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.

“With Brass-Bound Knuckles.”

To see the loveliness in life despite the misery that’s there—to be able to do that requires a sunny disposition. Seeing to it that you speak in a sunny manner to uplift and strengthen and console is a splendid trait.
Poor Alexander Pope (1688—1744)! A tubercular disease twisted his frame and left him hunchbacked, spindly legged, four-feet-six-inches tall and terribly sensitive to cold. Completely dependent on others on rising and going to bed, dressing and getting seated; he had to wear laced-up canvas corsets for uprightness, flannel shirts and waistcoats for heat and three pairs of socks to make his spidery legs look something like normal. But did anyone put more literary genius into writing anything than he put into writing things that tore and wounded and insulted and humiliated everyone around him? He wrote in the 18th century, which Henry Thomas said was an age accustomed to slugging below the belt with brass-bound knuckles. The poet Dennis called him a “hunch-back’d toad” and, so it’s said—when he offered himself to Lady Mary Montagu who was delighted with his wit and charm—when he did that, she patted his dear little head and unable to keep from it, broke into a bout of laughing and nearly fell off her chair. The fury of a scorned woman is one thing but—. As you can imagine she had just run a plough-share right across his heart. In the loneliness of his room did he look in a mirror and curse his image and steel himself for ruthless verbal revenge on a society that ignored his brilliance and summed him up by his appearance?
Well, with one thing or another he became, as he himself insisted, the most feared because the most skillfully savage man in England. He wrote:
Yes, I am proud; and proud must be to see
Men not afraid of God afraid of me.

It didn’t matter that the same could be said of mad dogs, angry wasps or voracious parasites. Still, his genius wasn’t confined to writing insults (he’s the third most quoted poet in the English language behind only Shakespeare and Tennyson) He wasn’t alone in ‘the insulting business’. The famous Samuel Johnson said of Thomas Sheridan, “Why, Sir, Sherry is dull, naturally dull; but it must have taken him a great deal of pains to become what we now see him. Such excess of stupidity, Sir, is not in nature.”
Not all of it was quite that brutal. Melville, author of Moby Dick remarked on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s self-confidence that, “Had he lived in those days when the world was made, he might have offered some valuable suggestions.” Sidney Smith said to the endlessly chattering Lord Macaulay, “You know, when I am gone you will be sorry you never heard me speak.” In later years despite exceptions, the insults were usually less venomous and more sophisticated. Oscar Wilde, speaking of Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop said, “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing” and Mark Twain would write, “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” Literary critic, Israel Zangwill noted about G.B. Shaw, “The way Bernard Shaw believes in himself is very refreshing in these atheistic days when so many people believe in no God at all.”
Enough of that! It isn’t necessary for us to be as foul-mouthed in our letter writing as D.H. Lawrence could be or as crude as Robbie Burns in some of his poetry. There’s enough in the world that’s warm and earthy, genuine and tender to point the direction that in our better moments we want to go and there are enough people around who need us to tell them something of another kind.
Job thought his friends were “miserable comforters” whose long-windedness drove him wild (16:2-3). He was on the rack and they were using words like battering rams against him (16:4). He knew in his heart that if the roles were reversed that (my) “mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief” (16:5). It was well known, or he wouldn’t have said so; when he spoke he spoke wisely and gently (29:22). Because that was true of him he expected it to be true of his friends, especially now when he was tottering at the edge of the abyss. They would have been better friends to him and more helpful if they had been kind and encouraging rather than long-winded in their criticism.

