Tag Archives: C. S. Lewis

Questions about Cheerful Giving

Cheerful Givers at the Walk For Justice 2006

Cheerful Givers at the Walk For Justice 2006 (Photo credit: Mykl Roventine)

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Corinthians 9:7

Today I read two quotes that got my head spinning. Maybe they will spin your heart and mind as well. The first is from C. S. Lewis and it is about giving to charity.

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them.” quotes at http://www.brethren.org/stewardship/documents/stewardship-quotes.pdf

The Kilns in Oxford, England

C. S. Lewis himself lived in a modest house in Oxford with his brother and gave half of his income away.  He often had house guests and cared for others  in sacrificial ways.  He walked what he taught.

The second quote from Richard Rohr seems to affirm that such financial stewardship can be a way of dying so that one can be reborn in Christ.

Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is. In terms of the ego, most religions teach in some way that all of us must die before we die, and then we will not be afraid of dying. Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as whenever you are not in control.  Richard Rohr Adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 25

Reflecting on both quotes, it made me wonder if giving can be seen as both a “painful” moment as one gives beyond one’s self (a kind of dying) as well as joyful experience where one experiences new life in Christ? Do I place too much emphasis on joyful giving when in reality Christian giving always has elements of sacrificial pain?

What do you think?

Lord Jesus, you gave your whole self for us. May we give back sacrificially to you.

The Dream of Mars

Artist impression of a Mars settlement with cu...I recently read about Mars One, an organization that has the lofty goal of creating a permanent human settlement on Mars by 2023. They are seeking applicants for this journey who will become part of a reality television show that will fund the project. The kicker is that the journey is one-way. The astronauts would not return to earth, but become “Martians.”

I was immediately intrigued because as a child I followed the earliest astronauts with a passion. Pictures of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spaceships covered my room. In third grade as we watched one of the first Americans in space, I told my teacher that my life goal was to be one of first men on Mars.

My dreams of being an astronaut died the day I got glasses. I knew that my vision would not allow me to be a military pilot, let alone an astronaut. Still I love the idea of space travel, moving beyond earth orbit and reaching for the moon, the planets and eventually the stars. I realize that I will never leave the gravitational pull of earth yet my imagination can still soar to distant galaxies.

My Christian faith did not directly curb or inspire my passion for space travel. I don’t imagine Jesus becoming an astronaut; neither do I see him condemning such endeavors. The human thirst for knowledge and exploration seems to be created within us. The medieval church became the birth place of modern science with its emphasis on the rationality of God’s creation, while at the same time the church rebuked scientists like Galileo. Today a key question is whether spending money, time and energy on space flight is good stewardship of our limited resources. However the same questions can be raised about spending the same resources on the military and/or entertainment.

OutOfTheSilentPlanetModern writers have used space as a place to explore Christian faith and alien cultures. C. S. Lewis’s first science fiction novel, Out of the Silent Planet, is based on travel to Mars. Mary Doria Russell’s novel, The Sparrow, explores how the Catholic Church might respond to the discovery of an alien culture near Alpha Centauri. Such reflections are often an attempt to understand our own history and place in the universe.

One of my favorite scriptures reflects upon the nature of the night sky,

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than angels and crowned them with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5).

Part of our glory and honor is our human curiosity for new knowledge and understanding. I know that I will not be applying for a spot on Mars One. But if it does move forward, I will be one who watches with fascination.

Have you ever dreamed of space flight?  Or some other great adventure?

Lord Jesus, thank you for our mental curiosity.

Lobby Love

In our men’s Bible Study this morning we were discussing 2 Peter 1:5-7 and the characteristics that support our faith. Peter strings together a long list:

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.

The list moves from faith to love.  The Greek language of the New Testament had several different words for love: phileo, eros, storge, agape. In this list the last two characteristics both center on love: phileo and agape.

Phileo was a more common word for mutual affection.(Philadelphia, city of brotherly love, is named for this virtue). I imagine two friends working side-by-side to accomplish a task. An example might be offensive linemen on a football team, striving together in protect their quarterback. A strong team has a sense of phileo.

