Light In A Dark Place—A Reprise


Particularly memorable for me is a scene in C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle. A group of dwarfs have followed the band of Aslan-followers into a rundown shed.

Inside Lucy, Peter, and the other Aslan-followers find sunlight and growing things. It’s like Narnia of old. The dwarfs, however, huddle in a corner, afraid and wary.

The children try to coax the dwarfs out of the huddle they’re in with some fresh fruit. However, the dwarfs grouse and complain about the dark, about the smelly hay Lucy is trying to force on them. In the end, they remain blind to the beauty around them while the children who follow Aslan move further up and further in. The walls of the cottage are simply gone. All of Narnia, newer and better, is before them.

Whatever C. S. Lewis intended with that scene, I think it accurately portrays the difference between those of us whose spiritual eyes have been opened and those still blinded—by sin, and doubt, the world, riches, worries, the idol of self-effort, what have you.

The thing is, none of us can do a single thing to restore sight. We can plead with God to restore sight, but we can’t do it. Not for ourselves and not for anyone else.

So, do we pray for the blind and walk away?

Not if we take seriously what Jesus said.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:14-16).

It seems to me our job is to shine our light—not in a closet, but out in the open where people are looking.

I think that makes some of us uncomfortable. Maybe we mix up what Jesus said about praying in secret and giving in secret with doing good works. Our prayers and our alms-giving are not supposed to be done in a way that has people noticing what we’re doing.

But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you (Matt. 6:3-6).

So prayer and giving—in secret. Good works—out in the open.

But there’s another key. When our good works get attention, they ought not earn us applause. Our good works should spur others to give God glory.

That’s the other part that makes us uncomfortable, I think. How do we get people to credit God, not us, for something we do for His kingdom?

The “ah, shucks, it wasn’t much” approach comes across as false humility and in the end belittles the good work and consequently the one receiving it and God who should receive the glory.

The Apostle Paul didn’t seem to have this problem. When he healed a lame man in Lystra, the people started calling him and Barnabas gods. Their response?

When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God (Acts 14:14-15a, emphasis added).

Perhaps we get confused about who’s light we’re shining, and that’s why it feels uncomfortable to us to deflect praise to God.

If someone handed me the keys to someone else’s car, should I stand around hemming and hawing as if somehow to refuse to take the keys that don’t belong to me is an embarrassment? Why would it be embarrassing? They don’t belong to me. It’s just a straight, matter of fact. “Oh, perhaps you misunderstood,” I’d say. “Those keys aren’t mine. They belong to someone else.”

So with praise that belongs to God.

The source of the light in this dark world is God Himself which is why the praise should be His.

This article is a revised version of one that first appeared here in May, 2011.

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Clinging To Wilting Flowers — A Reprise


Eight years ago, before the 2010 mid-term elections, I heard about a book by Wayne Grudem, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Mind you, I haven’t read the book, but I heard him speak on Family Life Today. As part of his talk, Mr. Grudem “debunked” the idea that some Christian teachers express—namely, that the Christian should not focus on the political arena because the way to change culture is to make disciples.

Both guest and hosts chuckled at this view, apparently because of the reality, that no matter what we do to present Christ, not everyone will accept Him. The implication clearly was, This view is not a practical way to impact the culture. Interestingly, Mr. Grudem made no effort to portray this position as unbiblical.

And how could he, for it seems to me to be thoroughly biblical, perhaps the only biblical approach to politics. Yes, we should vote. Yes, we should be informed. Yes, some Christians will be called by God to serve Him and others by holding elected office, which necessitates involvement in politics. But what about the rest of us? Should we be manning the picket lines, attending the rallies, writing our congressmen?

I don’t think any of that is wrong, but we believers need to be sure we aren’t clinging to wilting flowers. What do I mean?

James 1:11 says

For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

And Isaiah 40:7 says

The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.

Life here on earth is as wilting flowers. Later James says our lives are like fog. So why would we put an overemphasis on holding on to that which is so temporary?

Paul spells it out in Philippians. In talking about false teachers, he says in 3:19-20

whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly wait for a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Emphasis mine)

So I wonder if too many of us Christians don’t have our citizenship status mixed up. I wonder how many of us are actually eagerly waiting for Jesus.

