Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You Will Be Eating With Immortals This Christmas

“There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to our as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.  This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play.  But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption." C.S. Lewis.
Let's face it.  Even though Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas can also be a time when people drive us crazy.  Perhaps it is the brother who refuses to be much of a brother to you. Perhaps it is an awkward (or worse) relationship with a parent.  Maybe it is the obnoxious Uncle.

The quote above reminds us, however, that there are no ordinary people, that each person is an immortal child of God.  You will be having Christmas dinner with immortals.  It will be an immortal who gave you that...gift.  It is an immortal who will be sitting next to you in church. 

It is not always easy to see that.  My prayer is that you are able to remember that this season, when you ready to wring someone's neck.  May your celebrations this year be merry celebrations, without flippancy, superiority, or presumption.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Christmas A Nuisance?

"I feel exactly as you do about the horrid commercial racket they have made out of Christmas. I send no cards and give no presents except to children." C.S. Lewis, Letters To An American Lady.
I was shocked to learn that C.S. Lewis was somewhat of a Scrooge when it came to Christmas.  Specifically, in his collection of essay, God in the Dock, he decries Christmas as a nuisance.

I suppose in some sense he is right.  If Christmas is limited to its secular purposes then it is no more than a Federal holiday or worse, a commercial racket.  And truthfully, it is easy to get caught up in a “meaningless” Christmas with all the “duties” that come with Christmas between shopping for mostly needless gifts, dutifully spending time with family whom many would not like to spend time with outside of Christmas (note to my family, this certainly does not apply to you. I can think of no people I would rather spend time with.).

I hope instead this Christmas and every Christmas is one of deep meaning.  I hope you are able to reflect on the love that Jesus showed you by emptying himself and become man.  I hope find time to reflect on the hope that we have, a hope that is certain because of Jesus’ incarnation.  I hope you are able to consider the peace that Jesus offers us because of his life.  I hope you experience joy in knowing the depth of His love for you.  May this joy, peace, love, and hope of this season fill you full such that you are able to extend it to those in your life.

If we do not focus on such things, then C.S. Lewis is right… Christmas is a nuisance.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pain Removes The Veil And Plants The Flag Of Truth

"No doubt Pain as God's megaphone is a terrible instrument: it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul." C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

None of us likes pain.  Pain is never something to look forward to. Unfortunately, pain is at times a "necessary evil" because of the rebelliousness of our hearts.  Sometimes the only way that God can break through the barrier that we have placed around our hearts is with a sledgehammer. In that sense, the pain that God allows (causes?) in our lives is a matter of grace.  In that sense, pain is not a necessary evil, but a necessary good.

Please do not misunderstand.  I am not saying that pain is good. We shirk from pain, and rightfully so.  Yet, we should never deny that God always uses pain for our benefit and His glory. Although that does not necessarily take the pain away, it can make it easier to bear.  We are able to endure when we take our eyes off of our current pain and focus on the promise that, "all things work together for the good."

This is beautifully summarized in Hebrews 12:11:
 "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."

Some reading this are in immense pain right now, be it physical or emotional. I do not mean to make light of your pain.  But rest assured that He is in the process of planting the flag of truth in your heart, and the yield will be the "peaceful fruit of righteousness"...as long as you let Him work.  As C.S. Lewis points out, we have two choices when faced with pain: (a) unrepentant rebellion, or (b) allowing the veil to be removed.   

Child of God, take courage and trust Him with your pain! Allow Him to work. It will produce great fruit.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Lesson From C.S. Lewis On His Birthday: You Are Never Too Old To Dream

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”  C.S. Lewis
Today, November 29, 2011, would have been C.S. Lewis’s 113th birthday. It makes me think of the quote from Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings who was 111 when he said, “Alas, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits. I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

C.S. Lewis is of course famous for his theological treatises, as well as his fairy tales. What interests me is that late in life, C.S. Lewis wrote less theological treatises and more “children’s” stories, believing that lessons are learned better when told in story form.  Beyond believing that he was right, it interests me because many of us as we age tend to move away from fairy tales and fantasies, exchanging such frivolity for the mundane and serious.  I may be fantastic in my belief, but I suspect that Lewis was more of a child when he died than when he was a young man.

This is important.  Actually it is, in my mind, of critical importance. Namely, I believe we must work hard as we age to continue to dream, continue to set goals, some of which are fantastic. Dreams are what give the soul life; wishful fantasies are important to bring joy to the mundane drudgery in which we too often live.

Dreaming can become difficult the older we get because we are afraid of disappointment. Past failures cause us to be afraid to trust… to trust ourselves or to trust that God will not disappoint.  We must learn to dream big, but to hold such dreams loosely. We need to trust God that He will always fulfill our wildest fantasies…as long as they are good for us.  In the same way that a parent must temper a child’s desires, God will not always fulfill every fantasy of ours. But just like a parent who loves her child, God will fulfill every healthy wish.  In fact, He generally will fulfill far beyond what we could have hoped and dreamed (cf. Ephesians 3:20).

