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Monday, April 14, 2014

Of timeless themes...          

‘Books have always been an important part of my life—from my earliest
 memory, I was always the omnivorous reader, the kid with the
 flashlight under the sheets at night…’                         - Art Katz, 1974

Among his library of thousands of books, essays, pamphlets, etc., are the works of many writers—well-known and obscure—on a variety of timeless themes. They include a choice few with his marginal notes and highlighted phrases and passages made during his years of travels and in quiet moments of study, contemplation…and wonder.


Katz first picked up a used copy of philosopher Blaise Pascal's The Pensees, or Thoughts, apparently when transiting Egypt, Morocco, possibly Tunis, or even London or Paris while on his epic fourteen-month travels during 1963-64 through North Africa and Europe. (A stamped inscription at the bottom of the inside title page shows a brief notation in farsi with "Shady Bookshop" and a five-digit telephone number. Presumably, it is where he bought the book for the listed three shillings and six-pence.)
   The time of purchase can be fixed due to some of his numerous highlight marks and emphases on numerous pages - AND his rhetorical questions and marginal comments about the existence of God, Jesus, etc., in the present tense!
    In a chapter entitled "Proofs of Jesus Christ", is the statement:

    "No one is as happy as a true Christian, nor as reasonable, virtuous, and lovable." Katz wrote in the margin: "Mary, Edwin, Gustaffson, etc." in obvious reference to three people whom he met during two weeks in August while hitchhiking through Switzerland - Mary, the young Methodist co-ed from Kansas, vacationing in Zurich, exhibiting her inspiring, simple faith in God; Edwin, the urbane businessman driving to Schaffhausen who picked him up and spent several hours, guiding him about the city, riveting him with the initial exclamation: "You're Jewish! How marvelous!" Helmut Gutaffson encountered the exhausted Katz at a bus in Locarno and took him to his small flat where he, his wife and their small baby spent the night in a cramped bedroom so that Katz could sleep comfortably in a room by himself. They had fed him profusely that night and the next morning, answering his eager questions about their hospitality and visible yet unpretentious faith to their guest that it is "the Christian way" before he resumed his travels.

Other quotes from Pascal's book with accompanying margin comments by Katz (in italics), include:
"...Jesus tears himself away from His disciples to enter upon His agony; we must tear ourselves fom our closest and most intimate friends to imitate Him."
Let the dead bury the dead, etc.

"...Jesus is alone on earth, with no one to feel or share His pain, or even to know it..."
The human or existentialist condition.

"...True conversion consists in self-annihilation before that Universal Being whom we have so often provoked, and who has reason to destroy us every hour; in recognizing that we can do nothing without Him, and have deserved nothing from Him but His displeasure. It consists in recognizing that there is an invincible opposition between God and ourselves, and that without a mediator we can nave no communion with Him." (AK's underline)
Tough to take.

"...The law imposed what it did not give. Grace gives what it imposes."
? (AK's question mark)

"...This is what I see, and what troubles me. I look around me in all directions, and see nothing but darkness everywhere. Nature offers me nothing that is not a matter of doubt and disquiet. If I saw no sign of a God there, I should decide against Him. If I saw signs of a Creator everywhere, I should believe and be at peace. But seeing too much evidence against, and too little that is favorable, I am in a pitiable state. A hundred times I have wished that, if nature is sustained by a God, she would unequivocally declare it, and that if the signs she gives of him are fallacious she would suppress them altogether. I would have her say all or nothing, so that I might see which side I ought to take. Whereas now, in my present state, not knowing what I am and what I ought to do, I understand neither myself nor my duty. My heart is wholly bent on discovering where the true good lies, so that I may follow it; there is no price that I would not pay for eternity
    "I envy those whom I see living in faith so unconcernedly, and making such poor use of a gift that I believe I should employ so differently."
Might be my own confession.

"...True Christians comply with the world's follies, nevertheless, not because they respect them, but out of compliance with the divine command which, as a punishment for men, has made them subject to these follies: For the creature was made subject to vanity. He shall be delivered. This is how St. Thomas explains the passage in St. James (2.1) on giving a good place to the rich, that if men fail to do this in God's sight, they violate the commandments of religion."
God sanctions the status quo? Revolutions breed worse evils than those they replace?

