Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

A Righteous Anger

I spend a lot of time in this blog critiquing current events: our government and its policies; the unbalanced media coverage; the antichristian aspects of our culture; the way Christians sometimes go along with ungodly practices.

It’s easy to get angry when you focus on such things. I can say, though, that most of the time it’s not anger that motivates me, but anguish over the path we have taken as a society—a sadness that we are throwing away the many advantages and blessings we’ve received, and that we are trashing our heritage.

Anger is not always wrong, however. The prime Scriptural example in the New Testament has to be when Jesus took a whip and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. I don’t think He asked them politely to move. He was angry with how they had cheapened the worship of God.

Jesus didn’t sin when he displayed His anger. His was a righteous anger. One key passage in the book of Ephesians gives insight into the anger issue when it admonishes,

In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

What does this teach us? First, anger is not necessarily sin. Second, it can become sin if it festers, so don’t allow it to direct your actions. Third, if you do give in to anger and do something foolish while angry, you’ve just provided an opportunity for Satan to use it to his advantage.

Sometimes I do worry about Christians who get involved in trying to change the society. Don’t get me wrong—we are to be involved, and God tells us to be the change agents. But we have to do so in the right spirit.

When is anger allowed?

  1. Sin should always make us angry, since the selfishness at the root of all sin destroys everything good that God has created. It devastates people and makes their lives miserable.
  2. A culture that rejects God’s standards should make us angry as well. When we see men setting themselves up as the determiners of good and evil, right and wrong, and their ways are not God’s ways, they are leading others into a horrible deception that will separate them from God and His love.
  3. Government policies that make civil government into the ultimate authority in people’s lives should engender anger. The arrogance that accompanies “government as savior” is the opposite of the true spirit of the Gospel.

Yes, for all these reasons, we can be angry. The key is to direct that anger into a God-inspired response, a response that certainly calls out sin for what it is, but simultaneously reveals the heart of God. What is that heart? More than anything else, God wants to rescue men and women from the pit into which they’ve placed themselves.

The rescue He wants to achieve must begin with a clear message that sin is sin and that repentance is required. Then it moves on to the revelation that God has provided a way for that sin to be forgiven by sacrificing Himself for humanity. The love displayed through that sacrifice can break down man’s wall of stubbornness and rebellion that he has erected against the One who reaches out to him.

What begins with anger should end with a deep desire to “salvage” those caught in deception. That’s what the word “salvation” really means. We’re involved in a salvage operation.

My admonition to my fellow Christians who want to see change is to be wise. Don’t let your anger carry you into sin yourself. Be open to how God wants you to respond and do so intelligently. Only then can we make a difference.

A Meditation on Knowledge & Wisdom

I spent many years earning a doctorate in history. When I began that quest, I had turned my back on the Christian faith. I wondered if the world of academia could provide the answers. One master’s degree, a multitude of courses, and three comprehensive exams later—all prior to the doctoral dissertation—finally convinced me that the educated elite were just as clueless as the rest of the world.

“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” These questions come from the pen of the apostle Paul. He answers himself:

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.

He then makes a statement that I’m sure sets the intellectual elite’s teeth on edge: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Am I saying that higher education is worthless? It can be. It all depends on the context of the learning. Anything divorced from God’s truth is not going to be beneficial in the long run. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is pointless. Man’s wisdom is often little more than arrogance and stupidity—people thinking they are intelligent, yet not realizing they are intellectual pygmies in light of God’s truth.

Some people seek advanced degrees to feel better about themselves. They want to be respected; they want to be important. Yet,

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

Boasting is one of man’s primary activities. This is particularly true of those who hold political power. They make promises seemingly without end: “Here is what we will do for you”; “We will end this problem once and for all”; “If you want answers, elect us!” Most of them, however, trust in their own minds and are disconnected from the Ultimate Mind.

