Friday Devo – Psalm 5

I recently began sending the students in CSF a brief reflection on a Psalm each Friday.  My hope is that it will provide them with some motivation to read scripture.  I have enjoyed meditating on the Psalms, and I look forward to taking the next few years to get through them all!  I decided it might be worthwhile to post the weekly devos here, so if you happen to read this, I pray it is helpful.  Enjoy.
Psalm 5
For the director of music. For pipes. A psalm of David.
      1 Listen to my words, LORD,
consider my lament.
2 Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
      3 In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.

What do you do when you first wake up in the morning?  Check your phone?  How does this set a tone for your day?

Challenge – begin each day with 5 minutes of silence and prayer.

4 For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
5 The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
6      you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, LORD, detest.

Does God hate?  That seems harsh. What do you think?

How much does our reaction tell us about our own life?  I think of the shooter in Florida last week and I imagine if it was my child gunned down…any view of God that does not hate such evil, that can’t call it what it is and condemn it, seems disconnected from real pain and suffering.

      7 But I, by your great love,
can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
toward your holy temple.

      8 Lead me, LORD, in your righteousness
because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.

What are you struggling with?

Find life and love in the presence of God.  Jesus preached that God is close to the broken, and that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled (Matt. 5:6).  Note, such righteousness is not just an inner spiritual feeling but is akin to justice; it is a hunger for God’s love and mercy to fill the world, for wholeness and peace.

9 Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave;
with their tongues they tell lies.
10 Declare them guilty, O God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

      12 Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
Above we questioned the idea of God hating.  But if we only examine evil as something outside ourselves, we miss the point.  Paul quoted verses 9-10 in Romans 3 where he concludes that all humans are evil.  I am reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s account of the Russian work camps, illustrating the deep evil of Soviet communism.  He notes though that the truth about evil is not that it is out there, but it cuts through each of us.  I may look at the world and wonder how evil people can do such things, but they’re as human as I am.  We’re all capable of evil and we’re all broken.  Jesus reminds us that anger towards someone is murdering that person in your heart.

We take solace in the faith that God’s love is bigger than anything else about God.  As the late Billy Graham preached, any and all people are welcome to take refuge in God.  Jesus died for all of us and as we have faith, God will surround us with favor.  The only thing keeping us out , any of us, is our own anger and hatred.

This is one place to remember that the Psalms reflect humans relating to God and are often beautiful.  Yet a Christian interpretation must hold up Jesus , the clearest revelation of God, next to the Psalms.  Without Jesus, we might be tempted to take this Psalm as a way to point at evil people out there while we are the good guys with God; with Jesus, we know we are the bloodthirsty and those who speak lies and our only hope is God’s love and forgiveness.

Have a blessed weekend.

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Friday Devo – Psalm 4

I recently began sending the students in CSF a brief reflection on a Psalm each Friday.  My hope is that it will provide them with some motivation to read scripture.  I have enjoyed meditating on the Psalms, and I look forward to taking the next few years to get through them all!  I decided it might be worthwhile to post the weekly devos here, so if you happen to read this, I pray it is helpful.  Enjoy.

Psalm 4:

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.
      1 Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
      2 How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?

I resonate with David’s distress here.  This week we’ve experienced another mass shooting in a school.  It distresses me to kiss my wife goodbye when she heads off to the high school she teaches at.  I am distressed when I hug my daughter as she gets on the bus.  I imagine parents all over the country have experienced this the last few days.

I do not claim to have any answers or to know what the government should or should not do.  As a person of faith, I do question my fellow Christians though, as I have long thought the number one sin of Christians in our nation is love of  violence.  While Jesus calls us to take up our cross, lay down our lives, and follow him, follow him, we seek safety through blaming and scapegoating others.  While Jesus calls us to respond to violence with peace, to turn the other cheek and give to whomever asks, we vow to protect our lives and our stuff with weapons of death.

We like that Jesus forgives us our sins and promises us life with God after death, but we don’t seem interested in following his teachings in our daily life.

