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Saturday, October 13, 2018

How Should a Christian Behave

How Should a Christian Behave?
Writers down through the ages have spoken about the “Cardinal Virtues”.  By ‘cardinal virtues’ we mean ‘basic good behaviors.  Good behaviors that all civilized people recognize and expect from one another.  Good societies cannot function well without good people.  And by calling a society “good” that doesn’t mean it has to be wealthy or advanced technologically.  But it needs to have cardinal virtues!
The four “virtues” or “basic good behaviors” are (1) Prudence, (2) Temperance, (3) Justice and (4) Fortitude.     Prudence means “practical common sense”.  Or taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it.  Scripture tells us to be “as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16) Much is said in the Bible about the ‘fool’ or the person who lacks ‘prudence’ or common sense.  God promises to give us wisdom and common sense if we ask Him for it.  (James 1:5) And being a Christian is an education in itself.
(2) Temperance, our second virtue, doesn’t only refer to over indulging in drinking or drugging.  But we are to be “temperate” in all things.  In other words, we are to go the right length and no further.  Moderation is the key. God wants first place in our lives.  And everything else will be given to you. (Matthew 6:33) (Exodus 20:3) (3) Justice, our third virtue, means fairness – honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, doing what is right and good.  
And (4) Fortitude, our fourth virtue, means ‘guts’ or courage.  It means the kind of courage that faces danger and the kind of courage that sticks with it through trouble and pain.  You cannot practice any of the other virtues very long without having courage or guts.  A person who keeps trying to do just actions in the end gets a certain quality of character.  There is a right and a wrong in this earth and the Christian is called to try to follow the right.
Christianity does not profess to have a detailed political program.  That is not how Christianity works.  The Christian faith is meant for all people at all times and under various political systems.  And Christianity was never meant to supersede ordinary human politics or arts and sciences, but it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs and will give them all new life. 
The New Testament does give us a pretty clear idea of what a Christian society should be like.  Scripture tells us what is right and wrong, and how we are to behave ourselves.  And it promises us help from God in doing the right thing.
In Scripture the “Christian” society is a place where everyone who is able does work so that he or she can produce something good for others in the society.  If a person refuses to work, then he is not to be given a free ride.  Also. the Christian society is a cheerful society, full of singing and rejoicing and praising God because we are invited to walk by faith in God who will be with us and guide our steps and answer our prayers and eventually in Christ give us the victory!   
Courtesy is important in a Christian society and being a ‘busybody’ is a sin. Also, a Christian is to treat others as he or she would like to be treated.  And to love and have respect for one another.  Forgive one another always. All we Christians have departed from that total plan in different ways. But Christ, the good Shepherd, searches for us and brings us back to the fold.
Charity – giving to the poor – is an essential part of Christian morality.  One of the reasons the New Testament gives as a reason we should work is that the worker may have something to give to those in need. (Ephesians 4:28) Christ will one day separate the sheep from the goats.  And the sheep who go to heaven are those who gave to the needy and the goats are the ones who didn’t help the needy and they go down below!  (Matthew 25:35-45) Yes, charity – giving to the needy – is a big part of Christian morality indeed! 
A Christian is commanded in Scripture not to judge others. We humans don’t see the whole picture. We only see the results of a person’s choices – the outward appearances. But God, sees the whole picture.  He sees our talents and strengths, our social capital – our genes or what we inherited from our family and how we were nurtured and our happy or neurotic personality.  
And also, He sees the challenges we must overcome. And our troubles, our traumas and any mental illnesses, fears, health issues and phobias, our brokenness. He sees each person’s heart.  Let’s take two people who are guilty of the same crime and get a imperfect and vague idea of how God is able to know and see and judge the interior motives and struggles of these two people.  And how He can understand the whole picture and can judge with true mercy and justice.     
Our first person – a young woman - has committed a crime.  This young woman was raised and surrounded by a loving God-fearing family who consistently taught her to do good.  She always had enough to eat and a warm home and secure family.  She graduated from a good college and was engaged to marry the pastor of her church.  She was healthy and had good genes.  And she inherited her parent’s good dispositions and mild manners.
 Our second person – a young man -who is guilty of the same crime as the young woman.  But this young man was abandoned by his drug addicted mother at birth and for the first few years of his early childhood he was raised by angry foster parents who lived in poverty.  He was sexually molested by his foster father and he never finished sixth grade. By the time he was twelve years old he ran away and roamed the streets, alone and scared.  As a young teen the gangs became this boy’s family where he learned how to rob others and became addicted to drugs.  He was becoming a violent and dangerous person.  
Our two people both committed the same crime.  But the courts, only observing the outward appearances, will probably be more lenient with the young woman than they will with the young man. We do not know how our loving and merciful God would judge these two, but I think that God would judge the young man differently, and maybe with more leniency than the young woman!  God knows that the young man never had the chances that the young woman did.  God sees the young man’s brokenness and knows his poverty of spirit. 
Scripture tells us that we are not to judge.  Only God has the power and ability to do this job of judging people.  He created people and only He can see what made up the person life and the challenges and traumas that he or she had to face. Only God can be fair and loving, merciful and forgiving, just and pure. Judging is His job and His alone. (1 Timothy 4:1) Let’s remember that next time we start to judge someone. 

