Monthly Archives: November 2018

No Resurrection, No Gospel (2 of 9) (What does the resurrection mean for us)

Watch the latest video from McGuiggan Reflections.
What does the resurrection mean for us? 1 Corinthians 15 – What if there was no resurrection? What does the resurrection mean to a Christian

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McGuiggan Reflections – Episode 110
The Preacher and His Work Series
God Maketh Himself Present

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I write mainly for readers who share with me a profound and common interest in and commitment to the God who revealed Himself in and as Jesus of Nazareth—the now resurrected and exalted Lord of All. I write for readers who believe in the Holy Spirit who makes Himself present (peculiarly) in the Church of God by His living Word in the Holy Scriptures. This living Word is living and powerful precisely because it is the Word of the living Spirit of God—it is never dead! Like its holy source, the Holy Spirit, it can be resisted, quenched and rejected because the “power” the Spirit of God brings to bear on the hearts and minds of people and in their societies is not coercive. It is God’s power to save but it is a drawing and shaping power (Acts 20:32; Romans 1:16; John 12:32 and elsewhere).

We’re aware of our flaws though we accept the fact that we don’t know or see them as our God and Savior does. Still, however flawed we are in practice or vision we can’t subscribe to the views of someone like J. Selby Spong who can take or leave the existence of God and still speak as one who is a Christian.
I can’t embrace the view of a congregation of people who are committed to Jesus as Lord but that in His name calls no one to repentance. When I hear people being invited to dialogue with Christians that assure them, “We’re not asking you to change your mind about your homosexual stance or relationships” I immediately ask, “Yes, but is God asking them to change their minds (repent)?”
Romans 1:18-32 is a long list of markers that the human family has suppressed the truth of God in unrighteousness and that God them gave them up to those various chosen evils that included foolishness and homosexuality in its various forms. Paul immediately follows that long (but not exhaustive list) with a fearful warning that to choose to reject a change of mind (repentance) is to choose to reject God and His goodness and store up for oneself a coming wrath (Romans 2:1-4). Not to call me to repentance when it’s clear that I’m consciously choosing to reject His goodness is not kindness or friendship within the Christian narrative. To tell me it’s my God-given right to do as I please is to speak peace to me where there is no peace.

Still, how could we not be in favor of friendly dialogue with sinners when we ourselves are sinners? How could I not believe that God is calling other struggling sinners back to Himself when He calls me to Him as I seek a nearer likeness to Jesus Christ? His goodness to me and to everyone who seeks His presence and peace is expressed in the gift of His drawing us to repentance (Romans 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:25-26; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:11; 1 Peter 1:2; 2:24).

This is no plea for Christians to keep sinners like ourselves at arm’s length with a “holier than thou” attitude or speech (Isaiah 65:5). We’ve done enough of that! Should we invite sinners who choose to reject God’s goodness to eat with us or to keep company with us if they choose to or to gather with us when we assemble to glorify Him? Dear God, yes!
But to tell them their conscious choosing to live their lives contrary to the good God who offers them a “change of mind”—to tell them that it is not sin to be repented of but rather a right for them to enjoy and for which they need to apologize to no one, not even to God? That is loving them with the love of the Lord? To tell people “We aren’t asking you to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20); you need no such thing”? This is the love of God speaking through us?
To make a friend of sinners is like Jesus Christ! To make a friend of a “world” and a “world spirit” that first seduces and blinds, then shames and degrades and corrupts us and through us spreads corruption that is to make an enemy of God (James 4:4; 1 Tim 1:8-11) who loves those we smile at and say, “We’re not asking you to change.”
How seductive the Tempter is and how sweet and cozy is our feeling that we’re tolerant and friendly. But there is no kindness so merciless as that which extends the hand of friendship to a slithering parasite that’s devouring those we care about. The patient and loving Son of God turned to His critics when they slated Him for caring for the noted sinners and He said, “They’re ill and I’m their doctor.” They hung Him for many things but they hung Him for making friends of sinners and even while he choked to death He said, “Father they need forgiveness. Forgive them they don’t know what they’re doing!”
Sinners like us who are “in the know” need to tell them.
There are many young people on the edge of an abyss. Don’t tell them it’s their God-given right to jump.
And there are those who are struggling with what they’re mortally afraid of and need a doctor like the Savior and friends standing by to assist Him. Don’t tell them everything is all right!
The Satan, said Paul, can transform himself into a minister of light.

