Merely Christian

I have found the greatest argument for Christianity is made by author and former atheist, C.S. Lewis, in 'Mere Christianity'. Forming any conclusion on the subject of God, or our very existence for that matter, prior to reading this book is premature and probably the biggest mistake one can make. He is methodical and his approach professorial, as if he is explaining how the multiplication table might work, or why you can't fit a square peg in a round hole. His goal is not to bang you over the head with his own beliefs, but in the end you will find his conclusions impossible to contradict. His opening argument regarding good and evil is brilliant and very logical. It was not an easy read for me, but once I got through it has become an invaluable resource and reference. So valuable in fact, we believe his writings rate their own page in our blog. Although no substitute for the full read (which you can find available in our Resource Center) we will share some of his finer points for consideration. For instance, his argument for a created universe is short and sweet and if you have a logical comeback I would be interested in hearing it.

…After all, it is really a matter of common sense. Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, "Why is there a universe?" "Why does it go on as it does?" "Has it any meaning?" would remain just as they were?…

Changing Lanes

I grew up in the NYC metro area where there are a lot of toll bridges and toll roads. When I lived there, the toll plaza had at times a dozen lanes into which you could pull up and toss your money into a basket or at the toll collector.  (Now there’s Easy Pass which does seem to move things along.) Picking the right lane to get in to can be tricky business. Inevitably I would pick a lane that I thought was moving quickly only to find out that the first lane I was in would have gotten me there sooner.  I’m pretty sure we’ve all made similar misjudgments, at the Walmart check out line or popcorn line at the movies. In all these cases, not the end of the world, just a little frustrating.

A dear friend (Mark) sent me something recently that got me thinking about these lanes we choose to get in. In this instance though it spoke about the various ‘false gods’ we human’s worship which have now been taken away from us because of this Corona virus thing. We worship athletes – no more sports. We worship actors and musicians, no more theaters or concerts. We worship money – economy shuts down. We worship intellect in the form of education – schools are closed. We worship our bodies – gyms are closed. Even something so seemingly good as our friends and family are unavailable to us. What do these other, ‘lesser’ lanes we choose have in common? Well, if they become the center of our love and adoration (i.e. worship) they distract us from the true lane we should be travelling on.

This was critical in helping me understand why the very first guidance we humans were given from the God that created us all was, “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other Gods before me.” And the explanation is stated perfectly by my main man when it comes to stuff like this, C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended-civilizations are built up-excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.

So, how did Satan get into this? Well, Satan is all about that second commandment in that Owner’s Manual, “You shall not worship false Gods.” Worshiping anything or anyone other than God is all Satan wants us to do. Once we get into that lane, he’s got us. From there he can take us to all the twisty, little side roads and tourist traps that move us away from the true road back to our home – the Home that was created for us.

But here is the really Great News. We are the drivers and we always control the wheel, and the lanes are those white striped ones that allow you to switch the lane you’re in. So, during this very unusual time during this very special week, consider the lane you’re in, and maybe what’s going on around us all will begin to make some sense. I’ve got my blinker on! 😊

Make US Worthy

memorial-day-historyGod bless the men and women of our United Stated military who have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for our country – literally for me and you – so that we can all enjoy the benefits of their sacrifice.  I am reminded today of the lesson that Jesus teaches us and described in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 5:6

“…6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

These brave people who we remember this weekend did just that – they laid down their lives for people they would never meet, many of whom were yet to be born.  Like Christ they did not discriminate.  They died for the righteous as well as the sinners.  I thought about that in the context of the present state of our country.  How willing would any of us be to die for this country if we indeed reflected on the news of the day?  What is so special about this country that we still have soldiers sacrificing their lives for it?  Frankly, I find that America has become less worthy of these glorious men and women when I see the direction our leadership has taken us.  With our permission, our government has made this once great land of ours not-so-special, increasingly mediocre and in fact a shadow of what it was intended to be.

