The wrestling angel gifted Jacob with a limp as a permanent reminder of his encounter with God. Jacob's life-long policy was to run. His final glory was that he learned to lean (Hebrews 11:21). A wound is a good thing if it is accepted as a stewardship from God, appropriated as a channel of God's strength and consecrated to God's purpose. Where dependence is the objective weakness is the advantage.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What the Shepherds Heard/What the Shepherds Saw

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
                                              Luke 2:20

Faith is belief before sight. Faith is conviction about what God says before confirmation through what God shows. Our faith is tested, tried in fire. Peter writes that believers are priests and we know that God will purify the sons of Levi. He refines us like gold is refined. We each have our seasons of burning.
The testing necessarily includes some kind of disappointment. We hope things will go one way, we pray accordingly but the thing we didn't want prevails. The great thing is to be sure the disappointment is not degraded to the point of doubt or even despair, to the place where faith begins to break upon the rocks.
If nothing we ever learned from God's Word ever appeared to be true in our experience few of us would have remained Christians very long. But what God says about the world, about history, about the way people are as they abide in their respective spheres of belief and unbelief, is more than enough to shelter faith when the test comes. That and the overwhelming sense that, like the Hebrew children in Babylon, we are not alone in the furnace.
The elapsed time between what the Shepherds heard and what the Shepherds saw was short. The time was made even shorter because they made haste and searched out God's promises without delay. Not a bad model for ourselves.
We are not likely to be favored with a vision of angels. The privilege of the Shepherds was enormous. They worked in the right neighborhood at the right time. But they doubtless knew their trials in after-years. Perhaps trials which even made them doubt the reality or the relevance of what they saw that night.
But it WAS real. 
And it remains eternally relevant.
The elapsed time in our own case will be longer for sure. But our prospect is just as sure.
Like them, we shall behold Him.
No longer lying in a manger but seated upon a throne.
The shepherds will be there too.
Still glorifying and praising God.
Merry Christmas from Memphis

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Preface to Paradise Lost: Remembering CSL on His Birthday

Today is the birthday of CS Lewis, the most quoted Christian author of the 20th Century. This blog has been virtually retired for the better part of a year while I was applying for residence in a country unfriendly to the faith. The lower my profile, I reasoned, the better my chances. Now that my application has been turned down there's no reason not to pay tribute to my favorite writer.
Many pass through a Lewis phase and grow out of it. I never graduated, and my awe of the man increases with each passing year.
I don't discount Lewis' failings. He never tired of reminding his readers that he was an untrained layman and no authority on doctrine. We heartily agree. Sometimes his mishandling of doctrine can only elicit groans. In "The World's Last Night" (otherwise a wonderful essay) he concluded that the limitations of the Incarnation (explained by Jesus' own declaration that " concerning the day and hour no one knows...not even the Son" ) led Him to a mistaken  prediction of a 'this generation" Return. That of course is awful.
But where Lewis is good he is splendid. If the proof of an apologist's worth is conversion then Lewis is the probable leader in market share. Better than anyone he shows with clarity and power not only that Christianity is true but that it is right and good that Christianity should be true.
The choice may surprise but I'm not sure that “A Preface to Paradise Lost " does not showcase Lewis' peculiar genius as much as any other effort. Though a work of Literary Criticism, Lewis was able to smuggle in a considerable quantity of Christian Apologetics since Milton wrote on a biblical theme. Lewis wrote all his non-fiction in the first person.
He turns that policy to advantage when he slips in a testimony which approaches the border of personal witness.
"...I should warn the reader that I myself am a Christian and that some of the things which the atheist reader must 'try to feel as if he believed '... I do believe. But for the student of Milton my Christianity is an advantage. What would you not give to have a real, live Epicurean at your elbow while reading Lucretius?" (Chapter 9)
One of Lewis' great assets is his ability to diagnose some misfortune on the modern scene we already sensed but never understood. We could not understand because, like Dr. Watson, we looked but we did not observe. Had we understood we may not have been able to express. Our powers of articulation would have failed us. The marriage of acute observation and memorable classification is a happy commonplace in the Lewis canon.
"The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility: rather it proves the offender's inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for everyone else the proper pleasure of ritual." (Chapter 3)
or ,again, on the same subject
"(Ritual) renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable, (it) hands over to the power of wise custom the task of being festive or sober, gay or reverent, when we choose to be and not to the bidding of chance." (Chapter 4)
What Lewis says about Milton we can say about himself:
"The whole art consists not in evoking the unexpected, but in evoking with a perfection and accuracy beyond expectation the very image that has haunted us all our lives." (Chapter 8)
In all his books he displayed the capacity to illumine his subject by citing correspondences from disparate spheres. In 'Mere Christianity' he famously compares regeneration to toy soldiers coming to life.
The folly of Satan's unwitting self-destruction by rebellion is thus related:
"  "It is like the scent of a flower trying to destroy the flower." (Chapter 13)
Lewis' stock in trade was the startling spiritual insight-
" ...the only point of forbidding it (the fruit on the tree) was to instill obedience." (Chapter 10)
He offered convincing historical summaries-
" The older Puritans took away the maypoles and the mince pies: but they did not bring in the millennium, they only brought in the Restoration." (Chapter 19)
He persuaded by analogies unexpected but exceedingly apt. His language, in the words of JAW Bennett his successor in the Cambridge chair, would "always elucidate, never decorate."
He was born 114 years ago. His departure is now nearly 50 years past.
No one with a remote claim to be his equal has graced our horizon since.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843)

