do i need God?

Category : CS Lewis, God, faith, living a life of faith, sharing faith

……….

I don’t need God.

That’s a belief I held for a long time.  I figured I could manage just fine without a “crutch” like God.  But slowly I realized that was a lie.  It’s like saying a car doesn’t need an engine.  Or that “weak” planes use wings to fly.  Cars are designed to have engines.  Planes are designed to have wings.  And I am designed to have a relationship with God.

It took me a long time to wrap my mind around that.

I’ve always been very self-sufficient.  The truth is, I still am.  It’s this self-sufficiency that has become one of the biggest stresses in being unemployed.  I feel like I don’t contribute enough to the Kingdom.  It bothers me that I can’t financially give like I used to.  I think, “I am educated, socially mobile, I should be creating resources, not being unemployed receiving help from friends.  Not letting other people by me a drink or pick up the tab at dinner.”

There’s a part of me that still says, “I don’t need God.”

That realization shocks me.

We are all in desperate need of God’s resources.  None of us are above needing his help.  So why do I feel so superior and want to fight that?   Why do I want to say, “no thanks, I’m good.”  Why do I want to say, “God needs to redirect resources to people who ‘really’ need them, not me.”

Pride, of course, is the answer.  It’s what CS Lewis called, “the complete anti-God state of mind.” That’s why I feel these things.  I want to believe that I am better than I am.

Pride has a way of warping your view.  The reality is I’m probably more actively engaged in the kingdom than I have been for years.  Every day I need to rely on God to get through the challenges unemployment offers.  I have to rely on God that somehow I will earn / find / receive enough money to pay the bills.  And because of that I finally am beginning to understand what the Bible means by describing God as “faithful.”

That couldn’t have been said for a year ago.  That’s a significant difference in my life.

I doubt God cares very much for the financial impact of my giving or the financial impact of me not working when it’s compared against the changes I am receiving from advancing the kingdom.  What is my money compared to a life transformed?

But pride is a tricky beast.  As I said, it warps your view.  If you allow it, your pride will even warp your view of yourself.  As CS Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, “it was through pride that the devil became the devil.”  If pride can do that to the devil, it can happen to us.

If I learn nothing else from being unemployed, I will be satisfied with this lesson.  It will have been worth it to realize that in all situations, at all time, I need God.  And so do you.

what i’m watching: Prince Caspian

Category : CS Lewis, faith, sin, taking action, trust

……….

Both The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings are Christian allegories.  Meaning that behind the story is another message.  In this case, both movies focus heavily on the idea of redemption.  But what I find interesting is that they take completely different approaches to that message.  The Lord of the Rings is a fantastic story on it’s own rights.  The characters are compelling.  The action is intense.  And the plot is intriguing.  You can enjoy it even if you don’t know about the Christian undertones.  The Chronicles of Narnia, on the other hand, are only great stories (and now movies) if you keep the allegory in mind .

Let’s look at two examples where knowing the philosophy of C.S. Lewis radically changes the meaning of the story.  (**minor spoilers ahead**)

Example 1:   After suffering a major defeat, Prince Caspian loses hope.  He no longer believes Peter and the rest can help him.  And he certainly doesn’t believe Aslan can do anything.  So when he’s approached about receiving “power” to defeat his enemies, he agrees.  Unfortunately the power is that of the White Witch.  Both Caspian and Peter become entranced by her offer – the offer to destroy their enemies.

It’s no coincidence that the one person who knew what it was to succumb to the White Witch was the one to defeat her.

We sometimes think that the “best” Christians are the ones who don’t have to suffer temptation or sin.  That truly great Christians never have to struggle with these problems.  But I believe the people best suited to avoid sin and temptation are those who have had to overcome them.  In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Edmund had fallen for the same trick – she promised that he would be greater than his brother.  Edmund was able to defeat the White Witch not because he was somehow better than Peter or Caspian, but because he had overcome her once before.  He knew what that temptation looked like, and he was able to fight it off.

Example 2:  When Lucy stands alone on the bridge against an army – she stepped out first with no assurance, outside her faith in Aslan, that she would survive.  It was only after she acted that Aslan appeared.

We often think we must wait for God before we can act – but so often God doesn’t appear until we act.  It’s not because God is selfish or lazy, or even because he’s busy.  It’s because God wants us to grow.  Just like parents want their kids to learn new things, God wants us to learn new things.  And sometimes that means we have to step into uncertain situations.  Of course what we see in the movie is that Lucy was never really alone.  Aslan was with her the whole time.  She just needed to act first to find out.  That’s really the powerful undertone of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – even if Aslan doesn’t have any speaking parts in the scene, his presence is unmistakable.

