Wednesday, May 7, 2008

He Is That Lion

I know I talk a lot about C.S. Lewis.  His writings have had a profound impact on the way I look at my Christian walk and the Bible.  While I don't agree with all of his theology, I definitely appreciate much of the contributions he made in the area of Christian publishing.
Some of my favorite books of Lewis's are The Chronicles of Narnia.  And my favorite of those is The Horse and His Boy.  I was just listening to it on my trip home from California and was stuck again by the most beautiful and moving scenes in the entire series.  I'm going to just reproduce it here, hoping I'm not breaking and copyright laws or anything (if I am, and you realize it, just let me know and I'll fix it.  Thanks!)
For those of you not familiar with the story, it's about a young boy named Shasta who allows a talking Narnian horse, Bree, to talk him into escaping from the country of Calormen, far to the south of Narnia.  They escape and are joined along the way by a young girl, Aravis, and her talking horse, Hwin.  After several misadventures, they escape through the desert in time to warn the unsuspecting country of Archenland that Prince Rabadash of Calormen is on his way to conquer their country.  As they reach Archenland, the group is attacked by a lion and Shasta must go on alone to warn King Lune of Archenland of the imminent danger.  He finds the king, but is left behind in the confusion as the king and his men return to the castle.  Shasta finds himself alone and lost in the mountain fog.  To his surprise, he suddenly realizes that there is Something in the fog, walking along with him.

"Who are you?" he said, scarcely above a whisper.
"One who has waited long for you to speak," said the Thing.  Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.
"Are you--are you a giant..."
"You might call me a giant...but I am not like the creatures you call giants."
"I can't see you at all...You're not--not something dead, are you?  Oh please--do go away.  What harm have I ever done you?  Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!"
Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face.  "There," it said, "that is not the breath of a ghost.  Tell me your sorrows."
Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman.  And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night in the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert.  And he told of the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis.  And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.
"I do not call you unfortunate," said the Large Voice.
"You don't think it was bad luck to meet so many lions..."
"There was only one lion..."
"What on earth do you mean? I have just told you there were at least two the first night, and--"
"There was only one: but he was swift of foot."
"How do you know?"
"I was that lion... I was the lion that forced you to join with Aravis.  I was the cat that comforted you among the houses of the dead.  I was who drove the jackals from you while you slept.  I was the lion who gave the Horses that new strength of fear for the last mile so that you would reach King Lune in time.  And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it would come to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you..."
"Who are you?" asked Shasta.

(quoted from The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis, copyright 1954, published by Harper-Collins, pp. 174-176)

