C.S. Lewis Asks, Do You Have Rats In Your Basement?

cartoon-rat

Honestly, this has little to do with rats or basements, as you’ve probably already guessed. But it has a lot to do with … well, I’ll let Uncle Jack clarify the issue:

We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.
From C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity

One concept that often confuses people is “sins” versus “sin.” Sins(plural form) are simply acts that are contrary to God’s expressed will, whether or not anybody sees you do them. Some clever preacher came up with a catchy phrase about the two kinds of sinful acts: “Sins of commission, and sins of omission,” but differentiating them isn’t always easy. Sins of omission often cause sins of commission because the sinner has neglected the necessary preparation to resist temptation. It’s the old “If I had done this, I wouldn’t have done that.”

Sin(singular form), however, isn’t just one sinful act. It’s the condition humans are born into ever since that fateful day when the first humans first tried to stick it to God. We’ve all seen “fails” videos, but that was the first, and the worst, fail of all. Can you imagine how Adam felt when he realized God wouldn’t accept his cop-out? I’d say it involved the world’s first, and worst, blush. Ever since then we’ve all tried to put one over on God, whether it’s trying to con him with our lame excuses, or simply ignoring him while alleging that he doesn’t exist.

Here’s a clue: your snubbing God doesn’t hurt his feelings. And you don’t have to be an atheist to snub God. Many who claim to be Christians routinely snub him, by refusing to take their feelings, their faults, and their failures to him in prayer.

And speaking—or writing—of prayer, there’s confusion about it, similar to the confusion about sin; prayer, and prayers, aren’t the same thing. “Saying ones prayers,” implies a deliberate, one-time or routine act of devotion to God. And that’s a great thing as far as it goes. But God said he wants us to “pray without ceasing.” Fortunately, he didn’t mean we have to constantly kneel beside our beds praying. It’s much more subtle than that. He meant we need to always see, think, and do things in a way that will allow us to go to him in prayer at any instant. It’s like walking with your loved one; you won’t always have things to say at any given moment, but just being with him or her comforts and affirms you. That’s what relationship is all about.

 

God’s Ten Outcomes

10SuggestionsWe have all seen the sign that says, “They’re not the ten suggestions,” or something like that. Christ-followers like to deface their car’s pristine paint jobs or bumpers with that, and many other messages, hoping it will soak through people’s sin-hardened skulls. Obviously, they intend the slogan as a humorous reminder, or even a revelation, and hope God will use it to make folks think deeper than their appetites.

While God phrased them as “Thou Shalts” and “Thou Shalt Nots,” I have it on good authority that God intended them as neither commandments nor suggestions:

Galatians 3:21-25 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. (22) But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (23) But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. (24) Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25) But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Theyer’s Greek Definitions  adds some insight to the Greek word translated as “tutor”:

paidagōgos
Thayer Definition:
1) a tutor, i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.

That opens a bunch of Biblically relevant thoughts, and here’s just a sample; Apostle Paul wrote a lot about the Mosaic Law’s role in God’s plan of salvation, which, oddly enough, could not save sinners. He referred to it as a judge, a curse, a witness of Christ, a ruler, an arouser of passions, an informer of sin, the strength of sin, and enmity with God.

Yet, with all that, Paul tells us that the law is not in itself evil, but is simply God’s tool for making us aware of our depravity. Of course Jesus, God’s own Son, provided the solution for that depravity, the way by which we might enter into a loving relationship with God Himself. That’s called reconciliation, because through sin we alienated ourselves to God for all time.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) He didn’t intend that statement as a plea for us to obey him, like some star crossed lover begging favors of the object of his affection. Jesus simply stated the outcome for those who love him like he loves us. You could switch the two clauses to better demonstrate their cause/effect relationship: “You will keep my commandments if you love me.”

We English-speakers do tend to get things backward.

“Da Law is Da Law”

"Da law, son, is da law."

“Da law, son, is da law.”

That title seems quite obvious, if a bit folksie. I mean, what would the law be if not the law? What messes people up is the existence of two sets of laws: Physical law, and spiritual law. God created both, and both are quite real and binding.

Folks tend to get a little testy when we fundamentalist, evangelical Christians quote spiritual law to them. For instance, the one that says Jesus is the only way to Father God. I’m no mind-reader, but I suspect a stubborn refusal to change their lifestyle motivates their pique. Or maybe they’re thoughtful objectors, refusing the idea because demanding conformity to one religion, i.e., Christianity, seems too narrow a requirement for a loving God to make.

Jesus was good at spinning parables to illustrate a point, so I’ll try my hand: A man aboard a skydiver drop-plane gazed through the open door at the landscape far below. With the powerful engine droning in his ears and no anxiety to cloud his thinking, he mentally calculated  his precise drop position for a perfect, on-target touchdown.

He knew he still had time to don his sport parachute rig, with all its instrumentation and emergency ‘chute, but he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to go to that much trouble. “After all,” he told himself, “the physical laws aren’t all that binding. Besides, that stupid ‘chute messes up my targeting.”

His pilot tried to tell him there was only one way he could jump out of that airplane and survive the fall, and that was to use his parachute.

“That’s a narrow-minded position to take,” said the expert skydiver, “I’m an expert skydiver, and I can shape my body into a lifting-body to land spot on without a scratch.”

The pilot tried to argue with him, but the man would have none of that nonsense. Just as the pilot thought to bank the plane steeply to the left and prevent the expert skydiver from exiting, the man dove right out the open door, without his parachute. Turned out he was right; he hit the target spot on.

His funeral will be held …

The Bible’s New Testament is God’s spiritual law, also called the law of Christ and the Royal Law, because the King of kings died, was burried, and resurrected to establish it. It’s also called The Perfect Law of Liberty because through Christ we have freedom from sin’s compulsion. Whatever you call it, it’s all love; God’s love brought it about, and our response is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8). It’s as simple as that. All the do’s and don’ts that religion throws at us are just attempts at codifying what should come naturally to believers, as we love because he first loved us.

I have to say, “Feel the love: God’s love.” And the only way to do that is through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Confusing Biblical Principles

Star Trek’s The Borg

You may be wondering how a science fiction special effects feast like the Borg collective relates to my title for this post. If you’re not a Star Trek fan, you may not even know what the Borg is … or are. Keep reading and find out.

When I hear some ignoramus (I nearly said “pinhead,” but Bill O’Rielly probably has a copyright on it.) spouting opinions about how the Bible contradicts itself, how it’s just some old religious white guys’ attempt to control people, and how science blows it out of the firmament, I get heart-sick, and maybe just a bit stomach-sick. Of course, everyone is entitled to his (or her) opinions, even if they bitterly hold and defend them in the face of strong contradictory reasoning. People who regard the Bible through the foggy shades of cynicism refuse to acknowledge any constructive content therein; even the “Golden Rule” becomes jaded in their biased eyes, as they allege that even if Jesus existed, all those thousands of folks couldn’t have heard him. Not to mention the “myth” of the loaves and fishes.

Jesus’ miracles, however, are small fish (excuse the pun) compared to the New Testament’s weightier principles. Teachings such as Jesus’ blood washing away sin truly violate some folks’ sensibilities. For one thing, “sin” is a four-letter word to them (shows ya what they know), and the Bible’s credibility just goes downhill from there.

I must admit that when you dig deeply into God’s Word, things can get confusing, even if you truly believe it. When I study God’s personal nature, I find anything but a high-resolution portrait of him—loads of symbolism, but nothing I can dig my eyes into. That includes the whole tri-une thing, where God is in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, the Bible says in many places that God is One. I’ve arrived at a peaceful reconciliation with the Trinity doctrine, and if you’re interested, here’s my rationale: Comparing God’s scope to that of man is a huge stretch, rather like comparing all the water over the whole earth, to one submicroscopic molecule of water vapor. But comparing the words, “God,” and, “man,” is a bit easier. If I consider each of those words as representing a kind or race of beings, I see that man comprises billions of individual people, while God comprises only three. Yet, with all those human beings, we are truly one in nature, as all of us share numerous key genetic characteristics, or attributes. And similarly, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share key divine attributes, but those three also share one mind.