The apostle Paul continues,

We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

What was true of Paul’s age remains true today. There is a wisdom that comes from God that provides all we need to know for having relationship with Him and with all others. If followed, it solves the world’s problems. Sinful man, though, refuses to submit his mind and his will to the One who has the answers.

“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.”

This calls for humility; humility only appears after genuine repentance; repentance only occurs when a person is grieved over his sinful heart. How often does this happen? According to Jesus, not often enough:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

May we all come that place.

Jeremy Lanphier & the Prayer Revival of 1857

I teach about this man when I cover the Civil War era. This account is taken from a Christian History e-mail I receive daily. I thought it was worth sharing today.

JEREMY LANPHIER was born in Albany in 1809 but he made his mark in New York City. He moved there to find employment and became a success as a clothing wholesaler.

Although he attended church to sing in the choir, he was not a Christian. While attending the Broadway Tabernacle he discovered Christ’s provision for his salvation and claim on his life. Lanphier immediately became concerned for the souls of those in spiritual darkness around him. Unmarried, he was able to give his evenings and spare time to passing out tracts and talking to people.

Meanwhile, a Dutch Reformed church in lower Manhattan had been declining in numbers because as members prospered they tended to move to wealthier districts. The leadership decided to reverse this trend with an active visitation program. They offered the job to Lanphier and he accepted. He would spend entire days visiting members, witnessing in the blocks around the church, and holding Bible studies with anyone he could interest. The work depleted him spiritually, but he found he was recharged if he spent an hour at noon in prayer. Even so, his efforts seemed fruitless.

It occurred to him that if prayer were vital to himself, perhaps others would benefit, too. He obtained a room on Fulton Street and printed 20,000 flyers, setting the first meeting for noon on this day, Wednesday, 23 September 1857.

If ever there was a time to pray, this was it. Americans in the 1850s feared that a civil war was coming. Many were disillusioned with the church because William Miller and others had preached the end of the world in the 1840s.

Lanphier knelt to pray alone. His flyer, it seemed, had been dismissed by all who saw it. For half an hour, he remained praying in solitude. Then a man showed up and, without a word, knelt beside him. Then another. By 1 PM, ten knees were on the floor beside Lanphier. The following week, several more men appeared. By October, Lanphier had to get a larger building. On 7 October, he had forty businessmen as prayer partners and they asked to meet daily. The timing could not have been more perfect.

On 10 October 1857, financial panic struck America. Banks folded, railroads went bankrupt, factories closed, and unemployment skyrocketed. Desperate people turned to prayer. Such a great number of people flocked to churches that soon many places of worship around the city were forced to open their sanctuaries at noon and evening for prayer.. A reporter who rushed from sanctuary to sanctuary one noon counted over six thousand people praying—and he was not able to visit every meeting place. The New York Herald and the New York Tribune covered the phenomenon, bringing it to the attention of others.

Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, and other large cities began noon prayer meetings. The YMCA also held prayer meetings wherever its branches had formed.

The result was labeled America’s Third Great Awakening. People began to inquire how they might be saved. As many as a million people were converted or renewed in the revival that followed. Churches that had been dying filled anew with worshipers. The revival leapt around the world, primarily in regions occupied or influenced by the British Empire but also on the European continent.

Jeremy Lanphier continued his work in New York’s streets until he was too old to get around any longer. He died in 1898.

Character: That Which Is in Our Hearts

We are all free moral agents made in the image of God. In order for His creation to operate the way He intended, we must reflect His character. If we don’t, everything falls apart [which is evident just by observing the world].

Noah Webster’s dictionary definition of character, distinct from the human aspect, was simply “a mark made by cutting, engraving, stamping, or pressing.” Like a typewriter—you remember those? Put in the paper, press the key, the arm jumps up and cuts, engraves, stamps, or presses on the paper, making a “mark.”

It works the same way with people. Our character is made by the various cuttings we must endure, the engravings that sometimes hurt, the stamping and pressing that oftentimes leaves us wondering how we are going to survive. Yet those very circumstances of life make us into what we are. They form our character.

