Monthly Archives: January 2020

Knowing Everthing Except…

Mark Twain had become famous and was invited to dine with the emperor of Germany. His little daughter innocently said to him, “You’ll soon know everybody except God, won’t you, papa!”
Kavin Rowe has complained that the massive lake of interpretitive strategies has broken its banks and the text of the book of Acts has been drowned under scholarly glossolalia.
Scholars read and borrow from or argue with scholars.
Thank God for the historical and textual Jesus.

(Holy Father, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, we’re overwhelmed and confused by the ‘wisdom’ of the scholars. We’re sometimes frightened by it because we don’t understand what they’re saying and the Holy Scriptures, for many of us, have become completely foreign to us—yes, even frightening. A growing number of us can no longer read the Holy Bible though we are urged: “Read the Bible for yourselves.” We hear of growing numbers of younger people who become atheists while studying at ‘Christian’ universities. When we voice our fears we’re out-talked, the scholars are too educated for us.  Many of us, perhaps the greater number of us, are older, and what we get from the pulpits and behind the lecterns are hermeneutical strategies. The gap between us and the scholars or the want-to-be scholars or the obvious dabblers, who parrot scraps they pick up from scholars—that gap can only grow and congregations will starve.
We’re too ignorant to know what to do. These people take our money and feed us confusion, doubt and consequent weariness.  Some of them understand what they are saying but so many of us go through the motions of worship, wondering which Jesus it is that we’re to embrace, the textual/canonical Jesus of the Holy Scriptures or the one offered by the interpretitive strategies. We are now unsure what ‘Holy Scriptures’ we are to feed on. The Bible that has been around for millennia or the one we’re now told is the ‘real’ Bible that ‘saves us from the Bible,’ as one writer has put it?  Thank you for the ‘ignorant’ millions who have down the years kept your Word alive and needed. Thank you for people who like Stanton remind us that “scholars die but the Bible text lives on.” Though saddened by so many questions we can’t answer because there are too many and we are so ignorant, yet we’re happy to be blessed with a faith created by You through your Holy Scriptures; a faith that doesn’t need to put you “in the dock” or engage in a pyrrhic victories against the Holy Bible.
We’re happy that that experience of being called in question by ‘reasonable’ questions is not new to you and that you are the GOD and LORD of the gods and lords that we the sinful human family continue to worship though we’ve dropped the names such as Hermes or Thoth. Keep us from idols and keep us near your heart and our hearts near you because idolatry is ever attractive to us and seductive. This we ask in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Lord over every name named in this ‘world’ or any other.)

It’s so sweet to trust in Jesus
Just to take Him at His word
Just to rest upon His promise
Just to say, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’

Does God Need Our Pity?

I have some grasp of the truth that God is “other” than we are though I know I’m a long way behind others in understanding that. I know we’re not to waste our time pitying God—He doesn’t need our pity!!!! But should His omnipotence be an excuse for our heartlessness, if we are that? I know we can grieve Him (the Holy Bible says so) but I’m unsure how far I’m to take that speech but  I know He rejoices over us (Luke 15). I’m not sure how “human” God is but I do remember Jesus paralleling His Father’s response to a loving human father and I remember (in the Old Testament) that God likens Himself to a mother, a father and a husband and in the NT Jesus, the image of God, likens Himself to a mother hen loving her babies. Somewhere in all this I think we’re supposed to acknowledge that God and we are alike (there’s room in here for discussion on “the image of God,” isn’t there?).

I recall the protest of John Stuart Mill against religious double-talk that included saying God was “good” but then insisting that “good” doesn’t mean relative to God what it means when we use it of people. Granted that we need to be careful and that the word “good” might be used of some things that a closer examination shows aren’t good. Granted that, Mill was certainly right to say that he would not call God “good” if it didn’t mean what it normally meant when it was used of a good woman or man. For why would we praise God for being “good” if good has no real meaning? Mill (a bit pompously) went on to say that if he is sent to hell for that, “then to hell I will go.”

With all of that and my uncertainty as background, I can’t help thinking God must be the greatest sufferer in the universe. But even great human sufferers can and do go on gallantly though they suffer greatly so I’m certain God could do that!