(Holy Father, help us who wish to please you by being instruments of your blessing to the human family that you so love that you sent the Lord Jesus that we might have life in and through Him. Save us that we might not be carried away by every wind of cultural and societal change for we too are opposed by invisible rulers of the darkness of this “world” and hosts of wickedness in the unseen realms. Do continue in your faithfulness to keep us from trusting our emotions when they would carry us places and thoughts you have protected us from. Convince us that your salvation is more than forgiveness but that it includes your patient work of deliverance from ALL that is unlike the Lord Jesus and that we might be included, more and more, among he number of whom it is said, “And such were some of you but you  but you were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Do come to our aid that as your People we will trust your saving Word in the Lord Jesus who is the same yesterday, today and forever, rather than our ever-changing feelings. Do help us to be faithful as servants of your Saving Truth that liberates. Do it for us your sinful children and do it for those to with whom we live and to whom we speak for if they do not hear it from us who will tell them of full and one day final, glorious and joyful LIFE? This prayer in Jesus Christ.)

Modernism, Post-Modernism & Post-Liberalism? (1)

Once upon a time it became fashionable to believe that humans evolved out of non-living materials and inch by painful inch they moved through protoplasm to organisms to sea creatures to amphibians to land mammals to full-blown humans. (It’s now becoming fashionable in surprising quarters.)
At first scientists rejected the idea but then (with a little help from insolent and ignorant religious leaders) the notion took off. The theory of evolution—the transmutation of species—prevailed; but there were those who thought that God somehow guided the process upward (de Chardin was big on that) but those in scientific quarters shook their heads and dismissed it because there was nothing of a scientific nature that could prove it. The non-theists insisted that as far as science was concerned there wasn’t a God in sight.
You understand, they weren’t saying there was no God, only that if there was, there was no scientific reason to believe he was acting in the evolutionary process. As far as they could tell it was happening on its own. Mystery was acknowledged, of course, but these scientists knew that by and by they would come up with the needed information and obliterate mystery. We’re still assured that an answer to everything is forthcoming. Scientists had begun to explain that the most amazing things were nothing more than “the way things worked”. They spoke of “natural laws” and they were able to explain about orbits and magnetic fields, geological formations and the paths of comets, what infection was and the astonishing nature of light. The explanatory power of their explanations increased when they were able to predict things (how did they know when Haley’s Comet would appear in the sky?) and they were able to demonstrate other things before our very eyes. They modestly insisted that they were only uncovering the truth about how things worked. They were demonstrating that about physical realities massive & miniscule and with it all they were demonstrating that you didn’t need God to sustain or guide the physical universe. The physical “laws” do quite well without his supernatural interference. Believers would say, flowers can’t make themselves and non-theist scientists would reply that that was the only thing they saw. Flowers kept making themselves.
Some very influential religious leaders took that seriously and then argued that it made perfectly good sense. The universe was like a giant clock and God was the clockmaker. A good clockmaker doesn’t have to keep messing with his clock to make it run right—he makes it, steps back and lets it tick away and it functions perfectly well without him.
This became the view of many leading thinkers and it had real advantages. For example, your religion and your belief that God exists never came under threat. No one that owned a splendid grandfather clock expected to wake in the night to find the clockmaker had sneaked into the house to adjust it. Just so, no one should expect God to sneak into his clock universe to tinker with it. No need to worry then that we couldn’t find proofs of his existence in the physical universe. It was all very simple and satisfying. Well…not quite! That view of God put a real strain on the notion of prayer. Exactly how would that work if God does absolutely nothing in the world? What’s the point of praying if the clockmaker never “interfered” or adjusted things or related to the praying one?
It certainly put a strain on the notion of “miracles”. If God created the raw material (including its “laws” which are part of raw material) and had nothing further to do with its operation, then he certainly didn’t come around tinkering with it, a miracle here, a supernatural nudge there, or a suspension or transcending of “natural law” elsewhere. He didn’t do that, so miracles had to go! Oh, but what of the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the resurrection, exaltation and coming again of the Christ? They all had to go!
And what of the Bible? Did God write that through humans? No, that idea had to go as well because that would be divine interference. And why not get rid of that notion, it was a troublesome matter anyway. More than that, given the clockmaker religion, it made good sense that the doctrine of divine inspiration should be dumped.
Look, if man evolved then his intellect, views, culture, religion and values all must have evolved with him. The Hebrew-Christian Bible is the product of evolving humans and we can hardly expect those ancients to speak with the knowledge of Enlightenment scientists and thinkers. The Bible is pre-scientific and its religious claims and proposals reflect man’s general ignorance as well as his growth. So we can’t depend on the Bible. When it tells us of a divinely guided history (say, from the election of Abraham through Israel’s election and on up to Jesus Christ) we have to recognize it for what it is—the beliefs of a pre-critical age that sometimes (not always!) talked nonsense. The cosmic clockmaker doesn’t do anything in the world so all talk about divinely guided history or divinely inspired Bibles or a divinely chosen People is generated by ignorance.
And the claims that God produced floods, earthquakes, destroying winds, droughts and famines are all nonsense. Everyone now knew that God in his sovereignty (whatever that meant exactly) didn’t do such things. These were random events, just mindless happenings, they simply happened; no one caused them—least of all God.