Arthur Gordon in that marvelous way of his in A Touch of Wonder made that point. His mother was moving out of her home down in Georgia where her family had lived for nearly a century and a half. He and his sisters went down to check the “stuff” that had accumulated. The attic and cellar were crammed with boxes and trunks of stuff and Arthur was hoping to find some rare stamps or the signature of some famous person. He found letters.
No scandals, no grand chronicle of historic events, no passionate love letters; none of that. But in letter after letter after letter he read unashamed love and admiration expressed for someone by someone. “You don’t know how much your visit meant to each of us! When you left, I felt as if the sun had stopped shining.” “Never forget how much your friends and family love and admire you.” “How wonderful you are!”
Gordon thought his own generation had drifted from that kind of speech. The famous broadcaster A.L. Alexander agreed with Gordon’s assessment of the new trend. It had become corny, too gushy for a tough generation, I suppose.  Whatever the reasons, Gordon is surely right when he says the change “seriously interferes with one of the deepest of all human needs—the desire for acceptance and approval by other people.”
Though his own “tough” generation might have thought the speech too sweet and charming Gordon reminds us that those who wrote the letters he found in that old house had been through their own tough war between the North and South that brought defeat, abuse, poverty and prolonged humiliation. They faced their tough times with great fortitude and strength; and where did they get it? Gordon tells us: “The answer lay in my dusty hands. They got it from each other.”
So write her a note. Tell her you love her. It doesn’t have to be a fancy card. Might even be better if it isn’t a fancy card. A paper napkin from a restaurant, a paper towel from your motel room—anything that lets you scrawl some word of love from your heart to hers; an “anonymous” love letter, maybe, that subtly lets the cat out of the bag about who wrote it. She’ll call you silly when she sees it but she’ll store it away somewhere so she can look at it again and again and again, and smile, and tell herself how silly you are before putting it back in a safe place.
If you’ve seen the movie The Man of La Mancha you might remember that Don Quixote sent a note by his friend Sancho to Aldonza whom the mad knight thinks is a highborn lady: Lady Dulcinea [or should I say the note is to his Lady Dulcinea who thinks she is Aldonza?]. The squire tells the kitchen trollop (she can’t read), who sells her sexual favors to all comers and despises them for buying them, that he has a letter from his master that he must read to her as a sort of formal announcement. She sneers but tells him to read it while she wolfs down a meal. The words are grand and lovely—too grand and lovely for her—so she mocks and protests at almost every phrase. Still, though she isn’t really interested in hearing it (of course!) she tells him to keep reading over the sound of her mockery. When he’s done and is turning to leave, the coarse, rude and mocking woman grabs the note—not that she’s interested, you understand. Sancho leaves and Aldonza takes the note out of her pocket and with a softened look scans the ink marks that mean all the lovely things he’d said to her.
People love to get lovely notes even if they think they’re too grand. Write him/her/them a note and tell them how fine they are.
Make the words your own, let your heart speak with its own voice and so maintain its integrity. Let them be “romantic” without confining them to romantic phrases. What is there about him that warms you when you’re cold, gives you strength when you’re weak or that comforts you when you think there’s little point going on? Tell them about these things. If it’s appropriate tell her she’s a “pretty face” and that she drives you wild with passion but tell her more than that; tell her it goes beyond that and that it’s more lasting than that. Tell her that what you feel for her is fed by qualities she has that will be there when her physical beauty is long gone.
Where it’s true we must tell our parents how fine they’ve been, that they’ve been among the “good guys”. Children need to be praised not only for scholastic or athletic excellence but for character and strength. The praise must be judicious and not wild nonsense. Perhaps most often it should be face-to-face praise but there truly is a place for writing for the written word has a magic of its own. It’s no substitute for audible speech but there’s something special and enchanted about scraps of paper that are covered with life-transforming squiggles and sprawlings. There are ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of bits of paper but these are special because a heart poured out the kind of things that create a new and brighter world for somebody. Long after the writer and the beloved are gone, they still have their magical power.
What follows is risky speech because it’ll make me appear to be a wonderful person and a better husband than I’ve been. My only excuse for writing it is that it seems to fit in well at this point and can illustrate the truth of what Gordon and others have taught us.
Some years ago while plundering to find an old picture I had an Arthur Gordon experience of my own. I came across scores of letters and cards I had written to Ethel (I used to travel a lot)—there they were in several old handbags and in a large square cookie tin. I didn’t know she’d kept them. I began to read and must have read them for more than an hour, stopping to reflect on the times, places and circumstances, trying to reconstruct the original settings. A lot of it was chit-chat and local news but much of it was tender, grateful and warm. Some of it ached with loneliness and so I knew if I’d been feeling like that at times, Ethel, who gave her heart to me and never ever wanted it back, must have felt that way too. Whatever my failures as a man and a husband (and they’d make a long list) I was pleased and helped by knowing that my commitment to her and hers to me was real and warm—strong enough to rise above any obstacle that the years would bring. I’d like to leave a lot more letters of that kind lying around after I’m gone.
When you think of how many ugly things that have found their way into print, wouldn’t it be good to pour your own cup of sweetness into the ocean of finely written things? Give them the chance to bring out such a gift every now and then and let them take pleasure in its softness and tenderness, its generosity and assurance, its commitment and support. Don’t let anyone persuade you that the “ordinary” kindnesses of life are ordinary. They’re not! Don’t let anybody persuade you—least of all me—that the only way you can please and praise God is to wrestle gallantly with profound sorrow; it isn’t so! You can do what Job did long before the sky darkened and fell in on him; you can spill ordinary words and deeds of sunshine all over creation.

