Friday, March 30, 2012

The Safest Road To Hell Is The Gradual One

"Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,… Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”  C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Habits are extremely important.  They are also frustrating.  Experts say that it generally takes between two and three months to establish a habit; it takes only two consecutive days to begin to break the habit.  The devil understands this well. Thus his strategy is to gently nudge us in the wrong direction.   He knows that if we truly saw where we were headed, we would immediately turn away.  So, he just softly leads us in the wrong direction, knowing that momentum is a difficult thing to change.

He constantly feeds us the line, “this one time will not matter.”  He encourages us to think, “This one day won’t matter”, or “I will start tomorrow.”  Soon one time becomes two, two becomes three, and before we know it, the habit is established.  One day becomes two, and before we know it, a week has passed. Once that week has passed, it is so difficult to shift the momentum back in the right direction.

Aristotle said it this way, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."  Developing good habits and being vigilant about maintaining those habits will lead to a life of excellence.

Some reading this have a bad habit they have been trying to break for a long time.  While good habits take a seemingly long time to develop, bad habits are annoyingly stubborn.  Remember too, however, experts say that two consecutive days of not doing something and the habit begins to weaken.  The old adage is, “one day at a time.” I say to you, not one day, but two.  Don’t do whatever it is for two days straight. You will notice that the bad habit has less power over you – not that it is completely gone, but it is weakening.  Then repurpose yourself to another two days. Before long, the habit will be broken.

Try also to begin to develop good habits.  You know what they are.  Set your sight on just two consecutive days, the set the goal of two more days.  Before long, you will have established a good habit. And, give yourself grace if you fail.  Do not ever believe you cannot do it.  Just take the next right step… and then take one more.

Finally, you do not have to do it alone.  In fact, often we cannot do it alone, as hard as we try. His grace is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  He will help you and give you strength.  And other people can be a big help in keeping you accountable and encouraging you.  Do not be afraid to ask for help. 

The devil will gradually try and shift you in the wrong direction. That is why this very day matters.  Take a stand and do what is right. Change directions and shift the momentum. James put it this way, “Stand firm against the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

God Allows Us To Experience Low Points...

This is an unfortunate truth. The human heart is full of rebellion and amnesia.  As a result, the only way we can learn certain things is to experience low points in life. I know that has been true in my life.

When we are experiencing low points in life, we are tempted, whether consciously or not, to begin to doubt the goodness of God.  God does not protect us from hard times. In fact, sometimes I think God might do even more than allow hard times in our lives.  Is it herarcy to say that God actually causes hard times in our lives?  I don’t think so…because we need them.  No, God does not protect us from hard times. Rather, He protects us during hard times.

I once had a basketball coach who was much harder on me than anyone else.  He would constantly ride me,  tell me what I was doing wrong, even if it was just a small thing.  It felt so unfair because he chastised me so much more than anyone else.  I finally could not take it anymore and let him know in no uncertain terms that I did not appreciate this special attention. After practice, he pulled me aside and asked me, “Do you know why I am constantly on you?”  Before I could respond, he said, “It is because I know how good you can be.”

God wants the best for us.  God knows "how good we can be." As a result, He pays us special attention.  Unfortunately, because of the condition of our hearts, the only way we will learn certain important lessons is to go through difficult things.  Rather than viewing it as God’s chastisement or feeling like God has forgotten us, let’s acknowledge that the difficult times actually show us how much He loves us.

He has not forgotten you. He is molding you and preparing you.  As difficult as it is, we must always keep in mind that He allows things in our lives to better us, not to harm us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Favorable Conditions Never Come

“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work.  The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”  C.S. Lewis, "Learning in War-Time", The Weight of Glory
There is always something more “fun” to do than to “learn”.  There is always something that is seeking our attention, making it difficult to want to sit down and study.  It may be a television show, or the “to-do” list, or a phone call, or…. Those who have learned a great deal, have forced themselves to set aside time to study.

I realized, however, that the above quote can also be applied to choosing contentment and joy.  We make the mistake of believing that those who seem to always be content must have everything together in life.  Nothing is further from the truth. The truth is that people who are content or joyful are in that state because they have looked beyond the things that would make them discontent.  Everyone has painful or hurtful things present in their lives. The true art of living is being able to see grace in every situation, being able to choose joy despite pain, and to choose contentment even when our sleeves are being pulled on by situations that want to drag us to be discontent.

Paul says as much in Philippians when he writes,
[F]or I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11-12).
Paul learned to be content, learned to be content in every situation.  It can be learned; it is not easy, nor is it a matter of simply snapping your fingers. But it can be learned.