Most of the ideas in this blog were taken from C.S. Lewis’s book, “Mere Christianity”.   

Saturday, October 6, 2018

What is the Christian Faith?

What is the Christian Faith?
The book, “Mere Christianity” written by C.S. Lewis has been one of the most popular books ever written about what the Christian faith is all about.  Because so many have been blessed by reading “Mere Christianity”, we will continue skimming through this book in these next few blogs, checking out some of the high points.  And hoping that you will also be blessed.   
When a person believes in Christ as Savior and Lord, Christians believe that a supernatural event happens!  Believing in Christ means something much more than just trying to follow His teachings.  The Christian view is that when we believe in Christ, we are “born again”, as Jesus said we would be.  (John 3:3) That the “Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts.  (2 Corinthians 1:22) Or in other words, a new kind of life which began in Christ is now to be put into us!   
C.S. Lewis writes: “There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: belief, baptism, and …Holy Communion, or the Mass, or the Lord’s Supper.”  He continues that a Christian can squelch the Christ-life which has been put into him, and he needs to make efforts to keep it active and growing.  That “the best Christian that ever lived is not acting on her own steam – she is only nourishing or protecting a life she could never have acquired by her own efforts.”  That “the Christ-life is inside her, repairing her all the time …” 
Christians believe that Christ is actually operating through us.  Jesus tells us that if we believe in Him, rivers of living water will flow out of us.  (John 7:38) The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us. 
We wonder if this new life is just confined to people who have heard of Christ and have been able to believe in Him?  What about all of the others?  God has not told us what His arrangements about other people who haven’t believed in Christ are.  Believers are “baptized into Christ’s body”.  Are others who are not the “body of Christ” in some other category?  We do know that according to Scripture, no person can be saved except through Christ.  (John 14:6) But, we do not know that only those who know Christ can be saved through Him.
We move on to the rules and commands in Scripture that are given to Christians as to how they are expected to live. Christ tells His followers that: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  (John 14:15).  If we Christians owned our own lives then we could do with them as we pleased.  But Scripture tells us that we do not belong to ourselves, but we are bought with a price and we belong to Christ.  (Romans 8:9 and 1 Corinthians 6:20) Someone else made you for His own purposes, and you have duties which you would not have if you simply belonged to yourself.
God has reasons for His commandments.  It seems that these commandments cover three departments.  First (1) Relations between one person to another person, and one group to another group.  Second, (2) Healing bad feelings and passions inside persons.  And Third, (3) Relations between a person and the Creator that made him or her. 
These commands from God are given to prevent a breakdown between persons or groups.  So that we don’t do damage to one another by cheating or bullying or violence.  And so that we can live peaceably with one another in Christian love. Christians are commanded to love and forgive one another.  Scripture emphasizes the necessity of forgiveness. The last six of the Ten Commandments are rules as to how we are to live with one another. These Commandments forbid us to bear false witness against another person, steal, commit adultery, covet what isn’t ours, or kill another person.  And we are commanded to honor our parents.  (Exodus 20:12-17)  
And then secondly, morality inside each individual is also important.  What good is it to draw up rules for social behavior if our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self-conceit are going to prevent us from keeping those rules?  We cannot force another person to be good or unselfish, but when Christ’s Spirit comes inside that person, he or she can change.  Without good people we cannot have a good society.  The first four commandments of the Ten Commandments speak to healing what is inside of us. These commands teach us to take time to open ourselves up to God’s healing and life- giving Spirit in worship, prayer, and in studying His Word. In these first four commands we are commanded to put God first in our lives.  Not have any other idols. Or worship anything else.  Not swear or mis- use God’s holy Name.  And we are to remember the Sabbath day to rest, refuel and worship God on that day. (Exodus 20:3-11)
And thirdly, different beliefs about God and the universe lead to different behaviors and different answers to life’s questions.  What is the general purpose of human life as a whole?  What were we made for?  Why are we here?  It is in dealing with this third reason – Relations between a person and His Creator  - that the main differences between Christian and non-Christian morality come out.  For the next couple of blogs we will look at these differences and see how Christian beliefs differ so radically from all other religions.   