Two people spoke to each other in whispers, pouring out their hearts to each other, in all sincerity, telling one another that the day began with thoughts of each other and ended the same way. They committed themselves to one another for all their lives, wrapped their souls around each other so that it became hard to tell where one began and the other ended. Their first thought when they opened their eyes in the morning was that he or she was in the world so whatever happened, at least they’d experience it together. When something funny happened she couldn’t wait to tell him and hear him laugh, as she knew he would. And no pleasure was fully a pleasure to him until she had the chance to share in it because, as the poet said, “everything is nuthin’ if you’ve got no one.”

Then he (or she) began to change, slowly at first, but with increasing speed, until to his horror she had become a perfect stranger! And in all the agony of the agony what especially grieves the one still in love is this: the other thinks this is a lovely world without him/her. How can it be? How can it be that now he might as well not exist? How can she smile, rejoice, sing, eat with pleasure, spend time with others in familiar places without a thought of him? How can it be that any thought of him causes not even an emotional ripple in her or that the sight of him prompts only a casual nod (and it’s the more agonizing precisely because it is casual)—how can that be?  Birthdays, anniversaries, favorite places, music….’unremembered,’ and now new ones created and enjoyed with someone else!?

What a grievous wrong it is to speak and behave and promise and smile in such ways that we become entangled in the heartstrings of another only to tear ourselves away. How callous it is to make the sun shine for a person and then to blot it out just so we can make it shine for someone else while the one we’re now done with sobs his or her heart out in a sunless world.

Will he or she get over it? Should they get over it? Those questions are not my concern at this moment. I just want to know if her pain is deep? Has the soul been shredded? Has the heart been broken? And, my real and ultimate question is: Does God, whose love is infinitely purer and deeper than ours, experience anything!!! like that in His life with His fickle children? We know God is infinitely pure, holy and powerful. Is He also gallant beyond imagining as He carries His heartache? Is the Holy Father, the ultimate sufferer, because He is the ultimate Lover, when He knows that we think this is a lovely world without Him?

Is this part of what Christ is telling us when He sits on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, sobbing and saying, “How often I would have gathered your children like a hen gathers her chickens under her wings and you wouldn’t”? Clearly He grieves over their present and coming loss but why does He grieve?

Why doesn’t He shrug and say, “Well, I warned you. You asked for it and you’re going to get it”? Why doesn’t He say something like that and stroll of with a glance (so to speak) at his watch and hurry to catch a bus to an early evening supper he agreed to?
Can God just wad up a nation like a crumpled page and drop it in the wastebasket the way we seem to be able to do with individuals and even with little nations?

Or is Christ alone on a hill, chest heaving, eyes streaming and heart breaking a true image of the Godself? Does God choose to live in omnipotent ‘weakness’? Is what we see in God being a human anything like Him before He became human?
I’m not sure if this is orthodox or not, but I feel a bit sorry for the gallant God who has shown Himself in and as Jesus of Nazareth!

 

Is There a Gospel for the Happy?

She said, “ I know you have a gospel for the poor, the hurting, the unhappy; do you have a gospel for the happy?”

I know we have a gospel for those weighed down with sins; do we have a gospel for those who aren’t burdened down with sins?

Is our gospel only one of assurance for the fearful, a promise of future deliverance to the captives and the oppressed; is it pretty much summarized in the old hymn, “We’ll understand it better by and by?

We do hear Jesus say, “If you’re weary and heavy laden come unto me and I will give you rest.” And there was the time (Luke 4) when he said he had come to free prisoners, to heal broken hearts, to deliver people from demonic bondage and to give sight to the blind.

Unhappy, sad people, and overburdened. We don’t need to apologize for such a gospel; He didn’t! He saw multitudes like sheep without shepherds and He had compassion on them.

But is that the entire story? Can you ever imagine Jesus saying, “Come to me if you’re energetic, happy and not a prisoner of besetting sins and I will give you a commission to match your blessedness? Something that will challenge you to use the joy and energy to oppose the hosts of wickedness in the invisible world in My name and for the oppressed.”

