Archive for July, 2012

C.S. Lewis on God Listening to Prayer

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Suppose I am writing a novel. I write ‘Mary laid down her work; next moment came a knock at the door!” For Mary who has to live in the imaginary time of my story there is not an interval between putting down the work and hearing the door. But I, who am Mary’s maker, do not live in that imaginary time at all. Between writing the first half of that sentence and the second, I might sit down for three hours and think steadily about Mary. I could think about Mary as if she were the only character in the book and for as long as I pleased, and the hours I spent in doing so would not appear in Mary’s time (the time inside the story) at all… God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the time of his own novel. He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us (p. 167-168).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The question that drove Lewis to this illustration was, “How can God hear, much less answer, the prayers of the whole world?” To put it in modern vernacular, “How does God ever get to the end of His inbox when everyone has His p-mail address?” (The “p” is for prayer.) That led to Lewis’ reflections on God and time.

What strikes me about this reflection is how innately and comprehensively I think of God as a larger and more powerful version of “me.” Often I am more prone to consider how the special powers of a marvel comic book hero would make their life different from mine than I am God’s uniqueness.

Think of the parallel this way. I am made in God’s image. A photograph or statue is made in my image. Even still, there are things I can do that a photo or statue cannot because they only reflect (and do not possess) certain of my attributes. Yes, they bear my image. No, they don’t have the same experience or perspective I have. Similarly, there are things about God that are beyond the scope of my experience because I am a finite creature bound by space, time, and fatigue.

This should spark awe, creativity, and humility. Awe is the speechless wonder that comes with knowing that whatever knowledge we have of God right now is only what our language and concepts will allow us to grasp. There is more about God in the Bible than we are capable of mining. The Bible is clear that it only scratches the surface (John 21:25). We have what is sufficient to know to bring us to where we can know God fully – heaven.

Creativity is the intersection of truth and confusion. Lewis knew that God promised to hear and answer every prayer. That truth overwhelmed him, because His view of God was incomplete. This led him to think, read Scripture, read theology, and imagine (a part of meditation on Scripture). Lewis wanted to be able to put God into words, as best he could, not to control God, but to give Him more informed worship and remove intellectual barriers for skeptics.

Humility is the response to greatness and protection of creativity. A brilliant mind like that of C.S. Lewis could easily become pridefully infatuated with the worlds it could create and the riddles it could solve. But that is unless the object of its creativity was so great that each mystery solved led to a more intimate relationship with a God so great that new, more intoxicating mysteries emerged.

These would be the “take away” from this quote. First, do not limit God to a larger version of your experience. Second, live in awe (not shame or futility) about the greatness of God. Third, allow for sanctified creativity (meditation) as you read Scripture and good Christian books. Fourth, savor humility as the virtue that allows each new facet of God to take you deeper into the next.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Spiritual Disciplines” post which address other facets of this subject.

How to Listen to a Faith-Story

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on Hebrews 11:6, 17-40 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/SundayJuly 28-29, 2011.

Have you ever been discouraged or overwhelmed after hearing a good testimony of faith? Somebody shares the fears they faced and the risks they took for God and all you can think is, “How did they know it would work out?… I wish God would come through like that for me… Why doesn’t God love me like He does them?”

Or, maybe, your thoughts go more like this, “So that’s how it done!… When someone asks that question, I should give that answer, and they will accept Christ… When I am making a decision, I can expect that kind of guidance and it will ensure that I am following God’s will.”

If you have either of these tendencies, then Hebrews 11 is a chapter of Scripture that can as discouraging as it is encouraging. But the passage not only describes faith; it also helps us learn how to listen well to someone else’s story of faith. Very intentionally, Hebrews 11 moves us away from listening to faith stories in the formulaic ways described above.

First, we notice that none of the stories are the same. God wasn’t trying to give us a faith-pattern (as if faith were a dance or an incantation). Instead, God illustrates lives rooted in the firm belief that He is real and that He cares for those who follow Him (Heb. 11:6). That is the only “pattern.”

Too often we listen to testimonies as if they were recipes. If that were true, then we would be mastering God instead of following Him as Lord. Instead it is more accurate to think of a testimony as the telling of one journey on the map of faith. We are not trying to trace their steps, because we’re at a different point on the map. We are gaining confidence that the map is trustworthy for our difficult journey through life.

Second, we see that faith-stories are best heard in community. Hebrews 12:1 draws on chapter eleven and says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” The reader is not meant to be an objective third party. Instead the reader is meant to feel a sense of belonging to the community of faith.