Besides, as if more proof were needed, take a look at some of the claims the Bible makes. God ordered the slaughter of innocent children and their grandmothers? Who can believe that? What kind of God would take away a child’s grandmother—its favorite babysitter and playmate? (Some years ago I listened to a preacher/professor make that very point in that very way.) Who would order the slaughter of witches and homosexuals and adulterers? What kind of God would claim he was raising up a fierce warrior nation to slaughter his (allegedly) elect people because they had grown tired of him and wanted to worship someone else? No, the Bible had to go and that was that.
For pity’s sake, we have to dump the Bible? Well…that was a hard pill for most people to swallow but what could they do? They wanted to hold on to Jesus Christ but there was nothing for it but to shape him in light of the established truth of religion and science. He became merely the finest man, a lovely human that cared for the oppressed and promoted gentleness and self-sacrifice even to the point of patiently enduring an unjust execution. And, of course, he’s still dead. But his teaching was fine though not extraordinary—he taught us all to be nicer to each other and he confirmed what every gentle-woman or man knew in his/her bones was right and good—and knew it without divine revelation. But as far as the dogmas about him went, well they had to go. His astonishing claims, his insistence that only through him could the world have life, that he would raise the dead & judge the world—all that sort of stuff—that’s what his ignorant disciples claimed. He probably didn’t make those claims; the disciples made them up.
So our clockwork religious leaders took from the Bible what they approved of and dumped the rest. The Bible wasn’t the judge of their views, they became the judges of the Bible. Of course they said the Bible was still the massive and throbbing center of everything—especially since it was there that they came across Jesus Christ.

But when you insist on taking only what you think is worthwhile, people soon recognize who you really think is the massive and throbbing center of everything.

