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.

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

This brief piece will be repetitive. It’s abundantly clear to me that God forgave sins from the days of Adam and Eve down to the arrival of Jesus. Forgiveness was always by God’s holy grace and could never be “earned”. God never asked anyone to “earn” it! The NT never doubts that and neither should we. David exults in the truth that there were people whose sins were not credited against them (Psalm 32:1,2 and Romans 4:6-8). But that truth is not what the NT is dealing with!
Abraham’s faith in God was as true and as real as Paul’s faith in God. The faith of believers in ancient times (Hebrews 11) was truly faith in God. The NT never doubts that and neither should we. True believers are true believers no matter in what age they live. But that truth is not what the NT is dealing with!
The obedience of faith that we read about in the OT (in people like Noah, Hannah, Josiah, Moses’ mother Jochebed or Melchizedek) was as real as the obedience that stemmed from faith in believers in Jesus Christ. The faith-filled obedient people are the same kind of people no matter in what age they live (again, note that Hebrews 11 uses ancient worthies as models for NT believers.). But that truth is not what the NT is dealing with!

The New Testament deals with a specific section of God’s unfolding drama. Everything prior to that, while absolutely essential to the drama as a whole, is prelude. The fullness of times (Galatians 4:4) and the “ends of the ages” (1 Corinthians 10:11) only arrived when God became incarnate in and as Jesus of Nazareth who is called the Christ. The NT era is the time that all the ancient worthies had to wait for if they hoped for the completed drama (Hebrews 11:39-40; 12:23).
It doesn’t matter that they didn’t know what the end was to be. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t know all that the end would involve. In trusting to God they were looking for whatever it was that God had in store. Prophets spoke things they didn’t really understand and people hoped for things (as we do) that they didn’t understand. (1 Peter 1:9-12) They even spoke of things they knew were not for them. “Eye hasn’t seen, ear hasn’t heard nor has it entered into the heart of man the things God has prepared for them that love him.” (I’m ignoring Paul’s immediate point in 1 Corinthians 2:9.) That is as true today for us as it would have been for ancient believers prior to God’s coming in the flesh.
People enjoyed forgiveness and life with God because God in holy grace granted it to them. But that life with God that they enjoyed occurred within a divine narrative that could never come to fullness in the history of the world as it was then. For the life that God finally intended for the human family when He was creating us wasn’t fulfilled in Genesis 1. That was the beginning of what God had in mind for us but the fullness of what God had in mind for us is revealed in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16) who is the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:47). God gave forgiveness and life in a relationship to Abraham but Abraham would die, as would Moses and Samuel and David and the rest. Death would rob them of embodied life (and a human is not fully a human if not embodied).
Death reigned over the human family even over those that believed in God. Then came Jesus of Nazareth, the death killer! In and by Him death was destroyed (2 Timothy 1:9-10) and a new creation begun. In Him, as a single individual, a new creation actually exists and is experienced by Him now as He exists in a new mode of being (a resurrected and immortal human) and Christians inhabit that new world by faith in Him. They are born again and not of the flesh (1 Peter 1:3; John 3:3-7).
By faith Abraham was as right with God in his day as Christians are right with God by faith in Jesus Christ. But the content of the Christian’s faith is richer and more developed than Abraham’s was. Abraham saw glory ahead but he did not know it took the form of the resurrected and glorified Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:56; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Ephesians 3:1-7).
The shape and truth content of his faith bore witness to God within the parameters and boundaries of his place in God’s developing drama within human history. The shape of a Christian’s faith in God through Jesus Christ is a witness to God’s bringing His creation purposes to completion in Jesus Christ. No one’s faith, prior to Jesus Christ, could bear such a witness precisely because pre-Jesus Christ faith could not proclaim what God has accomplished only in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Christians live at a particular time in the history of the world and have been called to be and function as the “body” of Jesus Christ in the world. Christians as the Body of the Risen Lord are a new creation, a resurrected people (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12; 3:1-4)

