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.

“Babes In The Woods”

C.S. Lewis has somewhere said that if a young man wants to remain an atheist he can’t be too careful what he reads. God has a way of sneaking up on you (as He sneaked up on CSL when he read G.K. Chesterton). The same is true of love in the form of compassion. If you want to stay cynical you have to be careful what you look at or listen to or read. But bolting all doors against love is more of a job than it appears—some I know personally and a great number I’ve read of found it impossible.

Short story novelist, O. Henry (died 1910), tells us that J. Pinkney Bloom was a swindler with a fifty-two inch waist and a really fat money belt. He bought some useless land at forty-five cents an acre and sub-divided it, on paper, into sections that sold for from five dollars to five hundred. He had parks, markets, trade-halls and a place for the public school all laid out. There was the “Exposition Hall” and a place for the “proposed” opera house. Investors saw the circulars, maps and such that Bloom mailed out and they sent their money into the Skyland Real Estate Company. Each of them got a deed and now owned a prime piece of desolate land on which lived a contingent of indigents whom Bloom had put up in some dirt-cheap box houses (so he could speak of “the population”).

He was going to make one final visit to Skyland aboard the Dixie Belle that was contracted to drop off mail at Skyland (though the bag was almost always empty). J. Pinkney knew the captain well, a fellow rapscallion. As the little boat was about to shove off the Blaylocks arrived, rattling up to the pier in a rickety, hired carriage, an elderly gentleman dressed in black, and his wife.

They hailed from Holly Springs,  Georgia and were two throwbacks to the days of the old South. They adored each other and were heading up the lake on business. Their clothes were well-worn and so was the charm that simply poured from them. Her husband, said the delicate elderly wife, looking toward Colonel Blaylock with unworldly, childlike eyes, “Is so devoted to business. He has such a talent for financiering and markets and investments and those kinds of things.” She went on, “I think myself extremely fortunate in having secured him for a partner on life’s journey—I am so unversed in those formidable but very useful branches of learning.”

The Colonel rose and took a bow—the kind that belonged to the era of lace ruffles and silk stockings.
He told of his wife’s ill-health, of her home back in northern Georgia, of her gentle spirit and poetic giftedness and of her dependence on him to look after her in the practical areas of life. How pleased he was to be her champion and protector and how glad he was that he had expertise in the investments area. He had arranged a new home in a glorious area and with the little money they had left he would like to buy a book store that would bring in just enough money to support them.

All the while Mrs. Blaylock is looking rapturously at him, hanging on his every word. Colonel Blaylock was so competent and after carefully studying the field of opportunities had sold their property for eight hundred dollars, spent five hundred of it on a wonderful piece of property in a newly developed place called Skyland and that’s where they were heading.

“Did you pay five hundred dollars for a lot in Skyland?” J. Pinkney asked him. “I did, sir” said the Colonel with the air of a modest millionaire explaining his success. “A lot most excellently situated on the same square with the opera house…” He went on again to lay out their dreams; dreams he had mapped out with his vast experience in the financial world. The move would do Mrs. Blaylock good, restoring to her face, as the Colonel put it, “those roses that were once the hope and despair of Georgia cavaliers.” Then another bow as he touched the pale but girlishly blushing face of Mrs. Blaylock who gave him a gentle “what a silly boy you are” tap.

Bloom’s mind was now racing. This lovely old couple had sunk all their hopes in a parcel of waste ground at the back of nowhere, and their money was in J. Pinkney’s money belt that hung around his prodigious waist. Even this heathen was unzipped and thought frantically how this wrong could be righted.

He went to Captain McFarland and persuaded him to stop off at Cold Branch. About ten minutes later the little boat nosed into the lovely little community of Cold Branch and the captain announced it as Skyland! J. Pinkney helped them off, led them to a fine little hotel where they decided they’d rest and look at their purchases tomorrow. This suited Bloom perfectly and he footed the bill.

He found a lawyer, hired him, headed to the little community’s book-store and made the owner an offer he couldn’t refuse for his store and the house that went with it. Shooed him nicely off the property, paid the lawyer well for his trouble and had him deliver the deeds of the house and book-store to the Blaylocks when they would be up and around. Even a two-bit thimble-rigger like J. Pinkney Bloom knew what it was to see his prey as people in need of compassion. Even that ‘heathen’ felt costly pity. I like what he did!

(“But JPB was only a character in an event in a piece of fiction!” I’ve never had much patience with such a view. Great characters in great fiction are shaped by great characters or events in life itself.)

I read O. Henry’s story several times and more than once recognized the face of the Colonel as my own. Whatever impression I give to others, and whatever story I like to tell to myself, every now and then, however briefly, with shocking clarity I see the absurdity in my thinking that I’m in control. I’m so dependent on others. It’s true that I’m more experienced than a 10 year old boy and that there are some areas in which even I can be trusted to make a sensible decision but overall I’m a Colonel Blaylock who’s more to be pitied than laughed at because I’m just another “babe in the woods.” If only I could consistently live out that insight, but it’s a passing experience and I find myself back to believing I’m more than capable of handling the complex challenges of life. I’m not alone in this. I see it in the best-intentioned governments and populations.

The Blaylocks were no more out of their depths, no more conned and fleeced by JPB than we’ve all been by the god of this world. Somebody’s got to show us compassion!
Speaking as a sometimes perplexed  Christian, maybe Christians will be out-talked, out-maneuvered or out-gunned but surely they shouldn’t be out-compassioned! Yes?