Friday, September 28, 2018

More about What Christians Believe

More about What Christians Believe
In learning about what Christians believe we need to start with the Old Testament in our Bible.  The Old Testament (39 of the 66 books in our Bible) is a long history of how God, through the prophets and teachers, spent several thousands of years teaching the Jewish people His laws and teaching them about Himself.  Christianity is really Jewish.  Jesus said that He came to fulfill the Jewish Law and the prophets.  (Matthew 5:17-20) 
How does Jesus fulfill the Law (written down in the first five books of the Old Testament) and the promises that God gave His people through the prophets?  Over the many centuries the Jewish people tried to follow the many laws that God had given them.  But even the best of them failed.  It became apparent that no human could ever fulfill God’s righteous laws.  Not one person has ever been found who could stop sinning in his or her own strength and avoid God’s judgment!  (Romans 3:23-24) According to the Bible, without some outside help no person in all the world is or ever has been good enough for our holy God!  It seems we humans are in a bad fix!
But Christians believe that this problem has caused our loving and merciful heavenly Father to step in and gives us poor humans that outside help! More than two thousand years ago, a man among the Jewish people goes about talking as if He is God.  Jesus claims to forgive sins, (Matthew 9:1-8) The Jewish religious leaders knew that only God could forgive sins.  And Jesus calls himself a name that all Jews knew was God’s name “I Am” and Jesus also says that He has always existed. (John 8:58) He heals hundreds of people, raises the dead and says He is coming back to judge the world at the end of time.  His claims were shocking, and He was crucified because of who He said He was. 
Some people today say that they accept Jesus as a great moral teacher but not as the Son of God or Savior. But a man who was merely just a man going around saying that he could forgive sins and was God; that man would be a mad man and not a great moral teacher!  Jesus was either insane, or He was who He said He was, - the Son of God.  You must make that choice.  Either Jesus was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman making up crazy stories.  But let’s give up any patronizing nonsense about Him just being a great human teacher!  He has not left that open for us.  
Christians believe that the death of Jesus Christ is just that point in history at which something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows through into our own world.  God sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross and somehow put us right with God and give us a fresh start.  In other words, Christ disabled death, eternal death itself. Christ’s death and resurrection is the heart of the Christian message.  The very heart and soul.  We Christians may not agree on how this all works, but what we are all agreed on is that it does work!
Now Christians believe that humans are all sinful and we try to behave as if we belong to ourselves.  Christians believe that humans are not just sinful creatures, but we are rebels who must lay down our arms.  Laying down our arms, surrendering, saying that we are sorry, - this process of giving our lives over to God is what Christians call “repentance.”  Scripture says that we must “repent” in order to accept salvation from Christ. 
So, what does it mean to “repent”?  It means to unlearn all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into being.  It means killing part of our self, undergoing a kind of death.  But none of us can do all of this on our own even if we want to!  That is the problem! 
Scripture tells us that when we “repent” and give – or try to give- ourselves to Christ, we allow or invite Him to come into our heart and life and help us change into what we were meant to be.  Scripture says that when we believe we receive the Holy Spirit. God is putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak.  He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we start to think.  He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another.  We love and reason because God loves and reasons through us and helps and strengthens us to do good.
You and I can go through this process of “repenting” only if God does it in us.  Our attempts at “dying” to ourselves will only succeed if we share in Christ’s dying.  Scripture says: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, but not I but Christ lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
The perfect surrender was done by Christ: perfect because He was God and surrender because He was man.  Christians believe that when we share in Christ’s sufferings we also share in His new life.  This means much more than just trying to follow His teachings.  But we are to try to follow His teachings of course.  In Christ, this new kind of life which began in Him is put into us by Him. All we have to do is to be willing to be willing. 

