C.S. Lewis on the Attractiveness of True Holiness

Here’s an excerpt from a letter that Uncle Jack wrote in 1953:

I am so glad you gave me an account of the lovely priest. How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing (and perhaps, like you, I have met it only once), it is irresistible. If even 10% of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year’s end? (from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, vol. III)

How right he is. I’ve walked the path toward holiness—note, I didn’t say I’ve achieved it—for much of my adult life, and I’m seldom bored. Apostle Paul told us that we are dead to sin. Why, then, is living without sinning impossible for me? And I think it’s not just my own personal problem; Apostle John told us that … well, I’ll let him speak for God directly:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 NKJV)

Anyone who says John wrote that to non-believers hasn’t read its context. While we are dead to sin, temptations and their resulting sins still plague us. So, if we are dead to sin, which God says we are through Jesus’ redemptive act, why do we still sin? Looking back to Romans 6:2, the apostle says, “How shall we who died to sin live in it any longer?”

Please know that this isn’t a cop out, but there’s a huge difference between living in sin and occasionally sinning. I make sense of it by comparing my attitude toward sin before I was saved, to that of after I was saved: From shortly after my birth to when I confessed my sinfulness and asked God to have His way with me, I sought out opportunities to sin. It was my way of life, and I didn’t want it any different. While my horrendous sins were relatively minor compared to some, I came to realize that God doesn’t grade on a curve. A deliberate lie is just as damning as adultery or murder, and I was a liar from early childhood.

Thing is, we’re habitual critters, and the life we live before we come to understand and accept the gospel leaves us with certain … ah … regrettable behavioral patterns. But God understands that and grants us grace as long as we refuse to take it for granted, striving to grow ever closer to God and live in a way that glorifies Him. And believe me, that is anything but boring.

No Coincidence

I’ve felt a bit down of late, to the extent that I’ve asked God to take me home. I would like to say that such feelings aren’t self-pity, as I hate that dynamic because it denies denies God. Trouble is, I can’t say that, so I suffer shame in addition to my depression, steering me toward the vicious maelstrom that would suck me into emotion’s depths.

The enemy of our souls is often our emotions’ lord, manipulating them, and thus our will, away from godliness and the edification that it holds for us. God, however, never abandons his own to Satan’s wiles, but through “coincidences,” buoys us up when we most need it.

Today’s “coincidence” took the form of Crosswalk dot com’s daily feed, Streams in the Desert. Here’s the portion that ministered to me:

Have you asked to be made like your Lord? Have you longed for the fruit of the Spirit, and have you prayed for sweetness and gentleness and love? Then fear not the stormy tempest that is at this moment sweeping through your life. A blessing is in the storm, and there will be the rich fruitage in the “afterward.”
–Henry Ward Beecher 

That’s the sort of “coincidence” that makes me love my Savior God ever more deeply. I’m confident that He has some wonderful purpose for allowing my bouts with depression to continue. When all is revealed I will marvel at His supernatural wisdom and love toward me, and spend eternity thanking and praising Him for it.

C.S. Lewis, on Forgiveness of Sins

Topsy Turvy Church

This passage is from The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis. Though some may take exception to the idea that Christians aren’t automatically forgiven for all sins, he makes a very good Biblical point.

We say a great many things in church (and out of church too) without thinking of what we are saying. For instance, we say in the Creed “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” I had been saying it for several years before I asked myself why it was in the Creed. At first sight it seems hardly worth putting in. “If one is a Christian,” I thought, “of course one believes in the forgiveness of sins. It goes without saying.” But the people who compiled the Creed apparently thought that this was a part of our belief which we needed to be reminded of every time we went to church. And I have begun to see that, as far as I am concerned, they were right. To believe in the forgiveness of sins is not nearly so easy as I thought. Real belief in it is the sort of thing that very easily slips away if we don’t keep on polishing it up.

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement. It is in the Lord’s Prayer; was emphatically stated by our Lord. If you don’t forgive you will not be forgiven. No part of His teaching is clearer, and there are no exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own.

The Scripture passage to which he referred is from Matthew 6:11-15. One could try to dispute Lewis’ conclusion, but the Lord was pretty clear about it. Maybe you will tell me that He was speaking at that moment from the Law Dispensation, since He hadn’t as yet performed His Redemptive Act.

I’m afraid that goose won’t fly, friend. As with the balance of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke from the only perspective he had, that of grace. Why would He speak from the Law’s perspective when He would, in a short time, fulfill the Law?

