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Saturday, October 27, 2018

Forgiveness and Love

Forgiveness and Love
We are presently going through C.S. Lewis’s famous book, “Mere Christianity” and touching on some of the high-lights.  This book is all about describing Christian beliefs.  Today we will touch on the Christian beliefs concerning forgiveness and love.
C.S. Lewis insists that he didn’t invent Christianity when he discusses the fact that Christians are commanded to forgive.  Right there in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  (Matthew 6:12) Jesus made it perfectly clear here, and also in other portions of Scripture, that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven.  There are no two ways about it.  But sometimes forgiving another person is very difficult.  Impossible in our own strength!  So, what are we to do?
God wouldn’t ask us to do anything that would be impossible for us to do.  But sometimes forgiving a really bad enemy would be impossible for us to do - in our own strength.  But then that’s where God comes in.  God promises to be there with us and help us with the impossible things in our lives.  And that means He will give us the strength and power to forgive our really bad enemies - if we ask Him to.  (Philippians 4:13; Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 7;7-8, Luke 11:9) Help is there for us if we want it.  We just need to ask and then stand on God’s promises!    
Lewis insists that the Christian teaching of forgiveness does not call us to reduce the hatred we feel for cruelty or treachery or for any other sin or crime.  Forgiving doesn’t mean saying that the sin isn’t so bad!  We ought to hate sin.  And forgiving a person who has sinned does not mean that that person is not to be punished by the law if a crime has been committed.
We are to hate the sin but love the sinner!  When you are trying to obey God’s command to forgive, try picturing the person you are forgiving the way God created him or her to be. God created all persons to be good. Pray that the one you are forgiving, the one who sinned, will become the good person he or she was meant to be.  Give this person to God and pray that he or she will be changed. 
Sometimes we can feel resentment towards this bad person or group we are trying to forgive.  We would like to hurt their reputation or their feelings or put them down.  Each time these feelings pop up in our minds we must put them down. God is not only calling us to “do” the right thing, but also to “think” the right thing!  Thought patrol?!  That’s what the Good Book says!  We are instructed in Scripture to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)  
Instead of hating the bad person or group, we are commanded to bless our enemies and pray for them.  (Luke 6:28, Matthew 5:44) It is hard work, but not impossible. God can love them through us. God has commanded us to forgive and forgiveness is hard work.  
We are to give this person we are trying to forgive over to God and let Him deal with the sin that they committed. We should not try to get revenge ourselves. Scripture says that God will take care of the person who hurt us or who stole from us.  Vengeance belongs to God and to Him alone.  Paying the sinner back for his sin is God’s job, not ours.   (Romans 12:19), Deuteronomy 32:35)
We move on to the topic of Christian love.  We Christians are commanded to love God with all our hearts, minds and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  (Matthew 22:37: Deuteronomy 6:5) C.S. Lewis suggests that we not waste time worrying whether we ‘love’ our neighbor.  He advises that we act as if we love our neighbor that soon we will find one of the great secrets in life.  That secret is that when we behave as if we love someone, we will presently come to love him or her. 
When we obey God’s command to forgive and love, we become more loving with each decision we make to obey and love.  We learn to love a little more each time we choose to love and soon loving ways become a habit.  And good habits become our good character.  That is why little decisions we make every day have such infinite importance.  Good choices or evil choices can increase at compound interest in our lives.
Christian love, either towards God or towards other people is an affair of the will.  Though our loving feelings may come and go, God’s love for us does not. He always loves us.  God’s love is not wearied by our sins, or our indifferences.  And His love is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of all our sins, at whatever cost to us, and at whatever cost to Him. 

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


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Thoughts Concerning Christian Marriage