I first got a glimpse of what citizenship in heaven would look like in comparison to citizenship on earth when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. Here’s a sample.

I got out. The light and coolness that drenched me were like those of summer morning, early morning a minute or two before the sunrise, only that there was a certain difference. I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got “out” in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair …

At first, of course, my attention was caught by my fellow passengers, who were still grouped about in the neighbourhood of the omnibus, though beginning some of them, to walk forward into the landscape with hesitating steps. I gasped when I saw them. Now that they were in the light, they were transparent—fully transparent when they stood between me and it, smudgy and imperfectly opaque when they stood in the shadow of some tree. They were, in fact, ghosts … I noticed that the grass did not bend under their feet: even the dew drops were not disturbed.

Then some re-adjustment of the mind or some focussing of my eyes took place, and I saw the whole phenomenon the other way round. The men were as they always had been as all the men I had known had been perhaps. It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison. Moved by a sudden thought, I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy which was growing at my feet. The stalk wouldn’t break. I tried to twist it, but it wouldn’t twist. I tugged till the sweat stood out on my forehead and I had lost most of the skin off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond.

No wilting flower, that. So why would I cling to the passing-away kind?

The Magnitude Of God


Center of just one galaxy, our own.

There really is no way we humans can grasp the enormity, the sovereignty, the power and ability of our God. He simply is more than our minds can deal with. Our minds have limits; God does not.

So He says in Psalm 139, through the pen of David:

How precious are your thoughts to me, O God.
How vast is the sum of them.
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with you.

God’s thoughts about me, as I understand this, are close to uncountable. And I’m just one of His children. He also thinks of the other 7 billion people on earth now, and on the billions that came before. Not just passing thoughts, but thoughts that can only be compared in number to the sand. That many thoughts for each person!

Then there’s the statement in Psalm 145 that simply says: “His greatness is unsearchable.” Meaning, His greatness is beyond our comprehension, it is inscrutable, unfathomable. It’s “impossible to measure the extent of” it.

We humans tend to pride ourselves on “getting to the bottom” of everything. But I recently discovered that there are a lot more things that we simply don’t understand than I had previously realized. Some of the things are seemingly trivial and silly, but some have wide implications. And I’m talking about things that are part of our physical existence. There are far more things if we open up the discussion to God and the supernatural. In fact, if it weren’t for the Bible, we wouldn’t know anything about the spiritual really. We’d be guessing, wondering around in the kiddie pool of supposition.

Perhaps the caper is a portion of Isaiah 40, well, a couple portions. First verses 12-14:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

Just in those few questions, it’s clear that no human knows what God knows. Even in our technological age.

Second is verse 26:

Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

Can you imagine, God naming all the stars? We don’t even know for sure how many galaxies there are, and now some question how many universes exist.

Some people doubt God’s ability to open the womb of a woman past child-bearing age, as He did for Sarah, or to send the ten plagues on Egypt, or to provide the people of Israel with manna in the wilderness, or to shut the mouths of the lions that Daniel spent the night with, and on and on.

Seriously, what can’t God do?

From God’s vast knowledge and ability, there’s one more thing that is rather stunning, I think. Romans 8 informs us who are His children, that nothing in our knowledge or experience can separate us from His love:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Well, since the only One who falls into the “uncreated” category is God, I think that statement is pretty all-encompassing.

I supposed because God is so matchless, so unsearchable, so untamed, as C. S. Lewis wonderfully reminded us in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, that some people become too nervous around Him. They like to be in control, to manage circumstances and manipulate people. But God is not to be moved off His mark. He’s not going to be intimidated into giving up His lunch money. He can’t be controlled and He can’t be ignored.

I think above all else, the atheists that prowl among Christian blogs show that they can’t ignore God, even in their unbelief.

The Pharisees and other religious Jews did the same with Jesus. They couldn’t simply ignore Him. They had to send their disciples after Him to try and trap Him, to try and trip Him up. When they finally had Him in their grasp, they thought they had won. Little did they realize they had played right into His hand.