Most of the ideas in this blog were taken from CS. Lewis’ book, “Mere Christianity”.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

What Christians Believe

What Christians Believe
When we study religious beliefs around the world, the first big division in beliefs is that some people believe in God or gods and others don’t. Most people on this planet believe there is a God or gods, something more than what we see, behind our universe.  But a minority of folks don’t believe there is a God, or any gods and they are called “atheists”.  Or “agnostics” if they don’t know.
Then the people who all believe in God or gods can be divided again into two groups according to the sort of god they believe in.  Some of the world’s people who believe in a god, believe that he is beyond good and evil.  They believe that everything is good in one way and bad in another. This view is called “Pantheism” and the Hindu religion is Pantheistic. Those who believe in Pantheism usually believe that the god they worship animates the universe like we animate our bodies. Pantheists believe that the universe is god and anything you find in the universe is part of God.  The tree is god and the river is god.  And the poisonous snake is god. 
The other and opposite idea concerning God is that God is quite definitely good and righteous.  He is holy and knows no evil. A God who cares and loves good and hates evil and wants us to love Him and live our lives doing good things.  This other view of a righteous and good God is held by Jews and Moslems and Christians.   
 Jews and Moslems and Christians believe that God created the universe, but that God is not the universe, just like the artist who paints a picture is not the picture.  Christians believe that God is separate from the world He created.  And Christians believe that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made.  And that God insists, and insists very loudly, on putting them right again. 
There are some views that try to pass for Christianity that go something like this: (There is a good god or force in Heaven and so everything is all right. All you need is love and all those other teachings in the Bible are outdated. So, they leave out those old-fashioned troublesome doctrines about sin and hell and our need for salvation.  People who argue this way insist that Christianity must be what they want it to be.  A Pollyanna religion - all goodie good. They quote verses about love in the Bible and throw away all those passages about justice and judgment.  Or our need for redemption!  Always insisting they must have a simple religion! 
But real things are not simple!  If you want to go on and ask what is really happening – then you must ask for something more than simplicity!  You must be prepared for something more complex.  Besides being complicated, reality is usually odd.  Not neat or obvious or what you might expect.  We might be making Christianity up if it offered us just the kind of universe we always expected.  But Christianity has that odd twist about it that real things have.  The problem is not simple, and the answer is not simple either!
What is the problem?  The problem is that our world contains much that is selfish and bad. There are two main views that try to explain this problem.  One is the Christian view that this is God’s good world gone wrong.  And the other view is called “Dualism”.  Dualism is the view that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything.  Neither power created the other. One power is good, the other bad.  And this earth is the battlefield in which they fight it out.  One power likes hatred and cruelty and the other likes love and mercy. 
The Christian also believes that this earth is a battlefield between good and evil and the evil power is spoiled goodness. There must be something good first before it can be spoiled.  Scripture tells us that Satan or Lucifer was created by God as a good and perfect angel – a very beautiful and powerful angel. He was good until he became so proud of his beauty and power that he rebelled against God and caused other angels to rebel too.  And He and the other rebellious angels were finally thrown out of heaven. (Revelations 12:7-9)   
In order to be evil, Satan had to have life and intelligence and free will.  All gifts God gave him. Free will is what has made evil possible.  For Satan and even for us.  God gave us free-will too.  Free-will to choose good or evil. To love God or to rebel against God.  
Of course, God knew what would happen if we used our freedom the wrong way.  He must have thought it worth the risk.  If God had not given us free-will we would be puppets that move only when God pulls the strings. A world of automated robots – of creatures that work like machines - a world hardly worth creating.   
Scripture says that the sin of Satan was pride – he wanted to do things on his own without God.  He wanted to be the center, in fact he wanted to be God.  We humans can fall for this also.  We want to run our lives on our own terms and not let God’s good laws get in the way.  And then we wonder why things don’t go as we wish and blame God.  But Scripture tells us that God cannot give us joy and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing.  All good things come from God.  
God selected one particular people - the Jewish people- and through the Jewish prophets, God spent several thousands of years teaching the Jewish people His laws and teaching them about Himself.  It’s all recorded in the Old Testament of our Bibles.  Christianity is really Jewish.  Jesus said that He came to fulfill the Jewish Law and the prophets. (Matthew 5:17-20)
How does Jesus fulfill the laws and the promises or covenants that God through the prophets gave the Jewish people (and us)?   Over the many centuries the Jewish people had tried to follow the many laws that God had given them.  But even the best of them failed.  It became apparent that no human could fulfill God’s laws.  No one could stop sinning in their own strength and avoid God’s judgment.  (Romans 3:23-24) Without some outside help we are all lost!
But that’s when the Christian’s loving and merciful God steps in and gives us that outside help!  We believe that the death of Jesus Christ is just that point in history at which something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows through into our own world.  God sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross and somehow put us right with God and give us a fresh start!  In other words, Christ disabled death (eternal death) itself.  Scripture says that His blood takes away our sins.  This truth is so amazing that we can’t understand it all!  But Christ’s death on the cross is the heart of the Christian message.  The very heart and soul! 
You may ask what good it will be to us if we do not understand it.  But if we could fully understand our salvation, that fact would show it was not what it professes to be – the inconceivable, the uncreated, the gift from beyond nature, striking down into nature like lightning!  Christians accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works.  That’s where faith comes in.  God calls us humans to use the faith He has given us to accept His gift of salvation!  And after we reach out in faith and accept the unbelievable Gift offered to us, then we begin to see!
Much of this blog is taken from C.S. Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity”