Ares (Mars) was the god of war in the ancient world.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  Do we who claim Jesus as our Lord live in ways that point more to Mars?

Again, I am not speaking of what the government should do and what the law should be.  I’m wondering what difference it may make in the world if we Christians sought to live like Jesus.

3 Know that the LORD has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.

      4 Tremble and do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
5 Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
and trust in the LORD.
      6 Many, LORD, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
Let the light of your face shine on us.
7 Fill my heart with joy
when their grain and new wine abound.
      8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, LORD,
make me dwell in safety.
Once again, I do not claim to have answers or solutions for the government (and they’re not asking me anyway).  My concern, as a man of faith and a pastor, is how Christians live.  Do we seek peace and safety in..in what?  As David notes, “you alone Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  Peace and safety do not come in any way apart from God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ.

My hope is that this trust in Jesus will overcome my distress.

How do you overcome the stress and distress of life?

Do you think violence is a false god for American Christians?

What do you cling to that you hope will provide safety and peace – education? intelligence? muscles? guns? parents? government? Jesus?

May God bring peace to you this weekend

Top Ten Books Read in 20

10. The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker – A great read for anyone who loves a good story.  Not without flaws, but overall very enlightening.  My 2018 reading list is populated by books Booker talks about.

9. God in the Dock by CS Lewis – I think I read a Lewis book or two each year.  This is a gem, filled with essays that touch on subjects in his more popular books.  If you’ve read a lot of Lewis some ideas here will be familiar, though it is fascinating to read them in different contexts.

8. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr – A practical and thoughtful book on God as Trinity and the difference this makes.

7. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by Rene Girard – I read this with some friends.  I had read a lot about Girard, this was my first foray into his work.  Definitely worth the time and extremely thought provoking.

6. Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm – A bit of an older book, but absolutely fantastic.  Fromm’s writing on freedom, authoritarianism and culture are as relevant today as ever.

5. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt – Why are religion and politics so divisive?  Why is it impossible to have a conversation with people?  Haidt’s book is phenomenal.

4.  What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe – Fans of history must read this one, covering the time from 1815-1844 in American history.

3. Hearts in Atlantis/The Stand/Salem’s Lot/The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King – I read a lot of King this year and enjoyed much of it.  Rather than rate them separate, they all get this spot together.  So good and so entertaining.

2. How to Survive the Apocalypse by Robert Joustra – a fun analysis of pop culture in light of the work of Charles Taylor.  Any book that discusses Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and others with some depth is going to be fun.

1. Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren – This gets the top spot because it was so relevant, applicable and challenging.  Unlike some books on this list, which appeal to a limited audience, I think any human could benefit from this one.

Why Do We Resist Jesus’ Teaching?(Crucifixion of the Warrior God ch.3)

As I read Boyd’s long book Crucifixion of the Warrior God, I am reminded of a common debate and inconsistency in Christian circles.  Some Christians will argue for a literal interpretation of every passage of scripture.  They argue for this when it comes to social issues like gay marriage and anyone who questions them is told to be on a slippery slope and compromising with culture.  What strikes me is when Jesus’ clear teachings on nonviolence are brought up, from his words in the sermon on the mount to not striking back, on through his dying on the cross and calling his followers to take up theirs, these same Christians explain it away.  Jesus, they insist, did not actually mean what he said.

In one area, to question a straightforward reading of scripture is a slippery slope.

In another, we need to question a straightforward reading of scripture.

Perhaps we are all guilty of this.  We all bring presuppositions and assumptions to our reading and tend to read in a way that confirms this.  So conservatives see the Bible supporting conservative political and social views while liberals see the Bible supporting their views.

How do we determine what the Bible is about?

Boyd argues that for Christians in the first centuries, the key to interpreting scripture is not the author’s original meaning but how this scripture points to Christ.  He writes: “It becomes clear that finding Christ in Scripture was a far more pressing concern for them than discerning an OT author’s originally intended meaning” (97).

So when we come to the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament, the question becomes how do these relate to Jesus Christ?