The forgiveness in pre-Jesus Christ days was real and experienced but forgiveness in Jesus Christ carries with it a significance that couldn’t be carried before He came. Abraham’s faith-motivated obedience (Genesis 22 and James 2:21-23) was genuine and acceptable with God as righteousness (Romans 4:3). In that respect there is no difference between Abraham’s obedience of faith and the Christian’s. But Abraham’s obedience of faith could not function as a witness that God’s creation purposes has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, because from his perspective they hadn’t been! Israel, was God’s witness (Isaiah 43:10, 12; 44:8) to the truth entrusted to them in their place on the world stage at that time.  Humans can only experience God’s workings in a time continuum but as far as God was concerned it was already a done deal—see Romans 4:17.) Abraham, along with the other ancient worthies in Hebrews 11, had to wait until the Christian era arrived (Hebrews 11:39-40).
The New Covenant people function in their place in human history as God’s witness to Jesus Christ. This form of the people of God began with the coming of Jesus and His faithful doing of the will of God (Galatians 4:4). It has a commission that is in keeping with the direction, timing and plot of the Divine Story. Abraham is not part of that NT People precisely because his place was on stage in a different era. He served well there and died as did Moses and David (Acts 2:29, 34; Hebrews 3:2, 5). They could all be right with God without knowing of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for our justification (Romans 4:25). Abraham knew glory was coming but he did not know that it would be accomplished in Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:56) and he as one of the many righteous men and women had to wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises (Hebrews 11:39-40 with 12:23 (18-24).
Forgiveness and faith and obedience and life with God in pre-Jesus Christ days were real but they did not have the significance that those realities have in and through Jesus Christ. Christian faith proclaims—on the basis of Jesus Christ—that all that the ancient worthies had looked for (though they were not aware of it, certainly not, at any rate, in full awareness)—all that the ancient worthies had looked for has now come. We look now at the Lord Jesus and in Him, the individual, we see God’s creation purposes fulfilled, now!
Jesus is the end of all things. All things have been brought under one head [Ephesians 1:10]; all things have been put in their rightful place under God through Jesus [Colossians 1:15-20]. (This fulfillment that He as a single individual experiences and embodies will be made the personal experience of all that are embraced in His redeeming work. The Lord of All chooses that all that He now has dominion over will continue as it is until He chooses to consummate in a day of His choosing. His reasons are His own!)
Apart from Christians the ancients—whoever they were—could not be made perfect. Forgiveness and faith and life with God all have a different complexion now that Jesus has come. Those glorious realities function with a finality that wasn’t possible for even true faith in pre-Jesus Christ times.
It’s obviously correct to say that there are differences between Paul’s and Abraham’s faith and forgiveness and relationship with God. But the differences have nothing to do with quality or with their reality! But since they lived at different points in the divine drama their faith and life with God contributed to the entire drama in different ways. Only   Christians are “the end time people.” There is no chosen “People of God” (1 Peter 2:9) beyond this era because the People of God in this era are the “Body of Christ” and there is no Lord beyond Him.
Ray McClendon helpfully summarized the matter like this: “For example, the reference to an unfolding drama enables us to ponder Hebrews 11:39-40 in this light: What does it really mean that, though faithful, they didn’t receive what was promised and only together with us are made perfect?

“We could put it this way. At the end of the second act (of, say, a two-act story), all of the actors come out, join hands, and bow. Receiving the accolades of the honor and glory of the completed story they presented. They all occupy (finally and in the end) the same stage; regardless of where their part was in the Story; regardless of whether it came in the first act or the second act and regardless of whether their part was small or large. The actors in the Act 1 didn’t come out after the first act to receive all of the honor and glory because that wasn’t fully revealed or known until the second act! It couldn’t possibly be fully understood or appreciated because the story was still being told and the finale had not yet come. The Abrahams, Melchizedeks, and Rahabs were all in supportive roles; they weren’t the stars nor did they appear in the final and critical stages of the story.
But when the Star appears and the climax plays itself out, all the Act 1 players take their rightful place beside the Act 2 players and together with them receive all the honor and glory (compare Hebrews 11:39-40 and 12:22-24). They’re entitled to share in the glory that comes to the Act 2 players because without them there could be no Act 2 players and no completed drama. In addition, it wasn’t until the whole story was told/known that everyone’s role could be fully understood and appreciated. Nevertheless, everyone’s place in the Story, in his or her own time and circumstances, was crucial and served the will of God who, in every generation, dealt faithfully with all the players that had a place in the drama.”
(Look around at the people with whom you Supper on the Lord’s Day. Who is it that sings along with you, prays with you, reads and listens with you, shares their material blessings along with you and eats and drinks with you in the wondrous Supper that proclaims a wondrous Lord? See them for what they are. Obviously unimpressive it’s true, but then so was their Lord in His earthly ministering period (Isaiah 53:2; Mark 6:1-3) on His way to everlasting glorification as Lord of all. You and your fellow-believers are the visible witness and embodiment of breathtaking realities.)
Believe that! Wonder at that! Rejoice with trembling at that! Purpose by God’s grace to treat one another as that!