When people in their tens of thousands stepped out in faith to be baptized “into Christ…into His death” (Acts 2:36-38; Romans 6:3), what was that all about? They knew what the enemies of Christ had in mind when they put Him to death but the thousands who came in faith to be baptized into His death saw it as gospel. In faith they were saying to His enemies, “You saw it as shame you heaped on Him; we have come to know it is glory His Father heaped on Him (John 12:27-28; Colossians 2:15; Galatians 6:14). His death in His own eyes was many things and in the eyes of those who in faith were baptized into Him, it was glorious (Galatians 3:26-27;6:14).

It was glorious for many reasons and one of them was that it was the death of Death. Hebrews 2:14-15. That’s the death people in faith were baptized into—His death. Those embraced in Christ don’t die when they die. That’s what He said! John 6 & 11. Easy to say? For Him it was! He said Death had no power over Him, but how can we know that’s true? He demonstrated it by rising never to die again. That’s the death into which the early believers were baptized. (The Romans setting has an ethical thrust I’m bypassing for now.)

Christ’s death led to His resurrection, to immortality (Romans 6:1-11) and it’s that death, His death we’re baptized into. It is a death that is a prelude to life unending. But it was death. And so is our biological death. Jesus of Nazareth glorified biological death that is an expression of trust in and glad obedience to God. And so is ours, in Him!

We experience sadness at the death of our beloved ones—and we won’t apologize for it. But we will not live as victims of death. We are called to live in and as His image! Through His faith-filled followers He continues to share in the suffering of the human family and we too are to share their anguish in all its forms. Romans 7:17-18, 29, with the entire context that speaks of suffering while we wait for the glory that follows. We are called to take up our cross and follow Him. We are not to seek exemption. Paul did not see himself crucified on his cross, but on Christ’s Galatians 2:19-20 (“co-crucified” is the Greek word). To see our death in Christ as less than glory is to rob ourselves or be robbed by our teachers. And indeed if we are baptized into Christ’s death we are baptized into the meaning and glory of His death and nothing less than that.

We refuse to be the prisoners of disease, old age, terminal wards, hospice care or old cemeteries! Nor despite our tears will we think of our beloved ones as slaves of any of these.

 (Oh you mysterious, wondrous God and Father of mankind, thank you for making us conquerors in Jesus Christ come what may. This prayer in His name.)

Baptism    Death      Happiness    Glory

 

 

Tyrant Revisited

“…see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again, The Lord will fight for you and you have only to keep still.”     Exodus 14:13b-14