One view would argue that Jesus just give us one understanding of God, alongside of these other portrayals.  Jesus says to love your enemies while God in the Old Testament commands Israel to destroy their enemies and we are left with two equal, and differing, understandings of what God desires us to do towards our enemies.  Thus, sometimes God calls for the destruction of enemies while other times God says to love them.  This is how we end up with the argument that God is love and wrath that need to be balanced.

Boyd argues though, if this is the case, then to interpret the Old Testament violent portrayals of God at face value leads to an interpretation that would not be any different if Jesus had never come:

“What does it mean to declare that ‘in the whole Scripture there is nothing but Christ,’ as Luther did, when one nevertheless interprets portraits of God commanding genocide or slaughtering families by smashing parents and children together (Jer 13:14) exactly the same was as they would if they did not believe ‘there is nothing but Christ…in the whole of Scripture?’ If ever a distinctly Christocentric hermeneutic should make a difference in how Scripture is interpreted, I would think it would be in how we interpret sub-Christ-like portraits of God such as these” (138)

If our Christian interpretations of these violent scriptures would be no different if Jesus had never existed.

That should give us pause.  

Another view would argue that Jesus gives us the clearest understanding of who God is.  Jesus is fully human and fully God, thus we can say Jesus is the human face of God.  Whatever anything else says about God, even scripture, is secondary to Jesus.  Jesus is not one image of God alongside of others.  This means we interpret the rest of scripture through the lens of Jesus.

Why have Christians hesitated to allow our experience of Jesus to change how we view these scriptures.  Boyd has one reason that, disturbingly, may have much truth to it:

“Reading Scripture shapes out spiritual condition while our spiritual condition influences our interpretation of Scripture. What was distinctive about the Anabaptists’ use of this insight, however – and what set them at odds with their Protestant and Catholic contemporaries – was that they attached it to their distinctive emphasis on the importance of obeying the teachings and example of Jesus. Some Anabaptists thus insinuated that the reason the magisterial church leaders like Luther and Calvin failed to see the centrality of nonviolence in Jesus’ teaching and example was not because the teaching was ambiguous but because their allegiance to, and privileged position within, the state made obeying this teaching too costly. It was an allegation that did not endear them to their opponents” (128-129).

 

The idea that we bring our assumption to scripture is not new.  It has been an obstacle to understanding and living out scripture for centuries.

 

What God is Like (Crucifixion of the Warrior God chs. 1-2)

We all have notions of what God is like.  These ideas and images are built from all sorts of sources – stories, pop culture, holy scriptures, teachers, friends.  I imagine even atheists have some picture in their minds of what the God they do not believe in is like.  In many cases, it is just this picture that they find so revolting or irrational that leads them to reject belief.

To many people, the God shown throughout the Old Testament deserves to be rejected.  We see God commanding the Israelites to mercilessly slaughter thousands of people.  They are not told to give up slavery, but instead are instructed on how to treat slaves.  God seems to be okay with women as second class citizens.  Of course, Christians make arguments that try to get God off the hook.  Compared to surrounding cultures of the day, what appears to us as unjust and evil treatment of women and slaves was actually a step up the ladder towards justice.  God, Christians say, was working with humans and thus allowing some evils to work towards a greater good.  If there are 100 steps to perfection, God is moving the people one step at a time because to go all 100 steps at once is impossible.

Sometimes these arguments make sense.  Other times they seem like an attempt to put a positive spin on things.

Christians also believe that God is most fully revealed in the person of Jesus.  Traditional Trinitarian theology teaches that Jesus is literally God in the flesh.  For Christians, the Word of God is not a book, it is the God-man Jesus of Nazareth.

Growing up, I was taught that Christianity is unique because Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  Because of this, we did not have to work to earn God’s love.  We did not have to do all the works taught in the Old Testament, whether sacrifices or Sabbaths.  Jesus showed us a God who comes to us and loves and forgives us prior to us doing anything.

