Mostly stuff on Christianity by an Anglican priest who reads a lot of C. S. Lewis. Please note: all my posts about Lewis' book How To Pray are on the site, under Social Media/blog.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Table of the King, by F. R. Havergal


A lovely meditation upon the Lord's Supper from a traditional, Prayer Book perspective, by Francis Ridley Havergal:

"As for Mephibosheth, said the King, he shall eat at my table, as one of the king's sons."

In every thought connected with the King's table we see Jesus only.  He prepares the feast, - 'Thou preparest a table before me.'  He gives the invitation - 'Come thou over with me, and I will feed thee with me.'  He gives the qualifying position of adoption, receiving as 'the King's sons.'  He brings us into 'His banqueting-house.'  He bids us partake, saying, 'Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.'  He is with us at the feast, for 'the King sitted at His table.'  He Himself is the heavenly food, the bread and the meat of His table; for He says, 'The bread that I will give is my flesh,' and 'My flesh is meat indeed.'

He Himself!  Nothing less if offered to us, for nothing less could truly satisfy.  How wonderfully the spiritual feeding, with its mode and its means, is expressed in the words of the Communion Service: 'Feed on Him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.'  'Feed on Him!' - not on sacred emblem, not on 'outward and visible sign,' but on Himself.  This first in place, first in thought.  'He that eateth Me' (can words be stronger?), 'even he shall live by Me.'  Then the mode, 'by faith,' - could it close otherwise than 'with thanksgiving'?

It is not occasional but continual feeding on Christ that really satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.  'He did eat continually at the king's table.'  It is 'he that cometh to Me' who 'shall never hunger,' not 'he who did come.'  'To whom coming,' always coming, never going away, because we 'have tasted that the Lord is gracious,' we shall be 'built up.'

If we are really guests at the King's table in its fullest sense, - if we are feeding upon Christ Himself, and not on any shadow of the true substance, - we must be satisfied.  Here is a strong, severe test.  Christ must satisfy; then, if we are not satisfied, it must be because we are not feeding on Him wholly and only.  The fault is not in the provision which is made, - 'For all that came unto King Solomon's table, they lacked nothing..'

When we feel that 'we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under His table,' how precious are the words, 'This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them!'  When we remember that we were dead in trespasses and sins, we may recollect that Lazarus, the raised one, 'was one of them that sat at the table with Him.'  When we come back from the battlefield, weary yet victorious, we may look for our King of Peace coming to meet us with bread and wine and His own priestly blessing, that we may be strengthened and refreshed by Himself.

[From My King; or Daily Thoughts for The King's Children, p. 110, The Table of the King]

Ills of Social Media

From Time to Build, by Yuval Levin (ISBN: 9781541699274), p. 135-136.

[This is why I've limited my social media use:]

"...there is no denying that the social media platforms have undercut our social lives.  They plainly encourage the vices most dangerous to a free society.  They drive us to speak without listening, to approach others confrontationally rather than graciously, to spread conspiracies and rumors, to dismiss and ignore what we would rather not hear, to make the private public, to oversimplify a complex world, to react to one another much too quickly and curtly.  They eat away at our capacity for patient toleration, our decorum, our forbearance, our restraint.  They leave us open to manipulation - by merchants, algorithms, even real-life Russian agents [and I would add Chinese agents].  They cause us to mistake expression for reflection, affirmation for respect, and reaction for responsibility.  They grind down our democratic soul."

[It's more meaningful, more useful, and safer to socialize as much as possible the old way.]

Saturday, January 2, 2021

well adjusted...?

 A good one.  We are to be in the world, but not of it.

Essential Thanksgiving

I just sent this to supporters of my work at UTC:

 Dear Friend of the Study Center,

One of America's most prolific hymn writers was Johnson Oatman, Jr., of New Jersey.  By the time he went to his reward in 1922, he had about three thousand hymns to his credit!  One of his many famous songs is "Count Your Many Blessings."  As it is often sung to a tune by Ira Sankey, the light-hearted feel of lyric and note can have a rather superficial sense to it.  However, there are times when "count your many blessings" is serious and important spiritual counsel!  We are in one of those times.