Obama of Borg

Can you imagine what this world would be like if all human beings shared the same mind? Admittedly, my theory seems like the stuff of science fiction or fantasy, thus explaining the weird photo at the top of this post (The Borg of Star Trek supposedly shared one mind.). That’s the way it seems from the materialistic world view, but no one, including scientists, can honestly maintain that the material universe is all there is. As far as they’re concerned, until “science” officially discovers something, it doesn’t exist. Please keep in mind, I’m not saying my theory—emphasis on theory—holds any water, but like a canvass water bag, though it has plenty of leaks, at least it keeps me cool.

The Bible presents far too many difficult teachings for me to deal with them here, but Tough Questions with R.C. Sproul can certainly help those plagued by curiosity. If you have questions, especially of the nagging kind, don’t just sit on them. Our enemy loves to aggravate reservations of faith and outright doubts. And if you aren’t interested enough to look into the Bible for answers, maybe, just maybe, your master isn’t Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis on “Excessive Selfness”

Once again I can’t hope to improve on, or even approach, Uncle Jack’s ingenious writing, but I must at least attempt to comment on this excerpt from his correspondence with Edward Lofstrom. The following is from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3:

10 June 1962

You are of course perfectly right in defining your problem (which is also mine and everyone’s) as ‘excessive selfness’. But perhaps you don’t fully realise how far you have got by so defining it. All have this disease; fortunate are the minority who know they have it. To know that one is dreaming is to be already nearly awake, even if, for the present, one can’t wake up fully. And you have actually got further than that. You have got beyond the illusion (very common) that to recognise a chasm is the same thing as building a bridge over it.

The frustrating thing about sharing the same problem as everyone else is, that fact doesn’t make it seem any less acute. The last thing I want to hear from a counselor is, “That’s a common problem; don’t let it bother you.”

I don’t care how many others struggle with it! Fact is, it bothers me! Okay?

Any “selfness” is excessive, as it causes all the world’s problems. It was Adam’s sin, and all of us carry it with pride. Just look at little children; their first words are “mine,” and “no,” except for my elder daughter Bethany, whose first word was, “button.”

From then on throughout life, all sins come from that one foundational sin. Is there any wonder why it so concerned Mister Lofstrom and me, and, I hope, you?

Your danger now is that of being hypnotised by the mere sight of the charm, of constantly looking at this excessive selfness.

Boy! Can I relate to that constant self-examination, which, curiously enough, my acquaintance with my Savior severely aggravates. One who has always suffered chronic sickness doesn’t know what it is to be well. But give him just one day of wellness and he’ll never again be happy in sickness.

The important thing now is to go steadily on acting, so far as you can—and you certainly can to some extent, however small—as if it wasn’t there. You can, and I expect you daily do—behave with some degree of unselfishness. You can and do make some attempt at prayer. The continual voice which tells you that your best actions are secretly filled with subtle self-regards, and your best prayers still wholly egocentric—must for the most part be simply disregarded—as one disregards the impulse to keep on looking under the bandage to see whether the cut is healing. If you are always fidgeting with the bandage, it never will.

The enemy of our souls relishes such constant introspection, knowing, as he does, that we will never find anything good there. Instead, we must keep looking up to our Lord, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

What Lewis calls, “acting,” is not hypocrisy, but simply the practice of trying to live up to the standard revealed to us in Christ. We must develop the holiness-habit to overcome the sin-habits acquired over our years as sinners.

Imagine yourself behind the wheel of a car, driving down the highway at speed. Do you stay straight with the road by watching the white line whizzing by next to your front fender? Of course not! If you do that, you will be all over the road, and it will prevent your seeing situations up ahead that will soon be in your lap. Do you study the gauges on the dashboard, read a book, or text a friend? At highway speeds the briefest distraction from the traffic is enough to kill you. Walk through life as if you’re driving on the highway. Your life depends on it.

Enough with the safe driving lecture, and my commentary. I’ll close with the balance of Lewis’ excerpt, as he said it best.

A text you should keep much is mind is I John iii, 20: ‘If our heart condemns us God is greater than our heart.’ I sometimes pray ‘Lord give me no more and no less self-knowledge than I can at this moment make a good use of.’ Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted—i.e., keep on fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep on looking at it.