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Question of Coasters

I traveled on a ministry team this past summer for my college, which took me all over the New England states.  One of the best days of the trip was when we as a team got to go to Six Flags over New England.  I'm a huge fan of roller coasters, so a day at the amusement park seemed like a sweet deal.  
There were two coasters that stick out in my mind.  They were right next to each other in the park, so they were hard to miss.  One was called the Catwoman's Whip.  It was a small, kiddie coaster.  The fastest speed was maybe 25 mph, and it couldn't have been over 20 feet tall.  No loops, no huge drops, just a tame little coaster.  
Next to it was the Superman: Ride of Steel.  With it's 221 foot initial drop and speeds of up to 77 mph, it promised to be the ride of a lifetime.  But here was the dilemma: the line for the Superman was nearly an hour, while the Catwoman's Whip had no one in line.  If you had the choice of only one, which would you choose?
If you're smart (like our team was) you would choose the wait and the bigger thrill of the Superman.  Now, I understand we were there the whole day and we really didn't have to decide between one or the other.  We rode both.  Actually we rode the Catwoman's Whip more times for the sake of our leader who wouldn't go near the Superman with a pole the length of Texas.  
But recently I've realized that my life is like that choice, the exclusive choice of one or the other coaster.  Only I'm not choosing roller coasters, I'm choosing pleasures.
Everyday, I have a choice in front of me to please myself or please God.  That's obvious from the Bible.  Every temptation I face is a choice between pleasures--the pleasures of here and now vs. the pleasures of then and there.  A choice to be satisfied immediately or to be satisfied ultimately.
Hebrews 11 tells us that sin is pleasurable, only for period of time, but the pleasure of it cannot be denied.  And God intends pleasure for us.  That can't be denied either.  Psalm 16:11 promises "pleasures forevermore," to those in Christ.  Which, if you compare the two pleasures here, pleasures forevermore seems a lot more attractive than pleasures that last only for a period of time.  So why do I choose the Catwoman's Whip pleasures over the Superman: Ride of Steel pleasures?  Why do I do my own thing and not God's?
I think I don't really understand pleasures forever more.  I don't get it.  I can't comprehend what God really has in store for me.  I've never experienced that kind of joy and satisfaction.  I can't.  I live in a "shadowland" (as C.S. Lewis called the world).  Everything that I experience is but a shadow, a shade of the real thing.  And since I can't comprehend the pleasure God intends for me, I am satisfied (to use C.S. Lewis's description) with making mud pies in the slums because I can't imagine a holiday at the sea.
I've lived my life in the interior of the U.S.  First, Illinois, then the dry and landlocked Colorado.  There's pictures of me at the beach at South Padre Island when I was 3ish, but I don't remember going.  It wasn't until high school, on a college trip to Florida, that I experienced the beach again.  Until then, I couldn't imagine what it was like.  The smell of the salt air, the sound of the waves, the cool sand molding it's way around my feet.  I'd never experienced it, so I couldn't imagine the pleasure there.  I had to go on what others said.  And when I went, I went with an excitement based on what they told me.
Just because we've never experienced the joy and pleasure God intends for us, doesn't mean I shouldn't be choosing it.  I have, on the best authority (a being Who cannot lie), promises that what waits for those who deny the temporary but immediate pleasures of this world far surpasses anything I can imagine.
So I will choose to wait.  Maybe it seems like I'm being ascetic and monastic to deny myself pleasures here and now.  But if that denial gains me pleasure that I can't imagine later on, it seems to me to be the better option.  I'll give up the Catwoman's Whip for the Superman: Ride of Steel, no matter what the wait.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Screwtape Writes Again

My dear Crimptongue,

I'm sorry now for the advice to get your subject involved in his friends' theological discussion.  Many of the underlings who are working with the friends found those discussions to be especially helpful in producing intellectual pride and disdain for others' lesser education.  But your subject took the discussion entirely the wrong way.  He applied them.  You shouldn't have let that happen.
Your delight over your subject's apparent despair over his inability to become better was quite evident in your last letter.  I think you are misunderstanding the situation.  Despair is a tool of the Enemy's.  It is one step from where the Enemy is trying to take the human.  His goal is to bring the human to Complete Despair, where the subject has no other option but to accept the offer of help.  Despair is not a good place for your subject to be.
On the other hand, he is not wholly lost.  He is still one step away and you can keep him from turning to Complete Despair by nudging him into Discouragement or Doubt, both of which are fully ours.  Allow him to begin to think along these lines and you will have taken the fool a step closer to a meeting with us.  There are several tricks you can try to bring the subject around to our side.
One especially helpful trick is the idea of addiction.  We have worked very hard with some of our more useful humans to make addiction seem like a disease with no cure.  Of course it is not, but if the human believes this, then like a cancer patient, there is no hope for the subject.  Let him be convinced he is addicted to his television shows, his music and his Internet.  Let him think he cannot live without it.  Once he is convinced of this, he will slip from Despair to Discouragement, thinking there is no hope for him.  That is where we want him.
Another helpful idea is to remind the subject of his many failures.  Let him think of the many times he's made vows to change and failed mere days later.  Let those be the ideas that dwell in his mind.  The more he dwells on those ideas, the more Doubt will begin to creep into his mind.  He will doubt the Enemy's power to "save" him; He will doubt the "change" in his life; He will doubt his own worthiness to live.
The key to turning Despair into Doubt or Discouragement is simple.  Turn the subject's thoughts away from the power the Enemy offers him.  And the thoughts are most easily turned toward the subject himself.  Let him dwell on the consequences to his quality of living, on the changes to his habits of life, on his own inability to change.  The more you can make the subject dwell on himself, the quicker and easier it will be for you to turn his Despair into Discouragement and Doubt.  Those are the things that will bring him back into our hands.
I look forward to hearing of your progress.  Until next time.