So when it came to things like salvation, the Old Testament laws on sacrifice that pertain to forgiveness of sin were not seen as on equal footing with Jesus’ work. Through Jesus, that way, even if it was commanded by God, was no more.  At least for salvation, Jesus defines what it means.

Yet when it comes to talking about what God is like, all of a sudden it was as if Jesus and the rest of the Bible are on equal footing.  This is especially pertinent when it comes to violence.  Jesus shows us nonviolence, that God is self-sacrificial love.  But…in the Old Testament God commands death and destruction.  Thus, God is not really like Jesus since our picture of God is taken equally from Jesus and the Old Testament.

To be clear, here’s the dichotomy:

*Salvation – Jesus clearly is the final word on salvation, the Old Testament still has value in understanding how we got to Jesus, but the system in place there, though revealed by God, is over.

*What God is like – Jesus is not the final word on what God is like, he is merely one image alongside many, including many violent portrayals in the Old Testament.

What Greg Boyd is arguing in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is that if we apply the same principles consistently, then we must allow Jesus to be the final word on everything, including violence.  This is a key point.  He is not presenting totally new and unheard of arguments.  Instead he is taking arguments of others, including key figures throughout the Christian tradition, and applying them consistently.  Boyd writes in chapter one:

“The question for Christians is this: Will our view of God be completely determined by the self-sacrificial love revealed on the cross or will it also be influenced by portraits of God doing things like commanding capital punishment for homosexuals (Lev 20:13) and rebellious children (Deut 21:18-21; Exod 21:15, 17; Lev 20:9), commanding genocide (e.g., Deut 7:2, 16), incinerating cities (Genesis 19) and striking a servant down for trying to prevent a sacred object from falling (2 Sam 6:6-7)?” (19).

In chapter two he echoes this:

“In light of the material covered in this chapter, I trust it is clear that the NT does not present Jesus as merely revealing an aspect of what God is like, as though we need to supplement this revelation with everything else we find in the Bible. Jesus is rather presented as the one and only Son who is, in contrast to all revelations that preceded him, the very ‘radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being’ (Heb 1:3). He is the very ’embodiment of the truth of God…I also trust it is also clear from the material we have covered that ‘the Old Testament…is all about Jesus’ which means that ‘there is no dimension of the Old Testament message that does not in some way foreshadow Christ,’ as Goldsworthy notes” (91).

This is not to say the Old Testament has no value, just as we say it has no value when we discuss salvation.  It is to say that our clearest picture of who God is, what God is like and how God relates to humans, is seen in the person and work of Jesus.

 

Crucifixion of the Warrior God – Intro

I’ve gone to church my whole life.  I remember learning all those old Bible stories as a kid in Sunday school.

David killing the giant Goliath with a stone flung from his slingshot.

Elijah slaughtering the hundreds of prophets of Baal.

Joshua marching around Jericho till the walls fell and the residents were massacred.

They are exciting stories, the sort of stories that keep your attention, filled with heroes and villains, as well as a good does of blood and guts.  Of course, I also learned that Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins.  The greatest hero was not the one who killed, but allowed himself to be killed.

Over the years, and I’m not sure when it first hit me, I started to wonder.  How could the God revealed in Jesus – one who taught love of enemies and who showed it by dying – be the same God who commanded and praised the killing not just of enemies, but often of seemingly innocent people?  Its a common question.  Anyone who has spent time in the church and read the Bible has been confronted with it.  It is often cited as one of the primary reasons people reject faith – God just appears too bloodthirsty, and thus simply not worthy of worship.

In the midst of wrestling with this question, I have discovered many answers that have been given over the years.  Some are more satisfying than others.  Even in the midst of finding answers, questions have lingered.  Aren’t these answers just “spin”, the sort of thing we see when politicians and celebrities are faced with negative stories about themselves?  If Jesus truly is the human face of God (or to use theological lingo, the second person of the Trinity, God in the flesh) then does Jesus not illustrate what God is really like?  In other words, is it a choice between Jesus and the Old Testament?