Peter lets us know that Jesus appearing when He did was simply the fulfillment of God’s plan set in motion before the foundation of the earth.

For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20-21)

Imagine, planning the events of Christmas, then Easter, before creation. I have trouble planning a series of books so that things will come out the way I want them to. God has no trouble dealing with time, space, matter, energy, personalities, and the other created beings we can’t even see.

I suppose those who set themselves against God might simply be intimidated. Easier to simply deny His existence than to actually admit He is too great to contain.

Isaiah 40 again:

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
My way is hidden from the LORD,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.

His understanding isn’t the only thing that is inscrutable!

Then There Is Christmas


All too quickly Thanksgiving Day has passed and we are racing on toward Christmas. I know when I was a kid, I looked so forward to Christmas. As I grew older, however, Thanksgiving began to take first place as the holiday I most loved. Now I don’t have any favorites. Both are great in their own way.

The thing about Christmas, it’s pretty hard to hide the “Christ” part of the holiday. Oh, sure, some people try in various ways, but in the end somehow the idea still seeps through that there is religious significance to the day.

Yes, we most likely have all heard that Christmas had pagan roots and practices that Christians co-opted, but the fact is, if Christ had not been born, there would be no followers of Jesus to impact the culture so much that such a day as Christmas overshadowed the other winter celebrations and practices.

In the twenty-first century Christmas is as much under attack in the US as it has ever been, largely because God and His work in the world is under attack. More and more people simply do not believe in Him—or believe in Him the way the Bible reveals Him.

Over and over I hear how impossible things like miracles are because there’s no verification of them, apart from the Biblical record which is discounted because, after all, the people that wrote it were superstitious dimwits who didn’t know anything about science.

What those who use this approach don’t realize is that the people of the first century were people just like us. They were not imagining God when there was a gap in their understanding of the way things work, a lack of scientific knowledge, as so many atheists assert.

C. S. Lewis, who was himself an atheist for a good portion of his life, understood this argument against belief in God better than someone who has only heard others declare it. He wrote a whole book dealing with miracles, which seem to trip up so many atheists. Lewis looked particularly at the Incarnation, specifically at the virgin birth, as evidence for God.

You will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancé was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. … When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancé’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records of miracles teach the same thing. In such stories the miracles excite fear and wonder (that is what the very word miracle implies) among spectators, and are taken as evidence of supernatural power. If they were not known to be contrary to the laws of nature how could they suggest the presence of the supernatural? How could they be surprising unless they were seen to be exceptions to the rules? And how can anything be seen to be an exception till the rules are known? … If St. Joseph had lacked faith to trust God or humility to perceive the holiness of his spouse, he could have disbelieved in the miraculous origin of her Son as easily as any modern man; and any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as St. Joseph did. (from Miracles by C. S. Lewis, emphasis mine)

Pretty clear. The issue isn’t that our scientific knowledge has advanced so much we no longer believe in the supernatural, but that our understanding of God has diminished. Anyone who believes that God is all powerful has no problem understanding that He can do what seems extraordinary and would not happen apart from Him.

A virgin birth if there is no god? Of course that would be impossible. But God changes the equation. Factoring Him into history, things that could not have happened become understandable, even expected in a surprising kind of way. We don’t know what God will do or when He will do it, but we know that He acts in ways that aren’t limited by the physical laws He established and upholds. So a virgin birth? Sure. A resurrected Savior? Absolutely. A returning king? Without a doubt!

Published in: on November 24, 2017 at 4:58 pm  Comments (11)  
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The Flaw In Atheist Thinking


Miracles_coverIn remembrance of C. S. Lewis upon the 50th anniversary of his passing, I reread one of his books entitled Miracles.

Lewis, himself having been an atheist, brought a perspective I had never considered before. He made clear how irrational it is to try and prove the Supernatural by using the Natural. It can’t be done because the two are separate entities.

It’s like two scholars debating the scope of knowledge. One might say mathematics is the only field of study. The other might argue that no, literature is also a field of study, wholly different and separate from mathematics.

Sorry, the first one says. I can find no evidence for literature.

That’s because you’re only looking at the properties of mathematics, counters the other.

