Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Lewis: Casting Out Fear

C. S. Lewis 1C. S. Lewis is just so quotable. Take this one, for instance, from one of his essays, “The World’s Last Night.”

Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. But so do several other things—ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear.

The perfect love he is writing about is the love of God shown through Christ. Anything else is an artificial, temporary solution that is no solution at all. Don’t settle for anything less than the real thing.

Lewis: Going Through the Door

C. S. Lewis 7Perhaps one of C. S. Lewis’s most engaging and thought-provoking short pieces is the sermon he gave during WWII called “The Weight of Glory.” There are so many wonderful passages in this sermon that it’s hard to pick out the best one. Here is one, though, that certainly stands out as he writes poignantly of the move from this world to the next.

If we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy.

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see.

But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which nature is only the first sketch.

We are still on the wrong side of the door, as Lewis frames it. We discern what is on the other side but cannot fully embrace it. Yet it will not always be that way; someday we will experience it fully—we will get in. A wonderful truth worth meditating on today.

Judge Not?

Obama at National Prayer BreakfastPresident Obama uses the occasion of Easter, at a White House prayer breakfast, to insinuate that he’s very concerned about Christians who use “less than loving expressions.” Mr. President, I’m concerned about that, too. I always have been. But it all depends on what one’s definition of “loving” may be.

For Barack Obama, not endorsing same-sex marriage is unloving. For Barack Obama, not allowing abortion on demand is unloving. For Barack Obama, giving medical attention to a child born alive during an abortion is unloving. For Barack Obama, not letting Iran into the circle of the “civilized” nations by denying them access to nuclear capability is unloving. For Barack Obama, seeking to guarantee the survival of Israel apparently is unloving. I could go on.

He’s done this kind of thing before, most recently at another prayer breakfast where he downplayed Muslim atrocities and tried to paint a picture of moral equivalence by pointing to the Crusades.

When Muslims killed journalists in Paris and then turned to killing people in a Jewish grocery store, he refused to say Muslims were responsible and that Jews were targeted. Last week, in Kenya, when nearly 150 Christian college students were massacred by an Islamist terror group, the official White House response was to ignore both the religion of the attackers and those who were massacred.

Mr. President, my problem is that I know your background. You claim to be a Christian, but whatever Christianity you make a claim to is nothing more than a radicalized Marxist theology that makes Jesus into nothing more than a model to follow for “social justice.” I read the interview you did for a Chicago newspaper prior to your presidency in which you made it clear that 1) all religions lead to God; 2) you’re not sure there is an afterlife; 3) being a good father is what you depend on for a right relationship with God; 4) it is wrong to try to convince others to become Christians.

Judging OthersSo I am judging, based on your own statements, your radical history, and your actions, inactions, and outright string of lies you have uttered as president, that you, sir, are no Christian.

Yes, I can hear the outraged voices: who are you to judge? Doesn’t the Bible say “judge not, lest you be judged?” Anyone who says that discloses a superficial knowledge of that passage of Scripture.

Read it carefully and you will see that, from the context, Jesus is telling us not to be hypocrites. He says that before you judge, be sure you are not doing the same things for which you judge others. Take the log out of your own eye first, then take the splinter out of another’s eye.

Throughout the Bible, judgment occurs, and we are told often to be a discerning people. We are to look at the fruit of others’ lives and determine whether or not they are genuine. Otherwise, we will often be fooled and follow those who will lead us astray. Yes, we examine our own hearts first, but then we are to examine the actions and the words of others as well.

Some people have the idea that being a Christian means you just let things happen without standing up for truth publicly. They say that is true humility. I disagree. Humility is knowing the One who is really in charge and submitting our lives to Him. It means to boldly proclaim His truths so that others will be led away from destruction. To be silent is to connive with falsehood. We are to be watchmen on the walls, sounding the alarm when an enemy approaches.

I will continue to sound the alarm whenever the enemies of God’s truth try to advance. I will not be silenced. And Mr. President, to speak out concerning the falsehoods being promoted by your worldview and your policies is not being unloving; rather, it is being discerning, with the goal of helping people see His truth.

Meanwhile, Mr. President, I would urge you—in the love of God and out of concern for your soul and in context—judge not, lest you be judged.

Righteous Judgment

Lewis & the Hams

Warfield FirorI keep writing my C. S. Lewis book. The chapter I’m currently working on highlights some of the regular American correspondents Lewis had for the last decade and half of his life. Warfield M. Firor was one of those. He was fairly famous as a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins. A Chair in Surgery has been established there in his name.

Firor, after WWII, was not only an admirer of Lewis’s books, but one of his most faithful contributors during the rationing after the war. He sent a steady stream of packages with a variety of foods that the English had trouble obtaining. Firor was particularly notable for sending over hams, one of Lewis’s favorite meats, but scarce for many years. Those hams started appearing in late 1947. After the arrival of the first one, Lewis replied,

I am completely at a loss when it comes to thanking you for your last parcel: because I rather doubt if you know what you have done. A ham such as you sent lifts me up into our millionaire class. Such a thing couldn’t be got on this side unless one was very deep in the Black Market. . . .