So in honor of C.S. Lewis’s birthday, dust off some of those wild ideas, dream big, and set a new, fantastic goal.  Put the fear in the backseat and floor the accelerator.  Turn the radio up, and let your hair blow in the wind… no matter how old you are.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

We Live...Starved For Solitude, Silence, and Privacy

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” C.S. Lewis
Privacy is a rare commodity; solitude is virtually extinct; and most of us start getting worried when we experience lengthy silence.  It is, quite frankly, a recipe for disaster.  C. S. Lewis talks about true friendship as stemming from the deepest part of a person, from the secret place of the soul, the inner chambers of true self. We are built to live in community, yet silence, solitude and meditation are critical for spiritual growth, to examine ourselves, and as we learn of ourselves, learn to be a good friend.  It is no coincidence that time for devotions is often referred to as, “quiet time.”  God’s voice is most clearly heard in silence, solitude, and privacy.

Please understand.  There are many who read this that are lonely, and are sick of the solitude.   The pain of loneliness is a terrific burden.  As I mentioned above, we are built for community.  Yet, for most of us, we need to learn to value solitude and silence.  We need to learn to value it because it is so important to be able to meditate and to develop a true friendship with God.  And it really is about learning to value it because setting aside time for silence to be alone with God is choice.

Most of us live in a very busy world. It is dangerous. Busyness withers the soul.

In silence, solitude and privacy we find friendship…with the God of the universe.   

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Your Whole Life Is A Continuum Toward Wholeness or Destruction

‎"Your life is a continuum where wholeness is on one end and destruction is on the other. Each decision you make is moving you one direction towards wholeness and peace with God, or away from Him." C. S. Lewis
I have a friend that often reminds me that, "There is no such thing as the status quo; change is inevitable.  We are either improving or going backwards." He is right, and C.S. Lewis applies this principle to our relationship with God.  There are, however,  two unfortunate things. 

First, most of us tend to like the status quo. We don't like change.  We like where we are at and are fearful of messing up a good thing.  We fail to truly understand that, in the case of the Christian, all change is good, even change that brings about pain.  Instead of being wary of change, Christians need to be people who enthusiastically embrace change.  Roosevelt's oft quoted saying, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" is truer for the Christian than for anybody else because we have the assurance that all things, even painful things, will benefit us.

The second unfortunate thing is that being fallen, we tend to sabotage our path to wholeness.  As Paul said in Romans, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want." (Romans 7:18-19). The key is to acknowledge our tendency, to embrace the forgiveness that is made available to us, and to repent, that is, turn back around and head toward wholeness. There is never a time when you have gone too far down the road of destruction. We can always turn back toward God. 

True wholeness is found only in Him.  When we are not moving toward Him, we are ultimately on the path of destruction.  Make a decision today to move toward wholeness, that is, to move toward Him.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pain But Without Stain

“God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.”  C.S. Lewis
Like many of sentences written by C.S. Lewis, this one sentence is packed with a host of powerful truths.

First, God foresaw all of our tribulations. This is not insignificant.  Often, if you are like me, our first thoughts when the inevitable trials come are something akin to, “God has forgotten me.”  We subconsciously feel that God is supposed to protect us, and since He is not protecting us, then He has forgotten about us. 

Which brings us to the second truth, namely He has not only not forgotten about us, but He has specially prepared us to survive.   For one thing, we have a Savior who suffered immensely and was tempted in every way. For another thing, the Holy Spirit works in our lives now to comfort (Romans 8:26), to guide (John 14:26), and to intercede on our behalf (Romans 8:26).

The third truth is simply that we will suffer pain in life, but that He will bring us through it without stain and actually in better shape than we were. This truth has to be hammered home, however. Namely, we can be walking perfectly within God’s will, but we will still suffer pain.  The “prosperity gospel” will tell you otherwise. It says that if you are suffering it is because you do not have enough faith.  As far as I am concerned, that is a carefully crafted lie by the Devil himself.  No, you can be walking perfectly in God’s will, and you are still guaranteed to suffer.  God does not protect us from pain.  We will metaphorically suffer bruises, bumps, and broken bones.  The greatest comfort of all is, however, that God will take those injuries, heal them, and bring us through it stronger.

Amen, what a Savior! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Danger of Goodness

Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger — according to the way you react to it." C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Have you ever been in a life situation where life "couldn't be going better", where everything is going swimmingly, or at least so you think?  Let me ask you something.  At such a time, how was your relationship with Christ?

There was a period in my life where I was "successful" by every measure the world has. I was making piles of money, had a pretty girlfriend, and lots of friends.  And how was my relationship with Christ? It was probably the time in my life where I was the lowest spiritually.

We all want to live the "good life", yet there is a serious danger in too much goodness. When everything is going well, we tend not to "pick up our crosses daily"; we tend to become arrogant and / or lethargic about spiritual matters. As Zig Ziglar said, "Success makes failures out of too many people."   

