Our Daily Bread, on Human Chess

Doesn’t the angry-looking little man above just rankle you? Even just a bit? Chances are, you see him as a bill-collector and nothing more. But maybe he’s just a kindly old grand dad who hates his job, from which he’s planning to retire next week, if people like you don’t give him a heart attack before then.

Bill Crowder, in today’s ODB, made a strong statement against Christ-followers using people. Even those of us who try to emulate our Savior sometimes fall into the trap of marginalizing those with whom we routinely do business, especially undesirable kinds of business.

I’m sure none who read this have to deal with tax auditors, bill collectors, or even difficult service people, but if you ever do, how would you relate to them? Would you deal with them in a friendly manner? Or would you treat them as functionaries, looking through them to the purpose you wish to accomplish.

This isn’t simply a theoretical principle for me, as I am in the midst of negotiations with my landlord regarding some issues of my own doing. I feel like avoiding confrontation, ignoring her as is my passive-aggressive tendency. But if I am to obey my Savior’s mandate to love my enemy—even though she isn’t my enemy—I must treat her with careful consideration. Honestly, this is hard for me, even though I like to project the image of a, “nice guy.”

We must remember that a person with duties and feelings resides behind every job-doer; whether he or she has to issue a traffic citation, a summons, or an eviction notice, that is a soul that needs to know Jesus’ love, and you or I may be the only Jesus they have ever met.

1 John 4:7-11 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

Does that describe you and me? Or are we just playing games with the people for whom Jesus died?

Screwtape on Using Religion As a Christian’s Stumbling Block

Screwtape (C.S. Lewis’ demonic character) shows real ingenuity in his approach to tripping up Christians.

Success here depends on confusing him. If you try to make him explicitly and professedly proud of being a Christian, you will probably fail; the Enemy’s warnings are too well known. If, on the other hand, you let the idea of ‘we Christians’ drop out altogether and merely make him complacent about ‘his set’, you will produce not true spiritual pride but mere social vanity which, by comparison, is a trumpery, puny little sin. What you want is to keep a sly self-congratulation mixing with all his thoughts and never allow him to raise the question ‘What, precisely, am I congratulating myself about?’ The idea of belonging to an inner ring, of being in a secret, is very sweet to him. Play on that nerve. Teach him, using the influence of this girl when she is silliest, to adopt an air of amusement at the things the unbelievers say. Some theories which he may meet in modern Christian circles may here prove helpful; theories, I mean, that place the hope of society in some inner ring of ‘clerks’, some trained minority of theocrats. It is no affair of yours whether those theories are true or false; the great thing is to make Christianity a mystery religion in which he feels himself one of the initiates.

Of course, the “him” to which Screwtape refers is Wormwood’s personal project, an unsuspecting Christian. Lewis appears to grant him greater discernment than is typically true; I’ve known many “Christians” who displayed pride in their religious affiliation because they either don’t know, or care about, the Bible’s warnings about vain pride.

“Spiritual pride” is an oxymoron. Whenever a Christian takes a, “big I, little you,” perspective based on his position in Christ, chances are he’s not “in Christ” at all. That includes making snarky, patronizing comments to or about atheists or homosexuals, regardless how snarky or patronizing they are.

How easily we forget that the only damnable sin is that of rejecting Jesus’ offer of forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation with the Father. Think of such rejection as a refusal to pray as King David did in Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” What is “the way everlasting?” Well, its map is God’s complete Word, and it’s called, “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Unlike GPS, or Screwtape, it won’t mislead you.

C.S. Lewis on the Incarnation

 

Da Vinci’s Annunciation

The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

From Mere Christianity

Before God fathered Jesus, His only begotten Son, our Savior existed as God’s creative Word. I think Lewis understated his metaphor, though; the picture of a human lowering himself to become a slug is simply not low enough. My mind pictures a human being becoming a bacterium for the sole purpose of eradicating the fatal, Beelzo transgvirus-1, also known as the sin virus.