We will always have an excuse to not be content. As C.S. Lewis said of learning, so contentment and joy can be found in every situation to those who want it so badly that they seek it while conditions are still unfavorable.  This is not some fairy dust, pie-in-the-sky fantasy. It takes tremendous courage, self-discipline, and strength to be able to choose contentment and joy even when there are hard things in life.  This is, however, the abundant life that Christ has for us – the ability to be content and joyful always.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Living In The Present

Why is it so hard to live in the present all the time?  Hurts from the past haunt us; concern about the future frightens us.  If we let him, we serve a God who will heal our hurts.  And of what use is it for us to be concerned about the future?  We can control so little of it.  Stop struggling with your past; stop fretting about the future. Your God will heal your wounds, and He controls your future.  The only way to truly feel peace and joy is to live fully in the present.

I know...easier said than done.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Are People Who Are Tempted Weak?

“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is... A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.”  C. S. Lewis
Jane is a 31 year old woman.  She is a Christian; she is pretty.  She has never been married. She is still a virgin. She meets a terrific guy. He is handsome, funny, and clearly is interested in her.  He makes it clear that he wants to have sex with her.

To say she is tempted is an understatement.  She wonders why she is saving herself.  No one else saves themselves for marriage anymore. She is trying to maintain hope that she will be married someday, to a Christian guy who will treat her decently. Problem is she has not found a decent Christian guy in a long time…

She is very, very tempted to give in to her new suitor.    

Sometimes, it takes immense strength to resist.  For some, it is something large like keeping your virginity, or not having another drink. For others it is the M&Ms that would easily fit in your pocket.  People who struggle understand the badness in the world.  And temptations have an amazing way of building.  You can refuse something the first time, but it stays there begging for you to give in.  It builds and builds, to the point where it takes immense strength to resist.  Yes, as C.S. Lewis says, people who fight temptation are immensely strong and courageous. 

We are tempted by our own evil desires (James 1:13-14).   Temptations are wonderfully purifying.  They show us where we are bad, where we are vulnerable.  Being tempted is not a sin; it is only sin when we give in to temptations.  Yet, temptations are vital show the condition of our heart.

How to fight temptation?  Understand two things: 

(1). Temptations are simply a shadow of true goodness.  We subconsciously (or consciously) think that giving in to the temptation will bring us happiness.  And giving in to temptation might actually provide temporary satisfaction. Yet, giving in to temptation is a poor substation for genuine, lasting happiness. Also, giving in to temptation will always eventuate in something bad.

(2).  We serve a God who is intimately familiar with every facing temptation. Hebrews says that Jesus was tempted as we are…in every way. (Hebrews 4:15).  He says that He will help us with our burdens, help us fight temptation. That is not a idle promise.  It is a comfort to know that Jesus knows how hard it is to fight temptation. Yet, we must also know that He will help us fight temptation, that is, He will help show us the way.

Do not ever think that there is something wrong with you, if you are tempted by something.  Examine what is tempting you, and allow it to reveal what is in your heart.  Count on God to give you the strength and the courage to overcome temptation.

Jane is a courageous and strong woman. She told her suitor that she was not that type of girl.  Whatever your demon, take courage from her story, and take comfort from the promise of help from Christ.  Be courageous. Be strong.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Quietly Submit To Be Painted

“Remember that He is the artist and you are only the picture.  You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted –i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone.  You are in the right way.  Walk—don’t keep looking at it.” C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3
This quote reminds me of several other quotes.  It reminds me of the verse in Isaiah where it says, 
“But now, O LORD, You are our Father, 
We are the clay, and You our potter; 
And all of us are the work of Your hand.”

It reminds me of another C.S. Lewis when he says in essence, it is not our duty to succeed.  Finally, it reminds the saying, “Just do the next right thing.”

Perhaps you are like me, however.  I tend to forget this idea. I “work” hard to grow. And the harder I work, the more I expect results.  But that is not our job.  Our only job is to keep showing up.  We are simply along for the ride.  We will grow, if we keep showing up.  We will grow at the right rate, at the right time, for the right purpose.

Paradoxically, the Christian life is such that the harder we try to grow, the harder we “work”, the longer it takes. Yes, we need to show up.  But our job is simply to be malleable, amenable to when and how He works in our lives.  We will grow at different paces. There will be times of tremendous growth and long stretches of dryness. And our lives will rarely develop the way we hope or plan.  We save ourselves so much angst if we simply remember this and alter our expectations.

Hold on to the following truth:
[T]hat He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6.

He is painting a beautiful picture in your life…as long as you let Him.  Rest comfortably in that truth. Stop striving or fighting it.  Trust it instead.