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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Where the Spirit of the Lord Is
By Jim Mcguiggan
Howard BooksCopyright © 1999 Jim Mcguiggan
All right reserved.
Escaping the Spirit?
What the psalmist said is true: There's
nowhere we can run to escape the Holy Spirit. And if we unconsciously replace him with
rich words like "providence" or "grace" or "faith," we make
a poor trade.
W. E. Sangster observed: "Among some
schools of Protestant thought, grace is the substitute for the Holy Spirit. . . . They
speak of being 'fortified by grace' and 'enabled by grace' and even
'inspired by grace.' It cannot be denied; . . . we could find some justification
. . . for this wide use of the word 'grace.' But even that cannot justify the
virtual (if unconscious) substitution of grace for the Holy Ghost. He fortifies. He
enables. He inspires."
In any case, those who have been called to
God's side and nurtured by that Spirit don't really want to escape him or
minimize his role. To realize that the Spirit is and has been intimately involved in every
phase of the self-revelation of God can only do us good and make us even more thankful.
Besides, it isn't safe to leave all talk
about the Holy Spirit to those who are regarded as sensationalists. It's when we make
a taboo out of a subject of central importance that it springs backwith power at the
first opportunity and becomes the only truth some believers want to talk about.
While I'm sure that's true,
that's not the reason we want to have a rich understanding of the Spirit's
person and work. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we developed a reverent but joyful
intimacy with the Person who has existed in eternal, holy, and loving communion with the
Father and the Son? How could it not be of incalculable benefit?
What follows is a very modest attempt to help
us think more often, and with gratitude, about the Holy Spirit who brings us all the rich
blessings of God, which are mediated to us in Jesus Christ.
The Spirit and Mr. Hyde
In Robert Louis Stevenson's riveting Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a caring doctor drinks a poison and becomes monstrous.
Tragically, in real life we've seen our children drink at the wrong fountains and
turn back to us with their eyes forever changed.
But where the Spirit of the Lord is we don't need to worry about the kind of
transformation that will take place--it'll be from death to life and then from
glory to glory.
We've seen that in many lives, too,
haven't we? Dead men walking with soulless eyes--changed! Happy pagans with no
time for God or man--changed! Spoiled and bratty children, self-centered
wimps--changed! Old men with hard, embittered spirits, as twisted in mind as in their
aging bodies--changed! The self-centered and cozy, who deliberately choose to pass by
neighbors or a whole world in sin and misery--changed! The smug and self-righteous,
clucking their tongues and prattling on about what the world's coming
to--changed! The fiercely upright, scorching the earth but avoiding costly
involvement--changed! And on rare occasions, whole cities, even countries are raised
out of the mire into which the whole planet would sink without a trace if God left it to
Let others say the changes are simply the
result of psychology, human kindness, and conditioning; fine literature, church services,
new laws, or government leaders. Christians will insist that all of these and more are
tools in the hands of the transforming Spirit, bringing life to the dead, passion to the
indifferent, and generosity to the selfish. It is he who is at work convicting and
For the Christian, nothing less than the
presence of the Spirit is enough to explain the marvelous changes worked in human lives.
Call it grace; call it providence; call it the result of Bible study, practical
involvement, or social ethics; call it "common grace"--call it what we will,
just so we understand that in and behind any or all the instruments is the presence and
work of the Spirit who seeks and finds and transforms.
There's a day coming, so say the
Scriptures--without giving us any developed explanation--when this transforming
work will embrace the whole creation, which presently groans in bondage. When the curse is
obliterated, the creation will experience a glorious change along with the children of
God. The Spirit of God is a sort of "firstfruits" of all that.
Where he is present there is a change--from
glory to glory!
Of Pigs and Ancient Magic
Homer tells us that Aeëtes, the baleful
king of Colchis, had a sister called Circe, a goddess who had no love for humans. After
Odysseus and his crew had fought their way into the peace of a harbor, more than twenty of
his men went on to the Island of Dawn to investigate. They made their way through the
forest of Circe and approached her palace. They heard Circe playing the harp and looked
in; she smiled and invited them in to eat. How pleased they were to be invited, and what a
fine meal she fed them. But as they ate the drugged food, she hit them on their shoulders
with her wand, and they changed into grunting, feverish swine.
