what i’m reading: the great divorce

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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.


what i’m reading: The End of Reason

Category : God, bible, choice, faith, feeding my brain

 

One of the goals of R3 is to present an intellectual side to faith.  So often people have the idea that you must have “blind faith” to follow God.  But that’s not the case.  God never asks us to stop using our minds or to stop thinking.  He asks us to trust him, not become brain-dead.

But not everyone sees Christianity this way.  Some people question the reliability of the Bible.  Others question the sanity of believing.  Not long ago Sam Harris, an atheist, challenged the existence of God, and therefore the validity of believing.  In his book The End of Faith, Harris argued that since there is suffering, there can be no God, because God would never allow suffering.  And if he did, he’d be a horrible God, and therefore unworthy of belief. 

Those are pretty heavy charges.  And to be honest, on the surface they seem very compelling.

That’s where The End of Reason comes in.  Ravi Zacharias responds to those challenges and lays down an intellectual and philosophical argument for the existence of God. 

Somewhere along the line, we’ve decided that people who have faith can’t use their mind.  That’s probably the polite way of saying it.  But that’s not what I’ve discovered.  I’ve found that the more I use my mind, the more I work at problems, the more I study the issue, the stronger my faith, the more I believe.  That’s the value of The End of Reason.  In one short (it’s only 128 pages long) book, Ravi Zacharias lays out a strong argument for not only the existence of God, but for the existence of the Christian God. 

He starts by arguing for a Christian worldview based on the ideas of origin (where do we all come from), meaning (what’s the point?), morality, and hope that assures a destiny.  Zacharias argues that when atheism is challenged on those points, it can’t come up with logical and consistent answers. 

I’ll be honest, I didn’t find everything in this book convincing.  But I don’t think that’s the point.  If you talk to any scientist, he or she will tell you that no theory gets 100% of the evidence.  It’s not always about certainty, it’s about which side has more evidence. 

That’s where faith comes in.  There will never be a way to prove with 100% certainty that God exists.  We just need to take the evidence we have, use our minds, and allow faith to take us the last bit. 

In that regard The End of Reason is an excellent start.  Ravi Zacharias presents a compelling argument that counters the general arguments of atheism, and Sam Harris’s specific arguments.  Living out a life of faith is about being willing to ask tough questions, and listen for hard answers.  It’s about not shying away from the unknown.

the power of words

Category : God, book review

   

R3 has a regular feature called “what i’m reading”.  It’s a way to share the things that are influencing me and my journey with God.  Not everything I read makes it into this spot – just the things that make me think about how I should live out a life of faith. 

Wide Awake falls into this category. 

As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about dreams.  Not the kind where you fall asleep, but the kinds that make you live “wide awake”. 

Erwin McManus is a brilliant speaker, and a gifted thinker.  But where he truly excels is giving you a framework to understand yourself, the world, and God.  And somehow he does this in two word phrases. 

The Barbarian Way (which is technically three words) showed me that God wasn’t a wimp, and even better, he doesn’t want us to be wimps!  A Barbarian wouldn’t shy away from helping someone just because it was difficult – he (or she) would charge right in and do it.  Because that’s what Barbarians do.  Now, whenever I am afraid of taking action, I think about being a Barbarian.  And it encourages me to act.

Chasing Daylight was just as influential.  If being a Barbarian was about going to places others wouldn’t, Chasing Daylight was about seizing a moment in time when no one else could.  It made me realize that some opportunities only come once, and if we don’t act, no one will.

Soul Cravings showed me just how much we need relationships and our dreams.  It isn’t that we just want these things in our lives; it’s that we crave them.

Wide Awake is no exception to this rule.  But instead of receiving the benefits for myself, it’s shaping the way I see other people.  It’s given me a framework to help other people live out their dreams. 

Each of those phrases has a deep meaning for me.  They allow me to sum up hundreds of pages of thoughts and examples, and boil it down into something that prods action.  I might not be able to think of a 10 point argument as to why I should act, but I can remember a phrase.

They also serve as a reminder of how God works.

For instance, my dream is to help people develop a relationship with God.  I want people to connect the dots of their faith, with the lines of their lives.  By writing R3 I am able to live out that dream.  But without The Barbarian Way to help me become a Christian, and without Chasing Daylight to prompt me to start this site, I never would have been in position to be asked to review Wide Awake.

Funny how acting in faith works out like that.

what I’m reading: unChristian

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Category : book review, choice, faith, feeding my brain

         

Gabe Lyons came up with a crazy idea to actually study people’s opinion of Christianity.  He wanted more than anecdotal stories, he wanted some evidence.  To do this he enlisted the help of David Kinnaman of the Barna Group.  Their research led to a book entitled unChristian.     

But if you’ve been reading this blog for the last few days, you’re not surprised that unChristian is my “book review” this week!

unChristian has had a profound impact on me in a short period of time.  It’s really shaped the way I look at interacting with the world. It’s made me more sensitive to how I talk about God, and how I interact with people who don’t share my faith. 

Some people are looking for an excuse not to believe in God, and when we set a poor example, we’re only supplying that excuse.  But I’m not sure there’s much we could do about that.  If you’re motivated to reject God, you’ll find a reason.

What’s concerns me more are the people who are open to God, but because of our arrogance, pride, and general unpleasantness, we push them away.  And this is the thrust of unChristian.  The book shows just how strong of an impact we have on “outsiders” (their term for people “outside” of the church).  It’s filled with information, statistics (mostly percentages), and a ton of ‘hard truth’.

As I was reading it I couldn’t help but relate this back to my own life.  The book lays out six areas where Christianity is seen as unfavorable to the world.

We’re…

1.  hypocritical
2.  too “salvation” oriented
3.  antihomosexual
4.  sheltered
5.  too political
6.  judgmental

Too many of those areas touch close to home.  I’m often too quick to judge, and too slow to listen.  I’m quick to criticize, and slow to act.  I’m quick to point out flaws in others, and ignore my own mistakes.

And each time I do that, I run the risk of pushing someone away.  That’s the message I take away from this book.  That’s what I want to remember as I go into the world. 

One of the things that drives me (and therefore R3) is my own faith journey.  I had to learn who God was the hard, lonely, and painful way.  And  once I did, I found myself asking, why no one told me who Jesus really was.  Not the hippy version.  Not the wimpy version.  But the bold, dangerous, courageous, loving, and forgiving Jesus. 

Sometimes I send an unChristian message without realizing it.  And that’s something I need to find a way to change.  I can come up with a lot of excuses why – I’m tired, I’m lazy, it’s too hard, it’s too dangerous.  But are those really good enough?  Are those excuses Jesus would have used? 

I can’t always control what another person hears when I speak.  But I can be more aware of the message I send.  And how I act. 

As a Christian I should run to someone who is suffering, not holding back because they don’t believe what I do.