Monday, May 28, 2012

Amazing Grace

“Are not the gods just?” “Oh, no, my child. Where would we be if they were?”

—C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Occasionally I get distressed about the existence of evil in the world and wonder why God isn’t running the world right. But in my better moments I know that most of the suffering in my world is self–inflicted. It is my greed, my permissiveness, my selfishness, my relentless pursuit of personal pleasure that has caused so much unhappiness in others and in me. I can hardly blame God for that, can I?

If, then, I am responsible for at least some of the anguish in this world, it wouldn't do to insist that God start setting things right. If he did, he would deal with evil, but he would have to do so across the board, which means he would put down monstrous tyrants like Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot, but he would also put down my petty tyranny. If God were merely just where could I stand?

I’m often reminded of a conversation between Robinson Crusoe and his Man Friday: “Well,” says Friday, “you say God is so strong, so great: has he not as much strong, as much might as the devil?”
“Yes, yes,” Crusoe says, “Friday, God is much stronger than the devil.” “But if God much strong, much might as the devil, why God no kill the devil so make him no more do wicked?”
“You might as well ask,” Crusoe answered reflectively, “Why does God not kill you and me when we do wicked things that offend?”

G. K. Chesterton was once asked by a reporter, “What’s wrong with the world?” “I am,” the old sage replied.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Lion

“He (the Dark Power) has many more useful servants, but he won’t forget you...” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

A number of years ago I was sitting in a barbershop with a group of men, waiting our turn.  The conversation soon turned to hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities as it often does here in Idaho.

One of the men (actually the barber) mentioned that he had been fishing the South Fork of the Boise River a few evenings before, and while resting on the tailgate of his truck observed a large male cougar making its way down a draw on the other side of the canyon. The man was downwind, sitting very still and the cat never saw him. The cougar walked to the stream, drank its fill, then bounded up the draw and out of sight. “Biggest mountain lion I’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

As it happened, a friend of mine and I fished the South Fork a week or so later and found our selves in the same place at the same time of day.  We fished until it was dusk and my friend, who was in a hurry to get home, quickly pulled off his waders and other gear and began to hike out of the canyon thinking I was behind him. By the time I started to hike out he was long gone. It was dark and I had to break out my headlamp to see the trail. 

Then I remembered the barber’s tale and got that prickly feeling you get in the back of your neck when someone (or something) is watching you. I doubled my pace and scrambled up the trail, nervously peering into every dark cranny and rocky crevice, my head swiveling like Linda Blair’s head in The Exorcist, thinking every moment that I was not long for this world.

Obviously, I beat death and destruction, as they say, and got back to the truck safely, but I’ll not forget the anxieties of that hour.

My fear was jiustified because I knew there was a large cat in the area, but there is a better knowledge we should take with us every hour: Our adversary the devil is stalking us night and day, hungry for our souls (1 Peter 5:8). He is always dangerous, but he is never more dangerous than when we think we have outlived him. 

No, he stalks us every moment of every hour, intent on blighting our final years, eager to draw us into the passions of old age—not the passions of the flesh perhaps (though I would put nothing past us), but of the spirit—intolerance, irritability, and impatience. A bitter, bad-tempered old man or woman is one of his crowning achievements.

So we should never think we’re too spiritual, too accomplished, or too old to escape his notice. As old Lewis Bayly put it, “We are never out of gunshot of the devil.” (I think of Union General, John Sedgwick, who sat upright on his horse in full view of Confederate snipers over a thousand yards away because, he said, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dis.....”) Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).

We must never let up, for our adversary does not. This must be our passion: to pursue God and his righteousness with hearty energy and abandonment every hour of every day for as many days as he gives us. For...

He who would be born again indeed,
Must wake his soul unnumbered times a day,
And urge himself to life with holy greed;
Submissive and ready to the making will,
Athirst and empty, for God’s breath to fill.

—George MacDonald


Friday, May 11, 2012

                  Moses Unveiled

Evangelical Veil Production
Pick one up now at quite a reduction!
Got all kinds of shapes and sizes,
Introductory bonus prizes!
Special quality one-way see-through
(You can see them but they can’t see you).
Never have to show yourself again.
Just released a Moses model.
Comes with shine in a plastic bottle.
Makes you look like you’ve just seen the Lord!
Just one daily application,
And you’ll fool the congregation.
Guaranteed to last the whole week long.

John Fischer, “Evangelical Veil Productions”

Moses came down from Sinai and placed a veil over his face to shield his audience from its radiant beauty,[1] or so it would appear (Exodus 34:28–35). 

Paul, however, had another take, something not readily apparent from the Old Testament story. Moses veiled his face, “so that the children of Israel could not look to the end of that which was fading away” (2 Corinthians 3”13). The beauty on Moses face had faded away, but God’s servant kept up the charade.

I can’t be too hard on Moses, however, for at times we all pretend to be more beautiful than we are. We hide behind a fa├žade of performance and perfection.

But no one can keep up the pretense forever. Some unsightly emotional display, some inappropriate reaction, some humiliating behavior strips us of our facade and we’re found out. Others come to know what we’ve known all along: that parts of us are still ugly and contemptible. 

At that moment of brokenness, we can hide our shame, or we can be touched at the deepest heart–level by God’s amazing grace and remember that we are God’s beloved children, despite the fact that we are not yet fully converted. Then, living “in and out of the truth of our belovedness” (Buechner), we can stand unveiled before others and before God, unadorned by pretense and hypocrisy. We can be who we are with all our imperfection apparent for all to see instead of being the sham Christians we loathed before.

And we can ask our Lord every day to complete the work he has begun: to transform us into the image of his Son, “from one measure of beauty to the next” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We can rest in the assurance that he will do so gradually (but inexorably) until we reach heaven and home and see the radiance of Jesus’ face. Then our dreams of perfection will become reality; we will be like him in every conceivable way (1 John 3:2).


[1] I have long believed that “beauty” is the best translation of the Greek word doksan (glory). Our English word “glory” suggests “fame” or “something shiny” and misses the meaning of the original idea.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?
—Psalms 121:1

There’s something about being alone, a solitary being, by myself in remote isolation, no living person for miles, no human sights or sounds, no reminders that other souls inhabit the earth. Solitude is a splendid thing.

Yet, it's an awesome thing, tinged with dread, for the wilderness is overwhelming and terrifying in its immensity. I’m humbled, dwarfed into insignificance. “How fearful is this place!” I exclaim (Genesis 28:17).

I feel small, weak and ineffective, overwhelmed by the immensity of heaven and earth. I am helpless. “From whence cometh my help?”

“My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Ps 121:2).


Lambs May Wade

C. S. Lewis, in an essay entitled “Christian Apologetics,” divides religions—as he does soups—into those that are thick and those that are clear: “Now if there is a true religion it must be both thick and clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man…”
There are “thick” concepts in the Bible: mysteries, paradoxes, complexities that boggle capacious minds, where more is meant than meets the eye. And yet, in the same book, there are concepts that are crystal clear: simple, attainable, and easily grasped by the least sophisticated mind. What surpasses the simplicity of St. John’s clear affirmation: “God is love”? Can you possibly miss the message that you are God’s beloved child?
Gregory the Great, a 7th century Christian wrote, “”In there (the Bible), the lamb may wade and the elephant must swim...”

That said, don’t hold back: Jump in!


The Purpose That Is Purposed “This is the purpose that is purposed with regard to the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretch...