SAUL KANE & THE RUSHING RAIN

Imagine a man who has committed a terrible crime and is imprisoned for it. During his trial he is utterly unrepentant, snarling and swearing that if he had the chance he’d do it again and worse. That man does more than endure the penalty in prison; he remains the evildoer within. If he were to complete his sentence and be freed he would still be that evil-doer because he carries the love of his evil with him and even exults in it.
But if he comes to see his crime in all its ugliness and to hate it, to wish he had never committed it and would never want to do it again—he would be a different man even while he endures the chastisement.
In this new state of mind (repentance) he would be seeing the crime with other eyes and another heart—with the eyes and with the heart of the victim’s parents, with the eyes of the judge and jury. He doesn’t now rage against their decision; he isn’t now untouched by the pain of the people he hurt; now he would undo it all if he could. He can’t change the fact that he has committed the crime but he is no longer the man who committed the crime. The deeper and purer his repentance becomes the further he is removed from the man who did this awful thing. (We see that in Paul—do we not?) In a very real and profound way (not the only way) this man has been delivered from the power of evil. Once more, the man who did the evil and was put in prison is not the same man who now bears the judgment. If it should be that he is somehow pardoned his fully repentant heart would match the utter freeness of the forgiveness graciously bestowed on him.
When we bear in mind that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance, that it is God in His kindness who gives us the gift of repentance unto life through the Lord Jesus then we realize that we are delivered from the power of sin by the inner transformation He brings about. (Romans 2:4; Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25) By his grace we come over on to God’s side and our hearts are in tune with his. That’s one face of reconciliation. I’m saying that God’s gift in the Lord Jesus of freedom from sin means that Sin no longer stands between God and us; it is no longer the destructive power that alienates us from the Holy Father—we’re forgiven and our sins are remembered against us no more. I mean it also includes our new mind (repentance) which is God-generated and Christ-shaped so that our life’s direction has changed and we no longer admire or wish to live as an enemy of God’s character or eternal purpose. John Masefield’s poem expresses this marvelously. Here’s a piece of it that describes the changed heart of the once bitter, foul-mouthed and drunken prizefighter, Saul Kane.  (The Everlasting Mercy)

I did not think, I did not strive,
The deep peace burnt my me alive;
The bolted door had broken in,
I knew that I had done with sin.
I knew that Christ had given me birth
To brother all the souls on earth,
O glory of the lighted mind,
How dead I’d been, how dumb, how blind,
The station brook to my new eyes,
Was babbling out of Paradise;
The waters rushing from the rain
Were singing Christ has risen again.
I thought all earthly creatures knelt
From rapture of the joy I felt.

This is one face of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus. In drawing us to Himself (John 12:32) He draws us to His Holy Father. He re-orients our hearts He reconciles us to God and we know with Saul Kane “that we are done with Sin.” (Romans 6:1-14)

(Holy Father thank you for doing more for us than forgiving us our sins. Thank your bringing our hearts and longings and purposes into at-one-ment with your heart. Whatever battles and wrestlings lie ahead of us in our future, we are “done with sin.This prayer and commitment in the Lord Jesus Christ.)

 

SAY, “MAKE ME.”

It’s often been pointed out that the difference between the prodigal on his way out into the world and the prodigal anxiously returning home is the difference been “give me” (Luke 15:12) and “make me” (15:19). I suppose if we press very hard we’d end up thinking that that’s too simple; but too simple or not, I’m convinced it goes in the right direction.
I tire easily when I read authors who offer us ten-step sure-cures for selfishness and sin. Do these people—any of them—really believe what they write? I’m certain of this: when we’re done reading these authors the fine print (that’s scattered though their writings) requires the sensitive and desperate reader to do the very things the sensitive and desperate reader finds he/she is unable to do; that’s why they come to these books in the first place for pity’s sake—for enablement. They don’t deny what they should do; they lack the power to do it. The weary psychologist had seen a number of clients so by the time he got “Harold” he was a bit out of sorts. Harold seemed to be overwrought about rather trivial issues and the counsellor finally and tersely told him: “Go home and pull yourself together.” Harold told him that that’s why he was in the office to begin with: “The thing I pull myself together with is busted.”
So, what then, is there no help to be found? I’m certain that God helps sinners in their struggle against sin and I’m just as certain that that hunger for holiness, that desire to be done with sin, is part of God’s redeeming work. Forgiveness for those who remain in Jesus by faith is a done deal but it isn’t the entire story of redemption and reconciliation. God’s redemption from the power of sin begins with our faith in Jesus and is brought to its completion through faith in that day when He returns.
You understand I’m speaking about people who care for holiness, however feeble their present struggle toward it; if its genuine it’s the work of God and it will be completed by God (Philippians 1:6, for example). But there is no divine coercion!
There’s some truth in the ancient saying that, “Against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain.” An anguished Jeremiah speaking the heart of an anguished Lord (Jeremiah 8:19-22) sees the wounded and ulcerated Judah suffer greatly. “Is there no balm in Gilead? No caring doctor there—if there is, why is it that my people remain diseased and wounded?” God with a shake of the head, as if baffled. Gilead, famed for its balm as far back as Jacob’s day (Genesis 37:25, Jeremiah 46:11), was there within reach but, stupidly and tragically, they didn’t want cured and by and by no medicine would work (Jeremiah 46:11).
I know no comfort for those who impenitently push God away. The spookiest thing I know about God is that we can defeat Him. It’s true that our capacity to resist Him successfully operates within His overarching purpose so that His overarching purpose is not thwarted; but there is ultimate personal loss for the impenitent.

