Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Enough with the Excuses & Rationalizations

I’ll begin with a few comments about the debate last night, but I will then move on to what I consider to be a more important subject.

First, it was satisfying to see Hillary Clinton on the defensive, which is where she should always be. I also didn’t mind seeing women in the audience who have accused Bill Clinton of unwanted sexual advances—rape, in one instance—as well as one who was raped by a man whom Hillary defended in court and got him acquitted in spite of the fact he was guilty. She’s on tape, laughing about that afterward.

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Trump’s debate performance was better than his disaster (his favorite word last night) the first time around, but that’s not saying much because the expectations bar is already set so low. The best I can say is that he didn’t spontaneously combust (although I sensed he was on the verge of doing so a number of times).

His performance will embolden his most devoted backers, but I doubt he won over the kinds of voters he will need to win this election. He categorically stated he never pushed himself on women or sexually abused them. I predict that declaration will boomerang on him very soon. In fact, there are already accounts out there that show it’s a bald-faced lie.

Enough on the debate itself.

What has really occupied my thoughts over this weekend is the way evangelicals have come to Trump’s defense after witnessing the indefensible. I’m appalled, frankly, by the excuses and rationalizations being put forward on his behalf. Certain ones come to the forefront, and I would like to address them.

Bad actions vs. bad words

pick-your-poisonThere’s a meme floating around Facebook that gives a list of all the bad things the Clintons have done compared to what Trump has done. On the Clinton side of the ledger, there are many bad actions noted. I have no problem with that; they are all true. On the Trump side, it says only “said mean things.”

The goal, of course, is to contrast a well-documented list of Clinton behavior (as I said, all true) with Trump’s words. “See,” we’re told, “he hasn’t done anything; he only steps out of bounds sometimes with the way he says things.”

Anyone who thinks Trump hasn’t done evil, vile things in his life is living in a dream world. His life is just as much an open book as the Clintons and just as seamy. His business dealings are shady at best, he treats people as commodities for his own advancement, others suffer from his malfeasance—not paying contractors, closing down failing business ventures, conning people with phony enterprises like Trump University (coming to a courtroom near us all very soon), etc.

His comments in the video released last week are not just words. They were bragging comments about how he actually has treated women and how he views them overall. As Trump might say in one of his tweets: BAD. SAD. NOT GOOD.

Those comments also reveal what should have been obvious to everyone by now: he thinks of himself as a privileged individual—a “star”—who can do whatever he wants.

This is what you want in a president? He has gone far beyond “just words.”

All men talk like that

Baloney. Next.

The Clintons are worse

I might agree. I might not. It’s beside the point. Bad is bad. Corrupt is corrupt. It exists on both sides. Whenever anyone tries to excuse bad behavior on one side by pointing to the other, it’s merely a deflection and a desire to change the focus.

No matter what the Clintons have done, Trump must answer for what he has done. Pointing out all the Clintons’ sins (and there are so many one can easily lose count) doesn’t change one bit what Trump has done and the essence of his character.

Trump defenders who use this ploy are unwilling to face the facts about him. They hope that by highlighting the evil on the other side that the rest of us will erase from our minds the evil on the Trump side. That’s not going to happen with me; his evil is just as prominent.

Trump used those women abused by the Clintons to try to show how great he is because he is on those women’s side. Go back in history. At the time those accusations against Bill Clinton were made public, what was his response? Trump, at that time, ridiculed the women and defended the sexual abuser. Now he wants us to believe he is the staunch protector of the weak? Get serious. This is all political show.

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone/judge not lest you be judged

phariseesUsing scriptures like these to try to shame those of us who are attempting to shed light on Trump’s character is unjust. First, it is a none-too-subtle accusation of Pharisaism. It puts us in the crowd of Pharisees who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery. Apparently, we are harboring our own sins and have no right to point out Trump’s.

That, in itself, is offensive. It implies that anyone who ever expresses concern about sinfulness has no standing to say anything because of one’s own sins. We’re not allowed to warn others about the sins of a man who wants to lead a nation?

