“YOU’RE MISSING THE POINT!”

“Their camels four hundred and thirty five, and their donkeys six thousand seven hundred and twenty.”
That’s Ezra 2:67. Ezra says that’s how many there were and I believe him.
We would have been just as happy with Ezra’s accurate record if he had recorded 438 and 6725. A few camels or donkeys more or less wouldn’t trouble us. What we got in Ezra 2:67 is accurate information but it doesn’t generate a lot of interest on its own. But we’re not supposed to read it “on its own.” We’re supposed to get up on a high place and look down.
If we were in the mood we’d count the number of camels and donkeys. “Yes, he got it right,” we might say, “for we saw it with our own eyes.” But then we’d notice horses and mules and maybe we’d count them to assure ourselves of Ezra’s accuracy. Then we’d notice there were flocks and herds! Then people; boys and girls and women and men—250 of them are singers. We give up all counting and recognize on Ezra’s count that the entire assembly numbered 42,360.
We might walk over to him and commend him for his accuracy as a chronicler. He’d probably thank us but if we made the throbbing center of our speech something about his good counting he would tell us, “You’re missing the point!”
Ezra wasn’t counting heads or hoofs—he was recording a momentous event of which the details were a part. He wasn’t just logging information—he was telling a story, he was rehearsing an event filled with glory! This event said things about mighty Babylon! The herds and donkeys, the flocks and the camels, the mules, horses, singers and the rest of the host sang the fulfillment of Isaiah 44 & 45 where Cyrus is named as God’s deliverer of His people.
To isolate two verses about the animals reduces the message that even the animals proclaim. Mules and camels, horses and donkeys all kicking up dust and chaos were stirring the dust of freedom and and proclaiming the chaos of freedom. These animals meant and mean something! But they only man something if we let them be what the Bible means them to be!
They function as a part of a great Return with the faithful God fulfilling His promise to bring them home. But He is more than faithful; He is capable of doing the wondrous things He promises. And that means He is the Lord of nations and the God who shapes and uses history.
Isolating verses, atomizing scriptures, slavishly repeating what they say without giving them their place within the Cosmic Adventure is no good kind of Bible study!
It not only misses the POINT of the text, it is robbed of the POWER of it; the power it brings! God makes His presence felt in the truth He gives, John 6:3.

(Holy One, thank you… but please…!   This prayer on the Lord Jesus Christ.)

 

“JESUS MY PATIENT…”

Ignoring right now the complexities of this truth let me just state it in light of the biblical narrative: the human family chose alienation from God and consequences followed and continue to follow.

God’s purposed response to it was to become incarnate in and as Jesus of Nazareth (John 1). And He come to be “God with us (Matthew 1). Not God against us. He came not to condemn us but to bring us to fullness of life (John 10). The world we live in has a God-denying look: “If He does exist He doesn’t care. Look around for pity’s sake.” God’s definitive answer to that is the Incarnation and what flows from it. That’s why the Christian faith scandalizes so many of us. The young Galilean carpenter is God responding to human family that has experienced a cosmic wreck and the effects of it. (I do understand this all needs developed!) God is a divine paramedic who insists on working with humans as humans and He won’t go back on that eternal decision. There lies a real basis for our sneering at the Bible Story. God insists on working with humans as humans—even sneering humans.

Matthew 8:16-17 makes it clear that in Jesus Christ God took human suffering on His heart, in healing it He made it clear it is not His heart’s desire and He went with it all the way to Golgotha and nailed it there along with the alienation (Sin) that we chose and choose. He came and ministered to our hurt and hunger and loneliness, suffering with us, from us and for us and because He is one of us He suffers in us (Hebrews 2).

And He continues to serve us through us! I know a woman who worked for thirteen years with the physically and mentally disabled and now works with one feeble, elderly, often pain-racked man, totally dependent on others for everything. I’m privileged to know her well and (along with a host of others) she sees the helpless ill as those Jesus identifies Himself with. In her and all like her Jesus becomes the healer and in her eyes and all like her the disabled become Jesus the Sufferer. And in His likeness they both share the suffering and heal it and so they live out His Story as we see in in places like Matthew 8:16-17.

Marvelous Teresa of Calcutta fully embraced that costly truth in daily living and expressed it with power in a prayer of desperate intensity and sweetness.

Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst nursing them, minister unto you.

Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say: “Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.
.  .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

O beloved sick, how doubly dear you are to me, when you personify Christ; and what a privilege is mine to be allowed to tend you.

How wonderful is that! How simply magnificent is that!

