Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gluttons Crave

How well do you do in resisting the temptation to eat too soon or too much? The deadly sin of gluttony has it's grip on you. And me. And it almost had it's grip on Jesus. How did Jesus resist the temptations of gluttony in the wilderness? What we learn from him might - it might just be helpful to us.

Here's the story:
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.

The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."
And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'" (Deut. 8v3)

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours."

And Jesus answered him, "It is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'"(Deut 6v13)

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the Temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,

 "'He will command his angels concerning you,
 to guard you,' and

 "'On their hands they will bear you up,
 lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" (Psalm 91v11-12)

And Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Deut. 6v16)

And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
-Luke 4v1-15 (ESV)

There were three temptations - all variations of the deadly sin of gluttony. Gluttony is about craving food. But food is about life, and so gluttony quickly becomes about more than just one too many french fries. Gluttony is about craving too much, too soon, too eagerly - recognition and affirmation, attention and affection, sustenance and gifts.

What are the ways that gluttony is at work in your life? Your belly reveals your gluttony towards food and drink. Your impatience and anger reveal your gluttony towards accomplishment and accolades. Your insecurity and worry reveals your gluttony towards attention and affection. You can't hide your gluttony. You can misname it, deny it, or you can accept it and repent.

Jesus was human like you and me. The devil tempted him with real temptations. Forty days in the wilderness - would you and I resist the turning stones to bread? See, Jesus was re-enacting the story of Israel in the wilderness - that's part of the reason why he quotes from Deuteronomy 8. He's letting God test him. Israel failed their test in the wilderness, Jesus must pass his test in the wilderness.

Jesus was announced at his birth as a King. Just as Israel was promised a land flowing with milk and honey, so Jesus was promised all authority and glory. If the devil offered a short-cut, a more convenient way that bypassed crucifixion - would Jesus take it? A powerful temptation it was for Jesus. When he quotes from Deuteronomy 6, he is remembering the promises God made to Israel and to him...there is no easy road to greatness and goodness.

Jesus - his name means "God saves." He was called Immanuel at his birth - "God with us." In the midst of his hunger, his lonliness, his contemplation of the hard road ahead - will YHWH save Jesus? Is the LORD with Jesus? To be atop the Temple, the dwelling place of God - to test God there - it reveals great mistrust in Him. The devil quotes Psalm 91 - twisting the poem on trust to become a tool of testing. Jesus responds by referring to the story in Deuteronomy 6 again - unlike the Israelites who quarreled with God and doubted his ability to care for them, Jesus would stay loyal and full of faith.

Gluttony for bread, glory, affirmation. It's our story.
It's Jesus' story.

The deadly sin of gluttony was the starting point for the devil’s tempting of Jesus. And so it often is with us. To fail to resist this sin is to leave us too vulnerable with all the others.

The devil offered Jesus a short-cut, convenience, immediate results. The devil used lies, vanity, and fear; he sought to blind, to distort, to sow seeds of mistrust.

What are signs that you’re succumbing to the deadly sin of gluttony?
Do you crave short-cuts, to convenience, to immediate results?
Are you letting yourself get lied to? Do you let others appeal to your vanity? Are you often afraid? Is it easy for you to mistrust?

What To Do About the Deadly Sin of Gluttony?
It’s okay to stay hungry. God will provide - at just the right time, in just the right way.

There is only one way to greatness, goodness, and satisfaction. God is trustworthy.

Trust God to answer you when you call on him… and accept the form of help he gives you. God is with you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Initial Reactions to Rob Bell & Love Wins

There have been several responses to Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins.

Some have called him a heretic, a false teacher, a liar.
Others agree with him and appreciate his putting into words what they've wondered about for a long time.

There have been simplistic caricatures of the book - dismissing it outright, misrepresenting it and then disparaging it; or simplistic acceptance of the book absent any critical review or examination of Scriptures.

And many, many, more responses...

What about you? What are your personal beliefs about Hell? Are you vocal about it? Confident in it? Confused or unsure of what to believe? Disturbed? Inquisitive? Indifferent?

