False Assurances of Eternity

I’ve never read George MacDonald’s Thomas Wingfold, Curate, but in the anthology C. S. Lewis put together of MacDonald’s writings, one selection from that book stood out to me this morning. I think the nugget in this excerpt is worth noting.

It begins with MacDonald quoting someone who says, “I cannot see what harm would come of letting us know a little—as much at least as might serve to assure us that there was more of something on the other side.”

Don’t we hear that quite often today? People just want some kind of assurance that death isn’t final, that there is something that awaits hereafter. The problem is that they almost don’t care what that something is as long as it isn’t too bad.

MacDonald explains that “their fears allayed, their hopes encouraged from any lower quarter, men would (as usual) turn away from the Fountain, to the cistern of life.”

Mankind will accept any explanation of the afterlife that provides some assurance, yet they stubbornly resist the only Source of knowledge of what actually transpires upon death; they don’t turn to the “Fountain” where eternal life is found.

He then hits home with this insight:

That there are thousands who would forget God if they could but be assured of such a tolerable state of things beyond the grave as even this wherein we now live, is plainly to be anticipated from the fact that the doubts of so many in respect of religion concentrate themselves nowadays upon the question whether there is any life beyond the grave; a question which . . . does not immediately belong to religion at all.

What does he mean? People don’t really want to know the God who offers life beyond the grave; they simply want to know there is something. God is an afterthought.

Satisfy such people, if you can, that they shall live, and what have they gained? A little comfort perhaps—but a comfort not from the highest source, and possibly gained too soon for their well-being.

Does it bring them any nearer to God than they were before? Is He filling one cranny more of their hearts in consequence?

Simply coming to some kind of assurance that life goes on after one dies is not only insufficient—it is a delusion by itself. It ignores the stark Scriptural reality that there are two destinations after death, and only one is a state of eternal joy. Further, there is only one path to that joy:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

Hell is just as real as heaven, but most people don’t want to believe that. They want the assurance that all will go to the same blissful eternity. Yet, as Jesus warns,

For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:14

That’s not a popular message. It refuses to agree with the culture that assumes all roads lead to the same place.

Unfortunately, the message is not popular in many churches either. How many pastors teach this truth? How many are providing false assurances?

If we truly love others, we will want them to know the truth and not be misled. Warnings are essential in the proclamation of the Gospel. The Good News must be preceded by the bad news. That’s what makes the Good News good.

Lewis Found Treasures There . . . & So Do I

C. S. Lewis, as a young man, and before he was a Christian, read the novel Phantastes, written by a minister named George MacDonald. He was so taken by the novel that eventually, after his conversion, he delved into MacDonald’s sermons also. He found treasures there, so many that he edited them into an anthology for which he wrote an endearing preface.

I’ve recently begun working my way through this anthology—indeed, it’s now part of my morning devotions—and have found treasures as well. Just this morning, on pages facing one another, three separate pearls stood out to me, and I sensed that God wanted me to ponder them seriously.

Under the title “First Things First,” I was cautioned, as someone who seeks to explain who God is, that something else is even more important in my life:

Oh the folly of any mind that would explain God before obeying Him! That would map out the character of God instead of crying, Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?

While the Lord does want me to explain Him to others, that explanation would be hollow if my life doesn’t match up to what I’m saying.

Another one, titled “The Author’s Fear,” mirrors my own concern as I attempt to write these blog posts and publish books:

If I mistake, He will forgive me. I do not fear Him: I fear only lest, able to see and write these things, I should fail of witnessing and myself be, after all, a castaway—no king but a talker; no disciple of Jesus, ready to go with Him to the death, but an arguer about the truth.

The possibility of being a castaway after all I’ve written over the years is a horror to my soul. I don’t want to be merely a talker/writer. I don’t wish to be only an arguer about the truth. I earnestly seek to be a real disciple of Jesus.

