You Gotta Serve Somebody

There was a boy named Charlie who was 18 years old.  He was very devout, prayed often, attended church often, and he was seeking God’s will for his life.  Charlie felt something tremendous within himself – that God was calling him to become a minister.

Although his friends and family were socially religious, they were a bit worried about Charlie and his conversation with God.  They asked Charlie to at least apply to university.  So a meeting was arranged with the head of a prestigious college.

Charlie got up early in the morning and said a special prayer for the day, and set out for the house.  He rang the bell of the large mansion, and a servant asked him to wait on a bench in the hallway. 

Charlie waited, and waited, and waited for two hours.  Finally he called out for someone and the horrified servant realized what had happened.

What Charlie did not know is that the president of the college whom he was to meet was sitting in a chair in the room behind the wall behind his back.  The college president had perhaps less patience than Charlie, and he left exasperated and angry for London.

Charlie was horrified, frightened, afraid that he had lost his chance; should he chase the man, should he chase the man all the way to London and find him in order to explain?

Instead he took a long walk, and while he walked, a verse of scripture came to him – “Seekest thou great things for thyself?  Seek them not . . .” Jeremiah 45.5 On that walk Charlie felt that God was talking to him . . . that the good shepherd was leading him from over-reacting, from over-reaching, in order to explain himself to those invested in his university career.  Charlie, through prayer and patience and that special kind of courage that only comes from God, felt that it was the Lord’s will for that meeting to have not occurred through innocent misunderstandings. 

Charlie never made it to university, but ultimately he did not need to; because the universities came to him.  As he became known in Victorian England as Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the great messengers of the Gospel.  He said, “a thousand times I have thanked the Lord heartily for this strange providence which set my feet on another path . . .”

And though his messages don’t suit the taste of everyone – when he died some 60,000 people came to London to pay him homage.

Christus Rex – Christ the King – that is the feast that we celebrate today in the life of the Church within the world.  It is a feast that is marked with this interview between Pilate and Jesus – two of the most unlikely individuals to encounter one another in human history.  Pilate is very much the “man in full” of the ancient Roman Empire.  Although Jerusalem and the Occident are not the most glamorous destinations in the ancient world, they are certainly not inconsequential responsibilities and locations.

Pilate is a powerful man.  So powerful in fact that he does not have to resort to half-truths and trickery when rendering judgement; perhaps he is naïve about what is happening in his courtyard, as the religious leaders of Israel create a trap whereby Pilate will become their ax man.

These six verses are more chock full of irony, double-entendre, and historical transformation than I can shove into this very brief homily.  The crux and the crucible of this encounter is that ultimately Jesus is not the one being “put on trial.” 

While Jesus stands stripped bare and accused as a criminal in their kangaroo court – Pilate and the leaders of Israel are the ones being spiritually and psychologically disrobed by Jesus.

It is the great reversal of who and what is powerful in this life.

Jesus stands before each of us in our lives.  Jesus would be Christus Rex, the King, of each of our lives.  Our motives and desires are disrobed before him – there is nowhere to hide.

I believe that each of us faces many, many moments like that young Charlie Spurgeon, being pushed along by two streams of force – one of God, one of those who love us and mean well for us.  And that sometimes those two steams cannot coexist, that we find ourselves caught waiting in the hallway of life, that we find ourselves feeling that perhaps we have missed our chances.

When Jesus is the king of our lives – we are able to take that walk of faith and discernment – and let the complications move away from us, as God’s will becomes clearer to us.  And very often God’s purposes for our lives looking nothing like what we would choose for ourselves; in fact they may look like disaster in the eyes of the world, they may look like a crucifixion, when in reality we are on the steps of a new and resurrected life; when Christ is the King – all of the ground ahead of us, is holy, blessed, and everlasting.

If we find ourselves wondering, wrestling, with who will be King of our lives, we can think of young Spurgeon.  We can also remember the words of Simone Weil,

“Isn’t the greatest possible disaster of all – when you are wrestling with God – not to be beaten . . .”

As A Person Thinketh – Stewardship

TOP 25 QUOTES BY DALLAS WILLARD (of 251) | A-Z Quotes

I remember the first time that I read James Allen’s book, “As A Man Thinketh.” A short book that is thought by some to be one of the foundations of the modern “self help – devotional” genre of literature that has become so popular in western culture. Throughout scripture, from the Old Testament to the New, there is a gentle admonition to give attention as to where we park our mind. Where are we in the midst of our thoughts; where are we hanging the hat of our mind when we are not occupied either with work, play, or rest.

The title of Allen’s book “As A Man Thinketh” is taken from The Book of Proverbs, 23.7:

Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats:
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:
Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.
The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words.

I generally find the curating of my thoughts one of the most difficult challenges in life; there is simply so much, perhaps too much, information that sings the siren song of requesting my opinion and/or approval and/or disapproval; as though the contribution of my opinion on any number of topics makes a difference in the lives of others. However, when the challenge of curating my thoughts meets with success, and I am able for a moment or a season to untangle the web of distractions, I find the greatest experience of serenity and the promise of peace; because for a moment I catch a glimpse of how we actually can overcome the circumstances of the world and life – by not giving up our sacred interior “real estate.”

