and in certain situations the whistle should be blown!
But is there not a kind of spirit that can shape us and lead us into seeing (real) evil or shabbiness or purposed violence and urges us to write or speak about it with a salivating fever and relish; urgently feeling the need to tear open the body of humanity to expose the seething wickedness that can be found there? Showing it in movies like Casino or The Good Fellas or newspapers and books that we’re well acquainted with? Yes, but we want realism!  I think that’s a good thing! I also think a little of certain kinds of realism goes a long way.

What kind of realism is it if a husband speaks lovely things of his wife but feels compelled by “honesty” to speak of really distasteful things he finds in her or thinks are in her?

I take seriously William Lyon Phelps’ remark on books. He said this: ”Zola was an artist of extraordinary energy, sincerity and honesty; but, after all, when he gazed upon a dunghill, he saw and described a dunghill. Rostand looked steadfastly at the same object and beheld the vision of Chanticleer.” Yes, I’m currently convinced there is a spirit abroad among us that leads us to “expose”. But I also know there are millions, whether Christian or non-Christians who take to heart this truth, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
But I didn’t intend to go into all that. (There’s no cure for my lack of discipline I’m afraid.) I simply wanted to tell you (perhaps again) since it’s on my mind, that GK Chesterton in a little collection of his essays called, What’s Wrong With the World makes the claim that a major problem with it is that we have lost the sense of wonder. There is, he insisted, many wonderful things, we just don’t have the capacity to perceive them. Everything (pretty much) is reduced to materialism or rational explanation or economic or social worth. “What does it do? What difference does it make? What’s it worth?” All these asked in a severely pragmatic spirit. “Wonder?” Poof! It vanishes in a cloud of purple smoke r maybe more likely, it slowly withers in us. GK says that we (the world and all in it) have grown old and God has stayed young! God doesn’t make flowers en masse, He makes them one at a time (no doubt with speed passing the speed of light). He loves individual humans also. (I know this raises difficult questions. But not right now.)
He, like a little child isn’t bored with repetition. We acknowledge it (realistically) and adjust to it but He delights in it. Following Chesterton’s lead I’m looking forward to the day when I walk into a room and there’s a baby sitting on the floor with its eyes big and wide in amazement—it has just discovered the wonder of its toes (you’ve seen that, haven’t you!) and there beside the baby is God with His eyes wide open looking at the same thing. He’ll turn and say with excitement in His great voice, “Have you seen these?”

Reduce all we want; make Christmas nothing but a time of greed and capitalism and pain for many poor people, children and parents (sadly, there’s a great deal of that), but if that’s all we see and miss the wonder of the Christian faith and the incarnation of God we’ve been hurt and we have grown old while God remains ever young and ever joyful knowing where He’s going with all this.

(Holy Father, enable us to balance reality with wonder or at least enable us to seek to balance them! This prayer in the name of the ever-young Prince.)

IN MAN HE TRUSTS!

“For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The “maker” in the text is God and the one “made” is the sinless man, Jesus Christ. It is God who made Jesus Christ to be sin that “we” His chosen “in” Christ might come to be God’s righteousness.
God made Jesus to be many things to us (1 Corinthians 1:30, and context) and in 2 Corinthians 5:21 Jesus is seen both as a high priestly figure and the sacrifice being offered. Be sure to see Leviticus 16:6-10, and context, where the High Priest makes atonement for Israel’s sin by first offering an offering a sacrifice for his own sins and a sin offering for the entire nation. This priest (Jesus) offers no sin offering for Himself (see Hebrews 9:14, and context in keeping with Leviticus 10:6-10) because He has no sin.
In 2 Corinthian 5:21 it is God who makes Him “sin” (see the literature on harmartian) and note Isaiah 53:10 and context. While there is good reason to think Paul here has “sin offering” in mind (he uses a lot of Isaiah in this entire section) it’s probably a mistake to narrow his thought to that. My own sense of it is that if we asked Paul, “How do we know that Sin is truly dealt with?” he would point at Jesus on the cross and say, “There! There Sin is being dealt with.” That would allow us to gather up numerous aspects of how God dealt with human Sin. And Romans 3:21-26 would help us.
The foundational truth of God atoning for Sin in Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is not the main stress. The stress is on why God did what He did in Jesus–it was “that we might become God’s righteousness. (The hina clause here is manifestly final, stressing purpose rather than simple result.)
“We” who are brought into Jesus Christ become “God’s righteousness!” We become a visible embodiment of God’s righteousness, a visible witness to His being faithful to His promises that are fulfilled in Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). Our very existence as the body of Christ in which He dwells by the Holy Spirit is a witness to God’s unfolding righteousness (see Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:15, 19 and contexts).

