Another “One Another”

My pastor of a few years ago—don’t remind me how many—preached a series of “One Another” sermons. I searched, “one another,” in Bible Gateway and hit on  instances where the phrase is used for exhortation in the New Testament, but Jesus Himself expressed the heart of all those exhortations with His command, “Love one another.” To cop a popular Christian cliche, “it wasn’t a suggestion.”

I am a nine-finger-typist, so trying to type with three fingers pointed back at myself presents serious issues. Although I said that in jest, I must confess that I am a major offender of Jesus’ Great Commandment.

So, here’s a partial list of the epistle-writers’ applications of Jesus’ command to love one another:

  • Romans 12:9-12 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. (10) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; (11) not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; (12) rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.
  • Romans 13:8-9 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. (9) For the commandments, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” “YOU SHALL NOT MURDER,” “YOU SHALL NOT STEAL,” “YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS,” “YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
  • Romans 15:5-7 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, (6) that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (7) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
  • Galatians 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
  • Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, (2) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, (3) endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
  • Ephesians 4:30-32 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (31) Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. (32) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
  • Ephesians 5:18-21 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, (19) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, (20) giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (21) submitting to one another in the fear of God.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (18) Therefore comfort one another with these words.
  • Hebrews 3:12-13 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; (13) but exhort one another daily, while it is called “TODAY,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
  • Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (24) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, (25) not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Aw, come on now. That’s not a lot of Scripture. These are only twelve Bible passages that you should already know, if not have memorized, and they are only a small part of the epistles’ instructions for godly conduct within God’s church. Of course, these don’t apply to you directly, as you no doubt already have them mastered (yeah, right). But with three fingers pointed back at yourself, and in a spirit of Christ’s love, exhort those brethren who fall short. Come to think of it, you might want to visit your ophthalmologist first.

The Weeping Prophet

So, here’s the story: Last night I went to bed with hopes of falling asleep without delay, but as I lay there communing with my Creator, I began praying for heart-holiness, both for myself and for His church. As often happens when I pray for Christ-likeness, I began weeping, and the more I contemplated the contrast between Christ and myself, the more my tears flowed. I heard myself sobbing, both from grief and gratitude; I felt a sense of the Holy Spirit’s grief about my soulish stubbornness, and unbearable gratitude for God’s grace despite my failure to apprehend the victory I have in Christ Jesus.

Then, this morning’s Our Daily Bread devotional cited Lamentations 3:1-6, 16-25, where the weeping prophet Jeremiah mourned Jerusalem’s destruction and the Jews’ subsequent captivity. So in typical fashion, I lumped both experiences into a single conceptual stew.

God is disciplining His church in much the same way that He disciplined His people Israel, albeit with His New Covenant grace.

  • As Jeremiah cried out warnings about Israel’s wandering ways, God’s New Testament writers warn His church about our own carnality.
  • As Israel ignored the prophet’s warnings, most of today’s church lie comfortably in our worldly affluence, enjoying our Sunday religious lift while snoring through our godly preachers’ warnings.
  • As Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, popular culture is destroying the institutional church.
  • As Babylon carried Israel’s intelligentsia into captivity, the world system is co-opting the church’s theologians.
  • As Babylon absorbed Israel into its own culture, the world system is defiling God’s church through our preoccupation with its entertainments, its trendy styles, and its pursuit of youthful image.

Though we have much reason to grieve, we have far more reason to rejoice; none of this surprises our omniscient God, and His plan for our triumph over the world system is, and always has been, in place. Yes, I still mourn for those of His church who will never awaken from their slumber, but I rejoice for the faithful remnant who heed His warnings, becoming incorruptible salt and prevailing light for this stale and dark world. Like God’s people Israel, the church’s exile is only temporary, and we have the Great Hope of our eternal homecoming, where our tears will cease and we will commune with our Lord Jesus face-to-face.

C.S. Lewis—More on God’s Love

This is the Jesus I knew as a Catholic.

This is the Jesus I know now.

From Mere Christianity:

On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

Over all, I can’t find much fault with Uncle Jack’s take on loving God. He did, however, miss one key concept; to possess some grasp of the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and the depth of the Father’s love for us in allowing Him to take the world’s sin-guilt upon himself, is to love God more than naturally possible. If God’s demonstration of sacrificial love for you, personally, fails to excite you with overwhelming love for Him, you’re missing one of the two elements I mentioned above.