There is a message that can be discerned in scripture that we are not just “stewards” of our money – actually God’s money; we are also “stewards” of our thoughts – our consciousness as well as our conscience. We are stewards of the intimacy and relationship that we share with God in Christ.

The old saying is that no one is taken to the cemetery with a U-Haul. The point that Dallas Willard is making, along with many believers through the ages, is that what we cultivate and curate within our minds, hearts, and souls, this state of being will actually be something that we take with us beyond the cemetery. Jesus once said to his friends – The Kingdom of God is within you – meaning that how “we live and move and have our being” in this short life is the template that we carry into the life that is to come; that place where there are no U-Haul’s.

How are we spending our days – are we filling our minds with thoughts and notions that will bring joy to God? Are we being stewards of the Kingdom of God that is within us? Or is our mind simply chasing the next shiny thing? James Allen, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, Dallas Willard, and many others would have attend to the Kingdom, the real “estate.”

So the invitation is to begin our work for God now – now – in this time and place; and to find that gentle and graceful way in which we might invite the Carpenter, our Good Shepherd, to help us in the curation of our minds. We might even surprise ourselves by how well we can give our most significant attention to things in heaven. We might find that we have been hungry for a sense of purpose, a sense of hope, that all of the wonderful things in the world simply cannot give to us because of their impermanence.

In the end, as we move closer to our bodily death, it will only be the treasure of heart, mind, and soul that we have gathered with God that will be our “stake” in the dimensions that are to come in heaven. I hope that you will do some true “estate planning” today, so that you might be comforted when you leave this place.

Philippians 4:7-9  Revised Standard Version

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.

Christian Stewardship – The Reverend Charles R. Hale

Give an Account of Thy Stewardship

We are in the midst of that season of the Church year when each person is encouraged to have a conversation with God about what we are going to give to the “ekklessia,” the Body of Christ, from all that we are receiving in the midst of this life. My thoughts cannot help but turn to this question, “What sort of introduction would you like to have in the presence of your Maker?”

Most everyone with whom I spend the majority of my time has been blessed beyond measure. Few, if any, that I know go to bed wondering where their food and shelter will be in the morning. Few, if any, want for any of the pysical assurances that life will more or less continue uninterrupted by circumstances of poverty, violence, hunger, or want of any kind. And most would like to have some sence that the Deity, the Creator of heaven and earth, is in some mysterious capacity a part and participant of the lives they are leading.

My sense is that what eludes us much of the time is the reality that we will one day return to the source; the source of life, the source of meaning, the source of joy, the source of love. And we spend precious little time wondering what sort of meeting that will be for us. Most religious folks, not simply the Christains, have some intimation that the return to our Maker will invite from each human soul a “response”; perhaps a kind of survey of the “kind” of life that we have lived. And we will either be brimming with a desire to share the work that we have done on behalf of the Maker; or, perhaps we will be stumbling through a moment of shock or surprise that another being, one far beyond what we could have imagined, is asking us about something that we never took all that seriously. Or perhaps, tragically, we will find ourselves struck dumb, mute, speechless, as a wave of anxieity slowly swallows us and the meager self-justifications that we have kept in our back pocket in our hopes upon hopes that we would not face such an introduction.

I have learned a great deal about stewardship from a few friends of mine over the years. One friend, CM, is perhaps one of the most joyful givers that I know. This person has lived through a “vale of tears,” called upon God, and found that there was life and light on the other side. Later in life CM found success in the professional world, and found that love could be real and true once again. From a heart of deep gratitude this person finds that giving to the Church, fulfilling the Christian calling of stewardship, is an opportuinty to deepen the experience of joy that comes with saying “Thank You,” and sharing with God gratitude for having once been lost and then being found. It is also a way of being reminded of whose world it is in which we live. Giving to church, giving to the community – essentially giving to God and neighbor – CM finds tremendous peace in know that the call of the Summary of the Law is bring fulfilled:

Hear what our Lord Jesus saith:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with
all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great
commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt
love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments
hang all the Law and the Prophets.    Matthew 22:37-40

I believe there is a hidden jewel within fulfilling the call to stewardship – it is the jewel of finally admitting that we are visiting and borrowing the goods of a world that is not actually our own. So that when we answer this call, we can rest at night, and we can rest in our prayers, knowing that we have moved in a direction so that our introduction to our Maker is no longer a burden upon our consciences and our souls. God has already given us the greatest gift – eternal life and friendship with the Good Shepherd – we might ask ourselves, “How could the grass be any greener?”

If you have read this far, please remember that these are simply “thoughts and asides” of a clergyman pausing in the midst of many busy days. May the Lord bless you, as you discover that conversation that He is always longing to have with you.

A.

Give an Account of Thy Stewardship
A Sermon preached in St. Timothy’s Church, New York,
The Third Sunday in Advent, 1873,
by the Rev. Charles R. Hale.