(I lifted this from my Life On The Ash-heap, Amazon)

 

The Lord: Present or Absent?

  1. Thoughtful [truly thoughtful] people are not nor do they need to be thoughtful in the same areas. They have different interests, life-settings, giftedness and so forth. (To oversimplify, these are the product of ‘nature and nurture’—or lack of it—and they lead persons to reflect in and about some areas and not others.)
  2. Many people share similar life-situations but they differ in depth, intensity so some are ‘interested’ in music and others are ‘obsessed’ or ‘taken’ with it.
  3. A person can be “present with” and “absent from” us in the same experience though not in precisely the same way in that experience.
  4. The physical note you sent that I read was you making yourself present. The medium you used to make yourself “present” isn’t making itself “present”. It made no choices, has no mind.
  5. You made yourself “present” using this medium. There was a “meeting of minds”—your mind met mine. You chose to send your mind into mine. Your questions, proposals, doubts, convictions and other realities entered my ‘world’ of questions, proposals, convictions and such and dialogue begins.
  6. “Mind” is notoriously difficult to define because there are so many aspects, facets of a human. Our “mind” is not the totality of us—it is an aspect of us, it is not our physical body though in this phase of human living it cannot be severed from our physical make-up. It’s an entire person that “thinks”. “Thought” does not “think”. We think. “Speaking” does not speak—we speak. “Writing” does not write—we write. Imagine this:
    “Did you get a note from Herman?”
    “No, but I got a note from his mind.”
  7. In you sending me a note we didn’t make contact in any of the five physical senses ways so in that sense of “present” you are “absent.”
  8. Nevertheless, your thoughts, tone, emotional depth, attitude are currently with me. Since none of this is possible without you as an entire person in that sense you are really present with me.
  9. If someone should say: “The person is not really present with you,” they would be using “really” within the “five senses” limits. In saying that they would be saying, “The only way someone can be ‘really’ with another is if they are physically/spatially there.” That makes sense only if we confine the word ‘really’ to physical/spatial reality.
  10. Our words and thoughts are not the totality of us but they are us functioning as a total person. If that were not true then we (persons) never do anything. It would not be you that loves or weeps, or builds a house, or teaches a class. It wouldn’t be me writing this.
  11. The note did not come from X. So it isn’t who contacted me—it was you; you and not another person. The note did not write itself so I am not in touch with a self-created note. Nor did it come into being by chance so I am not in touch with a mindless and therefore purposeless note. An actual, particular person made her or himself ‘present’ in and to me.
  12. So it is with the ‘absent’ Lord. We “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” He is returning so in that sense He is ‘absent’—He is not physically/spatially ‘present’ at this time. But in many ways He speaks to us and in particular and centrally He speaks to us via the Holy Scriptures. But it is HE who speaks to us. They are “Holy Scriptures” (Romans 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:15) because the Holy Spirit speaks to us in and through them. As it is you who speaks to me via your letter so it is that it is God who speaks to us through His Holy Writings.
    Your letter doesn’t speak, the Holy Bible doesn’t speak—you speak and God speaks in and through the media you choose.
    (Of course we commonly identify the letter or the book as the writer. That only drives home the truth that the person makes him or herself present in what they write. “Of course ‘she’ said it. Look! It’s written right here in her book.” She said it. Or even more pointedly, “You said it; look, it’s right here on page 29!”
  13. I need to end this! I’m particularly interested in God making Himself “present” in Holy Scripture. He doesn’t not need to do “space travel” to make Himself “present.” He wills to be “present,” wherever, and He’s there. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear know He makes His presence felt in sunshine & rain and fruitful seasons (Matthew 5 & Acts 14). But it’s His presence. The sun/rain is not God but He makes Himself present in our world and lives by those media.
  14. Take issue with whatever you think you need to in this piece, presuming you think it worth your time and energy. But if you think God makes His heart and mind present in and to you via the Holy Bible do allow yourself the joy of knowing HE, He Himself, is making Himself present with you. “He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17)

Death: To Hell With You!

Her husband was Allan
Her daughter was Cassie
Her name is Jennifer
Cassie died maybe two and a half years ago—Death snatched
her in a head-on crash.
Alan died maybe a year and a half ago—Death took its own sweet time dragging him off—cancer of the esophagus.
Jennifer…….. (confirmed  day before yesterday, stage 4)
One of God’s glorious daughters.