I would guess there aren’t many J. Pinkney Blooms in the fraternity of professional con-men, but maybe I’m wrong even in that.  It’d be nice if I were.  One has to be careful not to count God out. I’ve personally seen Him show up in people and places I didn’t expect Him to be. You too?

 

IS WOOD MAGIC?

In letter to the Ephesians ‘size’ matters. Paul isn’t content with talking about mercy or grace or love or power. He adds superlatives. He talks about the exceeding greatness or riches of or the unimaginable nature of God’s love or mercy or power or grace. The will of God, he tells us, stretches from one eternity to another and the stage on which He shows himself (limited though it is) is the entire universe. The God we’re face to face with in Ephesians bankrupts description and His wisdom is something the principalities and powers in the invisible realm must be instructed in and are privileged to catch a glimpse of (3:10).

And why would such a GOD bother with the likes of us? Yes, we’ve been told why but while that means we’re not left utterly in the dark, how much light does it really give us? He’s infinitely above and beyond us. It isn’t just His power and wisdom—it’s His character, His love and mercy and grace, they drive us to pile up words on top of words and phrases on top of phrases in a vain attempt to grasp and express something of the mystery of it all. It doesn’t surprise us to hear David ask in Psalm 8, “What are humans that you bother with them?” But incredible as it seems and however often we look around to see if anyone else can believe it or if we’re the only ones who find it difficult to take in—incredible as it seems, it’s true! He cares about us.

All right then, so it’s true, but can we gain access to Him or must we always speak of Him and deal with Him at a great ‘distance’? If we do gain access to His presence, what is it that gives us this privilege? What hoops do we have to jump through? What great feats do we have to accomplish? What Herculean tasks do we have to undertake to be assured of entering into the company of the Great God? (See Romans 10:6-9.) What assures us, even now, of His favor and that in a coming day that communion we now enjoy by faith will have an added dimension—His nearer presence? What gets us from the gutter, through the door and into the palace?

A wooden stake, a public gallows, on a little hill just outside ancient Jerusalem!

Why is that? Is there some magic in wood? Is there a mysterious power in a public gallows? Does the cruel and brutal death of some young man make God cry and go all weak and sentimental? There have been millions of deaths like that down the centuries! How does that one, that particular one, enable us to enter God’s presence in peace (2:17-18)? What is it about that death that opens the gates to breathless wonder?

It’s that one because in that one as in no other, in that death as in no other event in all of creation’s history that God makes Himself known.

It isn’t God’s love of shed blood that opens His home to us! It’s God Himself—His nature and character. His shed blood didn’t make him a loving or welcoming God—it proclaimed that He has eternally been like that! The hanging tree didn’t turn God into a gracious God—it revealed the truth that He already was and remains this!

Nowhere else in time or limitless space can we find the proof that God wants us to be home with Him. Nowhere else, only at the hanging tree! There’s no crime in exploring the vastness of God’s creation (though motives matter) but no matter how far we go it’s only here on this planet that we’ll find the truth that explains why we exist at all and how we will find new life, new life beyond this life, new life now as well as new life in the future.

If galaxies, constellations or black holes or quasar clusters don’t speak to us now it’s not because they don’t speak of Him. For they do speak of Him and though we don’t realize it they speak of us also. God not only created this incredible universe He created humans capable of oohing and aahing over it, humans capable of rejoicing in it and humans capable of coming to admire the God who made it all.

But such magnitude can frighten us and make us feel we’re too tiny to matter. The good news is that this planet “too tiny to matter” is the “visited planet”. It was here God’s young Prince dwelled with us, loved with us, rejoiced and suffered with us from us and for us and it’s here that He would return to and indwell us (See John 14:1-3, 15-20, 25-29; Ephesians 2:14-22.)

It’s only because of that, that sinners like us dare to imagine this as our home and that we are welcome here. We’re not (as some fool spoke of us) “fungus clinging to the surface of a nowhere planet.” Denigrate and despise God’s human creation, keep on telling them they are the mindless product of countless mindless and pointless events and then try telling them to act reasonably and compassionately; try telling them that and then tell them that vulnerable humans are worth protecting, worth listening to, worth working for, worth teaching. Tell them “even their highest thoughts are nothing more than chemical reactions” and that we must stamp “UNYIELDING DESPAIR” on them as their inescapable future. Try sowing that seed and expect something other than thorns and thistles and stinking swamps.

And here is the Christian’s “lunacy”: Every Lord’s Day they gather and defy everything that preaches ultimate death and despair and they do it as they proclaim the death of their Lord Jesus until He returns. They proclaim the meaning of that death and they do it with full confidence for the Holy One Himself vindicated the young man hanging on a tree by raising him from the dead to immortality and making him Lord of all principalities and powers and might and dominion and every name that is named not only in this world but in the full unveiling of “the world to come.” Those who are even now being transformed into the image of their Lord (2 Cor. 3:18—4:4) and who by faith have “passed from death to life” (John 5.24) experience something of the glory of that final disclosure in a post-resurrection inheritance with Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:3-7; Heb, 6:4-5 with context; Romans 8:16-17;
1 Cor 15:20-57 and see 2 Cor. 1:20-22). The blessing of Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8:3-6; Hebrews 2:5-9.

In God’s Christ alone our hope is found!

 

A Note To A Dying Friend

D: You know of course, that I’m sorry to hear of further severe health complications, But my feelings, however deep and genuine, don’t cure your disease or take away the pain you do now and will endure until you leave. That sounds glib. Trust me, that isn’t how it feels and you must know that by now. I suppose it’s, what?—a bit of sad realism?