Thoughts Concerning Christian Marriage
We are presently going through C.S. Lewis’s famous book, “Mere Christianity” and touching on some of the high-lights. This book is all about describing Christian beliefs.  Today we will touch on some of the Christian beliefs concerning sex and marriage.
The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a married couple is to be considered as a single organism – or “one flesh”.  (Mark 10:8) And one of the Ten Commandments in the Bible commands God’s people against sex outside of marriage.  It says: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14) God has given us this wonderful gift of marriage, but with His gift He has also given us some rules and instructions.  
Most likely God commanded His people to be faithful in their marriages because sex outside of marriage isolates one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of unions which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union called marriage.  Sex without love or commitment is really fake.  And God wants the real thing for us – and we should want that too. 
 Also, sex outside of marriage is called “fornication” and is called a “sin” in Scripture. This sin is sometimes made to look like “fun” in the media, but it can bring on so much sorrow and grief.  Unborn babies produced by couples who have sex and are not committed to each other are the cause of millions of abortions.   And parents who are not responsible or faithful to one another can be the cause of why little children are abandoned or are raised by one struggling parent.
There are people who want to keep free sex alive in order to make money out of us.  Today porn is everywhere, and sex is cheapened and considered a recreation. Surrendering to all our desires can lead to impotence, disease, jealousies, lies, concealment and abortions.
Sadly, babies and children are the ones who suffer most!  These little ones are sacrificed on the altar to the goddess of sex. How many more will have to die?  They pay the bloody price so that we can have free sex. God wants our best and our children’s best.  For any happiness in this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary. 
God loves and cares about the un-born and the abandoned babies and the children who are left behind like garbage after a feast.  Scripture says: “If anyone does not provide for his family, he has denied the Christian faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8) God calls Christians to be responsible in their sex lives and to “flee – or run away from - fornication”.  To be committed to the one we have a sexual relation with and to be responsible for the children that our sexual relationship brings.  God loves us too much to have it any other way. 
Thousands of years ago, men – usually men with enough money – sometimes married more than one wife, if he could pay for her upkeep and also the children they had together. God called on them to take care of their families. Both Moses and Jacob, who were great men of God, were married to more than one wife, as was the custom in the patriarchal societies of antiquity. Today most modern women believe in equality in marriage and would not agree to share their every-day lives and their money as well as their husbands with others. 
Almost everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise before God to stick to his or her partner in sickness and in health, whether for richer or poorer until death.  Marriage for a Christian is considered sacred – with God’s blessings on it.  But of course, we all know that some marriages don’t last until death like we promise in our marriage vows. And Scripture allows divorce in certain cases. Here are two of the several reasons. (Matthew 19:9, 1 Corinthians 7:15, Matthew 5:32) But still, the Biblical Christian beliefs concerning marriage and divorce are much stricter than our modern society would prefer. 
So how do we reconcile the reality of the high divorce rate among Christians with the high Christian standards of love and faithfulness?  It seems that many Christians have adopted the secular standards for marriage and given up our Christian standards. The modern secular standard for marriage does not always call the couple to stick together till death!  In fact, it seems that often secular advice goes like this – that one should stay in a marriage as long as the marriage is in their best interests.  And when two people “outgrow” one another or have different needs then they should split.  As you can see, there is a difference between the Christian definition of marriage and the secular one. 
 I would think that a Christian, trying to obey God, should take their marriage vows seriously and do their best to stay in a difficult marriage.  Go through counseling and pray for God’s help.  Scripture allows divorce in cases of adultery or abandonment.  And I believe that God doesn’t want us to stay in an abusive marriage when the abuser refuses to change.
 If one of the partners refuses to stay in the marriage, often leaving for another person, there is little the other partner can do but to go along with the divorce. But God forgives the sin of divorce just as He forgives all other sins. So, if you are the one who left your marriage and caused the divorce, you can be forgiven if you are sorry and repentant.  Christianity is all about repentance and second chances. 
God commands marriage partners to love one another.  And He commands husbands to “Love your wives as Christ loves the Church.”  (Ephesians 5:25) C.S. Lewis points out that those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises.  Romantic love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy.  But is this modern generation giving up on romance and true love?  Where are any romantic love songs today? 
Love is the great conqueror of lust.  And true love moves married partners to keep their promise of fidelity through thick and thin.  It is on this God given love that the engine of marriage is run. I believe a great marriage is there for us if we ask God for it.  And if we are willing to be unselfish and responsible. God promises to be with us in our marriages and to help us love one another – if we are willing.
Being married and in love is a glorious state!  It helps to make us romantic, unselfish, generous and courageous.  It opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved, but to all beauty. We give up so much if we pass married love by for some cheap sexual thrills. Yes, true married love is a many splendored thing!
Many of these ideas were taken from C.S. Lewis’s book, “Mere Christianity”.





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.