Lots of folks have trouble with the Biblical statement that Jesus was the only begotten of God, due to their misunderstanding of Trinitarian doctrine. The alleged paradox lies in the idea that Jesus, God’s divine Son, had a beginning, and as God is eternal, that couldn’t be true. As a clever workaround, wordsmiths came up with the phrase, “begotten, not made,” in the Nicene Creed, but they needn’t have gone to all that trouble. The truth is far simpler; Jesus of Nazareth, though He was indeed born in the flesh, was not born of the flesh, because His Father is God Himself. As such, Jesus is the perfect man, the second Adam, who unlike the first Adam, never rebelled against His Father.

In other words, God the eternal Word became a mortal man at Jesus’ conception, enabling Him to be at once, immortal and mortal.

I hope that clears up the “only begotten” aspect of Jesus’ incarnation, so you’ll know the simple answer next time someone asks you the hard question.

More Thoughts About Atheism

I agree with that last sentence, I really do. Atheists don’t have to listen to Christ-followers, and in fact they do not listen to us, any more than required for trying to trip us up. Since they refuse to listen to us, any claims they make against God are completely uninformed; in claiming superior reason and rationality, they are simply lying to themselves. In their ignorance, atheists claim to know where Christ-followers are coming from, lumping us together with all the world’s religions, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Yet, anyone who knows the Bible knows exactly where atheists are coming from:

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.
(Psalm 14:1)

Of course they’ll take umbrage with that, both because it’s from the Bible, and because it speaks from God’s perspective. Atheists refuse to believe they are corrupt, have done abominable works, and do no good, but that verse speaks as much to any unregenerate human being as it does to atheists. Why? Because you don’t have to verbally deny God to act like he doesn’t exist.

Comments, or rants?

Lately I’ve found Facebook and YouTube comments dominated by vehement atheistic sentiment, focused not at deists, theists, Jews or Muslims, but directly and hatefully at Christians, and I find that curious. Theocracy paranoia peppers these public forums with demands for “Freedom from religion,” and worries about Christian fundamentalist terrorism perpetrated on poor, innocent children who are indoctrinated with Biblical values in Christian homes. Given their way, these secularists would outlaw all religious expression, public or private, and establish their own atheocracy. Thing is, they needn’t go to all that trouble, when they can just move to Communist China and enjoy their atheistic society.

Does name-calling win debates?

Atheist claims of openness, free and rational thinking, etc., dissolve like Styrofoam in acetone when they flame Christians with labels ranging from “stupid” to “inbred” to “retard” to “terrorist.” If they are all that passionate, why don’t they invest more time in reasonably refuting the opposition, than in name-calling? Even those few who offer some rationale for their non-belief seem to be stuck on clichés, rather than concentrating on original thought. Lord knows, atheists have a perfect right to express their thoughts in the public forum, as well as to bear the eternal consequences should they be wrong.

My personal faith in Christ began as a skeptic’s honest inquiry, tempered by an absolute confidence in the Bible as God’s only revealed word, highly unusual convictions for a Catholic. Because of my confidence in God’s word, I could no sooner blindly accept Catholic, or any other religious dogma—dictated by corrupt ecclesiastical systems—than buy into atheistic dogma—dictated by flawed human reason.

Religion by any other name …

Creation’s Beauty

Upon beholding creation’s spectacular beauty and precise order, both creationist and evolutionist explanations seemed markedly hollow and patently dogmatic. The evangelical in-crowd insists on six, 24-hour creation days, while savvy evolutionists believe the universe created itself. Both propositions require incredible faith, and adherents cling to them with religious fervor. For creationists, that’s understandable, but for atheists?

By their behavior, both sides have eliminated any question as to which has the truth. Their mutual mudslinging tells me both are deceived. The only alternative I have found worthy of pursuing is the only Jewish Messiah who fully satisfied all Scriptural prophesy concerning himself, having performed historically verified, unique signs and wonders, proving to unbiased inquirers that he is God’s only Son after his own kind. Jesus of Nazareth lived perfectly, died cruelly, and rose from the dead, not to establish a religion, but to buy back from the enemy of our souls a faithful remnant, willing to accept God’s love and to love him in return, through their conformity to his righteous example. Contrasted against all human religions, in Jesus there is no hatred, bigotry, or cruelty, but only love for his entire creation.

