Monthly Archives: February 2019

“You Could Show Him Your Hands.”

Like millions of other believers I’m big on doctrine! I’m big on truth. Arthur Holmes is right: all truth is God’s truth. It doesn’t matter if it’s truth about biology, botany, celestial mechanics or the brain capacity of a salamander.

Like millions of other believers I hold that the truth of and about God as it has come to its unending climax and fulfillment in the person and work of the Lord Jesus is what gives all the others truths their place and worth. So I’m for “getting it right” and that calls for commitment to and study of the biblical witness. But the Bible is not about itself; it’s about God who superintended the writing of it.

It’s a complex business—Bible study I mean—and that means we need wise men and women, gifted by God, to help us. It’s important that we get the non-negotiables right. It was right in the middle of a doctrinal presentation that Paul said, “Bad companions corrupt good morals.” So there’s a fundamental need to get a correct if not exhaustive grasp of the jugular elements of the Story of God. I get that! I see that! But I see this also—our commitment to Jesus-like behavior is part of the calling to which God calls people who will make up his NT elect (Ephesians 5:1-2) who will by their very existence, doctrine and adorning of that doctrine bear witness to God and His eternal purpose for, and His love of the human family.

I mentioned this in a little book of mine called Jesus: Hero of Thy Soul. Mary was barely more than a child when the parents split, the father vanished and the mother died. She was left to raise her brothers and sisters. When she should have been making daisy chains she was washing clothes, when she should have been pushing a swing she was scrubbing floors, when she was making food she should have been served food. She slept too little, ate too little, worried too much and died exhausted and guilt-ridden. Dear God, she was just a child. She was afraid to meet God because she was sure she hadn’t done enough to please him and didn’t know what she’d say to him when the time came to meet him. Can you credit that?

One of her little brothers who sat stroking her trembling hands said to her, “You could show him your hands.”

I don’t know what that boy’s entire theology was or what it became but he was on the right track with some aspects of the heart and mind of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I can’t abide a religion that dismisses all that with immediate warnings about “salvation by works.” Bless me, who doesn’t know that salvation is by the holy generosity of God as it was/is expressed in Jesus Christ?

Listen to Mary’s little brother and hear the voice of the Lord Jesus in it and think of Acts 10:38-39

(Holy Father, bless the burdened children. This prayer in your Son’s name.)


In Praise of Great Authors…

Smike had never known fair treatment much less kind treatment and in the Dotheboys Hall School run by Mr. and Mrs. Squeers it was worse. There he was enslaved and abused; his earlier lonely life was followed by his being thrown away and sent to this place that one would be tempted to think was God-forsaken.
But God came visiting Dotheboys Hall School run by Mr. & Mrs. Squeers looking like a new teacher called Nicholas Nickleby. In meeting him Smike met someone who treated him like a human to be cared for and nurtured rather than a whipping boy when someone with an ill temper wanted to ease his/her spleen. In the face of the boundless cruelty of the Squeers—shown to the entire body of terrified children under their care—Nickleby resigned from the school in defiance of their wishes.
Smike saw the young teacher as his hope for life and unknown to Nicholas he followed him away from the school, not showing himself, afraid that Nickelby might send him back. The teacher spent a night in a barn and in the morning he suddenly wakened to find the desperate boy there. The teacher had wakened without warning and Smike had no time to hide. Now discovered he begged to be allowed to stay. “To go with you—anywhere—everywhere—to the world’s end—to the churchyard grave.”
The teacher’s life’s situation was not at all an easy one and while he feels a deep compassion for the boy he tells him he has little to offer by way of help but Smike is not put off and desperate for the warmth of friendship, or, even if friendship is too much to ask, he wants to know, “May I—may I go with you? I will be your faithful, hard-working servant, I will indeed. I want no clothes…I only want to be near you.”

“And so you shall,” said the teacher. “And the world shall deal by you as it does by me, till one or both of us shall quit it for a better.”

Both were as good as their words and a wounded child found not only a champion but a friend and faithfully befriended his friend. (Sigh. I wonder, and I’ve no wish at this moment to reflect on it, if there is some child in the world who could one day say I was a friend and champion to him in some real way. I’m not looking for comment here, truly. I just find the story profoundly moving and it makes me jealous (not envious) of the characters, and wishful…..) It pleases me to know and believe that Smikes & Nicklebys are a great host, alive and well, in the world.)