A good thing to come out of the release of Love Wins is the revived attention the idea of Hell will receive. Musty or muddled ideas on Hell can get a new light shined on them - and vigorous thoughtfulness can be applied again to what Jesus said.

My plan is to lead a Bible study on what the Scriptures reveal about Sheol, Gehenna, Hades and Tartarus - what the KJV called "hell." It will be a good introduction into the very broad and deep realm of theology on salvation, God, Jesus, heaven, judgement, faith, love and truth. (See more at the Anchor website.)

Here's the video that Rob Bell released to introduce his book:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Happy Birthday to My Mum!

An ode to my Mum:

I am thankful to God for my Mum,
even though she made us drink cod-flavored oily stuff for our health.
I remember with fondness the never-ending supply
of strawberries on our Shreddies. And muffins for breakfast.

I thank my God often for my Mum, 
especially since she has always believed in me,
inviting me to dream big, and introducing me to classical music.
She encouraged me to read. A lot. Narnia. Middle-earth. Scout.

I am grateful for my Mum,
making summer vacations at the lake so memorable.
And for sending me to church camp. Including Summit.
She took lots of pictures of us kids as we grew up. Lots!

The gratitude grows over the years, 
So helpful, available to listen, to love, to change diapers.
Patient, understanding, praying. Laughing at ridiculously inane jokes!
Spending so many hours playing with the grandchildren

Happy Birthday Mum! You are the gift we celebrate today.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Neighborhood Churches & Great COMMUNITIES

Tonight we met at Grace Presbyterian Church with Megan Kelly of Great KIDS make Great COMMUNITIES. Megan presented an overview of the 40 Developmental Assets, particularly those that congregations can build into kids and youth. It was a lot of good information, a very empowering session. Our 46808 Neighborhood Churches want to make our neighborhood a better place to live - and building assets into children and teens is a key investment.

During Lent Anchor Community Church and other congregations in the neighborhood are meeting during four Sunday evenings to learn more about how to better serve our neighbors. Click here to read more about our meeting last week with Judge Charles Pratt and Kate Rusher. Click here to read more about our helpful meeting with Megan Kelly.

If you haven't read it already, here's an article on our meetings in the Journal Gazette called Lent in a New Light by Rosa Salter Rodriguez!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Are You A Glutton?

Have you ever been a glutton?

Yes! Of course I have. Maybe you have too.

Next question: in what ways are you living as a glutton these days?

Well, I ate a whole bag of Cheetos on the way home from Toledo yesterday afternoon to help me stay awake. But I was shoving them in my mouth so fast, the only reason they kept me awake was the resulting pain in my stomach. Ingesting junk results in gastric suffering - which also helps me avoid drowsiness.

I could go on. You?

Who wants to admit they are a glutton? Sure, maybe you need to eat a little more healthier. And who doesn't eat a little more than they really need. Doesn't everybody eat fast-food at least once or twice a week?

Face it. You are a glutton. You are guilty of the deadly sin of gluttony.

Once you are able to admit it, you can do something about it. Staying in denial only prolongs the inability to resist the temptations. Jesus was accused of being a glutton. His first temptations in the wilderness were all variations of gluttony. The Spirit of God led him into the Judean desert for forty days, and while there got really, really, really hungry. And then the tempations started.

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. Luke 4v1-2 (ESV)

Jesus knows what its like to have to resist the temptation of gluttony. As a follower of Jesus, we can learn from his way of resistance and let it shape our life. During Lent, we are to reflect on our own life, our sins, and our need for mercy, our will to follow Jesus. This prompts a reflection of the story of Jesus in the Wilderness. It also prompts a reflection of Israel's wandering in the wilderness.

We probably relate more to Israel, though we strive to follow the way of Jesus. Israel complained and whined when the hardships came. The were caught mistrusting God, pining for security and stability of Egypt (despite the cost of their slavery there). They couldn't see the end goal of the Promised Land. They wanted to head to the Guaranteed Land. They failed their testing, they succumbed to the temptations of gluttony.

