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.

A Hard Pill To Swallow

My thousand milligram vitamin C tablet gives me fits when trying to swallow it. The stupid thing begins dissolving before I can gulp it down, so it sticks in my throat until I can gulp enough water to break it free. But vitamin C pills aren’t the only supplements that are hard to swallow.

(1 Peter 2:12) Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Thank the New American Standard Bible for that awkward wording, but its meaning is quite close to the original language. Semantics aside, today’s church needs to play catch-up regarding, “the thing(s) in which they slander [us] as evildoers.” Such things are too numerous to list here, but the, “excellent behavior,” in that verse does not mean acting “Christian.” It means, “winsome goodness,” and most of today’s church could never be accused of that.

(1 Peter 2:13) Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,

Here is the abrasive coating for our hard-to-swallow pill. Fallen humanity does not easily submit to authority of any kind, and least of all to God, as our great-great-great … grandparents so aptly demonstrated. Here again, to see apparently moral people with issues in that area, all we need to do is take an honest look at today’s church. Because we’re “saved,” we think we have a free pass to heaven regardless what we do in the flesh. But for God’s perspective, we need to flash back to His command in verse twelve: Maintain winsome goodness among outsiders … (my rendering; look it up, it’s pretty close).

(1 Peter 2:14) or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

Apostle Paul, in Romans 13:1-8, said the governing authorities bear the sword to bring down God’s wrath against evildoers, giving us ne’er-do-well human beings incentive to behave. While this is true for all people, it applies even more directly to Christ-followers, as outsiders are all too aware of our higher, Biblical moral standard. Again, flash back to verse twelve; when they watch us behaving badly toward one another, or anyone else for that matter, we’ve just proved they are right in their negative opinions about us, and therefore about God.

(1 Peter 2:15) For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.

According to Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” Christ-followers must do what is right, not from fear of earthly authorities, but from fear of God. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

Go ahead, gulp that Scriptural pill right down, so you can shut the fools’ mouths.

 

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.

Be Christ to Your Family

If you’re interested in diligent, godly grandfathering, you won’t find much about the roles of grandfathers in the family support literature. More sensitive people call us, “grandparents,” even when they’re talking about grand dads, lest they be thought sexist. On the other hand, grandparenting is, in fact, often a two-person job. One of the topics we must address is nurturing a mutual understanding and cooperation with Grandma. It’s the old story that neither the husband nor the wife are islands unto themselves, and neither bear sole responsibility for failures. As Christian grandfathers, we must take up Christ’s cross unilaterally, accepting our responsibility to be Christ to both our wives and our greater families.

The problem we grand dads face is Grandma usually sets the tone of our relationship with our kids and their kids, and even their kids, if we live long enough. That issue begins with our younger selves, where Wifey holds the family reigns while Hubby does all the “manly” things like taking out the garbage, changing the oil, and occasionally even mowing the lawn. Too often, Hubby only joins in the family’s spiritual life at Wifey’s insistence, all the while thinking about the, “More Important,” manly duties, like keeping track of the latest scores and planning his next hunting trip.

Face it, guys, we’re preoccupied with trivial pursuits, self-centered and self-absorbed. Fortunately for us, our Heavenly Dad keeps His mind on the important stuff, like saving us, and keeping us in His Spirit. If we fail to follow His lead, it’s not because we aren’t good enough or otherwise qualified; we’re just too lazy to make time for obeying His expressed will.

I feel like standing tall, raising my sword, and yelling, “All who want Christ’s Way for the family, follow me!” Trouble is, I’m the last one you’d want to follow; I know His way as well as most, but fail in the following part. Maybe I should instead drop to my knees and cry out, “All who have failed our Lord and Savior, and failed your families by not loving them as Christ loves us, join me down here.” There’s no time like the present to bring revival to God’s called out ones, and it must begin with prayer. May we Christian grandfathers lead the way on our knees, ’cause that’s where the battle for the family begins and ends.

Where’s the Fire?

How often have you asked that question (of no one in particular) when others have roared past on the highway? If given the opportunity to answer, those speedy drivers would provide a variety of excuses for their haste, but I’m reasonably confident that, “I’m going to a fire,” would not be one of them.

I wish they were speeding to the fire, the same fire that descended upon one hundred twenty of Jesus’ disciples who waited in Jerusalem as he had ordered. Their obedience brought about the greatest, most powerful fire of all ages.