The implication is that we should be close enough to people who are living lives of faith that we hear the beginning, middle, and end of the story as it unfolds. We read Hebrews 11:26-28 and we know the end of the story. The invisible has already become visible. That is still our experience in modern stories of faith when we have not been walking with the story teller.

This is why being plugged into a small group is so vital. We need to be hearing the real stories of real people in real time. Otherwise, we will not experience the “delay of suspense” in their faith story in the same way we do in our story. When we miss this, we are much more prone to a distorted understanding of faith.

Third, we realize that we are the continuation and fulfillment of their faith-story (11:40). The Bible knows nothing of a passive listener to a story of faith. Every story of faith is either a call to get caught up in this life of faith (Heb 12:1) or a spotlight condemning our sin of passive unbelief (Heb 11:7).

After this lineage of the “Hall of Faith,” verse 40 transitions the focus from these Old Testament heroes to the reader and says, “Apart from us they should not be made perfect.” The verb “made perfect” can also be translated “complete.” Their faith is not finished bearing fruit, because we are still alive being “stirred up” (Heb10:24) by their example.

Similarly, when we hear our friend’s stories of faith, our response is part of what makes complete the impact and reward of their faith. We see in this why the Hebrew language had no noun form of the word “faith,” only a verb. Faith moves. It has momentum. When that momentum touches our life in the form of a testimony we will either build upon that momentum or stand in opposition to it.

So what is the take away? (1) Listen to stories of faith as journeys that give you greater confidence in the map of God’s Word, not steps to trace. (2) Be sure that you belong to a community of faith—small group—where you are regularly hearing stories of faith from people who you know at each stage of their journey. (3) Realize that what you do in response to hearing their story is the continuation of their story and, therefore, “run with endurance the race that is set before” you (Heb 12:1).

Radio Interview about “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Finances” Seminar

Tuesday (July 24, 2012) I had the privilege of being on the “Called 2 Action Today” show with Steve Noble to talk about my two upcoming seminar: “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Finances.”

The podcast from this show can be found here.

We had a great conversation about many subjects:

  • Why do we avoid budgeting?
  • Why is budgeting hard?
  • Why do most budgets fail in the first 2 months?
  • What is a gospel-centered approach to finances?
  • What are overlooked warning signs that poorly managed finances are adversely affecting your marriage?
  • What are the overlooked marital benefits of managing your finances well?

I appreciated Steve’s candid honest questions and willingness to address a subject that is wrecking many marriages.

If you are an engaged couple, experienced married couple looking to manage your finances better, or wanting a resource to equip you for marriage mentoring, come join us for:

Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations
Topics: Budgeting in a Way that Enhances Your Marriage
Dates: August 4 and 11, 2012
Times: 4:00 to 5:30 pm and 6:00 to 7:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free

Marriage Evaluation: Financial Beliefs and Character

If budgeting were easy, then everyone would do it because the advantages are huge and irrefutable. In that sense budgeting is like exercise. During the first segment of this seminar there are two things you should do. First, take comfort that everything stated in this seminar will be taken into account in the materials ahead. The more you get convicted in this chapter, the more encouraged you should feel because you will know this material is written for you.

Second, talk with your spouse. This is another opportunity to learn about one another and create an atmosphere where it is safe to acknowledge your fears and weaknesses. It is easy to forget that how you talk about money is as important for protecting your marriage as what you decide. This is an opportunity to unplug these conversations from a triggering crisis and have them with a more neutral atmosphere.

This evaluation (Evaluation – Financial Beliefs and Character) is meant to help a couple assess whether shared beliefs about finances and their character create an environment that promotes marital unity and financial freedom. Before a budgeting tool can be effective, we must evaluate the two people who will be jointly using that tool.

Several of the plumb lines from the first section of this seminar will include:

  • When you master the #1 cause of marital division you will find that it can be the #1 cause of marital unity.
  • Everything that we have (i.e., money, time, ability, relationships) is a gift from God.
  • Trying to spend your way to security or happiness is a recipe for insecurity and despair.
  • If we cannot afford it, we do not deserve it.
  • When you spend money you are spending your life – the time you traded for that money.
  • Managing your money well is like getting a raise.
  • You will treat those closest to you like you treat your money.
  • God’s will fits in God’s provision.