Movies have a way of presenting things that can strike us on a different level.  One of the great things about movies is that you’re detached from the choices.  As an outsider we can see when someone goes awry.  We know that when a character in the movie goes against Aslan, bad things happen.  The characters don’t see it.  They are caught up in the moment.  They are too close to the action.  Too emotionally involved.  Movies, books, stories, give us a glimpse to see the reflection of our lives in their choices.

This is what C.S. Lewis was so good at doing – creating fantasy situations that in many ways are more real than our own lives.  I’ve never talked to the White Witch, but I know I have been tempted into taking short cuts.  I’ve never held off an army with a knife, but I know God has asked me to do crazy things and all I had to go on was my faith in him.

What would my life look like if I could see it from a distance?  Would I realize I was walking away from Aslan?  Away from God?  What would your life look like to me?

what i’m reading: the great divorce

1

Category : CS Lewis, God, book review, feeding my brain, sharing faith, sin

   

“When is this book going to get good?”

To be honest, I thought CS Lewis was more brilliant than this.  “Am I going to get something that changes the way I think?”

Those were the thoughts running through my head as I read The Great Divorce by CS Lewis.  I kept waiting to find something that would make the effort of reading the book worthwhile.  And the more pages I read the more I began to wonder if I’d ever find anything.

It seemed like the more meaning I struggled to get out of the book, the less I actually found.  But I wasn’t about to be disappointed.  Because a few pages later I found myself shocked and a little bit shamed.  You see The Great Divorce is a story of people who have died and now have one last chance to seek God.  Yet we find almost all of them choosing to hold onto their old lives at the expense of building a relationship with God

Little did I realize that CS Lewis was describing my own condition.

But the more I read, the more I realized that over the last few months I’ve been looking at God more as work and less as my savior.  As much as I love writing, as much as I love reading about him – when you do it full time, it can become work and not joy.  No matter how pure something starts in this world, sin always has the chance to corrupt it.

It’s this theme we see time and again in The Great Divorce.  One exchange involving the Ghost of a mother who had lost her son showed us just how far something pure (like love) can fall.  She was furious that she couldn’t immediately see her son.  And in her fury she couldn’t see that it was her own rage that separated them.  Or as one Angel put it, ”You’re treating God as only a means to [your son]“.

Ouch.

How long have I been using God as a means to my writing?  Do I spend more time writing because I love to write?  Or because I love God?

Of course those are questions that apply to us all.  Do we volunteer because we really want to serve?  Or because we like how it looks on our resume?  Do we help the homeless because we love like God?  Or because we feel guilty?  Do we tell people we don’t believe in God because we really think God doesn’t exist?  Or because it’s easier than saying we love to sin?

When I first became a Christian I couldn’t get enough information about God.  I read my Bible constantly, I surfed blogs, read books, listened to podcasts.  Even my conversations with friend would turn to God.  No matter how much I learned, I wanted to know more.

Somewhere along the way that enthusiasm started to fade, however.

I started to look at learning about God as “studying about God,” a subtle but important shift.  I found myself being less excited and feeling more obligated.  That’s not to say my passion disappeared.  I still spend hours reading and learning about God, but I wasn’t bringing the same excitement to it all.

It’s that contrast that seemed so stark as I was reading The Great Divorce.

I don’t think I am special, unique, odd, or even unusual.  We would all rather be kings in Hell than servants in Heaven.  We are all like the Ghosts in The Great Divorce.  It’s hard to let go of the things that we think make us who we are.  And if we’re not careful, everything we love can be perverted and twisted into something evil.  Just like the mother Ghost.

CS Lewis puts it this way, “every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they have to say about him.”

As you become familiar with the stories of each of the Ghosts you realize that we all have another chance.  No matter what arguments we have, for or against God, we can always ask for another chance.  There is never a moment that lacks hope.  We just have to be willing to give up our throne in Hell.

That’s the cool thing about God.  There’s always a chance to start over.


good, evil, and meaning

Category : CS Lewis, God, different, failure, faith, hope

  

“Evil can be undone, but it can not ‘develop’ into good.  Time does not heal it.”       – CS Lewis, The Great Divorce

The truth is, not even God changes evil into good.  Once something happens it can’t be taken back.  Instead, he changes the meaning of evil. 

2,000 years ago we did the worst evil possible – we killed a man who had never done anything wrong.  A man who had never sinned.  If anyone deserved to live, certainly it was him.  Yet we crucified him.  That was evil, and will always be evil. 

