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.

Free Love

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 8:11

A social movement existed in the ’60s and ’70s called, “the Free Love Movement.” In fact, it was quite social indeed, producing rampant “social” diseases and unwed pregnancies, and millions of broken hearts. I know that because I would have liked to be part of it, but I’ve never been a candidate for the “World’s Greatest Lover” prize; I was way too shy to go after that one. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t a true social movement like the feminist and civil rights movements, but simply flaunted promiscuous sexual practices that had always been hidden for the benefit of polite society.

Also strictly speaking, “free love,” as in sexual promiscuity, was never free. Besides the costs listed above, it enabled the HIV/AIDS virus to freely spread from Africa to the more developed nations, and then to expand at epidemic rates here.

But there is another kind of “free love” that is truly free, and oddly enough, the most costly of all loves.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

In case you’ve forgotten, the Son that Jesus spoke of is Jesus himself, the eternal Word of God made flesh. And to what did God give him over? Only the worst torture and death that both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman occupiers could devise.  And why did Jesus have to suffer so? Because he was the only one who could fulfill for us the absolute righteousness that God requires, without which we have no hope for salvation.

In simple terms, Jesus traded his righteousness for our unrighteousness, then submitted to God’s wrath in payment for the guilt-debt we had accrued. He actually loves me, you, and all of humanity, that much.

Hard to believe, eh? That’s why God’s Holy Spirit gives us just a glimpse of our depraved condition (that’s called “conviction”), and enough of a faith-boost to think that, just maybe, his salvation is for you and me. Then, if you grab that hope and run the race he has set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2) throughout the New Testament, faithful to the end, his promise is yours … forever.

The Science of Happiness

If happiness sounds good to you, but you’re not interested in all that God stuff, The Science of Happiness may be just your ticket. The video I watched was certainly upbeat enough, with the “happiness scientist” admitting in the end that he was, in fact, not a real scientist. I discovered all this rampant happiness when Life Out of the Box followed my blog. BTW, if you’re watching, thanks for following my blog, but if you only want to see positive reviews of LOOTB, perhaps you’d better stop here.

“What’s not to be positive about?” you may ask, “It’s a very positive blog.”

And so it is, if you’re willing to accept the world’s generic, temporary, situational happiness.

“But, isn’t happiness always a good thing?”

No, it isn’t always a good thing, and I’ll tell you why.

Imagine a perfectly happy guy, not a care in the world, strolling along a path, happily enjoying the fresh, night air … moonless night air. You can see where I’m going with this, and where the happy guy will likely go at any moment.

Suddenly, one of his broad, happy steps finds, not solid earth, but unsolid air, and our happy guy cries out a distinctly unhappy scream as he falls eight feet into a trench carelessly left without a barrier. Why our hypothetical, happy guy chose to speed-walk along a dark path without a flashlight for his feet or lights along the path, I can’t imagine. That is, in fact, the exact situation in which travelers along life’s dark, unpredictable path find themselves when they ignore Life’s Instruction Book, the Bible. Without exception, such life-hikers will find the pit at the end of their path, and they don’t even realize they’ve been walking in darkness.

Regardless how cozy you get with God, you will never really know what the next moment holds, but God’s Word gives you a reliable hint:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Despite all the gospel tracts that lead you in “The Sinner’s Prayer,” there is no formula that magically flips the eternal “light” switch to get you in good with the Man upstairs. It’s a process that begins with opening your heart to God, admitting you need him to make the disaster you call your life into something meaningful, and accepting the brand-spanking new eternal life he is offering you through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Period!

Open Sez He

Okay, titling this piece after a quote from “Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor” may seem somewhat frivolous, but there’s a method in my obvious madness.

Popeye is perpetually involved in the war between good and evil, but the only way he can win is to keep a can of spinach handy. Of course, you can see the spiritual parallel; we’re helpless against our enemy Satan without God’s Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t come in a can though some think getting his attention is formulaic.