We are familiar these days with many voices speaking ill of our country and its Christian roots.  This cynical spirit is part of the philosophy of the world we live in today.  Sadly, many in the official Church, we might call it, have imbibed this spirit.  These people, while professing the faith of Christianity, are not thankful for our Christian tradition.  However, the Christian is not to be squeezed into the mold of the world around us (Romans 12:2).  

The world disdains an attitude of thankfulness toward God for all the good so abundantly evident around us (Romans 1:21).  We Christians, however, are jealous of the honour and glory of our heavenly Father, not only for the good of creation, but especially for the good of our redemption in Jesus, born of Mary on that first Christmas Day.  We are also thankful for the good things that have been passed down to us from those believers who have gone before us.  Another song-writer, King David, reminds us in Psalm 100, that when we enter our Lord's presence in prayer, we are to, "Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name;" and a good way to do that is to tally up our blessings in Christ, that we may stir ourselves up to the thankfulness that our God deserves.

I think we may safely say that just about all of us are struggling to rejoice in the Lord these days.  There are so many things grieving us.  There have been natural disasters - such as tornados and a virus - regardless of where it came from - that is following its natural course.  We also are grieved by the many wicked things we see done around us through ignorance or by evil intent.  One of our greatest griefs in it all has been the way our worship and ministry have been adversely affected.  

You can imagine that all the study centers at our various colleges and universities have had their share of struggles.  I was recently talking with Drew Trotter, the out-going head of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers, and he told me that there are several study centers - like our own - that are presently in an especially difficult place in that we are only just now trying to lay the foundation for our ministries, yet our campuses are ghost towns.  Yes, we can do things online - and I have - but the nature of our work requires the kind of personal interaction that only face-to-face conversations provide.  

Nevertheless, Drew went on to say that, "at least you are doing something."  And we have been "doing something."  Through this past fall semester, I have held a weekly read-through of The Problem of Pain, both face-to-face at First Presbyterian and also on Zoom.  I have published two online conversations with top scholars in their fields - one about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and another about Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings.  I am working on a third such conversation, which I hope to publish next month.  I have continued to pray on campus and meet with students, as we were able.  I have also begun a conversation about moving forward with the annual UTC C. S. Lewis lecture for the spring of 2021.  It can be done.  It will not be what it has been in the past, but at least we are "doing something."  

The whole approach of "doing something" - in a difficult time - is an approach to work and ministry of a positive nature.  It is a refusal to give into a cynical mind-set.  It is an exercise in faith: faith that God is still working out his purposes and that he is doing things we may not have dreamed of and of which we are not yet aware.  He is a great God, and his mercy is everlasting. 

It is also a posture of thankfulness.  Counting our blessings is a turning away from the counting of our troubles forced upon us by the media and worldly-minded people around us.  It is a refusal to see life without God.  It is a choice to remember what the Scriptures say about:

who we are,

why we are here,

who God is,

what he has done,

and what he has promised to do.

And the more we think about it, the more we realize that we can never count all our blessings in the Lord!  They are without number!  And for this we are thankful, and here we find our joy.

To rejoice in the Lord requires being thankful.  It is out of our thankfulness that we can be joyful.  How can we not rejoice, considering how blessed we are in our Lord - whatever this life throws at us during our brief sojourn here.

Once we are able to retrieve our joy from the clutches of the unbelieving and cynical world around us, we are then free to remember what life is really about.  We are free to see things from God's point-of-view again.  This is what the apostle Paul does in his letter to the Philippians.  "For me to live is Christ" (1:21), he says.  Therefore, how does he live?  "...this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (3:13,14).  

But what does this look like practically?  An example from Paul's ministry is found in 2 Corinthians 10, where, speaking of his ministry, he writes: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ..." (vs. 3-5).  

Friends, this is just what a Christian study center is about.  We seek to encourage Christian thinking, the "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."  To stay on task, we need discernment.  We seek truthful and compassionate engagement with this world, but we must be careful that we do not succumb to the distractions and pressures of this world.  We also need prayer, for our warfare is spiritual - there are strongholds that need to come down.  And we need the joy of faith.  We need to keep our eyes on the blessings that are ours in Christ, be thankful, and rejoice that God is actively at work on his agenda for this world - and we can be a part of that.  

