What’s in a 3 letter word?

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And”. You know – Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

I really feel like in order to post this, I should expound upon it. How can I legitimately imagesexpress prose on my blog, even giving full credit, without at least sharing my two cents. C.S. Lewis makes it all but unnecessary, but I’ll try (:

This is an excerpt from Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters. We have been thumbing through it here for over a month, sampling and mulling on his wisdom. I am curious what effective means of time travel Lewis employed. Otherwise, how on earth could he have summarized the perilous place of Christians today?

And it is a perilous place. I do not mean to minimize the very real physical danger that brothers and sisters in Christ face daily throughout the world. But in my own little segment of the globe, a far more insidious threat is a tiny three letter word: and.

And… is in the titles of sermons, on front edges of debate. And… is the fuel of doctrinal discord, the carcass attracting scavengers to converge on hopelessly dead arguments. And… is the tinted glasses we wear when reading the inerrant word of God, it colors the pages and slants the text to address our pet issues. And… somehow manages to cripple mercy in its efforts to travel between our hearts and hands, it is the mother of all causes to the detriment of all substance. And… makes philosophers out disciples.

What is your and?
In my circles I have discussed Christianity and dialectical behavioral therapy, Christianity and antidepressants, Christianity and war, Christianity and divorce, Christianity and fitness, Christianity and beauty… fill in your blanks.

But Lewis redeems this tiny word, and, by the end of one short letter by Screwtape to his worthless nephew Wormwood. What does God do with: and?

God has made humanity capable of relishing conflicting experiences and passions at the same time.

He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together on the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.

We must carefully tend our and. Unguarded, it can heap greed upon desire, lust upon pride. Unattended, it will lead us to add law to grace, conditions to love, reason to favor.

In the first place it diminishes pleasure while increasing desire.

images2But, used in like context as our Creator, it will teach us to deepen our faith through sunrise and sunset, our assurance in birth and death, our hope in grace and truth.

 

 

 

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17

Stay in the Moment

Be present! Stay in the moment!

It might well be the mantra of the decade. It is hummed from the yoga mat, preached from the pulpit and scribbled in the margins of self-help books. I warrant, it’s true. There is little worth in worrying about tomorrow, as it will happen exactly as God intended it to happen without the assistance of human agony. And fretting about yesterday only gives me indigestion and entices me to break open old wounds in an effort to right past wrongs.

The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.  ~Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

I can see the wisdom of his words. I have felt the lingering, nagging, splinter-like pain of regret. I have felt the heart-stopping, immobilizing fret of the future. The great lie is that by attending to either one, I do some good. Perhaps, guilt and regret are part of paying the penalty. Do I think I am earning God’s sympathy or forgiveness through my groveling? Do I think that by making all kinds of logical suggestions about the future I can change God’s course for eternity?

Far better to rest in the finished, past and continuing work of Christ on my behalf. And far better to trust the Creator of the world to be sufficiently wise to sustain me.

-for the past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future.

It feels good! To do, or not to do, remains the question.

If it feels good, do it. 

If it feels this good, it can’t be wrong!

“When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot.

“When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. ‘I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,’ is how one interviewee put it.

“Rejecting blind deference to authority, many of the young people have gone off to the other extreme: ‘I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.’”
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/13/opinion/if-it-feels-right.html?_r=0

Um. Wow.

Apparently, the consensus of this generation is that pleasure is the defining moral code. Wrong.

However, the other extreme, asceticism, is wrong too. Unfortunately, Christianity is often viewed as a moderately ascetic lifestyle. Christianity is considered a list of does and don’ts, and God is seen as the cosmic killjoy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love the way C.S. Lewis’ demon narrator says it in the book, The Screwtape Letters:

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing desire for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.

 

What Does He have to do with You?