I am not saying revel in misery.  Yes, continue to try and live the good life.  Never, ever forget, however, that the success of every endeavor is from the Lord and that if life is good, it will only stay good as long as we react properly -- with thanksgiving to a God who gives us good gifts.  

All is a gift from Him...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Holiness Is Not Dull...It is Irresistible

"How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing...it is irresistible." C.S. Lewis, Letters To An American Lady

I saw a friend recently whom I  have not seen in close to seven years.  Ed is the pastor of a church I used to attend and we used to have tremendous discussions.  He helped me tremendously during a very difficult time in my life.

When I saw Ed this time, I was struck by the fact that it did not seem like he had aged a day. Even though he must be in his mid-fifties, he could easily pass for being ten years younger. Ed is also just a pleasure to be around.  He listens well and has a warm laugh.  Life just seems...richer when Ed is around.  In Ed's case, he is among the most "holy" people I know.

The point is that "holy" people are anything but boring. Holy people people are warm...they listen well... they are just as much about you as themselves...they are honest...and generally, there is a gleam in their eye.  They laugh easily because they have few cares.  At the same time when life turns deadly serious, there is no one whom you would rather have in your corner.

Becoming holy is hard work.  It often involves the smelting pot of life to remove the impurities from our lives.  Becoming holy always involves dying to self so that the Christ can be evident.  Yet, life becomes richer as we become more holy.

Whatever the case, never believe that holy people are dull; holy people are irresistible.  We need more holy people. 

Can you think of people in your life whom you consider holy but who are completely irresistible?       

Monday, October 10, 2011

We Meet No Ordinary People

“We meet no ordinary people in our lives.” C.S. Lewis
There are, by best estimates, currently approximately seven billion people in the world. Each person is unique; each person has a purpose; each person extraordinary. We always must watch ourselves when we begin to believe someone is ordinary. There is not a soul that exists for whom God did not sacrifice His son. Everyone has worth, not based on their abilities, intelligence, beauty, or any other reason other than the fact that each of us is made in the image of God and because God values us. We have value because He deems that we are valuable. If we are valuable to our Creator, then we are valuable indeed. Whenever we begin to doubt someone's worth, we must always remember their worth to God. 

Now, I am not going to say that it is always easy to see the image of God in someone. Sometimes it is buried under rudeness or greed or pride or just plain badness. Nevertheless, even "bad" people are not ordinary. There is someone reading this who is wondering what their value is. Life has been full of disappointment and you wonder if God has abandoned you. My friend, I have been where you are at. I would just encourage you to hang on; life will get better. In the meantime, as difficult as it is, hang on to the truth that you have value, that God has a purpose for you, and that you are far from ordinary. 

Let's all renew our attitude toward each other and treat everyone as if they are extraordinary because each one is.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

There Is One Vice Of Which No Man In The World Is Free

“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others. The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit….” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
Of all sins, pride is the most dangerous.  It was the first sin, but it is also a source of almost every sin because sin, at its heart, is the belief that, “we know best.”  And pride is such a tough thing to battle; it pokes its head up everywhere.  The moment we think we have it beat, the simple fact that we think we have it beat becomes a source of pride.

It is so easy to spot pride in someone else, isn’t it?  Yet, it can be difficult to see when we are prideful.  It is Satan’s main weapon and he does everything he can to mask it in our lives.

The opposite of pride is humility.  Humility does not mean thinking poorly of ourselves. Rather, it is not thinking about ourselves at all.

Easier said than done, right?  We must be constantly vigilant to fight this dreadful cancer. And we should be people who extend grace to people who are battling the disease of pride.   

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"It Is Not Your Business To Succeed..."

"It is not your business to succeed, but to do right. When you have done so the rest lies with God."  C.S. Lewis
Too often we are overly goal oriented. What I mean by that is that our society lauds setting goals and doing everything we can to reach those goals.  The is fine except for one very important aspect; namely, we too often forget that our success is not dependent on our effort.  Our only part in the equation is the willingness to do the “next right thing.”  The success of any endeavor is dependent on God.

Do not misunderstand me, it is important to have goals.  We must never believe, however, that we have any control over achieving success.  “Every good and perfect gift comes down from above…”  James 1:17.  God is the source of all that is good in our lives, of every success.

God is just as interested in the process as the result.  If you are anything like me, we focus too much on getting there, rather than enjoying the journey.  Enjoying the journey is such a key to our Christian lives. When we are not so focused on the goal, we are able to be more fully present in this hour, we are able to see better all that we have to be thankful for, and we eliminate so many of our anxieties.

Let’s stop striving so hard toward goals, commit to living in the present, and trust that God will bring about success.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Why Love If Losing Hurts So Much?"