Then MacDonald truly hit home with this entry that Lewis called simply “Salvation”:

The notion that the salvation of Jesus is a salvation from the consequences of our sins is a false, mean, low notion. . . . Jesus did not die to save us from punishment; He was called Jesus because He should save His people from their sins.

Some people just want to escape the consequences of their sins, in this life and the next, rather than wanting to stop sinning entirely. That’s not real salvation. Only when we desire to cast all sin out of our lives are we at one with God.

We should abhor the sins themselves, not just seek to have sins forgiven and then continue in them. That is a false concept of salvation because it is not based on genuine repentance and a heart that wants a relationship with the One who made heaven and earth and our own souls.

I appreciate those reminders this morning. I needed all three.

The Hallmark of Humility

Ronald Reagan, on his desk in the Oval Office, kept a small plaque with the following words:

“There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.”

The first time I read those words, they struck a chord in me—not because I naturally lived those words, but because it was a striking reminder that too often I didn’t.

On one of my visits to the Reagan Library, I bought a paperweight with those very words. It’s now on my office desk. I find that I need such a reminder at critical times.

Reagan exemplified humility in his high station, something that is rare indeed. Yet it is a requirement from God that we live in humility and that it be a hallmark of our character. After all, it’s what Jesus exhibited when He voluntarily set aside all of His divine prerogatives and chose to suffer and die for us.

One of the most poignant Scriptural passages for me is found in Philippians, chapter 2:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

May that example be what inspires us today.

A New Year of Observations & Analysis

I’m settled into my comfy recliner in my study, surrounded by books and enjoying a unique kind of coffee (I won’t go into that). So I’m relaxed and ready to begin another year of observations about God, man, society, and life in general.

Most people probably have this particular view of the new year:

Am I concerned about all those things? Absolutely.

Am I living in daily fear of nuclear holocaust, the undermining of the Republic, or the societal trends? No, because fear is too strong a term. I’m deeply disturbed by societal developments, but that’s not the same thing as living in fear.

I have a promise from a Higher Authority that when all is said and done, He will still be the Sovereign whom we all must eventually acknowledge, either willingly or with great regret:

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10)

I also lean on this promise as well as I face whatever may come this year:

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. (2 Tim. 1:7)

I won’t be timid this year. I will speak clearly about the truth of Christian faith, the necessity of discipleship, and the faith’s application to our world’s woes.

I will also speak clearly about what I see happening in our government. There are those who say we should never involve ourselves with matters of this world since it is passing away. Yet I read that we are supposed to be salt and light.

The responsibility for being salt and light is to be honest about what we see. So not everything I write will be praise for the actions of those who wield the levers of temporal power. Yet I will strive to be fair.

Regular readers of this blog know full well my concerns about Donald Trump. I am gratified by many of the decisions being made by his administration, but I also know he can’t take credit for everything. Others work hard behind the scenes, thankfully, to do their best to correct his natural bent.

How I feel about the Trump presidency at this point is precisely what commentator David French explained yesterday. It’s a fair and balanced assessment. I offer it here for those interested.

I do want the best for Trump and for the nation. But there are the issues of character, ignorance of facts, and temperament to consider.

I pledge to pray for him and all those who work with him. That’s a commandment I take seriously.

My year of observations and analysis, though, will not be dominated by politics. If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that the number of posts devoted to politics has lessened. I believe the Lord is directing me more toward other reflections. We’ll see how that plays out.

So as we enter into the tempest of 2018—for that is undoubtedly what it will be—may we do so with full confidence that if we have submitted our lives to Him, we can be sure He will direct our path.

I leave you today with this bit of encouragement:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

What Christmas Is All About

There’s one passage of Scripture not in the Gospels themselves that is a crystal-clear Christmas message. It doesn’t mention a manger, shepherds, or a sign in the heavens, yet it communicates what Christmas is all about regardless. It’s found in Philippians 2: 5-11:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Not only does that capture the true reason for Christmas, but it also applies to Easter/Resurrection Day, and the Final Judgment. All of that is wrapped up in this one passage.