New York: American Church Press, 1874.


THOUGHTS of a judgment to come may well occupy the minds of those who, living in a state of probation, are liable any hour to be called to enter upon an eternity where change can never be.

Prone as we all are to put such considerations aside, right well is it for us that the Church in the Advent season “sings of mercy and judgment,” tells of CHRIST’S coming in great humility to redeem, long ages past, tells of His second coining in glorious majesty to be our Judge, a coming which cannot be long delayed and may be soon. “Who may abide the day of His coming, who shall stand when He appeareth?” If we judge ourselves we shall not be judged of the LORD. If we examine our lives and conversation by the rule of GOD’S Holy Word, and whereinsoever we perceive we have offended, accuse and condemn ourselves for our faults with full purpose of amendment of life, we shall find mercy in that day, for JESUS’ sake.

The demand of our text will soon be made to each of us “Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.” Let us conceive the question put to each of us now, could we give in our account with joy? or would it not be given in the case of very many of us, with deepest shame and grief?

The talents for which we must give account are the opportunities of all kinds for honoring GOD and doing good to our fellow men.

But, as a searching inquiry is best conducted by coming down from generalities to particulars, let us on the present occasion–putting aside for the time being the thought of health, strength, influence, mental abilities–ask ourselves how we have used, how we are using, the earthly possession GOD has put into our hands.

The question is one more important than we are apt to think. It is our SAVIOUR Himself who asks, “If ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” The gift of GOD cannot be purchased with money, but money not rightly used may cause us to miss heaven.

It is of our use of the good things of this life that St. Paul speaks, when he warns us “Be not deceived; GOD is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

We all admit that whatever we have comes to us from GOD. We do not say in words “My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this competence which I enjoy.” But though we admit with our lips that we have nothing but what we have received from GOD, and that all belongs to Him, still to do with it as He pleases, while we are but His stewards, do we say the same in our actions, as in our words? How far could any one gather from our use of our means that we believe at all as we profess to believe? Men of the world see Christians give, too often–too generally–in scant measure, and with evident want of heartiness. And for the giving of even so much, and in such way, worldly men are apt to ascribe to Christians the motives they feel would influence themselves. Too often the Christian’s conscience, if honestly appealed to. cannot but admit, that the motives alleged are, in part at least, the true ones; that of the little he has given, no small portion has been given from motives defective, if not worse, motives of which he does not himself care to think afterwards, which he trusts man does not imagine, and which he vainly wishes might escape the eye of Him to “Whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid.”

How seldom can the Christian say to himself “This I give back to my Heavenly Father Who gave it to me, caring not to have men know of my gift, wishing only to show my love to Him and to win His approval.

We admit, I say, that all we have comes from God, and to make us realize it the better, GOD sometimes takes away, in a moment, possessions in the holding of which we felt secure. But must we force GOD in His goodness to employ such means to make us recognize the true position in which we stand to Him? Should we not, as reasonable creatures, freely and fully own our dependence upon Him Who made and Who preserves us, and from Whom all good things do come? Should the wish ever enter into our minds to even seem independent of Him Who not only made and keeps us and all, but when men had rebelled against Him, gave His only Begotten SON to redeem us, and by His death give back tons the life our sins had forfeited?

How does it become us, being the stewards of GOD to use what His bounty has entrusted to us?

Certainly not as if it were all our own, to advance our own plans and promote simply our own interests.

All our time belongs to GOD. By hallowing each Lord’s Day as He has bidden us, we admit that our time is His And when we fully admit this, He grants us His blessing on the days of the week which He permits us to use in great part for ourselves. Now let the same principle be applied to our means as to our time. That this should be so, we could not only gather by fair inference, but we are taught it by express words of our SAVIOUR, “Give alms of such things as ye have, and behold all things are clean unto you.” Use part of your means religiously for GOD and when you have paid Him thus due honor, you can with a good conscience enjoy with thanksgiving the gifts of His bounty.

If we duly realized that we owe everything to GOD, we should not need a command to give, an intimation that He would mercifully receive what we might offer would be sufficient. Just as we grudge nothing we can do for those we love on earth, so would hearts grateful to GOD for His goodness gladly give Him what they might give.

In order to test our love to Him, and by exercising to strengthen and deepen this love, GOD has seen fit to provide many–almost numberless ways in which we can so use earthly good things as to promote His glory. It is for our own good He has appointed this. He might have caused that those who proclaimed His word should be supported by miracle, instead of ordaining that “they who preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel,” that he “that is taught in the Word minister unto him that teacheth, in all good things.” The Christian who grudges to give those who have sown to him spiritual things a fair share of worldly things, shows little appreciation of GOD’S goodness in sending the Gospel to him. GOD might have provided in other ways, had he seen fit, for the relief of the poor and needy, but He has been pleased to permit us to relieve them, enticing us thereto by most precious promises. “He that hath pity upon the poor, lendeth unto the LORD, and look, what he layeth out, it shall be paid him again.” “Blessed is the man that provideth for the sick and needy, the LORD shall deliver him in time of trouble.” And our SAVIOUR tells us, that what we minister to one of the least of His brethren an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, he counts as done to Himself.