But your note still has a realism that doesn’t have the tone of despair. It sounds a bit like someone getting ready to face something she’d rather not face but has buckled on her armor to go do it just the same. I call that gallantry. But you have reason to be gallant. Your young Lord was (and continues) like that and you have done & are doing the best you can to be like Him.

In this phase of human living and in this ‘world’—the one we the human family built— for you, me and EVERYONE else, Death trumps all. That’s what Jesus had in mind when He says in John 6 that “the flesh profits nothing” and “working for the food that perishes” is a blunder; we’re not to make that the center of our goals.

Moses fed them bread, they ate and lived but then died. Jesus fed them bread, they ate it, lived but are now dead.  Here and now with all its limits of one kind or another life ends in DEATH.  And it doesn’t matter whether we’re currently healthy or not. Those that survive the C-virus will die later. Glib? No at all! But, depending on whose figures you use, something like 2 and a half million people die yearly in the USA. And these have nothing to do with the current C-virus issue.

Yesterday my friend Ray and I had a lengthy Bible study.  He’s past 90, bright as a button, survived WWII, but he’ll die soon. Death finally comes. It happened to Jesus and He said it would. It’s what we do in this ‘world’ we built. If it isn’t disease, old age or starvation or murder it’s of something else. Jesus said, “Watch for Me! My glory follows dying.” (See Luke 24:26; 1 Peter 1:11 and elsewhere.)

For those of us who will not!!! have anything to with or for God, DEATH is what we earn; it’s our “wages” (see Romans 6.23). If alienation from God is what we choose, it’s Death we choose and it is a forever death we get—it’s the everlasting loss of LIFE.

For those in Christ DEATH is a door to glory. In John 6:50; 8:51; 11:25-26, and elsewhere, Jesus says those who believe in Him don’t DIE.  Of course He knows they die because He says “I will raise them up in the last day” (6:40, 54). But He means they don’t die the same kind of death that is the wages of Sin. For those in Christ, those who trust in Him and NOT themselves, sins are not written down against them [Rom 4:4-8] so their death is not a ‘Sin-death’. It’s the prelude to LIFE.

There are two ‘worlds’ to live in. This one with all its creaturely limitations, this one that’s sustained by food and other fleshly (human) necessities. To spend our lives trying to stay in this ‘world’ is to toil to keep what perishes (see John 6:26-27).  To “save our life” while rejecting the LIFE God is eager to give us means we lose ourselves (Mark 8:35-37).

So, should we despise this life, trash it so we can get a better one? God in Jesus Christ became one of us—to despise life now and the potential for lives of love within our limits would be nonsense and cowardly. That there are those who suffer so severely that they wish for death is no surprise. We’re humans for pity’s sake.

Our death is unavoidable—Christian or non-Christian. To those who have by faith made His death and resurrection theirs, that is, for those who BY TRUST embrace their destiny in CHRIST’S experience. For them the last word is not DEATH but resurrection to immortality and ceaseless joy and adventure and freedom from ALL that brings sorrow and loss, within us and around us.

When those who came to know Jesus stepped into the water of Baptism they were saying I embrace His death as mine and when rising out of the water they were saying I embrace His resurrection as mine (see Romans 6:3-6). We can’t finally avoid biological death but we can avoid everlasting cessation of existence and so the everlasting loss of EVERLASTING LIFE

If you slip away before me, D, I’ll know where to find you. Where my Ethel and many of my beloved ones are waiting for me and others.

jim

 

When Things Change For Us…

Holy Father, help us to believe in the Son you love and who simply by being Himself is the Judge of the satanic world. We can’t deny that we believe in Him but there are times when we look inward and around and we know with a frightening certainty that we desperately need you to help us in our unbelief and in our poor grasp of who you are.

Now and then and for a while we realize how difficult faith in Him is for those whose lives are one long unchanging experience of rejection or ill health or economic oppression or humiliation or loneliness—they hear His name spoken and sung but they know only hurt and loss and a daily trudge toward old age, feebleness and the grave, while the rich and powerful and their happy supporters, the ruthlessly ambitious who seek to make a name for themselves and the liars that manipulate the truth and control the flow of information are ‘blessed’.

In truth, at times we wonder how anyone can be saved. In our sinfulness we have helped build a world that has become our master, it frightens us and it is too strong for us. We find our faith is fervent within the walls of a place of public worship but find it faltering when intimidated by daily life that confuses and hurts us so that we put our trust in power and shrewdness and half-truths. We remember sometimes that you will gain your eternal loving purpose even if we do not help you but in our hearts there is a longing that never leaves—we do not wish you to do it without us.

So, leave us not, continue your patient work with us and trust in us and equip us better for your service. Though we deserve it not, keep us ever near to your heart that ours might find its rhythm in yours. Liberate us from the recurring conviction that we can fix this world if we just try harder.  Rescue us also from the notion that because we cannot do everything that it is all right with you that we do nothing but wring our hands and whimper. Give us power by an energizing trust in you that we may live among the fearful as a Holy Nation, a Priestly Nation, assured that the end of all things Christ conquerors Death & Sin.