By the way, what did Jesus say to that woman caught in adultery after everyone else left? He made it clear she had sinned indeed and warned her: go and sin no more.

judging-othersAs for not judging, go to Matthew 7 where that passage is found. Read it carefully. It’s not a prohibition on passing judgment; rather, it’s a prohibition on judging if you haven’t taken care of your own sins first. Take the log out of your own eye, but then it is fine to take the splinter out of another’s. Judgment does happen, all the time, as it should. We are to be a discerning people. This is merely a warning against hypocrisy when you do judge.

By the way, aren’t those who are telling us not to judge Trump judging us? If you take your own words seriously, you should stop telling me to stop judging Trump.

We’re not electing a pastor-in-chief

Agreed. But does that mean instead that we elect an unrepentant serial abuser of women, a man who spins conspiracy theories for his own political benefit, who insults anyone who stands in his way, who lies blatantly about anything and everything, and who considers himself a privileged person who can get whatever he wants?

Seriously?

The saddest part of this past weekend for me is that the stoutest defenders of Donald Trump have seem to come from his cadre of evangelical supporters. I agree with what Dr. Russell Moore said:

The damage done to the gospel this year, by so-called evangelicals, will take longer to recover from than the ’80s TV evangelist scandals.

I also agree with Rich Lowry at National Review:

Someday they will wonder how a man representing the worst excesses of the entertainment world and our elite culture became not just the Republican nominee, but the candidate of the religious right.

It’s well beyond time for Christians to untangle themselves from Donald Trump. Damage to the Christian witness has been considerable, but through repentance and a renewed commitment to righteousness, perhaps some of that can be reversed.

Enough with the excuses and rationalizations.

Defining Social Justice

Good words and phrases sometimes get hijacked. I think “social justice” is one of those. Justice is synonymous with righteousness; the concept comes straight from the heart of God. Justice in social relations, justice in society at large, should be what we all aim for.

What, though, qualifies as justice in a society? Here are my ideas.

image-of-godFirst, social justice should mean we recognize the inherent image of God in each person and treat one another accordingly. It should begin with the most vulnerable and innocent—the pre-born. True social justice will do all that is possible to protect our future generation by abolishing abortion.

Second, social justice will recognize the commonality of mankind as one race. Lately, it has become unacceptable in some circles to say there is only one race: human. Yet, as we’re told in Scripture via the apostle Paul,

He [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.

That should wipe out animosity toward one another based on ethnic differences. We all descended from one human father and mother. God likes variety.

marriageThird, social justice will want to encourage a loving environment in which to raise children. That means support for the one man-one woman arrangement called marriage as established by God. It’s right on its face, but beyond that, studies show that children raised in a stable traditional family will feel more loved and will have a better future.

Single-parent situations, especially for single mothers, engender instability and increase the number of children who will live in poverty. Those children also will be more likely to follow the same pattern in their lives. That’s not social justice.

Fourth, social justice is achieved more often through a vibrant free-market, private-enterprise system that allows people to advance according to their merit, removing stumbling blocks for success that are often placed in their way by the government. If we really want to help people out of poverty, we will support this kind of economic liberty.

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Think of our racial divisions at the moment and the poverty that is endemic in inner-city neighborhoods. What else do we find there? High abortion rates; 70% of children living in single-parent homes; government “help” that only creates greater dependence and makes people think they have no options in the free-market, private-enterprise system that works all around them.

ferguson-riotsThose factors are then magnified by inflammatory rhetoric that increases bitterness toward those who are successful and disdain for a society that has offered the greatest advantages the world has ever seen.

This is where the Christian faith steps in to point us all in the right direction. Those who are embittered need to understand that sin is sin, no matter how justified one might feel in that bitterness. Repentance from bitterness and racial rage is imperative.

Those who have material success also must understand that the Christian mandate is to reach out to those who are in need and use the prosperity God has granted to help others. It’s that personal connection—showing the love of Christ to those who think God’s love is missing—that leads them to the Truth.

As with the phrase “there is only one race—human,” so the comment “all lives matter” has come under attack. Supposedly, to use that phrase marks one as racist. Yet I see the opposite in Scripture.

I think of the most well-known verse, in which Jesus states,

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

There’s also this reminder in 2 Peter, which states that the Lord is patient toward us, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

Both of those verses make clear to me that all lives matter to God.

lives-matter

There’s also this in the book of Colossians, in which the apostle Paul writes of a spiritual renewal through Christ “in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”

Ethnic distinctions mean nothing to God when it comes to relationship with Him. They should mean nothing to us as well with respect to our relationships with one another.