I recently began reading Greg Boyd’s two-volume work on this subject, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.  I am actually reading this with a few friends of mine and we meet to discuss it occasionally.  While I read, I am going to blog about it, share what I find helpful or relevant or weak.

I am looking forward to this book because Boyd seems to have struggled with the same questions I have, namely how to lift up Jesus as God while believing the Old Testament is inspired.  In other words, the solution cannot be to throw out the Old Testament as wrong or outdated, nor can it be to take away from our understanding of who Jesus is.

“I have come to believe that Jesus revealed an agape-centered, other-oriented, self-sacrificial God who opposes violence and who commands his people to refrain from violence (e.g., Matt. 5:39-45; Luke 627-36). I also believe in the divine inspiration of the Old Testament (OT) primarily because I have good reason to believe Jesus treated it as such” (xxvii).

I’m about 140 pages in and finding lots of fantastic points.  It should prove fodder for both good discussion and, hopefully, good reflection on here.

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Review)

              What is God truly like?  This is a question I have wrestled with.  My whole life I have heard people say, and have said myself, that God is a God of love and of justice.  Your sin deserves God’s eternal and unending punishment, or wrath.  You can avoid this punishment by trusting in Jesus for in Jesus we see God’s love.  In other words, God shows love to some and wrath to others.

              To hold this understanding leads to some unavoidable questions.  Does Jesus save us from a vengeful God?  Is God’s love offered with a threatening fist raised to punish you if you do not accept?  And if God tortures you for not accepting God’s love, how is God different from an abusive husband?

              As I read Brian Zahnd’s book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, I felt like I was reading my own questions and struggles.  I deeply resonate with this book, and I almost want to say any Christian who is honest about the tension between God’s wrath and love should too.  Zahnd writes with honesty and passion that lays it all right out there for the reader.  This is not an academic book, nor will it answer every question, especially every question critics are sure to bring to it (though, as a sort of coincidence, I just started reading Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God which is very similar to Zahnd’s work and is more academic, if anyone is interested in that).  I appreciate Zahnd’s honesty for not dancing around the issues.  For example, is it wrong to murder children?  Of course.  Was Hitler wrong to exterminate millions of Jews.  Absolutely.  So why do we then waffle if it is God in scripture who does those things?  Is God a monster to order the extermination of children?  Did millions of Jews pass from Hitler’s ovens to the unending fiery flames of God’s ovens in hell?

              The idea here is one option we have when dealing with God’s wrath.  Maybe God is a monster.  Zahnd rejects this.  The options more Christians might take is that God changes.  God might have commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites but now God has become love.  God does not work that way anymore.  Zahnd rejects this on the principle that God does not change.  At the same time, Zahnd also shows that many Christians utilize the book of Revelation to show that God has not really changed but that God really is merely a God of wrath.  If Revelation portrays Jesus as returning to slaughter his enemies, then the question of what God is like finds its answer: God is wrath.  Here the acts of Jesus on the cross, as well as throughout his life, do not reveal what God is really like.  Instead Jesus is sort of a reprieve between the vengeful God of the Old Testament and the vengeful God of Revelation.  God may offer forgiveness and love for a time, but this is merely temporary.

              I think this understanding of God is too common among Christians in America.  It is as if the Jesus in the Gospels, the Jesus who teaches love of enemy and then does it and demands we do the same, is too radical.  Our human nature wants a vengeful God.  The sad thing is that to fall back into a God of wrath is to take away what makes Jesus unique.  Every culture and religion (okay, maybe not every one…I am using hyperbole here) has deities that enjoy wrath.  Whether Babylon, Rome or America, these empires go to war with the belief that God blesses our weapons and fighting.  The idea that God demands something different is so uncomfortable.  So we welcome Jesus for forgiveness of our sins and a ticket to heaven, but find Jesus’ way too impractical for daily life.