"...We know ourselves so little that many think they are about to die when they are quite well; and many think they are quite well when, unconscious of the impending fever or the ulcer about to form, they are close to death."

"(Men) imagine that if they were to gain a certain office they would then be glad to rest; they do not understand the insatiable nature of their desires. They believe that they are honestly looking for rest, but all they are really looking for is excitement."
Absolutely contemporary.

"He no longer loves the woman he loved ten years ago I can believe it; she is not the same person, neither is he. He was young, and so was she; now she is quite different. Perhaps he would still love her if she were as she was then."
✓✓ (AK's)

"[What a monster then is man! How strange and chimerical, what a chaos, what a bundle of contradictions, what a prodigy! A judge of all things, a feeble earthworm; a depository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error, the pride and refuse of the universe.]
"Who will unravel this tangle? Nature confounds the skeptics, and the reason confounds the dogmatists. What will become of you then, you who try to find out by your natural reason what your true condition is? You cannot avoid one of these sects, or adhere to one of them.
"(Acknowledge then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Impotent reason, bow down! Foolish nature, be silent! Learn that man infinitely transcends man, and hear from your master your true condition which is unnown to you. Listen to God...")
AK's large parantheses, brackets and exaggerated asterisk beside the entire passage.

Finally, on a page opposite the inside back-cover, Katz wrote mysteriously if not experimentally:

"I am moving from a horizontal universality to a vertical perpetuity.

"1. Buying a painting-by-the-numbers already completed at the factory.
"2. Buying a painting-by-the-numbers in which you fill it in yourself.
"3. An entirely free, anxiety-ridden, creation painting in which you provide the form."

- Copyright, J.M. Cohen (Penguin Books Inc., Baltimore, Maryland), 1961

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Of timeless themes...          

‘Books have always been an important part of my life—from my earliest
 memory, I was always the omnivorous reader, the kid with the
 flashlight under the sheets at night…’       - Art Katz, 1974

Among his library of thousands of books, essays, pamphlets, etc., are the works of many writers—well-known and obscure—on a variety of timeless themes. They include a choice few with his marginal notes and highlighted phrases and passages made during his years of travels and in quiet moments of study, contemplation…and wonder.

June 26, 1984

Dear Arthur:

   Thank you for your kind letter of June 20. It seems clear that our blessed Lord is stripping down so many of His servants to prepare them for the very difficult times ahead.
   T. Austin-Sparks said, "God permits a crisis in the lives of His servants, so severe, that information will no longer suffice - and only a revelation will do." After revelation comes the hardest part; it is when God puts us to the supreme test, which usually includes an hour of darkness and despair like none other ever experienced. Still, I have never known anyone with true depth who did not come to that place except through suffering and pain.
   I have heard of our Lord's hiding "of your person and ministry in your remote area. All I can say to you is what Ravenhill said to me - "Hide thyself - show thyself."
   I am sending a book by J.B. Stoney. If you like Stoney, I will send you free of charge his entire 13 volumes.

Your servant in Christ,
David Wilkerson

Acquaintance With Christ (1892)*

"I am the good shepherd; and I know those that are mine, and am known of those that are mine..."
- John 10.14 

   '...What kind of knowledge is it? I answer, It is the same kind of knowledge (I do not say the same measure, but the same character of knowledge) that there is between the Father and the Son.'
   '...He (the man born blind who was healed at the pool of Siloam) had received his sight, and everyone knew of it, and as a consequence of his faithfulness in owning the work of Christ, he was cast out; every circle of society refused him - his neighbours, the social circle; the Pharisees, the religious circle; his parents, the domestic circle, disowned him; and the nation eventually put him out; he is outside of the fold. He was once in the solitude of darkness, and we all have known that solitude; but now he is outside everything of man; and would to God that everyone in this room knew of that solitude...' (p.327)

