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.