This was the August 29 daily reading from A Year With C.S. Lewis. It was originally published in his book The Weight of Glory.

“I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch my self very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, ‘Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.’ But excusing says, ‘I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.’ If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases, either between God and man, or between one man and another, there may be a mixture of the two. Part of what seemed at first to be the sins turns out to be nobody’s fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven.

But the trouble is that what we call ‘asking forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses.

What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some extenuating circumstances. We are so very anxious to point those out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves.”

Categories : Forgiveness
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Aug
29

Present Tense

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Like some children, I grew up afraid of the dark. My strong, depression era dad could not justify the electricity expense for a nightlight, so I was left to sort it out on my own. My mother did help by offering these comforting words: There’s nothing there in the dark that isn’t there in the light. Believe it or not, that calmed my overactive imagination.

Fear establishes the limits of our lives. If you’re afraid of heights, you stay low. If you’re afraid of water, you stay dry. If you’re afraid of the dark, you stay near the light.

Psalm 23:4 describes evil through the imagery of a valley of dark shadows. Darkness is often a metaphor for darkness in Scripture. For example, at the crucifixion the sky became dark during the middle of the day for “a space of about three hours.” Paul said that evil people prefer darkness to light because light exposes their evil deeds. The good news is that Revelation reports that the lights are always on in heaven!

Back to Psalm 23:4. Even though we walk through the valley of dark shadows, we fear no evil. That reminds me that in those moments I am to be tenacious, not tentative. Evil is not diminished. It is real. It exists. God never promised that evil would never touch my life. He does promise that I don’t have to face it alone. I am not powerless in the face of evil, for God is with me. Even when all other companions must turn back, God is there.

My response to evil, therefore, is to not allow it to rule my life with fear. I am to be ruled by faith. I don’t have to be brave and courageous. I have to trust that God is bigger that whatever I’m facing. So what happens when my life is ruled by fear instead of faith?

Numbers 13-14 tells the story of the children of Israel at Kadesh Barnea. Having traveled some 200 miles from Egypt, spies were sent into the land of promise on a recon mission for 40 days. They came back with “an evil report,” meaning that while they could confirm the land was bountiful, there was no way the people of the land could be conquered. Discord set in and the people rebelled in spite of Caleb and Joshua’s protests. Imagine how they allowed fear to overrule their faith one mile from the promised land, especially in light of the deliverances they had experienced–everything from the plagues to the parting of the Red Sea!

Which brings me to this question. What will it take for you to trust that God is with you? What does God have to do to prove himself once again that he’s faithful? This is when we have to learn to preach the gospel to ourselves. God understands the pain of evil, which is why Jesus came to earth and went to the cross. But on the other side of that cross stands a garden of resurrection. That’s the gospel! Preach it to yourself!

Categories : Evil, Fear
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Aug
17

On Liturgical Worship

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This was in today’s reading from The Book of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

When a song isn’t working for you (during worship), consider praising God, because that probably means it is working for someone else who is very different from you. Offer your worship as a sacrifice rather than requiring others to sacrifice for your pleasure or contentment. There is something to the notion of becoming one as God is one; it doesn’t mean we are all the same; it just means that we are united by one Spirit. After all, we can only become one if there are many of us to begin with.

Liturgy puts a brake on narcissism. Certainly, there is something beautiful about contemporary worship, where we can take old things things and add a little spice them, like singing hymns to rock tunes or reciting creeds as spoken word rhymes. But liturgy protects us from simply making worship into a self pleasing act. So if a song or prayer doesn’t quite work for you, be thankful that it is probably really resonating with someone who is different from you, and offer a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15).

Categories : Worship
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Aug
12

Know Fear

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What fears lurk in your heart? Crime? Racial tension? Terrorism? The political landscape? The economy? Failure? Disappointing others? Insignificance? Loneliness? Change? Missed opportunities? Aging? Illness? Dying?

Fear is a difficult thing to admit. Often we will use euphemisms like being stressed out or overwhelmed to avoid this confession. Regardless of what you call it, its real, and its presence is making itself known in American culture like never before.

The primary Greek word for fear is phobos, as in phobia. It is considered a neutral word, meaning that our understanding is based on the context of usage. On one hand it can mean cowardice, and on the other it can describe a truly religious person.

It was used in three ways in classical Greek. First, it could convey the idea of running away from danger. Second, it could refer to the opposite of courage as one seeks to avoid danger. Finally, it could describe the awe or reverence one possesses for an exalted ruler or person who is infinitely superior. In all, the word is used some 47 times in the New Testament, and generally speaks of fear in a positive sense as in the “fear of the Lord,” or as a description our appropriate response to evil.

It goes without saying that fear is part of our neurological hardwiring. It can produce a necessary and helpful signal that we need when facing danger. With almost no conscious help from us, fear tries to keep us safe. Gavin de Becker even calls fear, “a brilliant internal guardian.” At the level of intuition, fear is a gift that can potentially save our lives.

Unfortunately, much of our fear is manufactured. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to call fear, “False Evidence Appearing Real.” Like an illusionist, fear leads us to believe things that are not real. We see the magician saw the assistant in half, knowing full well its a trick, but at the same time wanting to believe what we have seen that cannot be explained.

