Which One Looks the Most Shady

As Paul described the “old self” in Ephesians chapter 4 he compared it to the life of the Gentiles. Unbelievers are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, hard-hearted, calloused, and greedy for impurity. Then he said:

But that is not the way you learned Christ…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, (Ephesians 4:20–22)

The last phrase is striking: “deceitful desires” (ESV) or “lusts of deceit” (NAS). This doesn’t mean that non-Christians want to deceive others, though that is true many times. Instead it means that sinful desires deceive the desirer. Such a person believes his own press; he’s also happens to be the author, editor, printer, and delivery boy.

The worst villains aren’t those who know their own evil, those who try on multiple black hats to see which one looks the most shady. The worst villains believe that they do no evil; they might even wear white lab coats. They allege that others misunderstand what they call “serving the greater good” or “helping mankind.” For example, Planned Parenthood advertises its abortion services as a way that they save lives.

On the individual level, and it is true of individual Christians as well, sin lies to us. Sin hides from others, but it is most dangerous because it hides from us. It’s why we must keep looking at the mirror of God’s Word. It’s also why we need to listen to others who know us and won’t accept our bull.

If people–such as your parents, disciplers, other counselors you’ve had previous reason to trust–persistently tell you that you want something that is wrong, maybe they finally cracked and now only want to make your life hell. Or maybe your desires have deceived you. The new self lives in true righteousness and holiness. Keeping sin around will keep you from seeing that clearly.

The Lifeblood of Fiction

My mom really wanted me to read when I was a kid. She taught English before I was born, then she stayed home to care for me (and my sister who joined us two years later). Summers included weekly trips to the public library where, as I remember, my sister would return her borrowed stack and collect a new tower for the following week while I thought about whether or not I really wanted to read the next McGurk mystery.

Maybe it wasn’t quite that pitiful, but after Encyclopedia Brown and McGurk and The Mad Scientist’s Club I spent my time reading things such as road signs. I don’t remember any book from my elementary school classes. I do remember much better the books I was assigned in Junior High and High School that I didn’t read. Somehow I graduated, and Lord of the Flies left the greatest impression. That’s what happens when you only read one.

Between my freshman and sophomore years of college I became a Calvinist. That got me excited about studying and reading but only so far as it concerned “the Truth.” The novels assigned in my Humanities class were for the “less spiritual” in my book. Through college and seminary I devoured works full of propositions and despised those filled with plots and characters. When I met Mo, she told me it was wrong that I hadn’t read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. So I read it, earned the respect points, and then quit somewhere in the first chapter of Prince Caspian.

More than a decade later, not only did I realize I was missing out, I realized I needed to repent. My disdain for fiction was dumb. Willful neglect truncated my imagination, my worldview, and my relationships. It also pruned my theology and worship. There is more to say about all this, and I’m excited to say it at the Raggant Fiction Festival.

Fiction Festival

Our keynote speaker for the festival is Douglas Bond. He’s an actual author (!) and I’ve enjoyed Betrayal and am almost finished reading the first of three in the Crown and Covenant series to our kids. His talks will make the day worth the cost. Also speaking will be our school’s headmaster, Jonathan Sarr. Among other things he teaches our Omnibus class which includes many of the shapers and staples of Western culture. Andy Bowers was our first full-time teacher and has covered all kinds of literature with our older grammar students. New to our faculty this fall is Leila Bowers who will teach another Omnibus class. She’s been teaching at a community college for several years and will bring more narrative mettle to the pot than most of us.

But I get to lead off. I am the least qualified to talk about the merits of all the fiction books that should go on one’s shelf, but I am definitely excited to talk about the need for fiction to be on the shelf. Good fiction is a lifeblood for Christian faith and faithfulness. It cannot replace the Bible nor does it intend to. It does help us think about how to live out the Bible and, done right, moves us to want to.

If you are a fiction hater, or ignore fiction, and especially if you hate or ignore with fussy theological reasons, then this Festival is aimed to bless you. If you already love fiction, then you will probably enjoy it as well. Check out the event page and consider hanging with us in Marysville on Saturday, September 26.

That Sickening Feeling

We can be thankful to God for the work of the Center for Medical Progress and their exposure of Planned Parenthood. Many Christians have been fighting on behalf of the unborn for decades and the calloused nature shown in the recently released videos have spread that sickening feeling. May the Lord grant our nation repentance before another boy or girl is killed.

Christians have hope that righteousness will ultimately prevail because another Son was murdered. His limbs and organs weren’t harvested for profit but His life was sold for silver. His calvarium wasn’t crushed but it was pierced by thorns. Forceps didn’t pull Him apart but other men did force His arms into position. Calloused men mocked and gambled for his clothes before making sure He was dead, yet He was more innocent than any aborted baby.

Isaiah prophesied about this Son. “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance” (Isaiah 52:14). “He was despised and rejected, “as one from whom men hide their faces” (Isaiah 53:3). “He was cut off out of the land of the living” (53:8). He was barely recognizable, but in His death we are redeemed.

What adjectives could we use to describe the unbelievable killing and marketing of our own nation’s children? The same adjectives that would struggle to carry the injustice done to Jesus Christ. And yet it was His willing endurance of oppression and slaughter that saves us and gives us hope in the midst of senseless evil.