"I didn't believe the story, of course," said one Christian gentleman,
"until one evening when I was passing a group of young men on a street corner. I
heard enough of the lascivious story being told, and I saw the leers, the flushed faces,
the glistening eyes, and the muttered wickedness, and I knew I had wandered into the
garden of Circe. The spell was working before my very eyes. These humans were changing
And so it is, feeding on what has been
poisoned, we surrender ourselves to a spell that cheapens and coarsens us, making animals
of us in our passions and the way we indulge them. We need someone wise enough and strong
enough to deliver us from the curse, because in our sinfully weakened state and in a
society like ours, we aren't able to do it alone.
But it's more than wisdom and strength
that's needed. We need someone who cares greatly if we cheapen ourselves. Because she
was malicious, it didn't matter to Circe that the humans were turned into animals
that roamed her forests or pigs to be herded into sties. But it matters to the Holy
Spirit. He seeks our sanctification because he cannot bear to see us continue in our
shame. Those who don't care for us will shrug at our dishonor or give up on us before
too long, especially if their wisdom isn't heeded or recognized.
Hosea, who speaks more tenderly of the love of
God for his people than any other prophet, also speaks more trenchantly against the
corruption of the people. He pictures God as a loving husband/father, driven to
distraction by the bentness of his wife/son. The husband who paces up and down the floor,
rehearsing the treachery of the wife, cannot cease to love her--doesn't want to
cease to love her. The father who laments over his son's wild and reckless ways knows
that the sinful boy is destroying himself, but the loving father can't turn away.
"How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you?"
Simply reflecting on God's patience
sometimes makes me tired. Sometimes, when I'm already weary and thoughts of his
loving kindness come to my mind, I wonder why he doesn't just wash his hands of us
all and create a world where he hears nothing but praise and sees nothing but glad-hearted
But I know better. For even I have learned
enough about him to know he cannot abandon us, cannot give up on us, because it is not in
him to want to give up on us. The often repeated words of the famous missionary Hudson
Taylor come to mind: "Before I had children I knew God wouldn't forget me, but
now that I have children of my own I know God can't forget me."
Even for those who presently don't care
that they bury their snouts in swill and muck, who are content to be humans with piggish
ways, there is the possibility of full reclamation because God is not willing that any
perish. And since many of us have been redeemed from just such crass wickedness, we have
special reason not to give up on others.
For those of us who do care about honor and
fidelity but have moments of terror when we look in a mirror and see piggy eyes looking
back at us--eyes greedy for favorite sins that cheapen and damn us--we're not
to despair. For if the Spirit of God works for the reclamation of those who don't
care, you can be sure he works for the deliverance of those who do. He loves us more than
we love our sin, and there is, as people like C. S. Lewis have reminded us, an ancient
"magic" at work--a magic more wonderful than Hermes' fabled flower that
delivered those who were under Circe's spell. We are even now being delivered, and
one day the rescue will be completed.
Another ancient myth, every bit as terrifying
as the one about Circe and her evil spells, is about a young man who cast a spell upon
himself. One day as he lay by a river, he leaned over to look into the water, saw his own
reflection, and fell in love with himself. More precisely, he fell in love with his image.
He couldn't take his eyes off the wonder of the vision, and he died adoring himself.
A narcissus plant marked the spot where he died!
It might be that those who look in terror as piggy little eyes glare back at them from the
mirror are in less danger than those who love the vision they have of themselves.
It'll take wonderfully strong
"magic" to deliver them from so powerful a spell. It's an awful enchantment
and all the more dangerous because the self-adoring have a hard time seeing themselves as
self-adoring. And what's more, they aren't repulsed by what they see, so
they've no wish to be rescued.
The wicked tax-man is in less danger than the righteous Pharisee. The man in the ditch
whose life is oozing away with his dripping blood is not nearly as wounded and robbed as
the two who energetically marched past him in their "Sunday suits."
Still, we're not to despair; Christ is
able to break even that evil spell from which Narcissus died. We know that, because he has
done it for multiplied millions of us down the years, hasn't he!
This much we know, where the Spirit of God gets
his way in a human life, glory and honor result!
Nightingales in Berkeley Square
Week after long week they waited, until
weeks became months and the dry, withering months became years. The land groaned, an awful
burdened groan, while the wind whispered through the dust and humans shaded their eyes
morning after disappointing morning, hoping, or at least wishing. "It'll be
different," said the old man, "when the rain comes." But the sky was
copper, and the land panted.
