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 the Squeers’ 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 and stuck with it (Ruth 1:16-18) 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 read a lot and listen a lot and watch a lot. I’ve never been a scholar and it’s too late for me even if I had the ability to become one 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. But I know Jesus knew them 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 in it) 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.
Arrrrrgh!
Dear Mrs. Risso, poor little Asian man 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…”
Sigh.
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,” 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.

 

 

This Would Tempt Me To Feminism

This was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1895. It could generate in me a bias in favor of fierce feminism. None of these words are mine. She wrote them in anger and out of great pain. The truth she expresses makes me feel angry too and not a little sad. Here is what she says. Please read all she says!
“From the inauguration of the movement for woman’s emancipation the Bible has been used to hold her in the divinely ordained sphere, prescribed in the Old and New Testaments. The canon and civil law; church and state; priests and legislators; all political parties and religious denominations have alike taught that woman was made after man, of man, and for man; an inferior being, subject to man. Creeds, codes, Scriptures and statutes, are all based on this idea. The fashions, forms, ceremonies and customs of society, church ordinances and discipline all grow out of this idea. Of the Old English common law, responsible for woman’s civil and political status, Lord Brougham said, ‘It is a disgrace to the civilization and Christianity of the Nineteenth Century.’ Of the canon law, which is responsible for woman’s status in the church, Charles Kingsley said, ‘This will never be a good world for women until the last remnant of the canon law is swept from the face of the earth.’
The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage o, maternity a period of suffering and anguish, and in silence and subjection she was to play the role of a dependent on man’s bounty for all her material wants, and for all the information she might desire on the vital questions of the hour, she was commanded to ask her husband at home.
That is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up. Those who have the divine insight to translate, transpose and transfigure this mournful object of pity into an exalted, dignified personage worthy our worship as the mother of the race are to be congratulated as having a share of the occult mystic power of the eastern Mahatmas. The plain English to the ordinary mind admits of no such liberal interpretation. The unvarnished texts speak for themselves. The canon law, church ordinances and Scriptures are homogeneous and all reflect the same spirit and sentiments. These familiar texts are quoted by clergymen in their pulpits, by statesmen in the halls of legislation, by lawyers in the courts and are echoed by the press of all civilized nations and accepted by woman herself as ‘The Word of God.’ So perverted is the religious element in her nature that with faith and works she is the chief support of the church and clergy; the very powers that make her emancipation impossible. When in the early part of the Nineteenth Century women began to protest against their civil and political degradation they were referred to the Bible for an answer. When they protested against their unequal position in the church they were referred to the Bible for an answer.
This led to a general and critical study of the Scriptures. Some, having made a fetish of these books and believing them to be the veritable “Word of God,” with liberal translations, interpretations, allegories and symbols, glossed over the most objectionable features of the various books and clung to them as divinely inspired. Others, seeing the family resemblance between the Mosaic code, the canon law and the Old English common law, came to the conclusion that all alike emanated from the same source; wholly human in their origin and inspired by the natural love of domination in the historians. Others bewildered with their doubts and fears came to no conclusion. While their clergymen told them on the one hand that they owed all the blessings and freedom they enjoyed to the Bible on the other they said it clearly marked out their circumscribed sphere of action that the demands for political and civil rights were irreligious, dangerous to the stability of the home, the state and the church. Clerical appeals were circulated from time to time conjuring members of their churches to take no part in the anti-slavery or woman suffrage movements as they were infidel in their tendencies, undermining the very foundations of society. No wonder the majority of women stood still, and with bowed heads accepted the situation.” ECS
I don’t agree with all ECS said. I think the Holy Scriptures can be read correctly and sincerely in a way that opposes all the abuses and injustices heaped on women down the years. I really do! I don’t pretend to know all there is to know; I don’t profess that my motives in thought and action are altogether pure—have they ever been except in early childhood innocence? But I cannot admit to wishing to rob women of all the freedom that God wants them to enjoy. I accept my fallibility and I pray to God (I do!) to free me from all dogmatism that would make its home in me and to enable me to rejoice in new and life-enriching truth.
But I was reminded again several evenings ago (Fox News) of how our vested interests shape our viewpoints. I heard a politician who is running for even higher office making a case supporting abortion based on economics. If abortions increased the economy would be strengthened, more women would join the work force and that would be of tremendous benefit to the American nation. Isn’t that an interesting view? Many years ago I listened to a prominent man running for a very high office argue against abortion on the grounds that if abortions continued to increase the USA would soon not have enough troops to effectively engage in war. Isn’t that an interesting way to view such a divisive matter?
Fear, greed, lust for power, pursuit of self-satisfaction, anguish, burning resentment, atheistic or religious convictions and on and on affect how we interpret what confronts us. ECS like millions before and after her spoke out of deep anguish as well as a hunger for what is right. Injustice in any form should be taken seriously but there are some forms of injustice that generate agony of body and mind in the abused even as they create an even more corrupt culture and social system.