"Why love if losing hurts so much?  We love to know that we are not alone."  C.S. Lewis

When we love, we become vulnerable.  We can badly hurt by those who love us, either by things they do to us, by divorce, by rejection, by abuse, or even by death.  It can hurt so bad that we begin to wonder if we should love at all, if we should really leave ourselves so vulnerable.  We are tempted to withdraw and want to live in a cocoon.  We genuinely question whether Tennyson was right when he wrote, "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

Well, Tennyson was right.  Yes, loving people leaves us open to great hurts.  Yet, the alternative is worst. The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference or irrelevance.  There is no greater pain than the feeling of being completely alone.   If you have been hurt by someone whom you have loved deeply, do not give in to the temptation to withdraw.  In the long run, it will be even more painful.  

And, to put a spiritual spin on this, I am going to commit blasphemy and say that C.S. Lewis is not quite right.  We do not only love to know that we are not alone.  The real reason that we love is because God has loved us.  We are able to love and to be vulnerable because we have the faith that He loves us, we are never truly alone, and ultimately He will heal every hurt and dry every tear.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

On Forgiveness

"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.  This is hard.  It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single person great injury.  But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life -- to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son -- how can we do it?  Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say our prayers each night "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us."  We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse is to refuse God's mercy for ourselves."  C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, "On Forgiveness"
Forgiveness is not always easy.  In fact, forgiveness can at times be among the hardest things as Christians we are called to do.  When we have been hurt deeply or repeatedly, it can be next to impossible to forgive.  How do you forgive the person who has abused you?  How do you forgive the spouse who cheated on you?  How do you forgive the person who stole from you?

In this quote, C.S. Lewis says that the key is keeping in mind the consequences if we do not forgive.  God will not forgive us if we do not forgive someone else.  And why should He?  He offers us a priceless gift.  No matter who you are, you have been forgiven much. It is true that some of us have been forgiven more than others, yet, we all have been forgiven the unpardonable; namely, we all have been forgiven for turning our back on our Creator.  Accordingly, if we refuse to forgive others we are rejecting God's mercy that has been freely given to us.

God does not "command" us to forgive because He is masochistic and because He wants us to do the impossible.  The opposite of forgiveness is bitterness and bitterness eats at your soul. The person who refuses to forgive destroys their own soul.  God wants us to forgive others because He knows it is impossible for us to lead healthy lives without forgiving.

There is no magic bullet to be able to forgive easily. However, the person who refuses to forgive has not readily accepted how much God has forgiven them.  God will always give you the strength to forgive if you willingly ask for help.

Let's be people who are quick to forgive and extend grace to those in our lives.

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Care For The Next Minute Is As Foolish As Care For A Day In The Next Thousand Years"

"The next moment is as much beyond our grasp, and as much in God's care, as that a hundred years away. Care for the next minute is as foolish as care for a day in the next thousand years. In neither can we do anything, in both God is doing everything." C.S. Lewis
Stop and think for a moment. Is there anything in life that you actually control?  Anything?!?!?  We can eat healthfully and exercise consistently, but truthfully, we do not control our next breath.  We can plan for the future and save our money, but through thievery or some other diabolical scheme, financial disaster could be right around the corner.  We may drive safely, yet we have no control over the driver who doesn’t and we could be killed in a car accident on our way to work.  We certainly cannot control relationships.  I think mankind naturally has a tendency to try and control everything in his life.  Yet, how foolish that is!  As C.S. Lewis says, “the next moment is beyond our grasp…as that a hundred years away.” 

If you are a Christian, rather than depressing you, this should actually free you.  The Christian has no reason to fear any calamity in the future.  The sooner we stop trying to control our future the more peace we experience.  Valleys will come in life, but we have a Sheppard who will lead us through.  We are sure to experience sickness or disappointment, but God is at work in every situation, for our benefit and His glory.

This is not to say that we should not plan and be wise in our daily choices.   It is important to be wise with our money, to exercise and to eat well.  Yet, we must always keep in mind that God is the Source of all that is good in our lives, that health is a gift from him, or the money we are able to save is really a gift from Him.  We need to hold our plans and our futures loosely in our hands because ultimately He is the one controlling our futures.

For whatever reason, God has given us only one thing which we can control, namely our will.  The only thing we can really control is our response to life situations.  It is so much easier to respond positively to life when we understand that the Creator of all is at work.  Chuck Swindoll wrote, 
“The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.”
What have you been trying to control?

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Path to Sainthood

Sainthood lies in the habit of referring the smallest actions to God. - C. S. Lewis
Most of us who are Christians want to be saints, those people of immense holiness who do amazing things for God.  We are righteously “jealous” of such people, but we do not know how to be such people.  As this quote from C.S. Lewis indicates, the pathway to sainthood is found in the grind of every day life and being willing in the midst of that grind, to continually submit everything to God –even the smallest small things. This idea reminds me of the of the quote from Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, 
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” 
Christ put it this way:
“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” Luke 16:10.

Just like a parent will slowly give a child more and more responsibility and freedom as they demonstrate their ability to handle it, God will give us more and more responsibility in His kingdom work.  If we want to do great things for God, we need to be willing to submit the mundane to God.  If we want to be a saint, we need to be begin with the small things.