I like what Paul wrote to Timothy about fear. He boldly said, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT). Its interesting that Paul does not use the word phobos, but instead uses a stronger word — deilos. This word is always used in the negative sense, and refers to a deep cowardice that one has. Paul wanted Timothy, and us for that matter, to know that this kind of fear does not come from God. Did you notice that the word “spirit” is in lower case? So as we experience life we have to make a choice about which spirit is going to govern our thoughts and feelings. If my spirit is in control, I’m going to be vulnerable to all manner of fear. But if God’s Spirit is in control, I have the resources needed to prevent me from becoming paralyzed by something that may or may not happen. Power, love and self-discipline are resources available to me only through God’s Spirit.

In his book Unafraid, Pastor Adam Hamilton used an acronym of his own to help us navigate the fears that plague us. Check it out:

Face your fears with faith.

Examine your assumptions in light of the facts.

Attack your anxieties with action.

Release your cares to God.

There’s a lot of unpacking there that I could do, but I’ll let the four principles speak for themselves. The point is that God has already provided the resources you need to live unafraid.

Categories : Fear
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Aug
07

Joy Through Acceptance

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Viktor Frankl knew the reality of suffering and deprivation as a prisoner of war in World War 2. His experience in Nazi prison camps enabled him to see life at its worst. Some individuals survived the horrors of those camps, while many did not. Frankl wanted to know why. After studying his fellow prisoners, Frankl concluded, “Everything can be taken from men but one thing…the last of all human freedoms…the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

In the first century, there were very few buildings dedicated solely to the purpose of incarceration. Often, prison cells were a part of a larger building that was used for other purposes. The most unpleasant of these would have a limited number of cells below ground, with a central cell used for the most dangerous prisoners. Dangerous criminals would have been whipped and then locked in stocks in the inner most cell. In other instances, people could be placed under house arrest, where a guard would be posted in regular living quarters. During his ministry, Paul experienced both extremes of Roman imprisonment. Imprisonment was not a punishment for a crimes. A person was only imprisoned to be held while awaiting trial.

Even in this circumstance, Paul could see the good contained within his adversity. In Philippians 1:12-14, he wrote, “that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the good news. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.” Paul maintained that his imprisonment is to Christ, not Rome. He was jailed for proclaiming an illegal religion that contradicted Ceasar’s insistence of lordship. The palace guard was an elite company of soldiers comprised of 10,000 men. They were the emperor’s special task force that was highly trained. In all likelihood, Paul was chained to one of those guards, wrist to wrist, 24 hours a day. He was the positive in his adversity because he seized the opportunity to advance (literally, “cut through”) the gospel.

Not only did Paul have a unique opportunity to share the gospel with influential men, his attitude was contagious, as other believers became emboldened. Like King David, we see that giant killers raise up giant killers.

Paul was not only able to see the good in his circumstance, he could celebrate the good within his circumstance. He wrote, “so I rejoice, and I will continue to rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18) Paul had a big picture focus. He didn’t allow the imperfections of others to cause him to lose his joy.

Finally, Paul remained hopeful within his adversity. In verse 19, he wrote, “For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.” He knew that there was something good on the other side of his imprisonment. That good could be his release from prison. But because of his faith, the good could also mean that if he was not released from jail he would be released to life eternal in heaven.

Like Paul, we need to remember the life of Jesus. On the other side of the cross lies a garden of resurrection. That truth does not just apply to Jesus and Paul. That truth is our reality as well.

Categories : Joy
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Aug
05

Joy in Connections

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I never get tired of seeing those television news clips or viral videos of deployed soldiers returning home to surprise their families. These gotcha moments occur anywhere from school classrooms to professional sports stadiums. Those stories make me happy, and always bring a smile to my face. But what if it was my son or daughter returning home? That’s one difference between happiness and joy…a connection.

The Book of Philippians is, in part, an epistle that is about joy. In Paul’s letter we find several ways that he experienced and expressed joy. The first eleven verses of chapter one describes his joy in the relationships he had formed with the people of that faith community.

For Paul, the foundation of all connected relationships began with his relationship with Christ. Christ influenced all of his relationships regardless of their roles or functions. Because of his relationship with Christ, Paul had deep gratitude for these men and women. They were not burdens–they were blessings, and expressed that gratitude in the language of prayer.

Paul’s use of the word fellowship in this passage is not a reference to Sunday-after-church-potlucks. True Christian fellowship (koinonia) happens when people partner together for a common cause. So these relationships fostered shared mission and ministry among the people

Not only was Paul thankful, his heart was filled with love. In addition to sharing the common bond of mission and ministry, they share the common bond of adversity. They did not recoil from Paul’s challenges to live lives of service.

Beyond their fellowship and shared adversity, Paul was also able to celebrate their authenticity. As they grew together in the Lord while in the midst of obstacles, their character became more and more sincere.

These three characteristics of connected relationships–a common cause, a common adversity, and sincerity in the face of struggle, produced fruitfulness in their lives. God was working in this congregation so that he could work through this congregation. This truth brought great joy to Paul.