Where else would you expect me to look? his friend answers. I’m searching and searching in the vast field of knowledge, and there is no sign of literature.

Don’t you see, says the second professor, your search is limited. If you look beyond math, you’ll find literature.

How can I look beyond the only thing that’s there?

And so the argument would continue. The first professor cannot grasp the idea that the field of study with which he is familiar is not the sum of all knowledge, and the second professor can’t grasp how he can demonstrate with math how literature exists.

He might think of ways that math and poetry are alike, how math is the basis of music and music is an art akin to literature. He can even point out how literature has structure much the same way math does. But none of those evidences will be proof to the professor not willing to consider that math is not the sum total of all knowledge.

In the same way, the atheist who believes the natural world is the sum total of all that exists will not find any “circumstantial evidence,” to use a law term, to be compelling proof that something, let alone Someone, exists beyond the scope of what his five senses can detect.

It actually makes perfect sense. The flaw in the logic, however, is the assumption that Humankind can detect all that exists with our five senses: atheists take that as a given which needs no proof.

However, it is a false assumption that nature itself exposes. The fact that we did not for thousands of years detect other universes did not write them out of existence. The fact that we did not detect atoms and subatomic particles for thousands of years, did not negate their reality. Our five senses failed.

Relying upon the use of our five senses, we were wrong to think the earth was flat, that the sun rotates around the earth, that there were no other stars than the ones we can see, and any number of other errant ideas. Our five senses, then, are fallible.

Some might counter that, in fact, it is the advancement of knowledge which has allowed Humankind to correct these wrong beliefs by the use of our senses. Our technological improvements have made it possible for us to see further and look at smaller.

But that doesn’t address the issue. The human capacity to detect reality is flawed. We can go for generations believing a lie because our five senses have restrictions. What restrictions might they have now to which we’re oblivious?

An honest person will admit that we cannot know what restrictions are limiting our understanding. Which of course opens the door to the Supernatural. Because we don’t see, touch, taste, feel, or hear God in the same way we do our sister or boss or neighbor, does not mean God does not exist.

The ironic thing is that Humankind for centuries accepted the existence of the Supernatural, in large part because of their five senses, but also, I’d suggest, because of a spiritual sense.

Biblical history records that humans had encounters with God–that He insinuated Himself in the affairs of Humankind–so their five senses verified the existence of the supernatural. Some heard God’s voice, others saw His Shekinah glory, still others felt His Consuming Fire. Others, however, received visions and were filled with His Spirit.

What’s happened, then, it would seem, is what happens with all our physical capacities when they aren’t used: they atrophy. The ability people once had to interact with God, dependent upon their spiritual vision, faded, and had God left us to ourselves, I suspect we would have completely forgotten all about Him. Thankfully, He had no intention of abandoning us.

His greatest intervention was His decision to take on the appearance of a man, live so as to show us the Father, and die in order to make a way for us to once again interact with God.

Jesus Christ penetrated the natural on behalf of the Supernatural to restore our faulty, faded vision–the kind that allows us to see beyond the restrictions of our finite senses.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in November 2013.

Published in: on August 17, 2017 at 5:43 pm  Comments (10)  
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Combating Satan


Scripture, of course, is the only reliable source of information on the subject of combating Satan. In Ephesians the Apostle Paul names the armor we need for the battle we’re engaged in “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12b).

I’ve most often heard the armor identified as the list in verses 14-17: truth, righteousness, the “preparation of the gospel of peace,” faith, salvation, and the word of God. Each of those elements Paul aligns with physical armor of his day.

Too often that’s where we stop since the metaphor stops, but Paul went on to name another vital element we need in our battle against the schemes of the devil—prayer.

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph 6:18-20)

Pray for all saints. Pray for those who are charged with proclaiming the gospel.