(Open our eyes, Holy Father, and so strengthen us by your amazing grace. For the world’s sake as well as our own. This prayer in the Lord Jesus.)

SALIERI, MOZART & GOD

I do know it’s more than this, but part of our trouble with the way that God is running the world is that He’s too generous.
That remark will infuriate all sensitive non-believers and many believers but nonetheless I believe it’s true. In a world with multiplied millions hungry and abused the word “generosity” isn’t the first word that springs to mind. That makes sense but the sense it makes takes in only part of the story of the human race and the conclusion to that hasn’t been told. [Think noble things of God—see God in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and think noble things of Him.]
In the meantime we hate to see villains prosper and the righteous and innocent (babies and such) suffer. Sometimes we hate it that God is generous to the evil and thankless; they shouldn’t be blessed at all. Many of us who talk a lot about His generosity are quick to say it should be limited to people like us. Well, we’re careful not to be that crass but we understandably link righteousness, kindness, compassion, generosity, gentleness, integrity and such with blessing. I’m not talking about earning! I have in mind the truth expressed in Psalm 1 (though that text needs developed and discussed at length).
Antonio Salieri had that problem. Salieri served Emperor Joseph II for thirty-six years at the court in Vienna as the master of the chapel, though he’d been around the court much longer. He was a great composer who produced thirty-nine operas, seven secular cantatas, eighty-six religious compositions and an assortment of other pieces. He remained friends with Franz Joseph Haydn and Ludwig Van Beethoven throughout his life and had given Beethoven lessons on counterpoint. Beethoven dedicated the three violin sonatas, Opus 12, to Salieri.
When he was a teenager Salieri dedicated himself to God. Ignoring its serious distortions of fact at times in favor of drama, the movie Amadeus tells the story this way: one day Salieri prayed, “Lord, make me a great composer. Let me celebrate your glory through music. Make me famous, dear God; make me immortal. After I die, let people forever speak my name with love for what I wrote. In return, I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life.” He thoroughly believed that God gave him his gifts!
He became the toast of Europe, and on the 16th of June, 1816, he celebrated the golden anniversary of his debut in Vienna. Everyone who mattered was there and some of his famous students, including Franz Schubert, played pieces in his honor. Life couldn’t have been better for him. Invitations flooded in from everywhere, his opinion was sought and the praise never ceased and he was a part of every tribunal of consequence; but one thing troubled him deeply and his life soured and shriveled.
Turn the clock back more than twenty-five hundred years before Salieri, to another musician and composer called Asaph. When David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, Asaph was one of the lead singers. He was (perhaps) the “master of the chapel” and prophet for the most revered king in Israelite history (1 Chronicles 16:4-5, 37; 2 Chronicles 29:30). Today, three thousand years after he wrote them, the songs Asaph composed are still being sung and read in the presence of millions. Twelve psalms bear his name to the glory of God.
What did Salieri and Asaph have in common? Both were troubled by God’s generosity, though they probably didn’t realize that that was the case.
Both were troubled not by bad things happening to good people but by good things happening to bad people!