“Sin may conquer love!” said George Adam Smith in a terrifying passage on Hosea. “Yet it is in this triumph that Sin must feel the ultimate revenge. When a man has conquered this weak thing, and beaten her down beneath his feet, God speaks the sentence of abandonment. There is enough of the whipped dog in all of us to make us dread penalty when we come into conflict with the strong things of life. But it takes us all our days to learn that there is far more condemnation to them who offend the weak things of life, and particularly the weakest of all, its love….God’s ‘little ones’ are not only little children, but all things, which like little children, have only love for their strength. They are pure and loving men and women—men with no weapon but their love, women with no shield but their trust. They are the innocent affections of our own hearts—the memories of our childhood, the ideals of our youth, the prayers of our parents, the faith in us of our friends. These are the little ones of whom Christ spoke, that he who sins against them had better never to have been born. Often…a father’s counsels, a mother’s prayers, may seem foolish things against the challenges of a world calling us to ‘play the man’ and do as it does; often the vows and enthusiasms of boyhood may seem impertinent against the temptations which are so necessary to manhood; yet let us be true to the weak, for if we betray them we betray our own souls. We may sin against law and maim and mutilate ourselves, but to sin against Love is to be cast out of life altogether…If we sin against Love, we do destroy her: we take from her the power to redeem and sanctify us. Though in their youth men think Love a quick and careless thing—a servant always at their side…let them know that every time they send her on an evil errand she returns with heavier feet and broken wings. When they [cheapen her] they kill her outright. When she is no more they waken to the realization that love abused is love lost and love lost means Hell.”

This is true though fearful teaching, but those who long for righteousness or who long to long for righteousness, these have nothing to fear (longing to long is longing). To sin is inevitable but to faint in the pursuit of Christ-likeness is not at all the same as sneering at the quest or despising the longing. These two responses don’t belong together in the same universe! To fail is one thing and to sneer is something else.
“Give me, give me, give me” is an altogether different spirit than “make me”. They’re both a heart’s desire but they are worlds apart. But even “make me” is an appeal and not a demand; it is a gift asked for and not a right demanded, so that when the prodigal said to his loving father “make me” the tone was altogether of a different kind.

The spiritually sensitive and desperate will be glad to confess that they are not in control and that their heavenly Father is the only one who can grant their request; a request generated in their hearts by the heavenly Father. And in making the request the already wakened sinner will not be looking for magic but will allow God to work the transformation by whatever means he sees fit however long that takes and in the middle of sinful chaos generated by no single person but a human race. It is a complex matter; the cure doesn’t work with the human as if she or he was not a human. It is humans God loves and works to redeem; He doesn’t want puppets or mindless or heartless “obedience”. In Jesus and in view of Jesus Christ He will take what you have to offer Him from your confused and maybe frightened heart. Remember your baptism (Romans 6) and remember that when by faith you were baptized into Jesus Christ You shared in His death and in dying with Him the “old man” (your existence in the old Adam) died—Romans 6:2-7.
Don’t stay away from Him. Return to Him if you’ve lost your way. Come to Him if you haven’t done that before. Died with and in Him and know you have died to all the sin and death that is part of being one with the “old man” (see Romans 5:12-21).
Say to Him, “Make me!”
God bless you.