              Zahnd thus argues that the portrait of Jesus in Revelation does not contradict Jesus in the gospels.  Instead, Jesus truly is the human face of God.  Jesus revealed God.  This is basic Trinitarian theology.  Zahnd emphasizes over and over what this means though.  The Bible is not a flat book where all parts are equal.  The Bible is open to many interpretations, and you can easily find a violent God in there if you wish.  But it is Jesus, God in the flesh, that regulates our understanding of the rest of the Bible.  Because of how Jesus reveals God, we are forced not to say God is a monster or God changes, but to be open to the idea our understanding of the Old Testament has to change.  This is one area where Zahnd could have spent more time, though it is also basically what Boyd’s book is about.  In essence, we know what God is like in Jesus.  When it comes to God’s love in Jesus and God’s order for wrath in the Old Testament, we go with Jesus.  That may leave questions about what the Old Testament means, but those are questions we can live with since we now have Jesus in his proper place.

              If questioning traditional interpretations of the Old Testament is not enough, Zahnd also questions traditional understandings of hell.  First, I think he is right on in cautioning Christians against being confident of who is in hell.  Jesus is Savior and Jesus will save all sorts of people.  Second, he does not actually say much about the afterlife.  Zahnd’s emphasis is on this life, including the hells we humans create.  That said, it is clear that his understanding of God as Love means the door is never closed on anyone, in this life or the next.  If a person turns away from their self-centeredness and desires to know God, God will welcome that person.  As the book of Revelation says, the gates of the New Jerusalem are never closed, so presumably people can enter at any time.  God’s love means God is, like the Father in the parable of the prodigal, always willing to welcome anyone.  The problem is that we, like the son, are slow to go home.  I suppose Zahnd is not a big enough name to get criticized the way Rob Bell did with Love Wins (which I am pretty sure many of his critics did not bother to read), but he sounds a lot like Bell here.

              Overall, I loved this book.  Even if you do not agree with some of Zahnd’s conclusions, I think the questions he is raising are worth your time.  Does God send people to an eternal torture chamber, worse than anything Hitler devised?  Does God change?  How do we understand passages of the Old Testament, such as the Canaanite genocide, in light of Jesus?  What, ultimately, is God really like?  Is God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus just a parenthesis between lots and lots of wrath?  Or is Jesus truly the human face of God?

              Finally, most of my qualms with this book come down to editing.  Zahnd’s foil here is Jonathan Edwards, the title of the book is even a modification of one of Edwards’ sermons.  After the first chapter or so, Zahnd begins mentioning John Calvin and Calvin’s ideas.  Unless I missed it, he never quoted Calvin.  Perhaps Calvin is a stand in for Calvinism, though Calvinism is broad.  Maybe Puritanism?  John Piper?  I am sure Calvin is closer in theology to Edwards than Zahnd, but bringing Calvin in with little introduction seemed sloppy.  Likewise, there were a couple other references with no note.  He mentioned William Wallace once, a clear allusion to Braveheart and a strain of Christianity that lifts up Wallace as an ideal man (John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart).  Was this connection I made what Zahnd hoped for?  Again, either editing or something would have cleared this up. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review

CS Lewis Top Ten Books: 5-1

5. The Great Divorce – In this book, Lewis takes the reader on an allegorical journey of heaven and hell.  Honestly, this is one of those books that makes me surprised Lewis is so popular in evangelical Christian circles.  Were he living and writing today as a member of American evangelicalism, I suspect he would be highly criticized.  That aside, this is a fantastic work of speculative fiction.  Whatever you think about the afterlife, there is a lot here to ponder.  This book also shows Lewis’ brilliance in that he combined a tremendous talent for storytelling as well as an astute mind.  In other words, he did not just present his ideas in straightforward theology books but let them meander out in fascinating stories.