If you insist on the Law idea, what about First Corinthians’ love chapter? Remember all the awful things St. Paul did before he met Jesus? Loving forgiveness did not come naturally to that Pharisee. He had hated Christians and Gentiles, but he taught unconditional love to the Corinthian church.

Nope, if you harbor a grudge, refusing to love and forgive anyone, you can’t expect Jesus’ blood to cover your unconfessed sin. Otherwise, you’d be no better off than members of the Islamic State or the KKK. Is your grudge worth that?

Lord, Don’t Let Me Fall

Falling isn’t fun, whether it’s caused by clumsy feet or weak spiritual will. By God’s grace, however, the latter isn’t necessarily fatal. Psalms 37: 23-24 says, The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand. (NKJV)

Lots of people try to avoid sinning because they’re afraid of going to hell; they view God as the Heavenly Parole Officer, just waiting to slap the eternal cuffs onto their weak wrists. The Lord’s apostle John took a different view: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  (1 John 4:18 ESV) According to that powerful passage, we are not to fear God’s punishment. But how can be “perfected in love”? Verse nineteen gives us the answer to that key question. We love because he first loved us.  (4:19)

So then, loving God is automatic for Christians. Right? Wrong! Just because we’ve, “decided to follow Jesus,” doesn’t mean we know of God’s love in giving His Son over to ridicule, torture, and death to free us from the eternal penalty of our sin’s guilt. To know of God’s love we must at least begin to know God, and only His Holy Spirit, working through our ever-deepening understanding of His Word by prayer and meditation, can give us that knowledge. But heed Apostle Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. Some in the Corinthian church understood the liberty we have in Christ, but they were proud of that knowledge and ridiculed the “weaker brethren” without such understanding. Bible knowledge alone makes us no better than Satan’s minions. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!  (James 2:19)

While I’m not afraid of going to hell—praise God! Jesus took care of that—I am petrified of damaging my Savior’s holy name through my thoughtlessness and sin. When I pray, “Lord, don’t let me fall,” I’m deadly serious. I love my Lord and will not besmirch His name.

 

Where Is Your Closest Idol?

An idol is anything you place between yourself and God. It’s something to which you pray and offer sacrifices. The Bible speaks of idols manufactured of wood, stone, silver and gold, but it doesn’t limit them to those materials. Idols can be of flesh and blood. Instead of the dumb idols of heathen religions, we hold idols such as money, possessions, property, vocations, recreation, power, and even loved ones, if we place a higher priority on them than on God. But possessing idols doesn’t stop there; if we spend more time primping before our mirrors than offering our heartfelt praise and petitions to the only living God, we have an idol. If the TV demands more of our time than ministering to our families, or helping others in need, we have an idol. The same could be said of gaming, shopping, or even working. If that is the case we may just have idols.

How can we pray and offer sacrifices to all those things? If we gain gratification from them in exchange for time offered to them, they may be our idols.

Please don’t think I’m trying to guilt trip you. I’m not suggesting that you have to live as a monk, constantly praying and reading your Bible. Not at all! I’m simply urging you to keep worldly pursuits and spiritual pursuits in balance. For instance, after a day’s work in the New Life Center thrift store … my sore feet prove it … I looked forward to just vegging with Netflix, but after watching one program I felt led to read today’s Our Daily Bread, which suggested this topic.

Am I “Saint James” for doing that? Hardly! I simply enjoyed a moment’s lucidity, motivated, I’m sure, by God’s Holy Spirit. He wanted to speak to me through the devotional which, in turn, motivated me to write this piece, preaching to myself all the while. I don’t know how to type with fingers pointed back at myself, but I’m trying (figuratively).

Don’t think that praying and offering sacrifices to yourself is always positive. I well know that engaging in negative self-talk, instead of asking God for positive change, can be a prayer of sorts. I also know that flagellating yourself emotionally can produce a perverse sort of self-gratification. I know because I spent many years doing just that, even after I offered my life to God through Jesus. Nothing can be a greater joy-kill than negative self-talk.

Our most devastating idols are the ones closest to us, because they make seeing beyond them well nigh impossible. Please, pray for God to open your eyes to all the idols in your life, then ask Him to give you the grace to strike them down. Only then will you gain power over them. God worked through prayer in the Old Testament, and He can work for you now.

This World Is Not My Home …

… I’m just a passin’ through.

