30 December 2009

Not Who, But How Are You Going to Serve?

that God can make complex good out of simple evil does not excuse-though mercy it may save – those who do the simple evil. And this distinction is central ...

The crucifixion itself is the best, as well as the worst, of all historical events, but the role of Judas remains simply evil.

We may apply this first to the problem of other people’s suffering. A merciful man aims at his neighbour’s good and so does ‘God’s will,’ consciously co-operating with ‘the simple good.’

[Another] man...in doing..evil...is used by God, but without his own knowledge or consent, to produce complex good –

The first man serves God as a son, and the second as a tool.

For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.

- C.S. Lewis Problem of Pain

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
Psalm 139:1-12

26 December 2009

Feelings, ooooo, feelings....and Christ the Lord

And now as a Christian I tend to (like many of my Christian friends) create an unreal dichotomy in my mind between "me" and "Christian me." That is, I either assume too much of my feelings (making too of them) or push them aside as worthless (making too little of them). They are either inherently unnecessary to human life or else they are everything-the sum total of my presence before God. Yet neither of these is true. It is certainly an unbalanced viewpoint. Yet I think there are plenty of Christians who think this way. We continually misunderstand the proper place of feelings. Christ, we know had feelings-he had strong feelings:
“While he lived on earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered up priestly prayers to God.” [Hebrews 5:7-10 The Message ]
Christians – and knowledgeable nonChristians tend to restrict Jesus' feelings to religious contexts. The preceding verse his feelings are exhibited while in prayer – which puts us in mind of His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane.
However there is no indication that Jesus Christ's feelings were restricted to prayer alone (prayer and feelings is an interesting topic in itself). In fact, it is quite the opposite. From the gospels we know Jesus exhibited anger, pity and sorrow. All these have legitimacy as good religious feelings, as long as anger can be labeled as “righteous” anger.
Let’s not forget Jesus did have a friend he felt (feelings) especially close to: the disciple "Jesus loved" (left unidentified but mostly thought of as John). And, then there is Lazarus, who though not an apostle, was deeply loved by Jesus.
Evidently Jesus did have personal preferences: we find he felt connected with some people more deeply than others and this connection doesn’t seem to be a one-to-one relationship with their stature as spiritual giants. It had more to do with a personality preference, and another feeling called friendship.
Let's also remember that in addition to the "religious feelings" listed (righteous anger, pity, sorrow) and friendship, that Jesus felt weak and wobbly-which is my 21st century term for the biblical word "tempted." Of course, we are tempted every day, usually many times a day, if not all day by many things. We are tempted to conceit, fear, anxiety, despair, discouragement, helplessness and hopelessness, mostly unbelief. We are also driven to participate in "sins of the flesh" (those normally associated as bad: greed, lust, power, etc.).
"...we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." [Hebrews 4:14-16 New King James Version]
Scripture declares Jesus was God come in the form of flesh-a man...and our feelings is one of the many good reasons He had to come as a man.
Were Christ untempted, then He would be unfeeling as a human. Praying to a god who was unfeeling as a human, would be like asking an unseeing god to restore your vision. You see, he wouldn't understand the quality of your lack of vision, and therefore its need. Nor would such a god make you feel at all encouraged that he could understand your desire to have vision restored.
Now, on the other hand, had Christ been tempted and sinned, He could not be a savior, nor could he qualify as a High Priest to make intercession to the Father on our behalf. 
Lewis said:
"God could, had He pleased, have been made incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him. Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of...sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood at Gethsemane. [If this had not been the case]...we [might] have missed the great lesson that it is by his will alone that a man is good or bad, and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any importance.
...knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it except sin. If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage, that would have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incarnate at all."
  • C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

Magnetic Christ

From the outside looking in, many years ago before I identified myself as a Christian, I recall thinking how very good a person has to be to be a Christian-a true Christian. Knowing myself, although I was attracted to loving God as Creator, I was repelled by the thought of having to live a terribly good life. It sounded bland.
Not that I wasn’t living a good life-and that’s the irony of it. I was pretty good as humans go, and I liked being loving; being loving and giving was addictive, when I actually was giving.
But I was confused. I equated being good with being Christian, although technically I knew that wasn’t the way one was a Christian, but it rattles around in our cultural landscape as a foregone conclusion that one must be "good." (to be religious). Not only that, but to be a really good Christian you needed to be sincere, also, thoroughly earnest, a white-knuckle and dripping earnest goodness and all that...which I wasn't (and still am not).   I also hated the thought that if I really became a serious discple of Christ that I would be stripped of all personality, hobbies and personal perferences (much like joining a yoga camp).
But I wasn't improving. Nor were my acquaintances. They weren’t becoming less selfish, only more. Of course, as I spent more time with them I became more selfish-and I hated it when I realized it. Selfishness is, for a simple and good person like I was, like eating little bit of poison every day: you don’t die right away but you eventually come down with some illness, which kills you. I was in a dilemma.

When I inspected the evidence for myself, I found the Christ of the gospels to be completely different from what I expected. Lewis' analogy was that he was "not tame" is right on the mark. Yes, Christ is humble but He commands respect.
But there is more to Christ. He is also interesting, receptive, and clever. He is not only wise, but also brilliant, funny, entertaining, witty, incisive. Christ has a many-sided personality, and is personally challenging and engaging. (I am leaving aside the miracles, signs and wonders he performed that were both listed and unlisted in the gospels-and those the Spirit of Christ continues to perform to this day.)
Christ of the gospels not only challenges my ill-formed idea of what it means to be his follower, he also challenges my idea of me, of who I can and will be, and my ideas of the world as I’d like to see it. Jesus Christ makes the rest of us look like dullards which we all are, by comparison.
As He demonstrated as a 12 year old boy as He spoke with the most learned adults in His community:
”His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished…as they returned, [but] the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, [then]…sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. …when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.”
(Luke 2:41-47 New King James Version)

25 December 2009

Christmas Poem of Early Christian Era

Corde natus ex Parentis (Of the Father's love begotten)

Of the Father's love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is the Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see.
Evermore and evermore.

O, that birth forever blessed!
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world's Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
Evermore and evermore.

O, ye heights of heaven, adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions bow before Him,
And extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and evermore.

  • Aurelius Clemens Prudentis, written before 413 AD
(Latin poet of Christian antiquity, a one-time Roman official, turned monk)

21 December 2009

An Omniscient God and Making Ourselves Known To Him

People often object to praying-usually, it seems, because they think an omniscient God ought to “know” and somehow either it’s lazy of Him to want a “field report” or perhaps they are in denial of His power and see His handling of situations as “proof” of His interest in them. There is a ring of illogic here. Ife we take for a fact that God is omniscient, and yet still asks us to pray, then perhaps He’s got, not an information gap, but some other situation. Perhaps, instead, there exists a faith-gap on our side. That is, for us to pray is an exhibition of not only inner faith, but an exercise in faith. We all know that it’s not only planning your new exercise regime, but actually carrying it out that does any good. Exercise is not abstract thought, nor is faith.

CS Lewis addresses this here:
"[People who attack Christian prayer-if they know the Bible-could begin in Philippians] about ‘making your request known to God.’ I mean, the words making known bring out most clearly the apparent absurdity [which Christians are charged with.] We say we believe God to be omniscient; yet a great deal of prayer seems to consist of giving Him information. …we have been reminded by Our Lord [Jesus]…not to pray as if we forgot the omniscience-‘for your heavenly Father knows you need all these things.’ …
…. To confess our sins before God is certainly to tell Him what He knows much better than we. [Besides,] any petition is a kind of telling. [And] ..it at least seems to solicit His attention. Some traditional formulae make that implication clear: “Hear us, good Lord.” “O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint.” As if, though God does not need to be informed, He does need..to be reminded.

But we cannot really believe that degrees of attention and therefore inattention, and therefore of something like forgetfulness, exist in the Absolute Mind.       
I presume that only God’s attention keeps me (or anything else) in existence at all. [So], what then are we really doing? Our whole conception of..the prayer-situation depends on the answer.

We are always completely, and therefore equally, known to God. That is our destiny whether we like it or not.

But though this knowledge never varies, the quality of our being known can. [Borrowing from the school of thought that says ‘freedom is willed necessity’ to use this idea only] as an analogy. Ordinarily, to be known by God is to be, for this purpose, in the category of things. We are like earthworms, cabbages and nebulae, objects of divine knowledge. But when we (a) become aware of the fact… and (b) assent with all our will to be so known, then we treat ourselves, in relation to God, not as things, but as persons.
We have unveiled. Not that any veil could have baffled this sight. The change is in us. The passive changes to the active. Instead of merely being known, we show, we tell, we offer ourselves to view.
…[Indeed] it is by the Holy Spirit that we cry “Father.” By unveiling, by confessing our sins and ‘making knon’ our requests we assume the high rank of persons [rather than things] before Him. And He, descending…a Person to us."
  • CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm 

17 December 2009

On Resemblances - And the Fun of It

"Somehow or other, and with the best of intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore—and this in the name of one who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through the world like a flame."
  • Dorothy Sayers
Then, I imagine CS Lewis' response to be something like this:
"...now we begin to see what it is that the New Testament is always talking about It talks about Christians being 'born again;' it talks about them 'putting on Christ;' about Christ 'being formed in us;' about our coming to 'have the mind of Christ.'
Put right out of your head the idea that these are only fancy ways of saying that Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out -- as a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out.
They [these references] mean something more than that. They mean that a real  Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are...pray[ing], is doing things to you .
It is not a question of a good man who died two thousand years ago. It is a living Man, still as much a man as you and still as much God as He was when He created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has. At first, only for moments. Then for longer periods.
Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity.
[He continues later:]
The thing has happened: the new step has been taken and is being taken. Already the new men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some...are still hardly recognizable: but others can be recognized. Every now and then one meets them....
They are, I say, recognizable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of 'religious people' which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves.
You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be needed: in some goodish people...that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.)
They will usually seemd to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognized one of them, you will recognize the next one much more easily.
And I strongly suspect...that they recognize on another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age and ... creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joing a secret society.
To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun."
  • C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

16 December 2009

Speaking of Bearing Little Resemblance:

"Somehow or other, and with the best of intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore—and this in the name of one who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through the world like a flame." 

  • Dorothy Sayers

13 December 2009

The Realtor Was Wrong; It's "Motivation, Motivation, Motivation"

Don’t ask me to talk to your teenager about the state of his soul, please don’t. I will end up asking him questions about himself rather than presenting him with this very serious theological topic. My goal will probably not be the same as yours--to get him 'born again.'
If I recall properly, your teenager takes nothing more seriously than his “owning” his “identity.” And though "scaring" a teen towards God might work in the shortrun, it seems that God’s timetable is a lifetime.  With regards to the teen,  we would do well to pay attention to the state of the "patient" rather than rushing directly to the goal.
This me to the topic of motivation and how people come to faith.
I reflect on my childhood mind and my spiritual development. I grew up in the 1950’s, attending Mass every Sunday (and the Holy Days). My spiritual life was self-contained (therefore arrogant and blissful) ignorance. I thought I had it sewn up, for I knew about prayer-I knew the Lord’s prayer and had begun the “Hail Mary.” I felt I was doing pretty well—you might say I was on a casual first-name basis with God. I knew him less well than I might know a mailman or doctor, of course, but there was a sense of easy acquaintance.
Then around 6 years old, I attended catechism class and I ran into the concept of sin, and hell. I was horrified-and terrified. How could such a thing have happened to my benign concept of God? My mind went immediately  to the practical: I raised my hand to ask the nun a question so we could remedy our problem Straightfacedly, as only children can do, using the illustration the nun gave (as an analogy), I took it literally. I asked her why couldn’t the doctor perform “an operation to remove the stain on our soul” put there by sin. (This illustration shows not only how literal my mind was but how urgent a situation it was to me.)
It was a shock, for up until then, I had a vague and subjective idea of how to be acceptable to God, and I had not even a suspicion that you could love God, nor what loving God would appear to resemble.

For a long period of my youth I carried correct theological information, but I had no sense of appetite for God: it wasn't a dull appetite, it was a dead appetite. It is because of this experience (I confess) that I do not normally recommend preaching about hell and sin to nonbelievers. First, it seems to be the least effective way to make a convert. Second, (and I think more importantly) the impetus for faith does not come from a desire to stay away from damnation, but from an internal compulsion for only what God can give.
Faith built on fear is no faith at all: it is avoidance. Since Jesus asked his apostles to make disciples, and not mere converts, we need to follow His direction.
When I reflect on the pre-catechism child, I see that little child patterns that resemble patterns of thought found in most areligious people, i.e., a vague sense of who God is, what His role might be, but He’s mostly irrelevant. And when I reflect on the post-catechism child, I recognize a more informed person, but merely an informed person. In this way I resembled many religious, well-intentioned people.
But in that child, there resided no desire to be a Christian that came from reverential love, but it stemmed mostly from fear, and a desire to avoid bad consequences. She did not have even the beginning of a transformed heart, I was not a disciple.

A disciple will want to do the right things - and be conjoined with God because he loves:
“Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:22,23)
The Spirit of Christ works in transforming a person, and for that is a co-operative venture between the person, and the Spirit.

So, when I was a youth the spiritual landscape was only beginning to be “mapped out.” I was like someone who had the directions to New York City, but not the tickets, or reservations. Later, when I committed to knowing who this God was, that I boarded the airplane and actually took the trip and experienced New York City.

CS Lewis has a section in which he reflects on people’s reasons to believe, a detour he makes after remarking on a period wherein the Old Testament is silent on eternal destiny of the Jews:
“Is it possible for men to be too much concerned with their eternal destiny? In one sense, paradoxical as it sounds, I should reply, Yes.
For the truth seems to me to be that happiness or misery beyond death, simply in themselves, are not even religious subjects at all. A man who believes in them will of course be prudent to seek the one and avoid the other. But that seems to have no more to do with religion than looking after one’s health or saving money for one’s old age. The only difference here is that the stakes are so very much higher.
And this means that, granted a real and steady conviction, the hopes and anxieties aroused are overwhelming. But they are not on that account the more religious. They are hopes for oneself, anxieties for oneself. God is not in the centre. He is still important only for the sake of something else. Indeed such a belief can exist without a belief in God at all. Buddhists are much concerned with what will happen to them after death, but are not, in any true sense, Theists.
It is surely, therefore, very possible when God began to reveal Himself to men, to show them that He and nothing else is their true goal and the satisfaction of their needs, and that He has a claim upon them simply by being what He is, quite apart from anything that He can bestow or deny, it may have been absolutely that this revelation should not begin with any hint of future Beatitude [supreme blessedness] or Perdition [eternal damnation]. These are not the right point to begin at. A…belief in them, coming too soon, may even render impossible the development of (so to call it) the appetite for God; personal hopes and fears, too obviously exciting, have got in first.
Later…men have learned to desire and adore God, to pant after Him ‘as pants the hart,’ it is another matter. For then those who love God will desire not only to enjoy Him but ‘to enjoy Him forever,’ and will fear to lose Him. And it is by that door that a tru[e] hope of Heaven and fear of Hell can enter; as corollaries to a faith already centered upon God, not as things of any independent or intrinsic weight. It is even arguable that the moment “Heaven” cease to mean union with God and “Hell” to mean separation from Him, the belief in either is a mischievous superstition; for then we have, on the one hand, a merely ‘compensatory’ belief (a ‘sequel’ to life’s sad story, in which ‘everything will come [out] all right’) and, on the other, a nightmare which drives men into asylums or makes them persecutors.