How did this happen?  To me it’s quite simple.  I have come to believe that the only thing that makes us or any country or civilization truly special is their relationship with God.  The founders of this country understood that.  They acknowledged God as the source of all good things.  They established all America was, is and could be on the simple notion, ‘’that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.  (taken from the Declaration of Independence)

Good stuff these guys left us with.  But what have we done with it?  I recently read about a movement to remove the Bible from libraries and hotel rooms; we still support the killing of unborn babies; we prop up corrupt and God-less countries; we remove God from our schools and public buildings; we demean His place in our very existence as a nation.  And so we should not be surprised that when we turn our backs on God as a nation there will be consequences – and they are not good.  One only has to observe the present election cycle to see where America is headed.  Actually C.S. Lewis speaks about this phenomenon in the book Mere Christianity with this brilliant discourse of what happens when we, as God’s creations, decide to turn away from God and toward the alternative:

“….That is the key to history.  Terrific energy is expended – civilizations are built up – excellent institutions are devised (e.g. the Constitution); but each time something goes wrong.  Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.  In fact, the machine (institution, government, country) conks.  It seems to start up all right and run a few yards, and then it breaks down.  They are trying to run it on the wrong juice.  That is what Satan has done to us humans…”

But of course there is hope – there always is.  A nation is only as good as its people; and its people are only good as their beliefs.  The choice of course is ours.  Each day, one decision at a time we just need to ask, ‘what would Jesus do?’ and then do it, regardless of ‘public opinion’.  It will take time, maybe more than what some of us have on this earth, but it’s still worth the effort.  We can become worthy again as a nation – worthy of the sacrifices made by the thousands of our military and their families.  We can be what God intended and what our fore-fathers imagined – a people, a nation and a belief worth dying for:

“…For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  – Eph 2:10.

Sex? Sex! sex.

twister bedThe bible is full of stories about sex and violence…really.  It’s more than likely one of the reasons that we hear the same readings over and over again in church.  My bible is over 1500 pages long and with that many pages you really shouldn’t be repeating readings as often as we do if the intent is to study the entire word of God.  But most of it has to do with the subject matter.  There are just whole sections of the bible that deal with things that are not ever mentioned in polite company.  Things regarding genocide, infanticide, human sacrifice, murder, suicide, torture and rape fill the bible’s pages.  And when it comes to sex there is no subject that is too controversial to be addressed: adultery, homosexuality, incest of every type imaginable, and even bestiality are discussed.  If the intent of the word of God is to provide God’s children a framework for living our lives and ensuring our salvation, our Father (like any good parent) is going to tell it like it is.  If you are trying to save someone’s life, you don’t hold back, especially when it comes to a subject like sex that has a potential to end in disaster.

Now, to be clear, God did not create sex to be disastrous.  In reality like everything God creates, God’s intent is just the opposite.  Sex was created as a good thing.  One of God’s commands to his children is to ‘Go forth and multiple!’  So, it is certainly no surprise that the act of multiplication is associated with a high level of pleasure – right?  Why bother if it’s going to just be a mundane, or worse yet, a painful, experience?  (I’ll read a book or work in the garden at that point.)  So here we have something that gives us all incredible pleasure and satisfaction, and God is commanding us to do it!  In fact, there are all sorts of chemicals and hormones that he put racing through our bodies simply for that purpose.  Remember those hormones?!   (C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity covers the subject masterfully in Book 3, Chapter 5 – Click here 

…The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body. Now if we eat whenever we feel inclined and just as much as we want, it is quite true that most of us will eat too much: but not terrifically too much. One man may eat enough for two, but he does not eat enough for ten. The appetite goes a little beyond its biological purpose, but not enormously. But if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village. This appetite is in ludicrous and preposterous excess of its function.

So since we are all still living within the confines of this earth with its paradox of good versus evil, sex like all of God’s creations, can have either good or bad consequences.  It all depends on how you use it.  Eat enough = good for you.  Eat too much = not good for you.  Exercise enough = good for you.  Exercise excessively = not good for you.  Think about anything in that way and you can see that it all has potentially a good or bad consequence.  That is the true meaning of the very first commandment.  ‘Thou shalt not have any gods before me.’  Much more than gods like Zeus, Buddha or Satan, more like becoming consumed with a thing or action, if fact making it our god, and therefore giving it our primary focus.

