Thursday, November 09 2006
"On the whole, God's love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.' He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him." Mere Christianity
The Apostle Paul said, "For Christ's love compels us . . ." (2 Corinthians 5:14). It is not our love for Christ which is the drive-shaft of the Christian life. Nor is it our love for others which is the motivation for ministry. The fact that God loved us so much that he gave his only begotten Son to live for us, die for us, and rise again for us--this love of God in Christ is what should compel us.
But compel us to do what? Paul goes on to tell us that the compelling love of Christ convinces us that Christ died for all. Therefore we need to die to ourselves and live for him who died for us and was raised again. And if we truly live for Christ we will have a fresh outlook on humanity. We will realize how much Christ loves all people if he has so loved us. This love will motivate us to become his ambassadors, carrying his message of reconciliation to alienated people whom he loves. We have a wonderful message of good news to share and to live out, a message which Paul sums up in this way:
Father, I am struck with awe by your love for me--that you would give your Son to become sin for me--so that I might become righteous in your sight. I cannot fathom the depths of such a love. But as I come to realize more and more of your love in my life, I realize too that you love every single person on this planet just as much as you love me. Lord, I see so many people from day to day, people who are hurting, broken, downcast. Help me by your Holy Spirit to bring healing to the hurting, mending to broken lives, the lift of love to those who are downcast. May the love of Christ flow through me this day, and every day, to your glory. Amen.
Wednesday, November 08 2006
"The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less." Mere Christianity
There are two kinds of pretending in life: one good and the other bad. The bad kind is when, as an adult, I pretend to be someone I am not, with no intention of ever developing the character qualities of the person I am pretending to be. Take for example the kind of person who claims to be a Christian but who attends church only to make business contacts. This is a bad kind of pretense.
However, there is a good kind of pretending. When children pretend to be like grown-ups and "play house", that is a good kind of pretense. In that situation children are trying on adult roles for size; they are actually preparing to be the mature people they will one day be in actuality.
Every time a Christian sincerely prays the Lord's Prayer, he or she is engaging in the good kind of pretending. When we pray "Our Father . . ." we are dressing up like Christ, God's only Son. We are pretending to be like him, even though we are not completely like him yet. Our pretending helps us to become more like him so that one day we will be entirely conformed to his image.
The same is true when we perform acts of love toward others even though we don't have loving feelings for them. This is a good kind of pretending. We are pretending to be like Christ and show the love he would show to others if he were in our shoes. If we pretend long enough and imaginatively enough, eventually our feelings will catch up with our actions and we will be loving others in the full, Christ-like sense.
"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is" (I John 3:2).
Tuesday, November 07 2006
"It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all. It comes direct from hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly. For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy's Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity--that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride--just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense." Mere Christianity
There is a great temptation for all of us in reflecting upon the recent "fall" of Ted Haggard. The temptation concealed in this episode is the temptation to pride.
I have read quite a number of responses to Haggard's sin and subsequent, seemingly reluctant confession. Out of all of these responses I see no one condoning Haggard's actions, nor should we. Some, who are pro-homosexual, while not condoning Haggard's lack of faithfulness to his wife and family, suggest that this is what comes of condemning homosexual practice and trying to keep it in the closet. They say in effect, "If we would just bring this practice out of the closet and encourage faithful homosexual relationships by sanctioning gay marriage, we would see less of the sort of problem displayed by Haggard's fall." I sincerely doubt this is the answer to the problem.
That response aside, the other responses to Haggard's fall generally fall (!) into two camps. There are those who say: "There but for the grace of God go I." And there are those who respond with some form of disgust or condemnation. My heart aches for those with the latter response, for I believe it conceals some form of spiritual pride. The person who cannot imagine engaging in sin at least as bad as Ted Haggard, either lacks imagination, or simply does not know his or her own soul very well. On the other hand, the person who responds with God's grace, with his "severe mercy", is, I think, the person close to the heart of Jesus. (For an example of the "severe mercy" response read Gordon MacDonald's blog at http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2006/11/the_haggard_tru.html.)
Let us not forget Jesus' own response to the woman caught in the act of adultery. To the prideful Pharisees Jesus said, "If any one of you is without sin let him be the first to throw a stone at her." At this, the older and wiser Pharisees withdrew first, and eventually the younger "hot-shots" even realized that they were not without sin. When Jesus was left alone with the woman he said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she replied.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:1-11)
In reflecting on the "fall" of Ted Haggard, I think the most helpful response is to reflect on our own sin in the light of God's grace revealed in Jesus. We need to think long and deep about this story in John 8 and Jesus' parable of the loving father in Luke 15. Perhaps then we will be better able to find grace in our own time of need and pass on that much needed grace to others.