   '...(B)ecause it is always the case, the greater the height, the greater the fall. If an enlightened Christian falls, he has a more grievous fall than an ignorant one. ...(N)othing has contributed more to the present distraction of saints than the lack of personal intercourse with the Lord. There has been a great and an increased zeal to acquire knowledge of the Scriptures, but personal acquaintance with the Lord has not been correspondingly sought after. You will find, I trust, that as you become acquainted with the word, you are better acquainted with the Lord, because you desire to know Himself. Paul writes to the Philippians, thirty years after his conversion (as far as I count); "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." After thirty years, his chief desire and study is to know Christ. It is an important saying, that 'Man's words explain his mind, but you must know God's mind in order to understand his words.' (p.328-329)

   '...(Y)ou will find that you do not really make acquaintance with the Lord, until you are apart from all which He has removed; that is, in reality you have not learned the completeness of his service.' (p.332)

From MINISTRY, Volume 1, by J.B. Stoney (Kingston Bible Trust, Sussex, England)   


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

'Do you see the law of prophetic function?'
From T. Austin Sparks’ Prophetic Ministry: Conference Messages*

‘Prophecy is spiritual interpretation… It is the
interpretation of everything from a spiritual
T. Austin Sparks (right) and
 Ni To-sheng (Watchman Nee)
standpoint; the bringing of the spiritual implications of things past, present and future, before the people of God, and giving them to understand the significance of things in their spiritual value and meaning. That was and is the essence of prophetic ministry.
            ‘…The prophets arose as a reaction from God to the course and drift of things amongst His people; a call back, a re-declaration, a re-pronouncement of God’s mind, a bringing into clear view again of the thoughts of God. The prophets stood in the midst of the stream—usually a fast-rushing stream—like a rock; the course of things broke over them. They challenged and resisted the course, and their presence in the midst of the stream represented God’s mind as against the prevailing course of things…
            ‘Here is the thing to which the prophetic ministry all-inclusively relates—the original and ultimate purpose of God in and through His people; and when you have said that, you have got right to the heart of things. We ask again, What is the prophetic ministry, what is the prophetic function, to what does it relate?—and the answer all-inclusively is that it relates to the full, original and ultimate purpose of God in and through His people. …To interpret the mind of God in all matters concerning the purpose of God, to bring all details into line with the purpose, and to make the purpose govern everything…
            ‘(T)he prophetic ministry is an enlightened ministry, and is that which, under the anointing, is to bring things back to the position of absolute safety and security because it is true to Divine principle…
            ‘Prophets were not men who accommodated themselves to anything that was comparative in its goodness. They never let themselves go wholly if the thing was only comparatively good… The prophet cannot accept as full and final what is only comparative, though he rejoices in the measure of good that there may be anywhere.
            ‘A man is called to represent the thoughts of God, to represent them in what he is, not in something that he takes up as a form or line of ministry, not in something that he does. The vessel itself is the ministry…
            ‘The prophet must bring it home by his own experience. God is working the thing right in. He works it in deep and terrible ways in the life of His servant to produce the ministry.
            ‘The vessel thus wrought upon, is the message. People do not come to hear what you have to teach. They have come to see what you are. To see that thing which has been wrought by God. What a price the prophetic instrument has to pay!...
            ‘He takes that vessel through a deep history, breaking and undoing, disillusioning, revolutionizing the whole mentality, so that the things which were held fiercely, assertively, are no longer so held… Everything that was merely objective as to the work of God, as to Divine truth, as to orthodoxy or fundamentalism; all that was held so strongly, in an objective, legalistic way, as to what is right and wrong in methods—it is all dealt with, all broken. There is a new conception entirely, a new outlook upon things; no longer a formal system, something outside you which you take up, but something wrought in an inward way in the vessel It is what the vessel is that is its ministry…
            ‘Do you see the law of prophetic function? It is that God keeps anointed vessels abreast of the truth by experience. Every bit of truth that they give out in word is something that has had a history. They went down into the depths and they were saved by that truth. It was their life and therefore it is a part of them…
            ‘We are better fitted to serve the Lord’s purpose, we are truer prophets, when we can bear with the things with which we do not agree, than when in our zeal we are iconoclast, and seek only to destroy the offending thing…
            ‘The point is this—that there is a voice in the prophets which may be missed, a meaning which may not be apprehended, and the results may be disastrous for the people concerned. … (M)en who were the eyes of God for a people, and signifying to that people God’s thought and purpose concerning them, their Divine vocation, God’s interpretation of their very existence—these prophets who embodied that are all brought into the New Testament dispensation and into the Church, with this clear implication that that is how the Church is to be if it is to get through. The Church is to be a seeing thing, dominated by a specific object and vision, knowing why it exists, having no doubt about it, and poised in utter abandonment thereto, bringing all other things in life into line with that…’ ”

