Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mere Christianity; A Summary, Commentary, Whatever

All the staples are present: Christianity is a task to be completed by Christ, not sinners; Christianity is not a membership but the process by which men and women are rendered into Christ, literally "into Him" and Christ dwelling in them. Everyone read this book, but it certainly doesn't--nor could it--serve as a substitute for Scripture.

This oddly titled post was not intended to be a book review, so I'll be something of a jerk and not complete said review. What I truly wanted to accomplish was a bit of discussion concerning something that Lewis did a fantastic job explaining for me. I would like to keep your attention for this part, not because I am a great mind sharing something I have discovered but because I am someone who has just read a very insightful book--though I did recently experience a lot of what Lewis describes.

Further to the point, I should like to focus here on the process I mentioned above, being turned into Jesus Christ. Much as I hate to bear bad news, I hate even more to share in its experience: maybe it was just me who was so naive. Maybe you all looked at me and thought, "He must know. Everyone knows." But I think this point will be lost on many, if not all of us at one point. This is a hard, hard process. I want to use stronger words but the situation is so absurd that I fall back on a common descriptor because we have nothing in human terms that could possibly explain how utterly impossible it is for us to achieve eternal life. We can allow it to be done in us because we have such a loving Saviour, but we cannot, by our own mustard, accomplish a singular thing. Our nature is to be a race of abhorrent antichrists. (Why on earth would God have had to flood the whole thing unless it was the nature of humanity to be utterly repulsive in His sight? We turn on the news and are disgusted to hear about rapists and murderers and tragedy; I believe God was looking down upon a culture of it. Sin should yield death; don't curse Him for being a righteous Judge!!)

But here's the problem, and it is not the least bit comforting. We can each imagine, to one's personal capacity, what this means: "dying to self." The people in this world who would identify themselves as happy would likely never have considered this. The people who are discouraged are trying to do it themselves. (I am speaking here in Christian terms, not meaning the kind of discouragement that comes from extreme poverty or any such existence, though I would like to speak about these people afterward.) The people who transcend happiness or discouragement are the ones who are doing it correctly, and I highly doubt that anyone yet alive in a physical sense could achieve that. But One did. He lived and never sinned and offered Himself to God Almighty as a worthy sacrifice on behalf of the lost sheep. God, in accordance with His Perfect Law, deemed this a fair exchange: Christ's life and blood in exchange for the wrath God intended for humanity. It would have happened again but for His forbearance (Romans 3:25). (I would also mention His covenant with Noah, but Revelation indicates that God will not break that one. Though I would also think that those who endure the tribulation would exchange its events and plagues for a surge of water instead.) That is the Man and Lord into whom we are being rendered. I have reason to believe that I was recently subject to some profound contact with God, and I am not suggesting I would have been remotely near the end of my journey into that state, but I think it would have been significantly stronger than I was before the blessing. But I balked at it. I completely rejected it when it started a couple weeks ago. And then last week I found myself reading about it in Lewis's book. And if this helps anyone, ever, I feel obliged to share it. But understand something here, because some of you have never considered trying this and some of you have given up on it or are, like me, incredibly discouraged. Some important points to understand. These are universal.

1. You must take up Christ's suffering, not just His life. This will absolutely make you question whether you want to do it. The best of us will choose to keep going. I am praying for another chance to be unraveled, and I am praying I remember these past couple weeks when it happens. I should like to choose the painful path next time, not the one of self-medication and flesh indulgence.

2. It is our nature to say No. That is the normal and logical choice. Many of us have been greatly seduced by the illusion, not reality, that is this world. There is another one around us that is eternal, wherein good and evil battle as visibly as your hand appears when you hold it before your eyes. No human ever reached out to God. Although we are so perverted and buried in sin, God transcends it. It's easy to ignore, so be careful. But God does call out to everyone. And it won't make sense at first. You may even feel like God has abandoned you, but what He has truly asked you to do is let go of another, deeper part of yourself. What you may not understand, and what I didn't until recently, is that He is going replace that piece of you with the corresponding one in Christ. You will receive more than a lion's share of what you give up, because you will have the equivalent portion of Christ. In you. This is not like giving up an evening brandy; it's about losing a part of what you think is your individuality, but your individuality is going to die. Conversely, if you were replaced with Jesus Christ, if you became a genuine temple for His Spirit, well, let me tell you, you'd be absolutely invincible. But you wouldn't be fighting for the goals of your former days, the desires of your flesh. Nay, you'd be contributing to a cause that will never expire. Even when the world is gone, the fruits of your labour and the treasures you have gathered will be in pristine condition and waiting for you in a world that makes this one look like the stuff under your boots.