Agape was not a word used as much in Greek, prior to the New Testament. When 1 John 4:7 states “God is love,” the Greek word used is agape. C. S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, describes agape as Gift-love and is the unique domain of God. For God so loved that he gave, (John 3:16). The other loves (phileo, eros, storge) are Need-loves which are expressions of our human need for affection, friendship and intimacy. Lewis puts priority on agape, but sees the value in all the other loves as well.

After Bible Study I had a brief discussion with one of the men in the church lobby. He shared how he missed being at church last Sunday. I responded, “I bet you missed both what happened in there (pointing to the worship space) as well as what happen here (indicating the church lobby).” He nodded his head.

Lobby Love is not restricted to the church lobby but was a key part of our Harvest Festival

I have discovered (somewhat begrudgingly) that what draws many people into the congregation is not simply “great worship,” but also “great fellowship.” The opportunity to visit, talk, converse with friends and family after worship is as significant to them as what happens in the worship service itself. The mutual affection (phileo) is a critical part of Christian faith today. In other words, Lobby Love (phileo) can support Worship Love (agape).

This does not mean that Lobby Love can stand on its own. People would not come for the coffee fellowship alone. Church coffee is not as good as Starbucks. Good worship is a key component to good fellowship. It reminds us once again that we are God’s children, cherished by God and that reminder flows into the lobby after worship. We may not speak directly about the Bible text we read that morning, but our kindness towards one another can be a reflection of the loving kindness experienced in worship.

How vital is mutual affection to your faith and love?

Lord Jesus, guide me into deeper fellowship with my brothers and sisters

Breaking Free of Chains

No one could restrain him any more, even with a chain. (Mark 5:3)

In Mark 5, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee into Gentile territory. He was outside of his native Jewish land and his first encounter is quite symbolic, a demon-possessed man. The encounter with the unclean spirit is described in rich detail. He is living among the tombs (the dead) and totally alone. People had tried to bind him with chains, but failed due to the strength of the demons. The man must have been in great pain, howling at night and bruising himself with stones. He would not be someone I would be excited to meet. My first reaction would be to build a fence to keep him out.

The story may sound bizarre and strange to our ears, but the reality of people caught in destructive behavior is real. To be possessed by Satan should not be restricted to horror movies or distant lands. While I believe in demonic possession and the power of Satan, I also believe that the demonic is more cloaked and hidden in our modern culture.  Addiction, cutting, pornography, and abuse are some of the means that Satan uses today to bind us in chains. Drew Jonell’s photo reminds me that our chains can try to keep us from the light.

As C. S. Lewis once cautioned there are two dangers with a Christian’s understanding of Satan. One is to deny his existence and thereby open the door to his temptations. The other danger is too become overly obsessed with Satan’s affairs.  The Gospel writers see both dangers and steer clear of either. Demons are confronted, but Jesus always wins. The scriptures show us that demons, like death,  may distract us from Jesus, but they will ultimately be defeated. We are to keep our eyes on Jesus.

C. S. Lewis also wrote in Screwtape Letters, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

The cross and empty tomb are our signposts on the way to God’s kingdom.

Lord Jesus, continue to save us from the time of trial and to deliver us from evil.

New Wineskins

C. S. Lewis wrote an excellent book on literary criticism, An Experiment in Criticism, that is applicable to how one reads scripture. Lewis argues that a critic should not take preconceived opinions into the reading of a book, but remain open to receive what the writer brings. Our culture too quickly labels a book as good or bad and that judgment is often based on some arbitrary taste. Lewis argues that a book would be better judged by what kind of response it elicits from the reader. Does the reader cherish the book and want to read it over and over, reflecting on its meaning, prose and insights?

An open stance towards the reading of scripture is even more important. We need to allow our mind to hear the text. We cannot simply make our own quick evaluation of it nor rely on the comments of a biblical commentary. We need to read Luke as Luke and distinguish it from the perspective of Matthew, Mark and John. We need to keep our own evaluation process out of the reading and allow the text to speak to us, on its own terms. In other words, let the text shape and critique me and not the other way around.