So the man with the clockmaker religion shut God out. He had created it but he was now a prisoner outside the world with its “laws”; still, it protected the religion of the clockmaker religious man (or so he thought). It meant that he could still believe God existed and shrug at the scientists that said they couldn’t see God anywhere in this (alleged) “creation”. “Of course you can’t,” this kind of believer said. “That’s because he’s outside the world and doesn’t venture into it or interfere with it.” It had another tremendous advantage; it meant he didn’t have to explain the awful natural catastrophes that occurred in a world actively governed by the God that created the world. All he had to do was say, “You can’t blame God for these because he doesn’t govern the world—it runs all by itself. It’s simply ‘bad luck’ when these random events kill people. The awful Lisbon earthquake, for example, had nothing whatever to do with God.”
And so he shrugged and was pleased and then told people just to be brave and that while these catastrophes were “meaningless” it was up to people to “learn” from them. Learn to be brave, patient, sympathetic, grateful for current blessings and so invest them with “meaning”. Presumably he urged people to do this because if they didn’t do it the awful events would remain without meaning for God didn’t mean anything by them since he had absolutely nothing to do with them. They were as blind and mechanical and meaningless as the forces that mindlessly spewed them out. It’s all so simple! Shut God out of the world and he’s as innocent as a new-born babe in Job’s house.
But this religious outlook had its terrible price. If God is shut out then the Bible and all its major claims, leading up to and including its claims about Jesus Christ had to be jettisoned. Prayer was problematic in the extreme and certainly any divine activity in the world—a closed system, a world of unbroken cause and effect—was out of the question.
Some saw the cost as unbearable and wouldn’t pay it but they tried to sit on the fence. They shut God out and called catastrophes “random” (that is, mindless and purposeless chance happenings) but allowed him in to give blessings and bring good out of the catastrophes. They called tragedies and catastrophes random events because they produced pain and loss in the human family. They said, “See, these things can be explained altogether as the result of chance occurrences in wind and rain and other physical elements. God wouldn’t cause the deaths of little children and those they love?”
But non-believers saw through that immediately.
For the same people insisted that when “the righteous” prayed for rain for their dying crops that God very often answered their prayers and sent the needed rain. But how could they say God sent the rain? Rain comes by itself—even the semi-clockwork religious man insisted on that! (“Sunshine and rain—it’s all random,” he said.) “Check a rainfall out from its very inception to its end,” said the non-believer, “and you’ll find it’s a chain of unbroken physical causes and effects. A whole series of mindless and non-purposing forces come together to produce rain. This can be explained altogether as the result of chance occurrences and physical laws.” The non-believer reminded the fence-sitting religious man with a half-clockwork religion that the elements involved in alleged answers to prayers are as “random” as those in floods and storms. Shut God out from wind and rain and sun and elements and you not only cut him off from “cursing” you cut him off from “blessing”.
“But God is good,” said the ‘semi-deist’ and the blessings are from him and the pain and loss is not.”
“How do you know?” said the non-believer, “since one is as random as the other.”
“The Bible says God is good and blesses us.”
“The Bible also says God is good and sends calamities,” said the non-believer.”
“The Bible says God works to make the bad work out for good.”
“The Bible also says God is good and sends calamities,” the non-believer insisted.
“The Bible says God works good out of the bad calamities.”
“The Bible says God sends calamities—are you saying they are bad?” the non-believer asked.
“He used to send them but he doesn’t now.”
“Where does the Bible say that? the non-believer wanted to know.
“And if he sent then now would they be bad?” the non-believer asked.
“Yes, what kind of a God would cause the death of a child or take its Grandmother?”
“The Bible says God did kill children and grandmothers in the past. Was he bad back then?”

