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.

Hillary & the Seared Conscience

The Scriptures tell us how people can develop a seared conscience. It comes from committing a sin so often that, after a while, it no longer bothers the person committing the sin. The sin itself becomes part of that person’s character.

We see two outstanding examples of this phenomenon in both of our principal presidential candidates, but Hillary Clinton’s propensity for unremitting lying has been getting most of the attention lately . . . and shall I say finally?

Nearly every statement she has ever made about her e-mail server has now been publicly exposed as a lie. The latest revelations in the FBI notes when that agency interviewed her are that her people used what they hoped would be a super-strong program to wipe the server clean and that many of the phones she used were destroyed, sometimes simply by using a hammer.

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Intimately connected with the server/e-mail lies are the lies associated with the now-infamous Clinton Foundation, the recipient of funds from people (some being foreign powers) who sought favors from the Hillary-led State Department, which is probably the reason for all the e-mail server secrecy in the first place:

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But what has caught the public’s attention more recently was Hillary’s collapse as she exited the 9/11 ceremony early on Sunday. If you have seen the video, it is startling just how incapacitated she appeared, having to be supported wholly by others as she was practically thrown into the waiting van.

Eventually, the campaign said she was suffering from pneumonia. With all the stories circulating about far worse health issues, many are finding that explanation something less than believable. If she will lie about everything else, why not her health?

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Whatever her real condition, one can gauge how serious it must be if one follows the Clintons’ history:

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Perhaps the most amazing thing about the episode is the relative silence coming from Donald Trump. What happened to his Twitter account? Where are the usual insults and inane comments that his campaign has to clarify afterwards?

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Those of you who thought you were getting someone who was not a “manufactured” candidate might have to rethink that assumption. The professionals are doing all they can to make him seem credible and normal. Give them a break; it’s a tough job.

How About a Display of Gratitude Instead?

What does this flag mean? Why do we salute it? Is it appropriate to do so or should we hold it in contempt because not everything that has happened under this banner has been perfect?

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A Christian knows that citizenship in any nation is a temporary condition. We are, as the Scripture famously affirms, strangers and pilgrims on this earth. Yet we are also told to pray for whatever nation we live in and do all we can to help it conform to Biblical principles, in society at large and in the government.

This flag, and the national anthem that accompanies it in public venues, is now being disparaged in an unprecedented manner. I hold up no nation nor any of its symbols as sacred in the same sense as I revere God and His ways. However, I am to appreciate the good that has been done in a nation and honor its symbols.

The United States, despite its manifold problems throughout its history (and I know something about that history), has been one of the greatest forces for good that the world has ever witnessed.

The current controversy centers on slavery. Let’s review.

When has slavery never existed in the history of the human race? You have to search hard and long to find any place that has never had this institution, in one way or another. Why not, instead, acknowledge that the English-speaking world, both Britain and America, led the way in the banning of slavery?

You say that prejudice continued even after slavery was banned? Again, I ask this: where, in the history of the world—and even today—has prejudice not reared its head? It’s part of the human condition called sinfulness. Why not, instead, look at the efforts of this country, in particular, to minimize the natural prejudices that arise?

francis-scott-key-on-shipThe Star Spangled Banner is now under attack as racist. Why? Consider the history of the anthem. The author, Francis Scott Key, was on a ship in Baltimore’s harbor attempting to arrange a prisoner exchange. He had to wait through the night to continue the negotiations. He feared that Ft. McHenry, which blocked the British entry into the city, would fall. When he awoke the next morning and saw the flag still waving over the fort, he was inspired to write.

The third verse, in context, speaks of how the British have sought to wipe out the land of the free and the brave by the use of hirelings (remember the Hessians in the War for Independence?) and slaves. The latter were promised their freedom if they would come over to the British side and fight. The exact words are these:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, that the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion a home and a country shall leave us no more? Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, and the Star – Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I see nothing obviously racist in those words when taken in context. It’s a simple statement of fact at that moment in our history.

francis-scott-keyKey himself is also being attacked because he was a slaveholder. Yes, he was, as were George Washington and many other luminaries in those early years. Those who disparage all the Founders overlook the desire most of them expressed to find a way to wipe out slavery once and for all. They also overlook the possibility that some slaveholders were kind to their slaves and even freed some of them when they had the opportunity to do so.

Francis Scott Key was one of those. Key was a committed Christian who despised the slave system he was born into. He believed slavery was wrong in principle and did free some of his slaves. As a lawyer, he took cases on behalf of slaves seeking their freedom. One of his contemporaries even said he was “ready to brave odium or even personal danger in their behalf.”

Key didn’t advocate for mass emancipation all at once because he didn’t see how that would work. As with many of his fellow citizens at the time who worked to end slavery, he favored a gradual merging of freed slaves into the culture and the economy.

Some fault Key for his support for the colonization movement, which sought to send freed blacks to Africa to set up their own government there. That did happen, by the way. That nation is known as Liberia. Many prominent Americans joined that movement. Some did so for racist reasons, hoping to create an America with a wholly white population. Others, though, such as James Madison (The Father of the Constitution) and Abraham Lincoln, lent their support because they thought it would be best for blacks who might find it difficult to enter successfully into a society dominated by those with a British/European heritage.

Calling all supporters of the colonization movement racists is a gross stereotype that doesn’t stand historical scrutiny.

America, throughout its short history, by comparison with other empires, has demonstrated to the world that representative government can work, even when it is messy.

America has come to the aid of the world by standing up to the tyrannies of fascism and communism.

America has, by law, thrown out ancient prejudices and attempted to place all citizens on an even playing field.