Instead, God changed the meaning of his death.  Instead of being the end of his life, Jesus crucifixion was the beginning of our life.  Out of man’s greatest evil came God’s great good. 

The same is often true of our suffering.

Think about the most important lessons you have ever learned.  Did you learn them when everything was perfect and happy?  Or did you learn them when your marriage ended?  When your child died?  Or as you struggled with illness?

It’s almost always in the moments of our greatest pain and suffering that we learn the most.  God doesn’t slowly move evil into something good – we still suffer, we still struggle.  But he does change the meaning, and in turn, our understanding.

That’s the radical, revolutionary, and different God.  That’s the God of the Bible.

thanks giving: suffering

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Category : CS Lewis, God, Jesus, Paul, barbarian, faith, fear, hope

 

As I alluded to in the post yesterday, I am thankful for suffering.  I know it sounds strange to say that.  Frankly it seems weird to type it.  But almost everything I treasure has come through suffering, including R3. 

We all want our lives to be easy and convenient.  I think this is especially true in America, where we are used to having everything within minutes, if not seconds.  But no one escapes suffering.  Not even God.  Which leads me to believe that maybe suffering isn’t something to be avoided, it’s something to learn from.

God has a way of taking what the world means for evil and flipping it on it’s head.  In the Chronicles of Narnia, the White Witch thinks she wins by killing Aslan, the Lion.  But she couldn’t be further from the truth.  The suffering, and death of Aslan (a stand in for Jesus) was the exact thing that ends up destroying the evil of the White Witch.  In the book, CS Lewis describes Aslan’s return like this,

“…though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.  Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there ad different incantation.  She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.” (Chronicles of Narnia, p.160)

Without suffering the White Witch never would have been defeated.  Without suffering you and I never would have been saved.  Without suffering countless miracles never could have occurred.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t look forward to it.  I am not happy about it.  I wouldn’t want to give up a Friday at the movies for malaria.  But I’m learning that sometimes the best teacher is suffering.  And I am willing to do anything that draws me closer to God. 

Because of all of that, I am thankful for suffering

unChristian: overcoming failure

Category : CS Lewis, Daniel, faith, taking action

          

It’s pretty clear that as a group Christians behave in very unChristian ways.  We simply don’t present ourselves well to the world.   

As with most things in this world, there’s probably no easy answer.  We’re all broken.  We all make mistakes.  Even our good intentions often turn out to be miserable failures.  But what should we do if we fail?  What happens when we try our best and we still screw up?

There are two things I think will help. 

1.  We don’t need to be perfect.

CS Lewis once said “a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble.”  If we could be perfect on our own, Jesus never would have had to sacrifice himself for us.  Instead we need to remember that sometimes we fall down so that we can learn to stand back up.

The Bible is filled with examples of people failing and having to learn to get back up again.  Moses killed a man.  Peter denied Jesus 3 times in one day after promising he’d never leave his side.  David committed adultery.  But their stories don’t stop at the fall.  Their stories continue, showing each of these people learning to get back up again (some faster than others). 

And that’s what God wants for us.  He wants us to get back up and be vulnerable with others, to love them, and to show them who God is. 

2.    It’s okay to say, “I don’t know”

Sometimes Christians feel if they don’t provide perfect answers to every question “outsiders” will think we don’t know what we’re talking about.  Or maybe that’s just me!

Now I believe Christianity provides an answer to everything.  The more I study who God is, the more I realize just how well Christianity explains the world around me.  But just because there are answers, doesn’t mean I know them!  And that’s an important distinction to make. 

Take Daniel’s story.  Daniel prayed for 21 days with no answer.  On the 21st day an Angel came to him and said, “I have come in response [to your prayers].  But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days.” (Daniel 10: 12-13)  If this angel hadn’t explained this to Daniel he would have had no idea why his prayers had gone “unanswered.”

As Shakespeare once said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  Sometimes the world is so complex that we don’t know exactly what’s going on.  And you know what?  That’s okay. 

There is no way to always be perfectly Christian towards other people.  As I said, we’re all fallen and broken.  But that doesn’t mean we should give up trying.  The goal is to always move closer to resembling Jesus.  And as long as we do that, we’ll ultimately change the way “outsiders” view Christians. 

what i’m reading: Mere Christianity

Category : CS Lewis, book review, feeding my brain

   

“Why didn’t anyone tell me CS Lewis was brilliant?!”

That’s pretty much what I think when I pick up one of his books.  I’ve gone my entire life not understanding what people saw in this CS Lewis guy.  I had read the Chronicles of Narnia and enjoyed them.  But even as a kid I knew they were “simplistic.”  I could never quite figure out why he held such appeal for Christians. To be honest I thought they were latching onto the guy because he was famous.  Little did I know how wrong I was!