Another Popeye parallel is his motto: “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.” That applies to us directly, as our pretenses never determine who or what we are. You can act religious all day every day, get to church first and leave last, and keep a sanctimonious frown tattooed on your face, but if you haven’t submitted to Jesus out of love and gratitude for what he did for you, it’s all a pretense.

The last parallel I have is a bit of a stretch; In the Sindbad cartoon, Popeye said, “Open sez me,” when he wanted entry to Sindbad’s treasure-cave.” God’s Holy Spirit says to us, “Open your heart and mind to me.” It’s possible to sincerely profess faith in Christ without ever opening up to him. Are you not sure if that describes you? Ask yourself if you open your heart to your pastor, your brethren, your family and friends, and even your enemies. Do you open your mind to God’s Word? True Christ-followers practice God’s love, giving themselves to others as Jesus gave himself to us.

Clever—or not-so clever—cartoon parallels aside, Christ will hold each of us accountable for our response to his total sacrifice for us. Are you a child of God through Christ Jesus, or just a pretender?

Peace Like a River

Horatio G. Spafford had ample reason to feel anything but peace that day in 1873 as his ship carried him over the spot where his four daughters perished in a shipwreck a few weeks earlier. Rather than sink into the slough of despond, however, he penned the following words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) The world freely gives no peace at all, but occasionally it reluctantly grants temporary lapses in violence. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, had something entirely different in mind, something those invested in this world system cannot grasp.

This morning I awoke feeling awash in a river of peace. God has taught me—and continues teaching me—that feelings aren’t facts; a hard lesson for any natural human being to learn. But God’s peace is entirely unnatural, so when that is what we feel, it must be from him.

During that unnatural moment, I pictured the river of peace as like the Columbia River, carrying millions of gallons of water swiftly from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. If all that water just lay there with no circulation it would become brackish, a breeding place for mosquitoes and disease. But it moves, slowly enough to be safe for navigation, but swiftly enough to keep it fresh, washing all its organic matter out to meet the purifying sea water. Like the mighty Columbia, God’s peace washes all the potentially putrefying matter from our lives, refreshing us moment by moment as only his Prince of Peace can do.

Please, don’t fall for the world’s counterfeit peace, but hold out for the unconditional, sanctified peace that only Christ can give.

God’s Ten Outcomes

10SuggestionsWe have all seen the sign that says, “They’re not the ten suggestions,” or something like that. Christ-followers like to deface their car’s pristine paint jobs or bumpers with that, and many other messages, hoping it will soak through people’s sin-hardened skulls. Obviously, they intend the slogan as a humorous reminder, or even a revelation, and hope God will use it to make folks think deeper than their appetites.

While God phrased them as “Thou Shalts” and “Thou Shalt Nots,” I have it on good authority that God intended them as neither commandments nor suggestions:

Galatians 3:21-25 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. (22) But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (23) But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. (24) Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25) But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Theyer’s Greek Definitions  adds some insight to the Greek word translated as “tutor”:

paidagōgos
Thayer Definition:
1) a tutor, i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.

That opens a bunch of Biblically relevant thoughts, and here’s just a sample; Apostle Paul wrote a lot about the Mosaic Law’s role in God’s plan of salvation, which, oddly enough, could not save sinners. He referred to it as a judge, a curse, a witness of Christ, a ruler, an arouser of passions, an informer of sin, the strength of sin, and enmity with God.

Yet, with all that, Paul tells us that the law is not in itself evil, but is simply God’s tool for making us aware of our depravity. Of course Jesus, God’s own Son, provided the solution for that depravity, the way by which we might enter into a loving relationship with God Himself. That’s called reconciliation, because through sin we alienated ourselves to God for all time.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) He didn’t intend that statement as a plea for us to obey him, like some star crossed lover begging favors of the object of his affection. Jesus simply stated the outcome for those who love him like he loves us. You could switch the two clauses to better demonstrate their cause/effect relationship: “You will keep my commandments if you love me.”