Fortunately, by God’s good providence, a strong and steady belief of that self-seeking and sub-religious kinds is extremely difficult to maintain, and is perhaps possible only to those who are slightly neurotic. Most of us find that our belief in the future life is strong only when God is in the centre of our thoughts; that if we try to use the hope of “Heaven” as a compensation (even..for…bereavement) it crumbles away. It can, on those terms, be maintained only by arduous efforts of controlled imagination; and we know in our hearts that the imagination is our own.
All this is only one man’s opinion. And it may be unduly influenced by my own experience. For I was allowed for a whole year to believe in God and try—in some stumbling fashion—to obey Him before any belief in the future life was given me. And that year always seems to me to have been of very great value. It is therefore…natural that I should suspect similar value in the centuries which the Jews [in the Old Testament] were in the same position.”

  • CS Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

12 December 2009

Gentle Yet Powerful

[Will return to more 'Reflections' after the weekend. For now, I am posting a language-and-spelling adjusted poem by George Herbert, from his work The Temple printed in 1633.]

The God of love, my Shepherd is,
And he that doth me feed:
While he is mine, and I am his,
What can I want or need?

He leads me to the tender grass,
Where I both feed and rest;
Then, to the streams that gently pass:
In both I have the best.

Or if I stray, he doth convert
And bring my mind in frame:
And all this not for my dessert,
But for his holy name.

Yea, in death’s shads black abode
Well may I walk, not fear:
For thou art with me; and thy rod
To guide, thy staff to bear.

Nay, thou dost make me sit and dine,
Ev’n in my enemies sight:
My head with oil, my cup with wine
Runs over day and night.

Surely thy sweet and wondrous love
Shall measure all my days;
And as it never shall remove,
So neither shall my praise.

  • George Herbert

10 December 2009

Christmas Calm...


My Soul, there is a country
Far beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars,
There above noise, and danger
Sweet peace sits with crown’d smiles,
And one born in a Manger
Commands the beauteous files,

He is thy gracious friend,
And (O my soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend
To die here for thy sake,
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flower of Peace,
The Rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease;

Leave then thy foolish ranges;
For none can thee secure,
But one, who never changes,
Thy God, thy Life, thy Cure.

  • Henry Vaughan

09 December 2009

Praise is Punch-Drunk Expressed

I continue with a section from Lewis from his chapter "A Word About Praising." In the previous post he spoke of the difficulty he had in understanding why we were told/commanded/exhorted to praise and how he came to understand there are good reasons to praise. Praise is simply a reflection of one's esteem for God. He continues illucidating us on praise here but states that our understanding of praise to God is too small. Lewis seems to believe that to praise God is the natural result of being punch-drunk in love with God.
I begin by re-posting the tail end of the previous post regarding the value of praising (anything). CS Lewis writes: "I think we delight to praise [in general] what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.   It is not out of compliment that lovers keep telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete until it is expressed."
"It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with... This is so even when our expressions are inadequate, as of course they usually are. But how if one could really and fully praise even such things to perfection-[to] utterly get out in poetry or music or paint the upsurge of appreciation which almost bursts you? Then indeed the object would be fully appreciated and our delight would have attained perfect development. The worthier the object, the more intense this delight would be.  If it were possible for a created soul fully (to the full measure conceivable in a finite being) to "appreciate," that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beautitude.
It is along these lines that I find it easiest to understand the Christian doctrine that Heaven is a state in which angels are now, and men hereafter, are perpetually employed in praising God.  This does not mean, as it can so dismally suggest, that it is like "being in Church." For our "services" both in their conduct and in our power to participate, are merely attempts at worship; never fully successful, often 99.9 per cent failures, sometimes total failures.
We are not [yet] riders but pupils in the riding school; for most of us the falls and bruises, the aching muscles and the severity of the exercise, far outweigh those few moments in which we were, to our own astonishment, actually galloping without terror and without disaster.
To see what the doctrine really means, we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God-drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by, that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable, hence hardly tolerable, bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression, our joy no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds.
The Scotch catechism says that man's chief end is 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify.
In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him."
  • C.S. Lewis from Refections On the Psalms

07 December 2009

Why Bother to Praise? What's That About?

“When I first began to draw near to belief in God…I found a stumbling block in the demand… made by all religious peple that we should “praise” God; still more in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it.
We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus, a picture, ludicrous and horrible, both of God and His worshippers, began to appear in my mind. The Psalms were especially troublesome this way, “Praise the Lord,” “O praise the Lord with me,” “Praise Him.” (why…did praising God so often consist of telling others to praise Him?)
…Worse still was putting the statement into God’s own mouth, “whoso offers me thanks and praise, he honors me.” [Psalm 50:23] …
And mere quantity of praise seemed to count “seven times a day do I praise Thee.” (Psalm 119:164). It was extremely distressing. It made one think what one least wanted to think.
Gratitude to Him, reverence to Him, obedience to Him, I thought I could understand; [but] not this perpetual eulogy. Nor were matters mended by a modern author who talked of God’s “right” to be praised. I…think “right” is a bad way of expressing it…but…I see what the author meant. …[Let’s] begin with inanimate objects which can have no rights. What do we mean when we say a picture is “admirable”? ..The sense in which the picture “deserves” or “demands” admiration is that…admiration is the correct, adequate or appropriate response to it…and that if we do not admire it, we shall be stupid, insensible and great losers, we shall have missed something.
But the most obvious fact about praise-whether of God or anything-strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or giving of honour. I never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it.
The world rings with praise-lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, cars, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, even sometimes politicians or scholars.
I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. The good critics found something to praise in many imperfect works; the bad ones continually narrowed the list of books we might be allowed to read. The healthy and unaffected man, even if luxuriously brought up and widely experienced in good cookery, could praise a very modest meal: the dyspeptic and the snob found fault with all.
Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. Nor does it cease to be so when, through lack of skill, the forms of its expression are very uncouth or even ridiculous…
I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling men to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.
My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else we value.
I think we delight to praise [in general] what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.
It is not out of compliment that lovers keep telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete until it is expressed.
[to be continued]
  • CS Lewis Reflections on the Psalms

04 December 2009

Afraid Of Praying-and For Good Reason

Prayer is a funny thing. It's funny, hard and strange, all these things, and in some ways it’s a mystery.   Biblical prayer, at least, not the kind of prayer rituals people have or prayer baskets or prayer wheels, or any kind of formulated prayer made to appease and / or petition a god.
Biblical prayer is always hard, I think. It stands to reason if you think about it: the person praying is something other than what other people perceive him to be because he’s being as transparent as he possibly can be. Secondly, he really is something other than what he normally is because for once, he’s in a position where he is recognizing he is the created one (and all that means: limited, weak, flawed, fallen) who is speaking to the Creator Godhead, and all that He is exceeds mere definition and is outside our understanding.
Prayer is hard partly because it is demanding. It's not physically or intellectually demanding. But prayer puts a strain on the human psyche that we tend to avoid. You see, prayer demands humilty. And, no, it might not start off that way, but if one prays long enough, and one ends up there. When you are humble you put yourself aside for the time being. And with that putting aside comes a strange sense that there is “another” self speaking to God-that it is the real self.
Lewis addresses this:

     'The moment of prayer is for me-or involves for me as its condition-the awareness, the re-awakened awareness that this “real world” and “real self” are very far from being rockbottom realities. I cannot in the flesh, leave the stage, either to go behind the scenes [in a metaphoric play] or…but I can remember that these are regions that exist.
    And I also remember that my apparent self-this clown or hero…under his greasepaint is a real person with an offstage life. The dramatic person could not tread the stage unless he concealed a real person: unless the real and unknown I existed, I would not even make mistakes about the imagined me.
   And in prayer this real I struggles to speak, for once, from his real being, and to address, for once, not the other actors, but—what shall I call Him? The Author, for He invented us all? The Producer, for He controls all? Or the Audience, for He watches, and will judge, the performance?
   The attempt is not to escape from space and time and from my creaturely situation as a subject facing objects. It is more modest: to re-awaken the awareness of that situation. If that can be done, there is no need to go anywhere else. This situation itself is, at every moment, a possible theophany. Here is the holy ground, the Bush is burning now.
   Of course this attempt may be attended with almost every degree of success or failure. The prayer preceding all prayers is “May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.”
   Infinitely various are the levels from which we pray. Emotional intensity is in itself no proof of spiritual depth. If we pray in terror we shall pray earnestly; it only proves that terror is an earnest emotion.
   Only God Himself can let the bucket down to the depths in us. And, on the other side, He must constantly work as the iconoclast. Every idea of Him we form, He must in mercy shatter.
   The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking, “But I never knew before. I never dreamed…”   I suppose it was at such a moment that Thomas Aquinas said of all his own theology,  “It reminds me of straw.”'  (CS Lewis in  Letters to Malcolm)

30 November 2009

The Many Facets of the Eternal Now

Many people misinterpret excitement for love. There is a parallel to be made, I think, between the first blush of romantic love and the deepening of love that comes over  time and the enthusiasm and adrenalin-like rush that comes over a true convert and the deep assurance of God's
holy and mighty love for the mature Christian.

CS Lewis addresses the fervour" and the attempt to reconstitute that fervour of early
"Many [Christians] lament that the first fervour of their conversion have died away. They think—sometimes rightly, but not, I believe, always—that their sins account for this. They may even try by pitiful efforts of will to revive what now seem to have been the golden days. But were those fervours—the operative word is those—even intended to last?

It would be rash to say that there is any prayer which God never grants. But the strongest candidate is the prayer we might express in the…word encore. [But] how should the Infinite repeat Himself? All space and time are too little for Him to utter Himself in them once.

And the joke, or tragedy, of it all is that these golden moments in the past, which are so tormenting if we erect them into a norm, are entirely nourishing, wholesome, and enchanting if we are content to accept them for what they are, for memories.

Properly bedded down in a past which we do not miserably try to conjure back, hey will send up exquisite growths. Leave the bulbs alone, and new flowers will come up. [But] grub them up and hope, by fondling and sniffing, to get last year’s blooms, and you will get nothing. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.’ John 12:24.' "

  • CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

The Spirit Teaches Us Present Thankfulness

I am beginning to feel that we need a preliminary act of submission, not only towards possible future afflictions but also towards possible future blessings.
I know it sounds fantastic; but think it over.
It seems to me that we often, almost sulkily, reject the good that God offers us because, at that moment, we expected some other good.
Do you know what I mean? On every level of our life—in our religious experience, in our gastronomic, erotic, aesthetic, and social experience—we are always harking back to some occasion which seemed to us to reach perfection, setting that up as a norm, and depreciating all other occasions,
[which] I now suspect, are often full of their own new blessing, if only we would lay ourselves open to it. God shows us a new facet of the glory,
and we refuse to look at it because we’re still looking for the old one.
And of course we don’t get that. You can’t, at the twentieth reading, get again the experience of reading Lycidas for the first time. But what you do get can be in its own way as good.

  • CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

Rx from the Holy Spirit

The “advent season” is a natural follow-on in American Christianity to our celebration of Thanksgiving. This is a special celebration of God’s goodness for keeping us through another year, for supplying our daily bread. This day focuses on keeping body and soul together, and the Christmas marks the commencement of Jesus the Christ’s ministry with his birth. The many themes that surround this period, what King James simply refers to as “the fullness of time” I am going to leave aside for now, though all are worthy of study, reflection and prayer. Now I wish to focus on the present.
If you let the gospels speak to you, I think you will eventually come to realize that the gospels taken together is not a “Wish Book” of promises.

Putting aside for the present statements Christ made about Himself and the rest of the Trinity, and focusing on statements about the common man and "how he is to live" we find really very little. Familiarly, He commands us to repent, confess and commit to following the truth. Jesus Christ calls on our motives and relentlessly expects us to become “real” with the God whom we will eventually face in judgment.  Having said that Jesus speaks little about our day-to-day living, I think that there are two areas in which we err which he does speak to: our future in this earth and our behaviors when it comes to "success" and "achievement." It is possible to boil them both down to a prinicipled view of life which recognizes that all good things come from God, He is sovereign and He is worthy of more gratitude than we can imagine. So here are the two specific "concrete" things Jesus speaks to:

  • One is He never spoke of a person’s future outside of prayer or the context of eternity [even when he spoke with Peter, eternity was in view].
A perfect example of this is the Lord’s Prayer as the outline states, we request bread for today. Manna was eaten only on the day it fell—God prohibited the Jews from storing up for the next day any extras. Not that God is against leftovers for dinner—but He asks us to trust Him, at every level. Much more can be said on this, but I think gospel readers will agree.

  • Secondly, Jesus was a big fan of grateful hearts-and so is the Father. Here again many passages spring to mind, but the most easily illustrated in Luke 17:
“And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, saying, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go and show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, with a loud voice glorifying God; and he fell upon his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were not the ten cleansed? but where are the nine? Were there none found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger? And he said unto him, Arise, and go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.” Luke 17:12-19 (ASV, italics inserted indicate words spoken)

We read that the leper who returned full of gratitude, glorifying God and giving Christ thanks, was made whole after he was filled with gratitude and expressed it. Though this text has been used as a “lever” or “remedy” for “healing ministries,” I think that is the wrong focus.

Christ is bringing home a bigger point and that is that we are sicker than we think we are. Gratitude to God for what He has already done is the remedy for sickness of the heart. 
A whole heart may often be carried in a sick body, just as billions of healthy bodies contain sick, weak and divided hearts. Indeed, Christ continually challenges us this way: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:23-24).

Subjecting ourselves to a heart exam by the clear light of Spirit of Truth is the sole way to prepare our hearts for the Advent of the Christ.

(Charges due at time of service: your pride)

28 November 2009

Why It's Better To Love Than To Be An Equal

Gary Rath, the best man at our wedding, had a line he used to chuckle over. “If I am the Best Man,” he’d say, “why aren’t you marrying me?” Silly. Behind his little play on words, a reminder of the gulf  between affection/love and reason/logic. Just as Scrooge McDuck would can't see his loving nephews for the pile of gold in front of him, likewise, a fullblown technician can know nothing of the heart of God unless he sets aside his measuring rods.
CS Lewis pointed out that "equality" within humanity is simply quantative. Further, he asserted that love knew nothing of equality. Equality is foreign to love.  Love's reasons are woven into the fabric of its makeup and are therefore impossible to tease out by method without destroying it wholecloth.  Love has its own economy.  In the realm of mere equality a miner can say to a millionaire, “I’m as good as you are.” But when it comes to affection, it is outside such boundaries or rule. Indeed, there are no clear limitations on affection.
In affection, we find our greatness when we are most humble: the greater ground is gained in lovingkindness, not in merit. One can always find someone to oppress, but love will always overcome an enemy in the end.  God breaks with a rod of iron by the fierce love of His love.
CS Lewis said that obedient reverence is the road to freedom, that humility is the road to pleasure and, in the Church of Christ, unity is the road to personality.