There are some things I feel sure about and they take their rise out of my certainty about Jesus—the Jesus I’ve come to know from the Holy Scriptures. (Yes, I’m acquainted with literary theories and the debate about the possibility of historical “knowledge”. I just don’t have the time or interest to bother with such debates.)

I’m sure about Jesus! I’m sure about His reading and understanding the Old Covenant Scriptures and I’m sure of His calling on them—all of them—Moses, the Prophets & the Psalms (Writings) and then pointing to Himself and saying, “They all come together to speak of Me.” He didn’t see the Old Covenant Scriptures as Elizabeth did. He thought if they were read correctly and with a caring heart that they opposed injustice and cruelty in all its forms. He didn’t think we needed Mahatma Mysticism to interpret them as a blessing to the human family. I recall Him saying that if we loved the God He knew intimately and loved others and wanted for them all that we would honorably want for ourselves that that would be to respond fully to the OT because “all the Law & the Prophets hang on those two commandments.” For me it’s a choice between Elizabeth, Fiorenza, Rueter and others and the Lord Jesus.
The Jesus who was well acquainted with Genesis taught Paul the foundational truths of the gospel of/about Himself and His Bride/Wife, the Church. What if we saw clearly Paul’s teaching about the female/male relationship in God’s purpose in the Lord Jesus and discovered that there was a glory and splendor in the mystery of it, even now, that defies the spirit of the world and its god? The abuse in the world was not ordained by God! That’s our creation though God allows us to carry it out.
What if the suffering of women down the ages exposes the awful need of human salvation from Sin? What if their suffering (like Christ’s) has been speaking to us only we weren’t hearing? What if even now across the world, in their millions, the women that suffer the torment of injustice and physical agony are showing us what we are not seeing? What if the torment of little boys and men side by side with little girls and women is telling us of a cosmic catastrophe that He who was born of a woman came to confirm that God takes note of what was going on and to assure us that there’s a new world coming?
If we deny there is glory in the sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth (Galatians 6:14)  because we rightly see it as appalling, maybe we do the same with the suffering of innocent and defenseless women. The humiliation and the agony that Schüssler Fiorenza, Stanton and other feminists rage against should be raged against; but maybe if all we do is rage we rob the innocent, voiceless sufferers of a glory they need to hear about. Point to the young man crucified there and say, “There can be no glory in that brutality and injustice!” But in His sharing the world’s pain the young man Jesus was saying, “Now ‘the world’ and its prince are exposed for what he and it are!” (John 12:31). What if it is the case that the injustice and oppression of countless vulnerable, voiceless women speaks the same message and exposes a world spirit  that is really the grip of satanic power? That won’t obliterate the suffering but will it not brand it as satanic? While we work in God to denounce and share and work to eliminate agony as Jesus of Nazareth did, can we not tell these ceaselessly abused the gospel of Christ and tell them that Jesus and they have a lot in common?
Maybe we’re putting the blame on the Bible when the Bible is not to blame. What is it that makes fierce feminists fierce feminists if it isn’t the suffering of the voiceless and the abused? We should oppose all injustice without apology and without rest but should we turn the innocent victims into nothing but victims?
There’s something very wrong about calling innocent suffering “meaningless”! 

(O, Holy Father…sigh. Open our eyes to what we are not seeing and energize us to do something in your name to expose and eliminate what we can of the great wrongs of the world. And since we can’t change the circumstances of all the sufferers we’re speaking about, would you help us to change their view of you and know that in the light of Jesus a new world is coming so that vibrant and assured hope in Him will change the world for them, even before He comes and in their name rights all wrongs!)

 

A Desperate Appeal

O SOMEWHERE, somewhere, God unknown,
Exist and be!
I am dying; I am all alone;
I must have Thee!
God! God! my sense, my soul, my all
Dies in the cry:
Sawest thou the faint star flame and fall?
Ah! It was I.
The above was written by a very troubled soul many years ago.
Paul says Christians war against principalities and powers, rulers of the darkness of this world and spiritual hosts of wickedness in invisible realms and are in dire need of help from God (Ephesians 6). He himself in that section confesses a desperate need for prayers on his behalf, armored or not.
And what of those who are without God’s full protection? Those who: “Don’t know what they’re doing”? What can we do for them?