*Witness and Testimony Publishers, London (1954)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

the Art Katz essay…

How significant can be a single episode in the life of a man. It was so for David at the height of Saul’s relentless pursuit of his life as recorded in I Samuel 24. It is not only historical, but typical as it represents two antibodies symbolized and summed up in both David and Saul. As it was from the beginning (Cain and Abel) so will it be till the end of the age as polarities always at enmity with one another.
Why is the young stripling always pursued by that one who towers head and shoulders above his brethren? That kingly persona that men tend to celebrate—that political, religious fa├žade—cannot tolerate the life of the seemingly insignificant one, who sees himself as but a flea. It is a timeless, classic conflict and till the end, those who are anointed, regardless of their external unimpressiveness, will be harried and pursued by the inexplicably vexed who cannot abide their very existence! Somehow, these humble ones are not fit to live in their sight whose offense cannot even be identified; for what brings the offended to a boil, is the very foolishness of what the other is unselfconsciously in God.
That very weakness, that very God-dependency contrasted to those who have in themselves expertise and ability is the very thing that antagonizes. Why was it that the great Church bodies whether Protestant or Catholic could equally not abide the Anabaptist presence in their midst who were concerned only to live peaceably in this present world as islands of apostolic faith and brotherhood? What kind of threat could they have conceivably constituted for these great monoliths that they could not be permitted to live? They were persecuted; they were pursued; they were tied back to back and drowned in rivers and lakes, burned at the stake or ignominiously dumped in dungeons to rot. Why?
Somehow in this we can glimpse the plight of the Remnant Church at the end of the age, because it has been the plight of the true Church from the beginning.
For all of the touting of “The Kingdom Now” as a church already in its supreme and ultimate overcoming form, the true nature of overcoming may not yet be comprehended. Daniel speaks of the Beast that “shall wear out the saints of the most high” and who “made war with the saints, and prevailed against them” (7.21,25). The book of Revelation compounds the mystery yet more by adding “it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them” (13.7). How mind-boggling to consider that God allows a devastation to come to the Church by the enemy of our souls so as to overcome us!
Death as the Path to Life?
We have perhaps imagined that to “not love our lives unto death” means that we bravely summon a final courage to suck up our bottom lip, withstand all harassment to the end and “make it”’. But what if the overcoming is IN the dying? That is, not somehow tenaciously hanging-in and surviving, but dying in such a way that serves the purposes of God in a mystery? It is that mystery that preoccupies me. Have we not come to an hour that calls for a new sensitivity to the ultimate purposes of God for those of us caught up with our agendas and the seeking of our own immediate solutions? We will suffer irremediable loss unless we see the daily and the immediate thing in the context of the external and the ultimate.
No accident that the ultimate apostle to whom the stewardship of these mysteries was given had also the practical, daily, mundane weight of the Church upon him. The one who contemplated the loftiest vision was the same occupied with the workaday details and to labor as well for his living making tents! Somehow THAT is quintessentially apostolic. To be occupied with the lofty and eternal without an earthly and present application is to drift into pseudo-spirituality. If we gave ourselves only to the immediate and the practical, however pressing and right, we would be equally as warped. It is somehow the conjunction of that which is timeless but also set in time that is the very mystery of the apostolic heart of the Church which needs now to be apprehended and walked in.
What has all this to do with the David of I Samuel 24? How could he have had any anticipation for a word ‘apostolic’ not then extant? Here I think is the beauty of the text for this is that David of whom the greater David is named and to whom the lesser points. There is something “Davidic” that is sublimely in the heart of God that defines His very Kingdom as the Kingdom of David.
And what is the “genius” of that Kingdom that is so revealed in the person of David that later comes to fullest expression in the Greater? THAT is the something that ought to occupy us.
In a moment, in a mindless act that we do not have the time to plot or scheme, our best or worst is revealed. When the moment comes that takes us by surprise that could not have been anticipated, that is inadvertent—our response at that moment of unpremeditated reaction—is in fact what we are! I believe that what needs to be found in us is what was found in David in such a moment revealing in fact what he was, which God so celebrates and finds beloved.
Pray for the Church, that what David did intuitively, likely without any awareness of the eternal consequence of his choice, we would perform consciously as that which affects the eternal purposes of God. For have we not come to that Kingdom time that anything that happens anywhere affects everything everywhere? And that all our doing must be “Davidic” in its character as well as in its deed? Is not this the “manifold wisdom” for whose demonstration to the principalities and the powers God waits? Not to see our lives set in such a context as simply not to see and nullifies ourselves as being that Church—the key and agent in that condition of Israel’s final Restoration.
