Thursday, February 26, 2009

Herod's Temple

My time is limited; but I wanted to share this before I forget about it forever.

Thanks to White Stone for the link.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Where I've been.

You could say I came by my legalism honestly. I was raised to look down my nose at others, to think myself superior. As I began to be indoctrinated into religion, this tendency was fed and “sanctified”. Most of my early religious memories involve legalism in some form or another. One of the first involves my Lutheran confirmation classes, back in junior high. It’s a snapshot from a lesson on the Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…” My only recollection from that teaching was when they said that using words like “golly” and “gosh” and “gee” was also a form of this sin. I remember thinking at the time, “Oh, my gosh! Give me a break!” Though it was at this point that these classes became ridiculous to me, I never forgot the lesson I did learn: to be a “serious” Christian was to take the Law and expand it in every way imaginable.

In my late teens I dove headfirst into an entirely different brand of “Christianity”. It was the highly charismatic Word of Faith movement. In this movement, blessing and cursing from God is directly related to what we do or don’t do, just like the Old Covenant. (Now many Christians hold to this idea, in other forms, but none as crassly as this bunch. I sometimes think of them as Job’s Comforters.) If we have faith, all will go well. If not – because of not claiming the right promises and repeating themselves to ourselves often enough to build our faith, or not donating enough of our income, or because of some less than wise decision, or else because of some sin – things will fall apart. And since things go wrong all the time, people begin nit-picking to find out what is wrong in their lives that is causing the problem. This leads to all sorts of insane, superstitious, fear-driven behavior. I’m too embarrassed to tell some of the things I and others I knew did as a result of this horrific doctrine. I literally did things that endangered my life. Some very horrific things happened to me at the hands of some of these folks that caused me to run far and fast from them and God, who I’d become convinced was a cruel trickster lying in wait for anyone who stepped out of line.

Several debauched years later, a series of traumatic experiences left me terrified for my life. I decided I needed to ensure God would be on my side. It was time to start trying to live like a Christian again. So I headed back to church, this time to a relatively moderate Pentecostal denomination. By that point in my life, legalism, in my mind, was part and parcel of being a Christian. I not only didn't question it; I expected it. Legalism was, in my mind, the sign of someone who was serious about being a Christian. Some people are very good at living in this way. I never was; but that didn’t stop me from internalizing all the hyper-spiritual rules and using them to condemn myself. I remember during that time reading a book about grace that someone had given me. I think it was called "Grace Plus Nothing". I remember as well that I thought it was too good to be true and and, therefore, a load of bull – everyone knows grace doesn’t come for free, and you can't get something for nothing, right? That church experience ended for me when I saw Word of Faith doctrine creeping in. The leadership did not care, so I beat it out of there in a hurry.

I moved on to another type of church. This one I held in great esteem because they didn’t participate in any of the charismata publicly, and only taught through the Bible. I viewed these guys as the pinnacle of serious Christianity, and they encouraged this view, having little truck with the rest of Christendom. I attended one of these churches for a while. It was laid back. Casual dress was the norm. The legalism there was subtle. It was there, only it was, well – nebulous. It came more in the form of emotional spirituality – being led by “impressions”, a need for God’s guidance for the smallest of things. Often when things went wrong it was attributed to not seeking the Lord enough, or waiting to hear from Him. If you are faithful to have your quiet time, seek the Lord at each crossroad and before every purchase, etc. your day will go well, or if it doesn't, at least you're off the hook. You know you did your part. By God’s grace, a lot of the folks got along fine like that, struggling along, hoping they were in God’s will from one moment to the next. And there really were some dear Christians there, people I really looked up to. Unfortunately I’m one who takes an idea very quickly to it’s logical conclusions. I take things as far as they'll go. This way of life led to new rules being piled on top of old, however people felt "led". For me that meant being led by my fallen and misshapen conscience to feel guilty and consumed by fear over the strangest of things, and not guilty at all over things I should have.