GOD & HIS SHARED HISTORY

The central character in the Bible is God! But we only know that because the God of the Bible made that known to us humans and He made it known in ways that humans could receive it.
The God of the Bible is a God who cares profoundly for humans and (as Barth would put it) He didn’t will to be God without us and that’s why the human race came into being and continues to exist (Acts 17:25, 28). Furthermore, He did not want His history to be His and ours to be ours. He wanted it to be a shared history. In all this the love of God for humanity is made clear and that desire and sovereign will of God comes to it full revelation and its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus.
It has been and is the decision of the Triune God that the One we have heard spoken of as “The Word” is the member of the Godhead that would become incarnate and become known to us as Jesus of Nazareth. That one, said Paul, was raised out from among the dead “that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18; Romans 8:29 and note John 16:13-14). And that must be true in the pulpit or behind the lectern—wherever— Jesus must be given the preeminence, certainly by teachers and the Covenant People at large.
But shouldn’t we speak about humans and their human life and troubles and their sorrow?
We should indeed but it should always be spoken of within the narrative of God’s self-revelation and overarching purpose. Without that there is no fuller sense of the glory of being a human—there is no fuller sense of our sinful perversion of our identity, there is no fuller sense of our loss, of how far we’ve fallen or how evil our evil as a human family is.
Nor can believers get the fuller sense of what they’re singing when they sing, “A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord.” We underestimate the strength of the entrenched satanic power that we turned loose and so we underestimate the complexity and glory of the rescue presuming we’re allowed to remain human rather than turned into puppets. And the glory and hope-filled mystery when redeemed humanity comes to be like Jesus Christ (1 John 3:1, 3; Philippians 3:20-21) cannot be richly visioned if Jesus is sidelined. Let me say it again: these matters and more cannot be faced with realism and assurance and living hope if Jesus is not permitted to be the center!
“Therefore as dear children, be imitators of God and walk in love as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us…” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
The wording in that text isn’t troublesome but because of the nature of things it does not say enough. There can be no development of “imitate God” or “walk in love as Christ has loved us.” For some of that we must go to other texts but even the other texts cannot tell the entire Story. Nothing can tell the entire Story for it is too complex, too rich and too much that is beyond us at present.
Nevertheless, in light of the Holy Scriptures and the embodiment of God in Jesus Christ, God speaks to us in living people who by God’s grace learn the thought, speech and behavior of love. And when believers choose the image of Jesus Christ they have the confirmation that they are indeed (though not flawlessly) imitating God.
That is a living response to God! But the living response to God will not flesh out the same for every human. In some areas of life there will come a clear cut “NO” from God that will accompany a comprehensive “Yes” from Him. This means there will be vast areas of life that are common to sincere believers in Jesus Christ and the divine “NO” will only be in support of the “YES”. But there will not be an exhaustive biblical “blueprint” for living. Teachers who wish to micromanage the lives of believers are injurious. But the divine “NO” in “You will not have a god before Me!” is a non-negotiable and it’s a non-negotiable not only because God merits that devotion, not only because the gods are a human and destructive creation but because without Him there is no fullness of life and He longs for humans to have just that!
Heinrich Heine after quoting the Homeric description of the feasting gods, says:
“Then suddenly approached, panting, a pale Jew with drops of blood on his brow, with a crown of thorns on his head, and a great cross laid on his shoulders: and he threw the cross on the high table of the gods so that the golden cups tottered and the gods become dumb and pale, and grew even paler till at last they melted away into vapor.”
The gods exist! But they exist the way hallucinations, illusions, delusions and other mental constructs exist. They have no existence apart from us; we create them and then depend on them for our existence. We did that kind of thing when we were children riding on our stick horses. We made and were holding up the horses and carried away by the game we were in we acted as though, and even half-believed that, the horses were supporting us.
How I live out my life in response to God will be like yours in crucial and inevitable ways but it can never be just like yours nor should we expect it to be. (Believers who marry close doors to many wonderful things and open doors to many other lovely things. The lives of the married and the unmarried will diverge remarkably and they will live out their response to God in varying ways.)
Once more, however you live out your life in the uniqueness of your person-hood  and life-situation means it will differ from mine but as believers in the Lord Jesus we pledge to love Him, imitate Him and walk in covenant love with one another.
The Heine quotation ends like this:
“Anyone who sees his god suffering finds it easier to endure his own pain. The merry gods of the past, who felt no pain, did not know either how poor tortured human beings feel, and a poor person in desperation could have no real confidence in them. They were holiday gods; people danced around them merrily, and could only thank them. For this reason they never received whole-hearted love. To receive whole-hearted love one must suffer. Compassion is the last sacrament of love; it may be love itself. Therefore of all the gods who ever lived, Christ is the god who has been loved the most.”
(Taken from: “Die Stadt Lucca” The City of Lucca “Reisebilder, Bd. 4” Travel pictures, Vol 4 1831.)