This can be challenging since so much of my reading of scripture has been shaped by what others may have taught or preached. I bring my biases and cultural norms that are hard to place aside so that the text can speak. I struggle to be quiet and receptive to what God may say through the Word. Yet as I open myself, trusting the Holy Spirit to work through the text, I discover the life giving Word.

It sort of like Jesus’ teaching that one put new wine into new wineskins, so that as the wine ferments and expands, the wineskin has the flexibility to expand and adapt (Mark 2:22). Old wineskins lack the flexibility to expand and instead burst.  My openness to God’s Spirit allows the wine of the Spirit to expand and shape my wineskin of thought and action. I want to be a new wineskin, receptive to the transforming power of God’s Word. And I pray that my congregation and national church would be new wineskins as well.

How do you stay open and receptive to God’s Word?

Lord Jesus, fill me again with your new wine.

Ups and Downs with Voyage of the DT

Eustace from Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This week-end I watched the movie The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which is adapted from the third book in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicle of Narnia series. I was disappointed, even though I think the producers and screenwriters were faithful to the story. Since Lewis’ story is episodic, a string of small encounters, the movie tries to tie the episodes all together by introducing an “evil mist” that must be destroyed.

I struggled with the “evil mist” because for C. S. Lewis, evil was not some nameless vague mist, but actual angelic powers and individuals. Satan and his minions are accountable to God. There was no central person/being/intelligence in the movie’s mist to be held responsible. It was some vague power invading Narnian space, like an environmental contagion.

My real disappointment was the transformation of Eustace Scrubb. In the book this is a pivotal moment when Aslan the Lion encountered Eustace as the dragon. First Eustace tried to cut away the dragon skin and failed after several attempts. Only after the failure did Aslan release him out with one lash of his claw. Finally the restored Eustace is cleansed in the pool of water. The whole scene is a powerful description of baptism. The movie’s version did not fulfill my expectations for the scene and my baptismal perspective. Plus it came so late in the movie, we are unable to witness any transformation in the Eustace’s human character.

Still I enjoyed how the movie captured much of the joy, wonder and strangeness of Narnia. The character development in Edmund, Lucy, Caspian and Eustice was worth seeing as were the majestic sea scenes. It made me want to get my father’s tiny sail boat out and brave the waves of the Puget Sound. But that is a different post.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:3-4

How has a movie or story helped you understand a Christian concept or doctrine?

Lord Jesus, thank you for being my savior and rescuing me from sin and death.

A Locked Door in Grief

On this Memorial Day week-end, I have been reflecting on my last post and how C. S. Lewis was so joyous in his description of heaven in The Last Battle. However his writing took a very different tone a few years later when Lewis described his own grief. In A Grief Observed, Lewis held back nothing as he wrestled with his faith in God after the death of his beloved wife, Joy.

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms.

 But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows.  What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?” p.4

Later in the book he comes to some reconciliation with his grief and unanswered prayers

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’ p.80

This is one reason why in caring for a grieving friend it is better to be a silent companion rather than a “glib answer man.” Lewis, ever the philosopher, has one more observation that gave me a smile as I think about my attempts to ask the great theological questions.

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unaswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that. p.81

How have you experienced grief and what support helped you the most?

Lord Jesus, grant us hope in the midst of whatever questions we may ask of you.

The Door of Death

In reflecting on the deadly tornadoes this week, one spiritual question arises about which I am hesitant to write. The question has an answer that has caused harm to grieving people. “Is death always a tragedy?”

A Door into Deeper Joy

In C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, the last book of his Chronicles of Narnia, all the children* who once visited Narnia are reunited in a new, wonderful land that resembles Narnia. They wonder how this is possible since the great lion Aslan had told them that they would not return to Narnia. Yet this new land is more spectacular and more real than the old Narnia they had known. Slowly the children come to realize that their last memory of our world had been a terrible train wreck. Unlike previous stories, Aslan had not transported them from our world to the world of Narnia. Instead they have walked through the door of death and entered the outskirts of heaven itself.

