Lessons From the Rich, Young Ruler

Today’s Our Daily Bread title is, “Giving It To God.” So, what is, “It,” and why? Let’s put the account of, “The Rich, Young Ruler,” under a magnifying glass to find out.

All three synoptic gospels cover this event, so we know it is note-worthy. Luke said the guy was a ruler, though he didn’t mention his jurisdiction. Matthew and Mark said he was young, which agrees with his inquisitiveness. As an aside, have you ever noticed that as we age we tend to “know” everything worth knowing? Truth is, when we quit learning we quit growing, and anything that has quit growing is dead. You may think you’ve quit growing because you haven’t grown taller in years, but your cells keep reproducing to replace any damaged or dead cells, or if you’re a body builder you are growing muscle mass (to impress the opposite sex or enhance your self-worth?). Anyway, let’s see what we can learn from that inquisitive leader.

  • The young man ran up and knelt before Jesus (Mark 10:17), showing that he was desperate to learn, and considered Jesus his superior.
  • He called Jesus, “good Teacher,” showing his esteem for him.
  • He said, “What shall I do …?” which from the outset was the wrong question. So Jesus answered it anyway, but not in the way the young man would have preferred.
  • He used the phrase, “inherit eternal life,” demonstrating that he realized simply being a religiously faithful Jew didn’t entitle him to gain eternal life.
  • Jesus asked him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but one: God.” (Mark 10:18) Jesus gave him the choice of either retracting his “good” statement, or admitting that Jesus was God. But Jesus left that hanging, as he narrowed in on his instruction.
  • Jesus said, “You know the commandments ….” And Matthew’s narration has him saying, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The young man follows that with, “Which ones? (Mark 10:19)
  • Then Jesus obliges him with six of the Ten Commandments (five in Luke). Matthew adds part of the Great Commandment, making it seven (Matthew 19:18-19). Mark’s account extrapolates “Do not covet,” to “Do not defraud,” in the spirit of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
  • Matthew’s account quotes the young man as replying, “All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?” Mark and Luke leave out the question, which is implied. We can safely infer that the religious young man sensed he was falling short of God’s requirements, despite his faithful obedience to Moses’ Law. That speaks … no … screams of religion’s impotence in the spiritual realm. Matthew’s inclusion of, “love your neighbor as yourself,” plows even closer to God’s true requirements for receiving eternal life, but it’s still no cigar (so to speak). So, what in this guy’s religious observance is still lacking?
  • “Sell what you have,” as in, liquidate your possessions, “and give to the poor.” Please note that Jesus didn’t say, “make the check out to, J-E-S-U-S–S-O-N–O-F–J-O-S-E-P-H.” So, where would the money have gone? Straight to heaven, via the stomachs of those who couldn’t otherwise eat. That’s what “love your neighbor as yourself” truly means. Should Jesus have considered the possibility of creating a welfare class of “po folks” who feel entitled to support? Of course not! In those days people were rarely poor due to their own laziness. Unlike today, able-bodied people always found at least menial work sufficient to keep themselves from starving.
  • So, how did this rich young ruler respond to Jesus’ advice? He walked away dejected, as it was just too much to ask. His response typifies today’s attitude toward possessions. Of course, that’s only the unbelievers’ attitude. Right? Sorry, but wrong. Simply persuading today’s pew-sitters to tithe is a major chore, let alone prying them loose from their excess possessions. Most churches have to beg and plead for the funds necessary to keep the lights on and the preacher’s kids in shoes. This should not be!

Have we learned nothing over the years of hearing this true story from our pulpits? Apparently, most of us have missed Jesus’ lesson. We conservatives constantly bellyache about our federal welfare state, yet few of us are willing to sacrifice our affluent lifestyles to give genuinely needy people a godly alternative. Are cars, entertainment systems, toys, recreational activities and “financial security” really important enough to disobey our Lord Jesus for them?

We call ourselves “Christian,” but we ignore Jesus’ Great Commandment. How does that work?

We praise God with emotional tears and uplifted hands, but we refuse to glorify him with our abilities, and the funds we derive from them. We act like self-made men, owing nothing to anyone—including God—for what we can do, and still we wonder why God’s church is stalled in its advance against hell’s gates.

I find myself asking, “Do I truly belong to heaven, standing in Jesus’ presence for eternity? Or does my self-centered attitude actually belong in hell?”

There! I said my piece.

I would like to recommend a blog that I just followed: No Apologies Allowed — Weekly apologetics cartoons for the faithful, the faithless, and the full-of-its. The cartoon above is from a post titled, “Are our protestations prepping us for judgment?” I submitted a lengthy comment to that post, and to improve the chances of your reading it, here it is:

You wrote, “Yet just as you can’t ignore natural laws and get away unharmed, so, too, can we not ignore the moral law within our consciences and expect to avoid the consequences.”