In Psalm 73:1-16 Asaph said he almost lost his footing in faith when he saw what was happening in the lives of the flagrantly wicked. They prospered and people sang their praises and even asked them the secret of their success. What kind of a sick world is it when they behead a Paul and a Nero rules the world?
In the movie, the success of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart nearly unhinged Salieri. Mozart is regarded as “the most sheerly musical composer who ever lived” and the famous Goethe saw him as “the human incarnation of a divine force of creation.” Mozart began composing at the age of four and he continued furiously with hardly a breath until he died at thirty-five.
It isn’t surprising that Salieri would be jealous, even though the Viennese public preferred one or two of his works. On the whole, people were thrilled by Salieri but they were dumbfounded by Mozart whose name was never off their lips and whose music left them speechless with pleasure. Not only did Mozart write more than Salieri, the movie has his scores written perfectly the first time—he never revised!
As the movie tells it, Salieri described Mozart as “a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy!” Every time he heard the name of Mozart he became incensed and every time he heard him praised it drove him nearer to madness. Finally, obsessed by his jealousy and after looking at some of Mozart’s perfectly written scores, he throws a crucifix into the fire, saying to God, “We are enemies you and I, because you are unjust, unfair, unkind. I will hinder and harm your creature on earth as far as I am able.”
God—unjust and unkind? Why, because He was generous to the happy pagan? God is unjust because He is generous? (Compare Matthew 20:1-15.) Darkness closed in on Salieri; he shriveled and died long before they put his body into the ground. In spite of his still making the rounds, receiving respectful nods from the aristocracy, despite being recognized and praised he was the shell of a man—a cancer called envy had eaten his soul.
If we weren’t troubled by jealousy, if we didn’t know the pangs of envy when we heard someone praised—someone we knew some dark secret about—if we weren’t profoundly unsettled by the good things that happen to bad people maybe all the above would be of dramatic interest, but no more than that.
If we weren’t inclined to stand in for God as judge of all who “should” or “should not” receive good in this life then the dramatized Salieri and Asaph would be just another tragic figure. But like the composers we too can burn in a fever and everyone loses.
Salieri offered no help to Mozart to lift him to a moral life that matched the generosity of God in creativity. It didn’t matter to him that Mozart and his young wife would waltz on bare floorboards in their freezing apartment just to keep warm (which is true to fact).

When we’re in the fever of jealousy no beauty or depth or honor or giftedness of our “enemy” makes a difference. No, that’s untrue—these things make matters even worse; their presence only increases our bitterness for then we realize others have reason to praise the one we view with life-destroying envy. Others are lifted nearer to God and to the higher life by the one we choose as an “enemy”—others, but not us! We’re too consumed with our correct views of his/her shortcomings, too filled with bile because we’re aware of his/her sinfulness and too busy dissecting him/her to be uplifted by the gift God is offering us through him/her. Their gifts are gifts to all the Body that all might profit (1 Corinthians 11) so that God’s purpose might be forwarded.
So even God loses!
We become so sour that everything in life—every gift from God in life—is lost on us or if not completely lost, at least cheapened (“let no root of bitterness enter” said the Hebrew writer). I need hardly rehearse the bah humbug approach to life that marked out Ebenezer Scrooge. (What a name for Scrooge. “Ebenezer”. “God has helped me to get this far.” Dickens knew what he was doing.) He was miserly and when he was transformed he became not just fair, he became generous.
Generous like God who gives riches to the evil and thankless; like God who spreads His generosity around even through people who have no time for Him and who wants His children to be generous as He is generous (Matthew 5:44-48).
(Holy One, help us, please, to be more like you, Envying no one and generous to all; even the thankless and the evil. Help us please to live more graciously upright that we might not hinder your work of grace by dishonor or envy. Cleanse our hearts that we will not begrudge the blessings you give to non-believers or those who seek our hurt. This earnest prayer in Jesus Christ.)