“When the humans disbelieve our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us we cannot make the materialists and skeptics.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

To the most reasonable mind, if there exists a God, there must necessarily exist a supernatural source of evil. And vice-versea. To believe in Satan, by consequence, and observation of the natural world, one must believe in a supernatural source of good. The war between these forces is evident in every waking moment.

  • a normally comforting mother screaming at her child
  • murder and law enforcement
  • generosity and desperate poverty

Humans only know one, good or evil, by its contrast to the other. So, for Satan to convince man that he has no Creator, no Advocate, no moral directive, no eternity, no Savior, no God, then he must simultaneously insinuate that he, himself, is a figment of a weak mind.

“I have great hope that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalize and mythologize their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, belief in us, (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy [God].”

This morning in my quiet time, I digested a passage that I have read more than 100 times. Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth, his own home town and read from the book of Isaiah. There, He declared Himself to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah. The Jews were furious at this blasphemy and tried to push Jesus over a cliff. But, without a dramatic show, He simply passed through the crowd and left.

In Capernaum, He entered the synagogue again. Immediately, He was confronted by a man with an evil spirit. “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34)

The phrase, “What have you to do with us,” is a Greek idiom, similar to, “I will have nothing to do with you,” or, “Have nothing to do with us.”

In this tantrum, the demon screamed through the man, “I know who you are. You are the Holy One of God!” Wow. Talk about proof! You would think that in such a cosmic display of good and evil, everyone would have collapsed on their faces in worship of the Deliverer. However wonderful that would have been, it would also be insufficient, that would not accomplish salvation. Jesus doesn’t want mere acknowledgement, and Satan knows it.

Yes, salvation is found in believing in Jesus, the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16). But, Christ came for so much more than that. Jesus wants us to love Him with all our heart, souls, minds and strength. Jesus wants everything to do with us. So Satan’s most vicious tactic is not to convince us that God does not exist, or that Jesus is not the Son of God, but to persuade us that God wants nothing to do with us, that relationship is impossible.

Jesus had to die and rise again in order to pay for our sins and restore our right relationship with God. Our God is personal and has everything to do with us! Praise the Lord!

Reputable Fame

“Quantitative analysis revealed that fame was the number one value, selected as the most important value for participants’ future goals,” according to a study done by psychology professors at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters, it becomes obvious on a practical level that Satan’s most fatal weapon is subtlety. Literally, all that God created is good. ALL. Evil does not manufacture itself and is only observable relative to its opposite: Good. So it makes sense then, that to trip up a generally good person, someone mostly moral, someone rightly motivated, someone who would see right through blatant evil, Satan’s tack must be almost good.

In the Garden of Eden, Satan walked Eve up to a tree that probably looked just like the others. It looked good. It was almost OK.

Last month, in my town, three teenage boys were arrested for making sex tapes with six, unsuspecting teenage girls. Their goal? Fame.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be recognized. Proverbs, the Book of Wisdom, tells us that a good reputation is desirable over  great riches (Prov. 22:1). And in Prov. 31:23, a man is honored to be known among the leadership of his city. It is a God given desire to be loved by others, to have something to offer society and to leave our heel print in the clay of time. So Satan takes this righteous quality and pushes it just a little too far, just slightly over the edge. As we over indulge in our good reputation, it becomes self admiration and suddenly our hearts are warped. Warped just enough to mar the beauty of God’s reflection in us.

Left to ourselves in a broken world, we cannot help but pervert the complete goodness of all God’s gifts. Sex into promiscuity. Beauty into idolatry. Reputation into fame. Honor into pride. Hope into fantasy. Food into gluttony. Drink into drunkenness. Hobby into addiction.

Besides the redemption of our souls, maybe that’s another reason that Jesus had to come. More than to die and rise again, perhaps this is why He came and lived 30+ years on earth. To show us how to use all God’s good gifts for His glory.