Jesus re-enacted the story of Israel, and he played the part well. When he got hungry, instead of quarreling with God, he wrestled to obey. Instead of whining and complaining about his hunger, he formulated the Lord's Prayer. Instead of taking matters into his own hands, he persevered to the end. Gluttony tempted him to satisfy his hunger now, on his own terms. Trusting God required him to wait for God's timing on fulfillment. There is always much at stake in these tests and temptations of hunger.

It's interesting that in the original language of the story, it's the same word for test and temptation. One way to differentiate: a test from God to see where your heart is at; a temptation comes from within or from the evil one to mistrust God and pull away from Him. God tests, he doesn't tempt; God provides a way out of the temptation, and he never tests you beyond your ability. The powerful urges of gluttony you feel - the Spirit of God could still prevail in your life...

What is the deadly sin of gluttony? Here's how St. Gregory the Great put it all those years ago:
Too Soon
Too Much
Too Avidly
Too Richly
Too Daintily.

Here's the question again: in what ways are you living as a glutton these days?
Do you ever eat too soon? Do you ever snack? Do you ever eat when you are not hungry? Do you ever eat alone when you could eat with others? Do you ever eat too much? Do you ever eat until you are stuffed? Do you ever eat a whole bag of Cheetos?

Do you ever eat too eagerly? Do you ever value your meal at the expense of others? Do you ever eat too expensively? Do you ever eat too cheaply? Do you place more value on the cost of the food than the nutrition or source of the food? Do you ever value the taste of the food over the health of the food?

Do you ever eat too carefully? Do you ever obsesses about your food? Do you pay too much attention to your meals?

Go ahead - admit that you are a glutton at times. Just say it: I. Am. A. Glutton.

Now, what can you do about it?
Here's what Jesus did: He fasted. He prayed. He meditated on Scripture. He fueled rebellion towards the Evil One. He sustained his stubbornness towards the temptation of gluttony. He became uncomfortably honest with himself about his desires.

To fast is to intentionally go without a certain type of food, or to miss a meal. By withholding nutrition from your body, you become acutely aware of how hungry you can get. And then you begin to get a sense of what you are up against in attaining self-control over your appetite. You'll need God's help, won't you?!

To pray is to listen to the Spirit's promptings about what to do next with your desires for food. Listen for hints of reality, of wisdom, of truth about yourself and why you eat the way you do.

To meditate on Scripture is to let God speak to you in the way he has spoken to others who would listen in the past. Let God shape your understanding of you, your hunger, and what is more valuable.

There is more to be said on this. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst more for righteousness - for the right thing to prevail in their life and those around them. Knock, seek, ask, and you will find...

Rebel against your gluttony.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Neighborhood Churches & Subversion

The 46808 Neighborhood Churches met tonight at First Mennonite Church with Judge Charles Pratt. We're a collection of churches committed to making our neighborhood a better place to live. Through our collaboration we want to subvert the powers of injustice and despair.

This is long-term work, but it's Jesus-work, and that's what we're all about. Coming alongside children and families and neighbors and meeting them in their world, offering a hand and heart and a way forward - that's what we're working to do.

Read more about our plotting at the Anchorblog.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Another Fat Tuesday

"I love Fat Tuesday!" That's Eli's summary of the day as he was watching me upload pictures for this post.

Our family has become fond of the day - feasting on the pancakes for dinner has become a great tradition. Not only do we enjoy adding all the extra-rich stuff to the feast, but it also is a great prompter to discuss what Lent is all about. As we're digging into our pudding-laden pancakes, we go around the table and share what we're going to give up for Lent. It becomes a family event, a spiritual collaboration.

If you're not familiar with Fat Tuesday, here are some posts from the past with info and links to bring you up to speed on the Christian holy day. Click here and here and here!

For breakfast we initiated the day with Paczki. They look a lot like a donut, but better (or worse... :) According to tradition - as printed on the box - this Polish treat comes from all the extra fattening stuff and sweet stuff that has to be disposed of before the beginning of Lent. The housewives would make a donut-like treat that became known as a Paczki. In Romania they are known as Gogosi, and in Ukraine they are called Pampushky.

Here we are in the evening getting the pudding ready for dinner! We mixed up some butterscotch and some lemon pudding to go along with the tapioca we bought at the grocery store.