There It Lay Hidden All Along

His name was Levi! New Testament readers know him better as Matthew. A tax-collector. Rome had set up a system of “client kings”. It offered its approval and military support to this king or that one if the king would agree to raise taxes for Rome’s needs [the client king got his cut, of course]. They’d assess how much they wanted from a kingdom and the client king would give that to Rome. It didn’t matter how much more he could wring out of his people so long as he could give Rome their cut.
The Jewish people had two reasons to despise the tax-collectors—Rome and the Herodian family with whom Rome had made the agreement.
Tax-collectors weren’t poor little things who were mistreated; we get a better view of them as a class when we think of those who collaborated with the Nazis in France or Belgium or Holland. They must have been emotionally and socially tough to take such a job in the midst of their own people. Don’t you think they would have had to harden themselves to work for the hated and abusive authorities? Would they not be resentful and bitter and durable when every day they were despised, jeered at, isolated and passed by in silence? And if they had wives and children would they not have to steel themselves against the pain their loved ones would surely feel in such a society? My guess is they well have been lonely at times too but gutted it out.  You think so?
In any case that’s who was sitting at his place when Jesus walked up to him. There He stands looking in silence at him, those big earnest eyes searching Matthew while the tax-collector looks up at Him every now and then with a “Well, what do you want?” sort of look.
Then the silent looker-on says: “Leave all that and follow me!”

Obviously Matthew knew something of the one who spoke to him. It cannot have been just anyone—the local butcher, for example—that came and said that to him. The collaborator had heard about Jesus. Bless me, even Cornelius had heard (Acts 10:37-38) and even a little Greek mother from the Sidon area. Matthew knew who this was! Some critic would have seen all and as soon as Jesus said, “Leave all that and come and follow me,” he would have run off to tell his friends. “Guess who the new prophet asked to follow him!” They’d guess and the informant would say, “No, no, better than that! Guess again!” When they’d exhausted their list of pious people who loved Israel and hated the Herod family he’d say, “No, it was ‘old money-bags’ himself. Levi the tax-collector.” They’d shake their heads at the prophet’s naiveté but that would turn to wonder when the word got around that Matthew had got up and done it! There it lay hidden all along and only Jesus had the love to see it and the goodness and power to harness it!
All the hatred, all the sneering, all the isolation and intimidation couldn’t turn Levi from his tax-gathering table, it couldn’t melt his hardness or strengthen him to finally join the oppressed against the ruthless masters—the world powers. But the stories about this One and one long look at Him, one strong sweet appeal from Him and Matthew strode out of one world and into another, to a new way of life and never looking back.
When I think of such a dramatic turn around all sorts of questions swirl around in my mind—questions I have no satisfying answers for. Now and then when I think of it, it makes me half wish I had had Matthew’s experience and felt the dramatic urge. I was never a great kid but my coming to the Lord Jesus, my entering the waters of baptism and taking His name upon me as my Lord and Savior was almost a quiet and steady process—as it is with most of us I suppose. I love that too, but the drama of Matthew’s conversion (and many like him down the centuries) thrills me as it must thrill you.
Every final meeting of the Lord Jesus just before we get up from whatever we were busy with and follow Him has its drama even if it isn’t obvious. It’s more than (not less than) a personal u-turn. Worlds collide and empires clash on those occasions. People by God’s grace throw off the shackles and throw themselves into an adventure that knows no end. Once again, in each conversion, the Story of God as told in the person of Jesus Christ is re-told and re-enacted in a faith-filled baptism, in a weekly Suppering with the living Lord at the Lord’s Supper when they culminate in the rehearsal of His resurrection to new life and a new world [Romans 6:3-7].

Such conversions are an ongoing witness to the presence of God’s saving power and the present existence of a new creation.

