Ordinary to Extraordinary

In His Majesty’s Secret Service

Mention of the British Secret Service brings to mind images of James Bond. Age probably determines exactly who Bond looks like… Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, etc. Regardless, Bond is always well-dressed, has cool cars, gets to use cool gadgets, and even has cool enemies.

In all likelihood, picturing a British Secret Service agent does not generate an image of C.S. Lewis. This is why fans of Lewis’ — whose most well-known works include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity — are surprised to find out that Lewis actually was part of the British Secret Service during WWII.

WWII Turning Point

The details of Lewis’ recruitment to the British Secret Service remain a mystery. However, some interesting facts exist regarding the unique role he played.

  • Lewis’ public speaking prowess made him better-suited for his assignment than his contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien, who actually had a better knowledge base for the job than Lewis.
  • Lewis was tasked to “help win the hearts of the Icelandic people” and thus secure Britain’s presence in Iceland for the remainder of WWII.
  • With a speech to the Icelandic people, Lewis “provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English” that essentially accomplished this goal.

Knowing a little background about Iceland’s role in WWII is helpful in realizing the significance of what Lewis did as a Secret Service agent.

  • April 1940 — Germans invaded Norway and Denmark. British troops counter the Germans in Norway but were too late to do so in Denmark.
  • May 1940 — Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
  • May 1940 (Same morning of above invasion) — British troops invaded Iceland, a strategic location for a naval and air base in the Atlantic region.

The British needed to remain in Iceland in order to help defeat the Germans, but they needed the cooperation of the Icelandic people to accomplish this.

“Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended on the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.” (C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent)

Lewis’ speech, “The Norse Spirit in English Literature,” to the Icelandic people helped turn the tide of war. Britain won their favor and were able to remain in Iceland. This presence was critical to winning the war.

Unexpected Service

Personally, I love the idea of this great literary scholar and lay theologian — and one of my favorite authors — also being an agent for the British Secret Service. Not only does it make for great conversation, it also provides a terrific illustration of Scripture.

“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16)

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)

Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Lewis put his literary talents to work in an unexpected way and ended playing a major role in defeating the Germans in WWII. Yet, Lewis never touted this involvement that we know of. It appears he simply allowed himself to serve the greater good.

The work Lewis was given to do as a Secret Service agent, was directly in tune with his talents and abilities. In fact, his well-known voice is once of the reason he was likely chosen for the task since it would increase the likelihood of the Icelandic people listening to the message.

Uniquely Crafted

Learning that C.S. Lewis was a British Secret Service agent encourages me. It tells me that God can and does use the talents and abilities He gives us in obvious as well as unexpected ways. On the days when I wonder about my own usefulness, stories like these remind me to always be ready for any type of service.

Stories like this one also remind me that God uniquely crafts and genuinely calls every person. Like Lewis, I get to spend my days applying the gifts and abilities God gave me and at the same time staying ready for a call out of my ordinary and into the extraordinary.

Knowing God, Part 1

6 Degrees of Separation

Know anyone famous? Want to know anyone famous? According to the theory “6 degrees of separation”…

“All living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other.”

That means, the famous person you want to meet is only six steps — or degrees — away from you. So, Harrison Ford or John Travolta (or whoever it is you want to meet) are connected through five or less other people. Not sure you buy into the theory?

Consider this…

I met a guy in the grocery store a while back who is friends with Harrison Ford. Had I been able to get the guy’s name and number, you would be connected to Harrison Ford through just two people.

Here’s another example. I worked with a guy years ago who is friends with John Travolta. Had John’s number in his cell phone. So, that means you are connected to John Travolta through just two people.

Don’t take my word for it, though, the theory actually has scientific merit too.

“Assuming everyone knows at least 44 people, and that each of those people knows an entirely new 44 people, and so on, the math shows that in just six steps everyone could be connected to 7.26 billion people — more than are alive on earth today.” (Are We Really All Connected by Just Six Degrees of Separation?)

Experiments have been carried out to give the theory even more credence. Not only that, but the shoot-off game “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” provided additional scientific data to strengthen the theory.

Who You Know Matters

Let’s personalize this a bit. When someone wants to find a job today, how valuable is it that they know someone at the company where they’re applying? Almost all of my own work right now exists as the result of knowing someone, not of me actively seeking the work. Even in the Bible we see that who you know matters. Consider Moses and Daniel as examples of this.