Revelation 20:14
John 11:25-26

Maybe When You’re tired…

“There’s no use in going farther, it’s the edge of cultivation.”
So they said and I believed it; broke my ground and sowed my crop
Built my barns and strung my fences in a little border station
Hid away beneath the foothills where the trails run out and stop.
But a voice as clear as conscience rang in terminable changes
On one everlasting whisper, day and night -repeated —so
“Something out there, something hidden—GO and look behind the ranges!
Something lost behind the ranges—Lost and waiting for you—GO!”

Rudyard Kipling, “Go!”

“O thou Spy upon Mankind”

I notice when I’m in pain or experiencing loss the whole world revolves around me. If it’s a really severe case, I have little or no time to think about anyone else, little interest in thinking about larger questions or theological explanations. But now and then I think I do my best thinking (for whatever that’s worth) when I’m feeling the burden of such things. I suspect that is true for most of us, don’t you?
Once the sky falls on him I’m sure Job experienced that. He has himself in mind, his own pain, his own bewilderment, his own frustration, his own weariness and near-despair. When he speaks it’s usually “me” and “I” that dominate his thought and speech and when the sense of loss is especially acute he forgets completely the years of blessing he enjoyed. In that respect, acute pain or loss tends to make us ungrateful and shorten our memories. Still, every now and then Job rises above his own personal agony and loss and makes contact with humanity in general. In chapter 7 he sees humanity from at least two angles. He sees people as sufferers and sinners and feels hurt for them on both counts.
He now sees himself as part of a humanity in which there is too much sorrow, too much pain, too much of everything that narrows and steals the life out of life. In 7:1-2 he groans, “Does not man have hard service on earth? Are not his days like those of a hired man? Like a slave longing for the evening shadows…?” (See also 14:1-4)
Of course he knew about this earlier in life and had been deeply involved in doing lovely things to ease the burdens of fellow-humans; but it’s a different kind of knowing now. When good and generous people are involved in easing burdens they see them more clearly than those of us who don’t see fit to involve ourselves, but that kind of work has its dangers too I suppose. When you’re in the helping end the burdens are real but when you’re on the receiving end they’re real in a different way. A healthy surgeon has one view of a malignant tumor in a patient with cancer but when he is the patient he now has a different view. (The 1991 move The Doctor with William Hurt is a good illustration of the point and the movie’s well worth watching.)
In any case, now knowing at a personal level how they feel, Job enters into their pain and not surprisingly he does it at God’s expense since he’s angry with God for his own personal reasons. Now that he thinks about it he concludes that the Creator and Provider doesn’t do such a great job for humanity at large. While he has no sympathy whatever for the violent and the oppressors, on the whole, he’s sure humanity has a tough existence. This is an insight he has gained at great cost; it’s one he would never have had as he now has it since he actually shared their painful experience. It’s still costly for anyone who truly wants to enter into an understanding of the human condition because it takes a bit more than reading Hugo, Dickens or George Gissing. Those of us whose lives run smoothly are able to see what’s going on in the world but talk like this, talk like Job’s, is hard for us to enter into emotionally. You don’t have to be Einstein to know that it’s hard for people who are chronically ill or ceaselessly oppressed to keep a civil tongue in their heads. If it isn’t God they’re mad at, it’s the society and authorities around them that do nothing about the injustice that’s rampant. Or if they don’t have enough energy to be angry they don’t have enough to pay any attention to a God who doesn’t seem to pay any attention to them. Do you find that strange?
But it isn’t just the suffering and deprivation that guts Job and his fellow humans. There’s the sin issue and the moral structure of the world.
You know only too well that Job thinks God is unjust and that enrages him but he’s also burning about the claustrophobic nature of God’s moral governance of the world. Human beings are feeble and shaped to become sinners from the moment that they are born. Because that’s true, Job thinks God is too hard on them and he lashes out against Him in 7:3-10, for why should a beaten human stay quiet? “The Lord of all Righteousness” won’t give humans a break. He screams at God: “Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep that you put me under guard?” (7:12). Is Job or any other feeble human a threat to world order, are they people storming heaven to dethrone God; are they in any real sense worth the fuss God makes about their sin? It’s all too absurd; this is a divine battleship with missiles fully loaded pursuing a beetle!
Does God enjoy frightening him (and people like him) by punishing them for their sins? Does he give him and them life and use it as an instrument of torture? If so, Job would much prefer it if someone would put him out of his misery. “Mercy killing” would be no bad thing.
Then he parodies Psalm 8 with this, “What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment?” (7:17-18), Sarcasm drips from every syllable. David in grateful but astonished praise in Psalm 8 wonders why God is so good to man, why He pays him so much attention, honoring him so. Job in angry astonishment offers no praise and wants to know why God is so cruel and why He makes such a big deal out of man’s wrongs. “Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant? If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men?” (7:19-20 and see 10:20).