Some of the other toppings to go on the pancakes...

Here we are feasting on a table laden with puddings and chocolate bars and whip cream and peanut butter and blueberry pie filling and fake maple syrup.

This was my second serving: fluffy-rich pancake with peanut butter, butterscotch pudding, whip cream, chocolate syrup with Twix bars. Mmmmmm...

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A Prayer for Ash Wednesday

If you were going to spend the day praying, here are a few suggestions:

* Focus on praying at some point in the morning, mid-afternoon, and in the evening. You can either set a specific time, or just be mindful of a general time frame.

* Instead of praying "made-up-spontaneous-prayers" (which have their place), I'm suggesting you pray this scripted prayer, a modified version of the Lord's Prayer and the Great Commandment. When the disciples asked Jesus about how to pray, this is what he taught us.

* When you do pray, repeat the prayer several times - a form of meditation. As you do this, focus on a phrase, on a word that seems to lodge in your head and heart. The repetition lets the prayer settle deeper within you, sparks reflection and imagination.

* This isn't a legalistic religious task, but a spiritual formation opportunity. We are spiritual beings, and specific kinds of prayers and reflection open us up to the Way of Jesus and the direction of God's Spirit. 

Here is a suggested prayer for Ash Wednesday:
Our Father in Heaven,
Holy is your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done:
To love the Lord our God
With all our heart, soul, mind and strength;
And to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

If You Wanted To Start Reading the Bible...

If you wanted to start reading the Bible, how would you get started? 

Great question. Thanks for asking!

Before I share some suggestions, here's some big-picture observations:

One way to think about the Bible is as a collection of lots of stories - all making up one big story. The first set of stories are found in what Christians call the First or Old Testament; the second set of stories are found in what we call the New Testament. Kind of like a part one and a part two. Every story you read connects to the bigger story in the First Testament and the New Testament.

Another way to think about the Bible is as a story about God's work in the world - starting with the ancient nation of Israel. The First Testament is ancient Israel's story of themselves, their origins, their early history, and their covenant relationship with YHWH.

Their account includes many historical stories, grand poetry, and lots of writings by their prophets. The New Testament begins with a lot of stories about Jesus of Nazareth, it continues with stories about the early church, and then it ends with a string of letters written by some of Jesus' disciples to churches in the Mediterranean region.

From a Christian point of view, the First Testament gives context for the life, work, and words of Jesus. The New Testament is a record of the impact Jesus had upon the leaders and peasants of Galilee and Judea. Almost all of Jesus' teachings are rooted in his understanding of the First Testament. He was considered a prophet by some, and at his death he was proclaimed a king. Jesus is also understood to be like a priest - a mediator between humanity and God. The better you understand the stories of Israel's ancient kings, servant-hearted priests and passionate prophets, the better you understand Jesus.

So, with that backstory, here's some suggestions on how to start reading the Bible:
1) Start at the beginning with Genesis (which means "beginning). The first eleven chapters are ancient Israel's stories about the beginning of the world. The rest of the chapters are stories about Abraham and his son Isaac and his son Jacob and his son Joseph. Very fascinating stories about humanity and God: This is Israel's story of where they came from - and it also sets up the big story of the Exodus.

2) Start with Jesus and the Gospels. There are four gospels to choose from: the shortest one is Mark - he provides a quick overview of Jesus life and death and resurrection. The longest one is Matthew - he writes to his fellow Jews and records many of Jesus' parables. Luke's detailed account (which includes quite a few miracles) is part one of a two part story - Acts is the other part of the story. John's gospel comes from a different point of view, providing unique stories not found in the other three gospel accounts of Jesus.

3) Start with Psalms and Proverbs. Psalms is the ancient hymn book of the Israelites, expressing their delight and trust in God, or their frustration and bewilderment. The Proverbs are a collection of wisdom sayings - reflections on the way life works when living out Torah - God's instructions and commands. The Psalms and Proverbs can provide a helpful guide to life with God and a better life with your neighbor.

4) Start with the Letters of James or Paul. The advantage of the letters is that they are full of practical insights on how to live in the light of Jesus. James, the brother of Jesus has a potent, compact letter that highlights some crucial attitudes and actions for following Jesus. Paul has some great letters too - Colossians and 1Timothy are good one's to start with for teachings on who Jesus is and how we can now live with Him.