Daily I try to follow the Bible readings of Robert Murray M'Cheyne. M'Cheyne, who entered Heaven before his 30th birthday, is reputed to have been Scotland's greatest preacher. Today I am at Matthew 28-The Resurrection and The Great Commission. Matthew 28:19 is called The Great Commission. The Saviour enjoins those who are His to go and tell. The next (and last) verse of the First Gospel is a kind of Great Comfort. We are promised that when we go He will accompany. The first recorded words of Jesus (Luke 2:49) are an explanation of why He was not with His parents. Jesus' last words in the Gospels are a promise that He will be with His disciples. More specifically the promise is made to disciples who carry out His orders.
And joyful orders they are.
Three days ago a friend told me "My enthusiasm about living the Christian life is exactly proportional to my willingness to share my faith." CT Studd, who enjoyed celebrity at Cambridge in the 1890's, died in the Belgian Congo in 1931. He confessed that when he stopped sharing his faith as a way of life his love for Jesus grew cold.
My assignment in the Church where I worship affords me the title 'Pastor'.
Because the church I serve is in Hungary I am sometimes called a 'Missionary'.
Because I am called both Pastor and Missionary it is a reasonable assumption that my life is adorned by much prayer and constant witness.
That assumption is false.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Elizabeth II Rocks

26 December

After reading what I thought was an unedited version of the Queen’s annual Christmas address to the nation yesterday I wrote to some friends that the Queen, though never actually mentioning the name "Jesus", actually called Him a Saviour sent into the world by God. Naturally I was delighted by that.

Today when I listened to a BBC Replay of the entire address I was much more encouraged. What I originally wrote was inaccurate, because the version I read had excised the Queen's strongest Christian remarks. No great surprise there.

That gracious lady did indeed refer to JESUS.

“Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds… ‘Fear not,’ they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves—from our recklessness or our greed.”

The Queen was not crafting a theological treatise. If she were, we would have hoped she would have gone farther. We would have hoped she would say, “All of history, all our experience, our conscience and Holy Scripture make it overwhelmingly obvious that we do indeed need saving from ourselves ALL THE TIME. We need saving not only from our recklessness and greed but also from our unbelief.”

But I’m grateful for her boldness in going as far as she did. Her words were wisely chosen especially when we consider who her audience is. This Queen has been a consistently underrated superstar. Throughout the address she emphasized our desperate need of forgiveness and love. She is the titular head of the Church of England. She is the reigning monarch over a Kingdom where there are more Muslims at the Mosque on Friday than there are Anglicans at Church on Sunday. It would be too much to hope that the themes of love and forgiveness have been prominent in those Friday meetings in recent years.

The Queen went on:

“God sent into the world a unique Person—not a philosopher nor a general (important as they are), but a Saviour with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families. It can restore friendships. And it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we learn the power of God’s love.

In the last verse of this beautiful carol ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ there is a prayer:

O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin
And enter in
Be born in us today

It is my prayer that on this Christmas Day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.”

Preach it Sister.

God save the Queen, say I.