This concept contains the element of Christ permeating everything in our lives, of dying to ourselves.  As we willingly die to self, Christ's reign becomes more evident in our lives.  It is then, and only then, that God will be able to use us in great ways.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Affliction...Prepares An Ordinary Person For..An Extraordinary Destiny

"Affliction is often that thing which prepares an ordinary person for some sort of an extraordinary destiny." C.S. Lewis
I know in my life, I shrink from adversity. I run from it as fast as I can.  Yet, when I look back on my life, I realize that when I have truly grown, it is because of some trial.  Why is it so difficult to understand the benefits of affliction?

I once heard a preacher say that, “God will never use you until He has wounded you.”  The Bible sure seems to bear that out.  The “great” men of God were murderers, adulterers, back-stabbers, and cheaters (Jacob, Moses, David, Paul, Peter).  Those who have suffered great affliction are humbled by, recognize their dependency on God, and are thankful when God gives them a second chance.

It is very, very difficult, but we need to be people who are patient in the midst of afflictions, hopeful because God is using them to help us grow.  “Consider it pure joy my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance, and perseverance must finish its work in order that you may be mature and complete.” James 1:2-3.

If you have suffered a lot in life, take comfort in the fact that God is preparing you for, “some sort of an extraordinary destiny.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It Is The Comparison That Makes You Proud

"Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man... It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone." C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I have never thought about pride this way, but it is true.  Pride does not settle on achieving something; pride is only satisfied once it has more than everyone else.

Why do we compete with each other?  James says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?  Is not the source your evil desires that wage war in your members?  You lust and do not have; so you commit murder.  And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.”  James 4: 1-2.
There is a fundamental issue at work whenever we are being competitive. At its core, it is a disbelief that God will provide for our needs and our wants.  We need to remember that He is the source of all good things in our lives. All is grace.  We are not entitled to anything. When we truly understand that, we cannot be competitive because we come to realize that everything is a gift.

Pride is the original sin.  It is the enemy of love.  Competition is the source of pride. Competition and pride have no place in our lives as Christians.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Our Lord Finds Our Desires Are Not Too Strong, But Too Weak"

"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.
It seems strange to think about our desires being too weak, but when you think about it, what C.S. Lewis is saying is true. We give in to temptation because we do not have strong enough desires.  Thus, when we drink our sorrows away, we are taking the easy way out. When we give in to have relationship after relationship without any true commitment, we are giving in to momentary happiness in exchange for the deep love and joy of marriage.  Whenever we give in to temptation, we are settling for the mud puddle, when God wants us to be able to play at the sea shore.

I have been thinking recently that one of the most important characteristic that we must always have as Christians is the ability to have the long view about life.  When we have the long view of life, we are able to have a deep seated joy that is not based on circumstances. It is not based on circumstances because ultimately we know what the outcome is and that outcome is a holiday at the beach.

When are here on earth, we always have to have the long view and live with the next world in mind.  When we are struggling here on earth, we need to always keep in mind the benefits of suffering and our future glory.  When things are going well in life, we need to keep the future in mind and not be complacent.

The other aspect of this quote that is so important is that much of our suffering we would not consider suffering if we were able to see what God was doing.  We are content in our mud puddle making pies, when God wants to take us to the sea shore.  We kick and scream when He takes us away from the mud puddle because we are happy there, but He has so much more in mind for us.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

To Be A Christian Means To Forgive The Inexcusable

"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." C.S. Lewis, On Forgiveness in The Weight of Glory

Recently I have been asked to write about forgiving people who are difficult to forgive.  The person I was assigned to discuss was Casey Anthony, who, in all likelihood murdered her two year old daughter. Can I tell you the truth?  I struggle with being able to forgive her.  In my mind, she got away with murder, and not just any murder, but her own, innocent, defenseless child.

I think we refuse to forgive people for one of two reasons:

1.  We think we are better than the person:  This is what this C.S. Lewis quote speaks of.  While I may not be a murderer, I have done plenty of other evil things. All sin separates us from God.  None of us is righteous, not even one.  We all have worth, but none of us is more worthy than the anybody else in the eyes of God. We did not earn our forgiveness, so why should we think that other people have to earn forgiven?  This even applies to people like Casey Anthony.  Yes, she may have committed the inexcusable, but am I so different?

2. We have been deeply hurt: It is hard to forgive when we are deeply hurt.  We want the other person to have to pay for what they did. However, when we act as the judge and executioner, we are playing God. There is only one who can condemn, and it is God.  The beauty is that, in the end, God will exact justice. We just have to trust that in the end, He will defend us.  The ironic thing is that when we are deeply hurt, the longer we hold on to the pain by not forgiving, the slower it will be to heal.