Job and his friends all agree that God is infinitely above humanity and that would mean He must be so far above man that He can’t be affected by human sin (see 7:20; 35:6; compare also 22:3). That makes sense, but only if it is isolated from other truths. With those truths in mind (that man is puny and lives a tough life and God is infinitely above humanity) Job is incensed that God makes a big deal of human failings. What does he expect? He punishes humans because they aren’t God? For Job this makes God appear all the more malignant when He ceaselessly watches them every second. Moffatt renders 7:20, “If I sin, what harm is that to thee, O thou Spy upon mankind?” The bottom line is that Job thinks God is guilty of overkill in the extreme. God takes man too seriously!
You must understand that Job is not speaking on behalf of the cruel and brutal and malevolent or those who live slyly and unrepentantly on the misery of their fellows. He has in mind the decent people, who know the difference between right and wrong and think it truly matters; he has in mind those who live lives of social usefulness and piety and who make the attempt to be “good” people. (I’m aware of a school of theology that doesn’t believe such people exist.)

He looks around the world with a new understanding, sympathy and fellow feeling for the rank and file. The Almighty, the ‘always-in-the-right Lord’, he would have protested, “These poor creatures are the ones you never take your probing eyes off of! These you come down on with the weight of a mountain! So what if they’ve sinned? What do you expect? They’ve been born into it and shaped by it, how then can they avoid it? You’re away up there and they’re way down here—why do you make such a big thing out of the sins of such puny creatures? What difference can it make to you? Why do you have to hurt them so? Why can’t you just forgive them and go on (7:21)? Even if they are decent and fine and work hard to be good and to be free from sin they are still vile compared with you (9:29-31). But what’s new about that? Not even the guardian angels are pure compared with you (see 4:18-19).

Must the world be a slaughterhouse or a slave camp because you are infinitely better than we are?”

Job has a point that must be heard if we’re to gain a true and balanced view of God. The truth that God is infinitely ‘just’ must not be the only truth we tell because when only that truth is told the whole of creation becomes a courthouse, humanity becomes a mass of criminals and the only matter of importance becomes handing down sentences! And if God’s chief concern is punishing sin, humans will become preoccupied with sin and punishment rather than life and joyful obedience. Gloom settles in because where there is only ‘just punishment’ there is no warmth and where there is no warmth there is no relationship or affection, no power and inspiration that cultivates glad righteousness.
Bad enough that our overriding view of God is that He’s zealous Judge who worships the law, it’s made worse by the truth that for humans sin is inevitable. It isn’t just “trouble” humans are bound to experience (14:1), they’re bound to experience sin—how can they avoid it? By the time they’re of the age to reflect on such matters they are already bent in favor of doing what’s sinful. The world humans are born into subsequent to the revolt in Eden is precisely the kind that “manufactures” sinners. David is astounded by his crimes against Uriah and Bathsheba and says the only thing that can explain it is that from the very beginning he was shaped to sin (Psalms 51:5—we don’t have to believe in a poorly worked out myopic theology to know we are pervasively corrupt and that our shaping began long before we made our first conscious choice to sin.) Humans are vulnerable to viruses and bacteria but no more so than they are to the sin “virus”. If God punishes us for our sin and our sin is inevitable—it’s easy to see that some would call the Final Judgment (or present judgment) a rip off! All right, so God is “just” and does no evil. But is his “justice” cold and clinical, the kind that can freeze salt water? Maybe we can’t convict Him of injustice but can we convict Him of being stingy and ungenerous?
These are important issues raised in the book of Job. Even Christians under pressure can be heard saying, “All right, God cannot be unjust but is He guilty of overkill? All right, He can’t be guilty of overkill but does He lack generosity and warmth? Yes, it’s true that sinners choose to sin but are they biased in favor of sin by forces too powerful for them long before they actually choose to sin? If that’s true, are these not extenuating circumstances that should be taken into account by God when he’s judging sin?”