Just when the last of the people began to
bury their hopes, someone noticed a slight breeze one morning, and before the sun went
down, the breeze became a wind. Many sat through the night, listening to it as its
strength increased, and by early next morning there were clouds on the horizon. Later that
day the sky filled with huge, water-saturated clouds, and the downpour began. Heavy,
isolated drops at first, and then the sky opened up. The earth gulped and gurgled. Old men
grinned, young men laughed in joyous relief, and children kicked at the puddles in the
drenched streets. Life had come!
Around the world and in a different age, a
rebellious people of God trembled as the Assyrians moved across the earth like a
scorching-hot wind, burning and withering everything in their path. The Assyrian
didn't know it, but he was on his way to do the will of God and take Israel off into
It's this judgment by God on treacherous and unrighteous Israel that the prophet has
in mind when he speaks of desolation like this: "Beat your breasts for the pleasant
fields, for the fruitful vines and for the land of my people, a land overgrown with thorns
and briers--yes, mourn for all houses of merriment and for this city of revelry. The
fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a
wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks."
Forever? Or will it just feel like forever? If
not forever, how long? And the prophet tells us: "Till the Spirit is poured upon us
from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a
He turns to speak to the gleeful and vindictive
hordes of oppressors, and having said to them, "Your day's coming," he
again speaks to Israel of the transformation to take place on that day when the Spirit
will fall on them like life-giving rain.
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it
will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the
splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our
God. . . . Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning
sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
All this when the Spirit comes!
When I was a boy, one of the songs that
everyone was singing was "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square." The song tells
how the world becomes a lovely, startling, and unpredictable place when love enters a
life. A piece of it goes like this:
I may be right, I may be wrong,
But I'm perfectly willing to swear
That when you turned and smiled at me,
A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.
One day followed another and there was no
reason to expect anything better--until love arrived--and the tame, same, ho-hum
world changed. Angels were eating out at the Ritz, streets were paved with stars, and
nightingales were singing where nightingales are never seen. So it was to be with Israel;
so it is to be with us.
All of this when the Spirit comes.
Life bursting out of the ground and climbing to
the sky. Gurgling springs where there had only been burning sand. People with broken
dreams learning to dream again, the weary reviving, the feeble becoming strong, the
fearful becoming brave, those with dead eyes seeing visions, the mute shouting for joy,
and the deaf rejoicing just to hear it.
Beauty and the Beast
Down the years, many thoughtful people have
observed that no one can free us from our ugliness unless he or she loves us even in our
ugliness. Of course, they learned that from the all-wise Lover of Humanity.
The Disney screen adaptation of Madame de
Villeneuve's story, Beauty and the Beast, tells how a selfish and self-centered
prince ruthlessly denied shelter to an old lady on a wintry night because her appearance
repulsed him. When he discovers that the old woman is really a beautiful enchantress, he
apologizes; but his loveless apology is rejected, and she turns him into a hideous beast.
His outer appearance now reflects his inner ugliness.
The horror would disappear, the curse said, if
he could learn to love and be loved by someone in his ugliness. Years pass, and he falls
into despair, losing all hope that anyone could ever love a beast like him.
When the Beast captures one of the villagers,
the man's beautiful daughter, Belle, offers herself as a ransom to free her father.
If she wants him free, the Beast insists, she must stay with him forever. Belle falters,
asking him to step into the light where she can see him. She recoils in horror at the
sight of him but gives her word that she'll stay.
Moved by Belle's love for her father, the
Beast tries to please her, and then the desire to please her becomes something deeper.
Though he's aware that his rage sometimes drives her from him, still, it enters his
mind--the wish, the half of a broken hope--that she might be the one who can cure
him. But he overhears her say in a fit of temper that she wants nothing to do with him.
Dismayed, he rumbles to himself, "I'm just fooling myself; she'll never see
me as anything but a monster. It's hopeless."
Gaston, the handsome but vain and cruel
villager who wants Belle, gathers the village and, working them into a fever, cries,
"Kill the Beast!" And that's what they try to do.
But in the end, it isn't the villagers or
handsome Gaston who kills the Beast; it's Belle and the love she has for him. She
doesn't deny his ugliness, but she comes to see beyond it. "Love covers over a
multitude" of things. In loving him, she kills the inner beast, and the visible beast
vanishes along with it.
Her willingness to recognize lovely things about the Beast, to see possibilities when
others, repulsed and fearful of his influence on their community, try to kill
him--that's what saves the monster. And her commitment works wonders, for the
Beast becomes a fine and honorable young prince. Love not only saved, it transformed.
Yes, yes, all very romantic, very appealing,
very touching--but mere sentimentality. Is it really? Neither God nor life allows us
to believe that!