In this first section you will learn to:

  • Identify the 20 most common challenges to managing marital finances well
  • Learn what a budget really is
  • Outline the important information you need to gather to have a long-term functional budget

Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations
Topics: Budgeting in a Way that Enhances Your Marriage
Dates: August 4 and 11, 2012
Times: 4:00 to 5:30 pm and 6:00 to 7:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free

C.S. Lewis on How God Knows the Future

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot… But supposed God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today.’ All the days are “Now’ for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing… In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him (p. 170).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Lewis captures this truth in a conversation between Lucie and Aslan in Prince Caspian of The Chronicles of Narnia series. Aslan was about to leave and Lucie wanted to know when she would see him again. Aslan replied, “Soon.” Lucie wanted him to be more specific and asked when soon would be. Aslan replied, “I call all times soon.”

Personally, I find Lewis’ reference to the past particularly helpful. God does not remember the past (at least not in the sense that we “remember” things); He sees it (very similarly to how we experience the present), because God exists outside of time. This gives me a frame of reference for how differently God experiences time without arousing my fear of being controlled.

God is not a time traveler. He doesn’t need a “flux capacitor” in order to go “back to the future.” God exists outside of time. In that sense, God experiences time like we experience distance at a football game. The athletes on the field are immersed in the game and surprised when someone hits from their blind side. We, the fans, see the play unfold and wince before the hit happens.

This addresses God’s foreknowledge of our freedom (which is Lewis’s subject), not God’s sovereignty or predestination (which is a related but different subject; moves from awareness to influence). But when we realize that God does not experience our past like we do, then we can gain a sense for how God experiences our future differently than we do.

God is omnipresent geographically and chronologically. God is no more bound by time than He is by space. If you can conceive that God is simultaneously present with you and with a Christian on the other side of the globe, then the same principle should be applied to God being fully present in (aware of) your past and your future.

The biggest implication for this truth would be “what if” thinking. “What if” thinking presumes a level of uncertainty based upon the notion that no one has been where we’re going. It is like driving to a place you’ve never been before and being plagued by the question, “What if we missed the turn?” Having a passenger in the car who had taken this journey before changes the experience significantly. Now you can enjoy (peace) the ride (life) and conversation (prayer) as long as you drive responsibly (obedience) knowing that there is no doubt you will certainly reach the desired destination.

“You Sin Less than Anyone I Know”

It was one of those “mystery pain” nights. My seven year old came down because his “side was hurting.” It conveniently began to be uncomfortable just after we turned out the lights for bed. But I was up for some late night chatter, so I offered to lie in the floor next to his bed until it felt better.

Sallie and I had been watching a movie about Alexander the Great when he came down stairs, so he asked me what it was about.  I explained that it was about a man who tried to and nearly succeeded in conquering the whole world.

He paused for a moment and said that is why he never wanted to be President; he was afraid having that much power would be too tempting for him. It was a sweet moment of realizing how deeply his young mind thought about life and how seriously (at least when he’s thinking) he takes his sin nature.

From there he rambled for a while about a cartoon where a main character was corrupted by power and the lessons he learned in first grade about the checks and balances in government. It was a delight and highly entertaining to lie in the floor and listen to his mind connect the dots between various sources of information he had been exposed to.

As a side note, I highly recommend the occasional late night hang out with your children. Whether we’re camping or waiting out a phantom side pain (I’m still not convinced), rarely do I leave without hearing a side of my boys’ hearts that I would not get during the day.

Somewhere in the midst of his chatter he said, “You know, Papa, you sin less than anyone I know,” and then went on to say why he agreed with me instead of something he heard at school.

That moment was very convicting to me. Earlier that evening we had tried to learn the game of Monopoly for the first time with the participation of my five year old son. Being the perfectionist that I am, I only know one way to play a game – “the right way.” Evidently my wife believes that the “author’s original intent” does not apply to the rule book of board games, so there was much for them to unlearn from their initial exposure to Monopoly with her the day before.

While both boys had fun, I cannot say that patience would be the word that best describes my “coaching” of the fundamentals of Monopoly. I would not volunteer the footage of that home movie as a how to video on family game night.

My son’s assessment of me made my “acceptable sharpness” look different to me. It showed me how much of a standard bearer I am for my sons. At this age (I know it will change), they assume almost everything I do is right and everything that bothers me is wrong. My “emotional climate” is their reality.

When they get bigger, one significant gauge for how much they will question their faith is how accurate my example was to the teaching of Scripture and how effectively my example can be followed in the real world. Hearing his sincere words about how he views me, makes me question how effective saying, “Only Jesus is perfect, so don’t base your faith on me,“ will be.

