Category Archives: REFLECTIONS ON THIS AND THAT

BUT JESUS…..

I suppose we all have a favorite character in literature—fictional or historical as well as the one we dislike most. I have little liking for the Marquis de Sade. One of his chief pleasures, he has someone say, was to “corrupt the innocent.” And Shakespeare’s sly conniving Iago is ugly down deep but personally the one who sets my teeth on edge is Hawthorne’s hateful Roger Chillingworth who in “righteous” viciousness torments, tortures his alienated young wife Hester and the weak young preacher Arthur Dimsdale.
You must sometime, if you are a reader, invest the time to read The Scarlet Letter. (Did I tell you I updated it and made it so much easier to read? Hawthorne’s style makes it very difficult for modern readers and it’s too great a book to miss. I added a few paragraphs to develop a few thoughts Hawthorne was making but the book fully remains Hawthorne’s. I hope you read it and allow his brilliant work to open your eyes and heart in many ways as it has done mine.) Believe me, “righteous” Chillingworth is alive and well in the world today.
But heroes! The countless unsung and unknown (except to a handful of the world’s billions)! Add to those the grand few who are known and worthy of praise—who can number them, eh? People who consciously lay down their lives in a single act of breathtaking generous self-giving and others (vaster in number) who lay down their lives by living and working for decades until their tired bodies and willing hearts can do no more. Exclude for the moment the obvious among us whose malevolence and delight in the demonic is so startling that all the social-sciences can’t come close to “explaining”. There’s a power that we turned loose, a monstrous, stalking predator that is as cunning and well-disguised as it is vindictive and insatiable. Across the world there are places and there have been eras where it wore and wears no disguise but now that we are “wise” scientists, sociologists and psychologists can explain all in terms of neurons, genetics, socio-psychology, cultural anthropology and more—without remainder. So much truth and wisdom there—not unwise or untrue in what it includes but blindness to what it excludes and so somewhere beyond human vision a cosmic parasite feeds on us. We see its work and mistake the undeniable destruction for the destroyer—and that too is the deep cunning of the predator, when the genuinely wise become fools even in their wisdom (Romans 1:21-22) and serve the great corrupter.
But I’ve drifted from my point. More than anyone else in the Bible I admire Moses. Of course he was flawed and of course he sulked and ran off and in a colossal sulk refused to circumcise his older boy and in that refusal withheld his firstborn from God (which is precisely why God dismantled Egypt—Pharaoh refused to give Him His firstborn (Israel). See Exodus 4:22–26 where God got Moses’ attention and made him focus on his mission. And yes he tried constantly to turn down the new commission to deliver Israel.
But what a man, what a burden, what ceaseless criticism and what a mesmerizing self-giving word to God in Exodus 32:32 (with chapter 33), “If you won’t take them home I don’t want to go either.” Forty years with a nation and its leaders breaking his heart, even his sister and brother joining in the attacks and then, precisely because he was so magnificent a leader and model, he is not permitted to enter the promised land though it broke his heart and he begged until God told him, “I don’t want you to speak to Me again about it.”  (Deuteronomy 3:24-26) Sinner or not, flawed or not, here was someone behind whose shadow a nation found freedom and shelter from the burning heat of life in a sad bad world. And he died in faith despite the onslaught of the World Hater who used everything and everyone against him. He wasn’t alone in this, it’s true, but was he not simply majestic? Women and men are listed in Hebrews 11 as people of “whom the world was not worthy.” And in Hebrews 3:1-5 the writer speaks of Moses in a marvelous and admiring way and then he immediately adds.

                                                                           BUT JESUS…………….

Finish the sentence in any way you wish. It’s no insult to Moses. On the mount of Transfiguration God said, “Don’t hear Moses, don’t hear Elijah, don’t hear John the Baptist, don’t hear David…..hear My Son.”

 

 

“Loving People In Slices?”

