Author Archives: Jim McGuiggan

About Jim McGuiggan

Jim McGuiggan was Ethel's husband for fifty-three years. They have three children and eight grandchildren. Ethel went to be with Christ on Easter Sunday, 2009 at the close of a gallant life. He has written some books including: Celebrating the Wrath of God; Heading Home with God; Life on the Ash Heap; Jesus: Hero of Thy Soul; The God of the Towel, The Scarlet Letter; and The Dragon Slayer.

HE COULDN’T KEEP HIS MOUTH SHUT ANY LONGER…JUMPED UP IN CHURCH AND…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then came Sunday morning!

CAN HUMANS REALLY LOVE THIS DEEPLY?

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

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

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

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

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

UNFULFILLED PROPHECY & PROMISES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They say this also: a threat of imminent judgment might be delayed. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown,” was God’s announcement but God “changed His mind” (Jeremiah 18:1-11). Still, the judgment did fall on Nineveh many years later as the book of Nahum tells us. Still “forty” is “forty” and it didn’t happen. True, but do allow Jeremiah 18:1-11 to have its way.
The idea that life is like a pre-played chess game and God moves all the pieces independent of human behavior, good, bad or indifferent, is simply not true. God made humans and He makes His sovereign and fatherly decisions in light of the creature He sovereignly and fatherly created. That’s who He works with! GOD did not choose to work with puppets or chess pieces.
Try not to worry about “unfulfilled” promises or “judgments” because they are affected by human behavior, ours and that of others—and God allows it to be that way (Acts 14:16). God not only works with humans, He loves the humans He works with—all of them! But it’s precisely because He loves them all that things in a fallen world become complex. Nineveh didn’t go down in Jonah’s time because God loved Nineveh. But Nineveh did go down in Nahum’s time because God loved the little nations that Nineveh was terrorizing. Love experiences a conflict of interest in a world like this. So promises are delayed or partially fulfilled, judgment is delayed or eased. Jesus Christ is the life of God lived out as a human. That’s part of the reason you have Matthew 11:28 and Matthew 23:33 and then 23:37.

In His own good time God will make all things plain and we will see and experience what in our better moments we long for and dream of. Think noble things of God.

UNFULFILLED    PROPHECY     LOVE’S CONFLICT OF INTERESTS

ONCE MORE: SEEING THE FACE OF GOD

The quiet shrewd man, Jacob, stuck it to his brother Esau. I think we should allow Esau’s protest in Genesis 27:36 to stand. He claims that Jacob robbed him twice (25:29-34; 27:1-35)—taking advantage of him and later plainly robbing him. Commentators like Wenham trenchantly deny Jacob took advantage of him—I think they’re wrong. No matter, we’re certain that Jacob stole what God had already assigned to him (25:21-23). But the faithful God forgave the sly deceiver and renewed His covenant to Abraham’s grandson (28:10-22). But we expect that from the God we have come to know in Jesus Christ; what we find startling and makes us shake our heads in deep pleasure is when we see humans forgive great wrongs. Genesis 33:4 is one of those beautiful texts that we maybe would do well to have it nicely printed, framed and hung where we can daily see it. Here in the face of a human we see the face of God (33:10).

                       “But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him,
and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” (33:4)

         “But while he was still far off, his father saw him…and ran and put
his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

I’ve been criticized a lot in my life and I know that I fully deserved the bulk of it though I wish I could believe otherwise. I’m also aware that the criticism has helped me in some respects, maybe more than I know. But while some of the moments when I was openly taken to task are vivid and unforgettable I remember just as easily, with profound joy and consequent assurance, occasions when I expected fury without forgiveness but saw the face of God. They were the faces of humans, of course, but it’s precisely because they were the faces of humans that they brought and bring me assurance about God. If humans can and do it, if Esau could and did it, I know the God and Father of Jesus Christ can and does it. We cannot believe that humans are kinder and more forgiving than God so when we see glad forgiveness there in humans we are seeing the face of God.