May this Christmas be wrapped up in Him rather than presents and all the other trappings of secular celebration. Be a light shining in a very dark world.

I’m taking a Pondering Principles break now. I’ll be back in the new year.

An Exclusivity Available for All

I’m an exclusivist. That doesn’t sound good, does it? If someone says that, the image of “elitist,” “snob,” or “self-righteous” might present itself to the mind of whoever hears such a statement.

Yet I’m an exclusivist without being any of those other things. In fact, God calls us to attach ourselves to His exclusivity. The Christian faith is an exclusive faith. It makes the outrageous statement (outrageous to those who don’t like to hear it) that there is no other way to have a relationship with God and to attain to an eternal life in His presence except by believing that Jesus Christ is the only Way, Truth, and Life.

Jesus Himself said that. It didn’t originate with me. And it’s affirmed throughout the entire New Testament. For instance, in the book of Acts, we’re told, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (4:12)

That rankles many. They want to believe instead that all paths ultimately lead to God, that we all will end up at the same place in the end. They have this rosy picture that everyone, or nearly everyone (we must exclude Hitler, of course) will enter the celestial gates into heaven (and their concept of what that is will vary considerably).

I am an exclusivist. I believe instead that those celestial gates are not the final destination for everyone who passes from this life. What leads me to believe that? It comes back to another statement from Jesus:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)

That’s a sad truth, but it’s not because God wants it to be that way. His offer of salvation is not limited to those few who find the small gate and the narrow road.

[God our Savior] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus. (I Tim. 2:3-5)

[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)

So, even though the Christian faith makes the most exclusivist of all claims—that there is only one way to God—that way through the Cross is available to all. Forgiveness, the grace to live righteously, and the promise of heaven are realities. He has done everything for us; it simply remains for us to respond.

Presuppositions & Worldviews

From the time I first began to realize that everyone, whether they know it or not, operates on a specific worldview, I’ve analyzed everything through that insight. I agree with the late Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer, who famously explained in his excellent book, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture,

People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize.

Schaeffer then defined his primary term:

By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world view, the grid through which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world.

Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.

“As a man thinketh, so is he,” is really most profound. An individual is not just the product of the forces around him.

That explanation took hold on me early in my Christian journey and has framed much of what I teach. I’m always concerned with showcasing worldviews to my students, in the hope that they will look beneath the surface and see the roots from which certain beliefs spring.

We all live our lives with baggage. When we surrender our lives to the Lordship of Christ, we begin a new path that is supposed to leave the bad baggage behind—baggage like a false worldview.

This is not instantaneous; it is a process that lasts throughout one’s lifetime. Yet significant strides in replacing old views can be made even as we start this new life. As we’re told in the book of Romans, the 12th chapter,

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The word translated as “transformed” can also be translated “transfigured,” as when Jesus took three of His disciples up on the mountain and they saw Him changed into the glorious nature that was hidden beneath His humanity.

Our minds need to undergo a similar change. They need to be renewed because they have fallen into the decay of sinful worldviews. In Christ, that gets turned around.

I also like what I read in Colossians 2:8:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Deception roams among us at all times, and we need to be alert; it’s far too easy to get intellectually and spiritually lazy and get taken captive unaware. We need to continually focus on the principles given to us from the mind and heart of God. When we meditate on those truths, that which is hollow and deceptive will become clear.

Our marching orders with respect to worldviews can also be seen in 2 Corinthians 10:5, where we’re instructed,

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

So there is a negative aspect to our mission in one sense: we are to tear down and destroy all false arguments that would lead people astray from the truth. We are to use our minds in the way God intended, where every thought becomes subject to Him.

This is my passion, placed in my heart by God’s Spirit. I have a deep, abiding love for the truth. I must always remember, though, one further exhortation found in Ephesians 4:15, where I’m told I have to speak His truth in love.

That can be a challenge at times, especially when I see others being deceived by the falsehoods. But speak I must. That will never change.