One day I picked up a Bible Study manual one of my favorite pastors was teaching through, deciding to study through it on my own time rather than attend the class. It laid out the New Testament, the Sermon on the Mount in particular, as a new set of laws reaching farther and deeper than anything the Old Testament law ever did. That study turned the New Testament into a new system of laws, like the old one in some ways, but much, much harder. I got about 2 chapters into it before I gave up hope – all hope. I thought, well, if that’s the good news and this is what it takes to be a Christian, then there’s no hope for me at all. I put away the study guide, and my Bible for almost a decade. I still remember the moment, the room I was in, the sun shining through the window, and my hands putting the study book and the Bible carefully away on the shelf. (I later found out that the pastor who led that study, and many of the folks involved in it, folks who I had admired as the most spiritual people in the church, started a church of their own. It ended up becoming, well, very much like a cult. Many lives were devastated. )

About eight years later I got saved. (Yes, I went through all that having never been converted. I was a hypocrite, self-deceived.) But I entered my Christian life with much of my old misinformation still intact. I still held the notion, until very recently in fact, that the difference my conversion made was that now I was able to obey the laws of God, because I love Him and really want to glorify Him. I felt that now that I was His, I’d always be able to have His favor, not because Christ’s righteousness was imputed to me (I didn't really understand that), but because He’d enable me to always do the things that please Him – to be righteous. (He’d enable me to earn His favor, if you will.)

With my new desire to please God, I set about to do all the things I could not do before I trusted Him. I threw off all sorts of obviously sinful behaviors, and some that I just had a low opinion of when I saw them in others. I found that for the first time in my life I did have power over sin and set out to be perfect. Whatever Scripture said was law, and what it didn’t say I could find some “principle” to apply to make a new law. The shift was subtle and gradual.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is
in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7: 1-5

It wasn’t long before I’d raised my idea of what was “spiritual” above what was Scriptural. I was becoming more and more adept at applying “Scriptural standards” to every imaginable thing. I was becoming quite pleased with myself. It wasn’t long before I was judging others by my very “spiritual” standards. I was beginning to think, secretly of course, that I was more spiritual than just about any Christian I came across (except for a few folk, who I alternately admired, and dreaded). But I gave God all the credit of course: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men….”(Luke 18:11) I became impatient and judgmental of those who were, in my opinion, content in their sins. If they really loved God, after all, they’d want to please Him. If they were really Christians, they would repent of this or that sin. It felt good to be so “spiritual”. It was comforting - reassuring - to compare myself favorably against others; until, that is, I began to become aware of deeply rooted sinful attitudes and motives in my heart. It’s very upsetting to see how long it took for me to even begin to recognize the Pharisee I was becoming – to see the log in my own eye. And it’s frightening to face up to the fact that it was fear (among other things) that was driving all this behavior. I was still afraid of incurring God’s wrath. The image of Him as a trickster had not been eradicated. It came back whenever I sinned. I could not grasp the statement of Scripture that there is “no condemnation in Christ Jesus”. I had no category for that way of thinking. Deep inside I still felt that was only true to the extent that I did not sin, or if I sinned, to the extent that I repented with great heartache and groveling. It was as if forgiveness is earned by being sorry, and the sorrier I feel the more assured I could be of being forgiven. Well, I was able to go along like that for a while. But thanks be to God He was not content to leave me like that, bound up by a spirit of fear, serving Him out of dread.
"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain? - if indeed it was in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness….You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump…" (Gal. 3:1-5; 7-9)
My pastor gave me some sermons on grace to listen to. They turned my world upside down, my desires, my motives. I’m still trying to absorb news that is really good – the meaning of these words: “there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I am free from the guilt of my sin. Christ bore the penalty for every one I’ve ever committed and ever will commit. God is not angry with me. I need not fear Him any longer. Christ bore all the wrath I ever have and ever will deserve. I’m free to love God and walk in freedom. The Law has no power over me anymore. These are beautiful, Scriptural, truths and my flesh is fighting against them. My prison of fear is a place I’m accustomed to. I know it well and am hesitant to step out. What will I become out there in the free world? And so I’ve been standing, with one foot in freedom, and one in the prison, praying for the courage to move forward.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Just in case I suddenly disappear from the Internet,

I thought I should mention that my computer is terminal...
Puns aside, it's seriously on its way out. Paul spoke with my dear father-in-law, the computer expert, this morning. We were informed that to pour any money into a machine that's still running WindowsME (yes, I said ME, as in Millenium Edition) would be foolish. Well, we didn't even have the money to fix it, and certainly not to replace it. I was just bemoaning that fact when Paul informed me I should check my book orders. I said, "I will, when I can get the page to open (grrrr). How'm I going to run an on-line business like this? (grrr)" He said, "Check your orders!" I finally did, and about choked. We had just sold a very rare book! So, in a few weeks I will be able to replace this old box with a newly refurbished one, and, Lord willing, have a bit left over for a few other expenses that have crept up on us.