The great news beyond that is God has said NO to Sin, Suffering & Death in a glorious Resurrection. There’s a new world coming where Sin, Suffering & Death don’t exist. A world is coming where humans live as humans in warm righteousness, unending well-being, joy, peace and adventure know no end. THIS IS WHAT GOD CAME TO OFFER!

Think noble things of God!

FIRST & FOURTH YEAR MED STUDENTS

 

[I’ve put this up before but I don’t know where. [There’s no cure for my lack of discipline.]

A while back I wrote this to a dear God-loving friend. I’ve doctored it only a little.]

Dear…I am a weak one! I confess that I didn’t become weak all by myself—I had help and continue to have help being weak. Still, I wrestle with so much that I am sure I should have outgrown. I’m speaking the truth here: the only thing that keeps me on my feet and in the adventure is that I’ve been privileged to hear and come to know the gospel about God and I have a small handful in my life that [toward me in particular] embody the truth and goodness of that gospel.
I love it that you have the sense of the “poetry” of God and his gospel. Poets [good ones] work with words in a way that even philosophers don’t. Their aim is measurably different and they give us words that enable us to express truths that run around in us as a jumble of feelings and part feelings and half-wishes. They help us to give form to them without systematizing them or making them or leaning heavily on the rational.
With well-chosen words they show us unseen facets of things and they do this by their gift as “seers” and by their word choice. The refuse to “specialize” as they speak. Robert Coles, Harvard child-psychiatrist, medical professor and literary figure, reminds us that 1st year med students spend a lot of time telling one another about the patients’ autobiographical material but a 4th year student’s language becomes altogether clinical and about the medical condition of the patients. The first year students “story,” they “preach”. The 4th year students “lecture”.
I’m not suggesting I’m an expert in this particular area [or any other] but I’ve lived long enough and listened closely enough that I’m sure that in my experience I find the same is true with people who newly hear the Story of God, his biography. Later, under a steady diet of explanation, exegetical endeavor, particular doctrinal stresses, dry lexical emphasis, schooling at a particular school—with a steady diet of these their speech and their expectations and responses become merely descriptive, clipped, “to the point”, “proof-texted” and when they speak they “lecture”. I’m certain that I myself could not live—continue to live—on that. I myself would have no energy to stay on my feet with a strong feeling of assured hope. With my make-up I’d trudge my way through life and whatever else would be true my faith wouldn’t be contagious with what other troubled people need—troubled people like me.

I get it, of course, that some doctrinal truths should not be denied or sidelined. I don’t mind that—in fact I’m happy about it because some doctrinal truths are the foundation on which everything else rests. These are the massive, bed-rock truths about God as he has shown himself in the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures, culminating in an unending climax that is a Person—Jesus Christ. That’s the Story, how we go about telling it is profoundly important. Even if it’s badly told it has power as long as it is the Story that’s being told, but there’s no point in being silly about this—how it’s told makes a difference because how it’s told is how it’s heard and how it’s heard is how it’s believed and how it’s believed leads to how we feel about it and how we feel about it is how we act on it.

You are blessed with gaining the sometimes wild and always roomy, free, glorious aspect of it via this way of hearing. Words create moments that won’t exist until certain words are spoken.

I told an assembly a while back of the prayer in a little book of prayers I have. A young boy [maybe 9] must have heard that God needed volunteers to help him save a world. He wrote, “Dear God, count me in. Your friend Herbie.” The response from numerous people focused not on my overall message which moved in that direction but on Herbie’s marvelously phrased response to God’s call. One [a God-loving wife of a shepherd I know], out of two pieces of thrown-away wood and white paint, even made me something to hang on the wall with Herbie’s words on it. [It hangs upstairs on the wall of my daughter Linda.]
I heard others shout it over at one another on their way to Bible class and a number shook my hand and one of them, a mature man of God, tearfully repeated it and said, “I want to be counted on.” The point I wish to make is that—please reflect on this for a while when you have the time—something happened when those words went out into the air, something that wouldn’t have happened if they had not. Herbie’s words gave us the speech with which to express a sense of things we already possessed but hadn’t been able to express well. It was what we truly wished for but his words set the wish on fire, they drove it home and opened not only our minds but our mouths, “we are a people of utterance.” In rebuking leaders In Jeremiah 2:6-8 God says, “They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ ” We are to be a “saying” people.
Words. The right words do it even better than the poorer words [though we’re not to despise the tongue-tied or slow of speech—Exodus 4:10-12]. It doesn’t matter that the exhilaration of the moment passes away after a day or two—the memory remains and lovely vivid memories, memorably expressed, continue to bubble around in the subconscious, affecting us at the conscious level by shaping us.
Nothing is ever the same when such things happen. No wonder Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit and life.” No wonder he said, “The truth sets you free.” No wonder Paul said in [1 Corinthians 1.21] that God in his wisdom purposes to save the world by a preached message.
But we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that words themselves do that—only gospel words do precisely that because they are based on and shaped by actual events of which the words are an expression. It remains true, however, that if the events are never made known they have no effect on us—“faith comes by hearing the word of God” [Romans 10.11-17].
We need no pretense of gallantry in behavior—tough times are real and they tire and test us [and they are experienced as “more” real for countless oppressed and suffering]—but God and His Story, they’re both real too. We are “a people of utterance” and we should thank God for people he has gifted [Christian or non-Christian] with speech who can teach us how to speak—to speak tenderly, memorably, clearly, passionately, joyfully about matters that are worth talking about.
And, of course, we should thank God for those who speak truth and enable us to grasp and rejoice in truth for if what we speak passionately, memorably, clearly and joyfully is not true…

