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.


the “best of” R3

Category : God, R3, different, faith, reader comments, sharing faith

  

It’s hard to believe we’re into our first day of 2009.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago everyone was sure the world was going to end because of Y2K.  And now we approach the close of the next decade.  So before we close the 2008 R3 season, let’s take a look at some of the more popular posts:

Top 5 Reader Posts

  1. My “about” page – this is by far and away the most popular page on R3
  2. what I’m reading: unChristian – a book that shapes how I approach R3
  3. prayer thursday: courage – the most popular R3 page in Google
  4. what I’m reading: Chasing Daylight – Erwin McManus has a profound impact over my life and this blog
  5. prayer thursday: God’s strength, our weakness – this seems very appropriate considering 2008

My Favorite 5 posts

  1. i’m a Christian because of the money – No.  Seriously.  I am. 
  2. redemption: finding the way home – any time you can tie Darth Vader and the Bible together, you have a winning combination!
  3. what I’m watching: RockTV – if Christians used humor like RockTV more than Bible Thumping, more people would be willing to talk to us when we showed up at their door
  4. love your enemy (and fellow drivers) – I haven’t stopped thinking about this post since the day I wrote it, talk about living out a life of faith…
  5. what’s the point? – always a good question to ask yourself

living out a life of faith: 2008

Category : God, hope, live for the eternal, sharing faith, trust

  

Humility.  That’s what 2008 means to me. 

Professionally I find myself entering 2009 without a job.  The first time that’s happened since I was about 12.  This presents challenges and opportunities.  It’s challenging because more of my pride and self-identity are wrapped-up in working than I realized.  It’s hard to let go of that.  It’s also hard to let go of the money and sense of security a job brings.  But it’s also an opportunity.  I now have the time to visit friends.  I have a chance to learn new things.  And I also am in position to explore new writing and speaking opportunities. 

By allowing myself to be humbled, instead of rebelling in pride, I’ve been able to see the good as well as the bad.  Humility has a way of allowing us to realistically deal with the bad, while not losing sight of the promises God makes to us.  I’m not going to say this process was easy, but I will say it was worth it. 

On the personal side, writing R3 has been humbling in it’s own way.  Receiving feedback, (mostly positive!), knowing people are interested in what I write, and the slow realization that people get upset when I miss a scheduled post (you know who you are!), has all come as a bit of a shock.  Sometimes it even feels surreal.

But the most humbling aspect of R3 has to be the fact that writing for all of you is a huge honor.  One that I don’t take lightly, nor do I take it for granted.  I feel a sense of responsibility for R3 and of teaching what I think God is doing in my life.  Or, as Spider-Man once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” 

All of this leads me to one last thought for 2008 – one of the themes I’ve touched on time and again is the idea that God can take anything and turn it into an important lesson.  Pain, suffering, joy, excitement – they all can teach us about God.  Every lesson we learn brings us one step closer to our creator.  It doesn’t matter if we’re losing our jobs or getting $100,000 raise.  In every instance there is something we can learn about God.   

We may not know what lessons we will learn in 2009.  And I am sure they will often be unexpected, taught to us by sadness and happiness, calmness and activity.  But we can always count on God turning even the greatest disaster into an opportunity to learn more about him. 

Which is why in everything that we do, we must strive to learn how to live out a life of faith.  A life that is ready to do great things for the Kingdom.  Because that’s really the point of everything, isn’t it. 

a Christmas lesson

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Category : God, different, faith, fear, hope, sharing faith

  

As I’ve mentioned a couple times on R3, I will not have a job come January.  Knowing that has been an interesting experience.  But maybe not in the way you would expect. 

I find I’m focusing more on the things I have than the things I don’t.  I’m also realizing all of the things that used to bother me, such as not having a house, are now blessings.  (No house = No mortgage payments)  

The biggest challenge has been learning to not buy things for myself.  Games, books, CD’s, movie tickets, that sort of stuff.  Things that I never really gave much thought to, are now out of reach.  So what does this have to do with Christmas?  Well, for the first time, in a very long time, I’m really excited about Christmas.  I am now being given presents that I could never afford on my own.  Even simple gifts such as a CD or a book is a big deal, and I am grateful for each and everything I have received.

Sometimes we think the solution to all of our problems is money or comfort.  That if we could only get more stuff, then we’d be happy.  Yet I’m learning that’s not true at all.  Sometimes the best thing that can happen to us is to struggle.  Because it’s in those moments we are forced to rely on God.  And anytime we trust God, miracles happen.

So I may soon be without a job, but even in the midst of that, God is working miracles.  I am learning things I never expected.  Funny how God works like that.

 

thanks giving: a redux

Category : God, different, faith, sharing faith

 

It seems that I can’t quite escape the sickness bug.  Which means once more I am not feeling well.  Sadly I have a sneaking suspicion that my remarkably sick-free stretch of 5 years is coming to a close.  That said, I find that in a strange way, I am actually thankful for my sickness. 

Last week I focused on being thankful.  And I think it’s really changed my outlook on my life.  Normally I would be annoyed that I was sick, especially over a holiday.  But now, I find I’m profoundly grateful that I’m not sick and sitting in the cold, rainy weather!  I am so grateful that I live in a country that when I get sick I can sit on the couch and watch cable TV instead of wondering if the harsh weather will kill me. 