[I’ve borrowed this and adapted it by permission from my little book Celebrating the Wrath of God. Permission from Waterbrook Press (a division of Random House)

FERGUSON, DURER, JESUS & A NAZI OFFICER WITH A RIDING- CROP

Imagine this foreigner daring to approach this Jewish Messiah (Matthew 15:21-28).
How do we explain the broad spectrum of people that dared—facing one obstacle or another—to approach and speak to Jesus? A commander in the conqueror’s army. A woman in public, part of a hostile people and religion a member of the Jewish Supreme Court or this Sidonian (Greek) woman with a severely troubled child. All of them experiencing great turmoil and trouble and yet all believing they could speak to him. There was some rivalry between the disciples of John and Jesus and yet when John is killed his disciples “go and tell Jesus.” What was it about him that led the high and low to feel they could speak to him?

It’s said of Albert Dürer that he sharpened the wit and talent of all he met. He brought the best out in them. You’ve met people I hope who made you feel you had something worth saying, an opinion worthy of a hearing or an insight that added something to the matter under consideration. Don’t you love such people? The way they carry themselves, the way they treat people; the very way they look at people as they listen to them—all of that makes us dare to speak to them. They bring it out of us in part because they build no walls of self-importance around themselves. They bring it out of us because they seem to make themselves available to us, as though they leaned over to us in a crowd and asked us, “And what do you think about all that?” And then they listened with sincere interest.

Though I never had the privilege of being around him much I always experienced that sense of things in the company of Everett Ferguson, a noted Church Historian. In his field he is truly light years ahead of the rest of us, being a profoundly learned scholar, but I always believed he listened to us as though he believed our opinions were worth expressing and worth hearing. There was no pretense on his part, no feigned humility; just a gracious openness to others. There’s something immensely liberating in that and we thank God for such people.

This Sidonian-Greek woman had heard of Israel’s Messiah, the son of David, and the stories she heard about Him were such that she followed Him and his group calling out to Him for pity and help. Do you suppose that would have happened to Hitler or Stalin? (I’ll never forget if I live to be 900 seeing, in a documentary, Jews arriving (I think) in the death-camps when a woman (maybe in her fifties) approached a Nazi officer to ask if she could remain with her aged and feeble father rather than be separated. He turned, looked at her for a second or two and ferociously lashed her across the face with the riding-crop he was carrying. The pain must have been excruciating but it was the look on her face that stuck with me—a look of astonished and frightened protest as if she had said, “Please, I was only asking if……”

“And what made you so daring that you just kept following Jesus and his company, and calling over and over again? Why would you not be intimidated into silence?” Someone that didn’t really know Jesus might have asked her that. She probably would have said. “It was the stories I heard about Him. They all had a number of things in common and one of them was that He really liked people like me and wanted to help them.”

God’s blessing on those that help to free us from crushing shyness or a crippling sense of unworthiness. God bless all those that make us believe our concerns matter to them or that our words are welcome even if we know we aren’t in their league or that we don’t have a lot to offer. In this they image the Lord Jesus and He images God and that’s what keeps vibrant hope and assurance alive and the Story worth telling everywhere we go and everywhere we get the chance.

Wondrous Father & wondrous Son and wondrous men and women, boys and girls who confront us with them.

SMEAGOL VERSUS GOLLUM

My friend Kenny Chumbley who from time to time writes pieces under the title: The Prairie Papers, (KLChumbley@aol.com) and who ramrodded the production of the book and the stage-play of The Green Children, made me aware of something Tolkien disclosed that I think you’ll find interesting and moving.
You’ll remember in the screen adaptation of The Fellowship of the Rings the scenes that show a renewed Gollum in a wrestle with the other side of Gollum—something I experienced this very day when I was out for a walk and found myself shouting at myself in stern 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 the loyal-to-Frodo Sam did or could. Frodo had compassion on the ring-tormented Gollum who had been seduced into evil that led him to murder and to the worship of the evil power of the ring. Frodo says to Sam:

  1. Why do you put him down all the time?
  2. There’s nothing left in him but lies and deceit.
  3. You have no idea what it [the ring] did to him; what it’s still doing to him. I want to help him, Sam.
  4. Why?
  5. Because I have to believe he can come back.
  6. You can’t save him Mr. Frodo.