We English-speakers do tend to get things backward.

“Da Law is Da Law”

"Da law, son, is da law."
“Da law, son, is da law.”

That title seems quite obvious, if a bit folksie. I mean, what would the law be if not the law? What messes people up is the existence of two sets of laws: Physical law, and spiritual law. God created both, and both are quite real and binding.

Folks tend to get a little testy when we right-wing fundamentalist, evangelical Christians quote spiritual law to them. For instance, the one that says Jesus is the only way to Father God. I’m no mind-reader, but I suspect a stubborn refusal to change their lifestyle motivates their pique. Or maybe they’re thoughtful objectors, refusing the idea because demanding conformity to one religion, i.e., Christianity, seems too narrow a requirement for a loving God to make.

Jesus was good at spinning parables to illustrate a point, so I’ll try my hand: A man aboard a skydiver drop-plane gazed through the open door at the landscape far below. With the powerful engine droning in his ears, and no anxiety to cloud his thinking, he mentally calculated  his precise drop position for a perfect, on-target touchdown.

He knew he still had time to don his sport parachute rig, with all its instrumentation and emergency ‘chute, but he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to go to that much trouble. “After all,” he told himself, “the physical laws aren’t all that binding. Besides, that stupid ‘chute messes up my targeting.”

His pilot tried to tell him there was only one way he could jump out of that airplane and survive the fall, and that was to use his parachute.

“That’s a narrow-minded position to take,” said the expert skydiver, “I’m an expert skydiver, and I can shape my body into a lifting-body to land spot on without a scratch.”

The pilot tried to argue with him, but the man would have none of that nonsense. Just as the pilot thought to bank the plane steeply to the left and prevent the expert skydiver from exiting, the man dove right out of the open door, without his parachute. Turned out he was right; he hit the target spot on.

His funeral will be held …

The Bible’s New Testament is God’s spiritual law, also called the law of Christ and the Royal Law, because the King of kings died, was burried, and resurrected to establish it. It’s also called The Perfect Law of Liberty because through Christ we have freedom from sin’s compulsion. Whatever you call it, it’s all love; God’s love brought it about, and our response is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8). It’s as simple as that. All the do’s and don’ts that religion throws at us are just attempts at codifying what should come naturally to believers, as, “we love because he first loved us.”

The southern sheriff was right, “Da law is da law,” and for those of us whom Christ bought with his his very life, that is the law of love.

C.S. Lewis on Sinning Saints and Finding True Happiness

… they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 4:4-6)

C.S. Lewis wrote, in The Problem of Pain:

The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’ (Revelation 4:11).

We who in faith call ourselves, “Christ-followers,” already realize that God doesn’t exist to serve us, and that we don’t exist for our own gratification. Though we realize that fact, we often—dare I say, “usually”?—fall back into the opposite attitude. When that is the case, what kind of love do we practice, and what makes us different from worldly-minded, unregenerate people? As unregenerate means, “not reborn,” what are we who are reborn, when we willfully live as the world lives? Would the word “degenerate” apply?

Lewis continues:

We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled, by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities—no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack.

At first I balked at the idea of God being repelled by “certain stains in our present character.” I mean, what about John 3:16? But on second thought, I realized that God redeemed us through Jesus’ blood for the expressed purpose of recreating us in his image, as he made us in the beginning. Apostle Peter wrote, “What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.’” (2 Peter 2:22) Though Peter wrote in that chapter about false prophets and teachers, that doesn’t exempt us from his warning:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2) And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. (3) And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

We are, after all, living letters from God. That makes our lives a declaration of God’s gospel. As Lewis said, God’s purpose was to reconcile us to himself, not himself to us. And Jesus went to a lot of trouble to do just that.

Lewis finishes that thought: 

What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.

Amen!

What?! No CGI?

The BBC’s version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is headed back to Netflix this morning. I rented it to compare it to Disney’s version, and it was actually quite good … once I got used to the live action, that is.

