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.

Sanctified Bellyaching

Israel’s King David didn’t mince words about the trials he endured while hiding, first from King Saul, then from his own son Absalom. In some of his psalms he actually seemed to indulge in self-pity—hardly a kingly trait.

Rather than providing grounds for indictment, however, these psalms reveal King David’s honesty and the Scriptures’ credibility. If the Bible’s source-texts were, as cynics allege, nothing more than some religious guys’ imaginations run amuck, they wouldn’t include any stories involving their heroes’ dark-sides. Unlike King David, though, such critics are driven to find, or fabricate, any evidence that might besmirch the Bible’s reliability.

If you are inclined as I was to criticize David for his whining, think again. He balances all his complaining with the most heartfelt, beautiful praises to God. Psalm thirteen is a great example of his transparency:

Psalms 13:1-6 NKJV
(1) To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?
(2) How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
(3) Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
(4) Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him”; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
(5) But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
(6) I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

King David, in all his psalms, exemplifies a right relationship with the Existing One(LORD), and how such a man after God’s own heart prays. We all would do well to engage in such bellyaching, including the praise that balances it.

Proper Child Rearing

Proper child rearing? I’m sure they had good reason, but what happens when she needs a diaper changed?

Uh … yeah. “Proper Child Rearing,” if you’re Father God, ’cause he’s the only one who ever got it right, but look what happened to his first two kids. What does that make our chances of raising perfect little angels?

If you don’t yet have kids, get over the idea of being perfect parents or having perfect kids. It ain’t gonna happen! And if you currently have, or have had kids, you already know perfection is an impossible dream. All you can do is your best, and your best will be good enough if you understand Bible passages like Ephesians 6:4 and the fathers enrage not your children but train them up affixed in the Lord’s discipline and admonition. The Lord’s discipline means according to Biblical principles, and the Lord’s admonition means correction by his words. And all that means you have to know God’s word.

Thing is, even if you could do a perfect job you can’t make their decisions for them; you can only prepare them to make their own decisions. They will make mistakes, even stupid ones, and you will scratch your head wondering what happened to all that lovely Scripture you fed them. It’s still in those brilliant memory-banks, but regardless how you try, you can’t digest and internalize it for them.

This is where example comes in: You tell them stuff and they think, “Fine, show me what you’re talking about.” So they test you to see if you will practice what you preach. If you say, “Don’t hit,” but you slap them in anger, they think, “So much for that rule.” If you tell them, “Don’t gossip,” but you talk about other people’s problems … Well? Violating that principle will certainly cause them to dismiss everything you say.

Did you catch my drift here? To keep from confusing and exasperating your kids you will have to change. To have any chance of raising godly kids, you will have to model godliness.

Keep in mind, though, that living a good example does not guarantee their following it. Your ultimate example will be how you respond to their screwing up their lives. So, should you tenderly welcome them back into the fold if they’ve gone out and become alcoholics or dopers, or begat children, or robbed a convenience store, but refuse to repent? NO WAY! There’s a reason the pros who deal with such things call that, “enabling.” If you want to provide a godly example, remember how God responded when the children of Israel refused to honor him; he removed his protection from them and allowed their enemies to take them into captivity. And do you remember the outcome? Eventually they repented and he welcomed them back into his graces. And do you remember how many times they went through that cycle of apostasy and repentance? I don’t, but I do remember that he forgave them every time they truly repented. That’s how much he loved them, and that’s how much he loves us!

God’s grace is sufficient, even for us failures.

Shout To the Lord

I titled a previous post, “SHOUT From the Lord,” noting that it is slightly different from the popular worship song by Chris Tomlin. Those lyrics are in part:

Shout to the Lord, all the earth, Let us sing
Power and majesty, praise to the King;
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
At the sound of Your name.
I sing for joy at the work of Your hands,
Forever I’ll love You, forever I’ll stand,
Nothing compares to the promise I have in You.

From the very beginning I’ve had a problem with the refrain’s seventh line; it’s missing three words: By Your grace. They fit perfectly, with three syllables, just like “Forever.”

Okay, call me nitpicky, but isn’t the original wording just a bit presumptuous? I want to love God and stand forever. I hope to. I even need to. But I lack that mythical crystal ball to know if I will persevere.

You see, I know myself all too well to presume on the future. My greatest fear is that I might apostatize and bring a reproach on my Lord. So my fervent prayer is to glorify him in all that I do. One way to ensure that is to consume God’s Word through his Holy Spirit as I would a lean stake, with lots of chewing and savoring the flavor. Thing is, milk and pablum easily slide down the throat, but you can’t live on that alone.

Go ahead, SHOUT to the Lord! Sing his praises with joy. But remember:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
His praise endures forever.

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.

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!

Screwtape on Marriage

Satan’s lies actually make sense to some people.

Screwtape’s warped philosophy on human marriage exhibits a circuitous “reasoning” typical of all his better temptations. If what follows seems confusing, it’s meant to. If you manage to read all the way to the end of his lecture, you’ll discover it’s all about competition.

The Enemy’s demand on humans takes the form of a dilemma; either complete abstinence or unmitigated monogamy. Ever since our Father’s first great victory, we have rendered the former very difficult to them. The latter, for the last few centuries, we have been closing up as a way of escape. We have done this through the poets and novelists by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually shortlived, experience which they call ‘being in love’ is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding.

This idea is our parody of an idea that came from the Enemy. The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even an inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from the space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into astronger. ‘To be’ means ‘to be in competition’.

If what you just read seems strikingly familiar, there’s good reason; it is the world’s way of thinking, which is the antithesis of God’s way for ultimate human fulfillment and happiness. Of course, that should not surprise anyone, as everything the world deems right and proper contradicts God’s design for us.