Job thought so and so do I. Job didn’t have as big a picture as we do and in light of the coming of Jesus Christ we have reason to believe that God is generous and not coldly “just.” We have reason to believe that sin can never look as ugly and as devastating to us as it does in God’s eyes. But while God is implacably hostile to sin and will never view it as a trivial matter we have reason to believe His love for humanity can’t be fathomed.  No one sees our vulnerability and weakness more clearly than God and no one seeks our blessing as relentlessly as God. See John 3.16-17!
Listen, our sin can never be as bad to us as it is to God and one of the reasons our sins are so profoundly sinful is because they are so diametrically opposed to the character of God. In and of themselves they are pitiable and puerile. As sinners we’re not Godzillas, we’re cockroaches; we’re not storming the gates of heaven with fierce rebellious courage, we’re raping little girls and boys and robbing senior citizens, we’re cheating the defenseless and pillaging the little nations ignorant of the ways of big finance. Everything about our sinning is sleazy and weak and pathetic. It’s true that we generate pain and loss that beggars description but it isn’t brave sinning, as Milton in his Paradise Lost (books 1 & 2) makes the Satan appear. It isn’t glorious and romantic dismissal of human kindness and decency—it’s slimy and dirty, cheap and cowardly.

But there are millions who refuse to live that way! They sin, of course, but by the grace of God they aren’t so morally deformed that they can’t see they are sinners. They apologize with tears for wrongs they do to one another, their consciences accuse them and often won’t give them peace; they commit sins in part because they have been shaped that way and have often willingly gone along with it and so developed a capacity for sinning. They are not guiltless; but they aren’t out-and-out decadents and predators who don’t care about anyone but themselves. These are the people Job has in mind when he’s frustrated and angry with God’s constant record-keeping—the decent and the caring. These people aren’t sea-monsters or the sea itself (these are used at times in the ancients to speak of mythological anti-God forces)—a massive threat to world order and they’re certainly no threat to God or his divine sovereignty!
What should all of this mean to us? If we have an ounce of sympathy for any sinner who struggles against his/her environment, striving to be a decent human being, you can be sure God has sympathy for them. How humans live their lives will enter into how the Final Judgment will be conducted when God judges the world in light of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30-31) who expresses both the faithful and saving justice of God and his redeeming heart and purpose. Be sure to see Romans 2:6-16 in this regard.
Job’s sense of things is right on target. The end of the entire Story will not be that the world will be a slaughterhouse because God is infinitely purer and holier than we are. “God so loved the world that he gave…” God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that through him the world might be saved (John 3:16-17).

Justice and retribution go hand in hand and we shouldn’t apologize for an honest attempt to factor that into our lives and the life of human society—and we won’t apologize! But he who alone knows completely what justice means is the God who created us for righteous and joy-filled life, sent Jesus to redeem and rescue us from a power that in practice is simply too powerful for us. The cross of Jesus isn’t meant to make it easier for us to sin or to think less of it but it casts a new and softer light over the issue that the anguished Job raised on our behalf.
His life in the shadows leads him to say things that shed the light of life on the human situation under God.

[I got this from by little book LIFE ON THE ASH-HEAP.]