If we are to be “freed” as Jesus had in mind (John 8:32) it must be TRUE and it must be foundational!

(Holy One, please fill our hearts and our imaginations with your mesmerizing gospel and the words to express it. This request in the Lord Jesus Christ.)

 

ON A VISIT TO THE E.R.

I had a cardiac incident a couple of days ago that led to the ER.

Linda and I were there all of seven hours and much of the time we looked with interest at the people that came and went with (no doubt) a host of differing ailments and underlying health problems.

We watched not only the troubled people but we watched the people that attended to them and we were [truly!] very happy at their way and their purpose. Then it was my turn with the specialists, nurses and doctors, EKGs, blood work, Xrays and the like and we were reminded that while God cares ultimately about our alienation from Him as our God (the Sin issue) He cares about our physical well-being. Bless me, He made us humans. That is, He has eternally purposed that humans, as humans, are to love and be loved, to care for and be cared for by one another and that part of that divine love is expressed in the gifts and the brilliance He has poured out on and invested in humans.

I looked at the monitors, listened to the clicks, watched the needles, heard the whirring, smiled at the stethoscopes, etc., etc., and noted the expert ease with which these people did their business. Who came up with these marvelous computers, machines, medicines and so forth, and where did the desire to help the sick come from?

I’m a Christian (however flawed) and I’ve been fed and shaped by the Judeo—Christian Scriptures and interpret life (and experience it) in light of them. So I‘m persuaded beyond debate that all the gifts and honorable drives that humans possess and experience are from God. I know that generates questions and that the “how” of it is so complex that to follow all the threads to an exhaustive and completely satisfying conclusion is beyond us. But everything in life is like that.

Read leisurely Exodus 35:30-35 and context and then back to chapters 25–32 about Tabernacle building and note who enabled them do all that was asked of them. Acts 17:24-29 needs to be read and reflected on and when that is done we need to look around at all the non-Christian people that God is using to supply our human needs. There’s no end to the marvels of human interdependence that is GOD at work!

Religious people can and often do become so “spiritual” that they don’t recognize that human well-being finds its source on the same God that forgives their sins. We rightly claim that we are doing the will of God (when indeed we are) but He is doing His will also through all those who are instruments of His interest in our-well-being. Read and take careful note of Acts 14:17 of what it is God gives (see “and everything else” in Acts 17:25). That text doesn’t go into the complexities of the work and generosity of a God we’ve rejected but a moment’s thought makes it clear that the crops and orchards don’t jump from the fields or off the trees, make their way to our tables all milled or chopped or whatever. Aside from the soil and seed, sunshine and rain, there are farmers, millers, transporters, retailers, jobs to gain money to buy, health and ability and education to do many of these jobs, roads to transport, engineers that make road and vehicles with drivers. There’s no end. ALL this is the work of God, carried out in a human family that is often at war with Him, within a human family where the people with the power are often working against Him. (Another discussion for another time—God enabling).

But is God really interested in our physical well-being? One of the most neglected texts in the Gospels (neglected by scholars within my reach) is Matthew 8:16-17. Look what text and context Matthew links physical healing with. (Another discussion for another time—God enabling.)

The miracles of Jesus Christ are saturated with theological meaning (Another discussion…) and part of it all is promissory and prophetic. By the eternal purpose of God there is a day coming when disease and death will be totally and utterly and everlastingly obliterated and all who are embraced in His saving work in His Holy Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, will know only ceaseless joy, righteousness, unbroken peace and right now, unknown adventure in a life brimful of life.