Who we know matters. It matters to us in a variety of ways from personal and professional to satisfying a need within us to connect with people who make us feel important.

A Need to Be Known

All people have a need to know and value themselves and to be important to others. Psychologists call this the Relational Value/Social Influence need. Being known is important to us because of how it connects with our individual experiences, private thoughts and public image. This knowing has a tremendous impact on our character structure and well being.

Timothy Keller in The Meaning of Marriage makes a poignant statement about the power of this need.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is… a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

This statement is even more profound when we remember that Scripture uses marriage as a metaphor for Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-32). Those of us in Christian marriages understand the value of that relationship for better understanding how our relationship with Christ is to exist.

Yet, no matter how good our marriages or any other relationships are, we never have 100% knowledge in them. We aren’t fully known, and we don’t fully know others. The fact is that any knowing outside of God never fully satisfies.

Everyone desires to know and be known because God created us for relationship. More specifically, he created us for relationship with Him.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16)

And as our creator, only he can know us fully. In fact, he knows us better than we know ourselves.

God Knows Us Intimately

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” (Attributed to Socrates)

As Christians, we believe that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). However, we can still agree that knowing yourself does bring a depth of wisdom essential for living life in a successful way.

Psychologists say that knowing yourself brings the following benefits:

  • Happiness.
  • Less inner conflict.
  • Better decision making.
  • Self control.
  • Resistance to social pressure.
  • Tolerance and understanding of others.
  • Vitality and pleasure.

Yet, we can’t even know all there is to know about ourselves. The Johari Window illustrates this truth well.

Only God can truly know all there is to know about each one of us. And He can do this because, well, He did create us after all.

“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance. And in Your book were written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

God created us. He knew us before we had physical form and even orchestrated the days of our lives before one of them began. He knows us intimately. It stands to reason, then, that the best way to knowing ourselves better is to know God better.

Next week we’ll explore exactly how we can know God.

A Wise Men History Lesson

Note: This post coincides with the idea of Epiphany, though it wasn’t my focus when I wrote the post. If you’d like to know more about Epiphany, check out this article: What is Epiphany / Three Kings’ Day and should Christians celebrate it?

wisemen

Who were the wise men?

To understand the significance of the wise men’s role in the Christmas story, let’s go back to the time of Daniel. The Medes and the Persians conquered Babylon in 539BC. The Persians were the dominant power, and the Medes were eventually integrated.

The Magi (wise men) were the hereditary priesthood of the Medes (knows as the Kurds today) and known for profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. They proved to be experts in interpreting dreams, which is why Darius made them the supreme priestly caste over the Persian Empire.

How did the wise men know about the Messiah?

Daniel eventually received the title of Rab-mag, or Chief of the Magi, because of his superior ability to interpret dreams other Magi could not. This led to his stay in the lion’s den (Daniel 1:18-20, Daniel 9:24-27, & Daniel 12).

As a result of this interaction, the Magi knew Daniel’s prophecy about the Messiah. Daniel’s survival in the lion’s den as well as his part in saving the Magi’s lives significantly impacted them too. They probably also knew about the Messiah through Balaam, one of their ancestors (Numbers 24:17).

The Jews and the Persians (including the Magi) eventually fell under Seleucid control. The Seleucids eventually fell to the Parthians. The Magi continued as the dominating ruling party through the Seleucid and Parthian Empire and also through Sasanian rule (224-651BC).

Why was Herod afraid of the wise men?

The Magi traveled 800-900 miles & originated from what is modern-day Iran. They arrived in Jerusalem probably with a large entourage. They were the wealthy, ruling class of the Parthians, after all. As a result, they would have traveled protected and in relative ease.

Their arrival frightened the whole city, not just Herod the Great. The people of Jerusalem likely thought the Parthians came to besiege them again. Herod’s and the people’s fears were justified since there many people (including Herod) were in Jerusalem when the Parthians invaded Roman Judea a few decades before. They basically kicked out the Romans for several years.

Though they took back Judea, the Roman Empire never completely defeated the Parthians. The two groups went back and forth between war and diplomacy from 53AD-217BC. In addition, the Parthians had a sophisticated culture of commerce, significant wealth, and some of their cities stood as the largest in the world.

The Romans and Herod feared the arrival of the Magi for more than just their bringing emphasis to this child called “king of the Jews”

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east cam to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:1-3)

Why should we care about the wise men?