In view of religion’s track record, I cannot fault atheists for their skepticism, but I do fault them, and human religion’s followers, for their imperious belief that they know all, and that anything outside of their understanding is patently false. Oh, don’t we love our catechisms, including “science” texts for materialists. But God’s truth comes only from his Word, through his Holy Spirit and faith.

Let the atheists fuss; it doesn’t hurt God’s feelings in the least.

C.S. Lewis on Deliberate Compromise

For each of us the Baptist’s words are true: “He must increase and I decrease.” He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures; I know no promise that He will accept a deliberate compromise. For He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only in so far as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls.
From The Weight of Glory

Again, how can I improve on Uncle Jack’s simple-yet-powerful statement? A Christian’s deliberate compromise is nothing less than presumption on Jesus’ blood. Does His redeeming blood even cover that? Such is the stuff of controversy over the centuries, with no agreement in sight. Lewis apparently believed that Jesus’ blood cannot cover such presumption, but he was a layman, while John Calvin, a theologian, disagreed.

In my mind (for what that’s worth), the distinction is moot; belief that Christ’s redemptive work applies to me personally, and accepting it by faith, precludes any such deliberate compromise. Apostle James said it best:

James 2:14-26 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (17) Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (18) But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (19) You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (20) But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? (22) You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; (23) and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. (24) You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (25) In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (26) For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Some would love to see that passage torn out of the Bible. They want to do their own thing, relying on their supposed eternal security for “fire insurance.” But, just as cheap insurance is worth what it costs, so is cheap grace. In fact, cheap grace is no grace at all, as our redemption cost Jesus everything.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Oops

This evening I had the best of intentions … pretty much, anyway. A while after my evening meal (I wouldn’t glorify it with the title, “dinner.”), I decided to take my bedtime pills and retire. So I waltzed over to my pill sorter, only to be reminded that it was empty. Not terribly daunted, I took it over to my computer desk to refill it in front of a Netflix movie; multitasking is next to godliness, right?

So there I was, carefully sorting out my supplements and meds while watching a good movie and munching on these amazing, “Dark Chocolate Super Fruits” from Costco, in preparation for downing my meds, some of which must be taken with food, and I forgot to quit munching. I mean, dark chocolate is good for you, and super fruit is good for you, so this particular snack must be great for you, right?

Three hours after retiring, my eyes popped open and refused to pop back closed. Seems I’d forgotten about the caffeine that resides nefariously in dark chocolate. Besides, I felt hungry after all that (ahem) sugar. Well, fifteen minutes of that is enough for anyone, so I climbed out of bed, donned my jeans and robe, made some PB-and-honey toast, brewed a cup of sleepytime tea, and sat down to write this blog post.

What I had intended for good … pretty much, anyway … had caused rather inconvenient, unintended consequences. That’s my life’s story—and that of every other human being.

Even Jesus faced unintended consequences when he remained in Jerusalem to lecture the lecturers instead of accompanying his family back to his home in Nazareth. His mom and dad were worried sick when they couldn’t find him along the dusty, bandit-infested, Palestine road, so they turned back to search for him. What perils they faced, abandoning the caravan of pilgrims to return to Jerusalem, but they loved their son enough to risk anything to find him.

The Bible doesn’t record his apology to his folks when they found him in the Temple teaching the teachers, but I’m sure he must have. After all, that would only be the right thing to do.

Despite our best intentions, we too occasionally pursue actions that turn south on us. Perhaps we unintentionally offend a brother or sister in the Lord, or drop a news-bomb that we thought was common knowledge. Christ-followers don’t intentionally gossip, but none of us are always able to perfectly control our tongues (note the triplet of absolutes in that sentence).

