The Pain and the Promise of “Further up and further in”

image“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”

―C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

A while back I had a close friend tell me that she missed the joys of her youth. She missed the joys of “care free” days and wished she could go back. She said flatly, “Now, the world just stinks.”

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Gospel Thought: Laughter, Music, Heaven and Mocking the devil

Over the course of my Christian life, I have discovered that there is always something to worry about.  Worries, like weeds, choke all of the joy out of life.  Idols of “control” and “manipulation” possess our thoughts.  We stress out about our government, our family, our finances…it really doesn’t take much to get us going.  We put ourselves in a prison of worry, while the evil one, the devil (I refuse to capitalize his name – he’s not worth it), does all that he can to rattle our cage.  A couple of days ago I compiled a few quotes that are helping me to regain some perspective.  I sense the Holy Spirit reminding me that one of the ways that I should hide myself in the gospel is by enjoying the life that Christ has given me.  Out of a sense of worshiping Christ, I need to listen to good music, laugh with good friends, and give my life in service to others.  As theologian Eugene Peterson puts it, I need to learn “to care, and not to care.”  Below are few of the quotes I’ve read that are helping me with this endeavor.  Martin Luther has been especially helpful.

  • The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.  — Martin Luther
  • If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there.  –Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  • It is pleasing to God whenever you rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart.  –Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  • Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.   –Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  • Nothing on earth is so well-suited to make the sad merry and the merry sad, to give courage to the despairing and to make the proud humble, to lessen envy and hate, as music.  — Martin Luther
  • Music makes people kinder, gentler, more staid and reasonable. The devil flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the word of God.  — Martin Luther
  • Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. — (Luke 6:21)
  • “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven”  — (Luke 6:23).
  • C. S. Lewis depicts laughter in Heaven when his characters attend the Great Reunion on the New Narnia: “And there was greeting and kissing and handshaking and old jokes revived (you’ve no idea how good an old joke sounds after you take it out again after a rest of five or six hundred years).”  — C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
  • Father, today, right now, feeling as I do, with deadlines and health issues and friends who are hurting and world events in flux, I need to hear your promise that in Heaven we will laugh. I picture Jesus, laughing with his disciples, and I can’t wait to hear his laugh in person. I look forward to laughing with him at banquets and on walks and in conversations. Thank you for the gift of laughter. Thank you that you invented it. Thank you that we do not have to wait until Heaven to laugh, but that laughter can carry us on its back through difficult times. I think of the release that laughter brings at memorial services for people who have followed you faithfully, people who are already laughing on death’s other side. I have enjoyed rich laughter, mingled with tears, with friends and family in difficult days. When we weep now, Father, remind us that in Heaven, partaking of your joy, we will laugh.  — Randy Alcorn
  • In early Christian Greek tradition, Easter Monday was a “day of joy and laughter,” called Bright Monday. Only the followers of Christ can laugh in the face of persecution and death because they know that their present trouble isn’t all there is. They know that someday they will laugh.  — Randy Alcorn

God is a Dynamic Dance of Three Divine Persons

And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing– (not even a person–but a dynamic, pulsating activity), (but a dynamic, pulsating activity of three persons, who together comprise a perfectly glorious and loving divine life that is) almost a kind of drama.  Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 152, my strike through and addition)

In keeping with my thoughts on Gospel Life as a circle dance around Christ, I thought I would post this good quote by C.S. Lewis.  However, I do wish he had worked on his thought just a bit more.  When he says that God is not a static thing I want to shout “Yes!”  But then, in his efforts to improve that thought, he says that God is “not even a person.”  I think he goes off the biblical map here.  It’s as if he says, “God is not a static thing, He’s a dynamic thing.”  The movement from static to dynamic is good.  That he leaves God as a “thing” or “pulsating activity” is not so good.  I re-wrote the quote the way I wish Lewis had written it.

Sacrographic Friday – The Dance of the Gospel


“If from all eternity, without end and without beginning, ultimate reality is a community of persons knowing and loving one another, then ultimate reality is about love relationships.  Why did God create us?  There’s only one answer.  He must have created us not to get joy but to give it.  He must have created us to invite us into the dance.
(Tim Keller, King’s Cross, “Entering the Dance” p. 7.)

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, then unfortunately the gospel is often graphically represented in ways that actually defame the Gospel, defame Christ, defame the Holy Spirit and defame the church.  Let me offer a few examples:

Many have promoted “The Train” illustration of the gospel.  This illustration highlights ‘the intellect responding to fact’ as the seat of the gospel.  It suggests that education is the answer for promoting adherence to the gospel.  Get the intellect right, and behaviors and feelings follow behind.  Yet, there is no cross in this illustration.  No repentance.  No Holy Spirit.  I have known so many who would intellectually agree to the fact that Christ is Lord.  They would even be able to articulate and defend the Gospel without a hitch.  Yet, they confessed that they did not know Christ or bow the knee to Christ as Lord.