Somebody said that prominent people, like politicians and preachers, when they fall, always fall in the same areas: power, money or sex. There’s a lot of evidence around to establish that viewpoint. I don’t know if sexual infidelity in the 21st century is any more widespread and recurring than in centuries before; I only know I hear more about it and I tend to think it is.
I know that many of us have reason to be ashamed that we’ve broken the promise we gave to our beloved and we’re bitterly disappointed at our moral weakness and the sin we have committed in this area. The prevalence of such infidelity tempts us to believe that humans simply can’t keep such promises but thankfully there are tens of thousands among us who live and have lived splendidly in the limelight and who remind us that defeat is no foregone conclusion and that while there might be occasions when there was serious hand-to-hand fighting going on faithfulness is not beyond us. Job was a man like that!
In 31:1 he said this: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a maiden.” Versions differ on how the text should be rendered. The NRSV and the ESV say, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I look on a virgin?” In either case this man had made up his mind to behave and having made that commitment, he wants to know (NRSV), how else could I have treated a girl?
He goes on to say (31:9-12), under oath, that he never went after other women and he didn’t lurk around his neighbor’s house to make moves on his wife. He says before the God who knows all things that he never did such things and he never did them because he had made an inner covenant that he had lived by. Job’s brave response to life on the ash-heap is inspiring but his princely response to life in the midst of unequalled success was stunning and glorious. To be true to the basic relationships and commitments in life is the kind of thing that turns God’s head and gets his admiration and makes so many of us groan in remorse and repentance and makes us vow to pursue honor.
That kind of faithfulness has its spin-off rewards. For one thing, when we do what’s right we don’t have to lament and grieve as Lancelot did. In Tennyson’s Arthurian legends no one was greater than Lancelot. Knight of knights, bravest of the brave, defender of the defenseless, fearless righter of wrongs, unbeatable warrior, sunny in disposition, known and acclaimed from one end of the kingdom to the other, daydream of countless young women’s hearts and sinner with another man’s wife!
At one point in his royal career Lancelot is terribly wounded and young Elaine nursed him from the point of death until he fully recovered, falling in love with him in the course of it all. Because her love for him was so deep and tender and because he was so enthralled with the king’s wife, Guinevere, and because he wants Elaine to think less of him and forget him—because all this was the case Lancelot rides off in pretended indifference, without a word to the girl who had saved his life and adored him.
In her despair and loneliness she kills herself. Lancelot is in agony when he hears of it and his guilty heart links this great wrong with his own great sin with Guinevere. King Arthur, apparently the only man in the kingdom who doesn’t know something is wrong, is telling Lancelot how wonderful he is and how revealing it was (despite its tragic nature) that a girl should love him so deeply as to take her life; again, this was proof of Lancelot’s greatness in the eyes of the king. But the sinner can bear no more praise and leaves to walk alone down by the river where he expresses his deep self-hatred and laments over the pain he brings to all around him.

For what am I? What profits my name
Of greatest knight?
I fought for it, and have it:
Pleasure to have it, none; to lose it, pain;
Now grown a part of me: but what use is it?
To make men worse by making my sin known?
Or sin seem less, the sinner seeming great?

He tells himself he has become used to having his wondrous reputation but finds no pleasure in it even though it would give him pain to lose it. Under God he has become a household word, people swear by his name and young men take him as the model for their lives but because of his sin his fame will weaken men’s hearts. Precisely because he has such fame the story of his shame will spread farther and discourage more, disappoint more, make more all the more cynical.
Or worse! When some men see someone as valiant as Lancelot involved in such sin will they not think it isn’t so bad? Might they dismiss the evil of the evil because they’re blinded by this man’s greatness? [“Well, when you’re as great as Lancelot, people have to make allowances.” Or, “Don’t make such a big deal of my corrupt behavior, even people as great as Lancelot have fallen.”]
Where Lancelot fell many a great man or woman has fallen. Now in the position to really help others they hurt them the more deeply. God having given them the eyes and the ears of the public they “make men worse by making their sin known or sin seem less the sinner seeming great.”
It wasn’t that way with the man from Uz. He lived in the open; he wasn’t tortured by hidden evil; he had made no sly deals in business, he corrupted no judges and he hadn’t behaved himself unjustly when he sat as judge. This was no lecherous old man who eyed the girls or made moves on another man’s wife. Not only did he not do what was wicked he didn’t think the evil thoughts because he had made a covenant with his heart and eyes in such matters.
He who couldn’t stand to see widows in need or orphans destitute and alone, who couldn’t bear to see the poor go hungry or cold, who wouldn’t dream of using his powerful position against anyone in court—he kept himself for one woman with whom he made a covenant of marriage. Was there ever such a glorious life as this man’s? Is it any wonder God’s eyes shone with admiration when he thought of him?