Oh, and I said all that to say that my computer in the meantime is, like a very old woman, extremely slow, and refusing to perform some functions altogether (like playing videos). My online activities have been drastically impaired. I'm still following my friends' blogs. But those of you with razzle-dazzle comment systems will be getting much less feedback from Yours Truly. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More Things I Can Do When I Don't Blog:

There are still some details awaiting completion, but the bulk of it is done!


(The "before" shots were taken on a bright,sunny day, so the lighting is much better than the ones I took yesterday under a hailstorm.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A whole new world

My indentured servanthood to my current cell phone service, after four nightmarish years ends in a week. So I've sold myself to a different plan, the one my husband, kids, in-laws, and most of the folks closest to me have. This also means, I've got a new phone. It's green! My kids are no longer mocking me. In fact, Tony is green too, every time he looks at it. I got unlimited texting. My reasoning was this, I HATE talking on the phone (Oh, to anyone who's ever spoken to me on the phone and wondered why my personality has vanished - that's why). My kids LOVE to text. I LOVE to write. It has a full keypad and a camera. I can take pictures with it AND send hilarious text messages. I used to think my calling in life was to teach the Bible, but now I know it's really to send hilarious text messages. Ask my kids. They'll testify to my giftedness in this area.

Oh, and speaking of a Whole New World. Watch this video - and don't quit part way, you've really got to see the whole thing. (You can thank my daughter, Gina, for this one.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

A parable from the Bard

“He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak: ‘tis charity to shew.”

I'm quite certain Shakespeare wasn't trying to proclaim the Gospel. But in The Taming of the Shrew, the wonderful BBC production of which Paul and I “rented” for free last week at our local public library, he did just that – well - to me anyway. Paul tells me this play is fairly well hated, at least it’s message is, and I can see why with it’s overt anti-feminism. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. That’s a subject for a different day. You see, I’m not talking about women’s issues here, per se, I’m talking about the Church, the people of God – the Bride of Christ, the Shrew:

And let’s not deny it. Let’s be entirely honest. As any person well acquainted with church (or world) history, and any Christian well acquainted with his or her own heart knows, Christ took a shrew for His bride. And like Petruchio in our play, He was under no illusions. He knew what he was getting into, and undertook His task with wholehearted zeal. He would not be deterred and had the utmost confidence in a successful outcome.

“Why came I hither but to that intent?
Think you a little din can daunt mine ears?
Have I not in my time heard lions roar?
Have in not heard the sea, puft up with winds,
Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat?
Have I not heard great ordnance in the field,
And heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies?
Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpet’s clang
And do you tell me of a woman’s tongue,
That gives not half so great a blow to th’ear
As will a chestnut in a farmer’s fire?"

Katharina was hostile by nature, and when she heard of Petruchio’s interest her ire focused on him. He became her particular enemy even as he’d determined to make her his wife. I was an enemy of God once. He'd heard of my hatred and distrust of Him and yet set out to woo me. He was forty years in the wooing, years of loving care, and severe kindness, hardships designed to leave me helpless with no one but Himself to cry to - all of which I resented - but to which, like Katharina I finally succumbed.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Romans 5: 6-10

Christ, when He committed himself to his bride paid for her with his life and now lives to see her made lovely. Though she is not really lovely, He covers her in His own beautiful righteousness “ …so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5: 21) You might say that He sees her as she will be, on the glorious day when she will be made perfect. When God sees us dressed, as it were, in the perfect righteousness of Christ, He no longer sees a shrew, but a gracious bride.

As Petruchio says to Katharina after listening to reports, and seeing with his own eyes her wretched nature:

No, not a whit: I find you passing gentle.
‘Twas told me you were rough, and coy, and sullen,
And now I find report a very liar;
For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous;
But slow in speech, yet sweet as spring-time flowers:
Thou canst not frown, thou canst not look askance,
Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will;
Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk;
But thou with mildness entertain’s thy wooers,
Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?
O slanderous world! Kate, like the hazel-twig,
Is straight and slender; and as brown in hue
As hazel-nuts, and sweeter than the kernels.
O, let me see thee walk: thou dost not halt.”