Thrill us from time tot time with the thought of Jesus Christ, the Living Bread and while feeding on Him worry none that there really is no other assurance & that all is truly in His hands. Keep your People from making alliances with the gloomy and savage powers of the world as we did again and again in the past and if need be rip away all the shrewd and violent props we use and have used to keep ourselves safe and ‘alive’. Help your Church to remember its Baptism and to daily live its message that poor tortured suffers might hear and be drawn to trust, not in the Church but in the LORD, Jesus Christ, that they though bone-weary and unable to expect change, the plundered poor, who only exist, it seems, to be food for the feeding parasites and predators—that they might despite all that look to you, the ONE GOD and be gladdened by hope and on that day experience DELIVERANCE, FREEDOM FROM FEAR, and know JOY, PEACE, ADVETNURE AND EVERLASTING RIGHTEOUSNESS.
This prayer FOR THE WORLD, loving Father, the WORLD!; a world where agony, anguish and despair is their only expectation and where there will be no change for them until the ONE comes—-in the Lord Jesus.]

“Hanging on a cross you don’t need…”

In 1923 one of the greatest earthquake disasters in history hit Japan and reduced Tokyo and Yokohama to smoking ruins. Millions were homeless, starvation, disease and anarchy were the only things flourishing and the government and military could do nothing about it.
They knew a man who could reorganize and restructure things but he was in prison. The common people almost worshiped him but the government, the capitalists, the radical nationalists and the military people hated and feared him. He was in prison for orchestrating a vast non-violent strike in the docks and even though the workers got all that he had demanded for them he himself was thrown into prison for his leadership in the strike action. His name was Toyohiko Kagawa. They let him out of prison and he began the work of rebuilding the nation. The government offered him a huge wage and all the privileges that went with such a role but he turned it all down saying, “To work with the poor I must be poor.”
He was born in 1888, the illegitimate son of a wealthy and high-ranking politician and a geisha. The father took a liking to the child and adopted him but before the boy was five both his parents had died and although he was officially a samurai and head of nearly twenty villages he went to live with his grandmother and a stepmother. The stepmother hated him and his life was one of unrelieved misery until when he was eleven a rich uncle adopted him and planned great things for him. If his stepmother’s house was the frying pan his boarding school was the fire.
But he met and learned English from Henry Myers a Presbyterian minister. He learned more than that—he learned about Christ and Myers baptized Kagawa into Christ. Horace Shipp said, “Young Kagawa became a Christian. He did a rarer thing: he began to practice Christianity.” He was a pacifist to the core, at times he literally turned the other cheek and he insisted on giving away all his possessions and often his food. In 1904 Japan without warning attacked the Russian ships at Port Arthur and destroyed their entire Baltic fleet. Japan as a nation hailed this as a great triumph and justified it on the basis of less obvious but threatening developments in Russian foreign affairs.
At the seminary where he now attended Kagawa dared to speak against Japan’s act of war and the students would take turns to beat him up. Finally he was expelled, he fell ill (tuberculosis) and went away to die in a little fishing village. But a boat was wrecked on the coast and Kagawa worked until he was absolutely exhausted helping to rescue people. This experience made him determined to live and later his stated aim was “The salvation of 100,000 poor, the emancipation of 9,430,000 laborers and the liberation of twenty million tenant-farmers.”
He took a header into the infamous slums at Shinkawa and for nineteen years he lived in a cubicle six feet by six feet, with one side open to act as door and windows. As part of the lowest of the low, even by Shinkawa standards, he shared his living quarters and for four years he held the hand of a murderer that couldn’t sleep alone. He got a little income from a Training school and he doubled it by working as a chimney sweep and gave it away or gave away all the food and clothes it bought.
It was from one of his ceaseless stream of visitors that he contracted a fierce eye disease that moved him closer and closer to blindness.
The slum bullies robbed him with violence, burned down his shack, knocked his teeth out and challenged his faith by demanding that he give away his clothes. He did that on more than one occasion and had to wear a woman’s robe until he could replace them.
Once he was on the verge of taking on a jeering and threatening bully who was going to stop his preaching but instead he turned and ran. The crowd roared with laughter but he was back the next day in the same place preaching Christ.

It’s no surprise then that when the earthquake hit and Japan was in awful need that they let him out of prison and asked him to be Chief of Social Welfare. Once as he visited an American University two students went to hear him speak but when he was done, unimpressed one said to the other, “He didn’t have a lot to say, did he?” A woman behind them leaned over and said, “When you’re hanging on a cross you don’t need to say a lot.” He died in 1960.

Toyohiko Kagawa is one face of God’s love for the world.

 

 

WILL YOU JUST LISTEN TO ME?

“Father I confess there is freer access to the throne of grace than there is to my desk.”         Elspeth Campbell Murphy

O God, I cry in the daytime, but you hear not; and in the night season and am not silent… Psalm 22:2

The approach of psychologist and guru Carl Rogers went well for a while if for no other reason than that many people felt, “At last, someone’s listening to me.” That wasn’t Job’s experience during his sore troubles; he felt he was having a conversation with friends who simply weren’t hearing him. He says in 21:2-3, “Listen carefully to my words; let this be the consolation you give me. Bear with me while I speak and after I have spoken mock on.” People in the shadows need people who will listen to them.

Poor Job (and poor friends)—his friends were well into their hewing and hacking job. They were pouring out words, thinking they were doing Job a favor. “This is the truth, the pure word of God,” we can hear them say. “We’re offering you not only good advice but the consolations of the Almighty and you dismiss them.” Eliphaz asks in 15:11, “Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you?” You only have to read how they were gutting him to see it wasn’t only Job they were deaf to; they were deaf to themselves! Righteous people can get into a nice rhythm; pious words can flow easily and pleasingly. The pleasing rhythm gives them an added sense of truth. Scriptures come effortlessly to the tongue, truth from here, there and yonder join the stream and before we know it we have a torrent of mighty truth bearing down all before it—including the sinner we came to save. “Words gently spoken to you,” we tell them. What a spellbinding sight it is to see a righteous man or woman in full pursuit of a transgressor. No warrior in a Scythian horde or in the army of Genghis Khan was ever so keen to come to grips with an enemy.