But I’m pretty sure He already has.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Death of Christopher Hitchens


The Death of Christopher Hitchens

Last night Christopher Hitchens discovered he had an immortal soul after all. As far as his present state of consciousness goes I'll leave it at that. His mortal frame expired at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston. He was 62.
He was a prolific journalist and literary critic, but he was most famous as a leading exponent of The New Atheism. Along with Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins he was included in the group known as The Four Horsemen, an elite coterie of particularly vocal and virulent atheists whom he confessed himself honored to be among. The New Atheists are distinguished from the old atheists mainly by an insistence that there is no reason to be respectful of religion in general or Christianity in particular. On the contrary, duty demanded that a thing as evil as belief in God be combated tirelessly. AJ Ayer, a pioneering hero of the new school, declared that Christianity was not only a bad religion, it was the worst religion. No person of faith was off limits and no cow so sacred as to be spared. He famously referred to Mother Teresa as The Ghoul of Calcutta and called her a "lying, thieving Albanian dwarf."
Positively I can say this about him. He was an adroit debater- far cleverer than Richard Dawkins. Dawkins knows nothing of history or philosophy-precious little about anything outside his specialty.
Hitchens came off like a polymath.
He wasn't.
He scraped by at Balliol College Oxford with a Third. He mocked CS Lewis' famous trilemma as "pathetic". (The 'Trilemma' was actually originated by an earlier Oxford scholar-Alfred Edersheim, a Viennese Jew converted in Budapest in the 1840's. The idea is as follows: When we look at the breathtaking scope of Jesus' claims we are not left with the option that He could have been a great teacher merely. Great teachers don't claim the authority to forgive sins. In fact Jesus assumed prerogatives of Deity. Jesus, according to Edersheim, Lewis and a host of others, leaves us with but three options. Either He knew He wasn't God, though He claimed to be, which would make Him a liar. Or He thought He was God but wasn't, which would make Him a lunatic. Or...His claims were true. Hence the Trilemma: Lord, lunatic or liar.)
It is particularly laughable that Hitchens would mock CS Lewis as a shabby thinker as Lewis was awarded three Firsts in one undergraduate career at Oxford, countering Hitchens' lowest with his highest.
But Christopher Hitchens' projection of a broad, urbane intellectualism was dazzling. There's little doubt that after University he began to do his homework. And he was indefatigable. Possessed of a roguish charm he could be self-deprecating, and it was seductive.
Charm is deceitful.
The coherence of his arguments was apparent not real. Like all atheist debaters he lingered not long over:
1) The inexplicable existence of matter and energy
2) The bridge from the material to the sentient
3) The powerful valence of morality as an intellectual and emotional force.
He steered clear because atheism (recent attempts of Stephen Hawking notwithstanding) cannot plausibly account for these realities. He preferred to rant along the lines of the hypocrisy of professing believers (a primary emphasis of the Gospels), the scandal that God would allow suffering (one theme of the Book of Job) and the alleged unfairness of hell -a charge his own stated preferences undermined.
He was an inveterate blasphemer.
Ironically, (and this would not have pleased him), he confirmed two of CSL's theories about unbelief. If God does not exist why the emotive focus? Lewis remembered that while he was an atheist he was absolutely sure that God was not there. He was also very angry with this God who-is-not-there kind of God. Christopher Hitchens hated the Christian God for the stupefying reason that he felt morally superior to Him. When you listen to his arguments Richard Dawkins is actually begging us not to believe in God simply because he himself cannot conceptualize such a being. It never seems to have occurred to Dawkins that God may not be a carbon based life form after all. The thrusts of Hitchens' own atheism moved along different lines. Hitchens’ consistent plea was that if God exists He is morally contemptible.
At least he served the noble purpose of proving that hypocrisy is not the exclusive domain of religion. Hitchens deserted his wife and two year old while his wife was pregnant. He deserted them for a woman he moved in with the day he met her. He blamed the God who wasn't there for all suffering (presumably also the suffering of his wife and children) but worshiped Leo Trotsky, a blood-curdling mass murderer. That’s not all, but the man is dead and there's no need to pile on.
Hitchens also confirmed Lewis' contention that it is a mistake to assume all unbelievers prefer heaven to hell. Hitchens said that heaven would be like living in North Korea. As he believed the Christian God to be at least as vile as Kim Jong-il he viewed the Christian heaven as a place so loathsome he wouldn't want to be caught dead there.
Therefore he met at least one of his goals by dying.
I had prayed for him as recently as two days ago.
Sic transit gloria mundi.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