Monday, November 06 2006
"The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. . . . In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that--and therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison--you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you." Mere Christianity
When I was in seminary a fellow student had a poster on his wall with the words:
That is the beginning of all right thinking and living, isn't it? If we would all more fully realize these twin truths the world would be a different, in fact--a perfect place.
Can you imagine what the world would be like without pride?
James 4:1-3 says, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."
The more I contemplate it, the more I like the thought of a world without pride. There is just one problem--the pride that is still in my own heart. I still have the pride of thinking I can somehow make the world right or at least make myself right with God. I can't. Only God can make the world right and make me right with him and others. In fact, that is what he has done, is doing, and will finally accomplish completely in Jesus Christ. What I need to do is what James recommends:
Father, thank you that you are making the world right, you are making me right, through Christ. Help me just to submit myself to you, to surrender, to let you shape me as the potter shapes the clay. Fashion me and the world into your humble masterpiece by your Spirit. Amen.
Friday, November 03 2006
Taking a break from C. S. Lewis today, I thought I would pass along something I received recently from my friend Wes Roberts. . . .
This God . . .
This God, who watches worlds:
sees my heart.
This careful calculator, counting millions:
counts me in.
This artist, whose canvas
outstretches eternity at both ends;
whose palette outshines planets:
paints my portrait.
This lover, who dreams in universes:
dreams of me.
This creator, whose breadth of vision spans time
and spawns a cosmos:
whose woven tapestry of purpose,
more compound than chaos,
rolls out like a highway through history;
whose heartbeat deafens supernovas:
This craftsman hears my whispered cry.
This father . . . kisses me.
playing with the deaths
and entrances of start;
scripting the end from the beginning;
knowing the purposes of the play,
watches my feeble audition:
and writes me in.
And if you doubt the truth of the poem have another look at Psalm 139 and the parable of the loving father in Luke 15 today.
Blessings . . .
Thursday, November 02 2006
"According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind." Mere Christianity
Someone once said that humility is the belief that you are incomparable. Such a belief sounds, on the surface, like inordinate pride, until you begin to think more deeply about it.
Pride comes in whenever we begin to make comparisons. Little children don't appear to do this. It takes the entry of a child into school, rubbing shoulders with other children his or her own age, before he or she begins to make comparisons. Perhaps it happens to us all at a certain age. However, whenever it begins, it is quite clear that we, as individual human beings, are ceaselessly interested in discovering how we measure up. And whether we place ourselves at the top of the stack, in whatever category we are judging ourselves--beauty, money, power, fame--or even if we place ourselves in the middle or at the bottom of the heap, we are still acting and thinking out of pride. For pride is not merely the attitude of thinking yourself better than others; it is the act of comparing yourself to anyone else at all, because when you do so you are involved with yourself, focused on self, and this is the essence of sin. Sin has a big "I" in the center of it, for sin is essentially self-centeredness.
To be humble is to give up the time-wasting botheration of comparing yourself to anyone else at all. To be humble is to realize that you are a loved and unique creation of God of whom he alone can judge the value. In fact, that judgment has already been made. For God valued you enough to become a human being himself, live for you, die for you, and rise again for you.
Father, help me to humble myself under your mighty hand. Thank you for valuing me so much that you gave your only Son to come down to this earth that I might be lifted up into your presence. Enable me, by the power of your Holy Spirit, to give up the time-wasting effort of comparing myself to others. Help me to realize that I am your unique and loved creation. Fill me afresh with your love today that I might overflow with that love to all whom I meet. In your Triune name I pray. Amen.
Wednesday, November 01 2006
"Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment--even to death. If one had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy. I always have thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I still think so now that we are at peace. It is no good quoting 'Thou shalt not kill.' There are two Greek words: the ordinary word to kill and the word to murder. And when Christ quotes that commandment He uses the murder one in all three accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And I am told there is the same distinction in Hebrew. All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery. When soldiers came to St. John the Baptist asking what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army: nor did Christ when He met a Roman sergeant-major--what they called a centurion. The idea of the knight--the Christian in arms for the defence of a good cause--is one of the great Christian ideas. War is a dreadful thing, and I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken." Mere Christianity
I was taken to task the other day for a children's sermon I delivered. Every Sunday for the children's sermon in two churches I serve, a different child is invited to put something into the "Mystery Box", as long as that something is not alive or dead (!), and bring it to church with them the following Sunday. It is my job, as the preacher, to say something about that object and tie it into something from the Bible.