Who do you have a hard time forgiving? 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Stamp Of The Saint

“The stamp of the Saint is that he can waive his own rights and obey the Lord Jesus.” C.S. Lewis
We Americans are big on our rights.  Our Declaration of Independence even goes so far as to say that we all have “inalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  As this quote from C.S. Lewis indicates, however, the more we pursue our “rights” the less likely we are to be obeying Christ.

Think about it.  The enforcement of one’s rights is inherently one of self-interest.  The Biblical mandate is one of humility.  Humility is not thinking poorly of oneself; rather humility is not thinking of one’s self at all.  Paul put it this way in his letter to the Philippians,
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 
Who, being in very nature God, 
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 
rather, he made himself nothing 
   by taking the very nature of a servant, 
   being made in human likeness. 
And being found in appearance as a man, 
   he humbled himself 
   by becoming obedient to death— 
      even death on a cross!"  Philippians 2: 3-8.    
Only when we give up self-interest can we serve with love, joy and kindness.  It is only when we give up our rights, that we become truly free from fear, anger, or bitterness.  We become patient with those around us, and are able to effectively serve without becoming burnt out or bitter.

I must be clear.  The Christian life is not one where we allow people to trample all over us.  Allowing someone to take advantage of you is not only bad for yourself, but is also bad for the person who is using you.  In that sense, we should stand up for ourselves.  But not allowing people to take advantage of us is much different than demand the enforcement of our so-called rights.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Christians Who Did The Most For The Present World Were Those Who Thought About The Next

 "If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this." C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

I do not know about you, but I often struggle with focusing on the eternal. I get to caught up in the world and what is going on around me.  I have been thinking today about how little I do has eternal consequences. In some sense, everything I do has eternal consequences, but little of what I actually do will "stand the test of time."  For example, if my mind was focused on the next world, would I watch as much TV as I do?  Would I care that the Dodgers lost last night?  Would I care about what I am going to have for dinner tonight?  Stop and think about all you have done today.  How much of it has an "eternal dimension" to it?

What is it about the next world that we can focus on?:

Our Father is in heaven (Matthew 6:9); our Savior is in heaven (Hebrews 9:24); our home is in heaven (John 14:2-4); our name is in heaven (Luke 10:20); our life is in heaven (Colossians 3:1-3); our heart is in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21); our inheritance is in heaven (I Peter 1:3-5); and our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  If you stop and think about it, as Christians, everything that gives us our identity is not of this world.  

Please understand, I am not saying that all of us need to be involved in "ministry" all the time; rather, we need to learn how do our everyday lives with the eternal in mind.  When we do, it makes it much easier to love the person who is unlovely; makes it easier to be patient with the person who does not listen; makes us less anxious about things that trouble non-believers.  The emphasis on the next world, frees me from the burdens, expectations, and labels of this world.  As we learn to keep our eyes focused on the next world, it enables us to effectively be the hands and feet of Christ in this world.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Imagine Yourself A Living House"

"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself." C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
God is in the process of making  you into something magnificent.  This is especially true if you have suffered a great deal in your life.  God will tear down the walls of  your life, and He will rebuild them into something that can house His glory.  We often wonder why God is allowing such great suffering in our lives.  The answer is actually quite simply, however; some of us have major walls to be torn down.  On the other hand, as a Christian, it is always worth it to endure the tearing down process because in the end, the beauty that is created is more magnificent than we could have imagined.   Often, we are content to be "a decent little cottage", however, this is the Christian equivalent to being lukewarm.  God wants to build something incredibly beautiful in you. For some of us that means extensive renovation.

This has certainly been true in my life. The past five years have been brutal.  Life has not gone at all like I would have hoped.  Yet, for having gone through it, I am a better man because of it.  I often wonder if we can grow at all as Christians without suffering.  It is through suffering that our faith becomes more mature, and we as people are refined as gold.

Peter put it this way:
"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which comes upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened unto you: but insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy."  (I Peter 4:12-13).
It is our natural inclination to feel like God has abandoned us or that He is punishing us when we are going through a particularly rough time.  This not the case, however.  The assurance we  have as Christians is that God is building us each into something beautiful that is worthy of His name and that He will always use our suffering for our benefit and His glory. It is difficult to always hold on to this truth. But, my friend, "Know you not that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (I Corinthians 3:16).  And if you are like me, in order to be a proper temple of the Spirit of God, major renovation needs to occur.  We should not be surprised, and as crazy as it sounds, we should be thankful.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pain Removes The Veil...

"[Pain] removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul." C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

There are times in life when we know why we suffer.  It is clear that we do something wrong and we have to pay the consequence for it.  Sometimes, however, the natural question is, "why?"  God is supposed to be a shield, yet it seems like He is anything but protecting us.  God is supposed to walk beside us, but sometimes it is like He is hiding His face.  I think a lot of times, the main reason that we suffer is because of our rebel souls.  Ever notice how those of us who are hard headed (I wonder if I should rather have written hard hearted) suffer more than others?  It is because our hearts are not submitted to God that God has to allow suffering in our lives.  A flag needs to be planted in our hearts.  