Anyway, later on I shall add to this in a second post, describing why the meek and poor are the blessed ones. And I have personal examples, too.

I don't know if any of this makes sense. Honestly. It's early, I'm sleep-deprived, going through quite a spell, and so on. If this helps you, great. If not, ask God to explain these issues to you in better fashion than I can. I don't know that I understand them myself, but I do know that behind my veiled impression of the ideas presented above lies a great and important truth.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

My Envy

The other night I had the honour of enjoying a round of poker with some wonderful friends. It was one of the many steps in my sort of "turnaround phase" that God initiated when I finally just, well, gave up on things.

I think it's fair to say that it's been a terribly--as in, incredibly and dangerously--educational few weeks. Before I talk about why I envy a bunch of bugs, let me first explain a couple things.

First, I am rather convinced that it is God's will for me to immediately leave my current place of work. Heaven knows I could list off several dozen reasons why, but they really don't matter. My conscience tells me that it's God's will for me to place my faith in the unknown. John Wesley coined a term that I've adored since I first read it, though it might have been re-written for my benefit, as I haven't read any of his actual sermons yet. The term in question is "the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit." Yes, the stirrings of the Great Counsellor Himself.

Why do I mention this business about my work? Simply because I didn't obey, and things have been increasingly stressful ever since. I mentioned spiritual warfare in my previous post. I have no doubt, as the Scripture corroborates, that we find ourselves fighting an invisible war into which we were born and of which we often find ourselves a victim. That's all fine and dandy (pardon the facetious tone). But it has felt very much as if the Lord Himself, the Good Shepherd, has been the one frustrating my steps. I guess, once you've been exposed to God as much as I have--I'm thinking here of my Easter experience, and a few others I'm too cowardly to post about--disobedience should invite that figurative disciplinary rod. It stings, brothers and sisters, let me tell you!

So, moving along, how does one forge on when he has made himself vulnerable to both good and evil? How should I react when God and Satan both want to halt my progress until I should "get in line"? I've written before about the spiritual tug-of-war, as I tried to describe the tension of this life, but it seems as if lately I've been pulling back. As many of us know, the nature of the beast is such that resistance to God is an automatic win for the devil, and fighting with the devil is about as foolhardy as challenging the Creator. Evil is an immense force. We cannot hope to conquer it of our own strength. I've been trying. I know better. But that's just how far astray I've been. (And let me assure you I am no better for it, even though fighting against my evil impulses seems like a relatively noble endeavour. Instead of being some pseudo-hero, all I've gained is some extra footholds buried into my spirit.)

I must confess, as a result of these points and many others, that I felt a strange sort of jealousy the other night, as I arrived home from poker. It was roughly 1:00 a.m., and night had long set in. I don't know if you've ever seen headlights casting a beam across a somewhat neglected lawn, with thousands upon thousands of shadows facing the thick woods. There's a faint mist that can be seen hovering over the ground, no doubt radiant heat from an unmerciful sun. But the most captivating part of the whole scene was the hundreds of flies that bobbed near the grass. I really have no idea what they were doing. I can't imagine they were doing anything like bees do; grass doesn't need to be polinated. I don't know what they might have been gathering; I didn't see a single one of them leaving his post to return to some nest or hive somewhere. I don't even know what species I was seeing, just that they were winged and would probably be easy to crush into a lifeless powder if I'd been so inclined. But I swear to this: they knew precisely what they were doing. It just didn't seem fair.