(Holy One, thank you for gifting the human family with the capacity for invention and vision, with gifts to do good, obliterating diseases and promoting well-being in all its forms. We regret that your gifts are so often used for evil purposes that hinder your loving purpose but we’re fully persuaded that you do even now work despite these and that you will one day completely bring an end to impenitent and exultant cruelty and corruption. Help those of us that are privileged to know you, so that we will come to know you better and will honor you without reservation for the work you do through those who have not yet embraced Jesus as Lord. We thank you for not only gifting them with brilliance but we’re very happy that you have blessed so many with good hearts and sincere devotion to the well-being of your children regardless of who they are. We pray even more for them. And bless us believers that we will not be put off by those who so speak about you as if you exist only to give us more and more and more of what we already have—keep us from being so put off that we refuse to acknowledge your genuine interest in human well-being and the wonderful work of bringing it to millions. Help us without patronizing anyone to see everyone as your servant who engages in your work (though they know it not). This prayer in Jesus Christ.)

I TRAPPED A MOUSE

A mouse showed up in my basement. I chased it but…

I got some traps, set them down. No luck. I was moving stuff out from under the sink and found a trap I didn’t know was there. It was set by a vermin man many months earlier. It was one of those black sticky ones. And there lay the poor wee thing, dead on it. A slow traumatic death. Maybe they can’t reason but they can suffer and I attribute to the little creature the panic and wondering that maybe it didn’t feel and it’ll be a while before I can like what I see in the mirror.
I don’t live where such creatures are a threat to me and I have no criticism for those who must deal with them as disease carriers. It’s the world we live in and we must deal with threats of this kind for many good reasons. Finish this off for me so I can move on without further discussion of it.
The sight of the mouse with its limbs outstretched, striving for freedom, and now the memory of it, haunts me. If you write and criticize me for having the trap I won’t complain. Currently I feel I deserve all I’d get. Later I’m sure I’ll calm down and reason my way to my “freedom”.
But the incident has led me to think about the doctrine of everlasting, conscious and ceaseless torment (a doctrine I cannot hold).
There are kind, generous and deeply religious people who fervently believe that God is going to everlastingly and ceaselessly torture human beings. These are not insensitive people; they hurt, and weep over people in far-off lands who go on hurting day after day without hope of change. They sometimes sob over people that live much nearer; people born in stinking tenement buildings, vermin infested, oppressed, unemployed and often unemployable. Many of these sincere believers are kind even to their enemies and they do them good. And yet they believe that God will everlastingly and ceaselessly torment humans and they believe it because others teach them that this is what God has said He will do; that the God and Father of Jesus Christ is the kind of God that would do such a thing and that Jesus is such a one in whose presence this endless torment will go on (Revelation 14:10-11 is used).
These sensitive and kind people see the brutal and impenitent torturers of fellow-humans and are horrified that they would do such things and then believe that God will ceaselessly inflict torture, unendingly, on His enemies.
This their teachers say He will do even to multiplied millions who’ve never heard and will never hear anything about God and His glorious Son, Jesus Christ. They will only come to know this loving Father and His loving Son on that day when He consigns and subjects them to endless and unceasing conscious torment. Sigh.
Don’t be afraid to doubt such teaching!
Is it not interesting how a little confused and hungry mouse, tormented on a sticky trap makes one think of God and life and the oppressed human family?

Write me if you wish:   email: holywoodjk@aol.com

 

UNANIMOUS & ANONYMOUS

A word means what a writer or speaker means it to mean even if the speaker happens to use the wrong word. One group of office workers are angry with the office manager’s way of running things and wish to protest to the higher management. But they’re very afraid of the O.M and don’t want her to nail them in sly reprisal. One of them says, “We need to write a unanimous note to the bosses.” In this case she has used the wrong word with the right meaning. Her little group got the point while ignoring word choice. In this sentence unanimous meant anonymous. Context is king in interpretation.
It’s really interesting how context reveals the “meaning” of a word or a phrase. The more finely-tuned, the richer our understanding of context, the better we will understand what a writer or speaker is immediately “after”.
We experience the truth of this every day but we do it so easily that we’re rarely aware we’re doing it. Those with a full awareness of the context are aware of the grammatical/lexical possibilities of the words spoken but they’re also aware of things—truths, realities, events—that others are unaware of. This means that while they are fully aware of the grammatical or lexical possibilities of the words being used they don’t “get” what’s going on in the speaker’s mind nor do they “get” what has been generated in the minds of those “in the know” who are part of those addressed. [This is true even if the person who doesn’t have a full grasp of the context is more accomplished linguistically than those “in the know.”]