Whether we are the offender, or the offended party, we have two choices: During such embarrassing moments our first impulse as the offender is usually to make excuses or dismiss the offense as trivial. That, however, instantly transforms a thoughtless oversight into a true offense that could, and often does, grow into a brierpatch of bad feelings. Our second, and more difficult choice, is to fess up and beg forgiveness. Sure it wasn’t intentional, but it was hurtful, and needs to be positively dealt with before it can infect the church with division.

The offended party also has a significant responsibility, and that is to forgive the offense. Whether or not the offender responds in a godly manner to their gaffe, Jesus’ Law of Love requires that we forgive up to 490 times (Matthew 18:21-35). The alternative is sin, even if you’re technically in the right.

Jesus said that reconciliation is more important than sacrifice (Matthew 5:23-26), meaning religious practice. So, before you offer praises to God, take care of those unintended consequences; it’s the law!

The Wonderful Cross

Chris Tomlin’s lyrics are a great place to start with singing glory to our Savior King Jesus, but our praises mustn’t end there. First, we need to think about the words we are singing.

When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain, I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

What is wondrous about the cross on which our Lord died? Nothing whatsoever! It represents the curse that Jesus bore for us, who truly deserve to so die. The fact that He actually chose to die in our place because of His love for us, His wayward creation, is the most wondrous thing of all. But that awful cross? Just two pieces of lumber; nothing special about that.

Christendom has elevated the cross, a symbol of Christ’s redemptive work for us, to the status of a religious icon. We’re okay as long as we only view it as the symbol, but when we elevate it to a position of singular importance and venerate it as a source of God’s grace, we are in danger of becoming idolaters.

Some Christian denominations cover their church buildings’ walls with icons representing Jesus, saints and religious objects. Others condemn using icons in worship. Both extremes are wrong when they take pride in their respective beliefs and make them conditions for spiritual fellowship.

Now, for the phrase, “Prince of Glory.” Maybe I’m picking nits, but I wonder if using a non-Biblical title for our Lord Jesus is quite the thing to do. He is indeed the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and the King of Glory (Psalm 24). Would the lyrics have suffered if Tomlin had used, “King of Glory” instead? The cadence would have been the same, so why not use the Biblical phrase?

The balance of that stanza cries out a truth that the church badly needs to grasp. Oh, aren’t we into worldly gain! The more, the merrier! Ephesians 4:17-32 gives us a strong statement of how we must conduct ourselves in the church and the world. Apostle Paul begins with, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” Then, in verse twenty-eight he adds, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” Does that include any provision for accumulating possessions? Can we find that anywhere in the New Covenant of God’s grace? So, why do we insist on devoting ourselves to accumulating possessions for our own glory?

Finally, Tomlin’s second and third stanzas remind us of Christ’s depth of suffering and the response we owe to Him.

See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ever such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose, so rich a crown

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

Read more: Chris Tomlin – The Wonderful Cross Lyrics | MetroLyrics

C.S. Lewis on Prudence

Please take time to read this important excerpt from Mere Christianity.

Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it. Nowadays most people hardly think of Prudence as one of the ‘virtues’. In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are ‘good’, it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding. In the first place, most children show plenty of ‘prudence’ about doing the things they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary. He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves’, but also ‘as wise as serpents’. He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim. The fact that you are giving money to a charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not. The fact that what you are thinking about is God Himself (for example, when you are praying) does not mean that you can be content with the same babyish ideas which you had when you were a five-year-old. It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any the less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a very second-rate brain. He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have.

Lewis said, “Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence.” Point well taken, but I know children whose intelligence exceeds that of most adults. Their inquiring minds and sense of wonder are beautiful to behold.

Why do we grownups expect our kids to perform perfectly? Why do we punish them when they make “imprudent” mistakes? I believe our adult, vain pride is so invested in their performance that we refuse them the grace that our Father shows us. So what if they make mistakes; at least they are trying. Punish them when they fail, and be assured they will quit trying.

Happenstance?

What follows is part of Uncle Jack’s response to a young woman who discovered she was pregnant; the surprise wasn’t altogether welcome. In the midst of her turmoil she discovered that her Bible had opened to Isaiah 66, and she interpreted the phenomenon as a miracle. So, here is Lewis’ reply.