Back to the sex act itself.  You might ask, how do we keep it from becoming our primary focus?  I have to tell you that there were times in my life when the sex act was fairly high on my list of ‘things to do’.  Even now if the circumstances are right, the moon is full and I’ve had the proper sensual stimulation it certainly can grab my attention!  And of course, with society’s apparent fixation on sex there is no shortage of opportunities to indulge the mind and body accordingly.  I would be a liar if I said that I have never committed adultery of the mind with all sorts of potential partners from Halle Barry to the check out girl at the local convenience store.  Eeewwwwwww!  (Hey, just keepin’ it real.)

So what is a Christian to do?  How do we keep this potential downfall at bay?  How do we keep legit in our marriages and permanent relationships?  Some preachers talk about averting our eyes, or avoiding images or situations where we might be tempted to drift towards the nasty.  Well, frankly that is a lot easier said than done.  I mean testosterone (and estrogen) is a helluva drug, and as I said there is no shortage of opportunity if you are inclined.  Then I read the Gospel story of the woman who was said to have married seven brothers, each man dying on their wedding night, obligating the brother next in line to marry this woman.  (Imagine that!)  The religious leaders at the time try to trick Jesus by asking him to whom of the brothers would the woman be married to when they all arrived in heaven.  Jesus, brilliantly of course, reminds the questioner,

You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven…”  Matt 22:25-32

And since we are all God’s beloved children and He is our parent, we in turn are all brothers and sisters.  Boom! That is the great revelation that I have now used in controlling that primal desire to populate a small village.  If our true essence is not achieved until we are indeed in God’s presence in Heaven, then it means that we are truly created as siblings.  We are all related as brothers and sisters, and that outside of our monogamous relationship (marriage hopefully) sex is not intended between siblings.  So when I heard and understood that, Halle Barry immediately became my sister.  And so did the rest of you women out there.  You are all my sisters.  And when I may feel the urge to adulter-ize or covet I quickly imagine that this is my sister in Christ and the urge ultimately passes.  Try it the next time you may get the urge to wander:  ‘Whoa!  Wait a minute!  That’s my sister/brother I’m thinking about in that way.’  You’ll see what I mean.  It’s a changing of the mind and accepting our fraternal relationship that will work best, seeing each other as we truly are meant to be.  And so sex begins to take on a very different and very simple place in our lives, a place reserved for our partner to whom we have become one flesh.

‘That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh…’Gen 2:24

Every other potential partner is your brother or sister…I hope that helps!  (And mix in a cold shower occasionally where necessary.)

Rendering unto Caesar

debate_closingstatement_080615I found myself watching the latest Republican debate a couple of weeks ago.  Once I got beyond the spectacle of it all, and all of the apparent agendas of both the moderators and the candidates, I was struck with one thing: these people are pretty smart!  I mean to say that when actually given a minute or two to express themselves I thought for the most part that each (with the exception of Trump) had something thoughtful to say.  Now considering the amount of effort spent by the moderators and at times the candidates themselves looking to illicit ‘gotcha’ moments, the meaningful exchanges left me with a feeling of wanting to hear more from each of them (including Trump).  I was left with a feeling that, ‘Well maybe these men and Carly actually do have the best interests of our country at heart (Trump, not so much)’.  It got me to think about the long list of very well intentioned men and women that subject themselves to a life of public service and all of what comes with that:  the constant scrutiny, the time away from family, the criticisms they endure in the media and so on.  But, there always seems to be someone willing to step into the fray.

