Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Jesus My Refuge, My Peace, My Overcomer

Did you ever have one of those days? You know the one I mean, when you wonder why you even try? When the best of intentions and the desire to make a difference doesn’t seem to make a difference at all? I had one of those days yesterday, and it might continue today. Evil abounds. What about God’s grace, which means the strength to withstand the evil?

I don’t want to give in to the temptation not to care anymore. I want to be infused with God’s grace today. A few scriptures have come to mind, given, I trust, by God, as I am struggling within my heart.

Let’s start with select verses from Psalm 91:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!”

A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you. You will only look on with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. For you have made the Lord, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place. No evil will befall you.

“Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.”

Then I go to the New Testament and find these words of Jesus at the Last Supper:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Truly, the Lord is my only refuge today. I want to look past, or through, the tribulation in my life and recognize I can have peace through Him. I want to see that last line come to pass: He has overcome the world.

Faith

Lewis: On Bandwagons & Integrity

C. S. Lewis 11In Reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis takes aim at people who jump on bandwagons for their own personal benefit. In a chapter he titled “Connivance,” he writes of those in ancient Judea “who fleeced their fellow-countrymen to get money for the occupying power in return for a fat percentage” of the take.

He was, frankly, astounded by the attitude he witnessed in one young man who had studied at Oxford. The man had been an avowed socialist during his student days: “Everything ought to be run by the State; private enterprise and independent professions were for him the great evil.”

A decade after graduating, he returned to speak with Lewis, who was surprised by the change in the man’s philosophy:

He said his political views had been wholly reversed. You never heard a fuller recantation. He now saw that State interference was fatal. What had converted him was his experience as a schoolmaster of the Ministry of Education—a set of ignorant meddlers armed with insufferable powers to pester, hamper and interrupt the work of real, practical teachers who knew the subjects they taught, who knew boys, parents, and all the real conditions of their work.

So what did this conversion yield? Did the young man, who had now seen the error of his ways and had witnessed the corruption of the system up close, firsthand, seek a way to change the system or to work outside of it? Wouldn’t that have been a natural response? Instead, Lewis recounts,

The real point . . . of his visit, when it came, nearly took my breath away. Thinking thus, he had come to see whether I had any influence which might help him to get a job in the Ministry of Education.

Rather than stand tall on his presumed principles and do something about this vile system, he sought instead to find a way into it. Lewis concludes,

Here is the perfect band-wagoner. Immediately on the decision “This is a revolting tyranny,” follows the question “How can I as quickly as possible cease to be one of the victims and become one of the tyrants?” . . . This is an instance of band-wagoning so crude and unabashed as to be farcical.

Motive of the HeartWhat’s the lesson here? Could it be that we need to examine our own lives and see if there be any ways—more subtle than this man’s—where we compromise our principles and seek to ingratiate ourselves into a system or way of life we say we deplore? Are we being consistent with our profession of faith and with what we tell others we believe?

If so, our next step should be to abandon any such bandwagon and regain our integrity.

Lewis on Gnat-Straining & Camel-Swallowing

I’m not a seminary-trained theologian. Everything I’ve learned about Scripture is the result of deep personal interest inspired by a desire to get closer to the One behind the Scripture. That’s why, as a young man just out of college (with a degree in radio, TV, and film production), I spent countless hours with a cassette-based course learning Koine Greek. (Anybody remember cassettes?)

Some might say that I shouldn’t be so theological in my commentary because I don’t have the official stamp of approval from an institution that grants degrees in religion. I prefer C. S. Lewis’s perspective when he noted, “One is sometimes (not often) glad not to be a great theologian; one might so easily mistake it for being a good Christian.”

C. S. Lewis 8Knowledge about theology is not the same as knowledge of God. Lewis details the temptations that can come to those who feel they have attained some type of exalted status:

The temptations to which a great philologist or a great chemist is exposed are trivial in comparison. When the subject is sacred, proud and clever men may come to think that the outsiders who don’t know it are not merely inferior to them in skill but lower in God’s eyes; as the priests said (John 7:49), “All that rabble who are not experts in the Torah are accursed.”

How ironic that devotion to learning about the God of love and unrivaled humility should lead us to the opposite end of the spectrum. Lewis notes that “as this pride increases, the ‘subject’ or study which confers such privilege will grow more and more complicated.” He goes on:

The list of things forbidden will increase, till to get through a single day without supposed sin becomes like an elaborate step-dance, and this horrible network breeds self-righteousness in some and haunting anxiety in others.