I love the old country gospel songs, even the twang that goes with them. I thought of this one at Walmart this afternoon, when I couldn’t bring myself to leave my trash in the shopping cart after using it.

You may wonder why that’s such a big thang. Man, I was tempted most fiercely to do it. I mean, the afternoon sun was hot and I was sweating bullets already; I didn’t need that walk over to the garbage can with a few pieces of plastic wrap. They have “associates” who need the job security, don’t they?

If you’re wondering what plastic wrap in a shopping cart has to do with that old gospel song, I’ll tell you with a question. If you were visiting someone, would you leave your garbage in their car, or on their couch or table? Would you leave it laying around at church? Only if you were an absolute clod would you do that.

What is this world to you? If it were your own home you could fill it with waist-deep trash and nobody could say a thing, though what others would think of you is another story. But it’s not your home. According to God’s Word you and I are only sojourners:

2 Corinthians 5:6-9 ESV (6) So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, (7) for we walk by faith, not by sight. (8) Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (9) So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Assuming you were a Christ-professing clod showing disrespect of others’ homes or your workplace, or even your local Walmart, what would that say about your Savior? Say, you pick up a product here, find a better buy over there, and just leave your first choice where you picked up the second. Why, that’s great! You’ve just ensured someone’s job security, but please keep your mouth shut about your faith while doing it.

Better yet, think carefully about what you do, whether or not it glorifies your Savior. Even in private, think about what you do, as what you do in private tells who, and whose, you really are.

Lord, Make Me a Francis

Randy Kilgore recounted the touching story of his last meeting with his friend, mentor and father in the faith, Francis Allen. I encourage you to click the link and read it, if you haven’t already done so.

Though I never met Francis Allen, I think of him as a model of Christ-likeness in his willingness to exhort others, to “round off some rough edges” of those he loved in Christ. But first, I must allow God to use a “Francis” to round off my rough edges.

I think a more apt image of myself, and any Christian-in-the-rough, would be that of a natural diamond, freshly dug from the earth. After having the mud washed away, it appears as a garden variety, crystalline stone. Only when the gem cutter makes the first, tentative cuts will its potential beauty and value appear. Along with that, however, will appear many imperfections deep within. The cutter will study the rough diamond to discover the true gem hidden there.

Finally, after much careful deliberation, he will firmly clamp the rough stone, line up a laser or a diamond saw (comprised of many microscopic diamond chips), and begin the laborious process of cutting away all of its impurities. When the cutter finishes the first cuts, he will examine the stone even more carefully, visualizing the final, multifaceted gem still hidden within the glittering stone.

The cut stone must still endure the grinding and polishing wheels that will form the facets necessary for the finished gem to most brilliantly reflect the light shined upon it. This is the most exacting aspect of the gem-cutter’s trade, for any error will ruin the stone, requiring the cutter to create a smaller, less valuable gem.

I’m sure you can appreciate the spiritual applications of the gem cutting process. Each step has an equivalent in our spiritual growth. My question is, do you have a Francis Allen in your life to serve as a tool for the Master Gem Cutter? If not, find one, or you will never reflect God’s light in all its brilliance and beauty.

Read, Carefully!

Of course, you must start with God’s Word. But beyond that, godly men and women author godly works that don’t add to, but simply clarify God’s Word, relating it to new audiences.

Then, there are the Christian authors of generations past, whose works the Holy Spirit has used powerfully for revival in those times. Click here for a great—and short—article about Chesterton, Muggeridge, Boreham, Sayers, and MacDonald (C.S. Lewis’ mentor). Click here for a glimpse at Christian authors from even further back, such as Augustine, Calvin, Clarke, and so on down the alphabet. Though many of them had great things to say, they are, of course, no substitute for God’s Word.

Now I must reveal my motivation for this post; my e-mail in box offered me a brief excerpt from Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. Upon a careful reading of said excerpt (thus, the title for this piece), I decided to share it with my vast audience. In it, Lewis explains why we must prostrate ourselves before our great, Creator God, and His seemingly unfair demands upon us. This is a profound read, so I dare ya to dive in—carefully.

Perhaps by now you’ve noticed my harping on reading carefully. Our media-saturated culture has desensitized us to the nuances of the written word. If it isn’t dramatized and animated, it isn’t worthy of our attention, and I’m one of the worst offenders of classical literature. With all of my entertainments, I haven’t the time for serious reading, though I prefer to rest heavily upon my dyslexia as my old, reliable excuse. Even now, at the close of this post, Netflix attempts to seduce my attention away from godly pursuits. Of course, all work and no play makes Jim … a liar.