Your affectionate uncle,

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Foundation of Rebellion

I've been reading through the Bible this year.  I'm not as good about it as I ought to be, though and am only in the middle of Numbers so far.  But the big story of Israel's deliverance and wanderings in the wilderness is one of my favorites so lingering there isn't too much of a problem.  I have been confused about one thing this year though.  Early this year, a missionary came to our church and preached out of Exodus 3 and 4 about Moses' experience at the burning bush.  He pointed out an interesting phenomenon.  God didn't strike Moses dead, or even get upset at him, when the cowardly shepherd offered his many excuses to God's call on his life.  God actually had an answer for every objection Moses offered!  He patiently and loving reminded Moses of His own power and sovereignty.  But then Moses turned from excuses to refusal.  He told God straight up, "I won't do it!"  Then God got angry.  That's a pattern that holds true throughout the story of Israel.  God did not deal with them until they outright refused to do as He said.
So the question that came to my mind was "Why?".  Why does God get angry merely at rebellion and not at excuses?  Why does He poured down wrath on people who who refuse His plan and complain about His goodness?  Why doesn't He do the same to those who question their ability to do these thing?  Shouldn't we silently and stoically obey all the commands that are given to us, without question?  I think the key to all these questions is in Numbers 20.
Numbers 20 is a familiar story as well.  Israel has been wondering for several years at this point, having refused to enter the Promised Land when God initially told them to.  Thousands of them have died for their rebellion (again, God punishing for outright refusal).  And now they are thirsty and without water.  In response, God tells Moses to speak to a rock and water will come out for the people to drink.  But Moses doesn't speak to the rock; he hits it--twice.  And God's response to Moses' rebellion is interesting.  He doesn't chide Moses for his anger, his disobedience, or his words.  He tells Moses there is punishment coming "because [he] did not believe."  His disobedience was founded on unbelief.
God answers our excuses because He understands that our excuses are based on a misunderstanding, or even lack of understanding, of who He is.  We don't get it.  We don't know His character.  So He takes those opportunities to teach us about who He is.  Then the choice is ours: to believe or not.  If we choose to believe God is who He says He is, then we will obey, trusting His character to accomplish an end we feel is impossible.  But if we choose to disobey, we are showing that we really don't believe God is who He says He is.  We are calling God a liar.  That's why rebellion makes God so angry.  
And the moment we fail to believe in God's character, He forbids our entry into the Promised Land.  The moment we choose that we are more right than God, He sentences us to years of wandering in a joyless, powerless wilderness.  But the moment we believe our God is true, that He cannot lie, that what He says is so, all the peace and riches of the Promised Land are ours to enjoy.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Further Up and Further In