And as for the cheese, I found I’d almost forgotten what real cheese tastes like.

I and all my friends are very deeply grateful; you have given an amount of pleasure which you, in your happier country, cannot realize. . . .

P.S. We’re boiling it tomorrow. Meantime I go and have a look at it every now and then for the mere beauty of it—the finest view in England.

A scant three months later, Lewis had to send another thank-you letter, telling Firor, “No one ever see a ham these days over here, and even in a good restaurant it is very rarely that you would get a small slice of ham. I shall probably be known in Oxford for months as ‘the man who got the ham from America’! Believe me, I am heartily thankful to you for your kindness.”

When another one arrived just two months later, Lewis informed Firor, “The arrival of that magnificent ham leaves me just not knowing what to say. If it were known that it was in my house, it would draw every housebreaker in the neighbourhood more surely than would a collection of gold plate! Even in your favoured country its intrinsic value must have been considerable, and over here it is beyond valuing.”

InklingsLewis decided to share this largesse with the Inklings, rather than hoard it all for himself. He described to Firor what transpired at their last meeting:

The fate of the ham was this: we have a small informal literary club which meets in my rooms every Thursday for beer and talk, and—in happier times—for an occasional dinner. And last night, having your ham to dine off, we had a meal which eight members attended. By diligent “scraping the bottom of the barrel” in various colleges we got two bottles of burgundy and two of port: the college kitchen supplied soup, fish and a savoury: and we had a delightful evening. This by English standards is a banquet rarely met with, and all agreed that they hadn’t eaten such a dinner for five years or more.

Attached to the letter was a “Ham Testimonial” signed by all the Inklings who were present that evening to enjoy the feast. So Firor had a testimonial signed not only by Lewis but by J. R. R. Tolkien. Imagine what a price that would fetch today.

My study of Lewis has yielded so many fascinating insights. I’m grateful for this sabbatical year when I can devote myself to this.

My Ideal President

Presidential SealLet’s talk about an ideal world, where we have someone residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. that we can trust. Having the right president is not the solution to our national problems; those problems go much deeper, since they are spiritual in nature. But it can make a difference who the chief executive is.

What am I looking for in this ideal president? I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’ve surveyed the field of candidates for 2016. Here are the characteristics that I want.

Dedication to Biblical Principles

This is the starting point. Our president should understand that God’s law is the basis for man’s law, and that anything in man’s law that contradicts God’s law is invalid and should be changed. He or she needs to be someone who honors God above everything else, realizing that public opinion is not the final judge of one’s actions.

This president would advocate for the sanctity of life, the Biblical definition of marriage, a limited role for government in our lives, and private property and free enterprise. The rule of law would be this person’s hallmark, overturning the rule of man that has characterized the current administration.

As I said, this is the starting point, but it’s not enough.

Christian Character

I could give a whole laundry list of character traits I would like to see in this president’s life, but I can summarize with these three, which I believe might encompass many others: integrity, courage, and humility.

Integrity means this president would be a person who does what he/she says, and acts with complete honesty, above board and truly transparent. This president must be a person who has the kind of courage that will tackle the knottiest of issues, regardless of the personal cost to one’s popularity, which is fleeting at best anyway.

As an aside, what we have witnessed the past few days in Indiana and Arkansas is lack of courage on the part of the governors in those states. The so-called Religious Freedom Restoration acts eventually signed into law in those states are worse than useless now; they actually may be turned against Christians’ freedom of religion. That kind of spinelessness at the national level would ruin us completely.

The courage I seek in the ideal president would be coupled with a genuine humility. This president needs to acknowledge that he/she is not the “savior” of the nation, but merely a servant who is fulfilling God’s command to do His will. There is no room for arrogance; pride leads to destruction.

Strategic Wisdom

It’s not enough to simply believe in the right things and have the proper character. This president must know how to make things happen to turn the country around. There might be any number of candidates who fit into the first two categories, but who lack the wisdom to carry out the correct policies. How do we get where we need to be? Not everything can be a frontal attack. Politics is a tricky business. This president will have to know how to manage the system for good without compromising principles or personal character.

Excellent Communication Skills

My ideal president will be a great communicator, in the style of Ronald Reagan, who knew how to connect with the people. Unfortunately, Republicans often choose a candidate who is marginal, at best, in being able to help citizens understand the principles that the country needs to be based upon and the policies that flow out of those principles. We need someone who can articulate those principles and policies clearly.

There may be other traits necessary, but if those four exist, I will be ecstatic. I think that kind of candidate can win this next election. Who is that candidate? I’m still evaluating the options before us. I see solid principles in some; I resonate with the character of many; I have opinions about the strategies they have used in the past and about their ability to communicate effectively.

One thing is for sure: the mainstream media will hold Republican candidates to a level of scrutiny that they will not apply to Hillary Clinton.

Media Bar

I’m holding the Republican candidates to a high bar also, but it’s not the same one the media is interested in. Let’s make our decision for the best candidate based on the kinds of traits I’ve listed above. This next presidential election could be the most crucial in our nation’s history.

