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.

It Is No Secret

This morning I awoke rejoicing in my God. I don’t know why the old gospel song, “It Is No Secret What God Can Do,” ran through my mind, but I turned what lyrics I could remember into a song of praise to my Lord. To refresh the rest of the lyrics, I turned on my computer to listen to the whole song. What I discovered was a half-truth, but at least it didn’t tell an outright lie. While those who are in Christ have some idea what God can do, we have no idea what he will do.Stewart Hamblen’s lyrics begin with:

The chimes of time ring out the news
Another day is through
Someone slipped and fell
Was that someone you?

You may have longed for added strength
Your courage to renew
Do not be disheartened
For I have news for you

It is no secret what God can do
What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you
With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you
It is no secret what God can do

By now, if you are older than forty you may have the tune running through your head. If not, it goes like this: Ta da da daa daaa da da da da, etcetera. Does that help?

Anyway, while the “arms wide open” part is right, it leaves out the required confession and repentance. That’s anything but a minor omission.

The second stanza begins with a gloriously true statement:

There is no night for in His light
You never walk alone
Always feel at home
Wherever you may go

There is no power can conquer you
While God is on your side
Take Him at His promise
Don’t run away and hide

In his light you indeed never walk alone, and no power in heaven or on earth can conquer you. What puts God on your side? If we don’t run away and hide, but love him with our obedience, we can safely take him at his promise, expressed in his holy word. What a mighty God we serve! And yes, I realize that’s another gospel song.

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.

Seeing is Believing

So goes the skeptic’s creed. Applied to matters of faith, they don’t know how right, or wrong, they are. The author of the Biblical letter to the Hebrews defined faith with poetic brevity and impact: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) In fact, we call Hebrews chapter eleven, “The Faith Chapter,” so if you want to know more about the Biblical teaching of faith, just click on the link.

Please bear with me for a (hopefully) brief aside. Notice my qualifying adjective in the last sentence of the paragraph above: “Biblical.” That’s a crucial qualifier because so many Christians cling to non-Biblical beliefs about faith, such as the “blab-it-and-grab-it,” Word of Faith doctrines. A very few Bible passages, taken out of context, seem to support it, but to its preachers it’s simply a cash cow.

Now, back to our program. We all typically see what we expect, or want to see. Just ask police officers about the vast variety of answers they get when questioning witnesses to an event. Religious people want to see evidences of God’s existence, but atheists, with verbal vitriol, refuse to see such evidences. In fact, they both see exactly what they want.

CaptureWitness the koala cartoon, which is the Australian Skeptics’ mascot. Though they don’t realize it, that magnifying glass illustrates the fallacy in skepticism; such optical instruments are ideal for close inspection, but limiting ones sight to its minuscule field of view prevents taking in the big picture. And that’s where you find God.

Take, for instance, the old cartoon character, Mister Magoo. Though he was practically blind, he gleefully proceeded through life as if he could see clearly. Similarly, skeptics, though they see all of nature’s evidences for God’s existence, can’t see the connection that’s so obvious to believers.

As a Christ-follower, I see God in a beautiful spring day, a child’s innocent face, the night sky, a moving cloudscape, the scent and beauty of lilacs in bloom, in fact, everywhere I look. Even this world’s ugliness demonstrates God’s beauty and power, as in perceiving ugliness, which is sin’s product (not necessarily individual sins, but humanity’s sinfulness), we recognize the beauty of God’s holiness.

Yet, those who don’t believe are without excuse:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18-23)

C.S. Lewis on Free Will

The sin, both of men and of angels, was rendered possible by the fact that God gave them free will: this surrendering a portion of His omnipotence (it is again a deathlike or descending movement) because He saw that from a world of free creatures, even though they fell, He could work out (and this is the re-ascent) a deeper happiness and a fuller splendour than any world of automata would admit.
From Miracles

“Free will” is an unfortunate term for personal volition, implying that it is without cost. In its highest form it is Divine Sovereignty, but our loving Creator delegated some of that priceless divine attribute to us, fully knowing what our failure to correctly handle that gift would cost him.

That’s why I say the gospel of Christ didn’t begin with the eternal Word’s incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, the entire history of God’s forbearance with troublesome mankind is his gospel (good news). God intended for his Law, delivered through Moses, to show his stiff-necked people the absolute impossibility of earning their justification in God’s eyes. Apostle Paul dealt well with that issue:

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by[lit. now ending with] the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was ourguardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Some may argue that some animals also possess free will, and anyone with a cat or dog would agree. Human volition is, however, at an exponentially higher level than that. Animals can’t anticipate their actions’ full range of moral ramifications. The viral, “Guilty Dog” videos show their reaction to chastisement, but that’s after the fact. I’ll close with one of those videos.

Corrie ten Boom on Forgiveness | PBS

Corrie ten Boom

I find this hard to believe; PBS, the bastion of Politically Correct Doctrine, included an objective article on Corrie ten Boom in their series, The Question of God. They even included the best photo of Corrie that I’ve seen, with a loving, open, happy smile displayed for all the world to enjoy. (Watch The Question of God video at the end of this article.)

But this post isn’t about PBS! It’s about Corrie’s experience forgiving the concentration camp guard who so brutalized her and her sister Betsie. If you’re already a Christ-follower, you’ve no doubt heard this story, but whether-or-not you have, it’s one of the most compelling, positive, uplifting narratives of spiritual fruit in action.

I won’t retell the story here, but I want to highlight the Scripture that forced her to capitulate to God’s will:
Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

While Betsie was frail, Corrie was hardy. But spiritually, Betsie was the strong one; even while her physical strength faded, she forgave every offense the Nazis could throw at her. Oddly, by worldly standards, her strength under abuse gave Corrie the strength to resist the bitterness that tried to consume her.

I have to ask myself, what in these two women’s rearing gave them the godly character to endure such cruel treatment without giving way to the hatred surrounding them?

When I look to their pre-story, I see a father who lived his Christian faith—as opposed to Christian religion—under the greatest adversity, loving even the very Jews who had thought themselves superior to these Gentiles. His actions matched, and even exceeded, his profession. Any young person who witnesses such Christlike integrity in her parents will aspire to follow their example. Of course the converse is also true; hypocrisy in parents will usually produce cynicism and hypocrisy in their children.

Curious, isn’t it, how kids’ “BS” detectors can be so well-tuned while their parents’ have no clue about their inconsistent lives. Somehow, parents view angry words and harsh discipline while preparing for and heading to church, as appropriate behavior. Somehow, adults see nothing amiss when they gossip about the church brethren or enjoy roast pastor for Sonday dinner, after weeping for joy with raised hands, and even testifying of victory during worship just an hour before. Formally teaching two-faced behavior to the kids wouldn’t be as effective as that sordid example.

And me? Guilty-as-charged! I feel I must apologize to my own children, now grown, for my questionable example while they were growing up. By God’s grace, however, they have survived and spiritually prospered as adults, now providing godly example to their children, and to me.

The highest example of all is Jesus Christ, and the few Christ-followers who most closely emulate his life, like Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, who imitated Jesus in his most difficult task, when he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)