So many things can be taken for granted – indoor plumbing, a warm blanket, and a nice cup of soup.  How many people in the history of the world would have given anything for those basic comforts when they were sick and in pain? 

No matter where we are in our lives, we always have things to be grateful for.   God is generous, even when we are hurting. 

Maybe especially so.

are you dead?

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Category : different, sharing faith, taking action

  

Another phrase I use is something I recently heard.  A few months ago I heard Harvey Carey (pastor of a church in Detroit) talk about dead people.  Not the “I see dead people” kind, but living as dead people.  Which is entirely different than the living dead.  And yes, I really have no idea what I’m talking about right now.

But moving right along, lets focus back on the dead people.  Carey’s main point was this: there would be very little complaining about the clothes we wear, the people we’re around, or even the places we spend our time.  Because, well, dead people don’t complain.

When I heard him say it, I realized it was simple, short, and most importantly, true. 

The minute someone believes in Jesus they become dead to their sins.  Yet we spend so much time complaining that other Christians “don’t do this” or that they “do do that”?  Dead people don’t care if the band plays with the volume at 11, or if people wear suits and ties to church.  They are too focused on what matters – being dead.

I know I don’t always focus on being dead.  All too often I’m caught up in my preferences for things.  That wouldn’t be too bad if it didn’t completely distract me from living a sacrificial life style.  If I wasn’t so wrapped up in getting new toys to play with, or competing with the Jones’s, I wouldn’t be so hesitant to drop everything and help my friends. 

God’s Kingdom is one that focuses outwardly.  It’s not about collecting the most, or even looking the best.  It’s about allowing our self importance to die, so we can help people who need it (for the record, that would be all of us). 

So when you get right down to it, that’s the advantage of being dead, you can really focus on other people.

 

what’s in a phrase

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Category : different, faith, sharing faith, taking action

   

“Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right”

Those are wise words from (of all people) Alanis Morissette

I’ve always admired those characters in books or TV who seem to be one step ahead of everyone else.  I’ve always wanted to be like Sherlock Holmes, anticipating events before they happened.  But I’m not.  Some days I’m barely anticipating events after they happened.  There are just some moments in my life that seem to sneak up on me.

I suspect this is called “life.”

Sometimes these events are so stressful, so overwhelming, that they change everything.  No matter how well prepared I thought I was, it wasn’t enough.  That’s hard to take.  It can shake your faith, your vision, and even your relationships.

There’s an adage in the military that you’re always preparing to fight the last war, not the one coming.  This is true of our lives.  We respond to the dangers, threats, and problems we’ve faced in the past, not the one’s that are to come unexpectedly at 3 AM.  Because then they wouldn’t be, um, unexpected…

If I’m going to make a major mistake in my life, it’s usually in these situations.  I tell myself that I don’t have enough time to think things through.  That I must act immediately.  Sometimes I don’t even think at all, I just go with the flow.

That’s a dangerous place to be.

No matter the excuse the bottom line is simple: I don’t turn to God when my life gets out of control.  Sadly, I usually don’t even think about turning to God.  I’m too busy trying to reduce my stress and fears.

Obviously that’s a problem.

The last few years I’ve worked hard at trying to remember to take a deep breath, say a prayer, and wait just a bit before I plunge into activity.  Sometimes this works, sometimes not so much.  But I’ve learned the hard way (which is apparently my preferred learning style) a simple trick.  I’ve learned that if I say a simple phrase, it’s usually enough to get me at least on the right path.

I have a friend who has trouble talking to girls.  To not look like an idiot he tells himself, “use your words.”  It’s a little goofy, and I don’t know if I really believe him, but it’s the same theory I use.  There’s nothing wrong with reminding yourself of the things you hold dear.

Over the course of the next few days we’re going to take a look at some of the phrases I use.  They are all designed to make  me stop, think about God, and then act in a much better way.  And because I recognize that I don’t know everything, I’d like to hear if you guys have phrases as well.  Consider it a collective project.  Maybe we can all learn a little something from each other.

Phrase 1: The joy of the Lord is my strength
Phrase 2: Are you dead?
Phrase 3: Have you prayed about it?
Phrase 4: What’s the point?

 

 <comments are open>

do something! note taking

Category : sharing faith, taking action

  

It’s hard work to maintain a relationship with anyone.  And it’s not any easier to maintain a relationship with God.  Fortunately there are a few things you can do to keep that relationship healthy.  A few weeks ago I talked about the ups and downs of faith.  In that post I mentioned some of the questions I ask myself when I’m feeling distant from God.  (Am I working on being connected to God?  Am I still praying?  Do I read my Bible regularly?  Am I writing down my thoughts as I pray or read?  Am I following through on what I sense God is telling me?)

All of those are important questions, but today I want to take a closer look at some specific actions I take to develop that relationship.  Namely, whether I’m writing down my thoughts as I pray or read.  I’ve found keeping a book filled with random thoughts and notes has been really helpful.  Sometimes those initial thoughts turn into a more fully developed post on R3.  Other times what I wrote influenced my own behaviors or thoughts. But my favorite moments are when I asked God to do something – and he did!