The Bible is filled with descriptions of our
race, and ugly isn't too strong a word for our state; bestial is not too harsh a
description for our condition. And there's Someone who moves in the world seeking to
save it from its handsome but starkly vain Gastons, who compare themselves too favorably
with the Beast. There is One who even now moves about the earth transforming beasts into
kings and queens in a royal priesthood.
It would be better to admit that we are too
easily tired, too quickly impatient, too self-righteous and self-centered--better to
admit that we are too "something" than to deny that love in the person of the
Spirit of God is at work in the world changing individuals, churches, and nations;
redeeming us from our stark and sinful ugliness.
Matthew 18 was not written to teach us how to
get rid of offenders but how to win them back. The section teaches that every single
person matters to God and that when we lovingly pursue the offender to bring about
reconciliation, we're doing something that pleases God. The transgressor is worth the
trouble! To dismiss him without a loving pursuit is to say that his life is of no
consequence to us, that we wouldn't miss him, that nothing in or about him matters
enough to us to motivate us to go the distance with him.
It's at this point, I'm sure, that we
are most unlike Christ. It isn't that we lack power--it's that our love
lacks depth and so quickly reaches its limit. If we don't see quick results in
transgressors--a marked change of attitude and behavior within a specified
time--we consign them to the dungeon and eternal ugliness.
It doesn't seem to enter our heads that we might be hideously ugly as we go about our
business of trying to change transgressors. We apparently think they deserve nothing
better than for us to turn them into bloody and torn spectacles. It's all very holy
work, don't you understand, and they should be grateful that we would even bother to
save them. And if it means we have to degrade them--so be it! What do they expect?
They sinned grievously, didn't they?
The good news is that the bad news isn't
as bad as it might be. There are countless people who are like the Christ, who themselves
have been loved into loveliness and make it part of living to do for others what was done
and is being done for them.
Madame de Villeneuve was right, love can redeem
beasts. Countless humans are living proof of it.
The Wind of the Spirit
Many of us go through spiritually depressed
periods that feel like near-death experiences. On advice, we read the rich biblical texts
that have helped so many others, yet our hearts remain as cheerless and lifeless as a cold
fireplace. We try all the spiritual tonics, speak to all the wise people, do all the
spiritual aerobics, read all the books on the spiritual disciplines, and try the
"seven sure steps" offered by the well-known authors--all to no avail. Our
depression deepens, and despair begins to knock on the doors of our hearts.
These cures are supposed to work! They appear
to have worked for other people and churches, why not us? That they haven't worked
for us is a matter of real concern if we are serious about having a relationship with God
that pleases rather than grieves him, one that involves our giving as well as receiving.
But our prayers and promises--our vows, sworn in blood-red earnestness that we'd
be better, speak better, do better, and think better--have all come to nothing. The
vows were sincere--at least we thought they were--and they were made in agony. But
when the passion cools, we feel that "the summer is gone and we are not saved."
Despair or near despair sets in. And why wouldn't it? We share the poet's
Weary of passions unsubdued,
Weary of vows in vain renewed,
Of forms without the power,
Of prayers, and hopes, complaints, and groans,
My fainting soul in silence owns
I can hold out no more.
And the words of the sufferer become ours,
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far
from the words of my groaning?"
And in our hearts, they aren't words
snarled in bitterness--they're weary and disappointed rather than angry, because
with our track record we can blame no one but ourselves. Still . . . still . . . we were
hoping that God in his mercy would take sides with us against ourselves and deliver us for
his own name's sake.
"O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not
silent." And as we complain, we're perplexed, because the God to whom we make
our appeal has a reputation as a deliverer: "Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you
delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not
Wonderful stories. Salvation stories. True
stories. But all the more distressing because they are true. Others called and were saved.
We call and, instead of rescue, continue to see ourselves as worms, and our
"enemies" mock us even though we throw ourselves on God for deliverance.
So we lie down, exhausted, having despaired of ourselves and feeling that God must have
despaired of us also. And as we lie in our silent graves with no earthly help that will
make any difference, paralyzed by a crushing hopelessness, we hear the whisper of the
wind; and the word of God comes to us again through a nation that was dead in sin and
beyond all human help.
As a nation they had tried everything to stave
off the death they richly deserved. They paid tribute until they were broke, made treaties
with foreign powers, and sent ambassadors north, south, east, and west. They fortified
cities and studied the ways of war. They even tried religion--they built altars; they
fasted and prayed. But there was no salvation in any of their efforts. They were all just
new ways of speeding the death process, and they ended up in a national grave.
