On Youth, Foolishness, & Mortality

I was reading in Psalm 39 this morning and this section jumped out at me:

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.

Thinking about my mortality has become more prominent lately. Not that I’m in bad health or anticipating an early demise, you understand, but it’s only right that someone my age—I just turned 67—should take that possibility seriously.

I reflect back on what it was like being young, that time in life when you rarely consider the end of days on this earth; after all, one’s entire life lies ahead. What great things one will do!

Teaching the current university-aged generation is also a constant reminder of the passing of the years. I could be their grandfather, which is a fairly new and sometimes startling reminder of how quickly time goes by.

Yesterday, I was teaching them about the 1960s, that woebegone era when youth believed they were charting a new course for civilization that no one had ever thought about before. How silly so many of my generation were:

Each new generation, particularly the members of it that end up in college, always seems to think it’s smarter than the previous one, and the atmosphere in which they thrive is all too often one of promoting radical change, often without real understanding:

Far too many of the current crop of students are ignorant of history, which doesn’t bode well for the future of the nation:

As that last comic intimates, many students are being indoctrinated in the latest trendy social thought more than the basic knowledge and principles they need for life.

This has come to the forefront again recently in the reaction of many students to school shootings. Adults (so-called) are prone to present the students as the wise ones, the ones we need to listen to:

I was young once. I thought I had all the answers. I was wrong. I was immature. Immaturity is a feature of being young and inexperienced. A phrase bandied about (but probably not said in these precise words by anyone in particular) is “Youth is wasted on the young.”

This post is not meant to be a slight on young people. I love my students. It’s just that I know what being young is like. I look back on some of the decisions I made, even as a young Christian, and just shake my head, asking myself, “How could I have been so foolish?”

Psalm 90:12 is a fitting final thought for today:

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

May it be.

Seeing What Is Unseen

All Scripture is inspired by God. When you read it with an open heart, God’s Spirit can speak directly to you. What’s even more remarkable is that passages that you have read often can sometimes stand out in a rereading in a way they didn’t before.

That happened to me recently when meditating on chapter 4 of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Let me see if I can convey why this section was so meaningful this time.

Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Paul has just commented on how the Lord will transform His people into His image. If we are really Christians, we are open and honest in all our ways. We don’t try to “get by” with sneaky practices and attempt to deceive anyone.

Neither do we distort—twist into a different shape—the truths God has given us. We don’t change the Gospel message to fit into modern trends. The “church” is overflowing with those who who claim to speak for God, yet alter the truth for their own devious purposes.

And we have integrity. When we speak God’s truths, all should be able to see the genuineness of our motives.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Satan cannot blind people who are truly seeking God. He can only mislead those who already have a heart of unbelief. It’s never God who keeps the truth from them; they themselves choose to reject the message.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Be alert to anyone who says he speaks for the Lord but whose message is centered on self. We are mere servants, not to be confused with Jesus our Lord, who is the Light shining in a dark world. That Light is to shine through us.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Have you ever considered yourself a mere jar of clay? Yet God chooses to use such plain and unassuming vessels to hold the treasure of His Word. What a privilege we have.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Paul makes it clear that this life will be filled with troubles. Being a messenger of God’s truth won’t be an easy life. We will be hard pressed at times, perplexed, possibly persecuted and struck down. Yet God is always with us. Regardless of the troubles, we will not be crushed, in despair, abandoned, or destroyed, even though we may feel like it.

As His spokesmen, we have to be willing to die to ourselves; that’s the only way for Christ to shine through us.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Faith leads us to speak boldly in His name. And the reward is fantastic: even as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too will we be raised and be presented to the Father on That Day.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

These verses are ones I memorized early in my Christian walk, but they mean more now with the decades that have followed. I now realize in a way I couldn’t when I was younger and more robust, that the body certainly does waste away. No longer can I trust in my own strength (although I never should have done so at any time).