Starved and Bored

“You don’t realize how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Sounds a lot like last week’s post, Stripped of Chaos.  However, humbly I admit that Lewis does a far more thorough and creative job of warning against this sneaky syndrome. Business, turmoil, digital content, hectic schedules, deadlines, productivity, expectations, urgency, all lend to distract us from the one purpose of our life.

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Westmister Shorter Catechism

Most of our hurry has become ordinary. But interestingly, another word for ordinary is humdrum, which Webster’s relates to boring, mundane, drab, blah, lifeless, insipid.

In Lewis’ book, Dear Uncle Screwtape, tells his protege a story about his golden years as a master tempter. He once had a patient hungry for knowledge. This man found himself in the museum feasting on books and historic truths. Suddenly, this ambitious young man was drawn to a fundamental truth, a truth that threatened the fabric of deception Screwtape had laid. In the quiet of a museum, the calm of solitude, what recourse did the demon have to distract his patient? Only the ordinary.

“I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch.”

The subject of interest was much to important to tackle on an empty stomach, so persuaded by his grumbling stomach, the man laid aside his book and left the museum in search of food. As soon as his shoes clipped the pavement, the man caught sight of a bus, then an advertisement, and heard a newsboy’s urgent call.

“I had got him into an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head while shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of ‘real life’ (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all ‘that sort of thing’ just couldn’t be true.”

Ordinary chaos. Daily distraction. Buses, newspapers, hunger. I’m well aware of how distracting my humdrum life can be. In fact, I am sitting, even now, at Starbucks to write this post, because I find the dailiness of  home distracting. There is that hot-pink, sticky note t0-do list on the refrigerator that condemns me for sitting down to write. At home, there is a pair of sappy puppy eyes that accuse me of neglect (even though he already went of a 2 mile walk this morning). There is a hungry husband, a perpetually full laundry hamper and for some reason I am compelled to attend to the phone while within the four walls of my home. If I am this easily drawn away from my work, how easily am I lured away from my God?

If what deserves my full, momentary attention can be avoided, do I tire of and avoid the God that deserves my constant admiration?

Do not imagine me waggling my finger in your face admonishing, “Shouldn’t you be reading your Bible right now?”

But don’t you wonder how Job ever came to say, “I have not departed from his commands, but have treasured his words more than daily food.”? Job 23:12

And Jeremiah, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” Jer. 15:16

Jesus is an unordinary joy, an extraordinary magnetism. There may be a time of tasting. Like trying a new food, it requires digging into something that might look a little bland. But do not turn back to your common diet. To whet one’s appetite on Jesus is to never be able to get enough.

Good and Naked

I’m pretty glad we wear clothes, and not just because they cover up a lot of things I’d rather not see.

However, if Adam and Eve were created naked, “and it was good,” why do we get dressed every day?

Adam and Eve were created in God’s image. All of their nakedness was perfection to Him and mirrored Himself. It’s a little strange to consider, but when Adam and Eve looked at each other relative to the rest of creation, it was obvious that they looked like their Father, their creator.

We often recall that the immediate consequence of their sin was clothing. They scrambled for fig leaves until God gave them a more permanent dressing of animal skins. But they had been naked all along. How could that have been sinful in itself?

I image that Satan curled slippery around the trunk of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. “You won’t surely die,” he whispered. “But God knows you will become like Him knowing good and evil.” There it was, Satan told Eve that God had lied, He really hadn’t made them like Himself. He really wasn’t a benevolent Father offering to them all that they could ever desire. 

Adam and Eve had been naked all along, nakedness wasn’t a sin. How did identifying their nakedness become the shame inducing moment that sent them running to hide from God?

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”

In the seconds it took them sink their God-given teeth into the skin of a sweet fruit, the gravity of their choice hit them, painfully. The serpent had lied, they really did look like God. God really had made them in His image. It wasn’t that being naked was evil and they simply figured it out all of a sudden. No, the evil that they instantly became aware of was their decision to believe someone other God. They doubted the goodness and truth of their best friend.