This passage from the book of Ephesians should be our guide:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

If we do that, social justice will be achieved.

Charlotte: Some Facts

The riots that have broken out in Charlotte are supposedly inspired by the racism of the police in that city. Keith Lamont Scott, a black man, was killed by a Charlotte police officer who said Scott emerged from his car with a gun.

brentley-vinsonThe officer who shot Scott was Brentley Vinson, whose photo is here.

Now, if you are blind and someone else is reading my blog to you, you have an excuse for not knowing that Vinson is black also. But if you still have your eyesight, there is little excuse for believing that this shooting was racially motivated.

Vinson is a Charlotte native who followed in the career path of his father, who also is a police officer.

By all accounts, Vinson has been a role model to all, a star football player in college who has no record of ever having caused trouble in any way. And his college was Liberty University, which tends to make me think Vinson is a committed Christian.

The Charlotte chief of police, also a black man, says Scott did have a gun. The investigation continues, but I somehow doubt that the police chief is a racist against fellow black citizens.

No matter. As far as the protesters are concerned, the whole episode is awash in racism, thereby setting aside such obstacles as logic and facts. CNN is now reporting that 70% of those arrested in the riots have IDs showing they are from out of state. What we have here, apparently, are roving protesters who show up wherever they can create greater havoc.

We are being treated to constant coverage of the Charlotte situation, but I’m not going to fan flames of discontent by showing photos of the rioters. Instead, how about this one?

charlotte-protester

I also like this one, depicting North Carolina highway patrol officers kneeling in prayer before risking their lives to help stem the violence.

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Some people want to foment hatred and division. Today, I prefer to highlight those who seek to bring peace to a troubled city.

An Evangelical Scarlet Letter?

Increasingly, there is pressure on those of us who have always identified with the Republican party but who cannot bring ourselves to support Donald Trump to lay aside our objections and come together for the sake of unity. And to stop the ultimate horror: Hillary Clinton.

Many who were quite verbal in their detestation of Trump early on (such as former Texas governor Rick Perry) have done a complete 180, now saying he’s just marvelous. Perry, who had said Trump was “a cancer on conservatism,” “a barking carnival act,” and who called Trumpism “a toxic mix of demogoguery, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense that will lead the Republican party to perdition,” later said he would love to be Trump’s VP choice.

poll-numbers

Ah, principle! It’s so ennobling.

I can’t go there.

There are so many reasons why I cannot that it has become difficult to encapsulate them in one simple blog post. One of the first impressions I had of Trump when the primary debates began was his simple-mindedness, his elementary-level vocabulary, and his complete lack of knowledge on issues of utmost importance.

forrest-trump

Forrest Gump, though, was likeable and never had an insulting, rude bone in his body. Not so Donald Trump.

tip-top-shape

His constant personal attacks on the other Republican candidates were legion. The ones that stay with me the most, of course, are those on Ted Cruz, who received the full treatment because he was the greatest threat to Trump’s ascendancy.

In case you have suffered from a type of political amnesia brought on by partisanship, let me remind you of a few of those. First, he questioned Cruz’s status as a natural-born citizen, despite the fact that Cruz’s mother was an American citizen and the fact that the law declares anyone born to at least one American citizen is a natural-born citizen as well.

This wasn’t Trump’s first time using this conspiracy theory. He was one of the leading proponents who questioned Obama’s birth. Now, I know many on the conservative side of the political spectrum still want to beat that proverbial dead horse, but it truly is dead.

Even Trump had to admit that a few days ago . . . sort of:

born-in-hawaii

Those in the know realize he was pressured into accepting it publicly by his advisors, but he continues to hint that it was purely a political move. What a surprise.

Did he ever apologize to Cruz for that foray into political manipulation? Right. Donald Trump apologizes for nothing.

He has never apologized for pushing a false story about Cruz having many affairs (never mind The Donald’s own personal life), nor for attacking Heidi Cruz (claiming he will “out” her for some deep, dark secret) and allowing a horrid photo of her to be placed alongside his model wife (third one, if you are counting—maybe more to come), nor for intimating that Cruz’s father was somehow involved with the JFK assassination.

