Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A book about a book: The Life and Times of 'Mere Christianity'

George Marsden's C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity: A Biography (2016) should be on your reading list for 2017 (and for locals of Cedar Rapids, you too can check it out from the public library).

Whether this is you first encounter with the writings of C.S. Lewis (1899-1963) or you're already an admirer of all things Lewis, Marsden's book about a book will draw you in.

Mere Christianity has a surprising life worth studying. The book began as lectures on British Broadcasting Radio in the heat of World War II. These were 15 minutes speeches written for and spoken to scared soldiers, war widows, and a bombed out England. Publishers quickly realized that these words had a depth and winsomeness to them that deserved publication. It turns out they were right. On both sides of the Atlantic, and now around the globe, C.S. Lewis's Christian imagination and theological arguments have become old friends and useful weapons for bringing down the strongholds of darkness.

Mere Christianity is second in sales only to Lewis's seven books of fiction, The Chronicles of Narnia. Mere Christianity is an invitation to feel the logic of Christian doctrine, and to understand the beautiful vista of Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

One particular paragraph on page 85 was worth the price of the book for this reader. Marsden writes:

   Lewis also found apologetic work spiritual debilitating [a Christian apologist defends the Christian faith]. 'I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one's own faith,' he told a group of Anglican clergy and youth workers in 1945, 'than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as the one that I have just successfully defended in public debate.' The problem, he explained, was that such occasions make the doctrine appear to rest on the 'weak pillar' of one's own self and arguments. Faith could not rest just on cold reasoning. One needed to get back 'into the Reality--from Christian apologetic to Christ himself.

   We can learn much from this great 20th century defender of the Christian faith. But more than anything, what we must experience most is not "good arguments for Christianity," but rather, the Good Christ of Christianity. The best reasons to become a Christian are like advertisements or maybe even personal ads, but in the end, Christianity is a relationship, a marriage, a reunion of a loving God and His beloved people. If we don't get to the Reality, the reasons don't matter much.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Serial Monogamy?

Dear America,

Words matter; they shape our lives and our culture. Of late, American parlance has allowed citizens to engage in "serial monogamy." In context, the phrase means that human persons are free to engage in any, one "committed" sexual relationship at a time.

So, you can be serially monogamous, as long as, on Tuesday you are in a relationship with Stan, Susie on Wednesday, and back to Stan on Thursday. Simply, determine the relationship and then everything is okay.This is the end of fornication and adultery as we know it; it's just serial monogamy and, now, no one gets hurt (right?).

From what I can tell, the phrase only prohibits multiple sexual partners in the same encounter, and since the culture also accepts "open marriage" (another dubious turn of phrase), it's settled that we've entered a day when monogamy has lost all meaning.

This is another example where America has allowed finite human persons to define reality. Rather than face the potential guilt and shame of being unfaithful sexually (even apart from marriage), we coin a phrase that removes all sense of monogamy to appease our wounded conscience. (Oh, that we'd flee to a forgiving God, a crucified Jesus, and an empowering Spirit for new life.)

Most moral philosophers throughout history have known that the sexual act communicates acceptance, intimacy, and commitment. It's reserved for true monogamy because of it's power (think of the need to contain electricity to conduits or fires to fireplaces). Sexual power unhinged will cause a wake of destruction that only God can know. He has warned us, but is anyone listening?

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (Hebrews 13:4)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What do you want God to do for you?

"What do you want me to do for you?" asks Jesus, time and time again (Mark 10:36; 10:51) during his earthly ministry.

He has not stopped asking that question, now as the resurrected and reigning LORD of heaven.

The question forces us to admit what we truly believe about ourselves and Jesus. It can force us to petition, to beg, to pray. It might, however, expose that we really don't expect Jesus to do anything. Or worse, we don't think he can. Or even worse than that, that we're fine without his intervention.

How we answer this question, daily, hourly, minute by minute is the litmus test of our faith. 

A life without prayer will give you the kind of life you can have without prayer. Parenting without prayer gets the sort of results prayerless parenting gets. Pastoring without prayer gets the sort of results prayerless pastoring gets. Evangelism without prayer, singing without prayer, serving without prayer, working without prayer, Bible reading without prayer will be as "succeessful" as prayerless efforts can be.

God says he will not share His glory with another. If we don't pray (and I mean desperately pray), we'll take some of the glory ourselves. We'll share the credits, even though we live in a universe where the closing credits of the movie roll one phrase: to God be the glory for ever and ever.