The Magi grew in knowledge about the Messiah. Their interest began just before the silent years between the testaments and endured from one generation to the next. And they weren’t even Jewish.

We also can’t overlook the fact that the Magi looked for Jesus’ arrival for hundreds of years. They expected it and knew the signs when they saw them.

The Magi set an example of what seeking Christ truly means still for us today.

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”(Matthew 2:1-12)

How does the Magi’s drive to discover the Christ child change your perspective on what it means to seek Him?

Building & Establishing Trust

TrustWhen we firmly establish our source of trust in Christ, as we discussed in How Do We Live Out Trust? and Where Should You Place Your Trust?, we can now move on to the activity of trust within imperfect relationships. This activity of building & establishing trust in relationships begins with first living a trustworthy life.

Living Trustworthy Lives

Only when we live trustworthy lives grounded in the One who is perfectly trustworthy can we then begin to build trust in our relationships. That happens when we consistently practice the following:

  1. Focus on pleasing God not people. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
  2. Determine to be trustworthy with the Gospel. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
  3. Rely on the Holy Spirit. (2 Timothy 1:14)
  4. Be dependable at work and at home. (Proverbs 31:10-11; Titus 2:10)
  5. Learn from those proven trustworthy, though not perfect. (Moses, Nehemiah, Daniel & Timothy)

Since our trust lies rooted in God, we must purpose to show that we truly trust Him as we move forward in establishing trustworthy character. When trust is secure within us, rooted and grounded in that which cannot be taken from us, we can then move on to building trust with others.

Trusting in Those Who Fail

Before moving on to how to build trust, we must address the struggle of trusting those who fail. We build trust in new relationships, and that takes a lot of work too, but it’s the building of trust with those who failed us — who broke trust — that usually provides the more difficult challenge.

I want to trust others after they’ve hurt me, but I struggle getting their breach of trust out of my thoughts sometimes. The easiest way I’ve found to not think about it, or at least to think about it less, is to avoid the person. Yet, not only is that not always possible, it doesn’t line up with Scripture.

So, I must do the tough work of choosing to trust those who fail me simply because I know it pleases God. That’s where my relationship with Him — where my trust being established in Him — becomes crucial. Because there’s no way I can trust those who have failed me if they are the source of my ability to trust.

Trust quotes

Examples of Reestablishing Trust

For me, hearing about stories of trust helps me better understand how to reestablish it in my own life. And what better examples than those found in Scripture.

  • God trusted Jonah despite previous disappointment (Jonah 3:1-2). Jonah ultimately comes through, but he never really gets the point God is making. (See God is a God of Second Chances for more on this.)
  • Jesus reinstated Peter after his predicted denial (John 21:15). Not only did He reinstate him, but Jesus trusted Him with tremendous responsibility in the spread of the Gospel.
  • Barnabas gave John Mark a second chance. Paul disagreed with doing so, but Barnabas extended opportunity for trust again (Acts 15:37-39).

Ultimately, we choose to trust others because we know that trust exists at the heart of relationships. God trusts humans with tasks purposed for His will because He desires relational partnering. Because He trusts in this way, knowing He’ll be let down, we too can continue working to build trust even with those who have and likely will again let us down.

DISCUSSION: How does God’s example of trusting others inspire you to do the same even in light of broken trust?

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How Do We Live Out Trust?

Trust

Living Out Trust

Trusting another person often makes a bold statement about your trust in God, a statement saying you choose obedience over trying to protect yourself. Because we have a 100% reliable source of trust, we know the answer to the question “Where Should You Place Your Trust?” So, we move forward in relationships with others who will let us down because we remain confident God never will.

Showing Trust in God

The best place to start living out trust that is rooted and grounded in God is through tangible expressions of that trust. In other words, living out trust comes through practical expressions and actions that show God exists as our source of trust and confidence. That happens through…

Actively showing our trust in God opens us up to living out trust by trusting others because we know our trust lies rooted in Him, not them. But, that doesn’t mean trusting in others is easy. It’s especially not when a wound from hurt is fresh or when it festers from long-term infection or when we know other wounds are forthcoming.

People & Trust

Trust in the LordPeople will break my trust again. Ultimately, that doesn’t matter though because they can never take away what truly matters, that which only comes from God.