Their bones were more than dry; they were "very dry." And there weren't
only a few of them--the valley, like one giant coffin, was choked with them. The
prophet spoke, and bone came together with bone; but there was no life--only a huge
ravine full of skeletons. Sinews and flesh wound themselves around the bones, but there
was no life--only a mighty gorge stuffed with corpses, an eerie, silent valley of
corpses! Well, not completely silent. There was the wind. The man was told to speak the
word of God to the wind, and the wind became the Spirit of God entering those lifeless
figures--just as on the day of creation --and they were filled with life and stood
on their feet, a mighty army. A nation alive from the dead!
And hearing their story, we're persuaded
to trust again--or at least not to not trust again. At this very moment, we may feel a
sense of fatigue and despair, but it's not the end of the story. God--and may it
please him to be soon--will give us reason to rejoice as life courses through us,
delivering us from one enemy after another. One day we'll assemble to worship and
feel compelled to turn to fellow-worshipers and speak of our deliverance. In the strength
and joy of the Spirit of God, we'll dismiss depression's view of sadder days and
say with the psalmist:
He has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
And we, as our forefathers did, will enthrone
God as the Holy One and the praise of our hearts. From him will come the theme of our
praise in the great assembly, and our story will be told as one of deliverance to children
not yet born, and people will trust because we were delivered.
And what is true of individuals can be true of
whole congregations, and what is true of congregations can be true of cities and nations!
What is true for others can be true for you. What is true for you can be true for me. Weep
if you must, and tell him your poor heart's breaking--but trust, wait, and listen
for the wind!
He Did It for Others;
He Can Do It for You!
The Spirit will not permit sin to have
victory over those who turn to him for aid. It was the Spirit himself who led Jesus to
say, "The Spirit of the Lord . . . has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Doesn't the very saying of it lift your
heart? It's liberating to know that Jesus came to proclaim such a message and that he
guaranteed the truth of it by his life and death and glorious exaltation.
We read such promises, but continued defeats
tempt us to water them down--the failures oppose the promises. We place our hope in
the promises, but they don't work--or, at least, they haven't worked. We
rely on them, but they say more than they deliver, make us imagine more than reality
supports. So we're tempted to conclude that we somehow misunderstood and that the
texts really call us to accomplish something by our own striving.
We might think that, after we read the fine
print, we'll find it's like humanistic psychology that finally tells us,
"It's up to you!" And we aren't up to it. Feeling this way, we avoid
the texts. There's no point in reading them again. We'd just feel again the
rising hope and the bitter disappointment that follows; we'd feel again the guilt
that steals over us when we don't experience the victory promised. So we settle for
less, and this settling for less breeds resentment and cynicism, depresses our spirits,
and inclines us to sneer at others, "Yeah, yeah, we've heard all those texts
before, felt all that hope before, whipped ourselves up into a lather before. But
experience has cooled our brains, and we now know better. You'll agree with us by and
The whole experience is like a heavy stone
weighing us down. It's more than conscious, it lies buried deep in our souls like a
foreboding. It's a wound that remains open, and our life's blood oozes away.
We're anemic and tired, too tired to bother. Too tired to want to bother.
But whatever we're tempted to think, God did it! He turned adulterers, effeminates,
drunkards, thieves, coveters, abusers of themselves with men, revilers,
extortioners--he turned them into people who were washed, made holy, and justified
before God. They had given themselves as hostages to sin, had paraded their evil for all
to see and had prowled in the stench-filled basements of life--but God changed all
that! The wind of the Spirit swept through Corinth, knocking down walls, bringing light
and air to long, dark corridors and musty hallways, flinging windows open, and tearing
down dust-laden curtains. People came out of the dark and into the light, rubbing their
eyes and seeing a new world.
W. E. Sangster opens one of his books with this
blunt sentence, "The purpose of God for man is to make him holy. Not happiness first,
and holiness if possible, but holiness first and bliss as a consequence." God in
Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, refuses to offer us less than moral and spiritual
grandeur. The presence of the Spirit and his implacable hostility to what's evil,
cheap, dishonorable, and pathetic is our assurance that for those who abide in Christ
there can be nothing less than glorious Christlikeness--we will be like him!
It's true that we're continually
wrestling with wickedness, but it's also true that the Spirit is our helper.