5) Find a reading plan that gets you reading a few chapters every day for the year, getting you from the beginning to end. There is no substitute for just reading and reading and reading (either in the morning when you first get up, or on your lunchbreak, or in the evening before bed). A lot may not make much sense the first couple times through. The more familiar you become with the stories, the more pieces you can put together. Just start reading. And asking questions.

6) When you read, have a pen and notepad next to you. Write down what you don't understand, write down your questions or insights, your reactions to the stories. It's okay to write in your Bible to! Highlight verses that make you think or convict you. Write comments in the margins. The more curious you are, the more you dig, the more you engage with the text, the more you will eventually understand.

7) Find a friend (or a pastor...) who you can ask questions, discuss, and get insights from. :)

More Advent Quotes from C.S. Lewis

During Advent 2010, Anchor Community Church reflected upon Scripture and the writings of C.S. Lewis on the Incarnation. A free booklet by Dr. Joel Heck was available in the Foyer, and you could follow the Anchor Blog for daily postings.

If you like the thoughtfulness of C.S. Lewis, if you want to think more deeply about the Incarnation, if you want to keep Christ in Christmas, read on.

Here is Week One of Advent 

Week Two
Quest for Peace: Second Sunday of Advent
When the year dies in preparation for the birth
Of other seasons, not the same, on the same earth,
Then saving and calamity go together make
The Advent gospel, telling how the heart will break.
Therefore it was in Advent that the Quest began...
~ C.S. Lewis, "Launcelot", Narrative Poems, p95

The Gift of Judgement: Second Monday of Advent
Judgment is at hand, promise of judgment and threat of judgment.... It is the same sort of ambivalence which Christians have been taught to recognize in the season of Advent.
~ C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, The Arthurian Torso, p157

God Shatters: Second Tuesday of Advent
My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are "offended" by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not. But the same thing happens in our private prayers.
~ C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, p78

What We Can Understand: Second Wednesday of Advent
We cannot conceive how the Divine Spirit dwelled within the created and human spirit of Jesus.... What we can that our own...existence is...but a faint image of the Divine Incarnation itself - the same theme in a very minor key.
~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p147

Just Like Your Father: Second Thursday of Advent
The Son of God became a man to enable men to become the Sons of God. We do not things would have worked if the human race had never rebelled against God and joined the enemy.... You and I are concerned with the way things work now.
~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p178

Test of Greatness: Second Friday of Advent
[The great French writer] Montaigne became kittenish with his kitten but [it] never talked philosophy to him. Everywhere the great enters the little - its power to do so is almost the test of its greatness.
~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p147

Excitement Of A Child: Second Saturday of Advent
I have read [your book] Treasure on Earth and I don't believe you have any notion how good it is.... I've never seen the hushed internal excitement of a child on Christmas Eve better done. That is something we can all recognize.
~ C.S. Lewis, from "Letter to Mrs. Phyllis Sandeman", Dec. 10, 1952, Lewis' Collected Letters, III, pp261ff

Week Three
His Name In This World: Third Sunday of Advent
Dear Hida (is that right?) Newman,
Thank you so much for your lovely letter and pictures.... As to Aslan's other name, well I want you to guess. Has there never been anyone in the world who (1.) arrived at the same time as Father Christmas. (2.) Said he was the son of the Great Emperor. (3.) Gave himself up for someone else's fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people. (4.) Came to life again. (5.) Is sometimes spoken of as a Lamb.... Don't you really know His name in this world? Think it over and let me know your answer.
~ C.S. Lewis, from "Letter to Hila Newman," June 3, 1953, Lewis' Collected Letters, III, p.334

To Tell His Story: Third Monday of Advent
My brother and I took a day off last week, put sandwiches in our pockets, and tramped sixteen miles..from Dorchester Abbey to Oxford.... You would be surprised if you could see the unspoilt beauty and charm which can still be found.... I hope to send you the autographed children's book by Christmas, but will probably know more about its progress this afternoon, as I am going out to lunch with my publisher.
~ C.S. Lewis, "Letter to Miss Vera Mathews," September 20, 1950, Lewis' Collected Letters, III, p54