I know that’s true because I was that cold-fish Christian. Raised in the Catholic church, I was constantly bombarded with the Stations of the Cross, and the gory details of Jesus’ passion and death. But one night God gave me a dream where I met someone who was trapped in one of the many legalistic, “Christian” sects, and I felt a love for that young man that dwarfed even the love I have for my own daughters. It was a love that made me desperate to reach him with God’s eternal truth of priceless grace toward rebellious humanity. I normally can’t remember my dreams long enough to tell about them, but this time I recalled it in vivid detail, including the desperate love I felt, so I knew it was from God. Once I understood God’s message to me, I began weeping from brokenness, gratitude, and yes, love, for the Savior I never truly knew before that time.

If God’s love doesn’t fill you with that completely overwhelming gratitude and love for Him, get to know Him better through lots of time in His Word. If, on the other hand, all this Godly love-stuff isn’t worth your effort, you need to truly turn your life over to Him, rather than continuing to practice pretend-Christianity.

C.S. Lewis on Addiction To Experiences

Once again, Uncle Jack nailed it, and this time on a difficult topic:

TO MRS. RAY GARRETT: On the real program of the spiritual life—living in the present moment.

12 September 1960

The whole lesson of my life has been that no ‘methods of stimulation’ are of any lasting use. They are indeed like drugs—a stronger dose is needed each time and soon no possible dose is effective. We must not bother about thrills at all. Do the present duty—bear the present pain—enjoy the present pleasure—and leave emotions and ‘experiences’ to look after themselves.

That’s the programme, isn’t it?

Yes, that is indeed the “programme.” One sort of stimulation he left out is fun. We have elevated, “having fun,” from an occasional treat, to a continual obsession. We pursue it at the expense of life’s reasonable responsibilities, and as Lewis said, “A stronger dose is needed each time, and soon no possible dose is effective.”

We wonder why our kids complain so often of boredom. Have we never thought it might be related to our compulsion with keeping them occupied in, “fun activities?” We recognize our babies’ need to avoid “over stimulation,” but when they get older we keep them stimulated at all cost. Lewis didn’t use the word, but that’s called “desensitization,” where they become accustomed to a certain stimulation level, so they need ever more to feel it at all. Hmm, sounds like addiction, doesn’t it?

So, what choices do we have to deal with the problem? The easiest in the short term would be to keep on keepin’ on, leaving our offspring to deal with the consequences. But is the loving thing to do?

Our second choice is the hard one to implement, but it actually deals with the problem: Take away their media gadgets until they learn to live without them, and until they begin showing some level of gratitude for life’s more subtle enjoyments. Then, gradually reintroduce them to the gadgets which, by then, will be completely obsolete.

Yes, you will have to endure a storm of opposition. And yes, you will have to demonstrate your own independence from the entertainment media. Your reward will be more quality time with them, and yourselves.

That’s hard medicine to swallow, but nothing else will free both them, and yourselves, from artificial stimulation. Bite the bullet! Kick the addiction! And yes, I need to do it as well (ouch!).

C.S. Lewis on Suffering

Refiner’s Fire

My title for this post sounds like a total bummer, but Uncle Jack’s contribution is just the opposite.

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered [freely]. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and [obstruct] to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
From C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain

I doubt there’s a better explanation for our suffering. Besides that, the greater our suffering in this world, the greater will be our joy when we meet our Savior face-to-face.

Sin produces suffering, but not in a direct proportion. Sometimes the relatively innocent suffer greatly, while truly evil people seem to get off scot-free. Once again, that isn’t God’s fault, as due to God’s gift of free will, and the sin that flows from it, suffering is anything but proportionately distributed. Yes, to those who are not Christ-followers it seems terribly unfair, but justice and fairness are not related. Christ-followers take the fact that God is ultimately just by faith, even though we may not see the short-term justice of any particular situation.

How can we “blindly” place that kind of confidence in a Being that we can’t see? Because we can see what he has done in and for us, and we love him because he first loved us. Christ-followers are the most fortunate people on earth, since we perceive all beauty with gratitude, as a blessing from God, and if we have our heads on straight, we even perceive all suffering with gratitude, as a refiner’s fire allowed by God.