“Father, ‘tis thus: - yourself and all the world,
That talkt of her, have talkt amiss of her:
If she be curst, it is for policy,
For she’s not froward,but modest as the dove;
She is not hot, but temperate as the morn;
For patience she will prove a second Grissel,
And Roman Lucrese for her chastity:”

He sees her as she will be, and under his careful nourishing and cherishing she becomes every beautiful thing he has imagined.

“…Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Ephesians 5:23-30

While His bride yet lives in this world, she is not entirely tamed. Some of her shrewishness yet remains. Yet He knows what she will be and He will not relent until that great day when He sees her wholly convinced…and wholly lovely, without spot or blemish. But even here, even now, when she looks at him and his unabashed love for her, she gets glimpses of what she will be and then like Katharina when her husband bids her speak will tell, with a heart overflowing, all who will listen what she’s thus far learned:

Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening unkind brow:
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:
It blots thy beauty, as frosts do bite the meads;
Confounds thy fame, as whirlwinds shake fair buds;
And in no sense is meet or amiable,
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip, or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for they maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience, -
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such a duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war, where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway, when they are bound to serve, love, and obey.”

“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:33

Friday, February 6, 2009

A sign of the times

Paul posted this today and I just can't get over it. I've got to share it with someone.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

A final discussion of Mere Christianity

This is the final installment of our reading of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity over at Our reading for this week was Sections 7-11 in Book 4: Beyond Personality: or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity. I’ve decided not to participate in the next reading group as I’ve got some other things I really need to focus on. The reading of Lewis has had a profound impact on me in ways I’m not able to express right now, and has played an unexpected role in an unexpected need to change the direction of my studies for a while. It's lengthy, but here goes:

7. Let’s Pretend

In this section Lewis describes what he feels pretty much sums up what it is to live a Christian life, what Scripture refers to as “putting on Christ”. He starts unexpectedly with the Lord’s Prayer – likely because it is one most of his listeners would be familiar with:

“When you say the Lord’s prayer, you refer to God as “Our Father”. When you do that, you are ‘dressing up as Christ’. If you like, you are pretending. Because, of course, the moment you realize what the words mean, you realize that you are not a son of God. You are not a being like the Son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centered fears, hope, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.”
“Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind,where the pretence is there instead of the real thing….But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but you know you ought to be, the best thing you can do,very often is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are…Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.”

But, in “putting on Christ” we are not simply asking “what would Jesus do?” and then trying to do it. Rather:
“It is not a question of a good man who died two thousand years ago. It is a living Man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as He was when He created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has. At first, only for moments. Then for longer periods. Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity. And soon we make two other discoveries.”

“1) We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are…surely what a man does when he taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.”

I would add, from personal experience, that alcohol, depression, PMS, and difficult circumstances in general can have that same effect of bringing to the surface what is already lurking beneath. They do not change who we are, rather they reveal who we are.

“Now that cellar is out of reach of my conscious will. I can to some extent control my acts: I have no direct control over my temperament. And if…what we are matters even more than what we do – if, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are - then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about. And this applies to my good actions too. How many of them were done for the right motive?…I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives. After the first few steps in the Christian life we realize that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.”

I’ve tried and tried to change certain things about my temperament. I want to be warmer, less timid, less arrogant and judgmental, and have set about scolding and lecturing myself, condemning myself and wallowing in guilt over my inability to bring about deep personality change. None of these things have done any good. Any growth I’ve seen has been at the hand of God, bringing about change slowly and inexplicably as I trust Him and His Word.

And what follows is lovely:
“2) I have been talking as if it were we who did everything. In reality, of course, it is God who does everything. We, at most, allow it to be done to us. In a sense you might even say it is God who does the pretending….God looks at you as if you were a little Christ: Christ stands beside you to turn you into one….Is not how the higher thing always raises the lower? A mother teaches her baby to talk by talking to it as if it understood long before it really does.”