Thank you for how you have joined with us in this endeavour this past year.  Your prayer, your giving, your advice - they have all been encouragements and a true help in our work.  As we enter a new year - and a new semester mid-January - let us together find the comfort and confidence of our faith by keeping our eyes on the Lord and his word, by counting our blessings, and by continuing to renew our minds, for the sake of the love and glory of God.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

A Narnian Silent Night

Silent Night, Holy Night:
All is calm, the Witch is gone!
Father Christmas comes again;
Joy is ours, for Aslan reigns!
Narnia sleeps in peace,
Narnia sleeps in peace.

Silent Night, Holy Night:
The snow falls on Aslan's How.
Moonlight makes the snow to shine
With a glory all divine.
Aslan, our true king, lives!
Aslan, our true king, lives!

Silent Night, all is well:
Pilgrims we to Cair Paravel.
Fawns dance for us, as we sing;
Homage pay we to the High King.
Aslan will come again!
Aslan will come again!

Friday, November 27, 2020

God's Inexorable Love


Have you ever asked God to stop loving you so much?  I’m sure that sounds like a strange thing to ask, but C. S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, explains to us, that if we are complaining or resisting uncomfortable or painful things in our lives - which his providence has allowed - we may be doing just that very thing.  Why?  How?  We are forgetting that God’s love for us is an inexorable love.  If someone is being inexorable, they are insisting on their own way about things, regardless of how much someone may be complaining about it and petitioning against it.  God has an inexorable love for us, and that means he is going to insist on giving us what is best for us, even when we don’t like how he’s doing it.

Here's an example of God's inexorable love: Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem in a fashion which he knows is a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy about the way the king of Israel would come home to his capital city.  The people realize that he is making this claim.  They are also so amazed at the man, that they cannot think that he could be anything else but the king who was to come.  And so, they laud him as a king, spreading their garments in his path, waving palms of royal celebration and throwing them before his approach.  They lift up the old hymns of David and sing the praise of the son of David, returned to rule his people.  Jesus, accepts all this acclaim.  Indeed, when some men told him not to accept it so, he told them that if these people did not cry out with his praise, that the rocks that lay all around his entry would cry out in his honour.  In Jesus’ mind, he is coming to Jerusalem as the son of David; for that is who he is.  He knows he is the king of the Jews.  

But watch him.  What does he do, according to Matthew’s account, when he enters the city and goes straight to the temple, where the people would have continued to worship him?  He brings judgment upon it.  He casts out money-changers and animal merchants, and declaims that they have turned his temple into a den of brigands.  He does not tell the Jews what they want to hear.  He does not tell them that he, their king, has now come to take up his earthly seat and to deliver them from Roman oppression.  He does not tell them that the days of King David have returned, and that he is going to bring them political glory and a religious reformation and revival.  Instead he healed some people and turned around and went back to Bethany.  

As the days followed this event, it became clear that Jesus was determined to not do what they hoped he would do, and they were displeased.  And so, they turned on him.

But here’s what we need to see.  From our vantage point in history, we recognize  that Jesus, though he was purposefully disappointing the expectations of these people, was actually giving them that which was better than what they wanted.  What good would renewed political power and religious practice be for them if they remained the slaves of the sin that had brought them to their troubles in the first place?  It was because God loved them, that Jesus was come to deliver them from their sin and establish his kingdom in their hearts.  He was their king!  And he was bringing his kingdom to them, if they would repent of their sins and receive his rule in their hearts.  Jesus was loving these people, doing for them which He, in his infinite wisdom, knew was the best thing for them.  And his love was perfect.  Even though he knew they would not like what he was doing, and that eventually he would be killed for it, he refused to alter his dealing with them.  We see his fixed purpose to love them, even though they would not understand what he was doing.  We see Jesus loving his people with an inexorable love.  

During the Advent season, we celebrate the coming of the Lord.  We do so by spending time reflecting on our lives and preparing his way into our hearts by reconciling our own wills with his will.  What we need to ask ourselves is, are we prepared to welcome into our hearts a Lord who loves us with this inexorable love?  Can we love, obey and serve this person who will – if need be - go against our wishes, because he knows that there’s actually something better for us?  This is the way he is.  The sooner we are reconciled to it, the better for us.  

