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?

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.

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.

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.

C.S. Lewis on Being Called

“Please, what task, Sir?” said Jill.

“The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world.”

This puzzled Jill very much. “It’s mistaking me for someone else,” she thought. She didn’t dare to tell the Lion this, though she felt things would get into a dreadful muddle unless she did.

“Speak your thought, Human Child,” said the Lion.

“I was wondering—I mean—could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know. It was we who asked to come here. Scrubb said we were to call to—to Somebody—it was a name I wouldn’t know—and perhaps the Somebody would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open.”

“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.

“Then you are Somebody, Sir?” said Jill.

“I am.”

From The Silver Chair

When I read this story to my daughters a long time ago I failed to explain its significance to them. Uncle Jack had a knack (rhyme not intended) for presenting complex theological ideas in charming and simple ways. Though I disagree with Lewis on many points of doctrine, where I find agreement, their profundity amazes me, and this passage presents the work of God’s Holy Spirit spot on. And I love the way Uncle Jack slipped God’s divine Name (I AM) into the dialogue so naturally.

We fail to appreciate God’s work in and around us because we don’t possess spiritual eyes; all we have is faith in what we can’t see, but is more real than what we see with our fleshly eyes. This mustard seed faith summons God’s power to move human hearts and minds from carnal-orientation to spirit-orientation, a move that, by comparison, makes tossing a mountain into the ocean seem like kicking a stone along a path.

Just know, dear friend, that God’s answers to prayer are more often spiritual than material in nature, and when the spiritual answer just doesn’t cut it, you are not of His mind.

C.S. Lewis on Immortality

Once again, Uncle Jack gave me pause to think. And what I think will follow what He thought.

I think that Resurrection (what ever it exactly means) is so much profounder an idea than mere immortality. I am sure we don’t just “go on.” We really die and are really built up again.

He was right about our really dying and being really built up again, but what kind of death do we face? Obviously, we all die physically, suffering the corruption that our Savior was spared. That is the death of the flesh. But there is another death that must precede physical death, in order that we might gain the resurrection to which Lewis referred. That is the death to the flesh, referred to in the Bible as death to sin (Romans 6).

Honestly, I struggled with the whole “dead to sin” thing for years after I came to Christ, not because I didn’t want to die to sin, but because my actions told me that I had not yet achieved it. Every time I opened the New Testament I stumbled into it; if I was saved I was dead to sin, but I wasn’t, or at least I didn’t seem to be. But, praise God, I also stumbled upon Romans 8:1-2, Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

Of course, that begged the question of how I knew I was in Christ Jesus. My first answer to that troubling question was, before my rebirth I sought every opportunity to sate my carnal impulses, but was never satisfied. After my rebirth I wanted to be in Christ, and my sins grieved me terribly.

My second answer was what the Bible calls, “the witness of the Spirit,” (Romans 6:16-17) in which we suffer with Him that we may be glorified with Him. Suffering with Him includes the grief over sin that I mentioned above. When Jesus fell on His face praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground. Was He grieved because of the physical suffering ahead of Him? While that would worry me terribly, I think His grief lay in the fact that He, the perfectly righteous, eternal Son of God, would shortly bear upon His body God’s righteous judgment for all the world’s sin. And that judgment would separate the man Jesus from His Father God, resulting in Jesus’ anguished cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

And my third answer (Do you remember the question?) is my absolute certainty about my eternal fellowship with my Savior. That certainty grew from the most fragile of faith-seeds to a confidence that surmounts even my, at times, shaky faith due to my tendency to rely on the seen, rather than the unseen (Romans 8:24-25). I can’t praise my Savior enough for that assurance, and I can’t wait to do it in person, for eternity.

Uncle Jack on the Death of His Wife Joy

Obstacles to healing

With the death of a loved one, all reason, all preconceptions, all pat answers fly out the window. So it was when C.S. Lewis lost his beloved wife Joy after such a short time with her. Here is a brief excerpt from A Grief Observed, where he reexamined all he had come to believe about God. It’s not pretty, but it’s honest.

How often are you and I totally honest with God? Do you ever feel the urge to castigate God with every unkind adjective at your command? Do you ever find yourself doubting all the neat, Sunday school answers you called out while waving your hand in class? If not, you are living a synthetic life with your eyes tightly closed against all the temporal cruelty and pain this life deals us.

Lewis longed for assurance that Joy no longer suffered as she had in her life on Earth. And at the same time he needed to know that she missed him as much as he missed her. If you’ve ever lost someone you cherished, you’ve asked the same questions.

My council to anyone going through loss, whether it’s the death of a loved one, or the death of a relationship resulting in divorce, is not to just shut up and trust God. That’s the surest way of cutting off all communication with someone in that circumstance. I compare loosing a loved one with having a limb amputated; you never knew how much you valued that member until you lost it. Initially, you feel phantom pain and itching that you can’t scratch. You feel like it’s still there, but your heart sinks whenever you see that it’s gone. Leaning on its memory only keeps you immobile, but you don’t want to adapt to life without it.

Such grief is entirely natural, but that doesn’t make it any easier, and you want to slug anyone who tells you that you’ll get over it. You will never get that leg, arm, hand, finger, or loved one back, and you will never completely get used to their being gone. In time, though, God will broaden your perspective to include His view of your grief. You will realize how much He hates to see any of His loved ones lost to perdition because of our insistence on living our own way. You will come to appreciate His pain when He gave His only begotten Son over to sinful men to be ridiculed, tortured, and murdered to save you, because He loved you all that much.

Uncle Jack grew from his profound grief to become an even greater giant of the faith that gave him peace in his loss. If you haven’t experienced such loss, brace yourself; it’s coming. But also, prepare yourself for the unspeakable blessing to follow.