Philip Yancey on … Lots of Things

Philip Yancey has gained celebrity by thinking, and writing, outside the evangelical Christian box. One Scripture passage that comes to mind, that might be one of Yancey’s theme statements is:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1 NKJV)

Today’s church may not mandate such commandments as circumcision and observing the Sabbath, but it imposes such rules as each denomination or congregation deems necessary to “be a Christian.” With the same spirit as the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time, we try to formalize Scripture’s principles into sacrosanct commandments, then presume to apply the Biblical model of church discipline against those who fail to obey them. That exactly fits Apostle Paul’s definition of a yoke of bondage.

Apostle John said, If anyone claims, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how is it possible for him to love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20 EMTV) Whenever we act out negative emotions toward someone, we aren’t loving them, and on the love-hate scale that certainly falls on the hate side.

We can’t like everyone; even Jesus disliked the hypocrites who judged all those who didn’t live up to their artificial standard of piety. Temperament-conflicts can put us off toward someone, but when we allow that dislike to become disregard, we do not love them as Christ does. He died for the ungodly, and that is anything but disregard.

Romans 5:6-8 EMTV
(6) For while we were still weak, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
(7) For scarcely on behalf of a righteous man will anyone die; yet on behalf of the good, perhaps someone might even dare to die.
(8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Yancey learned about God’s grace the hard way, after he had rejected religious Christianity because of the ungodly attitudes he witnessed as a child. Now he lives and preaches grace, and so must we.

Sanctified Bellyaching

Israel’s King David didn’t mince words about the trials he endured while hiding, first from King Saul, then from his own son Absalom. In some of his psalms he actually seemed to indulge in self-pity—hardly a kingly trait.

Rather than providing grounds for indictment, however, these psalms reveal King David’s honesty and the Scriptures’ credibility. If the Bible’s source-texts were, as cynics allege, nothing more than some religious guys’ imaginations run amuck, they wouldn’t include any stories involving their heroes’ dark-sides. Unlike King David, though, such critics are driven to find, or fabricate, any evidence that might besmirch the Bible’s reliability.

If you are inclined as I was to criticize David for his whining, think again. He balances all his complaining with the most heartfelt, beautiful praises to God. Psalm thirteen is a great example of his transparency:

Psalms 13:1-6 NKJV
(1) To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?
(2) How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
(3) Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
(4) Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him”; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
(5) But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
(6) I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

King David, in all his psalms, exemplifies a right relationship with the Existing One(LORD), and how such a man after God’s own heart prays. We all would do well to engage in such bellyaching, including the praise that balances it.

About God….

 

About God....
Proof that not all ideas are good ideas.

Click here to view this author’s refreshing ideas about God’s nature and personhood. The author, who apparently is or was associated with MIT—student? professor? staff?—makes no mention of Jesus, so I deduce she or he is not a Christ-follower. And the author’s reference to C.S. Lewis’ insightful thoughts on generic devotion indicate a respect for at least one Christian’s ideas.

This is a good read, with but a shadow of new-age philosophy, and though it is a bit lengthy, reading to the end will reward you with some true wisdom. Thanks for your insights, O nameless contributor.

Proper Child Rearing

Proper child rearing? I’m sure they had good reason, but what happens when she needs a diaper changed?

Uh … yeah. “Proper Child Rearing,” if you’re Father God, ’cause he’s the only one who ever got it right, but look what happened to his first two kids. What does that make our chances of raising perfect little angels?

If you don’t yet have kids, get over the idea of being perfect parents or having perfect kids. It ain’t gonna happen! And if you currently have, or have had kids, you already know perfection is an impossible dream. All you can do is your best, and your best will be good enough if you understand Bible passages like Ephesians 6:4 and the fathers enrage not your children but train them up affixed in the Lord’s discipline and admonition. The Lord’s discipline means according to Biblical principles, and the Lord’s admonition means correction by his words. And all that means you have to know God’s word.

Thing is, even if you could do a perfect job you can’t make their decisions for them; you can only prepare them to make their own decisions. They will make mistakes, even stupid ones, and you will scratch your head wondering what happened to all that lovely Scripture you fed them. It’s still in those brilliant memory-banks, but regardless how you try, you can’t digest and internalize it for them.

This is where example comes in: You tell them stuff and they think, “Fine, show me what you’re talking about.” So they test you to see if you will practice what you preach. If you say, “Don’t hit,” but you slap them in anger, they think, “So much for that rule.” If you tell them, “Don’t gossip,” but you talk about other people’s problems … Well? Violating that principle will certainly cause them to dismiss everything you say.

Did you catch my drift here? To keep from confusing and exasperating your kids you will have to change. To have any chance of raising godly kids, you will have to model godliness.

Keep in mind, though, that living a good example does not guarantee their following it. Your ultimate example will be how you respond to their screwing up their lives. So, should you tenderly welcome them back into the fold if they’ve gone out and become alcoholics or dopers, or begat children, or robbed a convenience store, but refuse to repent? NO WAY! There’s a reason the pros who deal with such things call that, “enabling.” If you want to provide a godly example, remember how God responded when the children of Israel refused to honor him; he removed his protection from them and allowed their enemies to take them into captivity. And do you remember the outcome? Eventually they repented and he welcomed them back into his graces. And do you remember how many times they went through that cycle of apostasy and repentance? I don’t, but I do remember that he forgave them every time they truly repented. That’s how much he loved them, and that’s how much he loves us!