No matter what troubles we experience, we are to see them as temporary. They will all pass, and we will have an eternal experience of glory in His presence. We will then consider those troubles as having been light and momentary.

The final verse is where we need to consciously put our minds. We are to “fix our eyes” on what we cannot currently see. This confounds unbelievers. How can anyone see what cannot be seen?

Through the eyes of faith, given to us by God because we have surrendered ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, we now have spiritual eyes that can see what is eternal.

And that which is eternal is far more real than what we see with our natural eyes.

I hope this short meditation gave you something significant to think about. Open your spiritual eyes and view the glory of God.

The Question of the Dishonest Question

“Can’t I lead a good life without believing in Christianity?” That’s the question posed by many people. Is it an honest question or one that simply seeks to avoid truth? C. S. Lewis deals with it in his short, yet insightful, essay, “Man or Rabbit?” It can be found in God in the Dock.

Lewis clears away the unhelpful underbrush of the query and reveals the path such a person asking the question is attempting to follow. As he does so, he sheds light on the essential dishonesty in what at first appears to be an honest question.

Anyone who asks this question already knows about Christianity and is really saying, “Need I bother about it? Mayn’t I just evade the issue, just let sleeping dogs lie, and get on with being ‘good’? Aren’t good intentions enough to keep me safe and blameless without knocking at that dreadful door and making sure whether there is, or isn’t someone inside?”

Lewis is blunt: “The man is shirking. He is deliberately trying not to know whether Christianity is true or false, because he foresees endless trouble if it should turn out to be true.”

Pulling no punches, Lewis continues,

He is like the man who deliberately “forgets” to look at the notice board because, if he did, he might find his name down for some unpleasant duty.

He is like the man who won’t look at his bank account because he’s afraid of what he might find there.

He is like the man who won’t go to the doctor when he first feels a mysterious pain, because he is afraid of what the doctor may tell him.

This avoidance of truth gets to the heart of what is behind the question of whether one must be a Christian to be good. Someone who asks that may be looking for an “out.” At bottom, it’s not genuine honesty at all; the question is not a real question but a hope that one doesn’t have to hear the actual answer.

The man who remains an unbeliever for such reasons is not in a state of honest error. He is in a state of dishonest error, and that dishonesty will spread through all his thoughts and actions: a certain shiftiness, a vague worry in the background, a blunting of his whole mental edge, will result.

He has lost his intellectual virginity.

Lewis knows that God will forgive anyone who has mistakenly rejected Christ and then repents of that rejection. But that’s not the kind of person he is addressing here.

But to evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven’t noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him—this is a different matter.

You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian; but you do know you ought to be a Man, not an ostrich, hiding its head in the sand.

Even if you can get a person to acknowledge his avoidance of finding the truth, there is another issue that Lewis says is an indication of the lowering of intellectual honor: the plaintive cry of “Will it help me? Will it make me happy?” Lewis challenges that approach with more bluntness:

Here is a door, behind which, according to some people, the secret of the universe is waiting for you. Either that’s true, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, then what the door really conceals is simply the greatest fraud, the most colossal “sell” on record.

Isn’t it obviously the job of every man (that is a man and not a rabbit) to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?

Faced with such an issue, can you really remain wholly absorbed in your own blessed “moral development”?

What’s needed, Lewis explains, is the realization that we can’t ever be “good” in the sense that God intends for us. “Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that.”

What, then, is that “something quite different”?

We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear. . . . We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy. . . .

Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished.

For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are “done away” and the rest is a matter of flying.

I don’t know about you, but I would like to fly.

Another Reagan-Trump Comparison

There’s been a lot of commentary on the number of people in the Trump administration who have been shown the door and/or have voluntarily resigned during his first year in office. is it unprecedented?

I think back to the Reagan years and can think of only two individuals who stepped down during or shortly after the first year. Richard Allen, Reagan’s national security advisor, resigned when accused of taking a bribe, but that accusation was later proven to be false. Alexander Haig, Reagan’s secretary of state for a little over a year, had a habit of thinking he was so much in charge of foreign policy that he was above the president. It’s to Reagan’s credit as a patient man that Haig lasted that long.