(Holy One, confront us with your wonderful self that we might be shaped by Your presence and come to know what is Your good and perfect and acceptable will for ourselves as part of your much -loved Covenant People. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)

HOEING COTTON WHEN HE COMES

“Little children keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21
Why should Israel have no God but Yahweh?
Because He commanded it. It was a non-negotiable demand from the Sovereign of the Universe.
Because He had earned the right to that position. Who else was worthy?
But despite His awesome power and majesty and despite the fact that He had earned their trust, Yahweh still put it to them in such a way that they were given the choice to say yes to His covenant offer and they did (20:19 and Deuteronomy 5:27).
Israel should have had no other God than Yahweh because they said they would! They gave their word!
In response to the majesty and awesome power of God, in response to His faithfulness and His gracious past rescue and future promises, they gave their word! And because they gave their word they should stick with it. To do that was to do what was right. They owed Him and they said they would pay. They didn’t bribe Him or He them; He hadn’t freed them from Pharaonic slavery to make them whimpering crawlers to Him. He called them openly and was willing to receive their heartfelt commitment (cf. Deuteronomy 5:27-28) even when He knew their limitations. And they gave it!
“Duty” has become a dirty word in some circles. In the religious realm it has had such a connection with legalism than one hardly dare mention the word without expecting a raking over the coals of criticism. “Never mind duty, let’s talk of grace.”
Because of the heresy of legalism a fine word, and a noble conception has been made an outlaw. Anyone who would make “duty” the ultimate motivation for the life of a disciple of God misses the mark and misses it by a long way, but anyone who has so “matured” as to dismiss duty has missed by a long way too.  It’s all right to recognize that we owe and because we owe we feel the debt and wish to respond in kind. We wish to earn nothing, for grace and our own evil have put that out of the question; but we don’t want teachers to rob us of the “hero in our soul;” we don’t want them to rob us of the deep sense of obligation we feel when we give our word; we don’t want them to steal from us that motivation which at some level of our lives and in some areas of living never vanishes—“I gave my word and therefore it is my duty.” No one will say that “duty” is the only or finest motivation for our behavior but we get weary when we hear people becoming too precise and too sophisticated when describing real humans. “If we were God we would do thus and so for thus and so reasons;” but we’re not God, we’re we and sometimes we act out of motivations which, while they aren’t the highest, they certainly aren’t evil. We need to stand in our place and do what we said we would do whether we have the consent of our emotions or not. A well-balanced black poet many years ago hit the target dead-center when he wrote this, disregarding harsh circumstances that some might use as an excuse for their not keeping their word to God:
There’s a king and a captain high And He’s coming by and by
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
You can hear His legions charging in the regions of  the sky
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
There’s a man they thrust aside Who was tortured till He died,
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
He was hated and rejected He was scorned and crucified
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
He’ll be crowned by saints and angels when He comes.
They’ll be shouting out Hosanna to the man that men denied
And I’ll kneel among my cotton when He comes.

 No one will gain our respect who while he rightly proclaims God’s full and free grace without apology he undermines what we feel in our bones is right: Love doesn’t despise the letter of the law—it fulfills it. So said the apostle of grace (Paul) in Romans 13:8-10 & 1 Corinthians 7:19.

 (I borrowed this from a book I wrote that hangs around the book of Exodus. HEADING HOME WITH GOD. If you’re interested in it you could purchase it via   rkretz@sunset.cc)

OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED…

Commenting on Hosea 11 the Scots commentator George A Smith said this. “Passing by all the empires of earth, the Almighty chose for Himself this people that was no people, this tribe that was the slave of Egypt. And the choice was one of love only: ‘When Israel was young I came to love him, and out of Egypt I called My son.’ It was the adoption of a little slave boy, adoption by the heart; and the fatherly figure continues, ‘I taught Ephraim to walk, taking him upon Mine arms.’ It is just the same charm, seen from another point of view, when Hosea hears God say that He had ‘found Israel like grapes in the wilderness, like the firstfruits of an early fig tree I saw your fathers.’ “

This is how the Jewish Publication Society Version renders Hosea 11:1,
I fell in love with Israel
When he was still a child;
And I have called [him] My son
Ever since Egypt.