As he moves into adulthood he will be able to separate my example from Jesus, but in the formative years of pre-teen and teen-dom it seems likely that my example (as his father) will be his vision of Jesus. Until he can transition from the concrete example of his earthly father to the intangible God-as-Spirit and God-as-Word revealed in Scripture, I’m it.

That gave weight to something I have said many times, “We teach values more by our emotions than by our words.” So in that evening I confessed to my son that I had not even handled our Monopoly game well and that I’d been too impatient. I don’t think he believed me. In that moment God used him to teach me a truth I needed to learn from the innocent love of a child, “Love covers a multitude of sins (I Pet 4:8).”

 

Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Finances

Have you ever asked yourself any of these questions:

Why are money problems the number one cause of divorce? How do we maintain reasonable expectations for money in a debt-sick culture? How do two people manage their money together when it is hard enough to manage as a single person? Who should administrate the finances and how involved should the other person be? How do we learn self-control and contentment as a couple? How can “budget” become an exciting or, at least, pleasant word?

Imagine you’re on the Family Feud game show. The host comes to you and says, “We’ve surveyed 100 families and asked what they believe is a good idea, but still don’t do. Can you give us one of the top five answers?” There is a good chance if you answered, “Budgeting,” you would have the #1 answer.

There is no one who really believes, “You can neglect paying attention to your finances and expect everything to turn out fine. Spend what you want, when you want, try not to be excessive (but don’t define “excessive”), and you should be alright.” We would roll our eyes and laugh as we read this if it were not the reality in which so many people tried to live.

If want to gain the tools and process to (1) correct ineffective thinkging about money, (2) create a budget that you can administrate in less than 30 minutes per week, (3) learn how to communicate about financial decisions, (4) get out of debt, and (5) utilize your finances to shape your life to be more like Christ, then this event is for you.

Seminar:

Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations
Topics: Budgeting in a Way that Enhances Your Marriage
Dates: August 4 and 11, 2012
Times: 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free

This seminar is one piece of a five part series of seminars (foundations, communication, finances, decision making, and intimacy) designed to facilitate mentoring relationships for married or engaged couples (one-on-one or in a group setting). Our goal in these seminars is to cover the key subjects that often hinder, but could greatly enhance, a couple’s ability to experience all that God intended marriage to be.

We believe that change that lasts happens in relationship. Private change tends to be short-lived change. Living things exposed to light grow. Living things kept in the dark wither. This is why we designed this series to encourage you to give your marriage the light of Christian community by studying these materials with others.

These materials are built upon a central premise – God gave us marriage so that we would know the gospel more clearly and more personally. It is the gospel that gives us joy. Marriage is meant to be a living picture of the gospel-relationship between God and His bride, the church. For this reason, we have two goals for you as you go through this study:

  1. That you would get know and enjoy your spouse in exciting, new, and profoundly deeper ways, so that…
  2. … you would get to know and enjoy God in exciting, new, and profoundly deeper ways.

This series of seminars is arranged around five topics that represent the most common challenges that face a marriage. While the challenges of each area are acknowledged, the tone of these seminars is optimistic. We believe that those things that cause the greatest pain when done wrongly bring the fullest joy when done according to God’s design.

C.S. Lewis on a Community Vision for God

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“God can show Himself as He really is only to real men. And that means not simply to men who are individually good, but to men who are united together in a body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another. For that is what God meant humanity to be like; like players in one band, or organs in one body. Consequently, the one really adequate instrument for learning about God is the whole Christian community, waiting for Him together (p. 165).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The idea of knowing someone best in community (rather than one-on-one) was an idea that Lewis did not apply only to God. It was actually a concept that he learned by accident and was surprised to discover.

Lewis was a part of a group of three friends for a long time when one of them passed away. Initially he tried to console himself by telling himself he would get to know his remaining friend better, because he would no longer have to share him.

But what Lewis found was that there was a side of his living friend that was only brought out by his deceased friend. Even the increase of time and attention allowed by heightened exclusivity of their friendship could not generate the same type of knowing.

I believe this is comparable to what Lewis is saying about our knowledge of God in the absence of participating in authentic, vulnerable Christian community. There are aspects of God’s grace, power, wisdom, and holiness that I will never draw out in my limited life span and experience.

But when I immerse myself in the lives of others whose life’s story reflect distinct aspects of God’s grace, power, wisdom, and holiness I come to know more of God. God does not change, but I know more of Him than I could have comprehended in isolation.

