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 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.     

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Past Is The Past...

"[T]he past is the past and that is what time means, and time itself is one more name for death, and Heaven itself is a state where 'the former things have passed away.'" C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.

As Christians, we have are called to leave the past behind.  It is hard, believe me.  Some of us are tied to the past by regret.  Some of us are tied to the past by grief.  Still others are tied by the past because of bitterness.  Some of us need to forgive ourselves.  Too often our lives stop because we are too busy looking behind us, and as C.S. Lewis says, that is another name for death.

The good news, literally, is that we are called to focus on the future and not the past.  We do not have to remember our failures because God is forming us anew.  We are able to forgive for two reasons: (a) He has forgiven us much, and (b) He will exact revenge His children.  It is not always easy, but we can let go of the bitterness because we can have confidence that whatever the hurt was, God will use it for His glory and our benefit.  We can forgive ourselves because God does not even remember our sins.  Can you imagine? He does not even remember when I mess up?  As long as we have given our life to Christ, we put the past behind us because He is creating for us a new life, both now and after we die.

The Christian is called to look into the future, to hold on to the promises of a new name for those of us who have a name like mud right now; a new character for those of who struggle with a character flaw; a new life as we give our lives to Christ.  This is not only in the future after we die.  It is available to us right now here on earth, as long as we trust Him and His Word.  If we choose to focus on the Author and Perfecter of our faith, He will make this current life a foretaste of Heaven.

No matter where you are in life, whatever your past is, God has something great planned for you, if you will just entrust your future to Him.

What do you need to leave behind?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

To Love Is To Be Vulnerable

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable." C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves.
Being vulnerable is one the toughest aspects of becoming more perfect in love.  At its core the reluctance to be vulnerable is the fear of rejection.  We all have a basic need to feel needed.  When you love someone or something, we run the risk of them not loving us back.  And, I speak from experience, the rejection of a spouse who is supposed to love you, " 'till death do you part."

Yet, what famous poet said, "Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."? If we refuse to be vulnerable, refuse to love, it is a slow death.  Eventually, there will be no joy, no emotion, and our hearts will be like rocks.  Yes, incapable of being hurt, but also impossible to experience love, joy, and any real fulfillment.

Love is a risky business.  Being vulnerable is hard.  Yet, the alternative is much, much worse.  And, in the end, no matter what happens, love never fails.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Affection Is Responsible For Nine-Tenths Of Whatever Solid And Durable Happiness There Is In Our Lives

"Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives." C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Is there a difference between love and affection?  It is better to say that affection is a type of love.  Affection is the type of love that a parent has toward a child, or a child has toward a dog.  Little if anything is expected in return, yet it is a very real warm feeling toward someone (or something) whereby you want them to succeed and be happy.  Affection incorporates security, protection, comfort and approval.  When we express affection toward the person, it allows the person to blossom because they feel secure and appreciated.  Then, as C.S. Lewis points out, it creates a lasting, solid happiness.

We, as Christians, are to be purveyors of affection.  It is a missing ingredient in so many people's lives that when they encounter true affection it can be life-changing.

What prevents us from being affectionate?  I suppose, at its root, selfishness is what causes us to not be affectionate.  Being affectionate can be costly in the sense that affection generally does not expect anything in return.  Truly affectionate people are selfless and worthy of admiration and honor.  

The affects of affection are overwhelming and we, as Christians must be champions of affection. It does not have to be complicated or even require much thought. It can be as simple as a phone call to someone who is hurting, flowers to a spouse, or a hug.  As we are affectionate toward people, they will begin to blossom.

What can you do today to be more affectionate?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

All That Is Not Eternal Is Eternally Out Of Date

"All that is not eternal is eternally out of date." C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

As Christians, there is a dichotomy where we must always live in the present with a view toward the eternal.  When we stand before the Judgement Seat, the only things in our lives that will count are those that were done with eternity in mind.  "[E]ach man's works will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work." I Corinthians 3:13 (although all of verses 10-15 are relevant).

When life is viewed in such away, our priorities completely change.  No longer is life about what is satisfying here and now.  Instead, life is about actions that have meaning and purpose, that are done out of love and exhibiting Christ's love to the world.  Having such a view is a cure for a hum drum life.  It is also a cure for mediocrity.  It is when we are focused on "non-eternal" things that life become pointless, boring, and we settle for less than excellence.

There is an interesting dichotomy in the Christian life.  On one hand, we are to live our lives "fully present".  On the other hand, we are to live our lives with an eye toward eternity.  It can be a tricky balance.  No matter what, however, we must remember that what we do in this life echoes in all of eternity.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Holding On To Your Faith Despite Your Emotions

Faith... is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, despite your changing moods." C.S. Lewis

The thing that challenges our faith the most is not reasoned arguments against faith.  Rather, it is our emotions and our heart.  We struggle with our faith when we are disappointed or hurt or grieved.  Faith is continuing to believe, despite what our emotions are telling us.  My most popular blog on my other site deals with this exact topic:  I think you will be glad if you read that post.