For example a teacher whose vocabulary is greater than any of the students may not know how a familiar word is being used intentionally by Peter to goad Rachel. The well-known word in this case “means” something known only to Peter and Rachel. (Some think writer/speaker intention is unknowable but they write/speak expecting us to get their point.)

Once more, if I’m angry with someone and he knows it I may say something with barbs in it that only he can feel and pick up on. To others there’s nothing critical in the remark and this is true even though they hear the same words spoken and with the same tone. Intention isn’t always easily discernible and perhaps now and then not east at all. Work is required.
Here’s “John” he’s certain that “Joe” has slandered him and he speaks to him about it. “Joe” denies any such thing but John isn’t convinced and in a Bible class where the discussion is “the works of the flesh” in Galatians 5 John works in some blunt words about the very great wickedness of slander. Everyone in the room agrees with John’s words but the only one that gets John’s real point is Joe. It isn’t only John’s words that give the “meaning” (here I’m talking about intention)—Joe gets his purpose, his intention, “what he really is doing with his words.
It’s because intention is at the center of what a person is doing with words that God says Job’s friends did not speak the truth about Him. Well, at least that’s part of the truth. The friends very often say things that are true but they use them to promote a cause or agenda God did not endorse or approve whereas Job said false things in support of known massive underlying truth about God and this particular situation (see Job 42:7).
Context is everything and because (as we experience every day of our lives, perhaps) we can’t get the entire picture out of which speech arises, we must settle for something  less than an exhaustive understanding of the Bible’s message. (That claim, though I firmly believe it’s true needs carefully developed.)
As soon as John utters the word slander it fills with sounds and images and personal feelings that don’t exist on this occasion for anyone other than Joe. Joe knows he is being “got at.” The word in this setting fills with images that are not part of the word itself. Interpretation involves more than the customary lexical and grammatical possibility of the words used.

If “Harold” had brought the matter up it in the class it wouldn’t have generated those additional images in the mind of Joe though it might have made him feel uneasy. It would have been another general and well known observation about one aspect of moral behavior.
But if Harold is a good friend and confidant of John then his remarks on slandering will probably generate other images are that only Joe gets. If Harold is clearly not John’s friend what Joe feels may be no more than some uneasiness.

So what has this to do with texts like Luke 3:1-7? Everything!

Context is everything though it isn’t everything, if you know what I mean.

(Maybe something more in this area later, God enabling.)

SIN SAYS “YES” & GOD SAYS “NO!”

I wish to say something about God’s “no” to Sin as He expresses it in the Church.

“For He made Him He who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
In the truth we have embraced, in our trusting God while we share the loss, hurt and anguish of the world—in these and more we reflect our Lord Jesus’ own trust in His Holy Father. From the cross on Golgotha as Luke tells us His last words were “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (As I write this—this very moment—one of our own (Alan Comer) is dying of cancer, enduring an agonizing exit, who has uttered and is uttering words just like that. “Father, into your hands I commit my very self!”)
Our very existence as the Body of the Living Jesus Christ, is a focused expression of God’s faithfulness to His commitment to the human family; not only to the Church but, through the Church and other of His gifts, to the world.  His goodness to us as sinners makes it clear that He will not allow Sin to have the last word and determine the destiny of humans. To those that Sin would strangle and suffocate and fill with despair the Church as a forgiven People, the Church as a reconciled People has been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation.
The Church embodies and carries a message of inexpressibly good news and it’s this: “God knows about Sin but He refuses to let it have the last word because He is GOD and not a man (Hosea 11:9).” Even God cannot force a friendship upon people but He insists: “Whatever you want; My heart wants friendship. If you don’t want Me then we can’t be friends but the reason we’re not friends if we aren’t friends is not in Me! Where sin increases so does My grace. There is nothing in Me that keeps us apart. I am the sinned against and I say I am Sin’s enemy and I cancel its alienating power by My love of you.”
(Holy One, help us indeed to embody this truth about you. help those who teach us to teach us about this truth. Open their eyes to it and thrill them with it that they may come to us at times wide-eyed and astonished at you and the truth about you with messages that are worthy of you. Come to the Church’s aid in this that we might be thankful and happy servants of yours to our families and neighbors and to the world. This prayer in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.)