The ancient Greeks told stories of Si-syphus, the cunning founder of Corinth. For making fools of the gods of the underworld he was punished to labor at a hopeless task. He was to roll a huge block of granite up a high, very steep hill and roll it down the other side. Each time he got the huge stone to the pinnacle his strength was gone and it rolled back down to the bottom. It wasn’t just the effort that bathed him in sweat and exhausted him completely that made the punishment intolerable; it was the “almost but never” aspect of it coupled with the unceasing conviction that the next time he could manage it.
Exodus 14 tells of Israel trapped between the Red Sea and the most powerful army in the world, between an insurmountable obstacle to freedom and a return to pitiless tyranny. In response to their despairing protests Moses assures them God will deliver them. “You see these Egyptians?” said God (14:13), “you will see them again no more, for ever!” The waters opened up for Israel and closed to bury forever the army of their bitter oppressor. The text tells us that Israel looked at the dead bodies of their once feared tormentors and believed in God and Moses. Finally! Those who picked their bones clean, those who bled them white were dead! “You will never see them again” said God. Whatever they had to face in years ahead—that battle was won and it would remain as a prophecy, a promise that nothing was beyond their hope if it rested in God! See Deuteronomy 7:17-19.
Years of torture, generations of humiliation—ended. How many rebellions had been planned and come to nothing? How often had they turned their eyes heavenward in despair? The hope born in youth would often die in old age. Optimism and cheerfulness would have been replaced in a nation’s heart by grim submission and a sullen endurance. Then with such speed and finality the tyranny was obliterated and the years of bondage were forgotten in the joy of liberty as they gaped on the corpses of their oppressors on the shores of the Sea (14:30).
And has “the Exodus” no message for the world at large? Is there any aspect of biblical teaching more eagerly sought than the message that the God of all the earth hates oppression, punishes unrepentant oppressors, takes note of the weeping of the poor and exploited and that the Lord of all the earth will right all wrongs? Israel wasn’t just lucky that their God happened to hate cruelty and felt the pain of the defenseless. No, Israel’s God is the God of all humans and they all need to hear that He is as opposed to their tormentors as He was to Israel’s! This is the one true God we must take to the nations of the world who have turned their eyes to lifeless idols or dark and savage deities or even to governments that lack the power and heart to brings us to where we finally long to go.
Well-bred and well-fed secularists sneer at a message which has become too familiar to them but which has laid the foundations of their freedom and prosperity. Clark Pinnock protests that we in the West allow the bored and argumentative secularists to set the agenda for our proclamation while multiplied millions of religious people are eager and need to hear about the true God who delivers the oppressed from the clutches of their enemies (see Psalm 10). Since secularists thrust the message from them perhaps we should turn to the rest of the world and (maybe) they will hear.
But the message of “the Exodus” is not only for brutalized nations and communities; it has a word of assurance and hope for all who suffer under tyranny of any sort. Too many of us have lived under a tyranny of a personal nature such as uncleanness, bitterness, drunkenness, greed, gossip, arrogance and self-righteousness.
To be endlessly assured that we we’re forgiven is grand but not nearly enough. Years ago we became captives; so long ago, perhaps, that we can’t remember when we knew what freedom was. There was never a doubt in our minds that it was slavery and there never was a time when we didn’t long to be free but endless rebellions, countless uprisings against the dictator came to nothing, hope died and we were left with gloomy a view of the future; a future in which we saw ourselves as old men and old women still in the clutches of a cruel parasite and when that became our vision life became grim submission and a joyless patience. Better than nothing, of course, but so far beneath the life in which the soul dares to believe that the tyrant can and will be destroyed.
Then one day it happened. For some of us the calendar could be marked because on that day our Redeemer arrived, not silently and in secret but as though with a mighty rush of water and we saw the enemy dead and lying all around us. For many of us the passage from death to life, from slavery to liberty, from shame and humiliation to honor, happened without our noticing it and the tyrants we saw in former days passed away. We saw them again no more. Whatever the future was to hold, whatever tyrant we were to face—we’d see that slave-lord never again—not ever.
(I don’t believe every person is enslaved to a particular besetting sin that is of life-destroying proportions. I believe that every person—no exceptions—is in dire need of saving and keeping grace. I believe that every person—no exceptions—can be humbled by a tyrant and I believe that there are those who haven’t yet recognized their bondage. Comparing themselves with themselves they’re blinded by their own glory. I believe that God is anxious to deliver hosts of us not from particular and grievous wickedness but from pathetic lives, shallow views and trivial pursuits. But it’s mainly for those who struggle with evils that single them out, evils that make others doubt the genuineness of their discipleship, evils that cause even themselves to doubt their longing for a holy freedom—it’s to those that these words are especially aimed.)
The healing of others mustn’t be viewed as one more nail in our coffin but as another ‘prophecy’, another assurance that tyranny will die; that God will not allow his child to vanish without rescue. Your day is coming. Your name is not Si-syphus. Those who have never known a deep, enduring and awful struggle can still sympathize and are praying you on. Those who have finally found God’s redeemer in a friend, a husband, a wife, a child, a parent, a doctor and now know the joy of liberation, they are urging you on. One day God looking out of heaven will hear you, out of the darkness of your own long enslavement, taking on your lips the words his own Son had on His: “It is finished!” Finished the power and lure of the evil; finished the shame and humiliation of it; the bird has escaped the snare and the tyrant is dead!
Psalm 124.

I’ve taken this from my HEADING HOME WITH GOD. Amazon has it.

Why Does He Say This?

1 John 3:20, “For if our heart condemns us God is greater than our heart and knows everything.”
This must be read with the immediate context, of course! Still, what exactly is he saying and why is he saying it?
Is it possible for our heart to condemn us and God, who knows our heart and our limits does not do that?
Is 3:20 assurance to self-doubters but who who do not doubt the God who became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth?
Is the condemnation justified self condemnation?
He addresses them as “beloved” in this context why might their hearts condemn them!
Some of them have hearts that “condemn” them and some  have hearts that don’t condemn them.
Do you have something thoughtful to share with us about this?

God bless us all this incoming year according to our particular needs in our particular life situations and in the specific times of special need.

In the love of God,
jmcg