8. Is Christianity Hard or Easy?
Here Lewis wants us to understand how it is that this “putting on Christ” is the whole of the Christian life. In this section he aims to “point out how it differs from ordinary ideas of ‘morality’ and ‘being good’.”
“The ordinary idea folks have, and see if you haven’t thought this way yourself, is that you take ‘morality’ or ‘good behavior’ and tack it on to our lives, trying to live by them, giving up what seems bad and trying to do what is considered good. But we are hoping the whole time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes…. Because we are still taking our natural self as the starting point…. As long as we are thinking that way, one or another of two results is likely to follow. Either we give up trying to be good or else we become very unhappy indeed.”
On the contrary,
“The Christian way is different: harder and easier. Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work; I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good…I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours….. The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes and precautions –to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves,’ to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good.’ We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way – centered on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs.”

So as Lewis says, “Laziness means more work in the long run” and “The cowardly thing is also the most dangerous thing.” And the real problem for the Christian is first thing every morning. Boy can I attest to the truth of that! Certainly that is why Christ tells us we need to take up our cross daily. I’ll let Lewis describe my mornings:
“All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job every morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger,stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind…When He said,‘Be perfect,’ He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder – in fact, it is impossible.”

Oh how, I wish I’d listened to Lewis when I read him the first time. I could have saved decades of regrets!!

He then brings the Church into the discussion and sweeps us up with fairy-tale imagery into a brief but vivid vision of God’s majestic purposes in Creation. Much as...
“The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life…the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose. It says in the Bible that the whole universe was made for Christ and that everything is to be gathered together in Him.”

“What we have been told is how we men can be drawn into Christ – can become part of that wonderful present which the young Prince of the universe wants to offer to His Father – that present which is Himself and therefore us in Him. It is the only thing we were made for. And there are strange exciting hints in the Bible that when we are drawn in, a great many other things in Nature will begin to come right. The bad dream will be over; it will be morning.”
Wow, doesn’t your heart cry out to be a part of that? Isn’t it amazing to think that, in Christ, you are?

9. Counting the Cost

Lewis found that after giving the last “talk” he met with quite a bit of objection to the statement of Christ: “Be ye perfect.” People took it to mean that we have to make ourselves perfect in order for God to help us. (A funny thing to think, since it is exactly our imperfection that is our problem!) He goes on to explain, “I think He meant ‘The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less." Well, I’d never have come up with that on my own, but I think Lewis is on to something here. He uses the illustration from a toothache in his childhood. He would not want to tell his mother his tooth hurt, because he knew it would involve a trip to the dentist, and that the dentist would not leave well enough alone. He’d start poking around and find all sorts of things wrong. And so Lewis likens turning to Christ to going to the dentist (cringe – from the fairy tale to the dentist chair – if that isn’t just like the Christian life!): “Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take an ell…but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment…That is why He warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for...I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect.” (You may have noticed the ellipses are hiding all the bits about free-will. That’s because I’ve noticed through my lifetime that God has many ways of getting my will to agree with His. So I’m finding the point’s a bit moot.)

But lest we be overwhelmed by this trip to the Dentist of our souls, so to speak, Lewis reminds us that God will not be overly harsh, and that He will leave with us the Holy Spirit. He will not leave us comfortless:
“this Helper who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty…every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son. In the same way, he said, ‘God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.’…God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in you present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again….He is beginning to guide you [to] absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe,except yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal.”
Now, with all that I take some exception to only two words: the very pregnant, “except yourself”. I understand the point he is making. And from our existential perspective I agree, we do hinder God’s work, and interfere and slow things down; but only in the sense that process of working the clay delays a potter in his goal having completed vessels. What I’m saying is, that from God’s perspective, I believe there is no thwarting at all. I suspect to Him it’s like the difference between calling things into existence “magically” - if you’ll pardon the expression – and forming them with His “hands” as a potter forms clay. He could have done the former, no doubt, but that is not what He wanted to do. He wanted to invest Himself, if you will, in these vessels. There is certainly a sense in which the clay resists (and it certainly does not form itself); but this part of what it is to work with clay. He knows that – having created the clay after all. And that is the medium and method with which He has chosen to create man. He expects this resistance and rather than being hindered by it, He is masterful in using it to form the perfect intended object. (Remember, “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it”. Remember that He is the “Author and Finisher of our faith”.)