In this 2 Corinthians 5:21 text it isn’t Jesus who is the righteousness of God (that is spelled out in other texts)—here we are God’s righteousness, God faithfulness to His covenants and promises and we are the visible expression of that faithful love only because we are “in Christ”
What a profound privilege, an astonishing honor. Who believes it? Looking at us the worst face of criticism has good reason (it judges) to sneer or at least to find it unbelievable. It isn’t only the world that can’t see it—the Church can’t see it. Can’t you tell that? We don’t know who we are! Much of the time we’re reminded and remind ourselves of our sins and sinfulness and the constant talk and thought about our failures—and they’re real—masks the truth that we are and have been for 2,000 years! Our sometimes pathetic efforts exposes our sinfulness as well as our sometimes outlandish sins. But God dealt with all that, every bit of it in Him who knew no sin. And if skeptical people ask us where our glory is, reminding us what an astounding claim we’re making, we can only say, “Yes it is and astonishing claim, isn’t it?! But it’s astonishing in more ways than one. We have no visible glory. Nothing that would make people look at us and think we’re what He has said we are.”
See Isaiah 53:1-3 and remember that we humans saw Him—Jews and Gentiles—weren’t impressed, treated Him with indifference as well as cruelty and then railroaded Him and slew Him–we slew the Lord of Glory, the Prince of life. It’s no surprise that the world can’t see the glory of God in the Church; even the Church can’t see it.
The almost incredible truth is that God trusts humans to keep the truth of HIS glory before the eyes of a often disinterested and sometimes skeptical world. We know what it means when we hear, “In God We Trust.” But what should we think when we’re told, “In Man He Trusts”?

(Holy One help us to believe all you show us in Jesus Christ. This prayer in His name.)

DECEMBER 25th–WHO CARES?

(I don’t know how to respond to your responses (except when we’re exchanging on textual or theological issues—and maybe then I don’t) but I want you to know I read them all and find pleasure in the meeting of minds that have reason to rejoice. So if I don’t add a little note to your note it isn’t that I’m ignoring it—it’s that I don’t know what to say and/or that life has got in the way of my responding. God enrich us all and strengthen us so that even if our tough circumstances (sometimes excruciating circumstances) can’t be changed we will be able to rejoice in the truth that can’t be shaken, the friendships that will not end, the hope that lies throbbing deep within us and will before we know it become experienced reality.)

Our hope is in GOD and He is the GOD who became one of us something like 2,000 years and ago and forever remains one of us. And He became one of us because He did not want to be God without us! He became one of us because He WANTED to. How profound is that? It would be an unbelievable doctrine if it were not for the fact that He actually and historically did what He WANTED to do. The doctrine is nothing but the telling of what He did! (That sentence is over-simplification and needs developed though it is absolutely true.)

I don’t care if GOD became one of us in Bethlehem on December 25th or not! If we hadn’t settled for that date, we should have settled for another! What? May 13th, February 23rd? I don’t care! If we spent as much time reflecting on the utter wonder and implications of it rather than proving it wasn’t December 25th the entire world would be better served and the Church would rejoice in the truth and have something to shout happily to the world. The central pulsing truth is that He DID it! What? It’s a religious crime to choose a day (ANY day) to celebrate the Incarnation of God? Are we mad or what?

GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST (the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ).
Think noble things of God.

John 3:16-17

JIM, VALERIE & ETHEL

This very morning (12-18-17) I got a note from our older son, Jim. It speaks for itself and says lovely things. His wife is Val.

“Well,  Val is out delivering last minute presents to various people….. when she’s here I watch TV or stay on the computer but when she’s not here in the house I can’t even enjoy a cup of tea by myself. Even the dogs mope around when she’s away somewhere. Oh well.  
God knew what he was doing when he looked at Adam and decided he needed someone else. 

Anyhoo, she just came home…. YIPPEE. “

 

I wrote him back just now. It’s difficult to express how happy I am for them. So many poor souls have never been so blessed.
That’s a great feeling! His note triggered a memory that fairly often rises to my mind unbidden. I mention it in the note.
          I’m so glad you experience it and I’m glad you mention it to me. Being alone has a few advantages but they’re few and they’re minuscule in size compared with the massive benefits of feeling wanted, contented, loved, looked after by each other.
          Your mother wasn’t the best cook in the world but she made the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. Occasionally I’d enjoy watching her doing it when I pretended I wasn’t. Now and then she’d look round and I pretended I was looking elsewhere and she’d ask me to get her something [salt or paper napkin or such] and then she’d go back to the big pan and work away. When it was all done and the big plate had loads on it she’d take paper napkins and dab off some of the oil. “This is ready,” she’d say, and wheel her chair over to the table with it. Nice and hot and plenty of it. I’d tuck in and maybe most of the time I would immediately make a big deal out of the first bite. It was always genuine. I don’t know how she did it but she got it right every time. Once in a while I’d eat a couple of pieces and say nothing and I’d see her glancing at me. Finally she’d say something like, “Too dry? Did I fry it too much?” And I’d put my fork down and while still chewing I’d say something in this neighborhood,”Ethel you’re not going to believe me but I’ve eaten chicken all over the world, in houses and pot-luck church dinners and restaurants and I’ve never tasted anything nearly as good as this!” The great thing was that it was true! She’d try to hide her pleasure but there it was. No smile, mind you, but a satisfied look on her face that said she knew she had “done it again.” Then once in a while I’d ask her in various ways, “What is it you do?” and she’d say, “I don’t know I just….” And then when she had explained once more (as if I hadn’t heard it before) how she went about it she would add, “Some people don’t….” and would give an explanation why hers turned out best. She’d never never say that hers was best, don’t you know–she left that to me. I take great pleasure in remembering moments like these and it makes me happy that you and Val are creating and experiencing pleasures like that in your relationship.
          Ethel was just a wee girl from the Shankill Road, not well-educated due to prolonged childhood illness and other things but she was strong and yet in many ways remained childlike (not childish!) and was marvelously pleased with simple and basic things.
          She didn’t get a great husband—that I know—but he too was limited and maybe he did the best he could. Maybe.
          In any case, now and then I miss her terribly, more rarely these days since I’ll soon be meeting her again and I know she is well with the Lord Jesus. I wouldn’t want her back and have her go through what she went through, especially in the later twenty-three years of paraplegia, and more, when sometimes I’d hear her pray for God to help her. (Those were the last words I heard her say that night in the house before I had to call the paramedics. Perhaps He thought she had had enough.) Even more rarely, and for a little while, I feel the excitement of that meeting and I imagine how it will all happen and what we will say to each other. It’s supremely wonderful to know that the best and loveliest things in our lives never die and that all the failures and debilitating regret and remorse passes away forever. Our hope is a living hope. It’s more than a hope that doesn’t die; it’s a hope in which we live, a hope that enables us to live even while we wait.
love,
dad.