25 November 2009

Leaky vessels, filling with God's love

CS Lewis speaking on Old Testament Scriptures:
“The human qualities of the raw materials show through [referring to the content of scriptures]. Naivety, errors, contradiction and even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God, and we… receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone and temper and so learning its overall message.
To a human mind this working-up (in a sense imperfectly), this sublimation (incomplete) of human material, seems no doubt, an untidy and leaky vehicle. We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form—something we could have tabulated and memorized and relied on like the multiplication table. One can respect, and [even] envy, both the Fundamentalist’s view of the Bible and the Roman Catholic’s view of the Church. But there is one argument which we should beware of for either position: God must have done what is best, this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mortals and do not know what is best ofr us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done—especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it.
   We may observe the that the teaching of Our Lord [Jesus Christ] Himself, in which there is no imperfection, is not given us in cut-and-dried, fool-proof, systematic fashion we might have expected or desired. He wrote no book. We have only reported sayings, most of them uttered in answer to questions, shaped by some degree by their context. And whne we have collected them all we cannot reduce them to a system. He preaches but He does not lecture. He uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even…the “wisecrack.” He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be “got up” as if it were a “subject.” If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, “pinned down.” The attempt is...like trying to bottle a sunbeam.

It may be indispensible that Our Lord’s teaching, by that elusiveness (to our systematizing intellect) should demand a response from the whole man, should make it so clear that there is no question on learning a subject but of steeping ourselves in a Personality, acquiring a new outlook and temper, breathing a new atmosphere, allowing Him, in His own way, to rebuild in us the defaced image of Himself.

…it seems to me that from having had to reach what is really the Voice of God…in the cursing Psalms..through all …the distortions of the human medium, I have gained something I might not have gained from a flawless, ethical exposition. The shadows have indicated (at least to my heart) something more about the light.
…of course these conjectures as to why God does what He does are probably of no more value than my dog’s ideas of what I am up to when I sit and read.

[The final] reason for accepting the Old Testament [is] simpl[e] and… compulsive. We are committed to it in principle by Our Lord Himself.
[Still, it] is…idle to speak here of spirit and letter. There is almost no “letter” in the words of Jesus. Taken by a literalist, He will always prove the most elusive of teachers. Systems cannot keep up with that darting illumination. No net less wide than a man’s whole heart nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish.”

  • CS Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, pp.112-119

16 November 2009

Simple Steps to an Exciting Life

God never wrought a miracle to convince atheism, because His ordinary works convince it. - Lord Bacon

The apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy, in the first century of the Christian church, giving him some simple instructions that are key in “taking ownership” of one’s spiritual life. Unless Christian individuals pay attention to the condition of their own self-care (spiritually-speaking), the Christian church (the body of believers) will become run-down.

“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
… give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
Do not neglect the gift that is in you…
Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (I Timothy 4:12-16)

While this may seem overwhelming, it’s less onerous than it looks if it is contextualized within the framework of the living Spirit of God. That Spirit is continually at work, as long as we keep maintain our part of the bargain. 
According to the promise of Christ before his crucifixion and resurrection, the Spirit (or Helper) would be with us to help us become the kind of people who God had always sought for—people with a heart of flesh, and not stone. God cannot manufacture our will to conform to His, but He can send extraordinary, even miraculous, help by the Spirit when our wills are bent towards Him.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17)
(“But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” – John 7:39
"When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.” – John 15:26)

Imagine this, that Christ, the Son of the Living God and Father, Creator of the universe and beyond, has sent us what He was when He was physically walking the Earth: the Spirit. And imagine, also, that this Spirit is not here to confuse, confound or mystify, but to clarify, and to settle.
Once the Christian understands that Life in the Spirit is ongoing and continual, then, the Christian should come to expect a gradual unfolding of his own originality within a life of being a disciple (not a monk). Indeed, the Christian is to become so intimate with the Spirit, that he will see that there is infinite originality when God made humans-and it crops up over and over in his life.

“Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead.
Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture tomorrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare tomorrow at breakfast.”
  • G K Chesterton in Orthodoxy

13 November 2009

Let It Speak

Good writing and good and truthful thinking don't always go together-and sometimes it seems less often than more often. With that in mind, sometimes I like to let the Scriptures speak...trusting them to convey the best thoughts. Today, I'm placing sections of what is said to be the earliest book of the Bible - Job. And since the story of Job is familiar to most people, pieces from that story are placed below:
Job Speaks of the Power of God (from Job 12)
13 "With Him are wisdom and might;
To Him belong counsel and understanding.
14 "Behold, He tears down, and it cannot be rebuilt;
He imprisons a man, and there can be no release.
15 "Behold, He restrains the waters, and they dry up;
And He sends them out, and they inundate the earth.
16 "With Him are strength and sound wisdom,
The misled and the misleader belong to Him.
17 "He makes counselors walk barefoot
And makes fools of judges.
18 "He loosens the bond of kings
And binds their loins with a girdle.
19 "He makes priests walk barefoot
And overthrows the secure ones.
20 "He deprives the trusted ones of speech
And takes away the discernment of the elders.
21 "He pours contempt on nobles
And loosens the belt of the strong.
22 "He reveals mysteries from the darkness
And brings the deep darkness into light.
23 "He makes the nations great, then destroys them;
He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.
24 "He deprives of intelligence the chiefs of the earth's people
And makes them wander in a pathless waste.
25 "They grope in darkness with no light,
And He makes them stagger like a drunken man."
In Job 19 Job speaks his heart’s desire:
23 "Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
24 "That with an iron stylus and lead
They were engraved in the rock forever!
25 "As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
26 "Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
27 Whom I myself shall behold,
And whom my eyes will see and not another.
My heart faints within me!"

Job 38 God Now Begins Speaking to Job
"1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,
2 "Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
3 "Now gird up your loins like a man,
And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
4 "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?"
Job 42
"1 Then Job answered the LORD and said,
2 "I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
3 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?'
"Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."
4 'Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.'
5 "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
6 Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes."

10 November 2009

Our Actions, Time and Prayer

I believe in prayer.
I believe prayer moves people and situations more intricately than we know.  I can give example after example of answered prayer. But I usually don't bother to do that, at least not in the context of talking about the efficacy of prayer. Why? Because if you've not experienced its efficacy, my talking about it will not convince you or any sceptic. My telling you that it makes a difference doesn't make it true for you for your mind has been made up about prayer. It is our our best gift from God, but life will go on without it and so it doesn't make much difference to many people.