A few Sundays ago my son, Jonathan, put a model of a cannon in the Mystery Box. (He had gotten it during a visit to New Market Battlefield here in Virginia.) And so I talked about how Christians need to work for peace, but sometimes in this evil world, war is the lesser of two evils. I noted, as Lewis does, that a centurion once came to Jesus and Jesus did not condemn him for being a soldier or tell him to change his occupation. Sometimes great evil must be stopped by waging war.
After the service, another pastor, who happened to be visiting our church that day, pulled me aside and told me how he thought what I said was wrong. He recommended the non-violent resistance of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a better example to follow. I could not help but agree with him that King's example is an excellent one to follow in many instances. However, when I asked this other pastor what he would do about Hitler, he had to admit that if ever there was a just war, World War II was that war. And he admitted that if he had been in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's position he might have participated in an attempt to assassinate Hitler.
Are these two examples, King and Bonhoeffer, then in conflict? Or do both examples find some root in Scripture somehow? As Lewis points out in his essay entitled Why I am not a Pacifist, the whole Christian case for pacifism rests on the utterance of Jesus: "Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." Lewis explains Jesus' saying in this way:
What then is the difference between the Christian attitude to war and the attitude of any non-Christian participant in the same war? The difference is this, says Lewis:
Tuesday, October 31 2006
"Love the sinner but hate the sin." St. Augustine
"For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life--namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again." Mere Christianity
How appropriate it is that C. S. Lewis should follow up the chapter on Christian Marriage in Mere Christianity with a chapter on Forgiveness. As Ruth Graham has said, "A good marriage is made up of two good forgivers." And as St. Paul has said, "In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies" (Ephesians 5:28). If we love and forgive ourselves then we ought to love and forgive our spouse because we are one-flesh with our spouse. As Paul goes on to say, "He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of his body" (Ephesians 5:29-30).
We should hate the sin in while loving the sinner who is our spouse just as we do the same with ourselves. The problem is that we all have a hard time forgiving ourselves, or really, accepting God's forgiveness through Christ. In a letter to a friend written many years after his conversion, C. S. Lewis said it took a long time before he really believed in his heart that God had forgiven him for his sins. Many of us can identify.
But once we begin to have even an inkling of how much God loves us and forgives us through Christ, then we are enabled, by his grace, to pass on that love and forgiveness to others, including our spouse, our children, our extended family, our neighbors, our co-workers, even to our enemies. For if God loved us in Christ while we were his enemies, how can we not love and forgive our own enemies?
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
Monday, October 30 2006
"If the old fairy-tale ending 'They lived happily ever after' is taken to mean 'They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married', then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense--love as distinct from 'being in love'--is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be 'in love' with someone else. 'Being in love' first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it." Mere Christianity
The quieter, more mature, agape love lived out by those who are in marriage for the long haul is a very attractive thing, something to be greatly desired and sought after. When I was a young pastor in training an older pastor once described this kind of love to me in the following manner. He said, "If I was to have an affair I would have to bring my wife along because she is the only one who knows when I'm supposed to take my pills!"
Falling in love, even having an affair, can, I suppose, be exciting. But what is of far greater value is that love between "til death do us part" spouses which values the spouse's well-being as more important than one's own. I don't want to approach old-age and be sharing it with someone twenty years younger who can't even remember the television shows I watched as a child. I don't want to enter my sunset years with no one to watch the sunset with, no one who knows when I'm supposed to take my pills. I want to know the joy of that old, quiet kind of love Lewis talks about--the kind of love as comfortable as a well-worn slipper, as treasured as a member of my own body. And so I repeat to the wife of my youth the words of Browning:
"Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth" (Malachi 2:15).
Friday, October 27 2006
"The idea that 'being in love' is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made. The curious thing is that lovers themselves, while they remain really in love, know this better than those who talk about love. As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy. The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion's own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do." Mere Christianity
Eros, being "in love", is a feeling. Love, in the sense of agape, is an action. Eros is fleeting. Agape is eternal. And of course, agape is the kind of love God lives out toward human beings, demonstrated supremely in Jesus Christ.
Now a Christian marriage is the venue through which God gives to two of his children, a man and a woman, the opportunity to demonstrate toward one another, before a watching world, agape for a lifetime. God wants married couples to live out, up close and personal, in the context of the ups and downs of everyday life, an example of his universal, contra-conditional love. For agape is love which keeps on loving, keeps on doing what is best for another, in spite of adverse conditions, in the face of that which is seemingly unlovable.
The divorce rate in America today, even or especially among Christians, shows just how well we are doing at living out agape in the context of marriage. But rather than being an excuse to give up, this fact should cause those of us who are married to ask God for more grace, more of the power of the Holy Spirit, to live out this agape through the one-flesh union which is marriage.
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." Ephesians 5:25-27