Monthly Archives: September 2018


If we believe the biblical Story it’s about a God who didn’t choose to be God without creation and humankind so He loved us into existence. [See Psalm 136.] He did that with a view to completing His purpose concerning us by bringing us into the image of Jesus—the immortal man, glorious in righteousness and who as a human is the perfect image of God. If we believe the Story it means that God purposed fellowship, communion, life together and that human response is to be human response and not simply God responding to Himself. In short, He freely chose out of His infinite joy and love of life to have a family of holy and joy-filled companions. With the advent of sin (which came as no surprise to God) it might have been thought that God would jettison the entire enterprise but not Him—not this God! He had committed Himself and would see the enterprise through and despite the God-denying look of much of human life, that was the gospel that was proclaimed in numerous ways down through history. As surely as God’s overarching purpose was true companionship with creative human response just that surely He wanted people to work with Him in securing it.
Woven into the fabric of the entire biblical witness is the picture of God walking through the earth looking not only for the lost and the troubled but looking for people who would trust Him; people whose gallant faith would test Him and provoke Him to come up with the substance of the things He led them to dream about and envision.
More often than enough the search came to nothing and there were times when faithlessness became so marked even in His own people that He would say things like, “Go find me one righteous man and I’ll forgive the city!” (Jeremiah (5:1), or to Ezekiel (22:30), “Find me one man to stand in the gap and I won’t destroy the city!”

To faithless Israel He said (Isaiah 48:18); If only you had paid attention to My commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” See this too in Asa in 2 Chronicles 16:7-9 and in trustless Ahaz to whom He said (Isaiah 7:10-11), “Test Me and I’ll meet your request no matter what it is.” In fact, when the prophets (OT and NT) looked over Israel’s history it might be fair to say that their summary would have been Isaiah 65:2-3, “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people…a people who continually provoke me to my very face.”
But Hebrews 11 makes it clear that His search wasn’t always a failure and that He had reason to go back to the Land of the Trinity smiling to Himself and with a sparkle in his eye. To the prematurely old Abraham and his barren wife (see Genesis 17:15-16 and 1 Peter 3:6.) He said, “I will make you father and mother of countless children—can you trust me to accomplish that?” They said yes and God walked off with a smile saying, I’ll be back. (See Genesis 18:10 & see Hebrews 11:16.)
And then there’s that marvelous psalm (Psalm 23) where some glorious believer couldn’t keep his mouth shut any longer and jumped up in church to say, “I just want to say that I trust God come what may!”
Whatever Genesis 1 and Exodus 14:10-31 taught the ancient Jews, it taught them that God was the Lord of the waters and everything else that existed. He spoke and they obeyed Him (see also Isaiah 17:12-14). The sea was no god to be worshiped as it had been worshiped in Egypt, where Israel had spent so many years. Still, its restlessness, its destructive power and the fact that they couldn’t control it were enough to make it a symbol of threat and chaos. They often spoke of it in those terms. Isaiah said (17:12) Oh, the raging of many nations—they rage like the raging sea! Oh, the uproar of the peoples—they roar like the roaring of great waters.

Hear the pounding of huge waves as they smash against one another with destroying force is a graphic picture of clashing armies. In their wickedness they never ceased to cast up muck and debris (Isaiah 57:20). It was out of the restless Mediterranean (the Great Sea) that the four great Gentile kingdoms arose like monsters from a science fiction movie, devouring all before them and oppressing the people of God (Daniel 7:1-8). It’s no wonder then that when John describes the condition of the new heaven and earth in which the enemy has no place that he says of it, “And there was no more sea”—Revelation 21:1 with 13:1 .
With thoughts and images of cruel seas circulating in a little nation that for centuries had felt the power of oppressors, the psalmist’s defiant words in 46:1-3 ring out all the finer and braver and more trustful. It wasn’t people who had known no trouble that sang the words he speaks—they’d known more than their share! These weren’t the words of a people who thought the world could be fixed if only people “were given enough information.”
This man speaks for his entire people who expected the world to be wild and oppressive and who knew that either today or tomorrow they’d feel the hurt that powerful nations bring to weaker kingdoms. Knowing all that, certain that it will come to that, here’s what he says:

God is our refuge and strength,
An ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way
And the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
Though its waters roar and foam and the mountains
Quake with their surging.

Picture this believer at some point in his life standing on top of the cliff, watching the huge waves building out there and then rushing toward him, picking up speed and power as they come. Imagine the shudder he feels in the ground when they thunder against the cliff face, again and again, unrelentingly, threatening to bring down the entire mountain and him along with it. Think of him, then, looking landward, to his home, family, close personal friends and his nation and thinking of the irresistible national forces lined up against them.
It’s with all those images and realities in mind that he sings into the wind and later in church: Read again what he defiantly sings out of a faith-filled heart.