“Why did I not think it was hokey?” you ask?

“Because I got more out of it than simply entertainment,” I answer.

“What could possibly eclipse the entertainment value of flashy special effects?” you ask? Okay, even if you didn’t ask I’ll tell you, so suck it up.

The BBC’s version didn’t gloss over C.S. Lewis’ message of redemption through the blood of an innocent sacrificial offering. And that’s odd, in a way, as the BBC is part of the British government, and the producers weren’t compelled to make the movie politically correct. What a concept?! Freedom of expression.

Aslan’s death and resurrection according to “the Deeper Magic” touched me greatly. The principle of vicarious sacrifice for one who is unworthy came across clearly enough that even I caught it.

The other side of the continuum was the reanimation of the people whom the White Witch turned into stone. That smacked of the doctrine of purgatory, which is unscriptural; either we’re hell-bound sinners, or we’re heaven-bound saints, and that’s that. But I’ll forgive Lewis for the occasional mistake, as important as is the balance of his work.

Each of the four Pevensie children portray a type of person: Peter is a noble character who feels compelled to triumph in his own strength. Susan is one of nominal religion who thinks she is just perfect, thank you very much. Edmund occupies the opposite end of the spectrum from Peter, as self-interest means everything to him. And Lucy is the honest seeker, even though she allows peer pressure to sway her.

The conspicuous truth of Aslan’s character is his equal love for each of them, regardless of their personal failings. And a second truth becomes apparent as well: Even though Aslan created Narnia and its magic, he wasn’t above the obligation to obey it, even to the cost of his own life. What a perfect picture of Christ, who, though he created the entire universe, submitted to death on the accursed cross to redeem his unworthy creation.

Rent it. Watch it with your kids. And be sure they understand its eternal message—CGI or no CGI.

Adoption: The Compassionate Option

Today’s Our Daily Bread by Dave Brannon … well maybe you should read it first.

Thanks, that saves me the trouble of telling you what he said. Speaking of adoption, though, my late wife Nancy was adopted into a loving family as an infant. She never had to face potential adoptive parents’ rejection as did the teenage student in Dave’s story. Unfortunately, I only met her adoptive father once before he died, but he impressed me as a man of deep, quiet conviction, full of love to the point of overflowing. Bruce Cunningham’s loving example taught Nancy to love, and in God’s perfect timing she came to love her heavenly Father. That’s not such a huge transition if you’ve known an earthly father’s love.

None of us are truly orphans or abandoned children of God’s creation. Our Father is still very much alive; always was, and always will be. He didn’t abandon us, but because of Adam’s bum deal with the serpent, we’re all born separated from our Father. When we reach the age of accountability and have to choose right or wrong, we invariably choose the wrong.

Galatians 4:4-7   But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.[a] Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[b] Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

As God created us to love and be loved by him, that separation from him leaves us wanting, rather like the aging orphan who never gets adopted. If we believe in God at all, we often feel that he has abandoned us. To assuage that feeling we look for love in all the wrong places (appologies to Johnny Lee), and settle for second best. Some of us fall for religion’s appeal, hoping to find God there, thinking if we can just “get it right,” God will reward us with his love. Others give up on God, bitterly denying his existence and hating anyone who “tries to shove religion down my throat.”

Even with all our thrashing around, trying different religions, philosophies, and political parties, we can never regain God’s peace by our own efforts, on our own terms. That’s why God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The first chapter of John’s gospel breaks it down into simple terms: 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. Most everyone has heard of John 3:3, where it tells us that we must be reborn, but vss. 1-21 give a more complete picture of this eternally essential truth.

Remember God’s compassion toward you, and rejoice in your adoption as his sons and daughters. Chances are good that I’m preaching to God’s adoptees, but no matter how long you’ve been walking with God in his Spirit, you will profit from reviewing the basics. After all, God commanded us to be ready to explain the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).