PhariseesThose who consider themselves the elite theologians, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, will burden people down with externals, ignoring the essence of the faith. Lewis concludes:

Meanwhile the “weightier matters of the Law,” righteousness itself, shrinks into insignificance under this vast overgrowth, so that the legalists strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

We do this gnat-straining and camel-swallowing in other areas of life as well, such as in politics. I see it all the time in that realm. To avoid that, we need to look at ourselves and make sure we are putting first things first, being careful to make loving God and mirroring His character our primary goal.

Lewis: God & Chocolate Easter Eggs

C. S. Lewis 7I think I’m doing what C. S. Lewis wanted readers of his Reflections on the Psalms to do: I’m reflecting. He provides such good material for reflection as he shares insights in this little book.

For instance, he refers to how the psalms always talk about seeing the beauty of the Lord, yet it’s not the Lord directly that the typical Jew saw, but rather the rituals in the Temple or some other aspect of the outward symbols of God’s presence.

That’s good, as far as it goes, but Christians need to make the distinction between that which symbolizes God and God Himself. There is a danger in becoming too attached to the symbol:

When the mind becomes more capable of abstraction and analysis this old unity breaks up. And no sooner is it possible to distinguish the rite from the vision of God than there is a danger of the rite becoming a substitute for, and a rival to, God Himself. Once it can be thought of separately, it will; and it may then take on a rebellious, cancerous life of its own.

We are to worship God, not the external artifacts that point to Him. If we revere those outward signs of His presence more than the Presence Himself, we are setting up a false god, which is in direct contradiction to both the spirit and the letter of the Word.

Lewis provides this example as an illustration:

Chocolate Easter EggsThere is a stage in a child’s life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas and Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began “Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.” This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety.

That would be “for his age.” But we don’t stay children, and neither should our worship remain wedded to a child’s understanding of the object of our worship. Lewis continues,

But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer be sacramental.

What must we do, then, when we reach that point, and we begin to grasp the difference? We have a choice to make:

And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.

The symbols will never satisfy the inner longing of our hearts. Clinging to them and believing them to be the substance of our faith will lead only to what Lewis rightly calls “a soon withering life.”

May our worship and the presence of God be the real thing. May our spiritual eyes see Him above all else, and relegate all that points to Him as secondary. In heaven, we will see Him face to face. I would like to begin that experience now, as far as this temporary earthly life will allow that to happen.

Lewis & Righteous Indignation

C. S. Lewis 4C. S. Lewis, writing in Reflections on the Psalms, contrasts the anger displayed toward evil men in some of the psalms with the apparent lack of vindictiveness found in some pagan writings. Does this reveal a better spirit among the pagans? Not so, he says.

He gives a personal example to illustrate how lack of anger can often be the worst response. During WWII, he was taking the train one night (as he often did, traveling to speak and then returning home late) and found himself in a compartment with a number of young soldiers. He was more than a little dismayed by the comments he heard:

Their conversation made it perfectly clear that they totally disbelieved all that they had read in the papers about the wholesale cruelties of the Nazi régime. They took it for granted, without argument, that this was all lies, all propaganda put out by our own government to “pep up” our troops. And the shattering thing was, that, believing this, they expressed not the slightest anger.

It’s worth noting that Lewis himself rarely read the newspapers because he considered most of what was contained therein to be lies, yet he certainly had no reason to doubt what the papers were saying about Hitler and his horde. The attitude of the soldiers stunned him:

That our rulers should falsely attribute the worst of crimes to some of their fellow-men in order to induce others of the fellow-men to shed their blood seemed to them a matter of course. They weren’t even particularly interested. They saw nothing wrong in it.

If you were being asked to go to war and possibly lose your life, and you were convinced that the rationale for doing so was based on a fabric of lies told by your government, wouldn’t that bother you more than a little? Apparently not in this case. Lewis then compares these apathetic soldiers to psalmists who didn’t hide their anger:

Now it seemed to me that the most violent of the Psalmists—or, for that matter any child wailing out “But it’s not fair”—was in a more hopeful condition than these young men. If they had perceived, and felt as a man should feel, the diabolical wickedness which they believed our rulers to be committing, and then forgiven them, they would have been saints.

But not to perceive it at all—not even to be tempted to resentment—to accept it as the most ordinary thing in the world—argues a terrifying insensibility. Clearly these young men had (on that subject anyway) no conception of good and evil whatsoever.