The ‘Bleeding Heart’ vs. The Heart of God
What then is this “wisdom”? Let us examine it as reflected in the conduct of David in the supreme moment that came to him in his flight from Saul. Saul, we must remember, was the one who could not bring himself to the total obedience required by Samuel to “go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (I Samuel 15.3). He could not bring himself to the totality of that obedience but spared the best of the sheep and the oxen as a ‘sacrifice’ as unto the Lord. Yet, not long after this, the same Saul without hesitation, ruthlessly exterminates the entire priestly community at Nob because it had befriended and succored David! This is very instructive. Do not think for a moment that the “bleeding-heart” environmentalists who palpitate for whales and endangered species will for a moment hesitate to spare us when we will not sympathize with their one-world order in a coming hour. So relentlessly and implacably will the enemy of our souls pursue us through the Saul’s of our age.
Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats. And he came to the sheepfolds on the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to rest.
This of course provided David with a remarkable once-for-all opportunity to deliver himself of his tormentor. Every logic of self-survival would have justified it. Indeed, even a “prophetic word” had evidently come that promised a divinely given occasion for it:
Behold, this is the day of which the Lord said to you, Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.
Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul’s robe secretly. And it came about afterward that David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul’s robe.
What kind of man is this? I don’t know that we can even understand it. We are products of another age that defaces public buildings with its graffiti, defiles its streets with its litter, desecrates with its profanity. We do not know what this kind of honoring and respect is. Our consciences are not that sensitive as our disrespect even for each other demonstrates. I have myself been guilty of more damage in the name of “truth” than others have performed in error! How much and how often have we “called the fire down” on other ministries let alone denominations and religious institutions we thought opposed to the faith? Yet David was pricked in his conscience merely to cut the apostate king’s robe!
Far be it from me because of the Lord that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.
In a word, it doesn’t matter what his track record is. It doesn’t matter how he has failed. The anointing is so precious that even when the meaning has been forfeited for which it has been given, a respect for the office and the person is a respect and an honoring of the God who has conferred it. What would the history of the Church have been with Israel, though backslidden and apostate? What would it be TODAY—if this had been its attitude? What would our generation be like today if we, as children, had had such an attitude toward our parents? What is it presently like and rapidly becoming for the want of the same?
Christ was at stake!
I had boasted as an atheist once when told to “Honor your father and your mother” that they did not “deserve” it—as if honor were relative to performance! Now I know that there is something inherent, given by God regardless of performance that commends honoring. Our ability to comprehend this, contrary to the spirit of our age, will affect not only our longevity but our ability to represent the Kingdom so as to establish it.
Saul got up from the cave and went on his way. And what was his way? The way of a murderer. The way of an implacable man bent on the destruction of that which he sees as threat to his kingdom. To allow this man to go on is to invite one’s own death. This was no little passing amenity that David could afford. For it was not only his physical life at stake but his whole calling and the very kingdom that was contingent upon it. Indeed, the whole Messianic lineage that was to issue in the Christ was at stake! Certainly, if a man wants to be magnanimous about his own life he may—but what of the importance of the ministry that is joined to it?
David’s deference to Saul is contrary to the wisdom of this age—the wisdom by which the world lives its life, the wisdom that ‘takes care of number one’ by doing whatever is expedient to assure it, that WILL “stretch forth its hand” even violently, in the last analysis, to do so. Have we not even as ministers of the Gospel employed the violence of divorce in the name of and the protection and preservation of our “ministries”? How few have faulted us for so doing and with what scant interruption do we continue with a new and more amenable (and more attractive?) spouse our important service? The Church hardly takes note and the momentary disruption is soon forgotten as the ministry is enjoyed now by even larger numbers.
How mindless are we that we are locked in a cosmic moral drama between two wisdoms. The issue, as with David, is for a moment, but the reverberations sound eternally and the powers of darkness and hell are compelled to their loss to acknowledge it. The wisdom of the powers is that self-preservation is the evident first principle of life. The issue of the Davidic kingdom was at stake eternally in David’s utterly free choice, when he was free to do in a moment of supreme test” what seemed good TO HIM to do”.