A rope was put around Gollum’s neck to control him, it tormented him, Frodo removed it and Gollum is softened toward Frodo.
When Gollum warns of danger Sam, in savage distrust wants Gollum driven off but Frodo says, “He has been true to his word.” Gollum is thrilled with the faith expressed in him and begins to see Frodo (“the master”) in a different light.
In another scene Frodo speaks gently to Gollum, “Who are you?” and the answer comes:
“Gollum, Gollum.”
Gandalf told me that you were one of the River Folk. You were 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.)
Your name was Smeagol.” (Gollum slowly raises his head, eyes widening.)

  1. What did you call me?
  2. That was your name once, wasn’t it? A long time ago?
  3. My name! [whispering as if remembering with awe] My name…(hesitatingly and then with a faint smile), “Smeagol.” Compassion, confessed brotherhood and a gentle reminder of a happy life before the loss of innocence, was working a marvelous change in him and he begins to act that way.

Then there are the scenes when the evil side of Gollum begins to dialogue with the newly awakened Smeagol side that now seeks to believe in and serve “the master” in the mission to destroy the ring of evil.

  1. Wicked hobbits,   (says Gollum)
  2. Not the master (says Smeagol)
  3. They will cheat you, hurt you, lies… 
  4. The master’s my friend.
  5. You don’t have any friends. No one likes you
  6. (holding is ears) Not listening, Not listening.
  7. You’re a liar, a thief…a murderer.  
  8. (greatly distressed) No, go away!
  9. (Scoffing) Go away? 
  10. I hate you, I hate you, (holds head, agonized)
  11. Where would you be without me? Gollum, Gollum; It was me, I saved us. We survived because of me..”
  12. Not anymore!
  13. What did you say?
  14. Master looks after us now. We don’t need you.
  15. What?
  16. Leave now and never come back.
  17. No.
  18. Leave now and never come back. (again, stronger): Leave now and never come back!
  19. Gollum vanishes and Smeagol is startled and then to his better self he says, 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/Gollum and drives him off, back into the world of evil and torment and ultimate loss. When Tolkien finished writing that section, Kenny informed me, Tolkien 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 our words and they 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 well remember and consciously thank you for 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 Smeagols that sometime sit alone in the darkness fighting the darker side of themselves and who without help will be overcome by what they love but hate. We so need your help here that we might be wise as well as empathetic and patient. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)

YOUR NAME IS NOT SISYPHUS

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

(Holy Father, help us to believe this because you say it’s so and then believe it because we’ve found it so.)

I WON’T APOLOGIZE

I will not apologize for loving life. I won’t apologize for weeping at sad movies that portray sad realities that many of us actually experience in life. If God hadn’t wanted us to enjoy honorable love-relationships He wouldn’t have given us the capacity and opportunity to enjoy them. And if He gave us the capacity to rejoice in them then He gave us the capacity to miss them when we lose them. I won’t apologize for feeling my heart jerk when I hear a little boy weep because he misses his dad or mom. I won’t apologize for loving happy endings even though I know that in life not every ending is a happy one. Maybe especially because I know that every ending is not a happy one.

I won’t apologize for dismissing cynics and those that jeer at people they call sentimental just because they themselves have hearts of stone about (almost) everything. I won’t apologize for dreaming of a day when everybody will treat everyone as they ought to be treated. I won’t apologize for believing that God will right all wrongs and make it up to all the defenseless who down the generations have been robbed and abused from the day they arrived here until the day they were butchered or starved right out of life.

I won’t apologize for saying that realism includes the lovely in life as well as the horrible. I know about child abuse, up close and personal, but I also know about little children in their millions that are loved and protected, fed and adored. I know about literary and movie muck but I also know about great movies, wonderful music and mesmerizingly great literature. I know about marital infidelity and the swaggering braggarts among us that exult in it but I also know of those who not only don’t engage in it but don’t even think of it because they couldn’t be more content than they are with their spouse and because they honor their word in faithfulness.