Years ago when I wrote a series of posts about Satan, I couldn’t help but think about C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. This little book contains supposed letters of instruction from an under-secretary of a department in Satan’s organization to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter. At one point he gives his thoughts about rendering prayer ineffective:

The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether … If this fails you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by actions of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. (pp. 33-34)

Screwtape goes on to say that should “the Enemy” defeat Wormwood’s first attempt at misdirection, all is not lost. He can still disrupt “his patient’s” prayer by getting him to pray to a “composite object” constructed from images of “the Enemy” during the Incarnation and images associated with the other two Persons, coupled with the patient’s own reverenced objects: “Whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it—to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him” (p. 35).

It seems to me this “keep them from praying” strategy might be all too real. How many churches dropped their prayer meetings? How many Christians dropped their family prayer times, their before-meal thanks, their individual quiet times?

And when we do pray, how much of our time is filled with requests rather than praise and thanksgiving … or confession? How many of our requests are for ourselves rather than intercession for all the saints and for those who preach the word of God? When we intercede for others, how much of our prayer is for what’s happening physically rather than for what’s happening spiritually?

Lest you wonder, I’m feeling quite convicted.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in June 2019.

The Addiction Of Freedom


Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom.”

the-great-divorce-cover

So noted Pastor Tim Keller in a 1997 article in Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal, “Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age.”

Interestingly, Pastor Keller identified a shift in attitude regarding freedom in the postmodern era akin to the attitude C. S. Lewis ascribed to those destined for hell in his classic work The Great Divorce.

The attitude is one that puts freedom above all else.

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis’s bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their relentless delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Gen. 3:4-5), but their choice has really ruined their human greatness.

I couldn’t help but think of atheist Christopher Hitchens and his dread of “celestial tyranny.” How sad that he did not realize the tyranny of his own desires. Unfortunately, he was not so different from the majority of people in western culture.

Freedom, we cry, let us voice our opinions, choose our own path, chart our own life. So we legalize abortion and a good deal of pornography. We outlaw spanking and prayer from school and tell parents Johnny needs medication, not discipline.

And then we wonder why children no longer respect authority, why tolerance is the end-all of our society, why child abuse is on the rise, and human trafficking is rampant, why greed runs Wall Street and corruption keeps cropping up in Washington, or City Hall.

Somehow we’ve missed the connection points. Freedom, when it becomes more important than salvation, enslaves just like any other idol. Freedom to pursue sex without consequences makes a person addicted to lust. Freedom to pursue wealth without restrain makes a person addicted to greed. Freedom to pursue unbridled power over others makes a person addicted to bullying and manipulation.

If we would open our eyes, we would see the trap to which the pursuit of freedom can lead. It held Christopher Hitchens tightly in its jaws. No one, most certainly not God, was going to tell him what to do with his life, not even in the last hours of his life. Why?

Because he wanted to enjoy humanity.

Sadly, he’s chained himself to the ephemeral rather than to the eternal. For, yes, the option to unbridled freedom is also slavery.

But what a difference. Rather than slavery to that which would destroy, becoming a bond-slave of Jesus Christ is freeing. Ironic, isn’t it. Freedom that leads to slavery, and slavery that leads to freedom.

What a contradiction, but that’s in line with what we learn from Jesus. If we lose our lives, we’ll find them. If we are last, then we’ll be first. If we become His slaves, He’ll set us free. Then, and only then, will we be free indeed.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2010.

The Opportunities Of Christmas


mary_and_baby_jesus017On Sunday, our fill-in speaker at church, Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, delivered an unusual Christmas sermon. His key points were anchored by John 12:31-32.

“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

Jesus was speaking about His own death. He declared that two things would occur: 1) judgment upon this world and the ruler of this world would be cast out, and 2) He, Jesus, would be lifted up.

First, “this world” refers to the world system that opposes God, His will, and His way. It’s one of the three sources of temptation: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The one who is the mastermind of all the world systems that oppose God is Satan, but it is the system or systems he’s behind that entice us to sin.

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis was masterful in showing that what particular system the tempter used was not the issue. Whatever pulls a person’s eyes off God, works just fine. So someone with the wealth of the world, like Solomon, is vulnerable, as is the poorest of the poor such as the beggar Lazarus.

So Jesus’s coming initiated judgment upon the world system that tries to squeeze God from our consciousness.