And, as he so rightly says:
“…the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us… He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command… He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess,dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though of course, on a smaller scale) his own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for.”
– a bright stainless mirror reflecting the glory of God. That is just what it means to be the “image of God”, a perfect reflection of His glory. What an amazing future awaits us!

10. Nice People or New Men

Lewis seeks at this point to explain why all Christians are not obviously nicer than all non-Christians. First we must understand that not everyone claiming to be a Christian is one:
“If conversion to Christianity make no improvement in a man’s outward actions – if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before – then I think we must suspect that his ‘conversion’ was largely imaginary; and after one’s original conversion, every time one thinks one has made an advance that is the test to apply. Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in ‘religion’ mean nothing unless they make our actual behavior better…. In that sense the outer world is quite right to judge Christianity by its results. Christ told us to judge by results. A tree is known by its fruit.”

However, it is illogical, Lewis asserts (and I agree) to demand “not merely that each man’s life should improve if he becomes a Christian”, but “that they should see the whole world neatly divided into two camps – Christian and non-Christian – and that all people in the first camp at any given moment should be obviously nicer than all the people in the second.”

He gives several reasons for objecting to this idea:

The first is a reason I take issue with on a few levels. I will put his reasons out there, but refrain from dissecting them here. Let me merely assert before I do, that a person either is a true, born-again Christian or not, and cannot not become one apart from the message of the Gospel of Christ. I will agree there are those who profess to be Christians and are not – and never were (and some of those who are false may yet become true!). That said, I’ll let Lewis speak: “There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so.” And here is the one bit I reject outright, because it is unambiguously un-scriptural: “There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.”

I find his next reason more reasonable:
“If Christianity is true then it ought to follow a) That any Christian will be nicer than the same person would be if he were not a Christian. b) That any man who becomes a Christian will be nicer than he was before.” In other words each person has a different temperament “as a result of natural causes and early upbringing…Christianity professes to put both temperaments under new management…”

His third reason goes deeper.
“We have been talking, in fact…as if Christianity was something nasty people needed and nice ones could afford to do without; and as if niceness was all that God demanded.” He goes on to explain (using the protracted illustration of a nasty-by-nature Miss Bates and a placid by nature man named Dick) that any natural niceness a person has is a gift to that person:

“We must…not be surprised if we find among the Christians some people who are still nasty. There is even, when you come to think it over, a reason why nasty people might be expected to turn to Christ in greater numbers than nice ones. That was what
people objected to about Christ during His life on earth: He seemed to attract
‘such awful people.’ That is what people still object to, and always will. Do
you not see why? Christ said ‘Blessed are the poor’ and ‘How hard it is for the
rich to enter the Kingdom…do not His words also apply to another kind of riches
and poverty?….Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot
be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural
goodness lets them down and their self-satisfaction is shattered.”

“It is very different for the nasty people – the little, low, timid, warped,
thin-blooded, lonely people, or the passionate, sensual, unbalanced people. If
they make any attempt at goodness at all, they learn, in double quick time, that
they need help. It is Christ or nothing for them. It is taking up the cross and
following – or else despair. They are the lost sheep; He came specially to find
them… They are the ‘awful set’ he goes about with – and of course the Pharisees
say still, as they said from the first, ‘If there were anything in Christianity those people would not be Christians.”

“There is a warning or an encouragement here for every one of us. If you are a nice person – if virtue comes easily to you – beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given.If you mistake for you own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, and your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel

And here is something we can certainly afford to keep in mind as we seek to influence the politics of our nations:
“A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking not further,turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world – and might even be more difficult to save.

“For mere improvement is no redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.”
We must never forget that it is only the gospel that will bring real and lasting change – to individuals and nations.