GOD might have ordained that we should worship Him, not in houses set apart for His Name, but in buildings erected and used for other purposes; or if we built sanctuaries, that, whatever our abilities might be, these should be of the plainest and least expensive kind–that His worship should cost us as little as might be. But, on the other hand, when “devout and holy men, as well under the Law as under the Gospel, moved either by the express command of GOD, or by the secret inspiration of the blessed Spirit, and acting agreeably to their own reason and sense of the natural decency of things, have erected houses for the public worship of GOD,” the best that they could build, such pious works have ever been “approved of, and graciously accepted by our Heavenly Father.”

GOD has, in His love, permitted that in these and other ways, we may use our means for Him; “not as though He needed anything,” for “the whole world is His and all that is therein.” We should feel that we have a high honor and privilege conferred upon us in being allowed to do anything for Him, rather than, as I fear we too often do, consider it an tin welcome duty to give to Him in supporting His Church, or helping His poor.

Very often, when we give, we fail of obtaining all the blessings we might have, through acting from motives not wrong in themselves, but defective. For instance, we give with kindly heart, to relieve the necessities of the poor, and thus obey the second part of the law bidding us “love our neighbor as ourselves. But, if all the motives which should influence us be brought into play, we should realize that in helping the poor we were giving to GOD, and in thus showing honor to Him, we would keep not merely the second, but also the first and great commandment “Thou shalt love the LORD thy GOD with alt thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”

So too, in duly supporting those set over you in the LORD, let not what you do be a mere business transaction, fulfilling honorably pledges made, nor merely an expression of personal kindness and consideration. All this let it be, but above all, try to realize that what you do for GOD’S sake to His Minister, you do for Him, as CHRIST said to His first ambassadors, “He that receiveth you, receiveth Me.”

If we felt as we should how blessed a thing it is that we are permitted to do anything for GOD, we should never think “how little dare I give,” but rather “how much can I give,” we should not then ask “how can I give without feeling it.”

And as we commence the week with the LORD’S day, so should we consider GOD’S portion of our means the first to be set aside, not providing for our own comforts and tastes, then giving to GOD of what is left, if there be any left.

If we would be good stewards of GOD’S bounties, we should not act on mere impulse. If all set times for prayer were done away with, should we be likely to continue prayerful? If GOD had not seen fit to appoint a day for His especial service, think you that we should give Him even as much of our time as we now give on other days of the week?

And let us neither give what we give all at once, as wishing to be through with a distasteful duty, nor put off as long as we can the discharge of an obligation we would not fulfil if we could avoid it. Our LORD does not bid us pray for sufficient to be given us now, to supply next year’s wants–but puts into our mouths the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He wishes to keep us in constant dependence upon Him. So He would have us delight in finding occasion to give—would have us give frequently.

St. Paul lays down the rule for the Churches of Galatia and Corinth, “Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by in store as GOD hath prospered him.” On the spirit of this rule let us act, if not on its very letter. Let us from time to time examine our gains and set apart for GOD a fair proportion of them. Then, as opportunity presents itself, let us use this fund in GOD’S service.

The pledge system, as it is called, is an excellent way of imparting method to our giving, combining many of the advantages of the subscription and the unpledged offering, yet free from some of their objectionable features.

Let us not be afraid of giving too much. It is no common fault. If you have not others dependent on you, surely you can deny yourself a little in order to give. If you have others so dependent, would it not seem like loving father or mother, wife or child, brother or sister, more than GOD, to spend well nigh all on the objects of your earthly affection, to keep little for Him Who most of all deserves your love?

Could we not all give a tenth of our incomes and yet give little enough?

Offering to GOD a tithe was the practice of good men even before the giving of the law. Abraham gave tithes to Melchisedec, Priest of the Most High GOD; Jacob vowed at Bethel “Of all that Thou givest me, I will surely give a tenth to Thee.” The Jews were required by the law to give a tenth of their gains for religious uses, and including all their offerings, gave far more.

True, in the Christian Church the law of tithes no longer exists as a law. Yet let us not use liberty as a cloak for covetousness. St. Augustine tells us we should set apart for GOD something from our gains, and that a tenth is but a small proportion. He reminds us of the words of the Pharisee “I give tithes of all I possess,” and that our LORD declared “Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” And then he asks, and the question is a most pertinent one, “If he whose righteousness you are to exceed give a tenth, how can you be said to exceed him whom you do not so much as equal?”

It is not necessary to give much to win the world’s approval; indeed if we give freely worldly men will be apt to set it down as foolishness. But it is a small thing to be judged of man’s judgment.

The day will soon come when the MASTER whose stewards we are shall say to each of us “Give an account of thy Stewardship.”

When our account is rendered, may we each hear from His lips the plaudit, “Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy LORD.”