In a world of quick-change passions, of outrageous pre-nuptial agreements, broken contracts, worthless promises, “sweet” marriage vows that vanish like morning mist, friendships that were “treasured” as long as one person ceaselessly pleased the other—in a world awash with so much uncertainty it’s an entrance into heaven to be certain of someone!
To read the commitment Ruth made (Ruth 1:16-18) and stuck with it makes your soul rise to its feet and cheer. Yesssssssss! To read of the mutual commitment of Smike and Nickelby generates the same feeling because it’s the same thing.

Dickens’ writing has remained one of the grandeurs of English life and literature. It isn’t all sweetness and light for his own life wasn’t like that. There’s a lot of pain and loss in his writing and that reminds us that he stayed in touch with life as a whole. He didn’t become the noted author he is by writing perfumed bubble and froth or pouring out simplistic moral platitudes. Nor did he write dark hopeless muck or leave us wringing our hands in abject despair, paralyzed by pervasive and entrenched evil. Nor did he make heroes of villains. He continued to remind us of the possibilities and potential of life; he speaks of happy endings without apology and makes us believe that honest commitments not only can be made but that they can be kept through thick and thin. What’s more, he shows us the glory of such people and makes us want to be like that.
He touches the depths of life and enables us to see that there’s more than evil in the world. And while there is evil in the world that is hard to “explain” if God is good, Dickens and people like him remind us that there is good in the world and that is hard to “explain” if there is no God that is good.

( Holy Father, since we thank you for all that is good in the world and in our lives, we wish to thank you for good and skilled authors and movie-makers and screen-writers who bring us redemptive stories that carry truth to us with realism shot through with hope and assurance. We’re thankful that while not ignoring the ugliness and cruelty in life they rise above it and show us such glory, strength, courage and kindness that makes us long to be a part of it. In Jesus, this prayer.)


An Empty Ballpoint Pen

Poor little humans! They only have one tiny life and for so many it’s one long crucifixion until they die of exhaustion, unmissed and unmourned. Dear God they haven’t time to become great sinners because they’re too busy covering their heads while someone is beating them senseless and to death; they’re too busy trying to figure out how they’re going to feed their children and they’re so exhausted that their hearts can’t carry the crushing emotional burden! There’s so much pain, disappointment and unanswered prayers; so much undeserved suffering.

All right, so they’re all sinners but what chance was there that they could be otherwise? Here’s an actual case. His name’s John, he’s eighteen, eighteen! And he’s no vicious hoodlum and his mother is no “Beast of Buchenwald”. Yes, yes, they’ve done wrong things in their lives—did God expect them to be sinless? Born into a world like this and He fully expects them to get out of it without sinning? He knows better though there are many who are friends of His who don’t seem to know what He knows perfectly well!

Here’s one of them: John Risso’s mother. Multiply her by a billion!

“On January 25th, 1973 in Memorial Hospital, John Risso, red-haired, laughing, tall, eighteen, tractor-driving, cow-scratching, flirtatious, shy, died after two and a half years of leukemia. After six weeks of a raging temperature, experimental drugs, bleeding, and an abscess in his rectum that became gangrenous, he died soft and gentle, finally, after six hours of violent death throes. His face was so thin, his hair only a memory, a soft red fuzz, arms blue and green from shots and intravenous feeding, he looked like an old picture of a saint after his tortures were over…
Why would a kind God do what was done to John, or do such a thing to me? I’m poor, have only secondhand furniture and clothing. The things of value were my husband and sons…How can I live with the agony he suffered?
Part of the time he was in a comma, and  when conscious he kept saying, ‘Mama, help me, Mama, help me.’ I couldn’t and it’s killing me. I whispered in his ear, ‘John, I love you so much.’ All of a sudden his arm came up stiffly and fell across my back, and very quietly he said, from some vast depth, ‘Me too.’ “