"For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit
are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what
This is not simply the statement of unending struggle; it has the tone of assurance. The
tone isn't, "Well, it's too bad, but we're always going to be stymied
by 'the flesh' because it is always at odds with the Spirit."
The passage doesn't avoid tough reality:
It insists that, despite our being in Christ and despite our rejection of "the
flesh," we still have an inner struggle against wickedness. But it also insists that
a tougher reality exists--the Spirit within us who opposes the evil! That means we
won't be swallowed up by sin, because greater is he who is in us than he who is in
In some ways, it's those of us who are
most familiar with the Spirit's promises who are in the greatest danger. Someone said
that familiarity may not breed contempt, but it takes the edge off awe. Something like
this is true about rich texts and glory-filled promises that drop the jaws or widen the
eyes of newcomers but provoke no more than a raised eyebrow in the old-timers who have
ceased to dream.
We need to say it aloud--not only to one
another but to ourselves, in front of a mirror--"God did it, so don't tell
me it can't be done!"
I'm one of those who struggles with
excess need for approval. How that has come to be doesn't matter, but the reality of
it takes a lot of the perfectly legitimate contentment out of life. Those of us in this
condition are tempted to try too hard or to edit ourselves and our speech in certain
ways--not good ways--to gain approval and acceptance. What's worse is that
even though God accepts us completely, we are not satisfied. And that's too bad!
Having said that, it's no crime to want
the approval of people. New Covenant writers are pleased to tell us of people who had the
approval and good report of those around them. Paul sends brief "letters" of
recommendation in the Book of Romans and formal letters of approving introduction where it
made good sense to do so.
Still, it must be a blessed freedom to be able
to enjoy approval when it comes but live without it when it doesn't. It must be grand
to be able to resist the temptation to "sell ourselves" to get it.
Peter and John would have liked the
Sanhedrin's backing, but when it didn't come, when instead they were threatened
and told to stop preaching, they did not sell out; rather they shrugged and said,
"Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than
God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." No sale!
When a serious crisis of confidence in Paul
developed among the Corinthians, Paul tried hard to regain their approval. But he was more
than prepared to live without it, so he said, "I care very little if I am judged by
you or by any human court." When we read both letters to the Corinthians, we have
reason to believe he would have said this with sadness and deep disappointment since he
had labored so hard by God's grace on their behalf. But he said it nevertheless! No
Christ told Paul he would deliver him from the Jews and the Gentiles to whom he was
sending him. That turned out to be true in more ways than one, for Paul was not bound by
their opinions of him; no one counted with Paul more than his Master. The praise and
approval of people can become addictive, and it takes the Spirit of God to deliver us from
slavery to such a potent elixir. We need to be delivered from the people we're sent
to, or we won't be able to help them.
But I suppose we've all felt the alternating emotions of anger and shame that
resulted from being judged by "the wise ones"--from being gazed at,
assessed, pigeon-holed, and dismissed as being without accomplishment or potential or
appearance. I suppose we've all experienced the snobbish looks that say we're a
non-entity, a "sheep in sheep's clothing," or "a modest little man
with a lot to be modest about" (as Churchill is said to have described a fellow
politician). The pain in all this goes to untold depths in vulnerable people.
I know of no quick cure for my condition or for
those who are like me--but I know a sure one. To be loved! To be loved unashamedly and
without reservation by someone--anyone! That's the beginning of the end of
To know we are loved! Many of us have lived
long in darkness, feeling unwanted, useless, ugly, and fit only to be abused. Then into
our lives comes "a significant other" who seems to care even though we are
afraid to believe they do. We are afraid that if they get to know us, the warmth will
dissipate and we'll be alone again. Amazingly, the better they get to know us, the
more they seem to care, and so the world turns the right way up, the sun comes out, and we
come to life.
Has anyone experienced this at a deeper level
than John Merrick, "the Elephant Man," who was made famous by the movie of that
name? Deformed beyond description, used, and abused for years in the most hideous fashion,
he was profoundly alone except for those times when with damnable cruelty people intruded
into his life to gape and shove "the freak" around!
A riveting piece in the movie shows the
grotesque Merrick fleeing a mob through a train station. They finally corner him in a
public toilet, some gaping, some laughing, some yelling insults at him as he cries out in
his pain, "I am not an animal. I am not an animal! I am a human being!" And
then, completely traumatized and exhausted, he sinks to the floor and wearily says,
"I am a man."