I believe this a key element of humanity’s collective mission to reflect the image of God in two ways. First, we can only reflect God’s image in community. God exists in community (Trinity), so when we live isolated lives we do not fulfill the first aspect of our creation mandate.

Second, we know more of the God whose image we reflect as we live in community. The question is, “For whose benefit do we reflect God’s image?” We reflect God’s image for His glory and our benefit. As we know / reflect more of His image through community, we come to know more of who we were created to be.

This extends Lewis’ insight after the loss of his friend. We not only know more of others in community; we come to know more of ourselves. We come to know our need for grace and our capacity to love when we live with other people.  We come to know our unique gifts / passions and how they can be used to serve God when we live in community.

This both combats and compliments the relative notion that each person has their own truth. The reality is that each Christian has their own experience of the Truth (John 14:6) and is called by God to share that with their community to bring to life the timeless truths of Scripture. Each experience, measured by Scripture, balances the errors and adds depth to the others.

Overcoming Sexual Sin (Video 9 of 9)

This is the ninth video in a nine part series entitled “False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Pornography to Adultery.” False Love has a complementing seminar entitled “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin.” For more information on either seminar, please follow the links provided.

False Love: Step 9 from Equip on Vimeo.

The follow quotes are part of the teaching notes being referenced.

STEP 9
STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

To “steward” something means to use it for God’s intended purpose. It is important to remember that what is being stewarded is your life, not merely the experience of overcoming sexual sin. To think otherwise would be to define yourself by your struggle again.

“I use the word recovery less, and the word healing or transformation more. We don’t go backward and recover; rather, we go forward to heal and be transformed… I have come to believe the Twelve Steps do not emphasize enough the radical spiritual transformation that can only be achieved through a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ (p. 18).” Mark Laaser in Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction

Sin is a parasite that lives off of stolen resources (time, energy, love, etc…) that were intended for other purposes. As we rid ourselves of this vile intruder, those resources upon which sin once indulged become available for God’s design and our true enjoyment. Ultimately, stewardship is the pinnacle where purpose, worship, and joy meet.

“Sex addicts must develop a vision. A vision is a clear idea of God’s calling, plan, and purpose for one’s life (p. 167).” Mark Laaser in Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction

 “The fight of faith against lust is the fight to stay satisfied with God (p. 335).” John Piper in Future Grace

C.S. Lewis on God-Saturated Prayer

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“What I mean is this. An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God – that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying – the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on – the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers (p. 163).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Before reading this section of Mere Christianity I thought that God was only prayer’s destination; that when my prayers reached the ear of God they had finally “arrived.” I don’t think I am alone in this notion. It seems to me that every person who has ever felt like their prayers were “bouncing off the ceiling” thinks of prayer this way.

When we realize that prayer is prompted by God, we can no longer imagine prayer being impeded from God. We are like Jill talking to Aslan in Prince Caspian of the Chronicle of Narnia series. She got to Narnia by praying to go. When she got there, Aslan (representing Christ) said He had called her. When Jill tried to correct Aslan, he replied, “You would not have called to me if I had not been calling you.”

But not only are our prayers prompted by God, they travel with God to God. The Holy Spirits intercedes for us even in our most unintelligible prayers (Rom 8:26-27). We begin to see that our prayers never leave God from conception to reception.

What is the practical benefit of this truth? It shows us that we are never alone. Often we pray out of desperation because we feel like we have to “cry out to God” (implying He is far away) and ask Him to “come” to our aid (again implying distance). With that mindset, our prayer only reinforces our fear until we see some change in our circumstance.

I should mention that this kind of prayer is not bad. It is honest. Throughout the Psalms, God gives us many prayers like this because He knew that we would need them (for example Psalms 44 and 102).

But more than this, God wants us to see that our prayer is a revelation of how much He has saturated our lives. As we understand the miracle of prayer, then prayer becomes a comfort even before it is answered because in prayer we have something better than an answer to our prayer – we have evidence of the constant presence of our God.

At times it may be good to remind yourself of these truths as you pray. It might sounds like this, “God, I know because I have thought to talk to you that you are with me. Thank you for not allowing me to forget or be distracted from my source of hope when life is hard. God, I know that you hear this prayer because it is being carried by the Holy Spirit and advocated for by Jesus Christ. It is amazing to realize I have the fully attention of the Trinity as this moment. As I am encouraged by that, I want to tell You of the burden that is in my life…”

Reflect on the humble boldness you would have in prayer if you prayed with a robust picture of all that prayer really meant.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Spiritual Disciplines” post which address other facets of this subject.