Good & EvilLoss of the entire concept of good and evil betrays a society wandering in a fog of moral apathy. “Thus the absence of anger, especially that sort of anger which we call indignation,” Lewis concludes, “can, in my opinion, be a most alarming symptom. And the presence of indignation may be a good one.”

It’s perfectly fine to feel righteous indignation toward evil. In fact, if we feel nothing at all when confronted with the evils of our day, there is something terribly wrong with us.

God’s Foolishness vs. Man’s Wisdom

I love learning. I’d better love it, seeing as how I live in an academic environment. Reading, studying, going deeper into a knowledge of history and government naturally draws me. Yet that plunge into knowledge can never be divorced from the proper heart motive—love of God and His ways.

The temptation for people like me is to think that we have become experts, which can then border on arrogance, which is decidedly opposed to God’s will for our lives.

Apostle PaulIt’s always good to come back to a certain passage in I Corinthians, where the apostle Paul offers this timely reminder:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

If we ever begin to think that God’s way—the way of the cross—is just too simplistic or beneath us, we are straying from the path. Paul continues with this stark message:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Wait a minute. Am I not to strive for wisdom? Am I not to be a dedicated student/scribe? Shouldn’t I sharpen my skills of debate? I don’t think this passage means we are to put away those aims. What it does do, though, is remind us to keep our priorities straight. He concludes,

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

God has called me to be one of His in the academic world. I will fulfill that calling only if I put first things first. I intend to continue doing that.

In this blog, I comment constantly on the ways of the world, whether in politics, education, morality, or the culture in general. As long as I do so with the proper perspective, recognizing the highest message of all—Christ crucified for sinners—I will be carrying out His will for my life.

I just thought that was a reminder worth sharing today, no matter what your calling may be. Jesus Christ and His overwhelming love for sinful men is the cornerstone for everything we say or do.

Proverbs 9

Lewis: The “Higher” Temptation

Reflections on the Psalms 2Reading C. S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms for the first time, I came away with some “reflections” that surely should make us stop and think for a while. For instance, when commenting on what some might call the intemperate language toward enemies found in some of the psalms, Lewis notes that it is probably because the Jews took right and wrong more seriously than others.

He did see, however, a danger in having this heightened sense of right and wrong, if someone were to let that go out of control. Here’s how he put it:

Ir seems that there is a general rule in the moral universe which may be formulated “The higher, the more in danger.” The “average sensual man” who is sometimes unfaithful to his wife, sometimes tipsy, always a little selfish, now and then (within the law) a trifle sharp in his deals, is certainly, by ordinary standards, a “lower” type than the man whose soul is filled with some great Cause, to which he will subordinate his appetites, his fortune, and even his safety.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having one’s soul filled with God’s Cause, but Lewis offers a warning, even to those of us who are striving to ensure God’s ways are the standard in our society. He goes on:

But it is out of the second man that something really fiendish can be made; an Inquisitor, a Member of the Committee of Public Safety. It is great men, potential saints, not little men, who become merciless fanatics. Those who are readiest to die for a cause may easily become those who are readiest to kill for it.

I don’t believe I would ever be tempted to kill for what God has put in my soul—that would be at odds with the love of God in my heart—but it is a temptation to strike out verbally against those whom I see destroying what God wants to do.

Lewis continues with another example from his own profession:

C. S. Lewis 13One sees the same principle at work in a field (comparatively) so unimportant as literary criticism; the most brutal work, the most rankling hatred of all other critics and of nearly all authors, may come from the most honest and disinterested critic, the man who cares most passionately and selflessly about literature.

Write a book sometime, and you will know what Lewis means. He concludes with this:

The higher the stakes, the greater the temptation to lose your temper over the game. We must not over-value the relative harmlessness of the little, sensual, frivolous people. They are not above, but below, some temptations.

Another application. I speak and write on political and governmental issues, and I share my views with vigor. There is always the temptation, as one deeply involved with the study of history and government, to lash out at those who have no idea what is going on and who, I believe, are leading us down a path to destruction.

I may be absolutely correct in my analysis (as indeed I think I am), but there is the temptation at all times to go beyond a proper critique and to lose the spirit of the Lord in my communications. I’m constantly drawn back to how God wants me to communicate His truths.

I appreciate Lewis’s insight here, and his caution. May we all take his words to heart.