I was reminded this very morning (Jordy sent me a message by Craddock) that open-heartedness, pity as well as implicit trust, from One who knows us can unlock doors with rusty locks and cobweb covered. Zacchaeus, the tax collector, must have gotten a lot of just criticism and cold exclusion that I’m supposing froze any warm purpose in him, any friendly overtures. “If that’s how they treat me, well then, I can do without them.” Maybe he could. I’ve come across more than one who has made it crystal clear that they want no part of this one or that one or me. My fear is that they’ll die that way, isolated and the cold getting right down into their bones, dead long before they die and going to meet a God who often wears a human face. And this God looked at the human up in the tree—one who had made choices that he knew would isolate him and who lived now in a cold world with long periods of frozen silence.
Doesn’t the story in Luke 19 seem to say that there was something down in the man that wanted better? He had heard of Him but he wanted more than stories though stories are wondrous; he wanted to see Him and the one he wanted to see saw him and spoke salvation. He wasn’t morally lectured, he was embraced; he wasn’t fiercely criticized he was loved and the warmth of it unfroze whatever might have been frozen in Zacchaeus. Who can do such a thing, who can act this way? Only God we’re tempted to think.

                                     But no, people like Esau who have been
profoundly sinned against but have a face like God can do it also
!

A POX ON THE HAND-WRINGING!

One of Israel’s great crimes—maybe her cardinal crime—was to forget. See how this is stressed in the book of Deuteronomy. Eight times (8) they are warned not to “forget”. Fourteen times (14) they are called to “remember”. The tragedy of the book of Judges is spelled out in 2:10. After Joshua “a generation arose who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.” In Deuteronomy 7:17-18 God’s cure for any fear of strong enemies (if they were to be cured) was to “look back”—remember. “You shall not be afraid of them, but you shall remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.” And see Deuteronomy 32:7.

Hand-wringing worry about “dwindling numbers” is no cure for dwindling church numbers. We are not to whimper about such things. A very strong case can be made for the view that our dwindling numbers is precisely because we haven’t looked back at what the Lord our God did at the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and exaltation of the Lord Jesus. The truth is, neither Israel nor the New Testament People have an identity without what has happened in the past! Forget that and we don’t know who we are! Our strength, if we are to have strength in the face of entrenched and intimidating enemies, is to take God’s advice and look back at who our God is and what he has done for His people of any era. But it’s GOD we are to look back to! And if we are to find vibrant hope and assurance in leaders today it will be leaders who will focus our eyes on a GOD who is “a tried stone, a precious cornerstone” (God Himself) and if we do that, “those that believe will not panic.” Isaiah 28:16.

Judah was scared witless when the news came that Assyria was on the march to world conquest. Syria and Israel was in Assyria’s path and they were in panic so they first pleaded for an alliance with Judah and when that didn’t work they conspired to set a king on the throne of Judah to gain a triple alliance. Isaiah urged Judah’s king Ahaz to trust in God but the trustless king wouldn’t and thought that worshiping new gods would fix the problem. But that was precisely the central crime of Israel. In Deuteronomy 32:15-18 God tells us, “He forsook God who made him…They sacrificed…not to God (but) to gods they did not know, to new gods, new arrivals that your fathers did not revere…Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful and have forgotten the God who Fathered you.”

They thought they would preserve the nation by spending money, by shrewd tactics and adopting the ways of the world (see 2 King 16:5-29; 2 Chronicles 28; Isaiah 28:14-22; 31:1-9. But the prophet had told them (7:1-9), “Except you believe you will not be established.”

This is more than a word for the 8th century BC. If people, young and old are walking away from God it is because they have grown tired of the old God (the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Jesus Christ!) it’s because they don’t know Him and they gone looking and bowing before new gods. Leaders old or new are worth nothing unless they lead our People to the God of baptism, the God of the life, death and resurrection of the past that makes the present bearable and the future assured. And the God of the Supper where we “remember” the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and exaltation of the Lord Jesus who gives us our identity, our very existence as a People and who is coming back!

Have nothing to do with this hand-wringing, bleating that requires new messages from God! One Lord is enough, one thrilling throbbing gospel of God is enough. If that God can’t keep His People from obliteration and if His 2,000 year old gospel fervently offered by our leaders doesn’t give us life, empower and thrill us then no gimmicks, no shrewd schemes, no mega-church aims will resurrect us.

