the pride of faith

Category : God, faith, living a life of faith

……….

Humans are broken.

We are completely messed up.  Beyond repair.  Fundamentally flawed.

That’s not something I like to think about.  I want to believe that if I work hard enough I can be a good person.  That if I say and do the right things, that makes me okay in God’s eyes.  I know that’s not true.  But my actions don’t always bear that out.

And I think that’s because of my pride.

I don’t like the idea that my efforts can be corrupted.  It bothers me to think that what starts out with the best intentions can quickly become arrogant and unloving.  But that’s how pride works.  It slowly corrupts even our best intentions.  No wonder CS Lewis called pride the root of all evil.

I teach a class called “Welcome to the Revolution”.  The focus is on newly baptized believers.  The goal is to help them understand the basics of Christianity (Bible, prayer, community) and how to apply those to your life.

Teaching this class has really reminded me of the dangers of pride.  As the teacher it’s very easy for me to think that I have it all figured out.  That I’ve been there.  That I’ve made the hard choices.  That my faith is somehow “better” because I’ve been doing it longer.  But when I talk to people and hear their stories I find I am humbled.  Everyone, no matter who it is, has paid a price for their faith.  They have all had to make sacrifices and tough decisions to live out a life of faith.

My story isn’t better.  It’s not more dramatic.  It’s not more worthy.

Guess what: neither is yours.  Instead our stories are unique to each of us.  We all get to travel a different path with God.  That’s why faith is more like a journey than a set of blueprints.

So how do we prevent ourselves from having pride of faith?  Well I think the answer lies in surrounding ourselves with other believers.  By having real relationships with them where we listen to their stories and see how God moves in their lives.  When we are serious about listening to other people’s stories, we can’t help but be humbled.  It’s hard to be prideful when you can see that God doesn’t do unique stuff in just your life, but that he does amazing stuff in everyone’s life.

As I’ve listen to people tell me about their lives I constantly think, “there is no way I could have made that choice.”  That puts a check on my pride.  I realize that for all the challenges I’ve overcome there are an infinite variations of problems.  And it is through God’s grace (literally) that we don’t have to experience them all.

Pride can’t withstand the humility that comes with being honest about your experiences.  Or by seeing just how big God really is.

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

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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

1

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

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.

miracles

Category : faith, miracles

   

When you think about miracles what comes to mind?

Something big?  Something spectacular?  You know, burning bushes, parting seas, a winning season out of the Pittsburgh Pirates?  But miracles aren’t always big.  Sometimes they are small.  Sometimes just being able to get out of bed to go to work is a miracle.

The same thing can be said about how quickly miracles occur.  So often we think that if our prayers aren’t answered immediately, they will never be answered.  But that’s not the case.  As CS Lewis once said, a slow miracle was no less a miracle than a fast one.

Sometimes we complain about a lack of miracles in our lives.  But maybe that’s not the real issue.  Maybe the real issue is that we don’t always recognize the miracles we do experience.

hiding from God

Category : God, faith, hope, shame

  

Sometimes things seem too coincidental to be, well, coincidences.  Of course it could always be dumb luck.  Or perhaps God just really wants to drive a point home.  There are certainly things I need to hear more than once a few times!

Friday as I was looking through some notes I saw something that caught my eye.  A quote I had written down from The Screwtape Letters.  In that book CS Lewis discusses what happens when we’re kept half-aware of our guilt.  Basically it works to Screwtape’s “advantage.”  And for those who haven’t read the book he was a demon.  Screwtape that is, not Lewis.  

By making us only half aware of our guilt, Screwtape says, “All humans at nearly all times have some such reluctance [to think of God]; but when thinking of Him involves facing and intensifying a whole vague cloud of half-conscious guilt, this reluctance is increased tenfold.” (The Screwtape Letters, p. 58)

What we want to do most is get rid of that guilt.  But the one thing that can remove that guilt is the one thing we turn from.  Or as Erwin McManus says, “we run from God because we are certain that the closer we come to him, the more guilt and shame we will feel.”  (Soul Cravings, Entry 9)

I wasn’t thinking of these things when I wrote about turning away from God when my faith feels weak.  But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been running from God because I feel “half guilty” about being faithful.

Screwtape must be pleased by that.

I think it’s time to change direction and run the other way.

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.