Let's ask why this is the case.  It seems to me that people don't pray much or well because they believe prayer should be a lever-push the lever and a pellet will come out, where praying is analogous to pushing the lever.  Prayer is more complex than that, at least in terms of its operations. It's also simpler and more difficult than most people imagine. It's simpler because it has to do with simple trust. It's more difficult because most people would prefer to orchestrate their lives, including their prayer lives and/or are unwilling to do the actual work and responsiblity that comes as a result of answered prayer.
Children pray most efficaciously because they are most trusting and dependent faith in our Lord’s willingness to answer our prayers, and least interested in the “mechanics” of how He would work out answering prayers. This explanation does not dismiss the questions that sceptics or adult believers have about prayer’s efficacy, free will and God’s timing which really ought to be considered. CS Lewis weighs in:

“When we are praying about the result of… (something, say) a medical consultation the thought will often cross our minds the event is already decided one way or another. I believe this to be no good reason for ceasing (to) pray. The event certainly has been decided – in a sense it was decided ‘before all ages.’ But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we offer. Thus, shocking as it may sound, I conclude we can at noon become part causes of an event occurring at ten o’clock. The imagination will, no doubt, play all sorts of tricks on us at this point. It will ask, ‘Then if I stop praying can God go back and alter what has already happened?’ No. The event has already happened and one of its causes has been the fact that you are asking such questions instead of praying. It will ask, ‘Then if I being to pray can God go back and alter was has already happened?’ No. The event has already happened and one of its causes is your present prayer. Thus something does really depend on my choice. My free act contributes to cosmic shape. That contribution is made in eternity ‘before all worlds’ [ages]; but my consciousness of contributing reaches me at a particular point in the time series.”
  • CS Lewis, Miracles

09 November 2009

Our Infinite God Has Infinite Time for You and for Me

“God is not hurried along in the time stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his novel. He has infinite attention to spare for one each of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created. When Christ died for you, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man in the world.

The way in which (the) illustration breaks down is this. In it the author gets out of one time series (that of the novel) only by going into another time series (the real one). But God…does not live in a time series at all. His “life” is not dribbled out moment by moment like ours: with Him it is…still 2009 and already 2049. For His life is Himself.

If you picture time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn. We come to the parts of the line one by one: we have to leave A behind before we get to B, and cannot reach C until we leave B behind. God, from above, or outside, or all around, contains the whole line, and sees it all.”

  • CS Lewis, Mere Christianity {dates adjusted}

08 November 2009

Consolation of Christ

How do you distill in words the power and touch of the consolation of the living, resurrected Christ in the human heart?
It's difficult to distill in words. George Herbert makes an attempt:

Jesu is in my heart, His sacred name
Is deeply carved there.
But the other week a great affliction
Broke the little frame,
Even all to pieces.

{So} I went to seek.
And first found the corner where was the J
After, where the ES, and next where the U was graved.
When I got these pieces,
Instantly, I sat me down to spell them, and perceived
To my broken heart He was I ease you
        But to my whole (heart), Jesu.

  •  George Herbert

05 November 2009

Living Out His Love

I'd Rather See a Sermon

I'd rather see a sermon than to hear one any day;
I'd rather one would walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye's a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example's always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it if you'll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.

The lectures you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I'd rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
I may misunderstand the high advice you give,
But there's no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.

When I see a deed of kindness, I am eager to be kind.
When a weaker brother stumbles and a strong man stays behind
Just to see if he can help him, then the wish grows strong in me
To become as big and thoughtful as I know that friend to be.
And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them, but the one who shows the way.

One good man teaches many, men believe what they behold;
One deed of kindness noticed is worth forty that are told.
Who stands with men of honor learns to hold his honor dear,
For right living speaks a language which to everyone is clear.

Though an able speaker charms me with his eloquence, I say,
I'd rather see a sermon than to hear one any day!
  • Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959)

04 November 2009

Inscrutable Love

“….One great hindrance to the savoring God’s love today is the false idea that we are at the center of it rather than God. God’s aim in all His acts of love is to exalt His glory.
This truth permeates Scripture. For example, “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ...to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:5,6). That is, God’s loving predestination aims at the praise of His glory. So does his loving forgiveness: “I, even I, am He who blots our your transgressions for my own sake.” (Isaiah 43:25). When David realized this truth, he prayed accordingly: “For the sake of your name, O LORD, forgive my iniquity” (Psalm 25:11)
Moreover, the ultimate aim of Christ’s love in accepting us into His fellowship is to bring glory and praise to God. “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us to the glory of God. (Romans 15:7).
And Christ’s loving work of sanctification is for the praise of the Father: “this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9, 10,11).”  John Piper, in “Learning to Savor the Love of God”

Piper is making a simple but full statement of familial love—that is, the joy of love found in relationships: those separated and in trials are able to rejoice upon reunion. If you never recognize God as your Father, and resist His love and calling out to you, you can never enter into any of that eternal joy of reconciliation. With regard to love, God and His people are mutual beneficiaries when He gets glory--there are many reasons for this, one reason is due to the very difference between the created one (man) and the Creator God.
In summary, all through the scriptures, the love of God redounds to His glory.
A parallel prophecy was given to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31, which is directly to Israel, but its application can be generalized to speak to all of God's lovers. See in part below:

1"At that time," declares the LORD,
"I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people."
2Thus says the LORD, The people who survived the sword
Found grace in the wilderness--
Israel, when it went to find its rest."
3The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying,
"I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.
4"Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt,
O virgin of Israel!
Again you will take up your tambourines,
And go forth to the dances of the merrymakers...
8"Behold, I am bringing them from the north country,
And I will gather them from the remote parts of the earth,
Among them the blind and the lame,
The woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together;
A great company, they will return here.
9"With weeping they will come,
And by supplication I will lead them;
I will make them walk by streams of waters,
On a straight path in which they will not stumble;
For I am a father to Israel,
And Ephraim is My firstborn."
10Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
And declare in the coastlands afar off,
And say, "He who scattered Israel will gather him
And keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock."
11For the LORD has ransomed Jacob
And redeemed him from the hand of him who was stronger than he.
12"They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion,
And they will be radiant over the bounty of the LORD--
Over the grain and the new wine and the oil,
And over the young of the flock and the herd;
And their life will be like a watered garden,
And they will never languish again.
13"Then the virgin will rejoice in the dance,
And the young men and the old, together,
For I will turn their mourning into joy
And will comfort them and give them joy for their sorrow.
14"I will fill the soul of the priests with abundance,
And My people will be satisfied with My goodness,"
declares the LORD.

29 October 2009

The Jogging Monk and Exegesis Of The Heart

Being a disciple is simple, but not necessarily easy since the heart needs to be supple. Reflecting on this, here is an article from a man who was in seminary and his struggle:

The Jogging Monk And Exegesis Of The Heart

How to go beyond simple understanding to hearing Scripture speak

By James Brian Smith

During my second year of seminary, the spiritual moorings of my life came loose. I decided to go on a five-day silent retreat at a northeastern Episcopalian monastery to try to reclaim the spiritual warmth I had somehow lost.
Upon arrival I was assigned a monk who would be my spiritual director. He walked into our meeting room with jogging clothes underneath his cowl. I was disappointed. I had been expecting an elderly man, bearded to his knees, who would penetrate my soul with searing blue eyes. Instead, I got "the jogging monk."
My director gave me only one task for the day: meditate on the story of the Annunciation in the first chapter of Luke's gospel. I walked back to my cell, wondering how I would occupy my time with only this one assignment. After all, I thought to myself, I could exegete this entire text in a few hours. What was I to do for the rest of the day-in silence?
Back at my cell I opened my Bible to the passage and began reading. For the next hour I spliced and diced the verses as any good exegete would do, ending up with a few hypotheses and several hours to sit in silence. As the hours passed, the room seemed to get smaller. There was no view to the outside through the window of my room. Without any view to the outer world, I was forced to look within. Despite my hopes of finding spiritual bliss, I had never felt more alone.