Eliphaz self-righteously offers what he calls the consolations of God and Job caustically says he’d settle for a fair hearing before they started to mock—that’d be consolation enough. At this very moment, somewhere a bullied wife, a frustrated husband, an accused child or a distraught parent is saying, “Will you just listen for once?” And the other rounds off the sentence and becomes silent and, God help us, we think that’s “listening”. God forgive me for all the times I’ve sinned in this way and hurt the hearts of those who really needed to be heard.

In fairness, we’re asking for a real gift when we ask people to listen to us and if we’ve given people reason to be angry with us that makes it even more a gift when they hear us. “Listening” is more than saying nothing while another is speaking. To listen is to enter into the part of the world they’re living in and wrestling with. “Listening” is wanting to understand not only what these people are facing but what they’re facing it with. Maybe they don’t want to be excused; maybe they don’t expect that, can’t expect it and have no right to expect it! Maybe they just want to be heard and if they get that they’ll soldier on.

Elspeth Campbell Murphy taught first graders for many years and thought that they taught her more than she taught them. In a lovely little book she wrote in 1979 (CHALKDUST) she recorded the kind of prayers she prayed depending on the circumstances and needs. One of them was a prayer for help in listening to children who were always eager to talk. She confessed it was easier to get to God’s throne than to her desk and asked God for “a heart that understands the importance of a new pair of shoes or a lost pencil.” She felt like a cheat because she rejoiced in the privilege of knowing that the Lord of the universe listened to her and she had a hard time listening to the children. It is a needed and lovely prayer that she concludes with, “and Father, thanks for listening.”

We all have to make our own confession of failure here or there and we’ll all have to be modest even in confession. We’re limited as well as limiting—only God does everything flawlessly. Surely it makes sense for us to want to grow in fairness and give to others (as much as we can) what is given to us so abundantly by God—a hearing!

When we dismiss the voice of someone as not worth hearing we’re saying something about their personhood—it isn’t just their voice we want nothing to do with at that point; we want nothing to do with them! When we give ourselves to them in a genuine listening experience, when they know it, are sure of it, they feel they and not just their words are being taken seriously. “I’m worth listening to!” is their sense of things.

I accept the fact that to truly listen to a person can be a very great gift and I accept that there are times when there are such demands on us that we might not be able to do that. Still, that doesn’t ease the pain in the heart of the person unheard. Let me tell you of a situation where both people were “losers”.

My Ethel had a network of health difficulties that included paraplegia and various re-routings of internal systems and a whole lot more. Back when she was able to travel we were going to visit our kids and grandkids in America, a trip that even at its best wiped her out and generated all kinds of fears en route. The airline assured us that everything was taken care of but after about fifteen event-filled hours we were relieved and ready to carry her on for our last plane ride. We were horrified to discover that her seat was to be in the middle of the middle block of seats and that mine was in a different row. By this time I had seen her transferred badly from the wheelchair and back, almost dropped, jolted and frightened, spoken to abrasively, bumped against aisle seats and almost thrown into two of them—all that and more. This last little issue was too much and I said so to the official at the entrance to the plane. At least if she wasn’t on an aisle we needed two seats together for there were things that needed to be attended to promptly and decisively for the comfort of all around us. He kept interrupting me, telling me there was nothing he could do, the place was overbooked, I should have checked my seat assignments before now, and more. The more he talked and the more he didn’t let me explain the angrier I became. I tried telling him again about the physical situation, about the airline assuring us…but he was shaking his head, looking this way and that and telling me he could do nothing about it. By now it wasn’t that I really expected him to do anything—I…just…wanted…to…be…heard and understood! I wanted him to know what I was feeling and how distressed she was as she sat there looking up at both of us and blaming herself for being such a problem. Even as I write this, so long after the event, I can still feel the emotional surges returning. I was distressed and wanted to be heard!

Let me ask again: God forgive me for all the times I’ve sinned in this way and hurt the hearts of those who really needed to be heard.

This poor man was under all kinds of pressure, the place was jam-packed with people anxious to board, the flight was overbooked, there were people piling up behind us while I blocked the entrance and tried (at least initially) to get him to “do something”; there were time constraints because we were running a bit late, and more! He was pressured into believing he didn’t have time to hear or understand and I was pressured into believing I had to be heard and understood. Had things been calmer, the pressures off he would have done something but I wasn’t able at that point to worry about his troubles; I had troubles of my own.

Those of us with a profound need to be heard must be given a hearing and if we can do that we should do it. If we needy can from somewhere dredge up the patience to spare a thought for the one we’re speaking to that would be a wonderful gift too. This airline official didn’t have it in him at that point to say something to me like, “Mr. McGuiggan, I’m so sorry about all this mess but right now I’m not able to deal with it, maybe…” that would have eased things. He was abrupt, abrasive even, and completely unsympathetic to our situation so I remember him in this unflattering (and perhaps uncharitable) way.

It’s all water under the bridge and in light of the horrors that are experienced in the world perhaps I shouldn’t dare even to mention it but I’m not that mature. I have to say, however, with lovers all over the world, that had I been alone and given a bad seat assignment I could have lived with it but when it so affected my Ethel it went to another dimension. I wanted to be heard not just for me—for her! For her, for pity’s sake!

The experience remains with me as a prod and a reminder that both those who need to be heard and those who need to hear can give to one another a marvelous gift. [I wrote the airline expecting a form letter in return, electronically apologizing for the mix up. What I got was a phone call and…but that’s another story.]