There are no currently fully satisfying answers to the agony of the world because it isn’t “answers” or “explanations” these people want—they want it to stop! And yet, despite the silly advice from silly OT professors who tell us to keep our mouths shut on the subject, the sufferers keep on asking “why?”
I don’t know very much but I but I know I’m tired of scholarship with all its wisdom—a wisdom that can show a mass of opposing ways to understand the same texts and prove to me that I haven’t got a clue about what the Bible is really saying. I know Jesus knew the Holy Scriptures back to front and inside out. Scriptures that those who take the high moral ground these days sneer at, texts that the wise ones in their wisdom can prove shouldn’t be there—Jesus knew them all. He read the same OT we have (the one with all those ‘offensive’ texts) but the Holy Scriptures never offended Him. He said, “Look closely at them with a trusting and obedient heart and you’ll see Me in them! They’re all about Me!” There must be a “Jesus way” of reading the Holy Bible that’s holier than the way the morally upright ones read it; a way wiser than how the wise ones read it. (John 5:38-39; Luke 11:52)–“Woe to you scholars for you take away the key of knowledge…” I’ll rest on that!
I’m tired too of the banal moralizing that I listen to week after week after week from various sources. Preachers armed with a database of a hundred favorite verses and their favorite topics that they present in something of different suit and yet, more often than not, with the same tired illustrations, platitudes, words of correction, suggestions and clips from the Andy Griffith show. I’d rather have the scandal that I don’t know how to respond to.
Colin Morris, a prominent British churchman some years back told us that during the night a couple of hundred yards from his door people found a little man lying on the pavement–-dead. An Asian. His sole possessions were the pair of shorts he wore, a pair of worn sandals and his shirt with an empty ballpoint pen in the pocket. The autopsy found a ball of grass in his otherwise empty stomach.
Dear Mrs. ‘Rissos’, poor little Asian men we’ve nothing to tell you other than that there is a God and that He is like Jesus Christ and that He WILL do what is right and He WILL right all the wrongs. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is His assurance that that’s true (Acts 17:31).

(Holy Father, you remain to me in so many ways the “unknown God” Paul spoke about. But I can’t deny that Jesus has persuaded me that what I think I know or what I know I don’t know changes nothing about who you are essentially. I and multiplied millions like me are trusting Him and so we are trusting you. If you can actually experience pain that rises out of your sadness at the agony of the world’s great wrong and the consequences of it, you are a strange God indeed. Many truths help me live at peace with my ignorance but that you showed us yourself in Jesus of Nazareth, the resurrected One and that He is image of where you purpose to take us is a life-sustainer. By Him I’m greatly helped to believe that there is a glorious, happy and righteous ending to all this. Thank you in the name of the Living Lord Jesus.)

Singing Songs in a Strange Land

Isaiah 35 speaks to a sinful nation in captivity in Babylon’s flat land, a nation longing for home among its hills and mountains in Judea. Their heartache and the fact that they have shamed God just by being in captivity (Ezekiel 36:20, passim) has left them songless. Babylon’s god Marduk must have been too strong for Yahweh. How could they sing about their God and home while their grinning captors mock them”—sing us a song about Zion.” (Psalm 137)? No wonder many of them hung their unused harps on the willow branches. Babylon made their songs sound fake, wishful thinking—how can you sing (Psalm 46), “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble” when you’re being hauled off away from all you love?

Many things can leave us songless. Singing, “Thank you Lord for loving me and thank you Lord for blessing me…” might make you want to get sick! Agony entered your home a long time ago and never left and despite anguished prayers nothing changes so let us all sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus; all our…griefs to bear…”
And then one Sunday morning you slip into your familiar seat and you see strangers in the same row looking your way with pleasant smiles and friendly nods. You make the effort, rise and greet them, speak your name and ask theirs.

“I’m Daniel,” one says. Then, “Shadrach,” “Meshach,” “Abed-Nego.”And with one voice they say, “We’re so pleased to meet you. A great multitude of us (Hebrews 12:1) heard of your trouble and we were sent to say hello to let you know you were not forgotten. We’re not quite sure why we were chosen to come but…“

And you interrupt to say, “Oh, but I know why you would have been chosen you. You each went through so much trouble.”

“Ah, yes,” Shadrach says, “but that’s all past and we are blessed.” Then Abed-Nego says, “And believe us, our trouble was no more stressful than yours has been and is.”

You return to your place and somehow feel more able to sing. You rise to sing with everyone else. The song-leader announces the hymn: “Father Hear The Prayer We Offer’ and, look, it’s Him. The hands He holds the book with….what are those marks? It’s, Him! He nods in your direction and together everyone gallantly sings songs of Zion “in a foreign land” (Psalm 137:4)

Father, hear the prayer we offer:
Nor for ease that prayer shall be,
But for strength, that we may ever
Live our lives courageously.

Not forever by still waters
Would we idly, quiet stay;
But would smite the living fountains
From the rocks along our way.

Be our strength in hours of weakness,
In our wanderings be our Guide;
Through endeavor, failure, danger,
Father, be Thou at our side.

Let our path be bright or dreary,
Storm or sunshine be our share;
May our souls in hope unweary
Make Thy work our ceaseless prayer.