Acts 2:1-4 LEB And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in the same place. (2) And suddenly a sound like a violent rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (3) And divided tongues like fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (4) And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability to speak out.

Pentecost is not a singularly Christian event. What we call Pentecost originated as the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, when the Jews celebrate God’s giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Our Pentecost, however, commemorates a different law-giving, under the New Covenant of God’s grace.

Everyone knows the story about Jesus’ exchange with the lawyer who asked Him how to inherit eternal life.

Luke 10:26-28 NKJV [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (27) So he answered and said, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND,’ and ‘YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'” (28) And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

Everyone back then agreed with the first part of Jesus’ answer, but ranking the second with the first was far less common, and shows that this particular lawyer was on the right track. When asked to define, “neighbor,” a typical lawyerish response, Jesus presented His parable of the good Samaritan.

Luke 10:30-37 NKJV Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. (31) Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. (32) Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. (33) But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. (34) So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (35) On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ (36) So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” (37) And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Obviously, Jesus felt quite strongly about His Law of Love. Apostle Paul referred to that New Covenant as the “Law of Christ.” And perhaps his closest disciple, John, wrote a lot about love’s necessity in the Christian life.

1 John 4:7-13 NKJV Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. (8) He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (9) 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. (13) By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

And that brings us right back to God’s Holy Spirit. Many people ask, “How can I know that I’m filled with the Holy Spirit?” Though some denominations teach that speaking in other, unlearned languages is the necessary evidence for that, God’s Word says otherwise. Without going into an exhaustive treatment of “tongues,” I will point the inquirer back to 1 John 4:12-13 above. Love is not a passive feeling, as “being in love.” The only requirement for that is a bellyache, chest pain and shortness of breath whenever you think of your, “loved one.” Or you might be having a heart attack. Christ’s love, however, demands action, and those who know His love will show it by loving even their enemies. That selfless, unconditional love is how God’s Holy Spirit set fire to the world.

So, do you drive like you’re going to a fire, or do you live like you’re on fire with Jesus’ love? Remember His command, “Go and do likewise.”

Who’s Packin’ Whom?

John Bunyan’s Christian

Where I live, some of the natives speak a bit differently, compared to us short timers; my late father-in-law Charlie spent his younger years working cattle in Montana’s “over east,” which is similar to Australia’s outback. If you’re a ranch hand, you don’t “carry” your tools and supplies, you “pack” them. That’s the way Charlie put it.

Folks who live on the prairie, whether Montanan or Australian, soon learn what survival requires of them: physical strength, tenacity, resourcefulness, family coherency, loyalty, humility, boldness, and it doesn’t hurt to pack a good carbine and side arm.

Back in Prophet Isaiah’s time, folks packed their gods whenever they moved their camp, and it never hurt to have a good fetish along for the journey. But Isaiah tried to enlighten them with God’s words:

Isaiah 46:1-4 ESV Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. (2) They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. (3) “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; (4) even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

Isaiah spoke of God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, who burdened themselves by carrying idols around with them. They were nothing more than dead weight; man-made of wood, stone, precious metals and gems, they couldn’t ease the people’s burdens … they were the people’s burdens. They were impotent and mute, so why would anyone think them worthy of worship?

God’s message to his people? “Stop carrying your own burdens. Stop weighing yourselves down with material possessions that are supposed to make you secure. I Am the One who will bear you up! I am the One who will carry your burdens! I will carry and save you!”

Church, we are God’s chosen people, faith-children of Abraham, priests of God’s new covenant of grace, under his High Priest, Christ Jesus. We must not pack around our impotent security-gods, but call upon the living, self-existent God, who created us to rest in him, to be born, and not to bear. If you have any confusion about who’s packin’ whom in your life, ask the Master Packer to open your eyes, then repent of your sin of self-sufficiency.

Father, reveal to me the inner motives that move me. Show me, Lord, my true purpose for living. Examine me, Lord, for any impurity that inhibits my growth to Christ-likeness. And thank you, Father, for the privilege of praying in Jesus’ name and authority. So be it.

C.S. Lewis on Suffering

Refiner’s Fire

My title for this post sounds like a total bummer, but Uncle Jack’s contribution is just the opposite.

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered [freely]. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and [obstruct] to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
From C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain

I doubt there’s a better explanation for our suffering. Besides that, the greater our suffering in this world, the greater will be our joy when we meet our Savior face-to-face.