11. The New Men

We end with the chapter that gets everyone up in arms. Oddly, though, it hasn’t had that effect on me. I’m rather strangely impressed. Perhaps I can help you to see why. Here Lewis discusses evolution as a given. He doesn’t question it except to mention in passing that some folks don’t agree with it. But, after all, long before Darwin there have been those who held to the Day-Age theory, the most notable of whom is Augustine. No, rather than dicker about evolution, he transcends it. He uses it to point to Christ! Imagine that. (Though I would argue that at minimum Man must be regarded as a special and unique creation, and that there was a literal Adam, I will not take this time to debate the matter. Plenty of others have filled volumes doing that. Lewis doesn’t speak to that one way or the other.) He accepts evolution, seeing it as the means God used to create, and that God was sovereign over the entire process. He took the commonly held belief, and instead of questioning it, used its crooked finger to point straight to Christ. He knows that many people, remember, He’s addressing unbelievers here, are wondering what the next step in evolution will be: “People see (or at any rate they think they see) men developing greater brains and getting greater mastery over nature. And because they think the stream is flowing in that direction, they imagine it will keep on flowing in that direction.” But Lewis takes a surprising position: “I should expect Evolution itself as a method of producing change, will be superseded. I should not be surprised if, when the thing happened, very few people noticed that it was happening. Now, if you care to talk in these terms, the Christian view is precisely that the Next Step has already appeared. And it is really new. It is not a change from brainy men to brainier men: it is a change that goes off in a totally different direction – a change from being creatures of God, to being sons of God. The first instance appeared in Palestine two thousand years ago. In a sense, the change is not ‘Evolution’ at all, because it is not something arising out of the natural process of events but something coming into nature from outside. But that is what I should expect.”

He goes on to list several other ways in which this New Step differs from all the previous ones, but I won’t go into those here, mainly since I find them odd, unhelpful, and better at explaining the differences between animal life and human life than the differences between the old man and the new (though on some level fallen man does seem at times to have an awful lot in common with brute beasts!). Though I must admit it is masterful the way he uses even evolution to point to Christ, his argument really suffers in his neglect to show man as a special creation of God – in the image of God – as opposed to something developing into something God can use.

This would certainly be a disappointing note to end the book with. Thankfully he changes tone at the last moment and leaves us with some thoughts we can all Yes and Amen:

On what “new men” (Christians) are like:
“Their very voices and faces are different from ours; stronger, quieter,happier, more radiant…They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less.”

But, he explains, one must not get the idea this means all Christians are alike. The new life is like shining a light, or adding salt:

“…you and I know that the light will in fact bring out , or show up, how
different they are.”

“…the real effect of salt is…So far from killing the taste of the egg and the tripe and the cabbage, it actually brings it out.They do not show their real taste till you have added the salt.”

“It is no good trying to ‘be myself’ without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and
surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop. What I call ‘My wishes’ become merely the desire thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men’s thoughts or even suggested to me by devils…Propaganda will be the real origin of what I regard as my own personal political ideals….It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. Sameness is to be found most among the most ‘natural’ men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.”

And lest after all this talk we go after Christ with a mind to bettering our personalities, he warns,
“…you must not got to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether… Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him and with Him everything else thrown in.”

And so I bid farewell to Lewis for the time being. He has challenged me, perplexed me, and ministered to me. Who’d have thought I could learn so much and be so blessed by someone I disagree with so often and so heartily! As he says in the closing paragraphs, being Christians does not make us more alike! We are as different as can be, yet we are indwelled by the same Spirit. I’ve learned much about the grace of God from this time. And I’m off to study nothing but grace and the love of God until I’m saturated.

Something solid to build your life on...

"God's love is based on nothing, and the fact that it is based on nothing makes us secure. Were it based on anything we do, and that "anything" were to collapse, then God's love would crumble as well. But with the God of Jesus no such thing can possibly happen. People who realize this can live freely and to the full. Remember Atlas, who carries the whole world? We have Christian Atlases who mistakenly carry the burden of trying to deserve God's love. Even the mere watching of this lifestyle is depressing. I'd like to say to Atlas: "Put that globe down and dance on it. That's why God made it." And to these weary Christian Atlases: "Lay down your load and build your life on God's love." We don't have to earn this love; neither do we have to support it. It is a free gift. Jesus calls out: "Come to Me, all you Atlases who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you."
(From The Lion and the Lamb, by Brennan Manning)

Those who are in Christ have become partakers in the very love the Father has had for the Son for all eternity. If you are in Christ, rest in that love - no clawing and grasping can keep you there. Nothing - no sin, no mis-step, no, nothing can snatch you out of His hand; believe that and find your rest there.

(Thank you, Deb, for that beautiful & timely quote!)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What Darwin's grandson believed.

In a 1953 essay, he explains how his hope for the future of mankind lies in eugenics, but also wonders at the inexplicable hold the moral law has on him.