See what’s there in front of us, acknowledge pain or loss or apparent defeats! We don’t need to deny that the enemies are real. They’ve always been real! So is God! So is the Lord Jesus. The invisible hosts of wickedness are real but so is the invisible Spirit of the Lord God! A pox on this whimpering about the future of the Body of Christ, the Nation of God, the Temple in which He dwells by His Spirit! Jesus Himself has assured us that the Gates of Hell (Death) cannot prevail against it! All that can be shaken will be shaken but the Kingdom of God can’t and won’t be (Hebrews 12:7-28) and the Head of the Church is the LORD JESUS!
A People doesn’t carry its God. See Isaiah 46 and God’s 8th century BC message to His  21st Century people.

UNFINISHED REFLECTIONS ON SATAN (2)

Since we know nothing about the precise nature of angelic or heavenly beings we can’t say how much or how little power they have by nature, that is, simply because they are angels. It might not be surprising to learn that some angels are inherently stronger than others are, in the way some humans are physically stronger than others are. But we can’t be sure of that.

We do read in Revelation 12:7-8 (NIV) that Satan wasn’t strong enough to win against Michael and his army, but it isn’t clear what that means. For example, we don’t know if it means Michael was inherently stronger than Satan, or if at that moment God gave Michael superior strength, or if it was the fault of the satanic army that he wasn’t strong enough. We aren’t even sure, since we’re in an apocalyptic book, if we’re to think in terms of an actual battle and spiritual muscles.

(How do angels “fight”? Is it a clash of minds and wills rather than bone and muscle? It’s difficult not to imagine how they might fight but perhaps it isn’t important to come to conclusions on this or even to spend much time on it. The word “fight” which generates images of actual collision or killing may fool us. Paul speaks of us “wrestling” against spiritual enemies or “running a race” or “fighting a good fight” but none of these phrases mean we actually run or fight or wrestle. They’re metaphors for aspects of living. Angels may war with or withstand one another simply by living to God’s glory or doing the reverse. See also Daniel 10:20-11:1).

We may be tempted to think that the differing degrees of position among heavenly beings must speak of superior “strength”. Michael is an “arch” angel and is said to be a “chief” (Daniel 10:13; Jude 9) but there’s no way of knowing if this is because he is stronger than others are (that he has more spiritual muscles and could out-fight everybody). It may mean he is more glorious in some “non-power” way or more devoted to God, or some such thing. That Satan is seen as a leader among the hostile spiritual forces doesn’t prove he has more “coercive” power than all others do. It might be he gained notoriety because of his rebellion against God and became the unspoken leader. (Al Capone, Hitler and Stalin come to mind as illustrations of people not physically strong but ruthless and shrewd and so gained a following. If we’re to speculate, something like that may be the case with Satan.)

Angels are supernatural beings and don’t belong to the “natural” realm but what does that entail? Does it mean because they are angels that they can create things? Can they work miracles? Can they read the minds of people? Because they are angels can they simply will people to become ill, or can they kill them if and when it pleases them?
                                                      What some angels did

We know angelic beings blinded sinners in Sodom, made a doubtful priest dumb for about nine months, slew a God-despising king and such like (see Genesis 19:1-11, Luke 1:19-20 and Acts 12:21-23) ; but do these events tell us anything about the power angels have as angels? In the cases above (and others like them) the angels are commissioned by God to do a job for Him so why shouldn’t we think He gave them the power needed to complete the job? In addition to that, these afflictions were judgments by good angels on crass evil or slowness of heart to believe. Are they enough for us to build a theology of angelic power (satanic or not) that is outside of God’s control and empowerment? Do any of these illustrations tell us anything about the power angels have because they are angels? Do any of them tell us that satanic angels can exercise coercive or miraculous power?

                                       Ways in which God has given power

If and when God gives power there are at least two ways He might do it. He might build it into the creature as a permanent part of that creature’s constitution or He might give it on certain occasions only for a limited period. What little physical strength I have is structured into me; it’s connected with my physical equipment. Is that how it is with an angel or someone like Satan?
In Judges 13-17 we have Samson whose strength is legendary. The text doesn’t suggest that Samson was incredibly strong because of how he was built. The power wasn’t resident in his muscles or in his hair. He was strong beyond ordinary humans when the Spirit of the Lord came on him (14:6 illustrates the point). It seems that Samson became strong when it suited God’s purposes, rather than God depositing the strength in him as a resident quality.
In the Gospels we see Christ empowering the apostles to work miracles as they go preaching (see Matthew 10:1-8 and parallels). This power is not resident in them (that is, it isn’t part of their human equipment). It seems they were gifted for the special occasions and it was super-human power that was given to them!

Is that how it is with angels, good or satanic? It’s clear that in Job chapters 1 & 2 God commissioned Satan to carry out His (God’s) will. Note especially 1:11 and 2:5 along with 1:21 and 2:10. In the Job text we have no reason to believe that Satan had power over Job independent of God’s commission. Satan was God’s message boy. If we take the text as it sits it was God who commissioned him to do the job and it was God’s fire that burned Job’s fields (1:16) and it was God who brought calamity on him (42:11).
We need to remember that any power Satan had he got it from God. His very existence and continued existence is the work of God. If Satan used his life and power for evil purposes or in a spirit of malice that’s his sin and when God uses Satan’s malice for His holy and worthy agenda that’s God’s glory. If we ask why God would allow sinful Satan to continue to exist we might go on to ask why He allows sinful humans to exist
                                                  There’s power and power

For discussion purposes I’d like to isolate two general forms of power: persuasive and coercive. According to the mayor of River City (in the movie The Music Man) the con-man Professor Harold Hill was a “spellbinder.” This was certainly true because Hill made a living out of talking people into things that up to then they had no desire to get into. That’s power. The winsome and lovely life of John McKay’s wife (in Mark Rutherford’s book Deliverance) finally transformed him from being an insensitive clod of a man into a generous and warm human being. That’s power too. These are complex processes but when we discuss them the word “influence” often crops up. The power involved in accomplishing the results aimed at depends in part on those who are changed. The change-agents don’t physically (or otherwise) overwhelm or coerce those who are changed. There’s the element of “persuasion” in it all. This power isn’t irresistible and hence “coercive”.
There’s another form of power. John 2 tells us Christ willed it so and water became wine. On another occasion He spoke a word to a storm and it ceased. The very nature of the cases says there’s no persuasion; there’s no attempt at wooing. This is naked, creative power that “makes it so”. For convenience sake I’m calling it coercive power. In the two instances given it’s irresistible and so it’s coercive (non-persuasive); it has the nature of “creative” power.
Humans exercise coercive power (within human limits). Let a murderer put a gun to the head of your beloved and say, “Do this or I’ll kill her!” We rightly call this coercive power, though it isn’t irresistible. We’ve known or heard of people who refused to live rather than do what was demanded under threat. This is not coercion of the same order as changing water to wine with a wish or making a tornado so we can wreck a house and kill the children (as in the book of Job). These last two go far beyond unaided human ability and there’s no resisting the power.

Coercive power gains its objective without co-operation from anyone or anything else. Bearing in mind that since we exist and continue to exist because it pleases God (Revelation 4:11; Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17) we continue to derive our power, coercive or persuasive, from Him. So it is with Satan.
No one has creative power but GOD. Even the power of Jesus was given to Him by God (Acts 10:38).

(To be continued, d.v.)

IF YOU DON’T ‘GET THIS’ YOU WON’T GET THE REST

Mark 4 has Jesus teaching the parable of the sower to the crowd gathered and when He and his immediate disciples were alone they asked Him its meaning (4:10).

It’s interesting that I think I understand the parable easily enough but I don’t understand His (4:13), “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” Obviously there’s a truth in that parable that affects our understanding of the rest of the kingdom parables—I don’t know just what He had in mind for while there are bits and pieces in the parables that I’m puzzled by, on the whole, I think they’re plain enough. What’s hard to understand in the parable of the “Good Samaritan”?

Depending on one’s theology and how it shapes our thinking what’s difficult is 4:11. But it’s difficult precisely because we read it in light of our settled convictions. God helping me I’ll say something about that another time. I’d like to focus on the overall message of the parable.