June 19, 1834 – January 31, 1892

Today is the birthday of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the greatest preacher ever to preach in the English language. I'd be happy for disagreements, because other candidates could inspire a nomination for second place. Whitefield? Martyn Lloyd-Jones? John Stott? I really have no idea who should be second.
But I suspect it's a distance second.
Spurgeon was the son and grandson of ministers but was not converted without difficulty. The precipitating event was a snow-storm while the 15 year-old was trying to walk to a ferry on a Sunday morning early in the year 1850. Realizing the inadvisability of pressing against the weather he took shelter in a Primitive Methodist Chapel at Colchester. Conditions were such that the preacher never arrived at the service, so the sexton preached extemporaneously from Isaiah 45:22: "Look to Me. all ye ends of the earth and be saved."
Spurgeon did and he was.
The sexton's name is lost to history.
Within five years hardly a building in England could house the crowds who wanted to hear the boy preacher.
He began as pastor of a small chapel in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire. He left there for New Park Street Chapel, London. Soon the facilities were inadequate to contain the throngs, and so, in time, the great Metropolitan Tabernacle was built.
What was the secret of his greatness?
God, God and God.
Apart from that obvious answer four things stand out.
!) Spurgeon had an unshakeable conviction that the Bible is the Word of God. He ministered in an era when confidence in biblical authority was in dramatic decline. The emergence of evolution meant that human life was being accounted for naturalistically. Liberal criticism contended that Holy Scripture could be accounted for humanly. The day of confidence in the divine source of anything seemed to be passing. Spurgeon never blinked. His sermons were powerful because they reposed on the infallible authority of a speaking God.
2) Spurgeon was a lover of the Lord Jesus Christ. He adored the immaculate Person of the bleeding Savior. He worshipped as he preached and showed the worship of Jesus to be a beautiful and necessary thing from which no sane creature should shrink.
3) He believed in the absolute sovereignty of God when it came to saving sinners. Possessed with gifts of evangelistic persuasion unparalleled in the world he nevertheless insisted, "I could as easily create a planet as I could save a soul. Salvation is God’s work."
4) He embraced the sphere of human instrumentality with ardor. He believed that the sovereign God sovereignly determined to use the pleading of fallen creatures to bring their fellows to repentance. And so he pled. Solemnly but winsomely, logically yet not without emotion, and lovingly yet without compromise he pled.
Under God's good hand he preached up a harvest
And under God's hand he reaped abundantly.
Of course his sermons were not solely evangelistic. His sermons fed the church, grew disciples and raised up missionaries.
Nor was he solely a pulpit warrior. He founded an Orphanage and a Pastor's College. He supported the widows of pastors. He provided cheap books for ministers and he sent out home and foreign workers.
He took no salary but lived off the sale of his sermons and books.
We now languish in a second century since Spurgeon.
May God grant another.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sometimes Mid Scenes of Deepest Gloom...

A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
And she refused to be comforted
Because they were no more

Weeks ago I wrote something about the death of Osama bin-Laden but I didn't post it.
I've made a few visits to countries where his ideology holds sway. I'd like to do a bit more in such places before I'm done.
Therefore my ambition inhibits my candor.
But this week there was another death which I simply must write about.
Years ago I was reading one of Ruth Bell Graham's Memoirs.
She was remembering her father's missionary colleagues in China, and in one section she enumerated their monumental suffering.
There's a strange notion about that if we try to make righteous choices and consecrate our lives to high purposes we will somehow escape any disturbance to the comfort of our lives.
Any survey of the brief Life and painful Death of Jesus of Nazareth ought to be sufficient to disabuse us of that illusion.
But the myth persists. I suppose it is a species of the equally mythological belief that we can merit or earn our own salvation.
For years I've known a young Dutch couple who are sterling Missionaries. He left a brilliant career in Physics, they moved to Budapest, bore down, and learned the language in record time. He wrote a book in Hungarian while still in his 20's. They'd been told they could not have children. A few months ago she conceived, but early on the doctors warned them with dark forebodings. This week they were presented with their little Rebekah. And a few hours later the child entered heaven.
Yesterday I had a brief visit with them in the hospital.
I suppose it's something God knew He could trust them with-this assignment no Christian would want. This assignment so like the assignment God the Father took upon Himself.
God will not prove His love for us by keeping those we love from suffering and death.
He offers that proof in a different way.
He proves His love by refusing to protect the One He loves from suffering and death.
They know that and they brought it up.
Like Jesus they have suffered.
Like Jesus they will die.
Like Jesus they will rise.
And they will prevail.

And when my task on earth is done
When by Thy grace the victory won
E'en death's cold wave I will not flee
Since God through Jordan leadeth me