And then he expects Cruz to endorse him?

I could also go into how he has taken positions contrary to traditional conservative policy; conservatives who used to oppose those positions now suddenly find them delightful because their nominee is proposing them.

excellent-shape

Ah, principle. It’s so ennobling.

Wait a minute. Didn’t I already say that?

In my view, those of us who will not vote for Trump are the ones holding more firmly to what the Republican party says it believes.

lost-my-party

Erick Erickson, a staunch voice against Trumpism, wrote an essay the other day that he entitled “Reconsidering My Opposition to Trump.” At first glance, that would lead someone to think he has now capitulated. Not the case.

The essay begins with a serious indictment of Hillary Clinton, ending with the words, “In short, I see the election of Hillary Clinton as the antithesis of all my values and ideas on what fosters sound civil society in this country. Further, she should be in jail.”

Then why not support Trump? While he goes into a lot of detail why even the threat of Hillary will not move him away from being anti-Trump also, these paragraphs get to the heart of it for me:

More importantly, while I think Hillary Clinton will do long term damage to the country, I believe Donald Trump will do far more damage to the church, which must be my chief priority. A Clinton Administration may see the church besieged from the outside, but a Trump Administration will see the church poisoned from within [emphasis mine].

I see it happening even now. This past Friday I debated the merits of Trump and sat next to a Christian who argued that because God chose sinners, we should choose Trump. She argued that a bunch of other Presidents were terrible, immoral people so we should be okay with Trump. She argued that God chose Abraham, Samson, and David, so we should choose Trump.

I do not recall John F. Kennedy writing books bragging about his affairs. I do not recall Bill Clinton telling a television audience he wanted to have sex with his daughter.

How far a Christian must fall to justify the low morals of one man by tearing down the reputations of others in sometimes exaggerated manners. And I do recall God choosing Abraham, Samson, and David and all of them repenting of their sins. That repentance stands in studied contrast to Donald Trump who has three times said he never had to ask for forgiveness and only recently said his advance of the church, if he is elected, might be the only thing that gets him into Heaven.

My priority is the same as Erickson’s. I want the Christian witness to the world to be consistent. Support for an openly immoral man who sees no need for repentance undermines that witness. By the way, it also doesn’t help Donald Trump. When he sees all those evangelicals lining up on his side and extolling his virtues, how will he ever be brought to repentance? Fervent evangelical support may have the opposite effect and ground him ever more firmly in his sin.

Potential short-term political gain must be subordinated to long-term promotion of the kingdom of God. I’m afraid that Christians who tie themselves too closely to Trump will, figuratively, have to walk around later with a scarlet letter emblazoned on their Christian witness.

Lewis’s Nuggets of Gold

lewis-letters-volume-3Reading through C. S. Lewis’s letters to Americans during my sabbatical was a genuine pleasure. There are so many nuggets of gold in those letters that I couldn’t include them all in my new book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis.

On the topic of suffering, for instance, here are a couple of gems. Writing to regular correspondent Mary Van Deusen on this topic, Lewis opines,

That suffering is not always sent as a punishment is clearly established for believers by the book of Job and by John IX. 1-4. That it sometimes is, is suggested by parts of the Old Testament and Revelation. It wd. certainly be most dangerous to assume that any given pain was penal.

I believe that all pain is contrary to God’s will, absolutely but not relatively. When I am taking a thorn out of my finger (or a child’s finger) the pain is ‘absolutely’ contrary to my will: i.e. if I could have chosen a situation without pain I would have done so. But I do will what caused pain, relatively to the given situation: i.e. granted the thorn I prefer the pain to leaving the thorn where it is.

I agree that pain is not what God would want to inflict on anyone. After all, aren’t we told that in heaven there will be no more sickness or pain and that all our tears will be dried? He only inflicts some pain on us when necessary to remove greater problems in our life.

Lewis also made what some might consider a startling statement when he told Belle Allen that the suffering of the innocent didn’t bother him nearly as much as the suffering of evil men. What did he mean by that?

Do you know, the suffering of the innocent is less of a problem to me v often than that of the wicked.