Saturday, September 15, 2018

Our Conscience or the Rule of Right and Wrong

Our Conscience or the Rule of Right and Wrong
We are covering some of the high points in the book, “Mere Christianity”, written by C. S. Lewis, which has continued to be a best seller for over sixty years in the Christian community.   Professor Lewis starts his book, “Mere Christianity” by talking about the idea of the “Law of Right and Wrong” that we humans seem to know - or the human conscience. 
The two points he wants to make are (1) Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way.  and (2) Humans do not in fact behave in that way.  Humans have a conscience and they know the Law of Right and Wrong: but they break it.  Where did this Law come from? And why is it important? 
Professor Lewis states that our ideas of right and wrong, or our God given conscience, is not mere fancy, for most of us cannot easily get rid of it. However, Scripture mentions that some people rebel against goodness and fairness and have “seared” their consciences. (1 Timothy 4:2) This rule of right and wrong has been called the “Laws of Nature” because people believed that the knowledge of right and wrong just came naturally.  
It seems that there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of human behavior which none of us humans made but which we find pressing in on us! Scripture speaks of a “conscience” that God gives to us humans. (Romans 1:19-21) Could this be why most of us seem to have an idea of how we ought to behave?  Professor Lewis thinks that this conscience that humans have may be a clue that there is Someone behind the universe we live in.
Down through the ages people have been wondering what our universe really is and how it came to be.  Professor Lewis states that there are mainly two views on how our world came to be.  These two main views have been held by people down through the centuries.
 First there is the materialist view.  People who believe this view think that matter and space just happen to exist, and always have existed, and always will exist and no one knows why. And they believe that the matter, behaving in certain fixed ways, just happened, perhaps by a big bang, or a mechanical dance of atoms, or by some sort of a fluke, and this matter somehow produced creatures like ourselves who are able to think and care and love!
By one chance in a million the chemicals necessary for life, and the right temperature, and many other intricate details just happened to occur on our earth so that some of the matter on the earth came alive.  And then, by a long series of chances, the living creatures on this prehistoric earth over billions of years gradually developed and evolved into things like us.  Our ancestors were amoebas and then evolved to pre-historic fish, and then evolved legs and crawled up out of the water onto land and over billions more years these walking fish evolved into apes that walked on all fours.
And then over more billions of years our ape ancestors lost their fur and straightened up and got smarter and evolved into the two-legged people that we are today.  Artists have drawn pictures of fish walking up on land and apes gradually evolving into modern people. Although we have never seen any of these half ape/people evolving today! We are told that this materialist view is scientific and all thinking intelligent people must believe this view!
And then the second view, according to Professor Lewis is the religious view.  People who believe this view are considered backward. This view states that what is behind the universe is more like a Mind or a Conscience. And the Mind has a purpose and prefers one thing to another.  And this Mind or God created the universe, partly for purposes we do not know.  But partly to produce creatures like himself.  Perhaps people who could love Him and He them.