4. A Grief Observed – One of Lewis’ first books was The Problem of Pain.  In it he tackled the age old challenges to faith of evil and suffering.  Its not a bad book but it does not make my list because, helpful as such books are, they often appear separated from real life suffering.  Lewis, as a veteran of the first world war, was certainly familiar with suffering.  But I recall The Problem of Pain approaching the problem a bit too on the rationalistic side.  What is fascinating is how one of Lewis’ last books attacks the problem.  A lifelong bachelor, Lewis eventually married only to have his wife die of cancer.  The short book, A Grief Observed, is his raw and emotional cry in response to this suffering.  The rationalist presenting well thought out answers is gone in the face of a man nearing despair and questioning his faith.  Lewis did not lose his faith of course, and this book is brilliant for its honesty.

3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – Finally we get to the Narnia stories.  I thought of just putting them at number one as a whole.  As I write this, I wonder why I did not include The Last Battle or The Horse and His Boy in my top ten.  But since I was a kid, Voyage of the Dawn Treader has been one of my favorite stories.  It is the third Narnia story, the first without Peter and Susan.  We meet Eustace who joins his cousins, Edmund and Lucy, on a voyage to the end of the world.  I think there’s just something about quest stories that has always gripped me.  Of course, there is some fantastic imagery I did not get as a kid which I find profound now.

2. Mere Christianity – It was probably sometime in college when I first learned that the author of my favorite fantasy series had written other books.  This is Lewis’ most well-known work apart from Narnia and has become a classic of Christian apologetics.  The last time I read it, I recall being surprised by how good it was.  Some of the arguments are so familiar, and so often quoted, that they are also often criticized. And it is true that some of the arguments out of context are less convincing.  For example, Lewis argues that Jesus must be either liar, lunatic or lord.  But what about legend, maybe the stories in the gospels are far from what really happened? (I believe Lewis does address this in later essays since it was probably a critique even in his day.)  So yes, its not a perfect book (the few pages when Lewis address male-female relationships are actually pretty bad).  But it is a wonderful book and deserves its place at the top of Lewis’ works

1. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – What else could I put here?  My love of Narnia dates back to discovering this book in my church library as a kid (as I noted in the first post).  I was entranced as I read it during church, rather than listening to the sermon.  At some point the allegory became apparent, seeing Aslan as Jesus. I recently read it to my oldest daughter and look forward to reading it to my son.  I don’t necessarily want to say it was life-changing, but I think it was.  Lewis loved stories and came to see the story of Jesus as the myth that became fact.  So all the stories we love point to the true story of the world.  For me, this book prepared me for a deeper understanding of the story of Jesus.  Heck, maybe at some point it saved my faith.  There have been times I wanted Aslan and Narnia to be real.  That aside, it is a fantastic story.  Thus its number one both because it is a great story and, personally, it changed my life.

CS Lewis’ Top Ten Books: 10-6

I’ve been a fan of CS Lewis’ writing forever, since I picked up The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in my church library when I was around ten.  Over the years I have managed to read most of his books, both fiction and non-fiction.  He is often quoted and has shaped many hearts and minds.  For what it is worth, enjoy my top ten Lewis books.

10. The Abolition of Man

This is a short book, under 100 pages, that packs a powerful punch.  Lewis argues for the importance of universal values such as honor and courage.  He shows how these values are found all over ancient cultures and world religions.  It makes sense, since if all humans are created in God’s image then we should share many values.  As he looked at the twentieth century, Lewis feared his culture was trying to jettison these long-held and vital values.

9. The Weight of Glory

Some of Lewis’ best work came in essays and lectures.  This book is a collection of some of those.  The best here is “Learning in War Time” where he addresses whether it is worthwhile continuing to study at university during war, specifically WWII.  Expanded, this is one of the best defenses of Christians pursuing study that you will find anywhere.  He also writes an essay on why he is not a pacifist, which I recall being disappointing.  Overall though, a wonderful collection.

8. God in the Dock

Here is another collection of essays, though this one is at least twice as long as The Weight of Glory.  If you have read a lot of Lewis, you will see many of his ideas found in his books showing up in his essays.  On the other hand, if you’re new to Lewis this might serve as a good preview for some of the arguments in his books.