God and Job both knew he was a sinner. He says this in his own defense, “If I have concealed my sin as men do, by hiding my sin in my heart because I so feared the crowd and so dreaded the contempt of the clans that I kept silent and would not go outside…” (31:33-34). He takes it for granted that they know he’s a sinner but his sin didn’t characterize his life, it was the goodness of God in it that best described him. His life was an open book, he didn’t hide indoors if an accusation was made against him, refusing to face it publicly in case it made matters worse, hoping it would all blow over—no, he went out to face it and dealt with it in public as a public man should do. He rejoiced in what was noble and compassionate and that’s how he had been since boyhood (31:18). All that and he was also true to his wife!
For all the talk of sexual revolution and freedom and despite the fact that this generation is obsessed with sex, marital faithfulness is alive and well and even the silly soap operas continue to make a fuss in the plot over people who are unfaithful  to each other. To look at a husband or wife whose joy includes the rich satisfaction of knowing (without thinking too much about it) that they have kept faith with God and with someone else at a profound level—to look at them is to see one of life’s truly lovely sights. Let those sneer who want to but it isn’t loyalty and decency that’s on trial here; it’s the shabby behavior of the poor fool who hasn’t it in him/her to keep the covenant they’ve made.
Let me say it again, those of us who haven’t maintained that honor and integrity have plenty to regret but there are millions who not only don’t have “affairs” or “make moves” , they don’t even think about them. They’re too pleased with married life as it is, too pleased with life out in the sunlight that they don’t dream of sneaking around in the dark.
To live with guilty secrets; to be afraid that others will discover; to feel awkward in the company of someone who can’t keep from praising you, who trusts you—to look at your unsuspecting children, at his or hers; to be so ashamed that you can’t engage in noble ventures that need your help lest you bring them into disrepute should the truth come out—to live like that is to live in the shadows. Those of us who know what it is to have behaved shamefully know beyond debate that no amount of money, power or praise can make a sordid life sunny or a vile act excusable.
To love with no wish to love another in the same way; to keep your covenant cheerfully in the face of other influences; to lie beside that one and that one only in the gentle darkness is to live in the sunlight. No degree of poverty, no business failure, no being aware that we didn’t “make our mark in this life” can take that away or obliterate the luster of a life like that or fill it with unbroken gloom. To avoid not only the deed but also the sinister longing, the wishing, now that’s integrity. Job and millions of others had and have that and without feeling smug they rejoiced to know it. F.W. Robertson spoke about that kind of thing when he said:
“Beware of those fancies, those day dreams, which represent things as possible that should be forever impossible. Beware of that affection which cares for your happiness more than for your honor.”
Beware of anything that robs you of life in the sunshine!
And yet, try not to forget John 8:1-11 and Luke 15. Run on back home.

Nicholson has king Arthur saying to Lancelot:
“God uses people like you Lancelot because your heart is open You hold nothing back You give all of yourself.”
Lancelot: “If you knew me better you would not say such things”
Arthur: “I take the good with the bad together; I can’t love people in slices.”

(Holy One we take your holiness seriously and long to as does our Father but it is LIFE to us that your Holy Son was called “a friend of sinners” and that His every day among us convicting us, assuring us, healing us and helping us was you revealing yourself in Him.  Empower us to wisely love one another not in slices. It’s so hard for us even when we know that you don’t love us in slices.)

I’ve taken the heart of this from my Life On The Ash Heap book.

Jesus Kissed Me When We Met

One good deed, one genuinely good deed done with honor, especially if it is done at great personal cost defies a world of evil!
It claims our attention and we look at one another and believe—if we’re blessed with a heart still sensitive—we believe and we realize that God has not abandoned us to evil and gloom.
We believe that evil is not invincible, we believe it should not be thought invincible, we believe it should be defied and in every way available to us to we’ll oppose it and live with brave, even gallant, hearts in a war against it.
The gallant Lord Jesus having joined us in the war and took the lead in it went to the cross believing that this was where His Father led Him and though it troubled His soul He gladly raced to it knowing that what He had been doing and was about to do was to destroy an alien world and its alien tyrant to glorify His Holy Father and liberate prisoners of war.
And more than that, astonishing as it is, He believed that there were thousands and more thousands that would follow Him into that war when they saw what He was doing. “And, I, if I am lifted up I will win the hearts of men and women from everywhere and in every age.” He said that and believed it! 

We talk much, we who speak, about the evil in the world. We tell no lie when we say with John that the whole “world” lies in the evil one but we’re not to over-read John’s statement. God has ceaselessly been at work in the hearts of the human family and has kept goodness alive even in the hearts of those who don’t know to credit their health, their friends, kindness, gallantry, patience and self-giving to Him, the one true God who is the source of all and anything that is good in this world. Christ knew well the nature and extent of the evil and heartless spirit that has usurped God’s place in the hearts of humans 

And yet He will walk up to people busy with their own affairs in life and tell them that if they really want to live they should get up and follow Him and they’d never regret it. This He said believing that they would—and they did! “Crucify me,” He said, and that won’t be the end of Me, people will see and hear of it and they will come flocking to Me in their millions”—and they have done that and they do it and given half a chance millions of others will do it!