In short, this perspective elevates compelling factual information and the intellect above the work of the Holy Spirit that occurs in the heart.

Another graphic is “The Lordship” illustration.  This illustration ultimately highlights Christ as the center, which is good.  Yet, the illustration suggests several things that I disagree with.  The Lordship illustration is given in three parts – the natural, the carnal, and the spiritual.  Here are at least four things with which I disagree – the illustration suggests that:

1 – a person can know Christ while experiencing no change in his heart and life
2 – salvation does not require faith and repentance.  Intellectual assent is enough.
3 – the Christian life is exclusively personal, not communal.
4 – when a Christian does recognize Christ as Lord, everything in his life is perfectly harmonized

Again, I feel that these perspectives are unbiblical and harmful.

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Another popular graphic is used in “Systematic Theology” by Wayne Grudem.  Grudem uses the very familiar “Progressive Sanctification” illustration.  I very much agree with Grudem’s emphasis on justification (or salvation) as a point action work of God and I also affirm the idea of progressive sanctification.  However, I am bothered by the suggestion that sanctification progresses “away” from the cross.  It give us the idea that sanctification is a work that aims toward personal perfection, that occurs apart from the grace Christ, that moves us away from the cross, and that progresses us above the gospel.

At the end of the day, this is not the best picture to have in mind.

Now, I am certainly aware that every illustration is imperfect.   I also know that the graphic I call “The Dance of the Gospel” is also imperfect (by the way, it’s the one that I have submitted at the top of this post).  Yet, I hope this picture helps to improve our perspective of what the Christ centered life looks like.  Christ is Lord!  This is true no matter what.  He is at the center – period.  This is the gospel.  In the church, there are those who have been brought to life by the blood of Christ and are imperfectly dancing around that reality.   Unfortunately, there are also those in the church that are dead and empty who, on the outside, often look no different from those who know and love Christ.  This will be true until Christ returns.

Now, the thing that makes this gospel dance viable (or living) is not the perfection of the dance.  Nor is it made viable by the complete participation of the church in the dance.  The thing that makes the dance living is the presence of Christ, in the person of the Holy Spirit, who resides at the center of the dance.  We are invited into the dance when the Spirit manifests Himself to us through the preaching of the gospel, through the regeneration of our hearts, and through the exaltation of Christ before our eyes.  As the Spirit does these things, we enter the dance through faith and repentance.  As a community of believers, our faith is deepened by a continual growth in faith and repentance.  By this, the dance, though imperfect and incomplete, becomes more and more powerful.  As Christ is exalted before us, we grow in our ability to hear the music (our understanding matures), our hearts are continually moved by the song (our affection matures), and our hands and feet are enable by the Spirit to move in concert with the movement of Christ (our obedience matures).

Ultimately, the Lord Jesus will reconcile all things in creation to Himself.  And He will also ultimately reconcile all of His Beloved in a dance around Himself.  Until then, Christians dance an imperfect and incomplete dance.  But it is a powerful, painful, beautiful, and glorious dance just the same.

The Importance of continually coming back to the Gospel

“Really great teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that… The real job of every (gospel) teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see.”  – C.S. Lewis

When you think about it, teaching truth really is a thankless job. The picture is much like the mother who stands over her child with a spoonful of cough syrup, urging her to open her mouth. This is because medicine is usually distasteful and goes down hard. Yet, if the mother is good and true and loving, she will not back down from her call to care for her little one.

Truth is like medicine.  It is not cool or fun or new or original. Truth is old. And even when we have not heard it before, or when truth first comes to us as a new thought, or when it seems novel because it is novel to us, even then, we often find that truth has the ring of something old.  It always seems like something that has been taught a thousand times before, something that has risen from antiquity and dusted itself off before us. When we hear truth, we get the sense that we should know this already, or that we have known it and simply allowed ourselves to forget.

And this is why teaching truth is thankless. If you will allow the illustration. It’s like selling commodes. Everybody needs one. Every home should have one. If a builder forgot to put a commode in a home, it would be the first thing the inhabitant would miss. Yet, unless one needs to use the rest room, who thinks about a commode?  It’s a necessity, yes. But it is not cool. It doesn’t draw a crowd. Hardly anyone I know would buy a new home because it has a really great commode. They’d never say, “Hey come over to the house and take a gander at our new commode. Man, it’s a real jim-dandy!” We would do this with a new car, certainly. We’re always anxious to show off a new automobile or a new set of clothes. We’d even be proud to show off a new kitchen appliance. But a toilet? Uh…no.