C.S. Lewis on Humility and Temptation

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote:

You may remember I said that the first step towards humility was to realise that one is proud.

Conviction of sin comes only from God’s Holy Spirit, and self-pride is indeed sinful.

I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues.

That is, after accepting God’s conviction of your sin, confessing it back to him, and trusting Christ for your justification and salvation.

A week is not enough. Things often go swimmingly for the first week.

Call this the “Honeymoon Period.”

Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.

That’s because sin is our natural condition and frame of reference. For a natural person, trying to be good according to God’s absolute standard is like a goldfish trying to live outside of his comfy fishbowl home. It ain’t gonna happen.

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. … That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.

Resisting temptation is like bodybuilding; you don’t know how badly you were out of shape until you begin working out, but you will never get into shape until you persist through the initial pain. Self-control is part of the fruit of God’s Spirit, but you can’t passively receive it and then go on to actually control your impulses. It’s more of a Holy Spirit motivation to get in spiritual shape.

Only Satan makes things easy for us, because we’re predisposed to sin. It’s God who makes our lives hard, by motivating us to swim against our enemy’s current, which, by the way, will carry us to the falls if we refuse to swim for safety.

Bree Finally Submits

Aslan proves Bree is not fearless.

I’m not talking about brie, the cheese, but Bree the talking horse of Narnia fame. C.S. Lewis cast Bree as a gallant warhorse whose gallantry had gone to his head. Thus, he was a major pain in the side of his companions on their journey from Calormen to Narnia. That is, until Aslan scared him out of his wits. I’ll let Lewis reveal the moment of truth in his words:

“Aslan,” said Bree in a shaken voice, “I’m afraid I must be rather a fool.”

“Happy is the Horse who knows that while he is still young. Or the Human either.”

While Jesus instructed his listeners, and us, never to call our brethren, “You fool,” he didn’t say anything about admitting our own foolishness. You must admit to a certain feeling of vindication when an arrogant brother finally confesses his sin and asks forgiveness. But you must also not express sentiments such as, “Well, it’s about time,” even under your breath. The Bible doesn’t name gloating as a sin, but it has a lot to say about the pride that lies behind it.

Apostle Paul gave us a warning that fits nicely here: Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. (Galatians 6:1) Pride is a communicable disease in the church; too easily we detect pride in others, and that stimulates our own pride which, unfortunately, we usually fail to diagnose. So learn from Aslan’s lesson to Bree. When you’re searching out sin, check the mirror first.

My Rights

Americans express a wide range of opinions and beliefs regarding our rights as citizens of the United States of America, many of which are absolute poppycock. One end of the spectrum declares our right to freedom from religion, while the other extreme defends our right to “keep and bear arms” of all kinds and for any purpose. And all of them cite the U.S. Bill of Rights as the basis of their allegations, though such citations are almost always taken out of context.

I see two foundational human rights upon which all other rights derive their validity: First, we have the right to expect God to be true to his divine nature, as his Word declares it. That rules out most popular beliefs about him, such as, “My god is a loving god, who would never condemn his beloved children to perdition simply for violating a few rules.” Please note that I spelled “god” with a small g, because the word, in that context, doesn’t represent the God of the Bible, but is a construct of New Age religion and wishful thinking.

The second foundational human right is hard to accept; in fact, most folks refuse to accept it. That right is: We must expect to receive the just consequences of our actions. Galatians chapter six is a rich source of principles for godly living, including commands to share one another’s burdens, to avoid comparing oneself to others, to support Christian workers, and the Law of Sowing and Reaping. These aren’t just arbitrary rules, but essential principles for effective body-life. Of course there are many more that are just as important in the New Testament, but I’d have to write a book to enumerate them all. Hmmm, maybe I should, but the trouble with that idea is the church would just ignore it right along with the dozens of other books on the same subject that are better than I could ever write.

Yes, obeying all the various aspects of New Testament law is a daunting prospect, but fortunately for us, God provided the Way around the harsh fate that naturally awaits us sinners. Yes, sinners, ’cause nobody’s perfect. If that thought is new to you, I’m curious what rock you’ve been hiding under.