C.S. Lewis emphasized that down through the ages wherever there have been thinking persons, both views – the materialist and the religious views – have been around as explanations for how our universe came into existence.  The materialist view did not show up in modern times  and it cannot be proven scientifically.    
Lewis insists that one cannot find out which view is the right one by science. Science works by experiments.  Science watches how things behave and records results.  Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really is describing what it sees happening in a given time frame.  This is the job of science.
The “theory of evolution” or the theory that humans evolved over billions of years from fish and then apes and finally humans – is just someone’s “theory” or idea of what might have happened, not a scientific fact.  No one has ever found the “missing link” between apes and humans!  So, none of the materialist view is scientific, even though we are told that it is.
So, which of these two ideas of how our world came about could possibly be true?  Did our universe simply happen for no reason, or is there a Mind or is God behind the universe with His creative work making it what it is?  If it was God, what clues did He leave to show Himself to us?  C.S. Lewis believes that He might show Himself as an influence inside ourselves or a command inside our souls trying to get us to behave in certain ways.  And that is what we do find inside ourselves – an idea of right and wrong!  Lewis believes that this ought to arouse our suspicions! 
We find that we do not exist on our own, that we are under a law: that Somebody or something wants us to behave in a certain way.  Our conscience – that still small Voice, is the clue that Lewis thinks God left behind.  He suggests that in the Moral Law Somebody or something from beyond the material universe is actually getting at us!
So, without taking anything from the Bible or Church doctrine, we are trying to see what we can find out about this Somebody on our own.  We have two bits of evidence about the Somebody.  One is the universe He made.  The universe is a beautiful place, so He must be a great artist.  But the universe can also be a dangerous and terrifying place. 
 And the other bit of evidence is the moral law which humans, unless they rebel against it, have in their minds.  There is nothing indulgent or soft about the Moral Law.  We have not gotten as far as believing in a personal God yet.  So, if this Mind responsible for our earth is impersonal towards us, there may be no sense in asking Him to let us off the hook when we don’t live up to the Rule of Right and Wrong He seems to have given us.We can try harder, but it seems we keep on missing the mark over and over again.  It seems our case is hopeless.  If God holds our sins against us, we are lost.  We are in a dilemma. God is the only comfort, and He is also the supreme terror. 
Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness.  It has nothing to say to people who do not believe they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel they need forgiveness.  It is after we realize that there is a real Moral Law and a Power behind that Law and that we have broken that Law - it is after all this, that Christianity begins to talk. It tells us how the demands of this Law, which we cannot meet, have been met on our behalf.  And how God Himself becomes a man to save humans from the disapproval of God. 
In his book, Lewis goes on to explain what Christians believe.  And to ask people to face the facts and understand the questions which Christianity claims to answer.  And they are very terrifying facts!