Preparing a Young Person for Baptism

I’m one of those, right or wrong, who cannot believe that a child is born alienated from her/his Creator on the basis of someone else’s guilt. I’m acquainted with the texts used to say they are. It isn’t the texts I quarrel with—it’s the interpretation placed on them. Even John Piper a thrusting and forthright Calvinist no longer believes they are born sinners and alienated from God. Enough on that—Romans 9:11 will do for now.
With evangelicals there’s quite a bit of discussion about when children are ready to give themselves to Jesus Christ. Setting the above aside, we have questions like: “Is my child old enough?” “Does my child know enough?” “Is my child mature enough?” “Does my child ‘know’ what he/she is doing?”
These are all sensible questions and matter a great deal to people who are convinced that there is no covenant relationship with Jesus Christ unless there is a personal commitment of faith by the believer. Being one of those, and since I take the view that infant baptism hasn’t a shred of support from Scripture, the questions above do make sense.
But though they make sense and though they do indeed matter I don’t think there can be a generalized and satisfying answer to the questions. Children are all different! Some mature more quickly than others, some mature in some ways more quickly than others and at the same time more slowly in other ways. Their environments differ; their emotional make-up and their critical experiences differ from each other. Their parents differ and sometimes the parents aren’t able to assess their children’s life-experience. It makes no sense—and everyone knows it—to say, “My child gave her life to Jesus Christ when she was thirteen therefore all thirteen-year olds are capable.” There are too many variables in each life for us to be able to offer blanket and one-fits-all advice advice.
I’m certain we can more easily identify extreme positions than we can offer advice about children we know nothing about. Let me be silly just to make my point. He who says a three-year old child is capable of a faith commitment to Jesus Christ or he who says that a person must be at least eighteen to be capable of rendering a faith-commitment to Jesus will have no credibility with us. It isn’t the extremes we have difficulty with.
While I presently judge we can do nothing do determine with precision when this child or that one is ready to give him/herself to Jesus in faith, we can certainly do something about taking seriously a child’s growing sense that she/he is being called by the gospel. It simply won’t do for parents to dismiss a child’s expression that he/she wants to belong to the Lord Jesus in a faith relationship.
It may well be that when my child comes saying, “I want to become a Christian” that she is responding merely to some want to do what a friend of hers did—so as not to be left out of anything, don’t you know. Hearing someone say something that frightens her might result in this emotional surge. (Her parents are Christ’s and she has heard something that suggests to her that if she isn’t a Christian she will never see her parents again—no wonder she wants to become a Christian.) List your own illustrations of what I’m getting at.
But there are times when we’re uncertain about motivation even though in our wise love for the child we think she is not yet “able” to say yes to Jesus in trust with the full consent of her heart to enter a saving covenant relationship.
Let’s say, for discussion’s sake, that she’s twelve or thirteen. She’s an ordinary little girl; enjoys life, plays children’s games, watches children’s television programs and sometimes pouts like a little girl when she’s crossed. (Are twelve or thirteen year olds still that “young” that they play with toys/dolls etc,? Shape the illustration as you see fit.)
It would be easy for adults to note all that and conclude that she isn’t “adult enough” to give a heart’s consent and surrender to the Lord (especially if she still sleeps with a doll in bed beside her).
But it’s just as easy to watch adults playing their childish games and draw a similar conclusion. See the programs they watch, note the games they play and how they pout and sulk if they’re beaten or crossed in their desires by a spouse or a boss.
That we wrestle with such questions is a good thing for it shows we’re interested in something vitally important (and a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus is vitally important). We won’t breezily dismiss the questions with barely a thought. Once we come to think that this child’s conscience is awakening, that he/she is coming alive to the message of the gospel and Jesus’ call on her we will not (certainly should not!) airily put her off even if we remain uncertain.
We mustn’t give her the impression that her feelings and thoughts are not to be taken seriously but we’re not to give her the impression that she is an adult. However we work with the matter it can only help her if she knows we’re anxious to give her a hearing and to help her, while we live up to our own responsibility toward her/him as our child. To put her off making a public commitment to Jesus with a few sentences while we’re watching television or heading for work, or wherever, should be avoided under all circumstances but especially if she is repeatedly raising the issue.
If the boy is persistent and anxious (that will be determined by those who are in the position to know) even if the parents are still in doubt, it might be best to set the wheels in motion for the child’s self-giving to the Lord who is graciously drawing the boy and calling him into the grand adventure. Once all who love the child and are in the position to know best [at least better than anyone else] think the time is right for him/her to render a faith commitment of themselves to the Lord Jesus the following suggestions might be useful.
What I have to say from this point is not meant as some “this is how it should be done” outline but some suggestions as to the direction I think we could go if we’re to act wisely and well in an area where sensitive parents and children have questions like those above.
But I offer the suggestions with seriousness and if you take them to be useful perhaps you could have discussions with others about them, looking for weaknesses or strengths and drop me a note.

I think the young girl should be told how wonderful it is that she is going to become Christ’s covenant child because He has loved her all her life.

I think he should be told he is going to make a solemn and joyous meeting with and commitment to Lord and that he must prepare for it.

I think the church leaders should be consulted and asked for input on what can be done to make this momentous event memorable and substantial.

I think a period of time (maybe four to six weeks, for perhaps thirty minutes a session) should be set aside to bring the lovely matter to a conclusion.

I think a room in the meeting-house (or a home other than his/her own) should be committed to which the child travels “to prepare” herself/himself to meet the Lord.

I think the parents and select people should be there to make the child aware that his/her purpose is being taken with the joyful seriousness it deserves.

I think a curriculum should be devised for such occasions that includes foundational truths about God and the gospel and the Body of Christ into which she/he is being brought and received by the Lord Jesus who will come to live in them by His Holy Spirit.