Jesus calls Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. Adam and Eve denied the very essence and nature of their Father.

He isn’t truth, they thought.

Adam and Eve first clothed themselves. They used it to cover their shame. And so, I believe that it was out of mercy that God clothed them.

Imagine a master potter. His choicest piece of clay spinning smoothly beneath his fingers. When He finishes, he sets the masterpiece in the center of His daily table, pleased with its beauty. One day, a mischievous child intentionally reaches up and throws the beautiful piece to the floor. The potter is crushed. It saddens Him to know its intended perfection and to now see it in shambles. So He picks up the pieces and gently, lovingly covers them with his cloak – clothing the shards.

Maybe that’s what God was doing – until the moment when He restores all of His creation to its original goodness.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears,a we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

 

If God is Good…

For about a week now, I’ve been fumbling with thoughts about pain. Sounds morbid, right? Except that I’ve been thinking about the Privileges of Pain.

Truthfully,  most of the world is hung up on, “if God is good, why Pain, Suffering, Death?” Authors have gone so far as to declare loudly, God Is Not Good, (Christopher Hitchens.) But before we turn away from this topic, which we have covered for two months, I want to suggest to you that pain proves that God is decidedly good. 

Let’s start at the very beginning, according to Fraulein Maria, in Sound of Music, a very good place to start. What is the very first recording of pain in the Bible? I imagine the animal that God slew in order to fashion clothes for Adam and Eve was the first creature to experience pain. (Genesis 3:21)

If you recall, Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The first indication of their sin was that they realized they were naked, they became ashamed and they hid. Therefore, God made clothes for them of animal skins.

The animal whose life was forfeit in order to clothe Adam and Eve was the first picture of a blood sacrifice to cover the sins of man. Then, throughout the Old Testament, under the Mosaic covenant, death was required to pay for sin so that man might remain in relationship with God. (Hebrews 9:22)

Fast forward to the first four books of the New Testament. These Gospels tell us the story of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus endured pain’s grand finale in his death on the cross. His pain was the payment for our sin. Isaiah 53:5

But why pain at all?  Pain came with man’s sin. Man invited death, pain and struggle into God’s perfect world. (Genesis 3:14-20) But why does pain remain? And if God loves me why must I suffer? 

Think of a little child who brazenly ignores his mother, climbs up on his step stool and promptly places his tiny palm flat on a hot burner. What if there was no pain? Not only would the child not remove his hand from the burner where it would continue to destroy his flesh, but also his pride and embarrassment would keep him from running to his mother. If the child was not forced by his pain to seek out his mother – who would soothe his wound, apply ointment and offer comfort?

God knows that if we don’t experience pain in this broken world, we will ignorantly continue to invite sin and death into our lives, essentially playing Russian roulette until one day, unaware of our self destruction, we will die – forever. If pain and death were not the result of rebellion against God, what would drive us into His arms and restore relationship?

I do not mean to imply that pain and suffering are a direct result of sin in an individual’s life. Even those who love Jesus with all their hearts and have trusted him for salvation, experience pain and eventual death. Now look with me into the heart of Christ’s ministry, right in the middle of the Gospels’ stories.

In John 9, we meet a blind man. Because he had been born blind, the snickers and questions circled as Jesus healed the man. “Who sinned? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man or his parents sinned, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)

God’s glory arrives in the midst of our pain. When HE saves us. When HE comforts us. When HE is enough. When HIS strength is proved perfect.

God’s glory arrived in the midst of Christ’s anguish. When God showed that HE was willing to go to the farthest length to restore man. When God showed that HE loved us enough to walk among us. When God showed that HE was stronger than death.

So maybe we should quit saying that God allows pain to teach us something. Often that causes us to look inward and try to change what surely must be wrong with us. What if pain is simply so that He can show to us and in us the change He has already made: that He conquered death, that He reversed the power of sin from the very first painful experience in the Bible.