Now, here’s the thing, if we humans long for and often rightly expect other humans to give us a hearing wouldn’t you think that God would give us a hearing?

Throughout the book of Job we hear that plea, spoken and unspoken. “Where is he that I might speak to him?” “Why doesn’t he answer me?” A psalmist (Psalm 22) is plagued with illness that shows itself in utter fatigue, extreme weight loss and dehydration and he’s sure he’s going down into dust. He’s troubled by loss of friends and a deep sense of abandonment by God as through half-closed eyes he sees the mocking smiles of his enemies as they mutter their delight to each other. He sees the gathering of (perhaps) distant family members who are eyeing the things they’ll make a grab for when he dies and he wonders why God is so far away that he doesn’t hear his cries.

How long it took we aren’t able to tell but the psalmist finally had reason to believe that God was hearing him even when it looked least like it (22:24). The last half of the psalm expresses his delight and relief and he vows he will tell everyone he meets to believe that God doesn’t abandon righteous strugglers.

It’s so lonely to be cut off from all those people and things that make life more than “pleasant” and even if we have other means of support, enough to make life better than tolerable, there’s the ache we get when we have been cut off from those we feel make life fully worth living. What a blessed relief, a joy, it is when we get a letter or a phone call, “I’ve been meaning for months to call you and tell you…and I’m sorry it’s taken this long.” To be embraced again in ways like that, to be heard, to have your pleas acknowledged—that’s better than a holiday, better than an excess of money. You are thought worthwhile, worth bothering about and the caller/writer can’t bear another moment to pass without asking for and offering the gift of fellowship. We know better (or should) than to think that when we speak to Him “God just drops everything” and gives us his undivided attention—that faith is too cozy and runs contrary to both Scripture and life. But that he hears our every prayer, spoken and unspoken, seems to be the message of the Bible so that we’ll never truly have to speak to God as Job spoke to his friends.

This piece from my little book on JOB: LIFE ON THE ASH HEAP

GOD FORSAKEN (1)

I’m addressing Christians! In reading and reflecting on the Holy Bible because we want to know God better and to gain strength to more consistently seek to please and serve Him and enrich our sense of peace with Him we focus on the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, the now glorified and exalted Lord of All.

In our prayerful study we come across truths that make great demands of us and we come across texts, sections, events that we’re required to wrestle with. Jesus says we must hate our entire family if we want to be His disciples (Luke 14:25-33). He says if we won’t do that we cannot be His disciples! Three times in that section He says, “…cannot be My disciple if…”. Hate my entire family? What do we do with such texts? Knowing Jesus Christ, immediately and with complete assurance we say, “He didn’t mean that!” Yes, but it’s what He said! It’s what He said!

You don’t have a doctorate in hermeneutics to say immediately, “I know what He said but He didn’t mean we are to hate our entire family!” Knowing Jesus the first thing we do is to dismiss the impossible! Knowing Jesus Christ we know He didn’t mean what the words could be interpreted to mean. And they could be understood as promoting hatred—the words, I mean! But not if you know Jesus Christ.

I thought of using some texts to prove the words aren’t to be understood as Jesus promoting and even requiring that we hate our entire families and friends, but that would be a mistake. Understanding His words like that is so manifestly false no one who loves and admires Him needs ‘proof’. Once more, Jesus being who He was and is makes it impossible for us to believe He was promoting and required such hatred.

Having rejected the “impossible” we then move to explain what He did mean and what He did require. For He certainly required something! Three times, “You can’t be my disciple if you won’t…!” But it takes a bit more work to “explain” what He meant than it takes to “read” what He said. And sometimes we’re not able to say well what He meant. We might show how the word rendered “hate” doesn’t always mean “hate” the way we characteristically mean it. Yes, but sometimes it does mean “hate” in the way we mean “hate” . Jesus says the ‘world’ “hated” Him and will “hate” His followers (John 15.18). He uses the same word as in Luke 14.

What then? Is it lexically possible for the word “hate” in Luke14 to mean the same as it means in John 15.18? Yes it is! So, it’s possible for Jesus to be promoting and even requiring hatred?  No it’s not! And how do we know it’s impossible when He is using the very same word? Because the person of Jesus makes it impossible! If Jesus Himself isn’t sufficient to bury the nonsense that He promoted that savage emotion hatred of our entire families and friends—if He isn’t enough to end the debate no verbal parallels or ‘explanations’ will work. Best to shake our heads and be done with argument.

Should we not try to explain? Well of course we should; given the right circumstances and in speaking to the right people we should explain what Jesus meant. We’ll explain as best we can, hoping to say it well and so make it easier for those who need the help to understand. BUT get this, we work at ‘explaining’ because we already know that Jesus makes the hatred push impossible.

And Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

What’s this ‘Cross-carrying’ Business?

Christian or non-Christian, in the ‘world’ we have constructed, you get hurt and then you die! The life GOD is offering is never experienced fully in this life. Hebrews 2:5-8, (but not forgetting v. 9) makes that clear. The life He offers is exemplified by and embodied in the glorified Lord Jesus. THAT’S the life that God offers and that cannot be experienced by us in this life of creaturely weakness that ends in Death. So it was with Jesus. Glory followed the anguish experienced in this phase of living. The pain experienced was the inevitable outcome of the loving God’s free choice to become human in order to make it clear that humankind was not left alone to fight against evil or to die in despair as if God had completely, utterly and finally disowned them. 