I won’t apologize for thinking that John Lennon was a fool to look (as in his hauntingly lovely song Imagine) to “the brotherhood of Man” to supply humanity’s needs and do away with the need for God, heaven and judgment. I won’t apologize either for wanting what his song spoke of—no war, no need to kill someone for something fine and right. What he wanted was no problem; in our best moments we all want as much but to think we can achieve it without God’s help and influence is untrue. The best about John Lennon (and he wasn’t all bad) he got from God and the influence of the Lord Jesus though John didn’t know it.

I won’t apologize for thinking that celebrities like Bob Geldof and others are supremely selfish when they ignore the injustice heaped on countless millions down the years and say they’re pleased that life ends with eternal sleep. That might be good news for the wealthy who enjoy freedom and the comforts of life and and are free from abusive tyrants and Nazi commandants but how could we be pleased that there’s no vindication for the countless oppressed, sold or slaughtered?

I won’t apologize for believing that Christians should bend over backwards to be kinder to people with whom they disagree nor will I apologize for believing that religious people should bend over backwards to obey God’s commands rather than debate them. I won’t apologize for thinking that the “agony aunt” was morally and socially blind who flippantly advised the girl who said she didn’t find males attractive—that she shouldn’t worry about it but to go look for girls. Maybe she’ll advise the next one who finds neither males nor females attractive to go to the zoo. I won’t apologize for thinking that there’s more moral and social worth in the Christian’s position (to say no more) than all this muddledheadedness.

PRAYER FOR A TORMENTED WORLD

Holy One we have heard stories about you from eye-witnesses of your wonders. Stories about your rescuing nations from slavery and oppression under tyrants without mercy or conscience. We believe them and thank you. We ask you please to do such things again and deliver heartsick people from their awful suffering and their paralyzing despair—deliver them who live in the hell-holes of the world here at home and abroad. Do it for them and do it to glorify your holy name that they might come to seek after you and find you for we who have the privilege to believe know that you are not far from any of us.
But Holy Father, their Holy Father as well as ours, they don’t know how to know you. They’re poor and ignorant and forcibly kept that way and know nothing of you or your Beloved Son. They weep and no one dries their tears, they’re lonely and no one comes to their side, they’re mentioned in headlines but no one prays for them, they’re hungry and those who would feed and clothe and bless them are kept from doing it by heartless crime bosses and the corrupted powerful.
We have a little—though only a little—understanding of the complexities involved in your dealing with these awful realities when it is humans against humans and you care for us all, the evil and the good. But we know that you are the Lord of heaven and earth and they have no other to stand by their side against the heartless predators that love to feed on their sorrow and dance to the crying of their little children. It appears Holy One that only those who rejoice in brutality and torturing others are free to exercise free will—the many millions are raped and pillaged and herded around like livestock, dumb animals, kept only to be sold or as food to be eaten and their remains scattered in the dust.
We who do care—Christians and non-Christians—don’t know what to do or how to do it so we come to you, for where else is there to go? We who are free can’t help rejoicing in our freedom while our brothers and sisters, little children and parents, huddle together in panic at the news that predators are returning, young here in our own towns, lie in fear of a bedroom door opening again, the unemployed and unemployable, the abandoned and betrayed—there is no end, they awake or lie sleepless only to meet another day of the same.
Ahhhhhhh, how long, they want to know; when will it stop they wonder; they fear that no one can stop it—ever. Holy One we know we are selfish but you must know because you have worked within us that we are not so selfish that we cannot at times enter into their pain and so now for a while we feel it and pray for them, Father, for them. Now! For them—for them!
Grant that we who have freedom will join with you to effect some change and that we will use our freedom for more than self-service. Shape our hearts and speech and actions with the person and meaning of Jesus Christ that if we can’t take away the sorrow and hurt of the world we can in the name of the Lord Jesus do something for those within our reach.
Grant that as we Supper with the Lord Jesus on the Lord’s Day that we will keep the Story alive that He is returning and that all wrongs will be righted and cruelty and injustice and suffering will be no more. Oh, Holy One, whatever the cost to us deliver us your people from any sense that we are your pets and remind us that we live to rejoice in your kindness to us and to serve the world because by faith we were baptized into union with your Holy Son who united Himself with them and with us forever. This prayer in His name.