Admittedly, suffering isn’t fun, but thanks to God’s perfect wisdom, it will amplify our blessings in this world, and the next.

Open Sez He

Okay, titling this piece after a quote from “Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor” may seem somewhat frivolous, but there’s a method in my obvious madness.

Popeye is perpetually involved in the war between good and evil, but the only way he can win is to keep a can of spinach handy. Of course, you can see the spiritual parallel; we’re helpless against our enemy Satan without God’s Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t come in a can though some think getting his attention is formulaic.

Another Popeye parallel is his motto: “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.” That applies to us directly, as our pretenses never determine who or what we are. You can act religious all day every day, get to church first and leave last, and keep a sanctimonious frown tattooed on your face, but if you haven’t submitted to Jesus out of love and gratitude for what he did for you, it’s all a pretense.

The last parallel I have is a bit of a stretch; In the Sindbad cartoon, Popeye said, “Open sez me,” when he wanted entry to Sindbad’s treasure-cave.” God’s Holy Spirit says to us, “Open your heart and mind to me.” It’s possible to sincerely profess faith in Christ without ever opening up to him. Are you not sure if that describes you? Ask yourself if you open your heart to your pastor, your brethren, your family and friends, and even your enemies. Do you open your mind to God’s Word? True Christ-followers practice God’s love, giving themselves to others as Jesus gave himself to us.

Clever—or not-so clever—cartoon parallels aside, Christ will hold each of us accountable for our response to his total sacrifice for us. Are you a child of God through Christ Jesus, or just a pretender?

Brain Dead

Well, not brain dead in the literal sense, but I feel that way. Unlike Homer Simpson, though, I fully realize my current depth of stupidity. A couple of circumstances are conspiring against my creative thought processes: First, a case (not a half-case or a six-pack) of asthmatic bronchitis is keeping me planted in my chair; even though I’m on the mend I am anything but peppy. Second, my “stay-awake” medicine is awaiting my doctor’s prior approval, leaving me firing on half my mental cylinders. How can one lousy ream of red-tape take so long to be completed?

I have so much to be thankful for, however, that even mentioning these trivial trials seems ungrateful. That leaves me wondering how I would handle real hardship. But I know my loving heavenly Father will give me the grace to accept, and spiritually prosper under, whatever he allows to come my way. I love his promise through Apostle Paul’s words: And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20)

Depression and Anxiety

How’s that for a downer of a title? If you’re reaction to others’ mood disorders is, “Just suck it up,” you don’t suffer from them. They can’t be dismissed simply as, “the blues,” or the temporary funk of low spirits. Chronic affective disorders are physical issues, caused by screwed-up brain chemistry.

I am too familiar with depression and anxiety, having discovered after a heart attack in ’97 that I’ve always suffered from clinical depression. Too bad it took a myocardial infarction to educate me in the issue.

But don’t despair (If you’re like me, that’s hilarious advice.), there’s pharmacological help out there. But first, how’s your insurance? Don’t worry, I’m not an insurance salesman; I asked that because I discovered a marvelous medication that serves me as a very effective mood-stabilizer when used with an antidepressant (The two medications deal with two entirely different issues). It’s called Provigil, and it’s very expensive. Provigil is a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, marketed as a solution for narcolepsy, shift-work disorder, and obstructive sleep apnea. The experience is similar to that of mild amphetamines, but without the awful side-effects, like addiction. As it’s a controlled substance, getting it requires a doctor’s prescription.

Even with that panacea, though, healing my depression and anxiety requires drawing close to my Savior through almost constant prayer and Bible meditation. But don’t worry, I’m not talking about always kneeling with your hands folded, your eyes closed, and a sick-looking expression on your face. The Bible tells us, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17) If you consistently pursue that course, God’s Word will become part of your frame of reference, filling you with hope and trust in your Lord. Believe me, he works through his Word, even if you can’t find passages that apply to your specific issues.

And remember, it’s not YOUR depression and anxiety; it’s your enemy Satan’s very effective tool for dragging you down. Please don’t let it characterize or define you.