I just finished listening to Focus on the Family's radio theater dramatization of The Chronicles of Narnia.  I absolutely love the series of books and this was a new and fresh way to enjoy them.  Of the seven books, my favorites are The Horse and His Boy and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  But as I was listening to the end of The Last Battle today, I could hardly keep from crying.  All I could think about was the beauty that was heaven in this story book world, and how much more grand and glorious is will be.
One of the most moving things about Aslan's mountains in The Last Battle is the number of characters you run into that you fell in love with in the previous books.  Diggory and Polly get to meet Fledge and King Frank again.  Lucy is reunited with her good friend, Mr. Tumnus.  Peter and Edmund run into the Beavers.  Eustace and Jill reconnect with Puddleglum and Prince Rilian.  All the people who were special to us and to them--Reepicheep, Jewel, Puzzle, Caspian, Drinian, Ramandu's daughter, Trumpkin and Trufflehunter--are there.  To someone like Tirian, the last king of Narnia, many of these are merely heroes he's never met, names he's heard from the old tales.  But then he meets his own father.  How amazing will it be to get to heaven and enjoy the company of so many heroes who have gone before us.  And not only them, but also the loved ones who are waiting to see us again.
Another thing Lewis brings out is the realness of heaven compared to our own world.  In fact Aslan refers to our world as the "shadowlands."  Polly tries to explain it as if you were seeing a beautiful view in a mirror rather than seeing it with your own eyes.  The real view is much deeper, much more vivid, more alive.  Everything in the new Narnia is bigger and better than it was before.  It's the real country, while what we have here is but a shade of them.  How that ought to make us long for heaven and its realness!
But the most exciting thing about new Narnia is the absolute pleasure of being there.  None of the animals or people are sad.  Everything is a thrill.  Everything is fresh.  Everything is new.  Everytime you turn around there is a new delight to see and experience.  And the further up and further in you go, nearer to the heart of Aslan himself, the more exciting and pleasurable it gets.  And why is it so pleasurable?  Because that is the land that for which we are made!  Nothing here will satisfy us.  Nothing on this earth fulfills us.  But in heaven there is "fullness of joy" (ps. 16:11)  Joy that cannot be topped, cannot be added to.  In heaven there are "pleasures forever more" (ps. 16:11).  Pleasure beyond our wildest imaginations that will not stop!  How amazing is that!
All this pleasure, joy, awe and grandeur is caught up in one quote uttered by Aslan himself.  Something I hope to hear God say one day: "The term is over: the holidays have begun.  The dream is ended: this is the morning."  I can't wait for that day!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Eustace Clarence Scrubb

That's the name of one of my favorite characters from C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia.  He's first mentioned in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with one of the best introductions of any of Lewis' characters: "There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it."  The reason I like Eustace so much is more about what happens to him than who he actually is.
If you've never read Voyage, it is unlike the other Chronicles in that it is a seafaring adventure.  King Caspian, the king of Narnia, has undertaken a voyage in order to find 7 lords who were exiled to a voyage eastward into the unknown during the reign of his uncle, Miraz.  Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (from the other Narnia books) and their bratty cousin Eustace are magically pulled into the quest and join the king on his adventure.
Eustace, who doesn't believe in magic or Narnia, is unwilling to be a help to anyone.  Attempting to steal water when it's being rationed, treating the talking beasts as if they were common animals, and generally being a selfish pig, Eustace goes a long way to make the others on the Dawn Treader dislike him.
During a particularly nasty storm at sea, the Treader loses her mast.  She limps into a bay of an uninhabited island to make repairs and Eustace, unwilling to lend a hand in the hard work, takes off into the forest.  To his astonishment, he finds a dead dragon and its horde on the other other side of the island.  Seeing the amount of gold and jewels the old dragon had amassed, Eustace immediately begins thinking how he can capitalize on the find.  He falls asleep dreaming "greedy, dragonish thoughts."  
When he wakes up, to his horror, he finds himself transformed into a dragon!  He finally makes contact with Caspian, Lucy and Edmund.  They feel sorry for his plight, but there is nothing they can do to help him.  Even Lucy's magic cordial does nothing to reverse the enchantment.
Eustace's dragon form moves him to become more helpful.  He kills several wild animals for the sailors to salt and store.  He provides warmth at night on the chilly beach.  He even pulls a tree up by its roots for the ships carpenters to fashion into a new mast.  But the question remains, when Caspian is ready to sail, how will they take the dragon/Eustace with them?
Eustace realizes Caspian's plight and decides to solve it himself.  One night, when no one is looking, he slips off into the forest, hoping the others will not be able find him and will sail on.  He does so, with no thought of self pity, which is quite a change for the poor boy.
As he sneaks away, he meets a lion who leads him to a pool of water--water so sweet looking that Eustace immediately wants to bathe.  But the lion insists he must first undress.  Eustace assumes this mean he must take off his dragon skin.  So he scratches and claws and peels until the top layer of his skin is lying on the ground and he begins to enter the water.  But as he does, he sees his reflection and knows he hasn't fully undressed.  He scratches and claws and peels again only to find he still hasn't fully undressed.  He attempts to remove his dragon form again, only to fall back, disappointed and forlorn.
Then the lion offers to undress Eustace.  Afraid of the lion's claws, but desperate, Eustace agrees and lies flat on his back.  As Eustace relates the experience to Edmund later, he says, "The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt."  But soon the task was done--Eustace's dragon skin lay, thick and green, on the ground and he enter the water to bathe.  When he stepped out of the pool, he was a boy.  The lion took him and dressed him in new clothes.  From that time forward Eustace began to be a better person.  In fact, when a sea monster threatens the Dawn Treader a few days later, Eustace is the first to attack it, something he never would have dreamed of doing before the dragon incident.
So why did I just retell almost three chapters of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader?  Because the truth Lewis is teaching is so good!  Like Eustace, we are greedy, selfish, dragonish people.  We want our way, our ideas, our comfort.  But if there is ever to be change in our lives, we need to truly see ourselves for who we are.  And realize, that we can't change ourselves.  All our attempts to be good are like Eustace trying to undress himself from his dragon skin.  We need God to rip into the greed and selfishness and tear it away.  And it will hurt.  It will hurt more than anything we have ever experienced.  Because God is tearing who we truly are, our very nature.  Then as we bathe in the water of God's Word, we are changed from the dragon to the boy.  It's God's work to change us, we just need to see who we really are and be willing to let Him work.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Favorite Holidays