America has offered opportunities to the descendants of slaves that few nations have ever achieved. Does a racist society elect a black president? Does it pay black football players millions of dollars for athletic skills because it is racist?

Then those same individuals who have been so blessed decide to make a public protest over what they consider to be a racist society?

Colin Kaepernick and others on the various NFL teams will make more money this year than I will make in my lifetime.

Should I protest? Should I reject my nation because I’m being treated unfairly? I mean, I can make a case that what I do as a university professor is far more valuable than what they do when they play their games.

We need more historical common sense and less manufactured outrage. Displays such as these public protests only help bring us down as a nation. We need to pull together and show gratitude for what the blood and toil of previous generations have handed to us.

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.

Integrity

I talk a lot about principles. After all, look at the title of this blog. The word means a lot to me. It’s the same with a related word: integrity.

integrityHow is integrity defined? I like this definition:

Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

I like that it incorporates principle in the definition and that honesty, morality, and ethical conduct are all included.

This is what God looks for in men and women, especially those who seek to be placed in a position of trust, whether in a marriage, a business, a ministry, or a political office.

book-cover-1When I wrote my book about Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers, it was a joy to do so because my two subjects were men of integrity.

As I point out in the book, their visions of the future differed. Reagan was the eternal optimist, believing that freedom was the wave of the future because men would listen to the promptings of God’s spirit and respond accordingly. Chambers, however, didn’t have much faith in the soundness of character in the general public. He was much more pessimistic about the future.

Yet even though they maintained different expectations, they nevertheless were men who could be trusted. Those who knew them knew they could count on them to be faithful to what they believed and that their word was their bond.

So my book is not primarily a book about politics, but about character. I encourage you to get a copy if you haven’t already and read about men of genuine integrity.

I decided to investigate what the Scriptures have to say about integrity. Some references stand out. Here are some examples:

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Shouldn’t this be our guide whenever we are faced with a choice for placing a person in a position of trust? If those who are put forward as our primary choices in a political season are both lacking in this quality, is it integrity on our part to go ahead and vote for one of them anyway?

David, in Psalm 26, makes a plea to the Lord in these words:

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.

Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart.

May that be our prayer also. May integrity be paramount for us as we go forward in our lives, and may we never stray from that path.

Seeking God’s Mercy in an Election Year

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump continue to make news, not all of it very inspiring. Well, hardly any of it inspiring.

On Hillary’s part, the key has been to hide as much bad news as possible, such as the Labor Day weekend dump of the notes made by the FBI when she was interviewed. The hope was that no one would pay attention on a holiday weekend. The word is getting out, though, that she plays fast and loose with the truth on nearly everything.

The Hillary camp’s mantra, though, remains consistent:

Notes

Then there’s the issue of her health. It’s not just anti-Hillary outlets that are now commenting on it. It’s hard to ignore increasing coughing spells that last for minutes.

Happens Every Time

So, naturally, Trump makes an issue of it as well, raising questions about whether she can handle the office. He demands she release her medical records. I agree she should. The other side of the coin, of course, is that 70-year-old Trump should do the same, but he refuses also. Shouldn’t this apply to both equally?

Then there’s the demand from the Clinton camp that Trump needs to release his tax returns. On this point, I am in complete agreement. In the same way that she seeks to hide her health records, he seems bent on letting no one see the truth about his income, charitable deductions, or other questionable things that might come to the surface upon examination.

Hypocrisy abounds for both.

Trump also is making news about his position on immigration—whatever that really might be. It kind of depends on the day and the audience before which he is speaking.

Immigration Position

This election season corresponds with the height of hurricane season. There are similarities:

Two Storms

Never have the two presidential candidates in an election year been so roundly despised by the electorate:

Negative & Negative

This has led to new strategies for voters:

Cancel Out

For my part, I think we lose regardless of who wins. That’s why I will not vote for either one. I’ve covered the ground before for why I have come to that decision, so I won’t repeat it all here.

My hope is that those who claim to be Christians will humble themselves and admit there is no human solution to our problems and cease to promote anyone who doesn’t deserve our support. Perhaps then God will show mercy and do things behind the scenes to lessen the consequences of our foolishness as a nation.

Review: The Light Between Oceans

Not one car chase. Not one shootout. Only a glorious film that deals with conscience, the consequences of violating one’s conscience when swayed by love for another, a willingness to suffer on behalf of the one you love even when misunderstood by that loved one, and the spiritual release that comes from confession and forgiveness. Put that all together and combine it with stunning visual beauty and superb acting, and you have one of the most compelling movies I’ve seen in some time.

Light Between Oceans

While I like a lot of movies—after all, my undergraduate degree was in radio, tv, and film production—only rarely do I leave a theater thinking as deeply as I did after viewing The Light Between Oceans.

Bare bones plot:

An emotionally scarred Australian man returns from WWI seeking solitude, so he takes a lonely job as the only person on a small island tending a very important lighthouse situated between the Pacific and Indian oceans.

A young woman who has lost both of her brothers in the war helps him come to grips with his war experience, they marry, and now the two of them are the only inhabitants of that island.

The marriage is healing for both of them but she suffers from two miscarriages, thereby creating emotional trauma for both. Then a small boat washes ashore. In it is a dead man and a newborn baby girl needing love and care. Do they try to find out if there is a mother somewhere or do they take the child and raise her themselves?

The decision they make leads to the litany I described above: matters of conscience, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

I won’t go any further in laying out the plot. If you have been looking for a film that demonstrates the love of God and love for another, a film that forces people to grapple with heartbreaking decisions and whether to forgive, let me suggest that this is the film for you.

Christian faith is an important element in the story. Ultimate decisions are based on that faith. Needless to say, I heartily recommend The Light Between Oceans.