Faith’s Other Side

What’s bright is not always beneficial.

In today’s Our Daily Bread devotional, Mart DeHaan wrote about trusting God, and included a short poem by that famous Greek author, Anonymous.

Trust when your skies are darkening,
Trust when your light grows dim,
Trust when the shadows gather,
Trust and look up to Him.

Sometimes our faith gets turned on end when God seems to work against us, rather than for us. If in those difficult times we want to, as Apostle Paul wrote, “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” we have to check out the the faith-coin’s other side. If you haven’t guessed that hidden message, read Anononymous’ poem again. That’s right; it’s trust!

You’ll find trust easy to grasp when your world is progressing swimmingly, but you may find it more illusive when you feel like you’re up to your eyeballs in piranha. So, what’s the key to flipping that faith-coin? The psalmist knew the secret:

It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.
(Psalm 119:71)

Find your “statutes” in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. I’m not talking about the Ten Commandments and other laws found in the Torah, but the godly principles that apply to us as directly as they did to God’s people Israel. That verse from Psalm 119 spells out God’s purpose in allowing affliction in your life; if you have founded it on the Rock, affliction drives you to His Word for faith-building. If faith were a building, trust would be the roof that keeps you dry and safe in the worst storms. As long as I’m pushing metaphors to the limit, 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 gives you a Bill of Materials for your house.

Oh, you may think the pounding rain, the gale-force winds, the torrential flood, and the thunder and lightening will get to you, but as faith brings trust, trust brings, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, (that) will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

C.S. Lewis on Aslan’s “Other Name”

aslan1Those who roundly criticize Uncle Jack for all the extra-Biblical fantasy in his, The Chronicles of Narnia, have missed his point entirely. Take, for example, the following quote from, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when the Pevensie children were about to leave Narnia for England the last time:

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are—are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

It’s an allegory, folks. So what if it isn’t book, chapter, and verse from God’s Word. This excerpt from the last of his series is one of the sweetest gospel presentations I’ve seen. So lighten up, dear fundamentalist. Become Christ’s gospel in the flesh. You know what that means, don’t you? “

Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

(37) Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (40) On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

That’s what loving God is all about, not opinions about doctrinal purity, or who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys.” So, suck it up, critics; you may not be as smart as you think.

Asimov on Creativity

“Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”

Isaac Asimov was one of my favorite authors, even though he was an atheist. Unlike modern, militant atheists, Asimov simply wrote from the naturalistic world view, and poked fun at believers. Yet, in the spirit of, “All truth is God’s truth,” I offer these excerpts from, Isaac Asimov Asks, “How Do People Get New Ideas?” 

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

He goes on to present ideas for forming, “cerebration sessions,” comprising congenial members who may bring some relevant expertise to the table. Writers, however, virtually always work best in solitude. Asimov’s following comment holds true for us all:

Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.

To feel guilty because one has not earned one’s salary because one has not had a great idea is the surest way, it seems to me, of making it certain that no great idea will come in the next time either.

At least one aspect of the capitalistic mindset mystifies me; managers of everything from universities to manufacturing facilities somehow believe that pressuring their subordinates creates a productive environment. They seem to view all of their workers as ne’er-do-wells, just waiting for the opportunity to rip them off, either through outright theft, or through goldbricking. So they strike their employees pre-emptively with stifling surveillance and security measures. Management can’t imagine that one of their production-line workers, dolts that they are, could ever originate a useful idea.

Manufacturing and commerce aren’t alone in their draconian policies, with publishers and literary agents constantly dogging those artists contracted to them. I suppose they never heard the saw, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

 

Screwtape on Greatest Evil

Max McLean as Screwtape, Satan’s top psychiatrist

Uncle Jack indeed has a way of stating simple truths simply. I realize that seems like a, “Duh,” statement, but too often scholars over-complicate the simple. While Screwtape loves to tempt human brainiacs to flaunt their presumed intellect with lengthy dissertations on the most mundane topics, he deals with his minions quite simply indeed.

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

“Dens of crime” in Charles Dickens’ plays typified nineteenth-century England’s basest moral strata, but depravation wasn’t confined to the gutters of London’s East End. Now, as then, “men with white collars” institutionalize all kinds of evil for profit, defining truth as any cock-and-bull story that will line their pockets with silver and perpetuate their usurped authority. Money certainly can’t buy happiness, but it is required to gain power in this sinful generation.