Oh friends, let us look up to our Father in heaven, who knows what we have need of before we even ask, and render him the smile of faith.  If he has said “No” to some prayer of ours, or if he is making us wait for what we have asked, or if we simply can’t see how he is possibly going to work out something we’ve brought before him, let us trust his inexorable love.  Let us thank him for loving us so faithfully, so wisely, and so patiently.  Let us sing our hossanas and rejoice in our wonderful King.

image from The Entry of Christ Into Jerusalem by van Dyke (AD 1617).

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Nature of Christian Surrender

[Paul on the Road to Damascus by Rubens]

Years ago, there was a lot of debate in evangelical circles about "easy grace" and "Lordship salvation."  The concern was over people who were being told that they could become a Christian without submitting to Jesus's call to discipleship, as if discipleship was an optional add-on for people going to heaven.  The answer was that "Jesus must be Lord of all or he is not Lord at all."  "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26).  In other words, a Christian is a disciple; discipleship is not an option.

We can understand that some evangelicals were so afraid of Pelagianism (salvation by works) that they could reduce the call to "repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:21] to just "believe in Jesus," and even minimize that belief to mere intellectual assent to the claims of Christ.  But that is surely a classic example of throwing out the baby with the bathwater; in fact, it's throwing the whole house in the bin.

However, another error presented itself in the reaction to this "easy believism."  The error was a false idea of what "surrender" to Christ meant.  I lived with this error for a long time, years ago.  I'm sure there are people who still do.  This false idea of surrender is that our discipleship is begun and maintained by a "total" or "absolute" surrender - the adjectives urged are key.  A person is led to believe that they have not "really" surrendered to the Lord unless they have practically negated their own existence.  After all, are they not to "die to themselves?"  But this death-to-self is wrongly understood as such a renunciation of the self that the believer is not to have any will of their own at all.  Thus, New Testament expressions as "Christ is my life" are taken to mean that Christ replaces my own personality.  This results in such absurdities - and this is an actual case - as going through a cafeteria line and asking God whether or not he wants me to choose green beans or peas.  Such a misunderstanding leads to spiritual and psychological damage.

There is a passage in The Problem of Pain where Lewis corrects this error.  It is part of his first proposition made to round off his discussion of human pain, found in chapter 7.  He mentions the Christian doctrine of "mortification," and agrees that only God can kill or mortify sin in us.  He does not provide any biblical references, but one could refer to Romans 8:13 or Colossians 2:23.  He goes on to talk about "total renunciation."  He explains that submitting to God's will is not renouncing our wills - given to us by our Creator - but submitting them to God in a readiness to do his will.  In his lovely, common-sense fashion, Lewis argues that if our wills - indeed our whole personality - is not actually used in living out our lives, then we have no will or life to surrender!  If we are trying to live by making no choices of our own, then what power or "material" of choice do we have to give to him, to render to his service, or to obey his law?  

As Lewis explains, trouble interferes with our lives as we are naturally living them out as ordinary creatures, seeking our own and other's good.  Pain is an interruption that calls us to exercise a readiness - which is an attitude of submission - to alter our course and submit to God's will for our lives, or the lives of those we seek to serve.  

To die to one's self is therefore to turn from our rebellion against God to an attitude of readiness to do his will, whether it is something we like or not.  The totality of this submission is our readiness to do his will in every area or sphere of our lives.  The Holy Spirit living in us does not do the will of God instead of us.  He enables us to do the will of God, not only as to whatever duty may be involved but in the right manner.  This is not Pelagianism, but living out the new, regenerate life,  exercising the grace given us by our Lord, as he works in us to desire and to do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  

Lewis's doctrine is so wholesome.  The call to discipleship is not a call to cease to be God's creatures - human beings.  Indeed, it is a call to be free from our past slavery in Adam to begin to really live out our own lives, true to our new selves in Christ.  Our troubles thus become opportunities to exercise our new, freed wills by doing the will of God (Hebrews 12:11).

NB: Acceptance of Lewis's understanding of submission lays on us the responsibility of our choices.  We cannot be like the person - so often encountered - who will make no decisions in life: "Whatever you want, dear, is fine with me."  Rather, Jesus, having renewed the image of God in us through regeneration, says, "OK, now what do you want me to do for you?" [cf. Luke 18:41].