Here’s my underlying assumption: Jesus is this lovely, compassionate and miraculously empowered healer of people who not only cures physical diseases, He delivers people from demonic power and He declares their sins forgiven. In addition to that, a great prophet (John) has come in the spirit and power of Elijah bearing witness to Jesus as the Coming One (all this in Mark 1—3). This is new doctrine, supported by power that is used to bless and liberate, crowds followed Him as He proclaimed the kingdom (reign) of God and he became famous (1:14-15, 21-28).

With all that being true, how was it that the entire country did not receive Him as the coming King? For one reason or another crowds followed Him for a while but walked away! Established teachers explained that He was in league with the Devil (no doubt using Deuteronomy 13 to support their claim) and even one of His immediate followers, after being with Him for about three years, turned from Him and never came back. It’s true that the church leaders in their panic said (John 12:19), “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!” But that was panic talking. To this day church leaders panic or become very discouraged because people are not “going after Him.” Other shrewd leaders come up with various kinds of gimmicks or wise policies or they lean heavily on crowd psychology or social-shaping theory to get people to “go after Him.” **

I find it easy to imagine why the church leaders opposed Jesus and I also find it easy to imagine His followers to ask, “Why do people not receive you as we do? Why are you a celebratory to many but not the Messiah?”

There’s no panic in the parable of the Sower! Jesus didn’t go off to pray alone and spend that time wondering if He was indeed who He knew Himself to be. His mind wasn’t set on appearances and “success”. He knew who He was and He knew He was living in a world where people were tired, burdened, worried, sick, busy with life’s demands and He well knew that there is religion that closes their hearts to a true vision of God. The parable of the sower is the best kind of realism. It sees humans as humans and because it is the Son of God who tells this story it is how God sees humans.

We have John 12:19 when the church leaders were in panic but we have John 7:47-48 in their satanic arrogance when they rebuked their messengers who didn’t bring Him to them, “Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in him?” Explain in cultural, sociological, religious or psychological terms why they simply would not have Him but in the end it’s satanic. These elements are involved of course—we’re humans and God made us that way—but all these God- established realities have their limits; they are corruptible, corrupting and often corrupted.

We can guess how we will why it was that Judas betrayed Him. He was certainly overly-keen on money but the fact that he threw it away with an agonized confession that he had betrayed innocent blood encourages us to add other possible influences. But Luke makes it clear that whatever the other underlying reasons are, betraying Jesus is satanic (Luke 22:3-4). Even if one is maintaining his/her settled convictions when they renounce Jesus it’s satanic and sincerity or intellectual integrity is serving a satanic agenda.

In the parable of the sower Jesus is explaining (not in fullness—how could He?) His lack of “success”—He allows humans to be humans and since the world is as it is we will “always have the poor/the over-burdened/worried with us” (John 12:8). He doesn’t profess to tell the whole story but He does intend for us to see the world as it really is—as He saw it and  we’d want to see it as He did.

He also makes this point! When people come to faith in Him they have not been conned! Good seed has been sown (and there lies one of the fundamental realities we need to note and by His grace and power practice). Given good hearts (and that reality needs discussed and developed) and good seed people turn to God as He is seen in Jesus Christ. They haven’t been duped, they’re not fools, they have embraced the wisdom of God in embracing Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). And while it might be more difficult at times, they believe that the proclamation of Jesus is the power of God as well as His wisdom. (Is that not a test?)

** We’re humans, God made us humans, He hasn’t changed His mind about that and the incarnation makes that point forever. So when we speak and embody the gospel we’re appealing to humans who are shaped by culture, neuro-psychology, emotions, intellect and whatever, that’s humans. It’s just that church leaders can be and are corrupted like everyone else and so we often manipulate and use our power to our own ends. Sigh.

(Holy One, help those you have trusted with your good seed to use it wisely and with generosity. Thank you for bothering! Thank you for eternally bothering. Thank you for letting us know that you know us and know very well that so many of us are tired and worried and filled with care. Let that good seed lead us to think noble thoughts of you. Thank you for making it plain that to reject Jesus is satanic. How tragic, how profoundly tragic it is to see Him (if indeed we are allowed to see Him) and spurn Him. In Him this prayer.)