What else is there?
The next day I met with the monk again to discuss my spiritual life. He asked what had happened with the assigned text. I told him that I had come up with a few exegetical insights. I thought my discoveries might impress him.
They didn't.
"What was your aim in reading this passages" he asked.
"My aim? To arrive at an understanding of the meaning of the text, I suppose."
"Anything else?"
I paused. "No. What else is there?"
"Well, there's more than just finding out what it says and what it means. There are also questions like, 'What did it teach you? What did it say to you? Were you struck by anything?' And most importantly, 'Did you experience God in your reading?'"
He assigned the same text for the day, asking me to begin reading it not so much with my head but more with my heart.
I had no idea how to do this. For the first three hours I tried and failed repeatedly. I practically had the passage memorized and still it was lifeless, and I was bored. The room seemed even smaller, and by nightfall 1 thought I would go deaf from the silence.
The next day we met again. In despair I told him that I simply could not do what he was asking. It was then that the wisdom beneath the jogging clothes became evident: "You're trying too hard, Jim. You're trying to control God. You're running the show. Go back and read this passage again. But this time, be open to receive whatever God has for you. Don't manipulate God; just receive. Communion with Him isn't something you institute. It's like sleep. You can't make yourself sleep, but you can create the conditions that allow sleep to happen. All I want you to do is create the conditions: open your Bible, read it slowly, listen to it, and reflect on it."

I went back to my cell (it had a prison-like feel by now) and began to read. I found utter silence. After an hour I finally shouted, "I give up! You win!" I slumped over in my chair and began to weep. I suspect it was for my failure that God had been waiting.

Let it be to me.
A short time later 1 picked up the Bible and read the passage again. The words looked different despite their familiarity. My mind and heart were supple as I read. I was no longer trying to figure out the meaning or the main point of the passage. 1 was simply hearing it.
My eyes fell upon the famous words of Mary: "Let it be to me according to your word," her response to God's stunning promise that she would give both to His Son. Let it be to me. The words rang in my head. And then God spoke to me.
It was as if a window had been thrown open and God was suddenly present, like a friend who wanted to talk. What followed was a dialogue about the story in Luke, about God, about Mary, and about me. I wondered about Mary-her feelings, her doubts, her fears, and her incredible willingness to respond to God's request.
This prompted me to ask (or the Spirit moved me to ask) about the limits of my obedience, which seemed meager in comparison to Mary's. "Do not be afraid," said the angel to Mary. We talked about fear. What was I afraid of? What held me back?
"You have found favor with God," the angel told Mary. Had I found favor with God? 1 sensed that I had, but not because of anything 1 had done (humility had become my companion in that room). I had found favor because 1 was His child.
I wondered, too, about the future, about my calling. What was God wanting of me? Mary had just been informed of her destiny. What was mine? We talked about what might be-what, in fact, could be, if I were willing.
I had reached the end of my rope and was, for the first time in a long time, in a position to hear. Desperation led me to begin praying. My prayer was really a plea: help me. After an hour of reflecting and listening, Mary's "Let it be to me according to your word" eventually became my prayer. The struggle had ended.
The room that had seemed small now seemed spacious. The silence no longer mattered, no longer made me anxious, but rather, seemed peaceful. And the terrible feeling of being alone was replaced by a sense of closeness with a God who was "nearer to me than I was to myself."

The Word exposed in the Words.
Before my retreat, I would have laughed if someone had tried to tell me that my real problem was not prayer or meditation or personal discipline, but that it was my inability to read the Bible. After all, to me, an evangelical with a touch of Wesleyan pietism, the Bible was sacred. I had memorized 2 Timothy 3:16 early on as a Christian.
I had studied under brilliant Bible scholars and maintained a high view of authority and inspiration. Even my Bible could attest to the hours I labored to understand it, covered as it was with marginal notes and multicolored "highlighter" markings. Like Paul, I list my achievements to point a finger not at me but at the God who redirected my ways.
Quite simply, I had forgotten that there is much more to reading the Bible than merely understanding the words on the pages. Learning how to study the Bible was an important and essential skill. However, I had lost "the ears to hear" anything beyond that kind of study.

What I relearned in my room was how the Bible should be read, namely, with an ear to what the text might be saying to me. Simply doing responsible exegesis is not enough, as enlightening as it often is. The next steps are listening to the text, reflecting on it, and asking not merely what it means, but what it is asking of me, what it is asking me to hear.
What I had been unable to understand was what Søren Kierkegaard called the "contemporaneity" of the Bible. The past does not merely parallel but actually intersects the present. The Christ who called His disciples to follow Him is calling each of us at this moment. I had been reading the Bible as if it were describing a world in which I might find parallels. I now came to understand that when I read the Bible, I am reading about a world that in some sense also now is.
For example, I had been prone to read the story of God's call to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac by saying, "Boy, Abraham sure had a tough decision. I am glad I am not in his shoes." Now I see that I cannot read it only that way. Why? Because I am in Abraham's shoes. God sometimes calls me to sacrifice my most precious possession. The story has much to say to the present.
I had to relearn that the Bible is a book aimed primarily at the will of the reader. I was afraid to hear what the Bible might say because I suspected it might ask me to change my life. It did. When I was "running the show," as the monk observed, I could sidestep the contemporaneity of the Bible. Mary was Mary, and I could observe her dilemma and even write a good sermon about it. But now it was my dilemma. Could I-will I-say, "let it be to me"?
Finally, I relearned that reading the Bible requires what the saints of old called "contemplation." It was in solitude and silence that the noise and hurry of the world finally ceased long enough for me to hear. There was not enough silence in my life for me to hear the Word within the words, and I knew that deep down, which is why I went on a silent retreat in the first place. Now I have learned that silence is possible outside the haven of a monastery, but I still have to work to find it.
I also learned that contemplation is more than just silence. The monk's insistence that I stay with the same passage for three days unnerved me. Now I understand what he was trying to do. Contemplation requires deep reflection, repetition, patience, and persistence. The veil that covered my heart would not be removed by a single reading. I needed then, and still need, to read it slowly, until the words strike a chord within me. Once they strike, I am able to let them resonate.

A new world opens up.
The end of the retreat was much better than the beginning. My "jogging monk" was pleased to see that I had relearned how to read the Bible. He gave me different passages to meditate on for the remainder of the retreat, and, like Mary, I was able to "ponder" them in my heart. I felt what an illiterate person must feel on learning how to read. A new world opened up.
Seminary, too, became more of a joy. I finished that year and my final year with a new way of looking at the Bible. I found that there can be a happy marriage between textual study and contemplation, viewing them not as competing but complementary. One without the other feels incomplete. Now, five years later, I feel that any day on which I do not open the Bible and let the words descend from my head into my heart, letting them mold my thoughts and shape my prayers, is wasted.
Unlike the room at the monastery, I now have a beautiful view outside my window. Now and then I close the shades.

  • James Bryan Smith (M.Div., Yale University Divinity School, Ph.D., Fuller Seminary) is a theology professor at Friends University in Wichita, KS and a writer and speaker in the area of Christian spiritual formation. A founding member of Richard J. Foster's spiritual renewal ministry, Renovaré, Smith is an ordained United Methodist Church minister and has served in various capacities in local churches. Smith is the author of A Spiritual Formation Workbook, Devotional Classics (with Richard Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven and Room of Marvels.

Caution: Handle with Care or You May Get Loved Up

Bravo for you, you’ve run from God all your life and now what do you find? Where are you? I can guess that if you’re conscious, then your suffering. Don’t get me wrong, not all suffering takes on the same outlook. Psychological, emotional suffering can be more excruciating than physical suffering. I think suffering comes in varieties. 