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity
In 1942, during World War Two, the BBC (the British Broadcasting Company) invited C.S. Lewis to give a series of wartime broadcasts about what the Christian faith is and what it is that Christians believe.  During that difficult time in history, England was being bombed by four hundred planes each night in the air raid “blitz” that turned many British cities into rubble. The British people were struggling, terrified and demoralized, barely hanging on and determined not to surrender. Each day the radio brought more news of death and destruction.  All through those dark days of the early 1940’s bad news was all the news the British people heard.
But then this new program came on the air in England.  It featured a man talking in an intelligent, good-humored way about fair play and the importance of knowing right from wrong.  And explaining why the doctrines of Christianity are true.  The Brits loved what they heard. The radio talks strengthened their Christian faith and gave them renewed hope in God.
Since the radio talks were such a success, after the war Mr. Lewis gathered these speeches into the book we know today as “Mere Christianity.”  And the book has been even more successful than the radio talks were.  Over the decades “Mere Christianity” has continued to be a best seller and a beloved classic on Christian beliefs.  Because the book, “Mere Christianity” has been a blessing to so many, I would like to cover some of the high points of the book in this and the next few blogs to come, hoping that it will be a blessing for you too.  Or you might want to skip my blogs and just read the book yourself.
C.S. Lewis was a professor at Oxford University.  He had been an atheist for many years and had finally become a Christian and joined the Anglican Church after much thought and soul searching.  When he gave his radio talks and wrote his book he did not want to put forward as common Christianity anything that was peculiar to the Anglican Church.  Too many Christian denominations had argued over their minor differences.  He only wanted to explain the basic Christian doctrines that all Christians hold in common.
C. S. Lewis sent his original script of what is now the book, to four clergymen (Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic) for their criticism.  All four agreed that his book succeeded in presenting the central, basic doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and the three different Protestant denominations.  Over the years Professor Lewis got many reviews of his book and he found that Christians from every Protestant denomination and the Roman Catholic Church, are all united in the basic Christian doctrines.  At the center of each there is something, or Someone, who against all divergencies of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same Voice.  Scripture says that: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”  (1 Corinthians 12:13) 
Hostility against his book came from the people who were rebelling against the doctrines of Christianity.  People who refused to believe that Jesus Christ is Son of God and Savior. These people did not like the word “Christian” to mean people who believe the basic Christian doctrines.
 Those hostile to Christian doctrine wrote C.S.Lewis and criticized his use of the word “Christian”. They wanted-to change the definition of the word “Christian” and use the word to define anyone they thought was “good”.  So, the word “Christian” soon becomes a useless word if it means whatever people want it to mean.  And cult groups or Protestant denominations that hate the Christian creed that all Christians have held for 2,000 years, now call themselves “Christian”.  Wolves in sheep’s clothing!
C.S. Lewis said that the definition of the word “Christian” was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to ‘the disciples’, to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles.  It means a “believer” of the basic teachings or doctrines.  He said that it is only a question of using words so that we can understand what is being said.  When a person accepts the Christian doctrine and then lives unworthily of it, it is clearer to say he or she is a bad Christian than to say he or she is not a Christian at all.  
C.S. Lewis starts his book, “Mere Christianity” by talking about his idea of the “Law of Right and Wrong” or the “Law of Human Nature”.  The two points he wants to make are (1) Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious belief that they ought to behave in a certain way, and they cannot really get rid of that belief.  And (2) Humans do not in fact behave in that way.  They know the Law of Nature: but they break it.  Why is this important?   C. S. Lewis explains why this fact helps us believe that God is behind His creation.   
He explains this by saying that he believes we can learn something very important from listening to people arguing or quarreling.  People quarreling say things like this: ‘That was my seat, I was there first’ – ‘Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm’ – ‘Why should you shove in line ahead of us?’ – ‘Come on, you promised.’  When we argue we are not just saying that the other person’s behavior doesn’t please us, we are appealing to some kind of Standard of behavior which we expect the other person to automatically know about. 
And the other person nearly always tries to say that what he is doing does not really go against the Standard, or if it does there is some special excuse.  There is some special reason why the person who took the seat first should not keep it. Both parties arguing seem to have in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or morality!  Quarreling means trying to show that the other person is wrong.  And there would be no sense trying to do that unless you both had an idea as to what Right and Wrong are. 
The Bible speaks of a “conscience” that each person is given.  Romans 2:14-15 talks about the “law written in their hearts”.  Who wrote it?  Years ago, the idea of right and wrong was called “The Law of Nature” because people thought that everyone knew it by nature and that the human idea of decent behavior was obvious to everyone.  When we compare the moral teaching of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what is really surprising is how alike they are to each other and to our own moral teachings.  Not to say that these civilizations lived up to their moral teachings!  Most did not!  Individuals and societies can have “sear” their conscience! 
Moral laws, ideas of right and wrong, are not mere fancy, for we cannot get rid of them.  It is not simply a statement of how we should like others to behave for our own convenience: for the behavior we call bad or unfair is not exactly the same as the behavior we find inconvenient.  So, this Rule of Right and Wrong, or whatever you call it, must somehow be a real thing – a thing that is really there!  Not made up by ourselves.  It begins to appear that there is something or Someone above and beyond the ordinary facts of human behavior, and yet quite definitely real – a real law, which none of us humans made, but which we find pressing in on us.  Where did it come from?   