God’s grace is sufficient, even for us failures.

What is, “Therefore,” There For?

Apostle Paul had the unfortunate habit in his letters of starting thoughts with, “Therefore,” which Greek word, according to Thayer’s Greek Definitions means: “then, therefore, accordingly, consequently, these things being so.” He was so fond of that word that he used it 497 times, with over half of those instances translated in the KJV as, “therefore.”

Simply stated, that is an easy way of keeping statements in the context of what came before, without having to repeat it. I said, “easy,” but to correctly understand what a passage means, a student must know what came before “therefore.” The more analytical preachers have a saying, “A text without a context is a pretext,” and that applies to garden-variety Christ-followers as well.

You already know that the only way to faithfully walk with Jesus is to internalize his word through study, memorization, meditation and prayer. 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us what that means: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. “Rightly dividing” means, “to dissect correctly.”

Have you ever correctly dissected portions of God’s word? It can seem daunting at first, but as you’ve seen, it’s not an option, and with so many excellent Bible study tools freely available on the Internet, you have no excuse for ignorance. I’ve listed them in a previous post, but in case you missed it, here they are again:

  • The one I use most often is e-Sword, possibly the best over all Bible study software out there. Author Rick Meyers offers it free-of-charge as a ministry, but after you use it for a while you will feel obligated to help support his work. The free version comes with the KJV and KJV + Strong’s numbers, which are linked to the Strong’s Dictionaries that also accompany the free download. Other free resources are available by an easy selection box within the application itself. Besides those, Meyers has provided links to premium resources, available from their publishers for a considerable discount. My personal e-Sword installation contains less-than $50 dollars worth of premium resources that would normally cost hundreds.
  • On-line Bible study sites that I use provide bunches of excellent resources for anyone with Internet access. I can rate none of them as over all best because each offers unique features that recommend them to different needs. They are, BibleGateway, Blue Letter Bible, Bible HubOpenBible, and Studylight dot org.

“Therefore,” my prayer is that conscientious Christ-followers will stumble upon this post, and that it will motivate them to act on 2 Timothy 2:15.

Shout To the Lord

I titled a previous post, “SHOUT From the Lord,” noting that it is slightly different from the popular worship song by Chris Tomlin. Those lyrics are in part:

Shout to the Lord, all the earth, Let us sing
Power and majesty, praise to the King;
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
At the sound of Your name.
I sing for joy at the work of Your hands,
Forever I’ll love You, forever I’ll stand,
Nothing compares to the promise I have in You.

From the very beginning I’ve had a problem with the refrain’s seventh line; it’s missing three words: By Your grace. They fit perfectly, with three syllables, just like “Forever.”

Okay, call me nitpicky, but isn’t the original wording just a bit presumptuous? I want to love God and stand forever. I hope to. I even need to. But I lack that mythical crystal ball to know if I will persevere.

You see, I know myself all too well to presume on the future. My greatest fear is that I might apostatize and bring a reproach on my Lord. So my fervent prayer is to glorify him in all that I do. One way to ensure that is to consume God’s Word through his Holy Spirit as I would a lean stake, with lots of chewing and savoring the flavor. Thing is, milk and pablum easily slide down the throat, but you can’t live on that alone.

Go ahead, SHOUT to the Lord! Sing his praises with joy. But remember:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
His praise endures forever.

SHOUT From the Lord

Knock, knock. God calling.

My title for this post is not a typo, and C.S. Lewis will tell you why:

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
From C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain

This is just a reminder; if you know the Lord, you already know how remote he can seem at times. Of course the operative term is, “seem,” as his Holy Spirit indwells us, and if we can maintain a state of spiritual, mental, and emotional quietness, we can hear our Father speaking through him.

There are times, however, when such quietness is hard to come by and we truly need a reminder, like when we’re sick, dejected, or depressed, and allow our pain, and possibly even our deafening self-pity, to drown out God’s voice. And that truly is a pity, wasting those prime opportunities to listen and learn from the one who loves us even when we ignore him.

I wish I could say I am never that person, but I, even I, on rare occasions, find myself slightly off my peak, but only rarely. (Did you catch that roaring understatement?) In truth, I trust God and do my best to listen to him because I have to, as I’ve learned I can’t trust myself.

If you can’t relate to that because you do trust yourself to respond to life’s trials correctly, I have a Scripture passage custom made for you: Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12) But who really possesses such self-confidence. I mean, really?

How Thaughty

The first one hundred people who “Like” this post have the original, round Tuit. (Of course, anyone else can also cut it out.)

My mother had a sarcastic way of encouraging us to show deference to one another. When one of us acted thoughtlessly she would say, “How thaughty of you.” I think the word’s similarity to “naughty,” plus her voice, expression and body-language, communicated her disappointment without further comment.