Modern believers also sing that song. I know many of them personally! They’re intelligent, wide-eyed, politically aware, as realistic as any you could meet and when they feel the shudder under their feet they take note of it and get on with their business of world-transformation by gospeling in all the ways they do that; they’re some of the people, ancient and modern, who test God by placing their faith in him. They say disease, deprivation, economic collapse, entrenched and powerful evils are indeed mighty but they know and say GOD is Almighty. Gallant souls they are of whom the world isn’t worthy.
But no one ever tested God the way Jesus did! No one ever challenged God to the limit as Jesus did by His life of ceaseless devotion and trust. He laid it out before His Holy Father from the beginning right up to the moment when even in the midst of His awful feeling of abandonment on the cross He committed His spirit to His Father’s keeping. Even in those moments when sorrow led him to feel as though he was about to die even before they hung Him, His entire life and vision is described by Peter in the words of David (Acts 2:25-28 and Psalm 16:8-11):

“I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

As the psalm shows us, David knew the reality of a faith like that in his own life but only Jesus could fill his words to the utmost! The words as a description of Jesus’ depth and breadth of trust in God give us Jesus’ view of God. He saw God as worthy of even a perfect trust like His! In life Jesus gave His stamp of approval to all the lives and words of God’s ancient servants who told a worried nation in troubled times: “God can be trusted!”
Since the dawn of time God has been calling people to trust Him and there were times when He got a grand response but one day He called to a child named Jesus and said, “Trust me!” and the little boy  said, “I do and will!”
And one Friday, when He consummated His entire life of sinless holiness and warm righteousness, when He offered Himself up in death, He laid it all out before God and said: “Match that!” And He did it with the utmost confidence that His Holy Father would do just that—that GOD would match it!

And then came Sunday morning!


Maria White never enjoyed good health and she died at the tragically young age of thirty-two, but not before she had established herself as a poet of note and married James Russell Lowell, who, with her help, finally outshone her as “a name”. She had a poet’s heart and like all the truly fine poets she saw things the rest of us only grope after in part blindness. Speaking as a Christian I recognize that human loves share in the flaws that are part of our fallen humanity but speaking as a Christian who has known more than his share of ignorance down the years I haven’t seen clearly enough the beauty and riches God has placed in these human loves. Too, I’ve underestimated their power even while I admitted that they have immense power. I haven’t seen the beauty and richness of life because like so many others before me—people who’ve taught and shaped me—I’ve spoken almost exclusively of sin and forgiveness, of God’s redeeming activity without connecting it with his eternal purpose to bless and give life and I’ve said more about leaving this life than truly living it.
Again, like millions before me down the centuries I’ve narrowed the meaning of the life and death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus as to how they relate to and deal with sin. I can hardly make up for my failure by now saying nothing about sin and reconciliation for that would be tragic as well as a distortion of the meaning of Jesus Christ. He deals with our sin, thank God!
But he deals with our sin to gain God’s ultimate and eternal purpose, namely, to bless the human family with fullness of life; a fullness of life that is holy and honorable in righteousness but a life that includes human loves cleansed of all of whatever that mars them. Redemption confirms God’s creation intention rather than reduces or dismisses it. Redemption and blessing aren’t two distinct stories running parallel—they’re two faces of one coin, two themes in one drama.

I mentioned Maria White Lowell at the beginning because in one of her poems she stresses the depth and appeal of human love. In her powerful and infectious way here’s what she says in one of her four sonnets about her love for her husband, James Russell She makes the point that if Death came and took her to heaven that even there, in the midst of all the glory and with heaven’s shining ones by her side she would tire of the endless blue if she couldn’t look down on the earth and see the one she loved. No one should accuse her of heresy; they should simply pay attention to her way of expressing the beauty, glory and wonder of the love of one human for another. Here’s how she says it (quoted in H. E. Scudder’s biography of her husband).

If Death uplift me, even thus should I,
Companioned by the silver spirits high
And stationed on the sunset’s crimson towers,
Bending over earth’s broad stretch of bowers,
To where my love beneath their shades might lie;
For I should weary of the endless blue,
If that one soul, so beautiful and true,
Were hidden by earth’s vapors from my sight.