I maintain that, while moral law is within our consciences, God’s immutable spiritual law is independent of conscience. One of those spiritual laws is the Law of Sowing and Reaping, which works both in the spiritual and the natural plain. Whether we try to defy God, or gravity, we will reap the consequences.

Regarding the question of judgment for the church’s sin, Jesus bore the world’s sin-punishment on the cross; he paid the price to buy us back from Satan, to whom we individually sold ourselves when we first sinned. But Hebrews 10:26-31 (Darby) tells us, “For where we sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains any sacrifice for sins,
(27) but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and heat of fire about to devour the adversaries.
(28) Anyone that has disregarded Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses:
(29) of how much worse punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and esteemed the blood of the covenant, whereby he has been sanctified, common, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
(30) For we know him that said, To me belongs vengeance; *I* will recompense, saith the Lord: and again, The Lord shall judge his people.
(31) It is a fearful thing falling into the hands of the living God.”

We live under the covenant of grace, and God’s grace is indeed infinite regarding our human frailties. But I’m not sure how far God stretches his grace toward those who usurp his authority, propagate false teachings and presumptuously sin (deliberately test God’s grace). Attempting to walk the boundary between the forgivable and the unforgivable is a dangerous game pursued only by those who do not love God. But those who do stand squarely on the solid Rock of our faith, the incarnate Word of God.

Thing is, those who argue about what is or isn’t sin, or what you can get away with as a Christian are missing the gospel’s point entirely. The writer of Hebrews said: Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: (Hebrews 12:14 NKJV) If God told his church to pursue holiness, he can’t have been referring to Christ’s holiness imputed to us because we already have that. Apostle Paul wrote: Having therefore these promises (that if we separate ourselves from those who are worldly, God will be to us a Father, and we shall be to him sons and daughters), beloved, let us purify ourselves from every pollution of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear. (2 Corinthians 7:1 Darby) The problem with today’s church is we simply do not fear God. As long as that is true, we will never glorify God and our praises are worse-than useless.

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.

Bible Doctrine—What Really Matters?

Huh?

Today I happened upon two words that intrigued me: Supralapsarianism, and Infralapsarianism (just sound them out). Only a theologian could come up with stuff like that. So I Googled them and found they are two schools of thought about “ordering the soteriological elements of God’s eternal decree.” That enlightening information simply lit the mud-puddle more brightly. But wait! There are two more, for no extra charge: Amyraldism and Arminianism (don’t ask). Here’s a sample of what the first two describe, as far as the order of events in God’s Plan of Salvation (soteriology):

Supralapsarianism
1. Elect Some, Reject the Rest (before creation)
2. Create
3. Permit Fall
4. Provide Salvation for the Elect
5. Call Elect to Salvation

And just for comparison, here’s another:

Infralapsarianism
1. Create
2. Permit Fall
3. Elect Some, Pass Over the Rest (after creation)
4. Provide Salvation for the Elect
5. Call the Elect to Salvation

As you can see, there’s not a whole heck of a lot of difference between them, and Calvinistic theologians get into long, involved debates over which is God’s honest truth. Funny thing is, most of those fancy, theological words aren’t even in the Bible.

Actually, that’s not funny at all.

My question: Does splitting theological hairs really matter, except for proving oneself right and another wrong? Tell you what, that smacks pretty strongly of vain pride.

Apostle Paul stated this soteriological thing most simply:

For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Sure, other Biblical teachings matter a lot, but once you are reborn by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s all a matter of growing toward spiritual maturity. Should you put yourself before the brethren? Of course not; God’s Word teaches us to love others, and put their welfare before your own. In fact, that’s pretty much the bottom line of spiritual maturity.

Trouble is, you and I have witnessed lots of church folks who don’t seem to have grasped love’s importance. Sure, they’re religious enough, but Apostle James had some choice things to say about that:

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:26-27)

See that last part, about widows and orphans? That’s called putting others first. God’s requirements are all fulfilled in one word: LOVE. Apostle John put it best:

In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:10,11)

And that’s what really matters.

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.

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 right-wing 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 of 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.”

The southern sheriff was right, “Da law is da law,” and for those of us whom Christ bought with his his very life, that is the law of love.

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 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, greater than comparing all the water over the whole earth to one molecule of the substance. But comparing just the words, “God,” and, “man,” is a bit easier. If I consider each of those words as representing a kind or 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 all things spiritual seem to those invested in the materialistic world view, but no one, including scientists, can reasonably maintain that the material universe is absolutely 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 literally 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. So, back to Mr. Lofstrom’s issue:

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 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.