Christmas affords the believer the opportunity to ask ourselves if we are siding with Jesus when it comes to casting out the ruler of the world, when it comes to standing against the world system. Oh, someone may say, you’re talking about keeping Christ in Christmas, about refusing to replace Him with Santa.

Well, no, I’m not. The world system isn’t about Santa.

It’s actually about ME.

It’s about looking at the world with the idea of seeing what I can get out of every situation, every circumstance. What’s in it for me? Am I getting what I deserve?

Trying to discern our own motives is hard. Do I want to postpone the meeting because I have something else I want to do that day or because I think it will fit everyone else’s needs more? Do I want to sign up for the prayer team instead of serving in the homeless shelter because it means less travel for me or because I think I’m more fitted for that ministry? You see, even in doing “good things” we can have our eyes firmly fixed on ourselves because the world system tells us it’s all about us.

It’s all about us, and it’s all up to us. We simply have to look within. We have to find our inner strength, because whatever we put our minds to, we can do. Whatever we want to make of ourselves, we can make it happen.

Not really.

But that’s what our world system says over and over and over.

It also says that a person is more valuable if they have all the right bells and whistles. Do you have the newest car, the latest technology, the most up-to-date software? Are your clothes in style? Did you get a really cool gift for Christmas? Dr. Muehlhoff touched a nerve when he mentioned that one.

When I was growing up, we were very middle class. Perhaps low middle class, but I never felt poor. Still, my parents were frugal, because we had been poor. So I generally wore hand-me-downs, and our parents never gave us extravagant gifts for Christmas. We often got practical things—socks, pajamas, that sort of thing.

So going back to school after Christmas vacation was always a challenge because kids would always ask, What did you get for Christmas? I wanted to be able to answer without making my Christmas sound lame.

The thing is, I really didn’t feel deprived for not getting some hot new fad item. I generally didn’t ask for things that I knew were beyond the price my parents usually spent on us at Christmas. But I dreaded telling my classmates what I thought they would look down on.

That’s the world system—gifts have to be of a certain caliber to be considered worth. Really?

That’s the world system that attacks our contentment, that judges according to monetary value, not according to heart intention or thoughtfulness or sacrifice.

Of course all these years later, our culture has become exponentially more hedonistic. Is it fun, is it entertaining—these questions override, can we afford it. Because we can afford anything simply by putting “it” on the credit card. One statistic Dr. Muehlhoff gave was that what the average person spends for Christmas this year via credit card, will take four years to pay off. Of course, they’re still paying off last year’s Christmas, and the one before that, and the one before that, so it is an ever increasing problem.

This consumerism, this hedonism, this ME-ism are reflective of the world system—Satan’s schemes to keep us away from what God wants, and Jesus came, in part, to bring the world and the ruler of this world, under judgment.

As Christmas, ought we who follow Jesus not stand against the world, at least a little?

The second thing Jesus said was that He would be lifted up, with the end result that He would draw all men to Himself.

The next question seems obvious: we who follow Christ are lifting up Jesus in what way?

To be honest, I didn’t like Dr. Muehlhoff’s ideas on this one. Everything he mentioned, someone who was an atheist or a Buddhist could do. On the other hand, at the Atheist/theist Facebook group, someone posted a video of an obnoxious pastor (self-identified) who went into a mall where kids and their parents were waiting to get their pictures taken with Santa, and became shouting that Santa was a lie, that the parents were lying to their children, that Christmas was really about Jesus, not Santa.

Is that what lifting up Jesus looks like?

I don’t think so.

I keep thinking of the disciples who confronted the beggar by saying, I don’t have any gold or silver, but in the name of Jesus, get up and walk.

I wish I could lift up Jesus’s name like that!! I mean, I can’t imagine someone who just received the ability to walk not wanting to know about this person named Jesus whose name made his healing possible.

So I can’t heal. Does that mean I can’t lift up Jesus’s name?

I think the key is the first part of the answer those disciples gave: I don’t have what you’re asking for, but I’ll give you what I can. I’ve always looked at it like, you want this thing you think you need, but I’ll give you something better. But why not accept it at face value. What if they had silver and gold, would they have given that instead of the healing?