The most important thing I have to lose – my salvation – can’t be lost. So, it’s not important as much whether others are trustworthy as it is whether or not I’m living a life that truly trusts in the only one who is trustworthy. That’s the root of living out trust.

Showing Where Trust Lies

We can show our trust in a variety of ways. Most importantly, that means showing where we place our trust and giving glory to God by doing so. That happens when we:

  • Choose to trust people knowing they’ll let you down. Do this knowing and proclaiming that God can and will make good out of it. Declare that He rights wrongs. (Luke 18:7)
  • Build relationships and strive for unity even amidst continually broken trust. If for no other reason, do it out of obedience to the One who is completely trustworthy. (Ephesians 2:21-22)
  • Look at our expectations and adjust or maybe even eliminate them. Do your part to live at peace with others. That involves not setting them up for failure. (Romans 12:18)
  • Don’t mistake people letting you down for God letting you down. Don’t blame God for people breaking your trust. Choose to follow God’s will regardless of what others do or don’t do. (Joshua 24:15)

Living out trust means choosing to continue trusting others even amidst hurt and betrayal. It means working to build trust and doing your part to live peacefully with others even when you know they’ll let you down. You can do this because God is bigger than and can heal the hurt from any broken trust.

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How to… Live Like a Recabite

1-7-12 Recabites

What in the world is a Recabite?

The Recabites are descendants of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, through the Kenites (1 Chronicles 2:55, Judges 1:16; 4:11). Recab’s son assisted Jehu as he got rid of Ahab’s evil, Baal-worshipping family (2 Kings 10:15-17). The Recabites had a history of knowing evil and why it was important to get it out of their lives.

In Jeremiah 35, the Recabites are used as examples of obedience. God told Jeremiah to take the Recabites into the inner room of the temple and to offer them wine. When Jeremiah did this, the Recabites responded by saying,

“We don’t drink wine, because Jehonadab son of Recab, our ancestor, gave us this command, ‘You and your descendants must never drink wine. And do not build houses or plant crops or vineyards, but always live in tents. If you follow these commands, you will live long, good lives in the land.’ So we have obeyed him in all these things.” (Jeremiah 35:5-8)

What lessons can we learn from the Recabites?

God tested the Recabites not to set them up for potential failure but to use them as an example as compared to the Israelites who continually failed to be obedient to God. The Recabites held firm to their ancestor’s instructions to remain separate from their surrounding culture. The Israelites, on the other hand, failed to obey their living God by remaining separate. Instead, the Israelites took on the evil habits of the culture as their own.

The Recabites’ provide a terrific lesson in how to live an obedient life dedicated to God, which often means living counter-culturally.

  1. Know your why. The Recabites knew why they were not to drink wine and why they were living in tents. We too must know our why to be able to stand firm in our convictions when trials hit.
  2. Be ready to give an answer. As soon as temptation was presented, the Recabites knew exactly how to answer. They didn’t have to first think about what to say. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
  3. Develop strong family values. Strong family values allowed the Recabites to hold to their unique lifestyles for many generations. If you don’t have strong family values, be the one to begin a legacy of obedience.
  4. Be ready to live counter-culturally. Because the Recabites knew why they were living like they were and because they had strong family values, they were able to live counter-culturally. They impacted the culture instead of letting the culture change them.
  5. Realize the significance of obedience. The Recabites give us a lesson in obedience that was passed on from one generation to the next. The Israelites, on the other hand, struggled passing this crucial life principle on and to create a solid defense.

How can we apply the Recabite message? We don’t have to necessarily abstain from drinking wine or live in tents to apply the Recabite message today. We’re talking message over method here. In other words, we can apply the message that God was making when He had Jeremiah use the Recabites as an example without using their exact method (not drinking wine and living in tents).

Need another example to help grasp what this might mean? Check out Daniel’s story. The Recabites and Daniel show us that we can choose to obey God in all areas of our lives as well as choose to live counter-culturally if necessary.

Are you willing to live counter-culturally?

God praised, blessed and protected both the Recabites and Daniel for their obedience. He will do the same for us too. He wants us to live lives impacted by Scripture instead of culture. He wants us to make choices that honor Him even if they go against our culture. Ask yourself, “What would my life look like if I was less influenced by my culture? How should my life reflect the message of the Recabites?”

DISCUSSION: What does 2 Timothy 3:14-17 tell us about living lives obedient to God?

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