C.S. Lewis and Dr. Markos – Video Links

https://player.vimeo.com/video/640481604?h=21e87ef7c2&#8243; width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
https://player.vimeo.com/video/640579058?h=723cebd06f&#8221; width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
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https://player.vimeo.com/video/640907141?h=dc1f8aff03&#8243; width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Mere Christianity Summary Sheets

Lectures at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Shreveport

Dr. Louis Markos

MERE CHRISTIANITY—AN OVERVIEW OF BOOKS I AND II

A.        Lewis begins Mere Christianity by noting something peculiar about human beings: we constantly appeal, in our statements, to standards of behavior.

            1. The fact that we quarrel over who is right shows our tacit agreement of a fixed code to which an appeal can be made; if we did not accept this code, we would have to fight it out.

            2. We don’t argue whether the code is correct; rather, we argue that we have come closer to fulfilling it—or, if we have broken it, we argue that we had a legitimate reason for doing so.

            3. Even a professed relativist, if someone cuts in front of him in line, will be upset—and he won’t excuse the behavior if the person says that in his “culture” it’s ok to cut people off!

            4. Lewis argues that this moral/ethical code is universal and cross-cultural and is written in our conscience, and, if that is the case, it must have a super-natural source.

5. In another of his books (The Abolition of Man), Lewis calls this code the Tao.

            6. The Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals not only presupposed the existence of the Tao, but that the Nazi’s (like all people) were aware of it but chose to break it.

            7. The best way to define the Tao is thus: it is the way we expect other people to treat us!

            8. Many anthropologists argue that morality is not cross-cultural, but varies wildly from culture to culture; but that is simply not true.

9. Since Freud, moderns have taken marginal, abnormal behavior and treated it as if it were the norm; but the only reason we recognize psychopaths is that we know right from wrong.

10. In an appendix to The Abolition of Man, Lewis basically proves that the Tao is universal and cross-cultural by lining up quotes from diverse cultures (Greek, Roman, Norse, Hindu, Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Native American, and Anglo-Saxon) and showing that the core values of all these cultures are virtually equivalent.

11. Some critics say the Tao is not super-natural but is made up by prophets, but that too is false: the true role of prophets is not to introduce new laws but to remind us of the old ones. 

12. Prophets who make up new moral codes are false prophets.

13. Other critics say the Tao must be man-made for we teach it to our children; but we also teach them math and we don’t make that up.  Morality/math are not invented but discovered.

14. Yet other critics argue that ethical behavior is merely the acting out of a natural instinct (for survival, for procreation, to defend one’s family), but that is only partially true.

15. We do follow natural instincts, but what happens when we must choose between two instincts that are at odds with one another; the only way we can choose is by appealing to a third thing (tertium quid in Latin) that will allow us to choose which instinct to follow.

            16. But if this third thing allows us to choose between instincts then it cannot itself be an instinct: the ruler we use to tell us which piece of wood is the right length for the room we are building cannot be itself one of the pieces of wood; if we want to know which note we should play next on the piano, we appeal not to the notes on the piano but to the score.

            17. The fact of the matter is that we (unlike the animals) are moral/ethical creatures; only man does (or does not do) what he ought or should

18. Animals merely follow the laws of nature, while we follow the laws of human nature that are written in our conscience (the Tao).

B.        Though we know that we must keep the Tao, we find we cannot: every religion (and every person) knows this, but only Christianity takes it seriously. 

1. While religion tells us that we can’t follow the Tao but we should try anyway, Christianity seeks a more radical solution to sin.

2. If, as most moderns believe, Jesus Christ was only a good moral teacher, then he really has little to offer us; Christ, inasmuch as he was a prophet, merely restated the universal Tao.

            3. The solution to our ethical dilemma cannot come via a restatement of the Tao (even a perfect one like the Sermon on the Mount); it is clear that we have not and never can keep it.

            4. The main mission of Christ was not to teach but to invade; our world, writes Lewis, is enemy-occupied territory and “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed . . . in disguise” and is calling us to join his cause.     

5. In contrast to the belief (initiated by Rousseau) that men are perfectible creatures who lack only proper education, Lewis asserts we are “rebels who must lay down [our] arms.”     

6. The problem with man is not ignorance and poverty but sin, rebellion & disobedience.

7. We can neither perfect ourselves nor our society by our own efforts; the evil that prevents us lies not in a few key villains or in bad social planning or in widespread illiteracy, but in the heart of every fallen human being.

            8. Christianity begins with a humble confession that we cannot satisfy the requirements of the Law (the Tao) and a surrender of our whole self to Christ.

            9. Christ is God himself in human form; through his suffering and death on the cross, he brought us back into a right relationship with God (and the Tao).

            10. Though he resists defining the exact nature of the Atonement, Lewis makes it clear that salvation rests not in the Tao but in sharing in the Life of Christ.

C.        In his most famous apologetical statement, Lewis gives another compelling reason why we cannot dismiss Christ as merely a good man and nothing more.

1. Christ claimed to be the Son of God and to have the power to forgive sins; if he was not, in fact, who he claimed to be, then he was either a raving lunatic or the greatest liar (and blasphemer) that ever lived.