Here are at least two forms:

Variety 1 is "Cost and Loss" - a normal life suddenly is betrayed, a normal body fails, a business or nation falls apart, and family, friends, face, and finances are lost. In despair a person reaches for God and finds His comfort and solace, and he finds it. God never fails a sincerely seeking heart.

Variety 2 is "Gain and Lost" - a sense of pervasive lostness. This person is similar to a King Solomon, who suffered pain and weariness in the middle of all his greatness. This might be a person who has achieved or is given extraordinary advantages and gifts, and finds great financial or abundance, loads of friends, a good name, a "name in the field," a person of prominence and of influence. Simultaneously, the person finds he's lost all zest for life, his family and friends are boring, and nothing gives him the "zing" he craves. A person living Variety 2 suffering is on the razor's edge-in a great war between the despair of nothingness and the pull of "there-has-to-be-more" in his heart.

Where is God? God is there-was there-and is waiting, as aptly described in this poem:

The Pulley

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
"Let us" (said he)"pour on him all we can;
Let the world's riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span."

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flow'd, then wisdom, honor, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure
Rest in the bottom lay.

"For if I should" (said he)
"Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be

"Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast."

→ George Herbert

So, what if you dared to try the most radical, revolutionary idea-that God loves you and His love and faithfulness would never fail you? That He will satisfy the desires of your heart, those desires which you cannot even put a name to? You can dare believe it because it is the very thing Christ said? This is no psychological trick. No, here we are speaking directly to the Soul-Maker about Soul-sickness. Your Soul-sickness. Could be the Soul-Maker has the elixir for the Soul?

What if you believed it? What would be so terrible about that? How can you fail in your failure? After all, you know that, apart from the love of God, you will and are–right now-failing, in every area. We cannot remake the world-the best men in history have failed.

Only Christ succeeded-and that at the cost of giving away His love for you, specifically and individually. And, no, you didn’t deserve, it—but that’s because love cannot be earned.

Charity Johnson

Would you prefer the truth or love?

Jesus has the first and last word on love:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34, 35)

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15: 12, 13)

...when (the Holy Spirit) has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: (John 16:8)

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; (John 17:18, 20)

...for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. (John 17:19)

In God's Kingdom truth and love are one and the same.

God's Odd Math of Love

Agape, the sacrificial kind of love from God given to mankind, which is lived out in action is the only common ground between the genders, across the tribes, and nations and cultures. It is what enables a person to be selfless but not pitiful; to be forgiving and yet strong; to be humble but not cowardly; to be a crusader but not a conqueror and overtaker. A person who loves with agape love has more love the more he gives it away.
It is what makes life for the Christian one “Great Giveaway.”

  • Charity Johnson

“Even friendship finds rocks to founder on, for though its sea is immense, it has shores. [Yet, the apostle] Paul announces the exception when he tells us: ‘Love [agape] never ends.’ (I Corinthians 13). …One day everything will be made of agape. All those things that we made of agape in this world will last… But nothing else. The only thing that will not be burned up in the final fire is the one thing that is stronger than the fire of destruction: the fire of creation. For agape is the fire of creation.

God created out of agape. Just as the only way to conquer a passion is by a stronger passion, just as the only way to conquer an evil love is by a stronger good love, the only way to endure the final fire is not by any water that tries to put it out, but by the only fire that is stronger still: agape. This is the very fire of God’s essential being. Only love is stronger than death. (p 91)
[Eventually] lovers of God [will] become one with the fire of their Beloved. …British poet Stephen Spender wrote their epitaph: ‘Born of the sun, they traveled a brief while toward the sun and left the vivid air tinged with their honor.’

That is what a Christian is. Not to be one is life’s only real tragedy.” (p.93)
  • Peter Kreeft, from The God Who Loves You

The Thing Only You, and not God, Can Do

(On Love’s Surpassing Value )
“…(in I Corinthians 13) Paul says love is even greater than faith…(though) faith is even greater than understanding in this life. The whole Christian life begins in faith, progresses in faith, and culminates in faith. Only in heaven will knowledge replace faith when we no longer see “through a glass, darkly” but face to face…. Jesus was constantly exhorting people to faith and bemoaning their lack of faith. For faith is the golden key that unlocks the doors of our life to God’s presence and power. There was nothing that Jesus sought more than faith, except love. Faith is the necessary beginning of the Christian life, but love is its consummation. Faith exists for the sake of love, as the root exists for the sake of the fruit, as the beginning exists for the sake of the end. Even faith, without the works of love, is dead (James 2:26). But even the works of love are no substitute for love itself.

(Yet) Paul mentions that (all) is nothing without agape (love)... For instance, I can give away all that I have and even let my body be burned in suffering as a martyr, but it is all for naught without love. You can be a martyr without love: an angry, hateful martyr. A terrorist suicide bomber is not an apostle of love. Even good deeds without love are nothing, for God does not want deeds first of all but hearts.

He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalms 50:10). He does not need anything from us. God could perform all the deeds He desires, but even He cannot give Himself one thing: our free love. That is the thing that is most precious of all to Him, and He has put it in our charge!”

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You! (p. 76, 77)

God cannot make you love Him.

Losing Face and Loving It

Not feeling the love?

Words in the previous post don't make it happen. Yeah, so, there are great reasons to love God, but a person does not choose to love God simply because reason dictates. Obviously, or it wouldn't be love. (Even in "real world" examples this doesn't happen. Perhaps someone pretends to love someone else and goes through all the right motions to get a certain “reward” – but this either tapers off and dies out or he gets found out. There are many traditions, where this is acceptable and encouraged behavior for a mate, because as he behaves lovingly, he does indeed begin to love.)

But here we are talking about faith in the God who loves us-and I know making a strong argument for someone to succumb to His love cannot in any universe make you love Him. A good argument will not propel you into the Arms of Him who loves you. Nor should it, or it would not be love.

If you ask “why” I love someone—you’ll find it has no answer—rather the answer is wrapped up in the individual. Now, if you and I both love the same person, you wouldn't even think of asking such a question. So it is with loving God, too. I know why I love God-and it's all about Him. Yet, reasoning cannot create motivation to love God, it cannot. Reason is important and certainly informative-and we want our consciences and minds understanding our Love as well as possible, but that is in the realm of information.

No,one needs an encounter Him-a face-to-face, intense and extended encounter wherein all you can do is feel the burning desire behind His love. Comprehension may begin to dawn at that moment you encounter the self-giving love, much like it does in our human relationships.

So then, what does it all boil down to, this actual breaking-through to the love of God?

First, an unbelieving person has no ability within himself to access the love of God—though he accesses many other kinds of love. Accessing the love of God is exclusive—exclusive to lovers of God. It’s simple, but it’s difficult.

Secondly, resistance to faith in God is a moral, not an intellectual problem, normally. There are plenty of ways to get answers to honest questions. What a man fears most is losing face before his peers, so he resists faith, and loses the possibility of entering into enjoying the love of God.

But, what about the “price?” Isn’t it costly to love God this way? Yes-and no.

One only gains through loving, even when something is sacrificed. The man who elopes with his lover finds himself an old man with a mate who is sure she was chosen and exclusive. Yes, it cost him something-maybe his familial relationships, perhaps he lost status or an inheritance-but the gain surpassed the loss. A man who chooses to love God may lose face, possibly money or position, family ties may be strained, but he gains a joy in the love of God, which sustains him in life and which can not be bought and which cannot be replicated.

  • Charity Johnson

Let's see how the apostle Paul compared the cost:
(I was)…of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.
Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. …indeed... I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord... (Philippians 3:5-10)