7. Till We Have Faces

Lewis is the rare author who combined the ability to write fantastic fiction with compelling work on Christian spirituality and theology.  This book was his last work of fiction and perhaps his best.  While the Narnia stories were for children and much of the symbolism was easy to discover, the messages and meanings here require a good bit more thought.  Lewis thought highly of pre-Christian paganism, and this story is set in such a pre-Christian land.  Thus we meet a “god” and not God.  Lewis thought that Western culture might need to return to paganism in order to be prepared for a serious reevaluation of Christianity.  Meaning and symbolism aside, this is a great story.

6. The Four Loves

In this book Lewis examines different types of love, from affection and friendship to romantic love and self-giving love.  I found this both challenging and enlightening.  One vital point Lewis makes is differentiating between need-pleasure and pleasure-of-appreciation.  The first is kind of self-centered  you appreciate something because you need it; you love it because of what it does for you.  This is not bad of course, but, to take one example, if your love of your spouse never matures past this you are in trouble.  Pleasure rooted in appreciation loves the other for its (his, her) inherent goodness and beauty.

Stay tuned for 5-1 next week…

Why I Chose to Give Up Twitter and Save My Soul

Most days my mornings beginning roughly the same: I get up, make the kids their breakfast and then sit down to drink my coffee while reading the news.  My interaction with the news is not through a physical paper but is filtered through the News and Twitter apps on my phone.  Because of this, my reading of the news was not limited to news but included commentary (tweets and retweets) from the hundreds of people I had chosen to follow on Twitter.

I recently realized that engaging with the news in this way was becoming a huge distraction in my life.  This is because reading the news in the morning was never enough.  I would be drawn back throughout the day to see the latest comments on that news – whether funny, snarky, angry or thoughtful.  It got to the point where every hour or so I felt a need to check twitter to see the latest.  Further, with my phone charging next to my bed I found myself reaching for it first thing in the morning.  Again, I justified this by saying I wanted to check the weather.  Or maybe someone texted me something important while asleep.  But my groggy half awake self was already diving into the news of the day as presented on Twitter.

I recently read Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Warren and I believe every single Christian, or perhaps any person, could benefit by reading it.  It is one of my favorite books, and probably one of the most practical, I have read in a long time.  She writes about the spiritual practices that shape us, such as how we spend the early moments of our day:

          “By reaching for my smartphone every morning, I had developed a ritual that trained me toward a certain end: entertainment and stimulation via technology. Regardless of my professed worldview or particular Christian subculture, my unexamined daily habit was shaping me into a worshiper of glowing screens. Examining my daily liturgy as a liturgy—as something that both revealed and shaped what I love and worship—allowed me to realize that my daily practices were malforming me, making me less alive, less human, less able to give and receive love throughout my day. Changing this ritual allowed me to form a new repetitive and contemplative habit that pointed me toward a different way of being-in-the-world.

Twitter can be a helpful and useful tool.  There are plenty of smart people on there sharing helpful and challenging ideas.  But I realized that reading, and trying to keep up with, the tweets from a bunch of strangers was beginning to hurt my real life.  Again, I could justify it because if I retweeted something good I was speaking truth or fighting the good fight.  If I am honest though, nobody cares what I have to say.  My tweets are not making any sort of difference beyond virtue signaling.  And, once again, there is a whole world around me that I want to make a different in.

In other words, social media in general and twitter specifically was not helping me become the father, husband, neighbor, campus pastor or church member I want to be.

I’ve been challenged by scripture like this one:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things – Philippians 4:6-8

What am I doing that promotes meditating on good things rather than being filled with anger, stress and frustration (which is where I usually ended up after being on Twitter)?

Rather than picking up my phone first thing in the morning, I sit in bed and think or I pick up my Bible and read.  Perhaps I write in my journal.

Rather than checking Twitter every hour, I am trying to sit in the silence of the day, to pray for those around me, and think of ways I can act in positive ways in the world.

I pray this makes me more content throughout my days, and also more active in actually helping those around me.

If interested, I preached a sermon on this at my church last week: Content. Check it out here (October 1, titled Content).