There’s something powerful about writing down a prayer, and seeing (in black and white) that it came true. This is especially true when you’re feeling distant from God.  It’s all too easy to convince ourselves that God has somehow not lived up to his end of the bargain.  Or to forget all those times God miraculously came to our rescue.  We tend to ignore the good things he’s done, and focus on the bad things in our lives.

Not everything I write down is useful, or even relevant.  Some of the stuff doesn’t make any sense.  And I have to wonder what I was thinking.  But that’s not really the point.  My goal is to have a way that God and I can communicate.  Not to have a perfectly written paper!  I figure, if God is telling me something important, it’s probably a good idea to write it down.  Even if that means sometimes I just write down my own cluttered thoughts.

Faith is about maintaining a relationship with God, that keeps you focused and centered on Kingdom goals.  You can’t do that if you’re not willing to carry on a conversation with God.  Plus, in my experience, it’s never God who leaves the conversation.  

Keeping track of my thoughts just makes sure I remember all the awesome things God does for me on a daily basis.

the ups and downs of faith

2

Category : God, faith, hope, sharing faith

  

There are days (like today) that I don’t feel much like writing.  In fact, there are days when I don’t really feel much like doing this “Christian thing” at all. This isn’t surprising; we all go through times like this.  Sometimes we even do it more than once.  CS Lewis captures this up and down during a conversation between Screwtape (a senior demon in the bureaucracy of Hell) and Wormwood (his nephew).  Screwtape says, ”Now it may surprise you to learn that in [God's] efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.” (The Screwtape Letters, p. 38) 

I find that encouraging and depressing all at the same time.

I want faith to be simple.  I want it to be easy.  But it’s not.  Faith is a relationship, not a scientific equation.  Some days it “feels” more real, more intense, more exciting than other days.  It’s on those “other days” where we need to be aware that our relationship with God may be strained, and be ready to act.

When I feel this distance, there are a few questions I ask myself. Am I working on being connected to God?  Am I still praying?  Do I read my Bible regularly?  Am I writing down my thoughts as I pray or read?  Am I following through on what I sense God is telling me?

There are other questions I could ask myself, but usually the answer lies in one of these questions.  The more I answer “no” to these questions, the further I feel from God.  I would never expect a strong and healthy relationship with a friend if I never talked to them, never wrote to them, and ignored them when they called.  Why would God be any different?

Those disciplines are important in my life.  Not because they are the secrets to getting into heaven, but because they are important to simply developing healthy relationships.  All relationships take hard work, even ones with God.

suffering for faith

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Category : Acts, Paul, bible, hope, live for the eternal, sharing faith, taking action

 

Sometimes I think it would be fun to be Paul.  (not this Paul)

This was a guy who traveled the world talking about God.  He was bold, action-oriented, and totally committed to God.  He was someone who lived his life to the fullest.  

But then I read stories about Paul’s experience in a city called Lystra. 

When Paul first arrived there, everything went well.  He was able to talk about God, people were listening, and some even started to believe.  But as time went on, people began to change their minds.  They began to no longer accept Paul’s teaching.  So they did what comes naturally to any crowd after a lecture they don’t like – they picked up rocks and threw them at Paul.  In fact, the crowd was so confident in their aim, they drug his body outside of town thinking he was dead. 

Days like this make me want to reconsider my plan to be more like Paul.

But as Monty Python might say, “he’s not quite dead yet.”  And so Paul got up and went back into town. 

I don’t know about you, but heading back into the town where people threw blunt objects at me would not be high on my ‘To Do’ list.  But for Paul, that’s just who he was.  So after returning to town, he and his friend Barnabas moved on to a different city.  Presumably to do the whole thing over again.

But Paul wasn’t done with Lystra. 

After visiting a few more cities Paul came back to encourage the Christians who lived there.  But he didn’t say, “don’t worry everything’s okay” or “believe in God and everything will go smoothly.”  Paul actually said, ”It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”  (Acts 14: 22

Ouch.  This being-like-Paul-thing sounds less fun all the time!

In a world that values comfort over all, this is hard to swallow.  How can suffering be a part of God’s Kingdom?  But the truth is the closer we get to God’s will the more dangerous it can become.  Just look at Paul’s life.  Even Jesus, someone who probably knew what God wanted, died a horrible death.

Now if suffering was all there was, this would be bad news.  Fortunately we don’t suffer because God enjoys it, or because it’s an initiation.  We suffer because sharing God’s message often means being in direct conflict with the world’s message.  And we suffer because this world is broken.

The people in Lystra went from thinking Paul was a god to trying to kill him.  Why?  Because Paul didn’t stop talking about who God was when they thought he was a god.  He kept teaching and explaining.  And eventually they decided they didn’t like his message anymore.  But if Paul had stopped teaching, no one would have learned about God.  And no one would have been saved.

That’s why Paul could be so bold and passionate when he knew some people might try to kill him for his beliefs.  Paul knew that sometimes to accomplish a bigger goal sacrifices personal have to be made.