I think it should be announced to the entire assembly in the presence of the young person what she/he is doing in preparation to give his/her life to the Lord, and the assembly should be asked to pray for and encourage this person at this special time. If screens are used for announcements, the names and perhaps pictures of those who  are in preparation for such a glorious event could be kept in the minds of the congregation—parents and young people.

I think when all this heart preparation is done and the time has come to immerse this young person into a faith-union and covenant relationship with the Savior & Lord Jesus Christ that it should be done in the presence of the entire assembly.

I think that his/her first engagement in Holy Communion at the Lord’s Supper should be underscored perhaps by having them come to the front to be served first.

Other things, little things, could be done to emphasize “the magnitude of the moment.” (Discussion with creative women teachers might be especially beneficial on such occasions. I say women only because in my experience they are more attentive to class-creativity than men.)

The room at the appointed time could have his/her name put on it and the time appointed. The night before the morning of baptism could be made a special evening in the home, some people appointed for the purpose could call him/her and commend them to God. Congregational leaders and teachers might visit and speak God’s name in blessing on the young people. Perhaps women who will continue in a teaching capacity with the young girl might be especially appropriate.

The object of it all is to focus the mind of the young person and the minds of the parents and the assembly on what is happening. My own view is that the “salvation” and “initiation” (?) of young people in this situation is taken far too lightly, off-handed almost, and where that occurs it’s tragic.
Perhaps a document could be created and framed marking the grand occasion, and an opportunity for the entire congregation to sing its welcome could be recorded and given as a gift. It’s nice to imagine such a person, when many years have passed, being able to look back on such a momentous occasion with joy and contentment and saying, “After that experience there was no going back!” It must be made joyful, but but the faith commitment is made to One who says, Follow Me!”

There is more than one benefit to such a period of preparation (however it is structured). Once completed, we would know that this child wasn’t simply expressing a momentary and passing emotional desire that rose out of fear or merely wanting to do what some other young person did. We will know that this child’s coming to Christ in a covenant commitment mattered not only to the young person. When this boy or girl is buried into Christ’s death and rises again in Christ’s resurrection everyone will have had the opportunity to hear again cries around the cross, the rumbling of a great grave stone and the good news, “He is not here. He is risen just as he said.”

`       (Holy Father, help us to help one another to take younger persons seriously in such seriously WONDROUS situations.)

Trumpets In The Morning

Lawrence Lipton’s poem Trumpets in the Morning leans on the Jewish legend that the Satan misses something of life in heaven.
Reb Yussel heads for the synagogue as usual but on this occasion the unusual happened. His shadow ran ahead of him up the steps, shows itself on the wall and then turns into a majestic prince with garments to match and an offer of much knowledge—even knowledge of the future. Reb knows it is the proud Satan who was banished after a failed coup against God—so they say—but he treats him with respect. Yussel doesn’t want to know about the future; instead he asks the proud one who has so much knowledge:
What is it you miss
more than all else
Of heaven’s bliss?

The Satan pondered long.
Bowed down his head,
then sighed and said:
“Trumpets in the morning,”
and then was gone
.

The old legend says that in his banishment, which meant he walks the earth in eternal night, Satan misses the music of a new day, the sunrise that was announced by the blowing of the trumpets in the morning.
Imagine that just as God was about to make his appearance everyone would know that another new day had come and everything would be fresh and new and adventurous and filled with life that is brimming with life—imagine at that moment the trumpets sound.

Now that would be something to miss!

In a better, lovelier world where life is brimful of life and newness a trumpet sounds the arrival of a new and wondrous day because the One who makes everything new and fresh is about to make His appearance. In such a world the soft and comforting darkness takes its leave as the trumpet calls the glorious sun to rise and so announce the appearance of the Living God.
And every Lord’s day, the day of Resurrection, the beginning of a new week, that marks the beginning of a new world, a new creation, wise congregational shepherds and ministers of the Gospel of God see to it that the congregation celebrates this ongoing newness and freshness in the presence of the Living and Returning Lord for the benefit of a tired and weary world that so desperately needs good news.

(Holy Father, we know you are too marvelous for us to fully grasp. But must we your People continue to be fed the same familiar moral exhortations, week after week after week? If it is indeed your will that your Church be the carrier of your saving gospel about your good news will you not give us teachers that will feed us truth about YOU that will shape and enable us so that with joy, assurance and brave hearts we can speak as well as do your blessed will. For the Church and for a world you love. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)