Screwtape’s little lesson should serve as a warning to those citizens voting in the coming—indeed, all—elections, to look beyond the political promises (spelled, l-i-e-s) to the politicians’ power-grabbing agendas. Political corruption is a non-partisan issue, with most politicians and political parties openly placating any special interest group, regardless how depraved their “interests.” Egalitarianism and free enterprise are wonderful ideals, but both require balance in pursuing them, a balance that is impossible to achieve without God’s unchanging principles providing their foundation.

C.S. Lewis on Christ Alone

Uncle Jack’s critics call him a universalist because of such statements as, “… we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.” If that were the extent of his statement on the issue I would join his critics in trying to discredit him, but it’s not, and I won’t. To establish the full context of his statement, here is an excerpt from his, Mere Christianity:

Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him. But in the meantime, if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself. Christians are Christ’s body, the organism through which He works. Every addition to that body enables Him to do more. If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them. Cutting off a man’s fingers would be an odd way of getting him to do more work.

The main Scriptural reason for criticizing Lewis’ statement above is Apostle Peter’s declaration recounted in Acts 3-4:12, “This One is the Stone counted worthless [despised] by you the builders, the One who has come to be into the Head of the Corner (Psa. 118:22); and there is salvation in no other One, for neither is there any other name under Heaven having been given among men by which we must be saved.” (LITV)

This brings us to the inevitable confrontation with that dreaded word: theology. Two main schools of thought exist among evangelical Christians: Calvinism, and Wesleyan-Arminianism. Please note the -ism behind each of those titles that mutates ideas into institutions. Over-simplified, Calvinists believe that God chose His children before creation, and somehow, those “elect” will hear the gospel of Christ and believe unto salvation; it’s, “sorry, Charlie,” for everyone else. The Wesleyan-Arminian (Holiness) school of thought declares that anyone who, by their own free will, hears Christ’s gospel, believes it, repents of his sin and bears the fruit of God’s Spirit, is one of God’s elect by His foreknowledge. Both views ignore or rationalize Bible passages that seem to support the opposing side.

I heartily agree with Lewis’ statement that, “God has not told us what His arrangements about (those who never heard the gospel) are.” Calvinists say they were never members of God’s elect, while Holiness people, at least on this issue, remain silent where the Bible is silent. With Lewis, I doubt that God will hold anyone responsible for their honest ignorance, but because of such passages as Acts 4:12, I can’t agree with his statement that we don’t need to know Him to be saved through Him.

Lewis aptly sums up his thoughts with, “If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them.” I warn the doctrinal nitpickers that there are worse things than being mistaken about points of dogma. God will not hold anyone accountable for honest error, but the unloving, the judgemental, the zealots, are subject to the same judgement as they were in Jesus’ time. Just because they now call themselves, “Christians,” makes no difference at all.

C.S. Lewis on Effort

Uncle Jack has always had a way of eliciting controversy; religious liberals accuse him of being too conservative, and religious conservatives accuse him of being too liberal. He brings out the extreme range of opinion among Christians. While I disagree with him on some theological points, I’ve found much more agreement with his Scripture applications. His statement on effort, from Words to Live By, is a case in point.

Many things—such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly—are done worst when we try hardest to do them.

So true, but Lewis didn’t mention the self-control required to do those things without trying.

Did I hear you say, “That’s nuts!”? Well, it’s not nuts. The only way to develop positive behaviors so you do them automatically is by developing the appropriate habits, and that takes self-control.

What motivates those positive habit formations? God’s Holy Spirit, working through frequent exposure to, study of, and meditation on his Word. That is the very first godly habit, and all the others flow from it. When God opens your eyes to the awful wonder of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for your sins, and the depth of his love for you—personally—that motivated him to submit to that torture, you will want to let him speak to you through his Word. God will show you that he is love, and as Jesus demonstrated his love by dying on the cross for you, so you will want to demonstrate your love for him by crucifying your own desires for self-gratification, and obeying him even when you don’t feel like it.

I Love My Verse of the Day from Bible Gateway

Granted, one Scripture verse isn’t much, but, at least for me, it often opens my creaking thought-door for some wide-ranging tangential ruminations. If you want to start getting it, find it under the Newsletters link on Bible Gateway.

Another daily blessing is Our Daily Bread, one of many devotionals available through Bible Gateway, and available under the same link. Sometimes it comes to my inbox with somewhat mundane spiritual thoughts and applications, but often it bowls me over with its relevance to my life.

Bible Gateway isn’t the most extensive site for Scripture study, but it offers a fantastic range of Bible translations and resources. If you haven’t used it, you really aught to check it out. You can’t have too much exposure to God’s Word.

Today’s Bible passage is Philippians 1:9-10 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ. That’s my prayer for you, as I cover each piece I post on this blog with my prayer for anyone who happens upon it. May God bless you richly as you follow in Christ’s Way.

C.S. Lewis on Self-Insight

34502Though I’ve taken some flack recently over using Lewis’ ideas to illustrate truths, I must continue to do so despite the acknowledged errors in his theology. Following our Lord Christ’s narrow Way does not demand that we follow Him with narrow minds. I’ve discovered errors in my own understanding of theology, and I expect to do so again, and the only way to continue with that program of self-correction is to keep my mind open to God’s Truth. I will always stand squarely on God’s Word as my exclusive source of eternal Truth, but that does not preclude others’ words opening my eyes to Biblical Truth that I have not yet discovered, or better understanding Truth-related concepts. With that disclaimer, here’s Uncle Jack.

Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.

Uncle Jack, in his inimitable style, expressed a concept that I call, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” When you’re in sin, you can’t see it for what it is, rather like magnifying a photograph to the pixel or grain-level, where the colored dots mean nothing to you. If you’re a serious Christ-follower, a similar phenomenon effects your appreciation of your spiritual life; though you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you can often forget how far behind you’ve left your former life of sin.

That’s why you need faithful brethren close by to encourage you in those bummer times of forgetfulness, to remind you of who you are now, in Christ Jesus. In case that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s called the Church. Remember the exhortation of Hebrews 10:24-25  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Everyone will live to see, “The Day,” whether it comes for you alone, or for God’s entire church. So, be ready!

C.S. Lewis on the God of Last Resort

34502

It is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up “our own” when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him.

Well said, Uncle Jack.

One fundamental(ist?) problem faces those of us who try to earn brownie points with God; he is entirely self-sufficient, and needs nothing we have to offer, including our good works, money and stringent obedience to religious codes. The truth is far more simple.

First John 4:16 tells us, “God is love.” As personified love, God needs nothing more than people who willingly receive his love; that’s you and me. I’ll venture onto a limb to say that love received is love returned, and that’s all he wants from us. “We are loving because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 DNLT) We not only return God’s love, but because of God’s love, we love others, including those we can’t stand.

What may have begun as our last resort has become our first and only choice. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.b The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

C.S. Lewis on Addiction To Experiences

Once again, Uncle Jack nailed it, and this time on a difficult topic:

TO MRS. RAY GARRETT: On the real program of the spiritual life—living in the present moment.

12 September 1960

The whole lesson of my life has been that no ‘methods of stimulation’ are of any lasting use. They are indeed like drugs—a stronger dose is needed each time and soon no possible dose is effective. We must not bother about thrills at all. Do the present duty—bear the present pain—enjoy the present pleasure—and leave emotions and ‘experiences’ to look after themselves.

That’s the programme, isn’t it?

Yes, that is indeed the “programme.” One sort of stimulation he left out is fun. We have elevated, “having fun,” from an occasional treat, to a continual obsession. We pursue it at the expense of life’s reasonable responsibilities, and as Lewis said, “A stronger dose is needed each time, and soon no possible dose is effective.”

We wonder why our kids complain so often of boredom. Have we never thought it might be related to our compulsion with keeping them occupied in, “fun activities?” We recognize our babies’ need to avoid “over stimulation,” but when they get older we keep them stimulated at all cost. Lewis didn’t use the word, but that’s called “desensitization,” where they become accustomed to a certain stimulation level, so they need ever more to feel it at all. Hmm, sounds like addiction, doesn’t it?

So, what choices do we have to deal with the problem? The easiest in the short term would be to keep on keepin’ on, leaving our offspring to deal with the consequences. But is the loving thing to do?

Our second choice is the hard one to implement, but it actually deals with the problem: Take away their media gadgets until they learn to live without them, and until they begin showing some level of gratitude for life’s more subtle enjoyments. Then, gradually reintroduce them to the gadgets which, by then, will be completely obsolete.

Yes, you will have to endure a storm of opposition. And yes, you will have to demonstrate your own independence from the entertainment media. Your reward will be more quality time with them, and yourselves.

That’s hard medicine to swallow, but nothing else will free both them, and yourselves, from artificial stimulation. Bite the bullet! Kick the addiction! And yes, I need to do it as well (ouch!).