Yesterday Pastor's daughter asked me what my favorite holiday was. Tough question for me. I'm a big fan of every day, so holidays, other than better food than usual, aren't much different in my book. My birthday doesn't feel anymore special than June 27th.
But I told her there are two holidays I like because of the meanings behind them. One is Thanksgiving. Not only is it the most American holiday we have (it revolves almost exclusively around eating and football, two great American pastimes) but it also is one of the most Christian holidays. Giving thanks is something Christians ought to be doing at all times, so a day set aside to honor that very Christian trait is fantastic.
My other favorite holiday just occurred. Easter is probably my favorite. I'm all about discount candy the day after (Walgreens here I come!). But the candy is the least of my joys on Easter. Yesterday we Christians celebrate the most important thing that ever happened in the history of the world: the resurrection of Jesus Christ! He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
How cool is it that my God, after succumbing to sin's punishment, after dying in Satan's darkness, broke that power. He didn't let sin and death stop Him. He defeated them, showed His mastery over them, crushed them under His foot and rose in power and glorious light!
To my shame, I didn't even understand the significance of the Resurrection until last year. I'd been through Sunday School, Christian school and most of Bible college before asking the question, "Why is Sunday such a big deal, if what He did Friday is what we actually saved me from sin?" In other words, why do we make such a big deal out of the cross but celebrate the Resurrection? Shouldn't our big holiday be on Friday?
Paul answers it all in 1 Corinthians 15. He says in verse 17, "If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" Wow! How important is the Resurrection then? REALLY important! It makes everything done on Friday worth it! Without Sunday Friday means nothing! Without power over sin and sin's punishment, there is no forgiveness and atonement for sin! If Christ is not raised, I will not be raised! That's key!
And that's why I love Easter so much. It's not just a celebration of Christ's death, burial and resurrection. It's a celebration of my new life in Him, a celebration of a hope I have for eternity. It's a reminder of Heaven! That's awesome! Listen the hymn writer and follow his suggestion in "He Lives"--"Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing, eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King!"
He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!