The Lewis Humility

Clyde KilbyClyde Kilby was a central figure in ensuring that the works of C. S. Lewis were never forgotten. Kilby is largely responsible for assembling the largest collection of Lewis papers and books by and about him in the U.S. He was director of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College for many years.

Kilby corresponded with Lewis and was able to sit down and talk with him face-to-face in July 1953. When he returned to America, he wrote an article that gave details of that visit. What I’m discovering as I study Lewis is that all those who met him for the first time came away with common stories about that first meeting, and their recollections are very similar. Let me offer a few sample paragraphs from the chapter I’m writing in my book about Lewis’s impact on Americans. Here is what happened at that first meeting:

Upon knocking, Kilby was greeted warmly by the man who had meant so much to him in writing. First impressions? “He has a pleasant, almost jolly face, full though not fat, with a double chin. He has a high forehead and thinning hair. Actually, he is a much better looking man than the published picture of him.” Kilby also liked Lewis’s sense of humor, of a type understood best by a fellow academic: “He spoke of the making of a bibliography as just plain labor and laughed about the idea of the scholar’s life as a sedentary one, saying that the physical labor of pulling big folios from the shelves of the Bodleian was all the exercise he needed.”

It was the sharing of minds, though, that stood out to Kilby as he looked back on this meeting. . . . Given Lewis’s penchant for writing novels, they debated the exact nature of that specific species of literature. When Kilby quoted someone who had said a novel is no better than a well-told lie, Lewis objected: “As I expected, he disagreed completely with this claim, saying that one is far more likely to find the truth in a novel than in a newspaper. In fact, he said he had quit reading newspapers because they were so untruthful.”

C.S. Lewis 9Kilby then discovered something about the character of Lewis that stayed with him:

The only awkward moment was when Kilby asked him to autograph one of Lewis’s books he had brought with him. Although Lewis agreed to the request, he commented that he saw no sense in doing so. That led Kilby to conclude something about his character: “Both from reading his books and talking with him, I get the impression that he is far more fearful than most of us of the subtle sin of pride and tries in every way to escape it: thus his reticence to give an autograph.” Perhaps that is what should be expected from one who wrote a book detailing how Satan traps Christians. The Screwtape Letters may have been one of the hardest books Lewis ever wrote, but the message of it seemed to remain with him to the end.

The true test of a real man or woman of God is their humility. There are countless testimonies that, in spite of his fame and great learning, C. S. Lewis retained a heart of even greater humility. That’s one excellent reason why he is worthy of study.

A Meditation on Turning 64

On this day, as I commemorate my 64th revolution around the sun, I look back on how God has led and guided and am grateful. Many people make fun of small towns, but I’m glad I grew up in one. My neighbor children first invited me to go to Sunday School with them; that was how the Lord drew me to Himself, as I readily accepted the Word given to me.

Explo 72My undergraduate days were a time of solidifying what I believed and meeting the one to whom I have been married now for almost 43 years. I look at this picture and think, well, we haven’t changed much, have we? At least I used to think that, but when I show the picture to my students without telling them up front just who those people are, they have a hard time recognizing me. Yes, time marches on.

I’m grateful for early opportunities to work in the media, primarily as a radio announcer, which helped me develop as a speaker. Then I learned invaluable lessons as headmaster of a Christian school. The most valuable is that God continually works with us to bring us closer to Himself, even when we do our best to walk away from Him.

Bearded WonderYes, I had a time that I now consider the dark night of my soul. I wandered for some years, spiritually almost-dead, but the Lord specializes in bringing people back from the dead. This picture is rather embarrassing now, but I thought I looked really cool during this time in my life. I’m thankful for a wife who weathered all the storms and stood with me. She still does.

After the Lord redeemed me a second time, and I looked upon Him as the God of the Second Chance, more opportunities opened, and He allowed me, in spite of myself (and that’s exactly how I see it) to begin a career/ministry as a university professor. That part of my life didn’t start until I was 38. I used to joke about what I wanted to be when I grew up, and that I didn’t figure it out until I was almost 40.

2001 CommencementMy experiences at a number of Christian universities have been varied, but no matter what I’ve had to learn on this journey, one thing has remained constant: God has put me here to teach students, and I have to devote myself to that task. Most of the time, it’s been a joy to do so. One of the blessings of this “later” time of my life has been the connection I’ve maintained with former students—from Indiana Wesleyan, Regent, Patrick Henry, and now at Southeastern.

SpeakingIf you compare this photo with the first couple, you can see that I’ve definitely changed. But inside, I’m still the same. I’m still someone who truly wants to serve God in whatever way He leads, and for as long as He lets me.

And you know what? I don’t feel too old yet. I sense there are many years of ministry remaining to me. Yet I know the caution in the book of James about not making plans without first saying, “If the Lord wills.” That is the attitude of my heart today.

So I celebrate the fact that God has given me another year to accomplish His will. I’ll hang around and continue to do so for as long as He wants.