Even though the issue at stake, as with Isaac, is not just the preservation of the temporal life but the very promises of God, God must be trusted for that fulfillment and not the “stretching forth” of one’s own hand IN EXPEDIENCY.
This is more than a shallow reflex action. This is a man who sees the issue of honor and issue of God as one. He considered the things that are pleasing in God’s sight to be of such a premium that even if it meant the loss of his own life he had no alternative but to yield. David could not, even in the defense of his own life, allow himself a course of conduct contrary to the holiness of God. That is a remarkable mentality. It is a mentality that has risen far above the earthly, the mundane, the self-justifying, to perceive the glory of God.
What we reveal in such ultimate moments is what we in fact are. The powers can look upon us, upon our fellowships at our finest and best and say without being disturbed, “Jesus we know and Paul we know, but who are you?” Why do we not terrify these powers? Why do we not constitute a threat to their interests who have till now manipulated entire nations? There is only one thing that can jerk them out of their orbit, one thing that can complete the defeat suffered at the Cross—and that is that the same wisdom displayed at the Cross be again and finally demonstrated through His Body, the Church. That same wisdom, that same selflessness, that same magnanimity unto death that though being killed by inches most cruelly will not respond in kind. We, like Him, will not come down from the Cross of affliction—nor the threat of it—no matter how taunted or mocked.
This is the demonstration of the Davidic Kingdom that is meek, willing to allow its life to be expended rather than to do what in fact Jesus could have done—call down legions. Like David, He had all power in His hand to do away with His tormentors. In the cruel taunts rained upon Him to get Him to come on to their ground “You saved others now save yourself”—He, like David could not save Himself because He was the King of another Kingdom!
David calls out to the astonished Saul, “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee but my hand shall not be upon thee” (v.12). The confidence that David is exhibiting is more than bravado. It is predicated on such a knowledge of God and such a trust in His sovereignty, that even if He should allow him to be Saul’s victim, so be it. But he cannot preserve himself. It would have contradicted the very nature of Christ and therefore the character of the Kingdom to do so. A King who would have saved Himself could not have saved us.
Why are we so contentious then in the name of righteousness and “the purposes of God”? How often are our contentions in behalf of righteousness unrighteous? Strangely, it is what we do in defense of spiritual issues that more often reveals us for what we are. What is needed is David’s confidence that God is well able to perfect what pertains unto Himself without “stretching forth” our arm. It may be that we who have been awaiting the end of soulish religious systems and the unrighteous governments of men would have gone much further than the mere cutting off of the corners of robes. There may have even have been a ‘prophetic word’ given that could have been interpreted to justify our self-initiated act. May we not miss the critical test when it will assuredly come in the moment that catches us unawares when we are utterly free to do what seems good unto ourselves to do.
Dense, coarse, brutal man that Saul was, he still had to acknowledge, “Thou art more righteous than I…for if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away?” Even the most implacable enemies of truth and righteousness are compelled to acknowledge a greater wisdom—one that contradicts the unspoken, assumed, universally held premise of the world, self-preservation at any cost. Is this not the righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees? Not the righteousness of impeccably maintained principles but that of the more costly forfeiture of one’s life itself that alone demonstrates the very nature, character (wisdom) of God.
They Loved Not Their Lives
I was involved with a Christian missionary community in Zimbabwe, Africa. They lived in a hazardous area three hundred miles from the capital that was roamed by the tribe that was out of power. There were armed insurgents that delighted in intimidating and murdering white farmers. Yet this community had no weapons and chose not to defend themselves. “Let God be our defense,” they said. One night death came with great suddenness. One by one, with their hands tied behind their backs with barbed wire, they were taken into a building and hacked to death with an axe so that no shots might be heard.
I learned later that there was not a whimper, or one scream, or one plea for their lives. Somehow they had a sublime confidence in the sovereignty of God, though it flies in the face of every category of natural and even religious reckoning. Though they had been a blessing to the native villagers about them, and had built fish ponds, chicken coops, and had lifted the depressed economy of the area, in a moment that came with out warning, they went to their death like lambs. What a waste—or was it?
It was a waste unless, in their silence, their sacrifice, in their sublime confidence that God who could have protected them chose without explanation not to, something was worked that has eternal consequences. Could it be that God did not care nearly as much about the ponds and chicken coops as He did the fulfillment of a wisdom demonstrated through a willing Church that there is something more important than this life? Everything is a preparation for that witness whether or not it is required.