Now, I know that some may have less than noble objectives when they decide to run for office, but I have to imagine for the most part that their goal is to serve the group they represent in a fiduciary fashion.  And, that their hearts, at least at the beginning of their service, are in the right place, looking to achieve substantive improvements for our country, state, city or town.  So what happens?  How do all these apparently smart people, once in office, get bogged down or otherwise side-tracked, or even totally incapacitated and ineffective?  I mean – it’s not like they all of a sudden get stupid or incompetent.  It’s not like the great ideas from the campaign trail lose their validity.  (Like what the heck is wrong with a flat tax anyway?)  So, if it is not a sudden degradation of the talents of the people we elect to office, it must be the system that we put them into.  Then I immediately remember one of the truly brilliant observations from C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity that puts it all into place:

“…That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended-civilizations are built up-excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down.  They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans. The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine.  A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing…”    (Note: You really should try and read this book at least once in your lifetime.  It really does help to understand the philosophical foundations on which our faith is based.  It is also available on the internet for free.)

So, in essence, we are doomed to failure as long as we insist on putting anything other than the Lord, our God, at the center of any of our systems of authority.  And when you think of it there really is no example in history of a permanent success of any man-centric government.  In fact, it is actually the separation of church (i.e. the one, true God) and state that is our ruin.  Now, I am not saying that we should place a particular religion, or church in charge.  Get that straight.  God needs to be in charge, not men.  It is the Kingdom of God that Jesus speaks of so often in His teachings that must reign, and why He tells us to seek it and its righteousness and that all our other needs will be fulfilled.  So although this bit of reality may be disappointing at first, knowing that we are entrenched in a system of worldly dysfunction, the Kingdom still remains our greatest hope for ultimate peace and harmony amongst God’s children.

There is a lot of information out there, starting with scripture and from Christ Himself about the Kingdom.  It is not something that can be summed up in a sentence or two, because it is meant to be taken literally (Christ will return as our earthly King.) and spiritually (“For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” – Luke 17:20-21). It is in fact the vehicle of our ultimate relationship with God and one another.  Suffice to say, at least for me, is that our baptism provides access to the Kingdom, our allegiance is to our Lord and His Son Jesus Christ, and our constitution is Holy Scripture.

So, are we to disengage with the going-ons of this world?  Do we stop voting?  Do we just stand by as spectators?  I don’t think that is what Jesus meant when He told us to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.” – Mark 12:17.  I believe as a society we are to live and work the best we can within the constraints of our own brokenness, always harkening back to the foundations of our God-centered destiny:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37–40).  And, lastly pray that the men and women elected to office do the same.

Broken hearts and such…

heart 1Romantically, I was a late bloomer.  It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I had a serious relationship with a girl, let’s call her Mindy.  Mindy was about a year younger than me and we dated for about four years as I went through college.  It was my first experience with romantic love and I thought at the time that we were going to have a future together.  But, I guess Mindy didn’t.  She dumped me for an older man at about the time I graduated and just before I went off on a cross country summer adventure with my dear friend, Pete.   I was devastated in that I did not see it coming.  It was the first time my heart would break.  I took it very hard and thought it was never going to stop hurting.  Thank God that He had other plans for me, because as some of you already know, I met my wife during that cross country trip in late July of 1980 at an Allman Brother’s concert in the old Aladdin hotel in Vegas.  God had meant for Ellie and I to be together and that has made all the difference in my life.

Now, during that year after I returned from my post graduation trip, I dated a couple of women, one of which (let’s call her Marisol) turned into a fairly regular relationship in that we spent a lot of time together and had fun being together.  But, as will happen sometimes, partners develop different visions of their relationship.  I really enjoyed our time together, but frankly did not see it developing into a long term connection.  Unknown to me, Marisol had developed a different view.  So when my long distance relationship with Ellie took bloom, and I felt compelled to make a commitment to it, I had to let Marisol know.  She took it pretty hard.  It was difficult to see how I could be the cause of someone else’s grief.  So within that same year, I had been on both ends of a broken heart, both painful.

I am pretty sure that most of us have had similar experiences with similar devastation and grief.  It is a difficult thing to see a relationship die.  But apparently this is the (more…)

Looks like you missed a spot…

dirty-face-kidI think most of us have seen a movie with a scene where a prisoner has been kept in a dungeon or locked up in solitary confinement for some time – no windows, no lights.  (I took a tour of the Alcatraz solitary lock up once and you get to spend about 30 seconds inside the lightless cell – it’s pretty freaky.)  At the end of their confinement the prisoner is usually dirty and disheveled. Not being able to see much in the dark, it is not surprising.  Now sometimes you don’t need to see dirt to know it is on you, you can just feel it.  But it’s likely you would not see all of it or the extent of your ‘unclean’ condition until you actually step out into the light again.  And even at that it is not easy to see all of yourself – all those hidden nooks and crannies where dirt can hide.