It doesn’t really matter whether the Bible was open at that page thru’ a miracle or through some (unobserved) natural cause. We think it matters because we tend to call the second alternative, ‘chance.’ But when you come to think of it, there can be no such thing as chance from God’s point of view. Since He is omniscient His acts have no consequences which He has not foreseen and taken into account and intended. Suppose it was the draught from the window that blew your Bible open at Isaiah 66. Well, that current of air was linked up with the whole history of weather from the beginning of the world and you may be quite sure that the result it had for you at that moment (like all its other results) was intended and allowed for in the act of creation. ‘Not one sparrow,’ you know the rest [Matthew 10:29]. So of course the message was addressed to you. To suggest that your eye fell on it without this intention, is to suggest that you could take Him by surprise. Fiddle-de-dee! This is not Predestination: your will is perfectly free: but all physical events are adapted to fit in as God sees best with the free actions He knows we are going to do. There’s something about this in Screwtape.

Whether or not you agree with Lewis’ mild dismissal of the miraculous cause, this excerpt’s significance lies in his introduction of a third alternative that is neither miraculous nor naturalistic; God knew the puff of wind would happen along, and that it would flip several pages to reveal Isaiah 66, and since the woman needed exactly that Bible passage’s encouragement, He allowed it to happen. Or perhaps God caused the chain of events that revealed the passage she needed to read. There are nearly infinite possibilities that could explain that Bible passage showing up when it did, but none of them include chance.

Chance, luck, and coincidence are among terms non-believers use to explain the unexplainable. But simply because we are unable to see or understand God’s hand maneuvering circumstances doesn’t mean He isn’t doing it. Our self-existent, eternally living God is the Lord of happenstance.

 

Response to a Good Man

Laurna Guiste posted an article titled, As a Christian, where a reader posted his comment to the effect that most other great religions provide the same benefits as Christianity, and that becoming a good human being is a pre-condition for becoming a Christian or member of any other religion. I answered his thought with mine, which are based upon God’s Word.

I respect your views regarding human goodness through living according to the great religions’ principles. Though I respect your views, I feel compelled to exempt the Way of Christ (not Christianity) from your list of great religions, for it is not a religion at all. Many have succeeded in perverting Christ’s Way to their own religious purposes, to the extent that the result hardly resembles the Biblical Way of Christ at all. Respect for the Person of Christ Jesus demands a careful reading of His words. Such a careful reading will reveal exactly what He said about Himself, and the fact that He alone is the Way to our Father God.

Unlike many of the world’s religions, Christ does not require conversion to any particular religion on pain of persecution or death. Jesus taught a morality that far exceeded any religious law: We are to love even our enemies, and do good to those who persecute us. We are to be pure of mind, and not simply of body. We are to deal fairly with all people, honest to our own hurt. We are to forgive completely those who have injured or defrauded us. When someone strikes us on the cheek because of Him, we are to offer the other cheek as well.

Though Jesus was born a Jew and perfectly followed the Torah, the Jewish religious leaders had Him crucified for purely political reasons, fearing the Roman occupation rather than God. You are right in saying that “Christianity” is one of many religions, but it is just as impotent for redemption as all the rest. Only Christ provides salvation, and that apart from good works produced by human wisdom or goodness. Only those works done through Christ’s Spirit living in us will provide blessings beyond this mortal life.

You are obviously a good person, bhuwanchand, and I pray you will discover the incomparable blessing of eternal life in Christ Jesus, God’s only Son after His own kind.

Love in Him,
James

In retrospect, I can see how an inquirer might think that fully following Christ is a daunting endeavor. In fact, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted. I said, “attempted,” because I haven’t yet mastered the Spirit-filled life that Jesus modeled. Nor will I ever master it, as only the Master, God’s only begotten Son, could do. In that regard I can’t help praising God for His infinite mercy and unmerited favor toward me. Only He knows the depths of my personal depravity, yet He called me to redeeming faith in Jesus as the only Way to Himself.

I praise God for “good” people, and pray that even they will see their need for salvation through the only One who can provide it.