When David Stockman, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget, publicly disagreed with Reagan’s policy on tax cuts, Reagan simply sat down with him over lunch and made it clear he had to support the president’s policies. Stockman lasted a full four years in that post.

So, yes, it seems to me that the revolving door at the current White House is somewhat unprecedented, especially for someone who has continuously boasted that he only hires the best people. If that’s so, why have so many either left on their own initiative or have been forced out barely a year into Trump’s tenure?

Now, I don’t mind the fact that some of them are gone. David Shulkin, as head of the Veterans Administration, was not effective. Let’s hope someone better takes his place.

I never believed Rex Tillerson was a good pick for secretary of state, so again, I have no problem with that subtraction from the administration. However, I’m not fond of the way he found out.

In fact, Trump’s method of informing people that they may no longer have a job is not quite what I would call professional.

His constant humiliation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions via tweets is bizarre, unbecoming of what we ought to expect of presidential behavior. To Sessions’s credit, it hasn’t yet worked.

Cartoonists have been having a wonderful time illustrating this revolving door. Here are some examples:

For the record, these examples are from cartoonists with a conservative bent, so this is not part of the liberal/progressive conspiracy to oust Trump. He does enough damage to himself that even those on the conservative side can see the problem.

Meanwhile, many of us continue to pray for this president that he will eventually exhibit grownup behavior. A lifetime of narcissism makes it hard to change at this late date, but one must always hope.

The Education Crisis at All Levels

I want to begin this post with a word of appreciation so I won’t be misunderstood. What do I appreciate? All those teachers who truly love the students in their classrooms and seek to do their best to expand their knowledge and understanding.

In particular, I want to commend all Christians who labor in the schools, whether public, private, or specifically Christian. A Christian teacher in a public school is a missionary, exhibiting the love of God to students. I know you all do your best to fulfill the ministry the Lord has given you.

I hope that helps with what I want to say next.

Despite all the fine teachers who are doing their best, we are in an education crisis in the nation. I see it in two ways.

First, I see a lack of basic knowledge that earlier generations would have considered mandatory. As I continue my ministry to university students, I have concluded I have to take nothing for granted. The majority of my students come to my American history survey courses with only cursory information about what has occurred in the past.

I teach those courses as if I were teaching at the secondary level simply because I see such large gaps in their knowledge. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my students; ignorance is not primarily their fault, and it can be corrected.

Second, and more disturbing, is the trend toward a kind of indoctrination in whatever trendy movement is sweeping the land. All the walkouts that stemmed from the Parkland tragedy have a distinct political bias. We’re told these are student-led but I don’t believe it. Rather, the students are being led, and from the comments I hear from student “leaders,” one thing is significantly lacking:

“Critical thinking” has become one of the trendiest clichés of our day. Yet there is little of it in evidence. All “right-thinking” people are supposed to support gun control and/or the scrapping of the Second Amendment. After all, “guns kill people.”

A recent report notes that London now has a higher murder rate than New York City. The primary weapon used in these murders? Knives. Are they going to be banned now?

Sending young people to college is supposed to be a higher education. Is that always true?

Sadly, the worldview of most college and university administrations is illustrated nicely in that comic strip. In some of those institutions, Christians and/or conservatives are being forced to go along with such things as promotion of the LGBTQ agenda. If they refuse, they are made “sensitive” to the agenda through special seminars just for them or they find they are no longer employable.

That’s not the case where I teach, and I am grateful for it.

Yet universities such as mine are in the minority now. We truly have an education crisis.

Celebrating the Resurrection

Tomorrow we celebrate—and that most certainly is the best word to use—the Resurrection. Nothing like it appeared in history before that tremendous event and nothing like it followed afterward.

It is the central event in all of history, never to be topped by anything else.