If we have experienced salvation in Christ we have power (not muscle!). We haven’t yet experienced the fullness of life in the Lord Jesus but we have “passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) The power of God that raised Jesus from creaturely weakness, the same creaturely weakness we now experience, is at work in us who are blessed with a vibrant living hope that means we can’t be robbed of our coming inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-9; Ephesians 1:19-23). The power in view in these texts and in Jesus’ personal experience, is resurrection power that has brought us from death in sin to life in (His) righteousness and will raise us from biological death to glory in everlasting life and righteousness (Ephesians 2:4-7; John 6:40, 54, passim). Our life in Jesus is experienced in a ‘new world’ that is finally revealed and unfolded in an unending climax on a Day yet to come. The glorified Lord Jesus even NOW embodies that CLIMAX—in Him we see what God always meant for us and so Paul sees us re-created in the image of the Lord Jesus who becomes for Paul “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45).  That is more than “an interesting point.” In Jesus it is an acted-out promise and assurance from God—“this is what I have in store for you.” And while we wait, the glorified and exalted Son of Man makes Himself present in us by His Holy Spirit. The more we get to know Jesus Christ and become like like Him by the enriching and shaping of His Holy Spirit the more assured we are of the truth and faithfulness of God. The dying Christ trusted Himself to His Father (Luke 23:46; John 10:17-18; Acts 2:24-28) and was raised immortal. He that raised Jesus from the dead will resurrect all, of all the ages, to glory and immortality who are embraced in the saving work of God (Romans 8:11; Cor 15:45-54; 1 John 3:1-2).
To image Jesus Christ is to see Him choose to enter our world and take up His cross and it means we take up our cross and follow in His way. He lives before the Father that way, He goes to the Father that way, He exposes the darkness of the Darkness that way, He overthrows the satanic usurper that way, He rejects the world’s way to power as suicidal—the way to Death rather than life—and it is demonic . In following Him in this way to the degree sinners like us can, to follow Him in this way in trust means many things but it means two major things: it means we will reign with Him and it means we acknowledge Him as the supreme human among us (Romans 8:17-29; Colossians 1:18).
We reign with Him if we suffer with Him. By faith we have already conquered ‘the world’ (1 John 5:4) and one day we will in full personal experience experience the obliteration of ‘the world’ and live in a new creation. It was inevitable that God (in and as Jesus of Nazareth) would come to bring us to Himself that we might experience His glory. His suffering is our destiny. Jesus of Nazareth suffered WITH and FOR and FROM the human family so also are we called, those of us who claim Him as our Lord. 1 Peter 2;18-25; 4:12-19. If suffering comes our way and it cannot be avoided Peter calls us in the name of God to embrace it in faithfulness (4:19).

To do that, is to share Christ’s kind of suffering (1 Peter 4.12-15); suffering WITH, FROM & FOR the world. To do this is to take up our cross, a cross that’s a cross like His, and follow Him through, whatever trouble comes our way, to immortal glory, peace, adventure and happy righteousness and to His Father (John 14:1-3, 6; with 1 Peter 1:11; Matt. 16:24-26).

SMEAGOLS. GOLLUMS & YOU & ME

My friend Kenny Chumbley from time to time writes pieces under the title: The Prairie Papers, (KLChumbley@aol.com). He invited me to write the narrative of the Children’s book The Green Children and he ramrodded the production of the book and the stage-play that was watched in several cities (one in Ireland). He also made me aware of something Tolkien said that I think you’d find interesting and moving.

You’ll remember in the screen adaptation of The Fellowship of the Rings the scenes that show Gollum in a wrestle with the other side of Gollum—something I experienced a while back when I was out for a walk and found myself literally shouting at myself in savage rebuke.

A fear-filled Sam didn’t trust Gollum and had no sympathy for him. As Kenny pointed out to me, Gollum and Frodo were both ring-bearers and both had suffered greatly as a result of it so Frodo saw Gollum from a different perspective than Sam did—Sam who was fiercely loyal to Frodo.

Frodo had compassion on the ring-tormented Smeagol who had been seduced into evil that led him to murder and the worship of the evil power of the ring and became the dangerous and wicked Gollum who now had a rope around his neck to control him; a rope that tormented him. Speaking in defense of Smeagol (now Gollum) Frodo says to Sam:

F. Why do you put him down all the time?.
S. There’s nothing left in him but lies and deceit.

F. You have no idea what it [the ring] did to him; what it’s still doing to him. I want to help him, Sam.
S. Why?
F. Because I have to believe he can come back.
S. You can’t save him Mr. Frodo.

Frodo takes the rope off his neck and Gollum is softened toward Frodo. When Gollum now warns of danger Sam, in savage distrust wants him driven off but Frodo says, “He has been true to his word.”
Gollum is thrilled with the trust expressed in him and begins to see Frodo (“the master”) in a different light.
Later Frodo speaks gently to Gollum, “Who are you?” and back comes the answer:G. Gollum, Gollum.
F. Gandalf told me that you were one of the River Folk. You are not so far from a Hobbit, once, were you?! Gandalf told me your life was a sad story.
(Gollum is sad, as if reminiscing; like a traveler far from home.)
F. Your name was Smeagol.” (Gollum slowly raises his head, eyes widening)

G. What did you call me? 

F. That was your name once, wasn’t it? A long time ago!

G. My name! [as if remembering with awe] My name…(hesitating, and then with a faint smile), “Smeagol.”

Compassion, confessed brotherhood and a gentle reminder of a happy life before the complete loss of innocence, was working a marvelous change in him and he begins to act that way.