Character is created within; it reveals itself externally. We cannot simply grit our teeth and determine we will have godly character; it must spring from a heart that is changed. The Apostle Paul alluded to this when he wrote to the Corinthian believers:

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (II Cor. 3:2-3)

The real change takes place in the heart. What is in the heart will be manifested. Some may not like this explanation:




Truth can disturb us—but that’s the nature of truth. Only when we face up to the truth and acknowledge it for what it is can we be set free.

The Only Question That Really Matters: Lewis’s Final Interview

The final interview C. S. Lewis gave was with Sherwood Wirt of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Wirt spoke with him at Cambridge University in May of 1963, just six months before Lewis died. I was re-reading that interview this morning and found it enlightening as to Lewis’s thoughts during that final stage of his life—although, of course, he didn’t realize he was in the final stage.

At first, Wirt was interested in drawing out Lewis on the type of writing Christians should do. When asked his opinion of the kind of Christian writing being done at that time, Lewis was blunt:

A great deal of what is being published by writers in the religious tradition is a scandal and is actually turning people away from the church. The liberal writers who are continually accommodating and whittling down the truth of the Gospel are responsible.

I cannot understand how a man can appear in print claiming to disbelieve everything that he presupposes when he puts on the surplice. I feel it is a form of prostitution.

Strong words.

As the interview proceeded, Wirt asked Lewis how Christians can help foster an encounter of people with Christ. “You can’t lay down any pattern for God,” Lewis replied, but added that he had learned to be cautious in passing judgment on different approaches to delivering the Gospel. Above all, he urged commitment to the message:

As Christians we are tempted to make unnecessary concessions to those outside the Faith. We give in too much. Now, I don’t mean that we should run the risk of making a nuisance of ourselves by witnessing at improper times, but there comes a time when we must show that we disagree. We must show our Christian colours, if we are to be true to Jesus Christ. We cannot remain silent or concede everything away.

Lewis also decried the increasing use of obscenity in literature in order to create what some called a more “realistic atmosphere.” He viewed that development with dismay, seeing it as “a symptom, a sign of a culture that has lost its faith.” There is a progression, Lewis warned: “Moral collapse follows upon spiritual collapse. I look upon the immediate future with great apprehension.”

Modern culture, he felt, was in the throes of de-Christianization. While he refrained from commenting on the political aspects of this development, he did have “definite views” on what was happening within the church:

I believe there are many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say, “Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.” The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.

The interview concluded with Wirt asking Lewis what he thought would be occurring “in the next few years of history.” Lewis’s response was quite practical—and Biblically based:

I have no way of knowing. . . . The world might stop in ten minutes; meanwhile, we are to go on doing our duty. The great thing is to be found at one’s post as a child of God, living each day as though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years.

He then echoed words he had written in more than one of his earlier writings:

We have, of course, the assurance of the New Testament regarding events to come. I find it difficult to keep from laughing when I find people worrying about future destruction of some kind or other. Didn’t they know they were going to die anyway? Apparently not.

My wife once asked a young woman friend whether she had ever thought of death, and she replied, “By the time I reach that age science will have done something about it!”

Unlimited faith in man’s science is a fantasy. We all will die. The only question that really matters is whether we have remained at our post as a child of God, continuing to do His will until the end comes. Lewis did exactly that in the six months he had left. We need to follow his example.

Prophet? Priest? Both?

As a Christian, what am I supposed to be when commenting on politics? Am I to be the prophetic voice, warning against the dangers of voting wrongly and following wrong policies? Am I to be the compassionate voice that draws people to God by staying away from controversy?

Is it possible to be so prophetic in one’s approach that people are turned away from the truth? Likewise, is it possible to be so open and compassionate toward those with differing views that you never lead them to the truth, for fear of offending?

For those of us who believe that the Lord is the be-all and end-all of life, that nothing is more important than a relationship with Him, it may appear unseemly at times to get embroiled in the criticisms of the political scene. After all, isn’t this life just a temporary waystation on the way to eternity?