C.S. Lewis on Crushed Hopes

C.S. Lewis’ wife Joy

From a letter to Mary Van Deusen dated April 10, 1959

I know all the different ways in which [misdiagnosis of terminal illness] gets one: wild hopes, bitter nostalgia for lost happiness, mere physical terror turning one sick, agonised pity and self-pity. In fact, Gethsemane. I had one (paradoxical) support which you lack—that of being in severe pain myself. Apart from that what helped Joy and me through it was 1. That she was always told the whole truth about her own state. There was no miserable pretence. That means that both can face it side-by-side, instead of becoming something like adversaries in a battle-of-wits. 2. Take it day by day and hour by hour (as we took the front line). It is quite astonishing how many happy—even gay—moments we had together when there was no hope. 3. Don’t think of it as something sent by God. Death and disease are the work of the Devil. It is permitted by God: i.e., our General has put you in a fort exposed to enemy fire. 4. Remember other sufferers. It’s fatal to start thinking ‘Why should this happen to us when everyone else is so happy.’ You are (I was and may be again) one of a huge company. Of course we shall pray for you all we know how. God bless you both.

I desperately hope many will read those words of hope from C.S. Lewis. Of course, my little blog has far less exposure than other on-line Lewis enthusiasts and resources, but if even one hurting individual reads this for the first time, this post is worth the effort.

As I seem unable to leave well enough alone, I’ll list my thoughts on Lewis’ sage words below:

Even in this day of unprecedented diagnostic accuracy, doctors still make mistakes that are no less devastating than in Lewis’ time. We can’t help entertaining wild hopes, even in the face of grim probabilities. When those hopes get dashed, we naturally feel violated, even victimized. While that’s a natural, human reaction to misfortune, we must absolutely guard against self-pity, as it places us in judgment over God’s greater purposes for us.

Lewis’ wife Joy was one who wanted the brutally honest truth of everything. That’s how she came to believe in God and accept his gospel of redemption in Christ Jesus. Seems like most people, though, want only good news about their physical condition, and live in denial of the bad stuff. Even their outlook on national and world events suffers from such foolish optimism, leading them to support political candidates who pander to their unrealistic expectations.

Too often, we ruin the happiness we once had, and could still have, by agonizing over what might happen. Tragically, even Christians, who should actually anticipate physical death, worry about dying. Personally, I look forward to meeting my Savior face-to-face; it’s just the transition that bothers me. Lewis’ reference to Gethsemane is so true, even though Jesus’ prospects were infinitely worse than any we might face.

I love Lewis’ help #3 above, especially his analogy of a fort under siege. We must also remember that our loving God never allows misfortune lightly, but always for a redemptive purpose.

Very few of us will ever face the level of faultless heartache that C.S. Lewis faced. And even if we do, we know that Jesus suffered infinitely worse heartache, and physical torture than we ever will. At least be thankful for that.

C.S. Lewis on Feeling Religiously “All Glowy”

As fatuous human beings, we easily and often let our emotions rule the day. C.S. Lewis had some things to say about religious feelings.

It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you (It has) and be “all glowy.” Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean, it is not the sensations that are the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

What Lewis called, “all glowy,” we call a “Jesus high,” or something to that effect. In my Bible reading, I can’t recall many Old Testament accounts of “glowy” emotions, except perhaps in King David’s praise psalms and Solomon’s Song of Songs. The New Testament reports of some folks who were quite joyful after being healed or forgiven of their sins.

My own emotional experiences reflect my awe when I meditate on God’s magnificent greatness, or at least the minuscule part of it that I can perceive, and especially his grace and faithfulness toward me, even when I was steeped in sin. I have some academic idea of why God the Father allowed his incarnate Word to become a man, only to be blasphemed, marginalized, humiliated, tortured, and murdered. But I can’t even begin to grasp the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice from his Father’s perspective. Fact is, I can hardly bear my joy over what his gift means to me, or my grief over the suffering that I caused him.

As Lewis so effectively stated, all those intense emotions are just an added bonus, and have nothing to do with the actual salvation experience. I must say, though, that anyone who becomes reconciled to God through his Son’s blood, and doesn’t feel immense gratitude, has the understanding of a worm (nothing personal).