Let’s be honest. For the most part, truth is easily forgotten. It isn’t particularly ‘show-offable’. It isn’t ‘shiny’. Truth is not like a Christmas tree with lights and bows; it’s like a massive oak tree in the middle of a field. It’s not wrapping paper; it’s parchment. It not the ‘thing’ in the box, it’s the directions in the box that tell you how to put the ‘thing’ together. It’s not like a slick car salesman, or actress, or runway model.  It’s more like a plumber or an electrician or a carpenter. It’s not pretty; it’s plain. It’s not Marilyn Monroe in a swimsuit; it’s your mom in an apron. Truth is not a toothy guy with a soft smile coming to us live, via satellite. Nor is it a cute cuddly little baby with cherubic cheeks. Truth is an old man with weather beaten wrinkles on his face; wrinkles that tell us, “I’ve been around for a while.  I’m old.  Very old.  I was here before you.  And I’m not going anywhere.”

And so the job of the really great gospel teacher – is to bring us back again to those things that are so easily forgotten – to that timeless old man, to that mother in the apron, to that plumber, that parchment, that oak; to point us again and again back to the old and true things that we daily turn away from. Like the mother standing over the sick child, the teachers of gospel truth sit down on the side of the bed and hold a spoon full of medicine up to the tight lipped little one and whisper, “Drink this down. It’s medicine. It’s good for you. You may hate it now, but I promise you, if you swallow this, you’ll feel much better in the morning.” As the song in the musical Mary Poppins reminds us, the mother may offer a little sugar to help the medicine go down, but she must not convolute the mixture, nor must she back off from the prescribed dose. A half spoonful will not do. There isn’t much point to it all if the mother gives the child less than or something other than what the doctor has prescribed.

Because this is true, we pastors, we preachers of the gospel, we teachers of God’s word who are called to proclaim truth – whether we are teaching in a small group bible study or whether we stand behind a pulpit in front of thousands of people – we Sunday school teachers and student leaders – we parents and grandparents – we teachers of truth, if we desire to be good gospel teachers – then we must teach old things. It’s OK to add a little sugar, a little spice, a little humor. It’s perfectly fine to use a cultural reference or a literary analogy to capture the attention and help the understanding. But be sure not to convolute the message. Make sure that in the end you bring your students back to Moses, to Abraham, to Isaiah, and to Paul. Bring your students back to Calvin, and Luther, and Augustine. And more than all, bring them back to the Cross.  Back to repentance.  Bring them back to Christ.

This is our call. This is our task. We must not shrink back from it. For, as C.S. Lewis so aptly reminds us, the great theological teacher is committed to bringing his students back, again and again, to those same old simple truths, that we all are so anxious not to see.

Making Sense Out of Suffering – God’s Megaphone (Part 2)


(I wrote this post early Sunday morning.  I finished it at 5am, while sitting in the dark, still suffering with a Kidney Stone.  I am presently at 18 days.)

The reality of suffering measured against God’s goodness is one of the foundational problems that unbeliever’s use to disprove the existence of God.  The line of thinking usually follows this pattern:  There is, without question, a great amount of suffering in the world.  If God is all-powerful and he is all loving, then why does he allow such suffering and death to take place?  In order to reconcile this problem, it is argued, a logical person must take one of only four positions: (1) that God is not all-powerful and therefore cannot stop our suffering, (2) that God is not all-loving and therefore does not care about our suffering, or (3) that God is neither all-powerful nor all-loving and therefore cannot stop our suffering nor does he care to, or (4) that there is no God at all.  The most likely of these four, says the atheist, is choice number four.

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Sacrographic Friday – The Wardrobe and the Holy Spirit

"It was the sort of house that you never seemed to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places".

I love the book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  Honestly, there are too many things about the story that I love, to recount them all in this post.  This photo made me think about the Wardrobe.  In Lewis’ story, the four Pevensies  are evacuated from London because of the air-raids during WWII.  They are sent to the home of Professor Digory Kirke.  When in the house, the children become enamored with an old Wardrobe that, as it turns out, is a portal into another world – the world of Narnia.  In this, C.S. Lewis is brilliant.  He has found a way, through the mechanism of a children’s story, to create an experience that gives his readers a frame of reference for understanding the Gospel:  A land that has been cursed, subjects who live in fear and slavery, a Queen who rules by lying and manipulating the desires of her subjects, A  Great Lion who gives his life to break that curse, the Kingdom of that Great Lion vanquishing the curse by redeeming slaves and freeing the oppressed.  It’s just so great. Continue reading