Did you catch the word “deference” above? As it has passed out of vogue and most of us, even if we have some idea of its meaning, consider it a non-issue, I’ll try to define it for you in the context of Christ-followers. But first …

The Negative Sense

Codependency is a familiar subject to all the trendy, amateur psychologists out there. It just means getting off to being needed. A codependent relationship is where both parties try to fulfill destructive needs, usually without even realizing it. Deference can be just that, and discerning which kind of deference you’re practicing isn’t all that hard; if you purposefully prefer others’ needs over your own, godly character is most likely your motivation. But be sure you aren’t simply a people-pleaser—you know, one who just can’t say “NO.”

The Positive Sense

For a Christ-follower, “deference” means obeying the Law of Christ by considering others’ needs, desires, or opinions before your own. It means risking inconvenience for someone else’s sake.

In my own life, the idea of deference takes me to Bible studies I attend, where I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when others, who typically aren’t as vocal as I, try to contribute their insights. Figuratively biting my tongue doesn’t come naturally for me, but the rewards of actually listening to them are bountiful.

More active examples of deference might be volunteering to help someone who needs an extra hand, when your own lawn needs mowing, or helping to clean the church when your favorite TV program (even, The Game) is on the air.

Those examples involve the more peripheral people in your life, but how about showing deference to family members whose continual demands for attention annoy you? This calls for another hard thought:

Godly Priorities

You’ve got places to go, people to see, and things to do, so you can hand “Round Tuits” to the kids and wife, or hubby, while you do what you want. Question is, how would Jesus respond if he were in your shoes … or easy chair?

And what about that promise that is now sooo inconvenient to keep? You might want to add another box of Round Tuits to your shopping list.

Does a neighbor need a lift uptown? Just how important is that blog entry you’re working on? (Ouch)

Oh, I see. You’re afraid others might take advantage of you, so you keep a respectful distance, and maybe screen your calls before picking up. (bigger Ouch!)

Is all this priorities stuff too big a chunk to bite off? Baby steps, but keep on pursuing godly character, or virtue, if you want the reward God’s Word promises.

C.S. Lewis on The Worst Kind of Sin

Uncle Jack must have been a carpenter, as he continually “hits the nail squarely on the head.” From Mere Christianity:

If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

I’m afraid Uncle Jack was a smidge off hitting this particular nail squarely. The generalization with which he opened this excerpt is wrong; most Christians do regard unchastity as the supreme vice, completely missing the the attitudinal sins Lewis mentions later on. Even if you’re reborn into a new person by faith in Jesus’ bloody sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection, you still have to deal with the sin-habit you’ve developed over the years before you came to faith.

When we’re first saved we all marvel at the sensation that freedom from sin-guilt gives us. But just as all changes become mundane after a while, we begin taking the freedom that Jesus so dearly bought for granted. The sensation fades, as does our revulsion to sin, and   (name your poison)   doesn’t seem so bad after all.

I love Lewis’ categories of sin: Animal, and Diabolical. Or, maybe I should say I hate them, as I recognize their icky feelers trying to creep into my life. All that stands in the way of those embryonic buggers is God’s Holy Spirit working through his Word and prayer; no Word, no prayer, no protection.

Any sin, regardless how slight, if unconfessed, will open the door for those buggers. And diabolical sins of attitude are the worst because they’re almost invisible.

Do you think you’re free from attitudinal sin? That’s the primary symptom of having a bad case of them. Think of homeowners; termites are never a problem until the homeowners get their house inspected by the pros. Attitudinal sin is even more destructive than termites, and God’s Holy Spirit is the Pro you need to consult for finding those diabolical, soul-chewing sin-buggers.

If you’re not read-up and prayed-up, you’ll soon become fed-up with your lackluster Christian walk. You may hang onto “a form of godliness,” but your profession will be a lie.

Powerful Stuff

When your ship is sinking, grab this!

We often hear well-meaning Christ-followers (myself included) quote Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But we typically leave it at that, forgetting to reveal what “therefore” is there for.

That’s an easy one. Just read Romans 7:13-25, or better still the whole chapter. Remember when you read verse thirteen, “that which is good” refers to the Old Testament law that demonstrates our inability to obtain justification through our own efforts. Then go on to chapter eight, where verses one through eleven provide the full promise, and define exactly who is in Christ Jesus. Make no mistake, Romans 8:1 revolutionized my walk with him, but as I began growing in Christ, my hunger for the meat of his word drove me beyond “verse one.”

We love God’s promises, grasping them as a sailor who has gone overboard grasps the life preserver, but we aren’t always quite fond of the qualifiers. I call them the “if” passages, even when the word “if” isn’t included.

God’s Promises

Speaking of powerful stuff, God’s promises make the H-bomb seem like a mere candle. 1 Peter 1:3-11 provides a great introduction to God’s promises under the covenant of grace. I can’t tell you how powerfully meditating on it has encouraged me during my occasional lapses of faith. Here’s the link to a topical search for “Promises of God.” Pursuing a study of those Scripture passages will greatly reinforce your faith. If you feel you’ve never witnessed God’s power, making his promises part of your life will knock you off your worldly feet.