2. Christ, that is, is either a Liar, a Lunatic, or the Lord (Lewis’s Trilemma); the one thing we cannot say about him is that he was a good man but not the Son of God.

3. Indeed, if Jesus was not the Son of God, the Pharisees were right to condemn him!

            4. The Trilemma only works because Jesus was a Jew and therefore a monotheist; had he been a Hindu and claimed to be one with God, his statement would not have been blasphemous.

5. For the Jew, Muslim, or Deist, God has no son; for the Hindu, Buddhist, or New Ager, we are all sons of God—Jesus is unique because he claimed to be the only-begotten Son of God.

6. The Trilemma cannot be extended to all holy men and prophets (Moses, Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed): these prophets only claimed to have heard from God and to have been a conduit for his word; Jesus claimed to be God himself in the flesh. 

Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 22 books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, and Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of CSL.  His newest books are From Plato to Christ: How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith and The Myth Made Fact: Reading Greek and Roman Mythology through Christian Eyes.

MERE CHRISTIANITY—AN OVERVIEW OF BOOK III

A.        Morality is not interference but a way to keep the human machine running

1. The young Lewis wanted God to leave him alone, but our God is actively involved.

2. Lewis compares humanity to a fleet of ships: morality is needed not only to keep the ships from colliding (the sole focus of modern “morality”), but to keep the individual ships in working order and to give them a purpose and destination that will keep them on course.

3. The classical, pre-Christian world knew the four cardinal virtues (wisdom/prudence, temperance/self control, courage/fortitude, and justice), but only through Christ and the New Testament did the world learn fully the three theological virtues (faith, hope, love/charity).

B.        Virtue is not an emotion but a quality of character gained by practicing just actions.

1. A brave man is not someone who feels brave but who acts bravely even when afraid.

2. Charity is not feeling pity for the poor but helping them; charity is an act of will.

3. Virtue is its own reward, for the more you practice virtue, the more you enjoy virtue.

4. If we do something evil (or good) to a person, we will come to hate (or love) him.

5. The man who no longer loves his wife should begin to treat her as if he loves her; if he does, the feeling of love will return—true also for wives who no longer respect their husbands.

6. Sexual morality is not about feeling (“being in love”) or about what is “natural”: marriages based only on being in love will not last; following natural impulses leads to sin.

C.        God does not judge us by our raw material but by our moral choices.

            1. We should not judge, for we don’t know what kind of choices we might have made had we been raised the same way as Hitler’s henchmen and then given absolute power.

            2. That does not mean we overlook sin, but understand the full nature of moral choice.

            3. If a man has acrophobia, and a therapist cures him, he does not therefore become brave; he has merely been put on a level playing field—he still must choose to be brave. 

            4. Our choices make us into creatures of heaven or hell; though all sin is sinful, the sins of the soul (pride, greed, hypocrisy) pull us farther away from God than the sins of the flesh.

D.        God calls on us to love the sinner but hate the sin; that sounds impossible, but it is not!

1. Everyday we hate ourselves for doing cruel or petty things, but we still continue to love ourselves; in fact, the reason we hate the sin we committed is because we love ourselves.

2. We should hate the sin others do, not because we are disgusted by the sin, but because we know the sin is hurting the other person (as well as others around him).

3. If we are happy to hear someone is worse than we thought, we are on the road to hell.

E.        Hope is not escapism/pie-in-the-sky; great reformers of earth had their eyes on heaven.

            1. If we seek only the world, we will lose it; if we seek heaven, we get it and the world.

            2. Some say Christians are mercenary because they seek heaven, but heaven is our proper reward; a lover who seeks to marry his beloved is not mercenary (but he is if he seeks money).

F.         Faith does not just mean the moment we accept Christ: faith is something we live by.

            1. Some say that people accept Christianity because of emotion and then reject it because of reason; this is sometimes true, but it is more often the opposite: we accept it because it makes sense and then abandon it when our emotions are assaulted by anger or fear or grief.

            2. In “Obstinacy in Belief,” Lewis says that when you become a Christian, “You are no longer faced with an argument which demands your assent, but with a person who demands your confidence”—Christianity may start as a philosophical proposition, but it ends as a relationship.

Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 22 books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, On the Shoulders of Hobbits, and Restoring Beauty.

MERE CHRISTIANITY—AN OVERVIEW OF BOOK IV

A.        Theology is not a collection of dry, dusty books, but a map to navigate by.

1. If my fleet of ships had to sail by a rocky coast, I’d rather have an “impersonal” map based on centuries of collaboration than the personal diaries of 3 people who live on the coast.

2. Theology is vital, for without the map, we keep repeating the heresies of the past.

B.        Jesus, the Nicene Creed tell us, is the “only begotten Son of God . . . begotten not made.”

1. A woman who gives birth begets a child that is of the same kind as herself; if she were to make a perfect statue of a child, it would be like a human child but not of the same kind. 

2. We were made in the image of God and share some of His nature, but only Christ was begotten of God—we are not naturally children of God; we must be adopted through Christ.