Greatness Comes In Smallness: Third Tuesday of Advent
"It seems, then", said Tirian..."that the Stable seen from within and the Stable seen from without are two different places."
"Yes," said the Lord Digory. "Its inside is bigger than its outside."
"Yes," said Queen Lucy. "In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world."
~ C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, p141

To Glorify And Enjoy: Third Wednesday of Advent
The Scotch catechism says that man's end is 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever'. But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy him.
~ C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, p97

A Gift To You For Others: Third Thursday of Advent
"Hadn't we better take what we want and get out again?" said Edmund.
"We must take the Gifts," said Peter.
For long ago at a Christmas in Narnia he and Susan and Lucy had been given certain presents which they valued more than their whole kingdom.... They all agreed...and there, sure enough, the gifts were still hanging. Lucy's was the smallest for it was only a little bottle.
~ C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian, p23

Christmas Shopping: Third Friday of Advent
From the waist upwards he was like a man, but his legs were shaped like a goat's.... One of his hands...held an umbrella: in the other arm he carried several brown paper parcels. What with the parcels and the snow it looked just as if he had been doing his Christmas shopping. He was a Faun. And when he saw Lucy he gave such a start of surprise that he dropped all his parcels.
~ C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, p8

Any Point In Going On?: Third Saturday of Advent
[The Queen of Narnia] "isn't a real queen at all," answered Lucy. "She is a horrible White Witch.... She has made an enchantment over the whole country so that it is always winter here and never Christmas."
"I wonder if there's any point in going on," said Susan.... "What about just going home?"
~ C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, p56

Week Four
Jesus Saves: Fourth Sunday of Advent
Most of my books are evangelistic, addressed to [those outside the faith].
~ C.S. Lewis, from "Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger," God in the Dock, p181

Peace On Earth: Fourth Monday of Advent
There! They're at it again. "'Ark, the errol hygel sings".... Boxing Day [December 26] is only two and a half weeks [away]; then perhaps we shall have a little quiet in which to remember the birth of Christ.
~ C.S. Lewis, "Delinquints in the Snow," God in the Dock, p310

Very Many Thanks: Fourth Tuesday of Advent
Once more, very many thanks to all your great goodness to me and mine: and with all best wishes for a happy Christmas.
~ C.S. Lewis, from Letter to Dr. Warfield Firor, Nov. 6, 1948, Lewis' Collected Letters, II, p889

Campaign of Sabotage: Fourth Wednesday of Advent
Enemy-occupied territory - that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed...and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.
~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p46

Bring Religion Into Everything: Fourth Thursday of Advent
Just a hurried tell a story which puts the contrast between our feast of the Nativity and all this ghastly "Xmas" racket at its lowest. My brother heard a woman on a bus say, as the bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, "Oh Lor'! They bring religion into everything. Look - they're dragging it even into Christmas now!"
~ C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, Dec. 29, 1958, p80

Give More Than We Can Spare: Fourth Friday of Advent
Charity - giving to the poor - is an essential part of Christian morality.... I do not believe on can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.
~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p86

Friday, March 04, 2011

What To Do With The Bad Things That Happen To Good People

What's your initial reaction when something bad happens to someone who doesn't deserve it, someone you care about?

Anger is the appropriate response. Righteous anger is fueled by injustice, unfairness, oppression of the innocents. This kind of anger ought to move us to reflective and righteous action - respond to the cries of the wounded, intercede on behalf of the suffering.

Frustration is another response. We want to make sense of our world, to have adequate explanations for why stuff happens. We want a reason for what caused the long string of events that led up to the tragedy. And the simmering frustration can lead to bitterness, to despair, to giving up.

Job of Uz was afflicted by great tragedy. In the course of a week his possessions were stolen, his wealth wiped out, and all his children and their families murdered. The following week his body broke out in great  seeping sores. His wife in great rage and bitterness implored her husband to curse God and die. Job's friends sat with him in in consoling silence for the traditional mourning for seven days.