Mere Christianity is my second book by Lewis.  And I now fully understand why he’s been important to so many Christians.  Lewis is a master of words, and is able to explain complex Christian theology in a simple and relate-able way.  Every sentence in this book is packed with importance and significance. 

The title of the book is a bit confusing to the modern ear.  And until I started to read the book, I didn’t fully understand what that title was trying to convey.  In essence he really wrote a book that could be called ’simple’ or ‘basic’ Christianity.  In a way this is God 101.  But don’t let that fool you, there is more information packed into this book than most dense academic works.

Mere Christianity is broken into 4 sections.  Each dealing with an aspect of what it means to come into a relationship with God.  In section one he outlines some clues to the existence of God.  Section two discusses what Christians really believe.  Followed by how Christians should behave, and what it means to be a Christian.  The fourth section, which is probably his most ambitious, is an attempt to explain who God is – namely the Trinity (Jesus, God, the Holy Ghost).

Very few writers are more quotable than Lewis.  But that’s not the most striking part of Mere Christianity.  Lewis is a master at using examples to explain his points.  He has a way of taking a complex concept (e.g., the Trinity) and giving simple explanations that really crystallize the concepts for the reader.

Lewis holds a special place for me, because he’s one of those writers that disproves the idea that to believe in God you need to turn off your brain.  As I explore his writings I continue to realize that God wants us to use our brains as much as our hearts. 

morning prayer: to pray or not to pray…

Category : CS Lewis, God, Jesus, prayer, taking action

   

If you’ve been a Christian for a while – or are even considering being one – you’ll often have people tell you what you “need” to do to be one.  Some of you may even feel that way about this site!

When I became a Christian a few years ago I began to realize that God is too diverse and people are too diverse to have “one” way to know God.  It seems inconceivable that there is only “one” way to worship, or “one” way to pray, or “one” way to show God that you love him.  I’m positive that the way God communicates with me (and ultimately convinced me he was real) would not work with other people.  So if God can reach me as an individual, why can’t he reach others in the exact way they need to be reached?

That’s not to say there aren’t “good” things to do as a Christian.  Things that maybe we should all practice.  After all, even Jesus was very deliberate about the time he spent in prayer and about the people he got to know.  So let’s be clear: I’m not talking about whether it’s okay to sin, or if such and such an activity is a sin or isn’t.  Those are different topics.  What I’m referring to are those activities that seem like good ideas, but maybe aren’t for everyone.

At the top of my list is “morning prayer.”  I’m not a morning person.  I don’t like people, I don’t like animals, I barely like my cereal.  I don’t want to pray just for the sake of prayer.  I detest anything that smacks of religion for religion’s sake.  So I’ve always resisted having a specific period of time in the morning devoted to prayer. 

But I can’t seem to escape this idea.  So many people do it.  And so many people talk about how important it is to their relationship with God.  Was I missing out on something? 

Earlier this year I was really wrestling with this question.  I was wondering if I needed to set aside a specific time to pray so I could “feel” God.  As I was praying about it I realized that God has always been there to talk to me regardless of my activity (eating, driving, showering, crying about my fantasy football team…).

I’ve always feared that if I tried to “confine” those conversations with God to a “morning devotional” or some such thing, I’d lose out on one of the greatest aspects of God – that he’s a living, relational God.  So I decided against any formal morning prayers.  If they happened, great.  If not, so be it.  

That’s been my view for the better part of 8 months.

But then I read CS Lewis.  He says, “that is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it.  It comes the very moment you wake up each morning.  All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.  And the first job each morning consists simply of shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” (Mere Christianity, p 198)

What if he’s right? What if in the morning we are really fighting our “natural” selves more than, say, at lunchtime? In that case prayer becomes hugely important, because I know I can’t change who I am on my own. I need Christ for that.

If God is leading us each on an important path, a path that is unique to us, then we need to be sensitive to that direction.  And how can we be sensitive to that if we allow our “natural” selves to control us from the start of the day?  We will always be playing catch up.  And if football teaches us anything it is playing from behind is difficult!

Now I’m still not convinced that prayer in the morning is something God always wants us to do.  But I think it is clear that praying in the morning is more than just a “religious” act.  It is also more important than I originally believed.  It is something that I think each of us needs to talk to God about. 

God doesn’t want us to do anything out of obligation.  But if setting some time aside in the morning helps bring me closer to God, than I am all for it!