But what she in soft brilliance implies about the depths to which human loves can go pales before what we hear from Moses in Exodus 32:32. God has threatened to obliterate apostate Israel and Moses, while freely acknowledging their great wickedness, begs Him to forgive them, “but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” What do you make of such devotion?
Then we have Paul in Romans 9:3 saying, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” The scholars tell of various linguistic possibilities and niceties but J.G.D. Dunn was right when he said the only reason we search for linguistic options is because of the breathtaking thing Paul clearly said. N.T Wright refuses to hide his astonishment at Paul’s statement.
It would be foolish to think Paul thought his being anathematized could save others and there’s certainly no need to think he was actually saying to God what Moses did say to God. (There is more in Paul’s statement than there is in Moses’—but that’s another discussion.) What is clearly beyond dispute is this: Paul so loved his people that being cut off from Jesus, wouldn’t be too great a price for him to pay on their behalf. He knew what Moses felt toward them and he knew even better what Jesus felt about them and he here expresses his own heart toward them. Make what we want of it, Paul’s love for his people and his agony over their loss leads to this outpouring of passion.
In Exodus 32:33 there is something of a gentle rebuke—so I judge—in what God says to Moses but there is no reason for us to believe that God is not pleased with the depth of Moses’ feeling for Israel. Paul, often accused of being a renegade Jew, makes it clear that that isn’t true but in saying what he says he is revealing the wonder of the love humans can have for one another that they can feel to such depths and express such ongoing thoughts.
By the time some of us are done trying to get around the plain meaning of his statement we have Paul saying nothing worth saying. “If it were permissible for me to ask such a thing and if I thought it might avail something (though I know it wouldn’t) I could see myself praying such a prayer.”
That isn’t at all like anything Paul said. James Dunn is right, “In cases like this it is always wise to ask not simply, ‘What did the author intend to say?’ But also, ‘What could the author have expected his readers to understand by his language?’” It’s clear to me that Paul is saying something like, “I’d be willing to be damned for their sake, to save them; that’s how deeply I feel for them.”
I’m not the only one who feels that there is a handful of people for whom I now in life feel so deeply about that if they didn’t make it to the better world and life that is ahead that it wouldn’t be a better world for me.
I know we’re not to read the deep feelings of Maria White Lowell, Moses and Paul and “measure the speech of their hearts with the rules of logic.” Humans are capable of feeling so deeply that they can contemplate losing all if their beloved gains. This is a gift of God and it’s like God.

(Oh, Holy One, in our best moments we feel such feelings and they tell us of the things you are doing within us. Knowing and sensing that pleases us very much and we want to know it better and sense it more deeply and we ask that you continue to so shape us that the genuine willingness to pay any price that comes with it will rise within us. This prayer in the Savior, the Lord Jesus.)

A Faith to Proclaim (Part 1)

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McGuiggan Reflections Episode 105
Preacher and His Work Series: God Maketh Himself Present

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Jeremiah 18:1-11: The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear[a] my words.”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.  And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
Then the word of the Lord came to me:  “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.  If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it,  and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.  And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it,  and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.  Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ ” (ESV)

Jonah 3:1-5: Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh…Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (NIV)

Isaiah 48:18-19: Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me.” (ESV)

Jeremiah 18:1-11 speaks for itself. There are times when we need specialists to help us (and we’re grateful for them) but every now and then we come across a verse or a section so plain that we don’t need their help. If we don’t understand a very plain text then we’ll not be able to understand the scholar who’s going to show that it’s not plain. Let’s give God the credit for given us some basic sense and use it.

Jonah is a good illustration of Jeremiah 18. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown,” he said. But it didn’t happen! And you know why it didn’t happen. Nineveh repented. Refresh your mind by reading the story for yourself.

Then look at Isaiah 48:18-19. Israel’s state would have been different than it was when the prophet spoke. It was a shambles though that wasn’t God’s heart’s desire. He purposed a glorious future for them but that glorious future eventually turned out to be their captivity in Babylon. If they’d only responded to God as they should have. Sigh. That’s what Jeremiah taught and that’s what Jonah illustrated.

All of that says what? It says that unfulfilled prophecy, promise or threat, should not surprise us. We’re warned ahead of time (Jeremiah 18:1-11).

Those texts say that a glorious promise might not turn out as glorious as promised.

They say this also: a threat of imminent judgment might be delayed. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown,” was God’s announcement but God “changed His mind” (Jeremiah 18:1-11). Still, the judgment did fall on Nineveh many years later as the book of Nahum tells us. Still “forty” is “forty” and it didn’t happen. True, but we must allow Jeremiah 18:1-11 to have its way.
The idea that life is like a pre-played chess game and God moves all the pieces independent of human behavior, good, bad or indifferent, is simply not true. God made humans and He makes His sovereign and fatherly decisions in light of the creature He sovereignly and fatherly created. That’s who He works with! GOD did not choose to work with puppets or chess pieces.
Try not to worry about “unfulfilled” promises or “judgments” because they are affected by human behavior, ours and that of others—and God allows it to be that way (Acts 14:16). God not only works with humans, He loves the humans He works with—all of them! But it’s precisely because He loves them all that things in a fallen world become complex. Nineveh didn’t go down in Jonah’s time because God loved Nineveh (the powerless in the empire) though He has no love for the oppressive structure which was ‘the world’ in which a host of dominated people and their domesticated animals. But Nineveh did go down in Nahum’s time because God loved the little nations that Nineveh was terrorizing. Love experiences a conflict of interest in a world like this. So promises are delayed or partially fulfilled, judgment is delayed or eased. Jesus Christ is the life of God lived out as a human. That’s part of the reason you have Matthew 11:28 and Matthew 23:33 and then 23:37.
In His own good time God will make all things plain and we will see and experience what in our better moments we long for and dream of. Think noble things of God for Jesus not only imaged Him, He loved Him, trusted Him and was committed to His overarching purpose.