Theodore Laetsch renders it, “When Israel was young, then I began to love him, and from Egypt I called My Son.” And G. Adam Smith points out that the verb stresses the point or moment at which something happens and renders it, in line with the previous two, “I came to love” Israel. The picture generated by the words in the text is clear. One day God was looking around at the nations he had created and his eye passed over powerful Assyria, sword in hand and with its lean and rippling muscles. Then he looked long at gorgeous Egypt with its wealth, culture and centuries of mystery before he caught sight of a little slave child. Helpless, bewildered and, to God, a lovely little boy. Here was a child with no power, no national history and no land to call his own and God’s heart went out to him at that time and he came to love him and adopted him as his son.
As the infant grew God taught him to walk (11:3). Hunkering down in front of him as fathers do, He rested the little boy’s hands on his own hands and arms and slowly backed away, allowing the child to support himself on his father’s arms. Looking like a little mechanical toy, with stiff legs as if he had no knees, he put one foot in front of another, grinning and gurgling as he staggered along. And when he stumbled and grazed his knee it was God that soothed and healed it (11:3). It was all so long ago. The little boy was too young to appreciate how dependent he was on his ever-present and attentive father but that didn’t matter because the joy of loving parents in their tiny girls and boys that toddle all over the place needs no special mention in those days. And so it was with the Holy Father, so these verses tell us. They spoke of days when all was warmth and affection and pleasure but now, as Hosea writes, Israel has grown old and suffers from senility and premature ageing (7:9) and God is pictured as a father pacing up and down the room anguishing over how to help him. (Compare 4:17 and 11:8, for example.)
The very reading of such texts makes it clear that it’s a crime to reduce the Story of the Bible to legal categories with an unhealthy stress on juridical words like “justification.” In light of truths told as Hosea tells them, to reduce the Bible to a book of wise maxims or a generalized moral code to which we must respond is tragic! It is more than a riveting romance, more than a Story of holy love reaching out but if it is more it certainly isn’t less!
I know the anthropomorphisms of scripture mustn’t be taken too far! Of course! And isn’t it Hosea that reminds us that God is not a man (11:9)! So, okay, we’re not to take them too far but we’re not to forget that God wasn’t ashamed to liken Himself to all that is best in fathers and mothers and that finally (praise His name!) He wasn’t even ashamed to become one of us—permanently!
The special relationship Israel had with God he was given in trust. It was for the world that Israel was called and it is for the world that the NT church is called. When we read the description of the churches in the NT we sometimes wince and wonder and as we look around at them today (or in the mirror) we sometimes wince and wonder even more. Does that not make sense? Yes, it does. “Sense”  within certain parameters.
Still, its irritating to listen to the peevish or those who easily take offense denigrating her, though they never ever lifted a hand to help her or they flung away because their expectations weren’t met—a Demas sort of move!
With more justification, let those who have been profoundly mistreated by her, cry unto her God—that we can understand! But when those she nourished with a sense of Jesus-imaging righteousness and care, when those who wouldn’t know the meaning of justice if it hadn’t been for her—when they join the sneering crowd of critics and whine about the poverty of “organized religion” we’re seeing an entirely different picture. When preachers barely ever mount the pulpit without parading her failures, beating her without mercy though they know right well that she too is sinful and weak, that she too needs a cup of cold water, that she too is naked and in need of clothing and warmth and forgiveness—when we see and hear that, we don’t wonder that “outsiders” humiliate and shame her.
Yes it makes sense to hear her criticized, but we still need to remember passages like this in Hosea. There’s something just not right about one of God’s people acting or speaking as if he/she isn’t a part of the “family” and there’s something risky about ceaselessly scorning God’s children when the Holy One who knows them best says He loves them. There’s a text somewhere where God says, “He that curses you, him will I curse; he that blesses you, him will I bless.” I’m sure it says something like that.

(Wise all knowing Holy Father you know what fools we are at times, how shallow our love pools are and how quickly they dry up when too many come to drink from them. You know well that we make judgments about things and people when we don’t know enough and aren’t pure enough to make them. We have heard wonderful stories of you and we believe every one of them and we heard you say (Hosea 11:8-9) of your People that even in their deep and treacherous apostasy that you wouldn’t execute the fullness of your wrath on them because you are God and not a man. Sometimes we realize only a God can save us and only a God like you will want to save us. We do our best (don’t we? do we?)—the best that we sinners can do, we suppose. You must save us, Holy One or we won’t be saved. We’re glad that you know everything and that you alone love us and will provide a flawless justice in that coming day. Our thanks and our request in Jesus name.)

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.)

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.)