The Nativity, which we call Christmas, was essential only because it was to lead to this event. The Second Coming of Christ and the Judgment to follow would be the most awful occurrence for everyone if not for the Resurrection, which showed God’s triumph over death, Satan, and hell.

As a result of Christ’s death and resurrection, millions now have access to the very throne room of God.

C. S. Lewis calls the Resurrection “the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts.” He reminds us that when we talk about the gospel, we are focusing on the Resurrection.

What we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted.

The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it.

Lewis mustn’t be misunderstood as in any way denigrating the four gospels; he’s simply stating a fact: the whole reason for the writing of the gospels later was the stunning truth of the Resurrection.

Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection.

The reality of the Resurrection should be just as much the central feature of our lives as it was for the first Christians. When Don Giovanni Calabria, one of Lewis’s regular correspondents, shared with him his concerns for the world’s troubles, Lewis, responding to him the day before Easter, replied,

Tomorrow we shall celebrate the glorious Resurrection of Christ. I shall be remembering you in the Holy Communion. Away with tears and fears and troubles! United in wedlock with the eternal Godhead Itself, our nature ascends into the Heaven of Heavens.

So it would be impious to call ourselves “miserable.” On the contrary, Man is a creature whom the Angels—were they capable of envy—would envy. Let us lift up our hearts! “At some future time perhaps even these things it will be a joy to recall.”

I know how the weight of the world can get one down. Yet when we compare these temporary weights to the glory that awaits because of the Resurrection, we get the proper perspective. As the Apostle Paul said,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Rom. 8:18

And in one of my favorite passages, Paul expounds that theme further:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Those who have committed their lives to the Lordship of Christ can rest and rejoice simultaneously. Through Him, we have overcome the world and will share in the glory of the Resurrection.

It Is Finished

Today I’m participating in a Good Friday service that focuses on the seven statements of Jesus as He hung on the cross. The statement I was asked to speak on is “It is finished.” Here’s an excerpt from my homily. I hope it ministers to you.

What does that short declaration, “It is finished,” really mean? What’s behind that statement?

Philippians, chapter 2, contains one of the most astounding and wonderful passages in the entire Bible. In it, we glimpse the heart and attitude of Jesus in his voluntariness to lay aside all the privileges of His Godhood to take on human form. “And being found in appearance as a man,” we’re told, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.”

That passage deserves extended meditation. He didn’t have to do this. He chose to do it, despite what He would have to endure. He was looking to the end, to the finished task.

At the start of His earthly ministry, he went into the desert. He had nothing to eat for 40 days. Satan came to Him and offered him food, then power, then tempted Him to show off by throwing Himself down from the highest point of the temple and letting angels rescue Him. He resisted all those temptations by quoting the truths of Scripture.

The book of Hebrews informs us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin.”

Jesus knew that He had to complete the ministry of reconciliation—the weakness of His human body didn’t keep Him from fulfilling His purpose.

The Garden of Gethsemane—the last opportunity to change His mind. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He told His disciples. Then He prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

The ultimate submission. He was close now to the end. He would see it through.

The scourging—the crown of thorns—the beatings—the carrying of the cross—the spikes through His hands and feet—the slow suffocation.

The Father turned His face away, leaving Jesus to go through the worst agony of all—a separation from the One with whom He had been united throughout all eternity. That separation meant that He now suffered what each human being would suffer if cast away from the presence of God. He literally experienced what hell would be like.

And then the words—“It is finished.”

Jesus had done all He could do to heal the breach between God and man. He successfully completed the task. Nothing more was needed on His end. God’s part in offering us salvation was done, but the work is not truly finished until we respond to what He did for us.

It’s not finished until we see the awfulness of our sins and understand that we, through our rebellion, put Jesus on that cross.

It’s not finished until we come to Him in abject repentance, sorrowful over our selfish, unloving ways.

It’s not finished until we receive by faith what He has accomplished on that cross. When we do all of these things, forgiveness from the heart of a loving God then flows into our lives.

That’s when it will truly be finished.