I don’t think the key is in trying to give people the greatest thing they need. I think it’s in putting them before God and asking Him how I can lift up Christ before them.

So no one answer. But an awareness that lifting up Christ is the goal, and the greatest gift possible for Christmas.

He Shall Be Called God With Us


christmas-tree-ornament-911705-mI’ve decided that Christmas is as two-toned as the colors we most often associate with the holiday. One is primary, the other secondary, both attractive but completely divergent. In the same way, we have a primary purpose for Christmas, the celebration of Christ come down—and a secondary, the gift-giving family time with all the tree-decorating, carol-singing, candle-lighting traditions. Both are attractive, but unless a person intentionally connects the two, they will be quite divergent.

I was reminded of this when one of the local Christian radio stations claimed they played Christmas music “with a difference,” then proceeded to air “Frosty, the Snowman.” Yes different, I thought—it’s different that the station thought there was anything different about that particular secular song over some other secular song.

C. S. Lewis in Miracles (MacMillian) made some profound observations that apply to the primary purpose of Christmas:

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. (chapter 14, p. 112)

In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity … down to the very roots and sea-bed of Nature. … One may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the deathlike region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colourless in the dark, he lost his colour too. (chapter 14, p. 116)

May our Christmas include some recognition and celebration of Immanuel, God with us, God come down to bring us up with Him.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in December 2007.

Published in: on December 8, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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Clinging To Wilting Flowers


wilting-flowersA few years ago, I mentioned a book by Wayne Grudem, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Mind you, I haven’t read the book, but I heard him speak on Family Life Today. As part of his talk, Mr. Grudem “debunked” the idea that some Christian teachers express—namely, that the Christian should not focus on the political arena because the way to change culture is to make disciples.

Both guest and hosts chuckled at this view, apparently because of the reality, that no matter what we do to present Christ, not everyone will accept Him—at least not now. The implication clearly was, This view is not a practical way to impact the culture. Interestingly, Mr. Grudem made no effort to portray this position as unbiblical.

And how could he, for it seems to me to be thoroughly biblical, perhaps the only biblical approach to politics. Yes, we should vote. Yes, we should be informed. Yes, some Christians will be called by God to serve Him and others by holding elected office, which necessitates involvement in politics beyond the “make disciples” level. But what about the rest of us? Should we be manning the picket lines, attending the rallies, writing our congressmen?

I don’t think any of that is wrong, but we believers need to be sure we aren’t clinging to wilting flowers. What do I mean?

James 1:11 says

For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

And Isaiah 40:7 says

The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.

Then there’s Psalm 103:15-16.

As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.

Life here on earth is as wilting flowers. Later James says our lives are like fog. So why would we put an over emphasis on holding on to that which is so temporary?

Paul spells it out in Philippians. In talking about false teachers, he says in 3:19-20

whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly wait for a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Emphasis mine)

So I wonder if too many of us Christians don’t have our citizenship status mixed up. I wonder how many of us are actually eagerly waiting for Jesus.

I first got a glimpse of what citizenship in heaven would look like in comparison to citizenship on earth when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. Here’s a sample.

I got out. The light and coolness that drenched me were like those of summer morning, early morning a minute or two before the sunrise, only that there was a certain difference. I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got “out” in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair …

At first, of course, my attention was caught by my fellow passengers, who were still grouped about in the neighbourhood of the omnibus, though beginning some of them, to walk forward into the landscape with hesitating steps. I gasped when I saw them. Now that they were in the light, they were transparent—fully transparent when they stood between me and it, smudgy and imperfectly opaque when they stood in the shadow of some tree. They were, in fact, ghosts … I noticed that the grass did not bend under their feet: even the dew drops were not disturbed.

Then some re-adjustment of the mind or some focusing of my eyes took place, and I saw the whole phenomenon the other way round. The men were as they always had been as all the men I had known had been perhaps. It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison. Moved by a sudden thought, I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy which was growing at my feet. The stalk wouldn’t break. I tried to twist it, but it wouldn’t twist. I tugged till the sweat stood out on my forehead and I had lost most of the skin off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond.

No wilting flower, that. So why would I cling to the passing-away kind?

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in November 2010.