What does a prayerless life receive? We don't get to see miracles from God, the glory of God, the power of God. Jesus could not do many miracles in prayerless and faithless cities. Jesus still cannot do much in prayerless and faithless souls.

Really think, really pause, and then really answer Jesus' question with humble petitions: 

"What do you want me to do for you?" 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Human speech and evolutionary impossibitilies

"Speech! To say that animals evolved into man is like saying Carrara marble evolved into Michelangelo's David." So Tom Wolfe closes his 2016 work, The Kingdom of Speech.

In under 200 pages, Wolfe quells the myth of evolution by exposing the absurd jump from animal "speech" to human communication. In fact, he does it not through his own pen, but by quoting every major "evolutionist" since Darwin. The logical and pseudo-science gymnastics of the 'experts' proves one thing, speech is an innate gift in the chest of men. And a gift suggests a Giver.

Wolfe does not go much farther than this, but with Christmas soon to dawn, I found myself worshipping the Triune God by the book's end.

For in Christianity, Speech goes back to the beginning. The Word was in the beginning, with God, and God. This Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. Jesus is God's speech. God wills to be known. Despite the alienation of sin, God says, I want you to know me. And I'm coming to get you. Listen...I'll speak...and His first word was a baby's cry at a mother's breast.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Marks of true repentance...

Repentance is a decision of the heart and will to turn from sin and turn toward God.

The Bible commands repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19), and also tells us it is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2:25). We can repent because God's grace enables it. We marvel at Christ's life and death, and we turn toward Him for hope, healing, and forgiveness. Glory to God, we must and can turn from sin,

Likewise, the Bible warns there are false versions of repentance; the best passage on this comes from: 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NIV):
     Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

Worldly sorrow is flash-in-the-pan guilt. It's tears, frustration, and disappointment about sin and its consequences in our lives. But, it's world focused rather than God focused. The repentance that saves and sanctifies is first and foremost a reorientation toward God.

At the heart level, we come to hate the sin, guilt, and shame we've incurred by acting or thinking in a morally evil way before a holy God. We see God's love, foremost on the Cross of calvary, and seek to honor Him who saved us. We know our repentance doesn't save us, but we also know saved people must repent (similar to James' concern with faith and works in James 2).

At the level of the will, by the Holy Spirit, we crucify the passion and unbelief that led us to sin against God (Rom 8:13; Colossians 3:5). We won't go that way again because we smell the death, destruction, and horror of such a path. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling because the Spirit is at work in us to obey God's holy will (Philippians 2:12-13).

Note the various behaviors/attitudes associated with true godly sorrow and repentance from 2 Corinthians 7:11 -

1. Earnestness: This means we become diligent and careful to avoid any of the temptations that led up to our sin before God. We guard our minds, our hearts, and our bodies. We're earnest to honor God. We don't ask, "Is this sinful or not?" We ask, "What does holiness and pleasing God look like?" Elsewhere we read in Scripture that we should not allow anyone to look at our lives and quickly suspect us as greedy, sexually immoral, or impure (not even a hint, Ephesians 5:3). And why, Paul goes on and says, "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-- such a person is an idolater-- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." (Ephesians 5:5, NIV) Are you earnest to turn away from sin in order that you might inherit the kingdom of God?

2. Eagerness to clear ourselves: This does not mean we make excuses for our past behavior, but rather we endeavor to live such profound lives of marked change that no one would doubt our repentance. This is a tricky one because we all know how to make people believe we've repented. So, this starts at our heart. God hates hypocrisy. We must fall on our knees and beg God to forgive us, change us, transform us, renew us. Oh, that our hearts would hold onto God until He grants us a total, complete repentance that is authentic, vibrant, and evident to all.

3. Indignation: This is a holy hatred of sin and a willingness to confess, as Paul, that I am the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15-16). The terror of hell still grips me, the condemnation of sin lingers in my memory, and the unlikely escape from eternal punishment is not forgotten. Connect this with God's redeeming love, and what flows from the heart is a holy indignation toward sin and its effects.

4. Alarm: This is sobered fear. This is firmly believing the truth of Hebrews 10:26-27 "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." Especially for the Christian, any ongoing sin should produce in us sobered fear. Let this fear send you back to God's love in Christ and the mercy that comes from Jesus' death.