The other aspect of this is the veil that we often live with.  Until we suffer pain, we do not realize the extent of the black condition of our hearts -- how dishonest we are, or rebellious, or proud.  The crucible of suffering reveals the impurities like  nothing else.

Pain is truly a "necessary evil". I am not a masochists that seeks pain, yet we always need to remind ourselves that our pain serves good purposes.  If you are going through a rough time right now, submit yourself to God. Submission while gong through a hard time is difficult because submission involves trusting, and it is difficult to trust when our circumstances would indicate something else.  Yet, the sooner we submit, the less we will have to suffer.

Monday, August 1, 2011

If God Is Satisfied With The Work...

If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself., C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Did you know that God is completely satisfied with you right now?  

Stop and let that soak in. There is nothing you can do right now that will make God love you any more.  It does not matter what your position in life is, what you are doing (or not doing).  This is what is meant by God's grace.  None of us deserve it.  He just freely give us His love.  It is hard to accept, frankly.  The "deep-down-in-the-soul" realization of that is life changing.  

You may say, "But there are things that I still do that are wrong."  Yes, that likely is the case.  Yet, even if we fix those things, while we are likely saving ourselves from heartache and pain, but we are not making Him love us more.  It does not matter what you have done in the past. It does not matter what happened to you.  This is a truth that we are generally taught from a very young age. Yet, how many of us truly, "deep-down-in-the-soul" believe it? If we truly believed it, the implications would be enormous.  

If you are like me, you work too hard to change yourself.  We are dissatisfied with who we are.  Yet, this is akin to the clay complaining to the potter.  God is completely satisfied with you, His creation.  We need to always be open to change and correction, yet change occurs from the working of the Holy Spirit on our lives, not from some sort of internal struggle or effort.  The harder we try to change, the more unlikely we are to change.  Again, our only role is to be open, to offer our hearts.  What will really change your life is the deep realization that God is completely satisfied you right now, in this moment, wherever you are, whatever you are struggling with, or whatever you have done.

Do  you believe that God is completely satisfied with you right now? 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Paradox Of Christian Effort: Stop Trying

"Many things—such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly—are done worst when we try hardest to do them." C.S. Lewis, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature    

Last night I had trouble falling asleep.  I stared at the ceiling for what seemed like an eternity.  Then it happened...I began to worry about falling asleep.  And the vicious cycle began...  Ever notice it is the same with trying to love someone?  A friend does something to annoy you, yet you note that you are annoyed and chastise yourself for not being loving. What happens the next time your friend does something that is even remotely annoying? It is like it is magnified ten times!  Living "righteously" or becoming a "good Christian" is exactly the same.  When we try to "grow" in Christ, we begin to rely on our own abilities and strength, thereby directly nullifying any "righteousness."

As Christians, we try too hard. In fact, we fail as Christians whenever we attempt to do something under our own power and strength.  It is the human condition, yet it is odd. We have available to us the power and strength from the Creator of all, yet we try and do things under our own strength. I am no different. I struggle with this daily.  There is a paradox here, however, because just when you think you have successfully mastered the art of relying on God, you have fallen back into the trap.  This is why Jesus said that we need to die to self daily.  We must be constantly vigilant, but in being vigilant, we fall back into the trap of self-reliance again.

The Christian way is simply (I say simply because though the idea is easy, it is very difficult indeed) to continually get out of the way so that we can be a conduit of God's power and love and glory.  The same applies for growth as a Christian. The harder we try to grow, the less we are growing. We need to allow growth to happen to us.

As John the Baptist said, "I must decrease so that He can increase."  That is the Christian way.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Should Christianity Be Sold With A Warning Label?

"I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity." C.S. Lewis, God In The Dock
I know plenty of non-Christians who are perfectly happy.  They find happiness in their work, or their families, even things like a good bottle of wine.  Too often, I think we Christians present Christianity as something that will make people happy.  When presented in such a way, too often people think to themselves that they are happy enough.  In fact, I know several people who became Christians and their lives went to hell in a hand basket; life became so much more difficult for them.

Indeed, sometimes I think that Christianity should be sold with a warning label. I think that life is harder as a Christian.  I think we experience more heartache and more pain.  The road of faith is a narrow road, full of potholes and thorns.  The reason for this is because God is changing us to become more Christlike.  The path to becoming more Christlike is one which includes, "sharing in His sufferings."  Also, to love more deeply, we need to be more vulnerable and open to hurts.

Even so, the Christian life is better.  There are yearnings within each of us that cannot be filled by anything but God.  Christianity allows us to experience joy, rather than happiness, and, as we mature in Christ that joy can be experienced no matter the circumstances in our life.  There is  a peace that pervades, which the world cannot understand.  And love...we are able to blossom because of His love for us, an unconditional love that is life changing.  Because of His love for us, we are able to love those around us deeper.  The person who is not a Christian may think that they are happy, yet they do not experience the deep seated joy, peace and love that Christians should.