Yet God has put us in this world to make a difference while we are here. What we do–and how we do it–will influence the future of this nation as well as the eternal destiny of individuals. And there can be a link between the two. In a nation that honors God and follows His principles, there is liberty to teach His ways openly to all. If that nation instead passes laws that shut down those who teach the Gospel truths, more people will remain lost in spiritual darkness.

How do we combine the prophetic role with the priestly one? I look at the example of Jesus, who welcomed all who came to Him, whether prostitutes or Pharisees. Yet He was direct and harsh at times with those who set themselves up against the ways of God. He called some Pharisees whitewashed tombs, pretty on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones within. He did turn over the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple.

We can speak forcefully and directly. Being a Christian does not mean you have lost a backbone; in fact, it means you have finally found one. Yet we are always admonished to speak the truth in love. Notice both parts of that: we are to be loving in everything we say, but we speak the truth simultaneously. And that truth can be pointed and contain dire warnings. We must continually check our hearts to be sure we have the proper attitude. This portion of Psalm 51 jumps out at me today:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You.

Lewis the Translator of Christian Truth

C. S. Lewis’s writings have been credited with leading many to the Christian faith and with strengthening the faith of countless others. He assumed the mantle of apologist and evangelist primarily because he saw a decided lack of intelligent explainers of Christian truths.

Yet he was criticized by some. Oxford colleagues were miffed that he was stepping out of his academic field to write about Christianity, which is one reason why he was denied promotion during his tenure there.

Another critic, who surfaced in 1958, was Norman Pittenger, an American Anglican priest and theologican, who wrote that Lewis was too simplistic in his presentation of Christian faith. At the time he criticized Lewis, Pittenger was Chairman of the Theological Commission of the World Council of Churches.

The critique appeared in the theologically liberal magazine The Christian Century. Due to Pittenger’s prominence, Lewis felt he had to pen a defense of his reason for being an apologist and of his particular approach in presenting what Christianity was all about—a defense that The Christian Century published and which now appears in the essay collection God in the Dock and titled “A Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger.”

Why did Lewis undertake the work of apologist/evangelist?

When I began, Christianity came before the great mass of my unbelieving fellow-countrymen either in the highly emotional form offered by revivalists or in the unintelligible language of highly cultured clergymen. Most men were reached by neither.

My task was therefore simply that of a translator—one turning Christian doctrine, or what he believed to be such, into the vernacular, into language that unscholarly people would attend to and could understand.

First and foremost, Lewis wanted people to be drawn to the truth; for that to happen, they had to grasp it and why it was important. The Pittenger approach, he argued, was so rich in “ambiguities” that it was “worse than useless.” It was so nuanced, so “sitting on the fence,” that people would suspect they were being tricked.

Lewis, in genuine humility, was willing to concede he might not be perfect in his own explanations and style:

I may have made theological errors. My manner may have been defective. Others may do better hereafter. I am ready, if I am young enough, to learn.

Dr. Pittenger would be a more helpful critic if he advised a cure as well as asserting many diseases. How does he himself do such work? What methods, and with what success, does he employ when he is trying to convert the great mass of storekeepers, lawyers, realtors, morticians, policemen and artisans who surround him in his own city?

Lewis undoubtedly suspected that Pittenger wasn’t truly engaged in trying to interact with those types of people at all. And what of the “gospel” of Pittenger? He became one of the first “Christian” leaders who argued for the acceptance of homosexual relations among Christians. Later, he admitted to his own homosexuality.

This is a defender of the faith?

Lewis concludes his rejoinder to Pittenger with these pointed words:

One thing at least is sure. If the real theologians had tackled this laborious work of translation about a hundred years ago, when they began to lose touch with the people (for whom Christ died), there would have been no place for me.

But because they did lose touch, Lewis stepped into the gap. Many thousands are eternally grateful that he did.