5. Longing: Every sin disrupts our relationship with God. It's a vital break in our fellowship. Biblical repentance involves a desperate longing for the unhindered reconnection that is possible through the blood of Jesus. We come running because of the promises in 1 John 1:7 & 9:
    NIV  1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
    NIV  1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

6: Concern: Next up is a refreshed zeal for the LORD God. We're jealous for Him. We're concerned to keep Him the priority of our lives. We want nothing to come in between. We want nothing to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus...and praise God, nothing ultimately can (Romans 8:29ff.).

7: Readiness to see justice done: This is a firm commitment to avenge all wrong doing. If we sinned against a spouse or friend, we make things right (with time, money, service, earning back trust, public confession, etc.). If we sinned against our local church, we accept their counsel for making things right and for walking in open fellowship. Repentance of the heart is never calculating. We don't say, "There, I repented by doing X, Y, and Z, all should be well." Biblical repentance knows that ultimately Christ's death is our only hope, atonement, and true freedom. We rest in Christ's satisfaction for sin. We never, ever, turn to penance to atone for our temporal punishments. And yet, Paul says, we give the rest of lives to outdoing one another in love, continuing with a moral obligation to love one another. Biblical repentance includes a commitment to justice, restitution, and ultimately for making sure God's name is honored.

We must never short circuit repentance into easy-believism or 'forgive and forget' nonsense. This is a blood-bought privilege from Jesus Christ that will be clearly seen, and when it occurs, everyone will know it's a work of God and praise Him (not you or me). Everyone knew Zacchaeus had repented (Luke 19). Paul's conversion and repentance was known by all (Acts 9ff.). The sexual immoral man from Corinth demonstrated full repentance (see 1 Cor. 5 and 2 Cor 7).

May God grant you and me repentance today, whether it's repentance to salvation or a repentance unto sanctification. And may our repentance receive the commendation in 2 Cor 7:11: At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

You might appreciate another accounting of Biblical repentance at

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A spiritual irony...

Non-Christian people who mistrust the miracles of the Bible are open to mass amounts of spirituality and supernatural phenomena. (ghosts, aliens, gurus, etc.)

Christian people who trust the miraculous claims of the Bible are skeptical to most spirituality and supernatural phenomena.

So, which of these two are more likely to be duped?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My favorite reads in 2016

The two volume biography of George Whitefiled by Arnold Dallimore. This is what faithfulness in a generation looks like.

The first 3 novels by Kenley Davidson; beautiful fairy tales retold with dynamic wit and plot.

The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (short, but sweet classic book on how God works in our hearts and lives).

Timothy Keller's Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. A book that makes you doubt your doubts.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Harriot. True stories of a early/mid 20th century veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales of England.

Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge by Dallas Willard. A reasoned account by a seasoned philosopher on the validity of spiritual truth and knowledge.

The Road to Character by David Brooks. The New York Times editorial writer laces together several sketches of heroes to call forth a new way forward (really the old way) toward greatness.

A reread of What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman. A theological/practical book on why productivity can glorify God and how to get to it.

Honorable mentions in the realm of fiction: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and Elantris by Brandon Sanderson.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Do you want to hear God?

  Four instructions that were inspired by Thomas Watson’s 1692 book entitled, A Body of Divinity:

   1. See your need of hearing. Before you will give Jesus you ear, you need to come to grips that there is no one more good or glorious than the Son of God. You can listen to Him or other voices. 

     2. Go to Christ to teach you. This starts at the heart. This is a prayer of desire. “Jesus, speak to me.”

    3. Use the tools Christ has recommended. Contrary to Eastern religions that tell you to clear your mind, Jesus wants you to fill Your mind with truth. The best way to hear Jesus is to pick up your Bibles and read. Read for understanding. Read for meditation. Memorize the Word. Study the Word. Listen attentively to the preaching of God’s Word. God has spoken in the Old Testament. God has spoken through Christ…and we hear Christ when we read of Him in the New Testament. Jesus is not limited to speaking to us from the Bible, but we will not know His voice if we don’t know the Bible.

      4.  Finally, if you would want to hear more from Jesus, believe and act on what you’ve heard thus far. I’ve never met someone who didn’t want to hear from God. But, the Biblical model seems to be that God speaks to us so that we obey and believe. He doesn’t speak new things until we’re willing to obey the original things. Where has God spoken that you need to believe and act?