Later there are the scenes when the evil side (Gollum) begins to dialogue with the newly awakened Smeagol side that now seeks to believe in and serve “the master”.

Gollum. Wicked hobbits,          

Smeagol. Not the master

G. They will cheat you, hurt you, lies… 

S. The master’s my friend.

G. You don’t have any friends. No one likes you        

S. (holding is ears) “Not listening, Not listening,” he shouts.

G. You’re a liar, a thief…a murderer.        

S. (greatly distressed) No, go away!

G. (Scoffing) Go away?       

S.  I hate you; I hate you, (holds his head, anguished)

G. Where would you be without me? Gollum, Gollum; It was me, I saved us. We survived because of me..”

S. Not anymore!

G. What did you say?

S. Master looks after us now. We don’t need you.

G. What?

S. Leave now and never come back.

G. No.

S. Leave now and never come back. (again, but stronger): Leave now and never come back!

 G. vanishes and Smeagol is startled and then to his better self he says,

S. We told him to go away and way he goes. (He begins to whirl and dance) shouting 

SMEAGOL IS FREE!

Then as Tolkien told it, Sam misinterprets Smeagol and drives him off, back into the world of evil and torment and ultimate loss. When Tolkien finished writing that section, he confessed that he wept!

(Holy Father, somewhere down in so many of us is Gollum and Smeagol. Sometimes just by compassion and long patience Smeagol longs to emerge and be free. Many of us are able to look back on those who in the image of your Holy Son took the rope off our necks and credited us with an honest attempt at keeping ours words and called us by another name, a name we would have forgotten if they hadn’t told us of our past before our loss of innocence. Some of those we know and consciously thank you for them and there are many who treated us that way when we weren’t able to recognize it and we thank you for them too. Give us a sense of brother and sisterhood, grant us a compassionate spirit and the awareness that we are all ring-bearers. Give us Sam’s love for and loyalty to the Frodos in life and their commission but deliver us we pray from an excess of zeal for the divine purpose that would blind us to the truth that that purpose includes compassion on the ‘Smeagols’ that sometime sit alone in the darkness fighting the darker side of themselves. We so need your help here that we might be genuinely compassionate and patient as well as wise. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)

Dumbfounding!

“I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger, for I am God, and not man.” Hosea xi. 9.

How close to unbelievable is that? More than seven chapters (4—10) in which God scathes Israel for its life of crass betrayal in their running after other gods and then what do we get? We get Hosea 11:9! We would have expected the opposite!  “Enough! Who do they think I am? I understand they’re sinners but this nation has gone too far and for too long! I’ll obliterate it! Instead of that, we have the dumbfounding conclusion. The wind has risen to a deafening roar and all of a sudden: silence. That’s Hosea 11:9 (I can’t source right now who offered that great image, jmcg.)

That God will not pour out His finally destructive wrath is confounding enough but look how God vindicates His decision not to destroy such a willful people: “I’m God! Not a man!” What has He said here? “If I were a man I would utterly obliterate them!” But I’m not a man—I’m God! This is not any old God. This is the Holy One of Israel. This is the God who said, “You be holy for I am holy!” Since that’s true how did Hosea 11.9 get to be in the Bible? Did God cease to be the Holy One at this point Did He become soft on Sin? Or have we missed the richness of Godlike “holiness”?

Had I been a man I would have ended Israel for their addiction to treachery, said God who knows all things. My own life has proven, at least to me, that there are those who are very like God and who forgave great wrongs and in that respect were not like “a man”. The prophet who spoke from God and about God knew better than I had ever reason to know, how to forgive a very great wrong (didn’t he marry Gomer who lost her way and became adulterous and didn’t he go looking for her, found her and brought her home (Hosea 1)? I also know that there are many who are very like a “man” while professing to be Godlike and to be a friend of God.

There was an older brother who wouldn’t forgive a wayward brother for this sinful behavior and attitude. Nor woulde he forgive his father for forgiving the selfish brother and rejoicing when the earlier selfish brat, ‘dead in his sin’ and ‘lost,’ away from a loving father who always wanted him back. All this father wanted from the older son was the right to be happy that the younger son was home—he wanted the right of a loving father to love his son.

And this is the point of the three parables in Luke 15. The parables entail a lot of related truths but the truth focused on is this: the worst kind of Pharisee had they been friends of God they would have been able to rejoice at what Jesus in the name of God was doing. The woman fully expected her friends to rejoice with her finding her lost treasure. The shepherd fully expected his friends to rejoice that he had found his unhappy lost sheep and the prodigal’s father fully expected his older son to rejoice with him. “He’s your brother, for pity’s sake! He’s my son; how can you not understand that? Rejoice with him and with me. God throws a party in heaven; it’s right that we should throw a party on earth.”

I do understand that there are complexities I’m not dealing with here. I know that the speech of Jesus to the worst kind of Pharisee seems to go against His teaching in Luke 15. But it doesn’t. We need to remember that the most scathingly sustained piece of Scripture perhaps in the entire Bible is spoken by Jesus in Matthew 23; it doesn’t end scathingly but profound sadness. “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem…” But it was ceaselessly the policy of Jesus to throw his weight in on the side of the vulnerable against hard-hearted people with power for God is a great lover of the oppressed and downtrodden and He has appointed a day when that will be made clear to the world! Acts 17.31

Wasn’t it Coffin who said something like, “Not to choose sides is in effect to take the side of the predatory powerful.”

(I don’t know how to frame the prayer Holy Father.I know I need Christ-likeness that combines wisdom and tenderness. I know I’m asking for that in the Savior’s name.)