So if you want to know God’s way without delving into the Bible, just watch secular TV, read secular novels, watch secular movies and attend secular schools, and assume it’s all diametrically opposed to God’s best for us. That strategy is dangerous, however, as if you listen to a lie long enough it’ll seem true.

Warning, you may find this post offensive …

But only if you’re part of the problem.

God’s church has the bad habit of sweeping sensitive or distasteful issues under the tabu-rug. Such issues vary by denomination and congregation, but perhaps the most universally swept issue is pornography use.

A quick definition of Porn is: printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings. Usually, “printed or visual material” is interpreted as photographs or graphic images, but is that assumption realistic?

Years ago, I enjoyed reading thriller-type novels by such authors as Ludlum, Cussler, Patterson, King and Sheldon. And don’t get me started on the movies of the same genre. One common element in such fiction is vivid portrayals of violence and gore, usually motivated by “righteous” revenge. Brothers, “righteous” and “revenge” are oxymorons. The enemy of your soul places those stories before your eyes to elicit your sympathy, causing you to justify violent vengeance. Another common element of such fiction is erotic descriptions of sex and seduction. If you call yourself a Christian, you have no business placing such words and images before your eyes. Just because it isn’t technically porno doesn’t mean it’s okay.

And on the distaff side …

Ladies, stop poking your husbands if you read “steamy” romance novels, which are nothing less than verbal porn. You read them for the stories and not the sex? That’s like your husband’s claim of “reading” Playboy Magazine for the literary value alone. Ladies, those stories are nothing more than “cookie-cutter” literature, mass-produced to separate you from both your money and your morals.

Confession Time

Apostle Paul suffered from a physical “thorn in the flesh.” My biggest thorn in the flesh is my addiction to “soft porn.” Some would say, “Why, that’s not so bad; could be worse.”

Indeed it could, but it doesn’t have to be worse to stand between me and my Savior. Even though it may not cost my eternal salvation—note, I said “may not”—that garbage stunts my spiritual growth. By now I’ve realized that I’m stuck with my taste for “morality’s booze,” but by Christ’s righteous power it doesn’t have to rule my life.

I’ve coined the phrase, “Soft porn makes soft Christians,” and I don’t want to be a soft Christian. I praise my Lord and Savior for opening my spiritual eyes to what I place before my physical eyes, allowing me to fully appreciate its ugliness. Any victory God is giving me hasn’t come easily; I still struggle with the temptation, but through my persistent supplication he is giving me victory over that particular tool of Satan.

The Bible never mentions pornography, but it does cover fornication quite well. Not the same thing? The Greek for “fornication” comes from the same root word (porneia) as our word, “pornography.” Below, find listed some of the Biblical passages dealing with fornication and lust:

1 John 2:16[Full Chapter]
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

Matthew 5:32
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Matthew 19:9
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

John 8:41
Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

Proverbs 11:6
The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.

Matthew 5:27
[ Lust ] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

1 Thessalonians 4:5
not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;

2 Peter 2:10
and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones,

If you feel condemnation for your use of porn, that’s just your enemy hitting you with the ol’ one-two. First, he stunts your spiritual growth, then he turns your God-given conviction into condemnation, gaining two victories for one sin. Pretty clever, eh? Resolve to accept and submit to God’s conviction, but tell your sneaky enemy, “Be gone, Satan!” By God’s redemptive power, Satan’s ploys are wasted on you.

 

C.S. Lewis Answers the Question, “Is God Despotic?”

“Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted. He demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration. Do we suppose that they can do Him any good, or fear, like the chorus in Milton, that human irreverence can bring about ‘His glory’s diminution’? A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell. But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces. If we do not, that only shows that what we are trying to love is not yet God— though it may be the nearest approximation to God which our thought and fantasy can attain. Yet the call is not only to prostration and awe; it is to a reflection of the Divine life, a creaturely participation in the Divine attributes which is far beyond our present desires. We are bidden to ‘put on Christ’, to become like God. That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little.”

If that excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain seems a bit long, read it anyway. And maybe read it again, till it all soaks in. Uncle Jack expressed complex thoughts in the simplest possible language, without compromising their depth. The problem most of us have with his writing is we’re lazy, or somehow the significance of his words sail far over our heads.

The first sentence in the above excerpt introduces and defines it. The central clause of the next sentence, “our obedience,” summarizes God’s requirement of us. Then Lewis goes on to point out our rebellion’s trivial nature—trivial in the grand scheme, but fatal to us.

Finally, Lewis points out the benefits we reap by loving God according to his definition of the word. He didn’t include a Bible reference for the last bit, but I’m happy to correct that deficit:

Romans 13:12-14 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

Galatians 3:26-29 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

1 Peter 1:2-4 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Talk about precious promises; they don’t get much better than that, for anyone who has committed to following Christ.

Words of Christ in Red

Opinion-time, everyone. The bug bit me while I was studying Proverbs chapter eighteen—rather odd, as it contains no “words of Christ.” But that’s where it gets interesting; Jesus Christ is God’s eternal Word in the flesh, and he authored the verbal (both the ancient, oral tradition, and the written) Word of God from start to finish (John 1:1-18, 2 Timothy 3:16). In view of these facts, can any part of God’s verbal Word not be Jesus’ words? Highlighting Jesus’ words in the gospels implies that they are somehow more reliable or have more authority than the balance of Scripture, which is theologically unsound.

That said, I understand how novices in Bible-study might prefer “Red-Word” Bible editions, but I would also caution them against assigning those red words undue significance. There is a heresy that says Jesus’ words carry divine authority, but the rest were written by (sexist) men, most especially that male-chauvinist-pig, Paul.

To deny any part of God’s Word is to deny its Author, and we wouldn’t want to do that, would we?