3. We all possess creaturely life given us by God, but that life (Lewis uses the Greek word bios) is a created/made kind of life that will eventually run down and decay.

4. What we need is not more bios life, but a new kind of indestructible life (zoe) that only God can give.  To be saved is to have our bios life killed and replaced by God’s eternal zoe life.

5. Becoming a Christian is like a statue coming to life (as when Aslan breathes on the statues in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and brings them back to life). 

6. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he merely restored his bios life; but when Christ rose from the dead, he rose to a new zoe life that he now has the power to share with us.

C.        Many think that because God foresees the future he must therefore predestine everything.

            1. But God lives outside of time and space; he does not foresee the future, but sees it.

            2. If I see a present action, that does not mean I am causing it; just because God sees me (in his eternal now) doing something in the future, that does not mean he is forcing me to do it.

            3. As creatures made in the image of God, we have free will: that freedom does not mean we can do anything we want but that we are moral/ethical creatures who must choose.           

D.        According to the doctrine of the Trinity, God is his own dynamic community.

1. When the Bible says “God is Love,” it does not mean he is the Platonic Form of Love, but that he is Love in action: for all eternity the Father has loved the Son and the Son the Father.

2. And that Love between Father and Son is so real it is itself a Person: the Holy Spirit.

3. Becoming a Christian does not mean winning a “get-out-of-hell-free card”; it means joining in the dance, the drama of the Triune God.

4. Each time we pray we get a glimpse of this: Father above us, Son beside, Spirit within.

5. Christianity is a kind of good infection: if we want to get wet, we must get in the water.

6. Orthodox doctrine of theosis says God became like us so we could become like him.

E.        Following Christ is not like following Plato or Marx; we’re called to be mirrors of Christ.

            1. Rather than merely imitate Christ, we are to allow his light/glory to shine through us.

            2. Like the Virgin Mary, we are called to let Christ be born through us into the world. 

            3. Christ doesn’t want some of our time and some of our money; he wants all of us.

            4 We may go to Christ the dentist to get a tooth fixed, but he will insist on giving us the full treatment; we are not to be painted but dyed, not to be improved but transformed.

            5. We only truly become ourselves when we give ourselves to Christ; to gain our life we must lose it: how monotonously alike are all the tyrants; how unique are the saints.

Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 22 books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, and Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of CSL.  His newest books are From Plato to Christ and The Myth Made Fact.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SIN: C. S. LEWIS WRESTLES WITH HELL

I           According to Lewis, hell is not only necessary, it is always something we choose.

            A.        We choose either to be in God’s presence for eternity (heaven) or to cling eternally to our selves and to our sin (hell).

                        1. The damned are successful rebels; the doors of hell are locked on the inside by those who refuse to let go of themselves and embrace God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.

                        2. If God’s gift of free will is a real one, then he must allow us to reject his love; hell is the only place in the universe that lies outside his omnipresent being.

                        3. If we desire to be left alone, he will ignore us; if we choose ourselves and our sin over God and heaven, he will leave us to our terrible, self-enslaving freedom.

            B.        But how, Lewis asks, can one not desire heaven? Or, how can one chose hell?

                        1. To answer this question, let us think of hell not as a destination but a process.

                        2. For Lewis, hell is not so much a pit that we are thrown into on account of some heinous, mortal sin, as a marsh that we slide into one peccadillo at a time.

                        3. Each time we chose ourselves or our sins over God and others, we surrender another spark of our humanity: we (literally) de-humanize ourselves.

                        4. Matthew 25:41 suggests hell was intended to house fallen angels (not fallen human beings); therefore, if we are still “human” when we die, we have a chance of heaven.

                        5. In Screwtape Letters (#12), a senior devil (Screwtape) explains to a junior devil (Wormwood) that the size of the sin doesn’t matter, only its effect on the human soul:

                        6. “It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.  Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.  Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

II.        In The Great Divorce, Lewis takes us on a fanciful bus ride from hell to heaven, allowing us to eavesdrop as saved souls try to convince damned souls even now to forsake their sin.

            A.        Lewis adopts a unique case-study approach to sin that uncovers the insidious psychological process by which human souls are reduced to mere shades.

                        1. At one point Lewis ponders the damned soul of a garrulous, grumbling woman who won’t cease her “pity-party” long enough to listen to the saint sent to help her.

                        2. To Lewis, she does not seem an “evil” woman, only a grumbler; but that, his guide (George MacDonald) tells him, is the whole point: is she a “grumbler or only a grumble”?

                        3. If there’s even an ember of humanity left inside of her, the angels can nurse the flame till it blazes again, but if all that is left is ashes, nothing can be done. 

                        4. In another case study, the damned soul of a landscape painter (the Ghost) meets up with the blessed soul of another landscape painter (the Spirit).

                        5. When the Ghost sees how beautiful heaven is, he kicks himself for not having brought his painting gear, but the Spirit reminds him that the real reason he became a painter was not to capture the landscape but to use his art to reach the light behind the landscape.

                        6. The Ghost counters that he has grown to appreciate art for its own sake, not as a means to an end and chooses to leave heaven: the source of the light which was his first love.