If only the friends would have left after that - instead they opened their mouth and tried to help Job accept his situation. They insisted that God is just and therefore Job deserved this tragedy. Job angrily resisted their insights, stubbornly maintaining his innocence:

I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer,
I stand up, but you merely look at me.
You turn on me ruthlessly
With the might of your hand you attack me.

As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice,
The Almighty has made my life bitter.
I will never admit you are right,
Until I die, I will not deny my integrity.
I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it.

I rescued the poor who cried for help,
And the fatherless who had none to assist them.
Those who were dying blessed me,
I made the widows heart sing.
I put on righteousness as my clothing,
Justice was my robe and turban.
I was the eyes of the blind, feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy, I took up the case of the stranger.

Job knew he was righteous before God. He knew God was righteous. His mind and soul were being torn apart by the seeming incongruity caused by the unexplainable suffering. And an explanation is never given. Even though God speaks to Job, He does not reveal the reasons for the excruciating pain.

And that's part of the lesson: God will not give us explanations for the suffering of the innocents. God does something else though - he blesses the righteous, and he blesses others through the righteous. Suffering will be part of life - whether you are righteous or unrighteous. Whether you are a good person or bad person, unexplainable hard times will come upon you.

We don't have the example of Job because we ought to imitate him. He have the story because it reflects what one man's experience was like. If we're going to imitate someone who suffered, we ought to consider the way of Jesus.

His story has many similar points as that of Job. Jesus, like Job, cries out: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? But unlike Job, at the end, Jesus also whispers: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

What will you do with the bad things that happen to you? The bad things you don't think you deserve? Obviously we are not talking about the bad things that happen to you which are consequences of your stupid, unthinking, selfish, stubborn choices. Those bad things are your own fault. We're talking about the hard times that come which someone else inflicts on you that is not connected to your choices. What will you do?

Like Job and Jesus, you can cry out to God and rage against the injustice of it - the seeming abandonment of God. Yet like Jesus, you remember that God is there, suffering with you, and he is the one hope you have for emerging from this painfulness. Your whisper of forgiveness, of letting go of the bitterness and rage, begins the process of what you ought to do next. Your desire for forgiveness, combined with your desire for justice, will keep you open towards God and his desire for bringing good and grace into the situation.

God has promised that he will right every wrong. God has promised that righteousness will prevail. God has promised that he will avenge. We must pursue justice. We must pursue truth. We must pursue righteousness. But in the end, if our pursuit results in us becoming bitter, jaded, and despairing, we lose. Our choice to forgive, to trust God, and to follow the way of Jesus in response to pain and suffering - this opens us up to new possibilities of healing and hope.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Solution of a Problem

...the solution of a problem always demands that we descend to a deeper level.

We must leave the level of conflicts and dilemmas to the level of self-examination under the searching light of God. We then can understand that a dilemma is a sign; it is a sign that there are deeper discoveries to be made, a new order to perceive which will transform the whole nature of the problem.

True meditation is this descent to the deeper level under God's direction. There it is that really new inspirations come, to set us free from our dilemmas, to transform our relationships with ourselves, with others, with God.

Under every dilemma is hidden several fears: the fear of openly resisting, the fear of giving in, the fear of fighting, and the fear of being beaten. It is love which drives back fear.

All is not thus solved. Everyday we shall find ourselves before the most perplexing questions, even if we sincerely seek for divine guidance. 
Yet these can be for us an opportunity for deeper, inner experience through which alternatives we thought to be incompatible may be resolved in new synthesis.

We used to set doubt in opposition to faith, acceptance to rebellion, self-affirmation to self-surrender, and resistance to giving in. We do so no longer.

Here it is that real life always unites into a marvelous harmony those movements of the inner person which we judged to be contradictory. They are shown to be complementary.

The real believer is not the man who hides from himself those persistent doubts deep down but irremovable. The opposite is the truth: "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24).

The strong man is not he who hides his own failings from himself, but he who knows them well. Surrendering our life to God is at the same time our supreme giving-in and our supreme act of self-affirmation!

~Paul Tournier, To Resist or To Surrender, pgs 60-1