Sin produces suffering, but not in a direct proportion. Sometimes the relatively innocent suffer greatly, while truly evil people seem to get off scot-free. Once again, that isn’t God’s fault, as due to God’s gift of free will, and the sin that flows from it, suffering is anything but proportionately distributed. Yes, to those who are not Christ-followers it seems terribly unfair, but justice and fairness are not related. Christ-followers take the fact that God is ultimately just by faith, even though we may not see the short-term justice of any particular situation.

How can we “blindly” place that kind of confidence in a Being that we can’t see? Because we can see what he has done in and for us, and we love him because he first loved us. Christ-followers are the most fortunate people on earth, since we perceive all beauty with gratitude, as a blessing from God, and if we have our heads on straight, we even perceive all suffering with gratitude, as a refiner’s fire allowed by God.

Admittedly, suffering isn’t fun, but thanks to God’s perfect wisdom, it will amplify our blessings in this world, and the next.

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.

About God….

 

About God....

Proof that not all ideas are good ideas.

Click here to view this author’s refreshing ideas about God’s nature and personhood. The author, who apparently is or was associated with MIT—student? professor? staff?—makes no mention of Jesus, so I deduce she or he is not a Christ-follower. And the author’s reference to C.S. Lewis’ insightful thoughts on generic devotion indicate a respect for at least one Christian’s ideas.

This is a good read, with but a shadow of new-age philosophy, and though it is a bit lengthy, reading to the end will reward you with some true wisdom. Thanks for your insights, O nameless contributor.

Conservative Actors and Other Oddities

Wonder of wonders, a Cool Guy Conservative

The Hollywood in-crowd might be called the Liberal Club. It’s like a high school social clique where the movers and shakers hold so much sway that the little people try to be popular by association. The litmus for acceptance to the clique is how well you can humorously slander President Reagan without being brought up on sedition charges. Only the Charlton Hestons of Hollywood dare spurn the liberals, knowing they will become the butt of endless jokes, yet without responding in kind. Can you imagine Heston getting all bitchy about the ridicule? That’s the Liberal Way, not the way of real people.

Speaking of ridicule, have you ever noticed how social liberals react to valid criticism? Name-calling and personal slurs are their specialty, rather like junior high school girls.

I was surprised at how many conservative—that’s a euphemism for Republican—actors there are: Jimmy Stewart. Gene Autry. Cary Grant. Ronald Reagan. Gary Cooper. But wait, I used the present tense in my introduction for conservative actors. I’m afraid the list gets much shorter with that qualification. Let’s see, there’s Adam Sandler, Chuck Norris, Kelsey Grammer, James Caan, Drew Carey … the list goes on to 143, most of whom are new to me, but I’m far from being an authority on celebrities.

And what is a celebrity, anyway? Celebrity comes from celebrate, and I’ve scarcely seen any reason to celebrate most celebrities, unless their stupid choices deserve accolades. Yes, many of them are competent performers, but by that standard shouldn’t a talented physician, machinist, or policeman be celebrated as well?

Of course, you’ve found this tirade on a Christian blog, so maybe I’d better include some Christianistic commentary. One of my pet peeves is the inextricable link between Evangelical Christians and political conservatism. Dubbed the Christian Right, I find myself asking, “What are they right about?” Yes, there are the watershed issues like government supported abortion and school prayer (a non-issue since the early ’60s), on which virtually all Evangelical Christians align themselves to the conservative side, but what about the Second Amendment controversy? True Christ-followers are personal pacifists (as opposed to those who refuse to take arms for any reason) because the New Testament doesn’t command, or even condone, violence for personal reasons. Many will argue that the “turn-the-other-cheek” command applied only to Bible-times, when the Roman occupiers persecuted those who refused to worship the Caesar, and perhaps they’re right. But the line I hear from Christian, Second Amendment supporters smacks strongly of a militant attitude, illustrated by the, “… cold, dead fingers” bumper stickers. Nowhere in the New Testament are we told to defend our rights, but rather to die to self, which includes the rights we hold so dearly.

My friend Steve submitted a valuable qualifier to the issue of Christ-followers taking up arms. He pointed out that we must prepare to defend others’ rights. This is an issue where we must be in touch with our inner motives. Where anger or pride motivate our taking up arms, it is sin. And where our pure motives require armed resistance, we must maintain vigilance over our motives lest the sin of self corrupt our witness and dim our light.

No doubt I’ll catch some flack about that position, but I believe it’s Biblical. And everyone has a right to his opinion. Right?