                        7. A third case study features a mother who, upon arriving in heaven, insists on seeing her saved son; she is told she must learn to desire God first before she can have her son.

                        8. She insists that “God is Love” and that any God that would not let her see her son, must be a false one: what, after all, can be more holy than her mother-love?

                        9. Her son, or, more precisely, her smothering, manipulative love for her son is her God: if God gets in the way of that, he must go; if God won’t step aside, then she’s ready to drag her son down with her to hell where she can really care for him.

                        10. The theological and psychological problem with the mother is that she worships a virtue that she has made into an idol, not the God who is the source of that virtue.

                        11. Sadly, good things (mother love) make better idols than bad things (drugs).

B.        All the damned souls are utterly narcissistic; they can’t move out of themselves.

                        1. According to Lewis, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.'”

                        2. But there is a great irony here: those who chose the former will find themselves growing more and more real, more and more substantial, while those who chose the latter will slowly deteriorate into insubstantial, person-less ghosts.

                        3. I have found that many Americans consider hell “unfair” because they imagine that going to heaven or hell is like getting an “A” or an “F” in a college class.

                        4. But there are two colleges: those majoring in the true, external God enroll in the College of Heaven; those majoring in their own internal idol-God, go to the College of Hell.

            C.        Hell is a necessity both for the sinner and the saint: it is a cosmic quarantine.

                        1. We must never, warns Lewis, fall into that fine-sounding liberal plea that none should be happy until all are; that kind of logic spreads misery and would even taint heaven.

                        2. On earth, a willful child, by refusing to enjoy his trip to the park, has the power to spoil the day for his entire family; in heaven that power is denied him.

                        3. The manipulation that parades as unselfishness, the pity that binds, the love that smothers, all are strictly confined to hell; heaven is free of such petty blackmail.

                        4. God, insists Lewis, will not allow a dog in a manger to tyrannize all heaven.

            D.        To avoid hell, we must free ourselves from two satanic misconceptions.

                        1.  Screwtape tells Wormwood that the difference between Satan and God is that Satan wants cattle that he can turn into food, while God wants servants that he can turn into sons.

                        2.  Satan (whose name means accuser) wants automatons stripped of will; Christ the advocate would give us life to the full (John 10:10) and set us free to be ourselves.

                        3. The voice in our ear that accuses and demeans us is Satan’s, not God’s!

                        4.  Second, the problem with our desires is that they are too weak for heaven.

                        5.  Perhaps there is no marriage in heaven, because there we can love all fully!

                        6.  We are, Lewis says in Miracles, like boys in an attic playing cops and robbers, until we hear footsteps on the stairs, and we are terrified; we don’t want God to come too close.

                        7.  “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased” (taken from Lewis’s best sermon, “The Weight of Glory”).

Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist Univ, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 22 books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, and Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of CSL.  His newest books are From Plato to Christ: How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith and The Myth Made Fact: Reading Greek and Roman Mythology through Christian Eyes.

Retelling the Christian Story: C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

“Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ?  I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to.  An obliga-tion to feel can freeze feelings.  And reverence itself did harm.  The whole subject was associ-ated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical.  But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency?” C. S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy enter Narnia through back of old wardrobe.  White Witch rules Narnia; it is “always winter and never Christmas.”  But the Lion Aslan (son of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea) is on the move.  Mr. and Mrs. Beaver take Peter, Susan, and Lucy to meet Aslan, but Edmund (tempted by Turkish Delights) has betrayed them to the Witch.  Aslan wins, but the traitor Edmund’s life is forfeit to the Witch (Deep Magic).  Aslan offers his own life instead; he is shaved/killed on the Stone Table, but at Dawn, the table cracks and Aslan is restored to life (Deeper Magic).  In Witch’s castle are statues of animals that she turned to stone with her wand; Aslan enters castle, breathes on the statues, and brings them to life.  Aslan defeats Witch and the children rule as Kings & Queens for many years, until a White Stag leads them back to the Wardrobe, from which they emerge as kids.

  1. Aslan not an allegory for Christ, but what Son might have been incarnated on Narnia
  • LWW retells Christian story: Ed is Adam & Judas/Aslan is Christ; atonement as ransom
  • Cracked Stone Table = stone that rolled away + torn curtain in Temple + tablets of Law
  • Aslan breathing on the statues = the power of New Life in Christ: Christ as Second Adam
  • Nature of good and evil; evil is negative, a privation of good; no such thing as perfect evil
  • Aslan is good but is neither safe nor tame: can’t be domesticated; compassionate strength
  • In Aslan we regain the numinous awe of Christ and a sense of the sacred: fun and scary!
  • In Witch is revealed the true (dehumanizing) nature of evil; Satan wants cattle for food
  • Satan/Witch (not Christ/Aslan) is the joyless Puritan, the cosmic killjoy (John 10:10)

Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 22 books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, and Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of CSL.  His newest books are From Plato to Christ: How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith and The Myth Made Fact: Reading Greek and Roman Mythology through Christian Eyes.