To His first disciples Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me; I chose you.” There’s something about that call, that being “chosen” and the sense that “this is my destiny to which I have been called.” “He asked me to join Him and numberless other people just like me in this assault against a tyranny that enslaves and humiliates and finally destroys.

We’ve been told of many, during the war,  who were picked for a very dangerous mission. Before setting out, they tell us, the chosen would scribble notes or whisper some message to be sent to a mother or someone beloved in case the worst should happen. Usually there was a certain strain and nervousness showing on their face and yet, they say, there was something of a light and sparkle in their eyes, their heads were held high, sometimes there was laughter and a dismissal of the danger ahead. Chosen! And willing to be chosen and with it a thrill, edged with some sense of pride that they were chosen! We hear such stories and think them wonderful. We believe then that there is more in the world than crass selfishness and heartlessness.

Paul in Ephesians 1 says, ”He chose us…” Never that He coerced us, bullied us, forced us or shanghaied us! God comes seeking and finding and believing that if only His call is made known that people would lift their heads, tear up their document of service to what dishonors themselves and sign into His service. “if you are against the evil in this world and promise to end it and bring justice for all,” they say, “then count us in.”
And they do it, men and women, girls and boys, entire families, sometimes entire villages. But they flock to God only when it is the call of God they hear. They’re called out of their fear, their boredom, their daily grind and life without adventure into His presence, chosen for a peculiar mission. They’re asked to make a commitment to a God whose heart is saddened by the anguish of His human family and He wants them to be assured that He sees all and that He will right all wrongs. “Tell them that,” He says, “tell them I’m coming, tell them I want them to join Me in spreading the word to their friends and enemies that I am coming.” 
Chosen to engage in “war”at its finest (2 Corinthians 10:3-5); chosen to proclaim freedom from Sin and guilt and lifeless life, chosen to proclaim a Message from God to all the nations, a warning to all the unrepentant servants of the prince of this world and a message to all the abused and plundered that One is coming and He is coming with love and fairness. There’s a new world coming! And those currently “chosen” by the Gospel bear witness to that—they are the visible expression of “the righteousness of God.”
Today we look at some honorable businesses and we’re thrilled. Sometimes we picture ourselves as doing some brave thing against tough opposition and we can’t help feeling good—shouldn’t regret feeling good. Now and then we engage with a group in a lovely enterprise, we toil at it long, patiently, returning to it when we for a while were too weary to stay with it—we return to it, determined not to leave it until it’s finished.

It’s done! There are happy smiles all around, there’s a sense of fulfillment, other things we failed at, failures that left us a bit ashamed because we now think we ended it too soon, didn’t give it enough. But that is now pushed into the background. This well was dug, this house was built, this project was completed! The muscles ache, the body is weary, the days have slipped by but the vision became a finished reality. Such lovely things happen in countless lives and they will happen in yours.

But there’s a day coming when you will finish the race of your entire life, they will take you to a hospital ward or a home where people go to be treated well when they can no longer help themselves and you will remember (perhaps with difficulty sometimes) the day you were seized by a dream and, look! you’re just about to finish living it. And you for all your pain or your awareness that you can no longer contribute to life and living in the way you once could you will know you finished your journey and adventure with Jesus Christ. You’ll remember the day when He walked up to you and called your name, asking you to join Him in a lifelong war against all that was anti-God, anti-life and anti-human and you stuck out your hand, took His and said “count me in.”

You’ll remember days when you were bone weary and found the commitment demanding or frustrating or for a while beyond your strength, and even when you were being helped, it felt that way. But still, aware of all the bumps and gullies, all the clinging undergrowth on the way, in your own fashion and in your own life’s circumstances you were there at the end and you’ll smile and repeat Paul’s words. “I fought a good fight, a ran a good race and I finished the course.”
You’ll finish this adventure and you’ll finish it on your feet! By God’s sustaining grace you’ll do it for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and for the world!

You’ll sit
there in that waiting room and maybe think of Leigh Hunt’s lovely poem when a now old man reminisces about a day many years earlier when someone called Jenny kissed him and you’ll apply the imagery to a day when Someone came and kissed you and your life was never the same: Jesus Christ. Some might hear you whisper every now and then as you make your way toward Home where He waits for you:
 Jesus kissed me when we met
Jumped up from the chair He sat in
Time, you thief you love to get
Sweets for your list, put that in.
Say I’m lonely, say I’m sad
Say that health and wealth have missed me
Say I’m growing old but add
Jesus kissed me!