Faith is extremely rational.  Yes, Kierkegaard talks about needing to take a leap of faith when becoming a Christian. It is true, that one must take that leap of faith, but it is a very calculated risk.  It is the risk between jumping from a sinking Titanic to a lifeboat.  Not a sure thing, but it makes the most sense.  And, even we when do have faith, we will not always understand everything.  But faith makes the most sense out of everything.

No, where we get into trouble is when we listen to our hearts.  Jeremiah says that the heart is deceitfully wicked and sick (Jeremiah 17:9).  Our heart and emotions are what generally get us in trouble, cause us to start doubting what we know to be true.  As we are disappointed or hurt, we begin to doubt God's love for us.  As we become anxious and worried, we begin to doubt God's faithfulness, or the promises in His word.  No, emotions cannot be trusted.  On the other hand, it is not that we should bury our emotions and ignore them.  We should never bury them, but we also should not listen to them.  

When we are disappointed, or angry, or hurt, or anxious, we cannot rely on our moods, but must constantly remind our heart what we know in our head to be true.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Are There Questions Which God Finds Unanswerable?

"Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable." C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.

There are questions that are unanswerable. For example, my friend Mitch used to tell his wife all the time to not ask questions for which there are no answers.  Women expect men to answer whether or not something looks good on them.  Yet, really men are damned either way.  Either they are not telling the truth or they are patronizing.

To use a little bit more serious example, can you remember a child asking you an unanswerable question? You know the answer, but it is impossible to explain because they do not have the proper framework.  They simply will not understand even when you explain it.

There are questions that we can ask God that are unanswerable. It is not that we stump Him, it is that we do not have the framework or sufficient knowledge to understand the answer.  In Isaiah, it says,
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9.
While our thoughts may be significantly higher than a child's, the difference between God's thoughts and our thoughts is infinintly greater.  As Christians, we have to be willing to live with the realization that God will not explain everything to us. And we should appreciate that fact because a God who was completely understandable would not be worthy of worship.

Not that God does not want us to ask questions; faith is not irrational.  God can handle all of our questions; we just cannot handle all the answers.  It can be uncomfortable, but it is a matter of faith to be willing to continue the journey without necessarily understanding.    

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Wrinkles As An Honorable Insignia

"As for wrinkles--Pshaw! Why shouldn't we have wrinkles? Honorable insignia of long service in this warfare." C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady

The wrinkles, bruises and gray hair from this life are honorable badges of service to our God.  Proverbs 16:31 states, "A gray head is a crown of glory; it is found in the way of righteousness."  On the path of righteousness we are going to be bloodied, bruised, and wrinkled.  Mature Christians are those who, to the world, might look a little tattered around the edges.

Our society tends to denigrate the elderly, to view them as useless and a burden.  The Biblical model, however, is exactly the opposite.  We are told to respect our elders and that the elderly are a fountain of knowledge.  Deep knowledge, authentic truth is often only learned through adversity, and this adversity causes us to wrinkle, or to gray, or to be bruised.

C.S. Lewis's quote, however, is important on another level.  Does God care what we look like on the outside.  I am not saying we should completely ignore our appearance; however, we must always keep it in the proper perspective.  God is much more worried about the condition of our hearts than He is about the wrinkles around my eyes.  Perhaps, right now, you are feeling dried up and wrinkly.  Perhaps right now you are bruised and battered by life.  Try to look at your blemishes as badges.  He has a purpose for your wrinkles.  As it says in Proverbs, it is part of the path to righteousness.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

In Defense of Childishness

"When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children.
We spend our childhood wanting and striving to become adults; we spend our adults lives trying to become more adult and responsible.  It is a shame really.  Children are incredible.  The Bible is explicit that are faith is to be like that of a little child.  But what does that mean?  What does a childlike faith look like?

Children are:

1.  More trusting:  Children have to learn not to trust.  As we age, we become steadily less willing to trust.  Which makes it harder to trust God; to always trust that He has our best interests in mind and good plans for us.  We have suffered too many disappointments, we cannot simply allow ourselves to trust that deeply anymore.  "Lord, I want to trust You like a child."

2.  More forgiving:  We mess up with children all the time, yet, have you noticed how quick they are to forgive us?  They do not have any of that built up resentment.  As soon as I say I am sorry, I am forgiven in their eyes.  "Lord, I want to be quick to forgive like a child."

3. Full of wonder:  Everything is new to a child; the smallest things are amazing.  We become too jaded; we take too much for granted.  There is nothing new or exciting.  Too often we have "lost our first love."  "Lord, fill me with the wonder of who You are."

I need to be more like a child, more trusting, more forgiving, and full of wonder.  I am going to stop striving and actually try and walk backwards.  Will you join me?