BTW: During my pitiful attempt at researching for this post, I happened upon this compelling excerpt from WARRANTED CHRISTIAN BELIEF by Alvin Plantigna, and you don’t even need a doctorate in theology to understand it. You’re welcome.

Bring It To Completion

Thanks, Bible Gateway, for a bit more enlightenment on a favorite Scripture verse. Today’s Verse of the Day is Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Familiar passage, eh? Yes, for me too, but this viewing caused me to look deeper.

The writer, Apostle Paul, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, said, he “was sure of this.” So, what was “this?”

He who began a good work in you …

Who is He? Did Paul refer to himself as the one who had begun the good work? Of course not! He was writing of God, who was working through His Holy Spirit.

What is the good work? First, Paul addressed this letter to the “saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi (vs. 1).” Saints are those who are sanctified, a Biblical word for “holy,” or “separated” from this corrupt, world system. These weren’t just garden variety church-goers; they were totally committed, do-or-die Christ-followers. They had to be, as those who claimed Jesus as their Savior could very well loose everything, including their mortal lives.

The good work also included their partnership with him in the gospel, both materially, through helps and offerings, and spiritually, through prayer. These saints weren’t rich, affluent, or even comfortable. They struggled for every penny they had, yet they gave from their poverty so that God’s work could continue for His glory.

… will bring it to completion …

Who would bring it to completion? The same Person who began the good work. While the saints faced struggles because of their faith, they also struggled with completing, or maturing, in their faith. As long as they did their best to obey God, He would complete their sanctification—holiness—through His Holy Spirit.

So, what about when they fell short of the holiness ideal? Apostle Paul covered that problem in Romans 8:1-4. Read it. It’s pretty cool (that’s like saying dry ice is cool).

… at the day of Jesus Christ.

Are you dissatisfied with your growth in Christ Jesus? Does your sanctification seem a long way off, if ever? Do you long to be holy because He is holy? Picture a little brother following his big brother around, trying to do the things he does, yet getting frustrated because he can’t throw a perfect spiral through a swinging tire at twenty yards. If you are a true Christ-follower, that’s they way you feel. Fret not, little brother! Your time is coming, at the day of Jesus Christ. You’ll have to practice … a lot … but when you meet Jesus in the air, all those struggles will be behind you.

Jesus told us to rejoice; despite everything, rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven!

C.S. Lewis on Agape Love

Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead out of compassionate love, the same love that drove Him to the cross to save you and me.

Once again, Uncle Jack’s refreshing and profound insight speaks volumes. In a letter to a Mrs. Johnson, he said:

Of course taking in the poor illegitimate child is ‘charity’. Charity means love. It is called Agape in the New Testament to distinguish it from Eros (sexual love), Storgë (family affection) and Philia (friendship) [E.g., I John 4:9]. So there are 4 kinds of ‘love’, all good in their proper place, but Agape is the best because it is the kind God has for us and is good in all circumstances. (There are people I mustn’t feel Eros towards, and people I can’t feel Storge or Philia for; but I can practise Agape to God, Angels, Man and Beast, to the good and the bad, the old and the young, the far and the near.

Later on, he points his readers to St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, excerpted below, as God’s definition of His kind of love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-8 ESV If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (3) If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (4) Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant (5) or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; (6) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (7) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (8) Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

In another letter Lewis simplifies love to just two kinds:

There are two kinds of love: we love wise and kind and beautiful people because we need them, but we love (or try to love) stupid and disagreeable people because they need us. This second kind is the more divine because that is how God loves us: not because we are lovable but because He is love, not because He needs to receive but He delights to give.

If we have the mind of Christ, we won’t have to grit our teeth and screw up our mouths into a smile to show loving grace to the unlovable. We will love them most, because they need it most.

Please note that godly love isn’t necessarily showing affection for the one being loved. It’s sincerely and actively desiring God’s best for them, even if they don’t deserve it, because we don’t deserve it any more than they do.

As much as we talk about Agape love and hear it preached, we typically view it as the impossible dream, something that would be nice if only we could pull it off. Well, guess what. God commands us to love with the very same love that Jesus showed for us when he took our sins to the cross. His New Testament is full of examples of it and commands for it. St. John knew Jesus’ love better than the rest of His apostles, so read his letters to the church, with special emphasis on 1 John 4:7-21, to get the full effect. You will see that loving as God loves is not an option, if you hope to gain eternal life.