Thursday, April 22
Over the past six weeks or so, I have become close to a handful of students I call my "work out crew." I have them in class on Mondays and Thursdays and we always go to the gym together afterward to "do fitness," which translates to cranking out a ridiculous number of lat pull downs, their favorite exercise. Jessie and Alex are two of my closest friends in this group.
As I got to know Alex, I was surprised to find that he is a believer. He told me soon after we met that he believed in God. He bikes to a "gathering" every Saturday where about one hundred university students learn from a teacher and sing songs.
Jessie is different. Although he's very close to believing Alex, Jessie has never gone with him to a gathering. He doesn't believe in God and is not afraid to tell you. That being said, Jessie is one of the kindest, most genuine guys I've met in China, maybe ever. So I was puzzled... why has he never given God a chance?
The answer came at the lat pull down machine:
I had been praying for some alone time to pick Alex's brain. God answered that prayer when Alex and I were the only ones to show up at the gym that week. We started talking about spiritual things and I had the chance to ask Alex why he believed. He got a faraway look in his eyes and I expected him to move me with some touching proclamation of great faith. Instead, he said, "I believe, but not very clearly. My father believed, his brothers believed, so I believe." Every weekend he bikes a couple miles to a meeting of believers to hear a lesson and sing songs because "his father and his brothers believe."
Why hasn't Jessie given God a chance? Because his only witness of Christianity has been Alex, who devotes his Saturdays to something he only believes half-heartedly. Alex's faith is actually a hindrance to Jessie coming to Christ.
I shudder to think how many times I have been guilty of this very fault. In my lifetime, how many people have I turned away because the Christianity I showed them was a watered-down version? I can't overstate how much I am writing to myself here, and I don't mean to be too critical of Alex, who clearly cares about his friend.
All I'm saying is, let's be either cold or hot, because if we're wearing the Name but not living the Life, our message to the lost is that Christianity is nothing but a two mile bike ride on Saturday morning.
Sunday, April 11
I've had writer's block lately, so I decided to bring in a guest blogger. You might have heard of him. This is an excerpt from C.S. Lewis' book, The Screwtape Letters. The book is a series of letters written from a senior demon to his protege, Screwtape. Remember as you read that the perspective is that of a demon ("the Enemy" refers to God, etc.).
"Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily good; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.
And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
Some people might think that because we are on the mission field we are immune to the "troughs." That is, of course, not true. I hope you are as encouraged by this passage as I am.