People are called to and made for adventure when Jesus comes calling and transforming them with truth about a new world, a new creation and to a cosmic mission.
In the days of the sailing ships, sailors who had sailed with Drake would come back and tell stories of what it was like to sail with such a captain. They’d tell tales not of balmy days in safe lagoons and gentle breezes. They’d tell of storms, raging seas and battles with giant waves; they whip off their shirts and show scars they’d got as a result of battle with sea monsters and jagged rocks, they’d show calloused hands that rowed for half a day and then another half and then another until exhausted but successful in bringing their ship into contact with a friendly wind that would fill the sails. Farm boys—barefoot farm boys, eyes wide with the longing for adventure, boys who’d never seen the sea would shrug off their harnesses, leave their ploughs lying in the fields and run off to another life—to another world!
That same Jesus is walking the earth today, stopping here and there and looking long at women and men, boys and girls, then saying, “Come and follow me and I will show you what you were made for.” And then and there, even the same life setting will become new and shot through with glory and adventure and people spring up on to white horses and ride after a white-horsed rider whose name is THE WORD OF GOD (Revelation 19:13-14) to battle seven-headed beasts and Death and Hell itself (Revelation 13:1; 20:14)!

(Oh Lord of Life won’t you come to us electrify us by a new awareness of who we are? Deliver us from lesser causes and energize us for the ongoing clash with a satanic world that hates you and all you love? Open our eyes to our reason for existing; for the world’s plundered poor won’t you help us to rise to our feet and go the distance? Forgive us for having an abundance of your blessings and in our greed wanting more? For the world you have loved in and through and as your Son won’t you help us to gospel about Him? We don’t doubt you but we fear when we see and hear how we your people pursue “more” and “more” while countless Lazaruses lie helpless and licked by the dogs. We fear what’s happening to us when we demand more and more “freedoms” while millions lie enslaved. There is no other help but you. Where else can we go? This prayer in Jesus Christ.)

Storing Sand & Letting Gold Go Free

Paul was raging his way northward to find followers of Jesus Christ when he met Jesus Christ Himself on the road. The Lord had a brief but far-ranging talk with the now blind man and led him by the hand to the baptistery where Paul took on him the name of the Lord Jesus. He lived in a new world from that moment on and with the eyes of his heart wide open he found it astonishing, thrilling, demanding, painful and pleasing, confusing and assuring and the name of Jesus was never away from his lips.

He was happy to debate when he had to, he suffered when he couldn’t avoid it, he was sad when the occasion warranted it and he rejoiced like Snoopy in those hours of reflection when he heard within the gospel music of God. He was Lazarus unbound (Keck), free to live and proclaim good news about a God who said to the weary world through the prophets, “I’m coming to be with you in your trouble,” and kept His word. And when He arrived He took on Him the name: “Jesus of Nazareth”.

Paul was well schooled in the hot topics of his day and like Chesterton’s Lazarus, back from the dead, he’d stop and listen to the wise ones prove this and that and prove there is no life after death, not now or ever—all there is is this gloomy world of death now and death later. Then he’d stride off in the name of his Lord Jesus and murmuring to himself,

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

We can barely keep up with him as he goes in the name of his Lord Jesus raising the dead by the power of that name and establishing little congregations of life all over the place. They were congregations of living people who served their course and left this world but not before the resurrection life had become contagious and remains contagious to this day after nearly 2,000 years bringing wide-eyed people out of tombs into a new creation. And the life that Paul carried within him was indeed resurrection life (Ephesians 2:1-6; Colossians 2:10-12 and 3:1-4). It didn’t and doesn’t apologize for existing. It doesn’t beg Sin or Death’s permission to be alive. This is resurrection life that’s generated and guaranteed by the resurrection life of the resurrected Lord Jesus; that’s what Paul preached and embodied as he went about transforming the world while others ran behind him jeering and showing their letters of recommendation written on paper with ink! (2 Corinthians 3:I-3) I like now and then to imagine Paul and His Lord spending some time looking at the deathless life that continues to spring up all over this planet (even now) as fruit of Paul’s ministry and the Lord looking at him and saying, “I trusted you and you served me wondrously well. Look again at all that and be happy!”

(Holy Father, thank you for Paul and for all those people you provided to keep him on his feet in good faith! And thank you for all those who in faith and proclamation even now in their own unheralded ways image Paul as he imaged you and your indwelling Son (Ephesians 5:1-2) in whose name, this payer.)