In other writings, C.S. Lewis uses a great example of this whole idea.  A boy is playing in a mud puddle and is perfectly happy.  His father comes and wants to take him to the sea shore. Having never been to the beach, and being relatively happy, the boy has no desire to go to leave his mud puddle. Non-Christians are playing in mud puddles, when God has so much better planned for them.  Being relatively happy, they are unwilling to leave their mud puddle.  

This is one reason that God reaches out to the downtrodden, the poor, and the broken-hearted -- they realize their need for a Savior.  When we are reaching out to people who are happy, we must try and show them that they are not as "happy" as they could be.  It is tricky and hard.  In no case, however, should we tell people that the life of a Christian is more comfortable because it simply is not.

What do you think?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Still Intending To Do God's Will, Despite Feeling Forsaken

Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys." C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (The head demon, Screwtape, speaking to the junior demon, Wormwood).
There are levels of faith.  

The first level is where we believe something for which we have great evidence.  For example, I have faith that the chair I am sitting on will support me because I have sat in it a thousand times and it has consistently supported me.  Put in terms of our Faith journey, this would be having faith in God when we feel very connected to Him; when it feels like He is walking right beside us and He is answering our prayers.  The problem with this type of faith is that it always demands signs.  

The second level of faith is believing in something despite the lack of clear evidence.  An example of this type of faith is a car that has been parked in the garage for a year.  Generally, cars start up immediately when we turn the keys; however, if it has been sitting in the garage for a year, something may have happened to the battery or engine that will make it so the car will not start.  In terms of our Faith journey, this would be when God is silent.  We have evidence in His Word that He loves us, but it may feel like our prayers are not being heard.  If we continue to trust, however, our faith remains intact.

The third and strongest level of faith is when we actually may have evidence against something, but we choose to believe despite the contrary evidence.  This is the level of faith that Screwtape is telling Wormwood is almost impossible to overcome.  It is a deep faith when we choose to believe the promises in God's Word despite the feeling of abandonment. That is the faith talked about in Hebrews 11.  "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  

Note that I am not saying that there is not evidence for our faith. We always have evidence of God.  We have evidence in His Word. We have evidence in the sunrise.  There will be dark times in our life, however, where we will have cause to doubt His love for us.  If, at times like this, we choose to believe the truths in His Word, then we have the Faith that can move mountains. 

What say you?
Where are you on your Faith journey right now? 
When was the most difficult time in your life for you to believe that God loved you?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Long, Dull, Monotonous Years Of Middle Age

"The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather for the devil."  C.S. Lewis,  The Screwtape Letters
When we reach middle age, there is a tendency to become very dissatisfied. If we have been relatively successful, we ask ourselves, "Is this all there is?"  If we have been relatively unsuccessful, we become disenchanted or disillusioned.  Either way, middle age is prime ground for spiritual warfare.  

When we are young  there are several attributes that can insulate us from dissatisfaction.  Obviously, it seems like time is on our side.  We have not been beat down by life; we have not learned to distrust people. All in all, our dreams are still intact.

Life has a way of destroying dreams.  When we are young we tend to still have grand dreams.  

Yet, God is calling you to dream again, no matter your age, no matter your circumstance in life.  He is a God who redeems and heals the broken hearts. If we truly give our lives to Him, He will take us places far beyond what we could hope or dream, no matter where you are or where you have been.  Life does not have to be monotonous, or dull.  A God-given dream will restore the joys of childhood, the ability to trust again, to have hope in  bright future.

That is my prayer for you, especially if you are stuck in doldrums of middle-age.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On Growing In Love

"When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all." C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters, Volume III.
Have you ever thought about your motivation for loving someone?  I think the common belief is that it does not matter why we love people, as long as we love them.  What C.S. Lewis is saying in this quote, however, is that we always must be aware of our motivation for loving others. That may sound strange until you realize that if we love others for their own sake, they become our idols.  No person can take the rightful place of God in our hearts. Let's be honest, however.  We all have a tendency to love people in such a way, to idealize them to a point where it becomes unhealthy.  In the end, however, people will always fail us; God will not. And in the end, if we are not growing in our love for God, our love will become stale and even die.

Also, as we properly fix our eyes on God, it will allow us to more effectively love those around us.  It will be a truer love, one that is not dependent on the other person, more pure.  It will be a stronger love because it will overcome fear, bitterness, and anger.  When we are trusting God to love us and protect us, it frees us to love without condition or fear. Love never fails...as long as He is the source of our love.
Do you want to grow in love?  As Christians, that should be one of our strongest desires and fervent prayers. We must always realize the proper source of our love, however, namely, we love because He first loved us.  That phrase --"we love because He first loved us"--applies to other people just as much as it applies to loving God.  In other words, our ability to love others should be grounded in the realization of how deeply God loves us.  If we are growing in our knowledge of God, growing in our love for those around us will be a natural byproduct.