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.
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.
Does anyone else love to hear the dentist utter the word, “Extraction?”
Okay, I lied, but with the benign purpose of illustrating a crucial, Scriptural principle. If I’d really meant the “love the word extraction” bit, the authorities wouldn’t allow me to live in the general population. Who knows where such insanity would lead.
As Lou Costello often said, “I’m a baaad boy,” for neglecting my dental health, resulting in the need to extract my broken tooth. While that’s one kind of extraction, we also necessitate another kind of painful extraction through neglect. Extracting habitual sin from our lives is more painful than getting a tooth pulled, even if the pain isn’t physical. And we must do it to alleviate an even more persistent disease than an abscessed tooth, yet without anesthesia. That’s right, we can’t even dull the pain of sin extraction, but knowing the blessed relief that awaits that procedure makes it bearable.
Romans chapter six is a pivotal point in the New Testament. It takes God’s teaching about law versus grace, and applies it to how He expects us to live our lives.
Romans 6:12-14 NKJV Therefore (since you are, “dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” you must) not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. (13) And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (14) For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
The command is as clear as any in God’s Word; letting sin “reign” in your mortal body means embracing its power to rule your life. Jesus defeated sin, and thus death, by His perfect sacrifice, a spiritual victory through His physical death, burial and resurrection. You and I, however, are still stuck with our mortal flesh until we shed it when He calls us home.
David Mathis, of desiringGod, made a helpful observation about the catchphrase, “We are in the world, but not of it.” I followed his word-search, and discovered it is not in God’s Word as stated. Brother David pointed out that God, in John 17, expresses the thought in the opposite order.
John 17:14-19 NKJV I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (15) I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. (16) They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (17) Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (18) As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. (19) And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
First, note verse fifteen, above. Jesus prayed for His Father to keep us from the evil one. That means Satan has no control over us, as long as we are in Christ. Also note that Jesus prayed for our sanctification, or separation, from the world’s seductions. As far as the “not of, but in” statement, you can see those two clauses are not only in the opposite order of the catchphrase, but there is far more to being, “in the world,” than just existing here; Jesus never intended that we should simply endure until He takes us away, but He sent us into the world on His Great Commission.
Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Just remember that Jesus’ Great Commission—which is actually our great commission—is just one of many commands He gave us through the New Testament writers, and all of them spring directly from God’s Great Commandment to love Him with our entire being, and to love others as ourselves. So, back to that painful, sin-extraction, which is the only way we can fulfill our Lord’s Great Commandment, and thus, His Great Commission. Bad habits are hard to break, but God gave us the power of choice. Will you use it to placate your flesh, or to obey God?
1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Of course, you’ve read this passage before, as I have, but this time it called out to me. God’s promises are real! I know that because 1 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us,” and God’s Word never fails, any more than He can fail. When God says, “… to the glory of God through us,” He is telling us that we bring glory to Him by believing and living out His promises. That’s all I want to do, all I was born to do. Anything less and I will have lived in vain, despite all the wonderful (yeah, right!) things I’ve done.
Even as a young Catholic I knew God’s Word was true, and The Truth, just as Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Me,” singular, exclusive, absolute. And sixty-eight years of life haven’t changed my certainty of that eternal fact. “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)
Nuts! (politely speaking) to all the naysayers and nitpicking “brethren,” who strain at a gnat, just to swallow a camel. Who cares whether I’m a Calvinist or Wesleyan/Arminian, or a pre, post, or pan millennialist? Jesus died for me, and I love Him for it.
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.
Though 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!
While I cannot say that much of this article will stick in my feeble memory, I learned a lot in principle. Though it only dealt with the teaching of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement, it included criticisms from quite a few theologians, both those who agree with the teaching, and those who disagree. Those brief statements taught me that many schools of thought exist regarding the minute details of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, and without studying them in great detail, I suspect that they all contribute a grain of truth to the subject.
My issue lies with the theologians who paint with broad strokes in strictly human colors. The gospel of Christ is both far more simple, and infinitely more complex than anyone can grasp. All we can and should do is believe what the Bible says, and not a word more, but even that takes great discernment; while every word is true, they are just words that can be defined variously, depending on what the reader needs or wants to see. That’s why we require God’s Holy Spirit to illuminate the Word to our understanding, an understanding that is as personal as each one who reads and studies it. But even that is an inadequate statement of principle, as whatever understanding we take from God’s Word must conform to His Word as a whole.
As the guy said, “It’s … complicated.” But there is as much danger in oversimplifying God’s message as in overcomplicating it. If conceptualizing God’s Word seems complicated, it is we who cause the confusion.
Personally? I subscribe to Apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 2:2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Psalm 42 speaks to me today as balm to my depressed soul. It doesn’t counter this depression, but encourages me in it.
Depression always looks for a scapegoat, and as I refuse to allow my depression to place the blame on my faithful God and Savior, it falls on me by default. Why would I tend to blame God? Because for years I’ve begged him to motivate me, to grow me up into a true man, ie., a Christlike man, but I still wallow in my passive depression, unable to move against this mess I’ve created around me.
I’m talking about a literal mess, as interpersonal relationships evade me at present. I look around this apartment and see tons of stuff closing in on me, chores that I haven’t done, my body settling out of condition, and words not writing themselves (even though I now type away).
Is God not strong enough to overcome my lack of will? I know better than that! Does he not love me as his word leads me to believe? That cannot be, as I know his love experientially.
That leaves just one possible explanation; my loving, faithful, gracious Lord is working in the background, unseen and unfelt, and in his perfect timing this will all make sense to me.
Psalm 42 has two very similar verses that directly minister to me:
42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.
42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, my God.
Apostle Paul had the unfortunate habit in his letters of starting thoughts with, “Therefore,” which Greek word, according to Thayer’s Greek Definitions means: “then, therefore, accordingly, consequently, these things being so.” He was so fond of that word that he used it 497 times, with over half of those instances translated in the KJV as, “therefore.”
Simply stated, that is an easy way of keeping statements in the context of what came before, without having to repeat it. I said, “easy,” but to correctly understand what a passage means, a student must know what came before “therefore.” The more analytical preachers have a saying, “A text without a context is a pretext,” and that applies to garden-variety Christ-followers as well.
You already know that the only way to faithfully walk with Jesus is to internalize his word through study, memorization, meditation and prayer. 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us what that means: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. “Rightly dividing” means, “to dissect correctly.”
Have you ever correctly dissected portions of God’s word? It can seem daunting at first, but as you’ve seen, it’s not an option, and with so many excellent Bible study tools freely available on the Internet, you have no excuse for ignorance. I’ve listed them in a previous post, but in case you missed it, here they are again:
The one I use most often is e-Sword, possibly the best over all Bible study software out there. Author Rick Meyers offers it free-of-charge as a ministry, but after you use it for a while you will feel obligated to help support his work. The free version comes with the KJV and KJV + Strong’s numbers, which are linked to the Strong’s Dictionaries that also accompany the free download. Other free resources are available by an easy selection box within the application itself. Besides those, Meyers has provided links to premium resources, available from their publishers for a considerable discount. My personal e-Sword installation contains less-than $50 dollars worth of premium resources that would normally cost hundreds.
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 Lordis the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
His praise endures forever.