Lewis does something incredible in this story. Certainly he could have written about their deaths from the tragic perspective of the survivors still on earth: friends and relative who grieved the children’s sudden absence from life on earth. But instead Lewis gives an imaginative description of their homecoming in heaven, where the joy and delight of heaven grows deeper and more profound each moment.

As Christians we believe in the promise of God that whether we live or die we belong to Christ. In Philippians 1:21, Paul writes, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” The gain in dying is to gain more of Christ and his joy. Death is not something to be feared, but rather embrace as the door to God’s good presence.

So what is the harm in telling a grieving person, “Your loved one is in a better place?” The harm comes from the fact that a grieving person does not want the person “in a better place” like heaven. The grieving person wants the loved one in this life, sharing in the joys and sorrows of their mutual love. In time the grieving person may embrace the truth of “a better place,” yet in the aftermath of death, such words can be biting and harmful. Compassionate silence is better than quick answers.

What perspective do you have on death?

Lord Jesus, help me to see death as the door way into the resurrected life and to be gracious towards those who grieve.

*Susan is not included, but that is a different posting.

Screwtape Letters II

Temptation by artist Sabzi

In C. S. Lewis’ book Screwtape Letter, Senior demon, Screwtape, instructs junior tempter, Wormwood, to take full advantage of the trough or dry periods in his patient’s spiritual life:

In the first place, I have always found that the Trough periods of the human undulation provide excellent opportunity for all sensual temptations, particularly of sex. . . . The attack has a much better chance of success when the man’s whole inner world is drab and cold and empty. . . It is often true with other desires of the flesh. You are more likely to make your man a sound drunkard by pressing drink on him as an anodyne (pain reliever) when he is dull and weary. . .

Never forget that when we are dealing with pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. (Letter IX)

Lewis was a strong advocate of God as the real source of pleasure, joy and happiness; someone who is a party-giver, not a party kill-joy. Remember the Father in the prodigal son story in Luke 15, who starts a celebration when his wayward son returns home. Our Father in heaven enjoys a good party, where all his children are welcomed and loved.

Satan is the one who perverts pleasure into unhealthy or destructive habits and sins. When we turn a pleasure like sex, which is made for a committed married relationship, into lust and perversion, the pleasure itself dissipates and dries up. It is like the alcoholic who needs more and more alcohol to derive whatever pain-relief he seeks. Seeking pleasure away from its true source leads into spiritual bondage. Satan delights in such bondage. God, however, calls us back to his ways through forgiveness and healing.

My own temptation is to compare myself with others, especially other pastors. There is pleasure in doing a job well; in heaven God will greet his faithful servants with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21). But to waste time comparing myself to other preachers or leaders is to neglect the gifts and strengths God has given to me. My focus needs to be on God’s call, not other pastors’ accomplishments.

What are your temptations? How do you find strength from God for deliverance?

Lord Jesus, save us from the time of trial.

Screwtape Letters I

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters is my current read (more accurately, my commuting audio-book). This book launched Lewis as a popular Christian author in 1942 and is a series of letters written by a senior devil, named Screwtape, to his nephew and junior tempter, Wormwood, instructing him on how to lead a young British man (call the patient) towards damnation and hell. These clever letters give the reader a humorous, yet wise perspective on the temptations to pride, lust, greed, gluttony, and self-righteousness.

Lewis’ insights still speak truth today. For example in letter eight, Screwtape writes regarding the natural ebbs and flows, (the undulation) of human emotions, even for Christians.

Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. . . As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirits can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.

If you had watched your patient carefully you would have noticed this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth, periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship.

Lewis goes on to write that the trough of spiritual dryness and dull heart can be the true place of spiritual growth, because in these valleys we learn to walk with God out of obedience and trust, and not simply because we feel some good pleasure in it. As a moody Scandinavian I often wrestle with my darker emotions. The tempter wants me to see the dark valley as God’s abandonment; God wants me to see the valley as a training ground for deeper faith and commitment.   As Lewis writes,

Hence prayers offered in the state of dryness are those that please Him (God) best.

How do you understand your emotional, spiritual, and physical ebb and flow?

Lord Jesus, teach me to be faithful, especially at my low points.