Grasping our rights without accepting the responsibilities that they carry is plain foolish. Now, we don’t want to act like fools, do we?

Adoption: The Compassionate Option

Today’s Our Daily Bread by Dave Brannon … well maybe you should read it first.

Thanks, that saves me the trouble of telling you what he said. Speaking of adoption, though, my late wife Nancy was adopted into a loving family as an infant. She never had to face potential adoptive parents’ rejection as did the teenage student in Dave’s story. Unfortunately, I only met her adoptive father once before he died, but he impressed me as a man of deep, quiet conviction, full of love to the point of overflowing. Bruce Cunningham’s loving example taught Nancy to love, and in God’s perfect timing she came to love her heavenly Father. That’s not such a huge transition if you’ve known an earthly father’s love.

None of us are truly orphans or abandoned children of God’s creation. Our Father is still very much alive; always was, and always will be. He didn’t abandon us, but because of Adam’s bum deal with the serpent, we’re all born separated from our Father. When we reach the age of accountability and have to choose right or wrong, we invariably choose the wrong.

Galatians 4:4-7   But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.[a] Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[b] Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

As God created us to love and be loved by him, that separation from him leaves us wanting, rather like the aging orphan who never gets adopted. If we believe in God at all, we often feel that he has abandoned us. To assuage that feeling we look for love in all the wrong places (appologies to Johnny Lee), and settle for second best. Some of us fall for religion’s appeal, hoping to find God there, thinking if we can just “get it right,” God will reward us with his love. Others give up on God, bitterly denying his existence and hating anyone who “tries to shove religion down my throat.”

Even with all our thrashing around, trying different religions, philosophies, and political parties, we can never regain God’s peace by our own efforts, on our own terms. That’s why God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The first chapter of John’s gospel breaks it down into simple terms: 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. Most everyone has heard of John 3:3, where it tells us that we must be reborn, but vss. 1-21 give a more complete picture of this eternally essential truth.

Remember God’s compassion toward you, and rejoice in your adoption as his sons and daughters. Chances are good that I’m preaching to God’s adoptees, but no matter how long you’ve been walking with God in his Spirit, you will profit from reviewing the basics. After all, God commanded us to be ready to explain the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).

Seeing is Believing

So goes the skeptic’s creed. Applied to matters of faith, they don’t know how right, or wrong, they are. The author of the Biblical letter to the Hebrews defined faith with poetic brevity and impact: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) In fact, we call Hebrews chapter eleven, “The Faith Chapter,” so if you want to know more about the Biblical teaching of faith, just click on the link.

Please bear with me for a (hopefully) brief aside. Notice my qualifying adjective in the last sentence of the paragraph above: “Biblical.” That’s a crucial qualifier because so many Christians cling to non-Biblical beliefs about faith, such as the “blab-it-and-grab-it,” Word of Faith doctrines. A very few Bible passages, taken out of context, seem to support it, but to its preachers it’s simply a cash cow.

Now, back to our program. We all typically see what we expect, or want to see. Just ask police officers about the vast variety of answers they get when questioning witnesses to an event. Religious people want to see evidences of God’s existence, but atheists, with verbal vitriol, refuse to see such evidences. In fact, they both see exactly what they want.

CaptureWitness the koala cartoon, which is the Australian Skeptics’ mascot. Though they don’t realize it, that magnifying glass illustrates the fallacy in skepticism; such optical instruments are ideal for close inspection, but limiting ones sight to its minuscule field of view prevents taking in the big picture. And that’s where you find God.

Take, for instance, the old cartoon character, Mister Magoo. Though he was practically blind, he gleefully proceeded through life as if he could see clearly. Similarly, skeptics, though they see all of nature’s evidences for God’s existence, can’t see the connection that’s so obvious to believers.

As a Christ-follower, I see God in a beautiful spring day, a child’s innocent face, the night sky, a moving cloudscape, the scent and beauty of lilacs in bloom, in fact, everywhere I look. Even this world’s ugliness demonstrates God’s beauty and power, as in perceiving ugliness, which is sin’s product (not necessarily individual sins, but humanity’s sinfulness), we recognize the beauty of God’s holiness.

Yet, those who don’t believe are without excuse:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18-23)