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Colossians - Closings and Difficult Issues

Colossians – Closings and Difficult Issues


We are coming to the close of our studies in this short book of Colossians.  Paul, who is in prison, closes his letter to the Christian church in Colossae with more instructions.  And some of his instructions have concerned our fellow Christians.  Life was very different for people living two thousand years ago.  We may need to take what was being said in the context of the culture of that day.  We begin today reading Colossians 3:18-4:1. 


Colossians 3:18-4:1


“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands love your wives and do not be bitter toward them.  Children obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.  Fathers do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.


Slaves obey your masters in all things.  Do not obey just when they are watching you. To gain their favor, but serve them honestly, because you respect the Lord.  In all the work you are doing, work the best you can.  Work as if you were doing it for the Lord., not for people.  Remember that you will receive your reward from the Lord, which He promised to His people.  You are serving the Lord Christ.  But remember that anyone who does wrong will be punished, and the Lord treats everyone the same.  Masters give what is good and fair to your slaves.  Remember that you have a Master in heaven.”  (Colossians 3:18-4:1)


This instruction for wives to submit to husbands is a controversial topic in Christian circles.  We need not think of the word “submission” as meaning “slavery” or “subjugation.”  The word comes from the military vocabulary and means “to arrange in rank”.  It does not mean that one is better than the other.  It only means that sometimes husband and wifes have different job descriptions.  Scripture is not saying that males are better than females.  Galatians 3:28 says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”. 


Scripture also says that husband and wife must be submitted to the Lord and to each other.  (Ephesians 5:21) It is a mutual respect under the lordship of Jesus Christ.  Scripture also says that “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church.”  (Ephesians 5:25) If a husband loves his wife that much, I don’t believe that he will always insist on his own way.

 Good marriages all seem to be built on mutual respect and mutual submission.  And on love. The good husband basically wants his wife to be happy and fulfilled and the good wife wants that for her husband also.  Each gives in to the other at times. And Christ holds them together in their love. 


And now we come to the next problem Bible passage!  Here we go.  Colossians 3:22 says: “Slaves, obey your masters in all things.”  Many Christians have long had problems with the idea of slavery.  Unfortunately, slavery was an established institution in Paul’s day as it had been throughout antiquity. God gave Israel rules concerning how slaves were to be treated. The slave was to be given his or her freedom after a certain number of years.  (Deuteronomy 15:12-18) and (Exodus 21:16)  Throughout Scripture God has commanded His people to take care of the poor and disenfranchised. 


Often a poor family could not count on always having enough to eat. When drought, plague, insects, thieves or storms ruined the yearly crops, the poor farmer might not have enough to feed his family.  In pre-historic times societies were without jails or fire and police protection. Thieves or warring enemy tribes could steal a persons’ money, food or animals, leaving the person or family with nothing to eat. Their very survival was at stake.


To find a steady supply of food, safety and security for the family, a poor person could offer to become a slave to a rich land owner.  The wealthy land owner’s responsibility was to feed the person and his or her family and give their family simple lodging and security in exchange for their work and their loyalty for a certain number of years.  In ancient days there were no banking systems, no trade unions, etc.  Instead of modern day employers hiring employees, often the wealthy land owner took on workers or what they called “slaves”.


 We must remember that today many employees work long hours under bad conditions and still do not have sufficient food, lodging or security for their families.  Also, many modern workers are “slaves” to their crushing debt, often because of high interest rates, medical care costs, housing, etc. 


Some will ask: ‘Why didn’t the church of that day openly oppose slavery and try to destroy it?  I don’t have the perfect answer, but the Christian church was a small minority group that had no political power to change the institution of slavery that had long been built into the social order of ancient societies.

God has ordained work as good.  Our good work matters to society.  Scripture says: “Six days shall you work and do all your labor, but the seventh is the Sabbath, in it you shall do no work.” (Exodus 20:9)  Some workers or slaves in ancient days had good masters and enjoyed their work.


Paul closes his letter to the Colossians in the 4th chapter.  He reminds them to continue praying and thanking God and to be alert against false doctrines. Paul’s prayer for these new Christians is that “God may open a door for our message.” (the message that Jesus Christ sets us free from our sin and gives us new life) (Colossians 4:3) This prayer of Paul’s says a lot about his own spiritual maturity, don’t you think?  


Remember Paul was “in chains”.  He wrote this letter to the Colossians from a Roman jail.  Paul did not ask that his prison doors be opened, but “that the doors of Christ’s ministry be opened.” (1 Cor.16:9: Acts 14:27) It was more important to Paul that he be a faithful minister for Jesus Christ than a free man.   In all of Paul’s prison prayers, his concerns and prayers were never for his own personal safety or material help, but for the message of Christ the Savior and Lord, that that message might be spread to everyone who would hear and believe and live.  May that be our prayer also.   


Many of the ideas in this blog were taken from Max Lucado’s book,”colossians and Philemon” and “The Wiersbe Bible Study Series”