Dr. Frederick Treves meets Merrick, and down
below the ugliness, hidden behind the ugliness, and contrary to the testimony of the
ugliness, the doctor finds a sensitive human being. Down behind the horror, Merrick begins
to live again!
Then comes the visit of the beautiful and
acclaimed actress, Mrs. Kendall, who sees his ugliness and recognizes it, but meets it
with such sensitivity and gentleness that Merrick, for the moment, rises above it. She
exchanges some lines with him from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet--he reading
from the book she gave him and she quoting. When the lines conclude, she smiles and, with
genuine warmth and in gentle mockery, says, "Oh, Mr. Merrick, you're not an
elephant man at all."
"Oh, no?" he asks softly, afraid to
"You're Romeo!" she whispers and
gently kisses his supremely ugly cheek.
He can hardly believe it for joy--the
wonder of it all! He is overwhelmed and can scarcely believe that her beauty could meet
his ugliness and in warm embrace look beyond it. But however astonishing, it had happened,
and life floods into his sad soul.
Not long before he dies, Merrick tells Dr.
Treves, "Do not worry about me, my friend. I am happy every hour of the day. My life
is full because I know I am loved. I have gained myself." And then pausing to look at
the doctor, he gently says, "I could not have said that if it were not for you."
David Prior called this little speech
"arguably one of the best descriptions we have anywhere of the impact of the gospel
on one man's life."
Loved by God? Can it be true? If we dare to
believe that profoundly astonishing fact, shackles will dissolve, link by damning link,
freeing us from ourselves and our paralyzing ugliness. We'll be free from the scorn
of our peers who know and despise us for our sinful weaknesses and who enjoy reminding
others of them. We'll be free from them because they've been outflanked and made
powerless. We'll be free from them because Christ comes to us, is gentle with us, and
then holds us in a warm embrace saying, "Oh, you're not an 'elephant
man' at all!"
And then we, scarcely able to believe,
tremblingly say, "Oh, no? I always thought I was, and with the ugliness I know is in
me, I feel as though I am. Are you sure I'm not?" He whispers back,
"I'm sure! You're my beautiful child!"
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the
love of God. And where the love of God is, we are able to come to ourselves. We're
able to look at the Christ--out from behind our fears, pains, and ugliness--and
say, "I am happy every hour of the day. My life is full because I know I am loved. I
have gained myself. I could not have said that if it were not for you."
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
freedom to rise in joy above an unhealthy dependence on the goodwill of others. There is
freedom to say that all people "count with you, but none too much."
Blessed freedom. Blessed Spirit of Freedom!
What Is Christ Prepared to Do?
Alison Cunningham was her name, and she was
the devoted nurse of Robert Louis Stevenson, whose short life was one long illness. Edmund
Gosse, his friend, described Stevenson's life as a "painful and hurrying
pilgrimage." Cunningham was selflessly devoted to serving Stevenson, and Stevenson
never forgot her. He adored her and praised her lavishly for her good influence on him. In
a letter to her, he said, "Do not suppose that I shall ever forget those long, bitter
nights, when I coughed, and coughed, and was so unhappy, and you were so patient and
loving with a sick child. Indeed, Cummy, I wish that I might become a man worth talking
of, if it were only that you should not have thrown away your pains."
Cunningham invested her life in the writer, and
because of that kind of investment, Stevenson, after fitful starts and stops in life,
described himself as coming around "like a well handled ship" with God as the
What Alison Cunningham did for Stevenson,
Christ has done and continues to do for a whole world, in every generation. But this
Christ does it, not for a weak and pliant and grateful child--he does it for a
rebellious planet peopled by hosts of humans who either cannot, do not, or will not gladly
submit to his care or join him in his purposes.
"I came," he said, "not to rob
but to rescue, not to cheat but to give, not to kill but to offer fullness of life."
But can he do it? Well, perhaps not can he do it, but will he continue to want to do it
when people like us can be so hard, so selfish, so indifferent, so self-serving and wimpy?
Can he really be aware of what he has taken on? Will he not one day--looking at many
of us in our love of ease and comfort--will he not throw up his hands and say,
"I've given them my best and they're no different. They're still
protecting themselves, still gorging themselves while others starve. No more! I've
done enough, the job's too great even for a god!"? Will he not say that? Yes,
yes, we know where all the verses are that say otherwise, but don't you sometimes
look inside and then around and wonder at our colossal arrogance? Our amazing
self-satisfaction? Do you never feel that our pathetic and trivial little lives must
surely test his resolve? Does it never stagger you that we can put out our hands and take
the gift of himself with an assured politeness, as though someone just passed us the salt?