Categories : Joy
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Jul
25

Discovering Joy

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“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” — C.S. Lewis

I find the concept of joy to be elusive. Not just for me, but for people in our Christian communities. Part of the reason is that we have made joy synonymous with happiness. While that comparison may work in secular culture, it does not work in Scripture. Happiness, which is rooted in “happenings,” is based on external factors and forces. For example, if someone gives me a gift, I become happy. But that happiness is fleeting, not unlike the child on Christmas morning that soon turns his attention from the new toy to the box that packaged it.

Joy is internal. And because it is internal, it is insulated from external factors and forces that rage against one’s life. Jesus was a man of complete and continuous joy, and maintained that joy despite a wide variety of disappointments and frustrations.

So how do we comprehend joy? I liken joy to the tree described in Psalm 1:1-2: “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”

If joy is likened to a tree, that tree is rooted in righteousness. It is planted with intent by God’s design and desire. Its not an accident. It’s fertile, meaning it has the possibility to reach its potential. And it’s designed to bear fruit.

The tree is designed to withstand all seasons of life. There are season of growth, fruit bearing, rest and lament. Each season is necessary to the process of joy. Think about what a 200 year old oak tree has withstood. It stands, having weathered all kinds of challenges. While the tree is weathered, it does not wither. Leaves fall from the tree in autumn, but leaves that wither are a sign of death.

Like those massive trees, you have been designed to prosper, meaning that you have the potential to thrive and increase your capacity. Every new tree will strive to survive. But in time, the tree begins to thrive. As the tree thrives they develop the capacity to prevail. And the capacity to prevail when the pressures of life come allow us to anticipate and even expect those pressures and face them victoriously.

Don’t let your demand and entitlement for happiness diminish your pursuit of joy. Joy is within your reach. You just need to grow your root system deeper.

Categories : Joy
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Jul
17

Blog Update

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Thank you for your patience while we work on the site. I’m utilizing a web developer and a Word Press specialist to help with updates and hopefully a new design. Keep checking in for new content!

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May
27

The Wonder Years

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Graduation season is beginning to wind down, and its been bittersweet for me because my youngest graduated from college earlier this month. We sat with pride through commencement exercises and celebrated our daughter’s accomplishment. Celebrations are best served mixed with moments of reflection as we realized the conferring of degrees was a milestone achieved over a life of learning. And with that the hope and confidence that the best is yet to come.

I mused at what it might have been like if Jesus graduated in 2019. Would he have been the valedictorian? Would he have won all of the academic and athletic honors? Would he have been presented with multiple full ride scholarships to all of the best institutions of higher learning due to his perfect ACT and SAT scores? It kind of makes you wonder.

One of my favorite passages about Jesus’ life is found in Luke 2:41-52. The story is familiar enough. Jesus and his family went to the Temple when he was 12 years old. This would have been an important visit for Jesus, because at age 13 he would become a full member of the Jewish synagogue and assume all of the rights and responsibilities of circumcision. In other words, he would become a man.

While the text is about Jesus, the story includes Joseph and Mary and their interplay through the narrative. The text reveals that Jesus, like any child, required some work. (Not that it was necessarily bad work). Verse 52 said that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” In short, he grew intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially. Joseph and Mary were there to superintend that growth and were diligent to ensure that Jesus was nurtured in the most loving way. The preceding verse says that Jesus was “obedient to them,” inferring that the parents were going to continue to provide direction and guidance for his developmental years.

But Jesus also created some worry. You remember, don’t you? They went to the Temple as a family, and after spending some time on the return trip to Nazareth they discovered Jesus wasn’t among the caravan of worshipers.

“Joseph, have you seen Jesus?” “No, I thought he was with you.” “I thought he was with you.”

After a three day search they found him in the Temple, presumably right where they left him. And in typical parental fashion, Mary chides, “How could you do this to us! We’ve been worried sick!” His simple response was that he must be “in his Father’s house.”

Which brings me to the third thing. Jesus created wonder. Imagine Mary and Joseph’s reaction when Jesus said he must be in his Father’s house! Hence the wonder. There’s no recorded response to Jesus’ statement. The only insight we have is that Mary treasured all of it in her heart. That’s not the first time Mary has treasured the mysterious sense of wonder surrounding Jesus in her heart. And it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

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Jan
03

A Prayer Before Study

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Ante Studium

A Prayer Before Study by Saint Thomas Aquinas

Ineffable Creator,

Who, from the treasures of your wisdom,

has established three hierarchies of angels,

has arrayed them in marvelous order

above the fiery heaven,

And has marshaled the regions

of the universe with such artful skill,

You are proclaimed

the true font of light and wisdom,

and the primal origin

raised high above all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness

into the darkened places of my mind;

Disperse from my soul

the twofold darkness

into which I was born:

sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.

Refine my speech

and pour forth upon my lips

the goodness of your blessing.

Grant to me keenness of mind,

Capacity to remember,

Skill in learning,

Subtlety to interpret,

and eloquence in speech.

May you guide

the beginning of my work,

Direct its progress,

and bring it to completion.

You Who are true God and true Man,

Who live and reign, world without end.

Amen.

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