It sounds absurd: but I’ve met so many innocent sufferers who seem to be gladly offering their pain to God in Christ as part of the Atonement, so patient, so meek, even so at peace, and so unselfish that we can hardly doubt they are being, as St. Paul says, “made perfect by suffering.”

On the other hand I meet selfish egoists in whom suffering seems to produce only resentment, hate, blasphemy, and more egoism. They are the real problem.

lewis-front-cover-100These are just two examples why I delighted in studying how Lewis responded to Americans who wrote to him. His wit and wisdom is found not only in his published works, but in these personal communications also.

Since my goal was to see what Lewis said to Americans, I didn’t read all of his letters to his own countrymen. That is something I hope to do at my leisure over the next few years.

I would be remiss if I didn’t close with a reminder that America Discovers C. S. Lewis can be found on Amazon and at this page on my publisher’s website. If you buy a copy, I hope you will be as taken by Lewis’s letters to Americans as I have been.

Discerning Good & Evil

The Book of Hebrews has always been one of my favorites. I’ve been reading it again on my path through the whole Bible. Two passages in chapter four stand out to me, the first reminding me that in a world filled with selfishness, duplicity, and enmity toward God and His ways, He is still the One who sees everything and takes it all into account:

swordFor the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

The first application of any Scripture needs to be personal. I must keep in mind that the Lord is constantly seeing what’s in my heart. He knows my intent in everything I do. In one sense, that’s sobering, but in another, it’s a spur to keep my heart right out of love for Him and all He has done for me.

The second application is to the world in general, in which I can rest in the assurance that He does know the truth about everyone and that, in the end, things will be made right: those who deny Him and His truth and who may seem to be “winning” will have to give an account to Him ultimately for their intent and their actions.

Later in the chapter, there is a challenge to those who say they are His disciples to prove that they are disciples indeed.

good-evilFor though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

The message of that passage? Grow up.

One of the things that is most troubling to me is that so many Christians seem to believe the lies the world tells us, all the way from excuses for sinful behavior in society to the bald-faced untruths emanating from the mouths of politicians eager to puff up themselves as our “saviors.”

Sins as described in the Bible remain sins today regardless of the trends we see around us.

No politician is the answer to our myriad problems. No one should ever say he or she alone can set things right.

God wants to work through us to set things as right as possible in this unsettled and topsy-turvy world, but we must grow up first if we are to make a difference. We can’t stay in the infant seat, wanting all our needs met. We must discern good and evil and be steadfast in our determination to stand for the good.

God’s righteousness in our own lives and in our society must be our twin goals.

When Clyde Kilby Met C. S. Lewis

clyde-kilbyClyde Kilby was the man responsible for bringing the C. S. Lewis Papers to the Wade Center at Wheaton College, where not only Lewis’s papers now reside, but also those of Tolkien and five other British luminaries with ties to Lewis.

Kilby and Lewis met face-to-face only once, back in 1953, but the impression from that visit stayed with Kilby the rest of his life. When Kilby returned from England, he wrote about his experience.

Upon knocking [at Lewis’s Oxford office door], 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. They spoke of the nature of the Renaissance, with Lewis’s comments foreshadowing what he would say the next year in his inaugural lecture at Cambridge. They also talked about Palestine/the new nation of Israel and of Kilby’s recent trip there. Lewis longed for the pleasure of visiting the Holy Land someday, and they speculated about the possible rebuilding of the Jewish temple and the reestablishment of sacrifices on that ancient spot in Jerusalem.

c-s-lewis-3Further, they discussed the relationship between Christian faith and art, as well as all things people consider secular. “He said the same relation existed between Christianity and art as between Christianity and carpentry.” Of course, 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.”

Kilby also sought to know if Lewis would be lecturing while he was in Oxford. “He said he had no lectures scheduled and bantered me as a college professor wanting to hear a lecture while on vacation. In fact, in all his talk there is an incipient good humor and genuineness that makes a conversation with him a real pleasure.”

Front CoverThe 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.”

This account of Kilby’s encounter with Lewis is found in my new book on Lewis’s contacts with and influence upon Americans. America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact is currently available at the publisher’s site. It’s coming to Amazon soon. It is replete with such stories, so if you liked this one, I’m sure you’ll like the others also.