Why would he put up with it?
A humiliated and discouraged Elliot Ness is alone on a bridge, gloomily looking into the
water, smarting from his wounds. Jimmy Malone, an honest policeman who walks the beat
because he won't say yes to bribery and corruption, checks him out, and so they meet.
Later, Ness approaches him about beginning a small band of Treasury men who would clean up
Chicago and deal with Capone.
After some verbal exchanges about the matter,
Malone dismisses Ness's offer. The frustrated but desperate Ness presses him hard:
"If you want to stay on the beat, you do that. If you'd like to come with me, I
need your help. I'm asking for your help."
The policeman, clearly filled with inner
tensions that are pulling him one way and the other, reflecting on the cry for help, says
more to himself than to Ness,
"That's the thing you fear, isn't it?" And then after more thought, he
says to Ness, "I think it's more important to me to stay alive . . . thank you,
But he can't live with his refusal, and
realizing the dangers and the need for unfailing commitment, he calls on Ness to say,
"You said you wanted to get Capone . . . do you really want to get him? What are you
prepared to do?" This phrase he repeats again and again during the course of the war
they begin against the widespread corruption and murder.
And it's that phrase that's on his
lips when, after being gunned down by Capone's killer, he lies dying on the floor of
his apartment, choking with the blood in his throat. He passes crucial information to Ness
and then grabs him by the coat, drags himself up until he's right in his face, and
snarls with his last breath, "What . . . what . . . are you prepared to do?" He
himself has given all he has to give and wants to know if Ness is prepared to do the same.
And some of us--thinking of all that Christ
has already done and desperately disappointed at our response--some of us are
heartsick at our paltry lives, so full of crabbiness, smugness, trivia, and self-service.
And some of us wonder if he won't wash his hands of us, wash his hands of this whole
sorry mess of a world. For we have no understanding of a love like his, and we
haven't a cat-haired notion why he would bother with the best of us. Feeling all this
and knowing that we won't clean ourselves up because we can't; realizing, as we
reflect on the years gone by, that our redemption will not be a quick cure because
we're awfully sick, we come anxiously asking the Christ, "What are you prepared
And he, knowing our fears and knowing our sins
and selfdoubts, assures us that he will do what it takes to get the job done, and he lies
down on a cross and dies. He hasn't undertaken the task thinking it was a breeze. No, not
him. He knew that the Incarnation was only the beginning and that the Cross was not the
end, but he makes it clear: "I'll do what it takes!"
The we, because there's nowhere else to go,
because there's nowhere else we want to go, don't we sigh deep within us, "O Lord, I
wish that I might become a person worth talking of, if it were only that you should not
have thrown away your pains."
And he--from the cross and thinking of the
whole world and not just us--with his own wounds and his long, long patience, looks us
in the eye and asks, "What are you prepared to do?"
Excerpted from Where the Spirit of the Lord Is by Jim Mcguiggan Copyright © 1999 by Jim Mcguiggan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Escaping the Spirit?
ONE: There Is Transformation
The Spirit and Mr. Hyde
Of Pigs and Ancient Magic
Nightingales in Berkeley Square
Beauty and the Beast
The Wind of the Spirit
He Did It for Others; He Can Do It for You!
What Is Christ Prepared to Do?
TWO: There Is Glory for Christ
Worthy Is the Lamb
The Spirit and Center Stage
Led by the Spirit
Jesus Is Lord!
I Saw a Butterfly
Shaping the Christ
The World He Came to Save
This Christ Is King!
Every Hair on My Head
THREE: There Is Freedom
Truth and Emotions
Free Because Forgiven
Free from Meaningless Pain
Free from Legalism
Free to Say No to Freedom
Free from Abusive Emotions
Free from Anxiety
Free from Pretense
FOUR: There Is Love
The Fruit of the Spirit Is . . .
Where It Pleases
The Bookkeeper Is Dead
Love Isnt Touchy
Gods Bundle and Ours
Lord of All or Not Lord at All
Love and Peace of Mind
FIVE: There Is Community
Were Something Else
Weeping in the Aisles
To Eat or Not to Eat?
Love Will Find a Way
Some Anti-Class Remarks
The Outer Fringe
On Our Side of the Gulf
SIX: There Is Truth
Truth and the Believer
Camels and Gnats
Holy Spirit or Blueprint?
Musings on Truth and Tolerance
Truth Is for Doing
No Dead End!