But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven. Therefore you shall be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5.44-45, 48)

(From a previously unpublished writing that appears in the 'New Year - 2013 Ben Israel Fellowship Newsletter' at . For a free hard copy of the entire essay, please write to Ben Israel Fellowship, 43237 Cass Line Road, Laporte MN 56461. Include domestic and overseas postage.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

‘…What distinguishes
what is apostolic’
Although I’m in my third decade as a believer – over twenty years in fulltime service and beginning as a missionary to the Jews – up till now I’ve never had a message on Israel and prophecy.
I have to confess that, in fact, I’ve been chafed by these conferences on prophecy.
I don’t know how to explain, but something wasn’t quite right, almost like an illicit interest, a kind of misplaced preoccupation, especially on the part of Gentile Christians, prevailing about the future of Israel. And then, I’ve watched a more recent development with those who have this fixation on Israel, oftentimes as only an attraction to the Jewish mystique. There’s something about Israel and Jews that seems to touch non-Jewish believers that equally offends me. And, for that reason I have shied away from things pertaining to Israel. And, while my whole focus and interest have been with the church, I need to say that although that’s been true, I can say modestly that I have affected as many Jewish lives as anyone who has made that their primary calling and activity.
But, I have to say the Lord has now opened my understanding, and that I have a perspective about the mystery of Israel and the church which really speaks to my heart as it encompasses the word ‘apostolic’ which has always intrigued me. The apostolic perspective is rooted beyond the Jew himself and even the church itself. It’s rooted in the glory of God. And that’s what distinguishes what is apostolic.
The essence of this matter has been lost to the church till now, and it’s lost even to us who claim to have an affection and concern for the Jews. But, we have not been celebrating them in the apostolic context – chiefly that God in his wisdom has locked the church and the Jew into a relationship of such a kind that the one without the other can never enter in or obtain its eternal purpose in God. It’s a remarkable paradox. It’s God choosing that which is so opposite and contrary right in the face of everything that would rationally be opposed to connecting these two peoples, amidst the whole historic presumption of the church and the Jew, the whole painfulness of forced conversions and anti-Semitic savagery, pogroms and inquisitions, and crusades.
We need to be reminded of how colossal is God’s intention despite the wretched history of relationship between the church and the Jew, and the long-standing enmity between the Gentile and the Jew, between the church and the synagogue. And, we also need to recognize that the church itself has been adversely affected by the Jew. The Jewish community has not just been indifferent to the gospel. It has essentially and actively opposed it. Even the great apostolic church fathers, such as Luther himself, who naively expected that Jews, with the Reformation, would see the true evangelical messianic faith, were astonished at the Jewish response, and how they took advantage of the uproar during the Reformation to seek converts to Judaism!
It’s the ignorance of this mystery that accounts for the arrogance and conceit of the church, historically and presently. There’s a way in which God has established this mystery of the Jew and Gentile being locked historically, that if the church is ignorant of it, usually willfully so, then the result is going to be a conceit and an arrogance – not just about Jewish things but about all things.
There’s nothing more calculated to bring the church to a place of proper humility and fear before God than the acknowledgement of the mystery of the Jew and God’s dealings with that people.