Matthew 6:25-34
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

28"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

There's something I'll never understand about faith. The nature of creation suggests that, as beings with everlasting souls, we mean more to God. A bee, though it serves a purpose, and serves it without hesitation, strikes me as a much more faithful creature than I've been lately. In books like Psalms we read some of the most beautiful naturalist poetry about how the birds themselves praise God with their singing. When the Pharisees told Christ to silence His followers as He rode into Jerusalem to be killed, Christ turned to them and said that if the mob didn't sing His praises, the stones themselves would. Supposedly, if I were truly faithful, I could accomplish absolutely anything in His name. But I can't even hold onto my own beliefs on some days, so how could I ever compel a mountain to move?

And there's the hitch, people. Who among us has complete, utter, unwavering, eternal faith? Who among us has been so disconnected from his reason that he can demand a mountain step aside, and then it does? My rudimentary understanding of hermeneutics suggests that Christ only spoke that figuratively, but if He truly was who He said, wouldn't even that be possible?

Maybe those silly little creatures don't have enough awareness to look at humans and think, "You know, we've got absolutely no inheritance, and these chumps do. What gives?" Then again, maybe if they could pause and question things, bees would take holidays down south instead of doing their freaking work.

God is slowly but surely pulling me out of my slump. I've learned a lot about myself lately, but I still haven't let go of one question that drives a wedge between me and my Saviour: Why so much effort for me?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

My Heart Will Condemn Me

Things have been really quiet around here. Too quiet. I'm house sitting at the moment, and it wasn't long ago that I would have rejoiced in the peace and quiet. Not that I particularly enjoyed being alone, but this time last year I had no real exposure to any grand purpose. My outlets were anything but healthy, and they only offered momentary, fleeting solutions.

I guess you could say I have the habits of an introvert and the soul of a people person. When you've been generally misunderstood your whole life, certain survival instincts kick in to counteract the self-hatred that forms over time. The snapshot recap is this: after repeatedly hearing that you don't matter, you start to believe it so you can at least align yourself with those who seem pit against you. You become a figurative enemy of a practical problem, yourself. Your mind somehow skews the situation so you see yourself in two different lights: first, as an object, the source of the hatred you feel, and second as an esoteric agent that sets itself against the object. This is a complex problem that I could hardly describe in proper detail, and it might just be my interpretation of a much larger and more dangerous machine, but that's how I would describe my pre-Christian days. This being the season that it is, I've been feeling a lot of old sentiments lately, and it's scary.

First of all, I don't think it the fault of any person or people that, for the last week, I've probably spent an average of 20+ hours per day by myself. Most of it was at home with little chance for human interaction. It happened that way, and that's probably all there is to it on the surface of things. At this point, I couldn't say with confidence whether I think my present rut is based on spiritual warfare, chemical imbalance, my own cowardice, or a slew of other possibilities, but I think this four-step breakdown does a fair job at summarizing my state of mind:

1. About a week ago, when my time of "confinement" started, I asked God to rebuke some seriously dangerous patterns of thought.

2. When He didn't, I asked Him again.

3. This turned into me cursing Him for not doing it.

4. Eventually, I started to wonder whether I've just been a total fool based on the following: If God were real, wouldn't He want to help me with putting off negative thinking? I understand that He doesn't want all the things for me that I do, but surely He can't ever condone destructive thoughts. So if God isn't real, doesn't that make me an absurd person for thinking myself an "intellectual"? Of course, by consequence, there's no devil either, so all my sinister thoughts are of my own creation.

I could easily argue how enough time alone at home could spawn these thoughts. In fact, I think I could make a seriously compelling case against the doctrine of hell, or at least eternal damnation. This is where my mind has been-- yeah, not good, right?

(By the way, anyone have, off the top of his or her head, any Biblical verse(s) suggesting that hell is an eternal punishment? I know about the wailing and gnashing teeth and junk, but where does this concept of eternity in hell come from? Why would we refer to heaven as "eternal life" if there were eternal life in hell? Wouldn't Christ have called it "eternal bliss," or some such thing?)

Actually, that aside/question probably does more to describe my state of mind than I could accomplish in a 100-page essay.

(From several days ago. Unposted because I didn't want to discuss it any further.)