Those who have crushed little children to death can be forgiven because Christ was crushed for iniquities. Those guilty of murder can be declared justified because a guiltless man was murdered as an offering. Jesus is our hope of life, and He is the life we announce for the sake of hope in this culture of death. The good news is good for such a time as this. We eat and drink the symbols of the chastisement that brought us peace.

It’s Already Hitting the Fan

When the laws regulating human society are so formed as to come into collision with the nature of things, and in particular with the fundamental realities of human nature, they will end by producing an impossible situation which, unless the laws are altered, will issue in such catastrophes as war, pestilence and famine. Catastrophes thus caused are the execution of universal law upon arbitrary enactments which contravene the facts; they are thus properly called by theologians, judgments of God.

—Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Kindle Locations 303-306

Stiff-arming the Truth

Though a short exhortation always precedes the act of confession in our Lord’s Day worship, why not place confession after the sermon? Imagine the large variety of sins that could be harvested by spending more time in the Bible field. More Spirit-inspired truth gives the Spirit more tools to dig for deep rooted sins.

There’s nothing wrong with liturgy in a different order. Revelation provides reasons to repent so presumably more revelation leads to more reasons leads to more repentance. But just as often God describes the reverse: repentance leads to accepting the truth.

Peter and James both assume that a Christian must deal with sin before consuming the Word. “Putting away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” crave the spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:1-2). Likewise, “putting away all filthiness and rampant wickedness, receive the implanted word” (James 1:21). Sin spoils our appetite for Scripture. Sin stiff-arms the truth.

Paul presented the order even more plainly to Timothy as he explained the process for persuading opponents. Correct opponents with gentleness and “God may perhaps grant repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25). He isn’t describing the proper order of a Sunday worship service, but the principle applies. Repentance enables knowledge.

Which comes first: the understanding of truth or repentance from sin? Sometimes we don’t need more information or another sermon before we change. Sometimes we can’t see the truth because we’re clutching sin patches over our eyes. What sights we’ll see from the place of repentance.

More Than One Vessel

We eat to know that we’re not alone.

I adapted that statement from a line in the movie “Shadowlands.” In it, C. S. Lewis is talking to a troubled student whose father had a saying, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Certain books do speak for us, we realize that the author thinks as we do and scratched it onto paper. We recognize kindred spirits in characters or at least in the mind of their creator.

Better than books and reading, when the Body assembles and eats together we know that we are not alone. Paul told Timothy to flee youthful passions “along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart” (1 Timothy 2:22). He wasn’t the only one facing the temptation, nor the only one facing the temptation to moan like nobody understood his problems. Timothy was to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace like and among his fellow worshippers.

In a “great house” there is more than one vessel (1 Timothy 2:20) and when we come to the Lord’s Table in His house we are not alone. Look around and see fellow saints who are fighting sin and following Christ. You might not see them doing it during the week. Some may not be doing it as well as others. But struggling is not sitting it out. You are not on the field by yourself.

Jesus is saving individuals into a body, a people for His own possession. He is not waiting to do that in heaven. He is doing that as we worship Him together. Eat and know that you are not alone.

There Are No Rough Drafts

Living means writing your every word and action and thought and drool spot down in forever. It means writing your story within the Story. It means being terrible at it. It means failing and knowing that, somehow, all of our messes will still contribute, that the creative God has merely given Himself a greater challenge–drawing glory from our clumsy botching of the past. We are like factory workers in a slapstick comedy, standing at our positions beside the too-fast conveyor belt that flings the future and all of our possible actions at us. Corn syrup and food coloring everywhere (along with cheese and ceramic figurines).

—N.D. Wilson, Death by Living, 166

You’ve Got to Know When to Get Out of There

Fight or flight are two typical reactions for a person who encounters a stressful or threatening situation. Let’s say you are walking down a dark alley late at night when three large men in masks step out from behind a dumpster. Or let’s say that your mother-in-law chooses her granddaughter’s birthday party to make a point about the lost etiquette of thank you notes and how she never gets them from this generation. You want to cry and run out of the room, or you want to slap her head in front of all the guests, verbally, of course. Escape or battle.

In the Christian’s war on sin there are times when the appropriate tactic is to run. Standing strong is good in its place, but sprinting away is sometimes the better course. It is similar to the difference between abstaining and avoiding. I can abstain from smoking in a room full of lit cigarettes, no problem. I will avoid a pit of rattle snakes.

God commands believers to flee a number of times in His Word. We must flee from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18). We must flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14). We must flee the love of money (1 Timothy 6:11). And we must flee youthful passions (2 Timothy 2:22) which may have some overlap with sexual immorality. We aren’t to keep watching the movie to prove how pure our thoughts are.

Joseph provides an example of running par expeditious. When Potiphar’s wife kept enticing him, he initially resisted with principles. When she cleared the house and made her last advance, Joseph didn’t sit her down and exhort her about the dangers of her sin. He fled her presence. Fast. He still got in trouble because she lied. But he didn’t get in trouble with God.

We ought to be awake in the war on sin. The devil prowls like a lion seeking prey to devour. Hanging around to tell him why another target is more tasty is not a shrewd move. As Kenny Rogers once put it, you’ve got to know when to get out of there.