The Jews in Christ’s time were very concerned about being ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ physically and spiritually.  Every Passover each family was to offer a sacrifice of an unblemished lamb at the Temple – one that is pure white without any spots.  (Jesus is often referred to as the unblemished Lamb of God whose sacrifice was made to pay for all of our sins.)  Well, I thought of all this recently when I read the following statement:

“… Some of the greatest saints considered themselves great sinners because the closer we draw to the light of Christ, the more visible our sinfulness becomes…”

Man, is that true!  Knowing Christ and the Christ-life does give us the entire context that God intended us to have, and the model to which we are called.  C.S. Lewis states it this way in his great chapter on Pride, the Great Sin, “The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.  It is better to forget about yourself altogether…”

Thankfully, the good news is that God knows this, and although this is His expectation, He has already made provisions, through Jesus, for our falling short of this spotless model.  All we need to do is to accept the fact that when we stand in the glorious light of God, we are all observed to be small dirty objects.   But like every good parent, God sees through the surface grime to what He created each of us as: His very own children whom He loves regardless…thank-you God.

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lottery in trash

For many years I used to fantasized about winning the lottery – normally when the prize got over a hundred million dollars.  (Like anything else would be a disappointment.)  I used to dream what it would be like to have as much money as anyone could need to help all those poor souls out there who needed it.   After setting up my family, of course, I could then spend each day figuring out ways to use the money to help all those people with any variety of problems that money could solve or at least help.  So, I would wait expectantly, usually on a Sunday morning, to see the Powerball numbers and sadly realize that it was not to be.  But, some day God would have me beat the odds because of my good intentions.

Then something happened.  A friend told us there was this village right over the border that had no electricity, and that for something like $500, they could get the power lines one mile closer to the village.  Coming from New York that blew my mind.  Five-hundred dollars wouldn’t pay for the guy who you needed to hire to get the permit you would need to do the work.  Then I found out that my friend’s aunt was helping these Mexican kids get through secondary and vocational school and it cost about the $400 for a full semester!  It is amazing how living in the U.S and especially Scottsdale can warp your sense of what it takes to impact someone else’s life in a positive way…at least on a monetary level.  Here I am thinking that I need to be a multi-millionaire to do something significant.  It was probably a good excuse to (more…)

The ‘Key’ to the Kingdom

keys to the kingdom

The other night I was about to doze off.  (Usually Ellie and I watch a half an hour or so of TV before we nod off.)  I was flipping around and stopped at an old movie called, The Keys of the Kingdom, with a very young Gregory Peck starring as a Catholic missionary in China.  It seems that Father Chisholm (Peck) has some medical skills and heals the young son of a local Chinese land baron.  To show his gratitude the land baron, Mr. Chia, offers to become a Catholic, which in turn would cause many of the people subject to his rule to become Catholics.  Father Chisholm refuses the offer, ‘because that is not the way it works.’  Then what happened next I found quite disturbing.  As he leaves, Mr. Chia says something to the effect that he understands the good Father’s rejection of his offer, because he is unworthy to be a Catholic.  I immediately expected Peck’s character to correct him and use this opportunity as a teaching moment.  But no, the Father is silent and allows the statement to stand.  Well, I just saw the scene as another instance of the lack of understanding of exactly ‘how it does work.’  I know the movie is close to 70 years old, but I know for a fact, and have said it time before in this blog, that there are still multitudes of people who consider themselves ‘unworthy’ to have a relationship with God because of what they have done or have failed to do.  The cold hard fact is that NONE OF US ARE WORTHY to commune with God.   It is only through God’s good grace that we are all permitted access.

Then today, not two days after watching this scene (I fell asleep right after.) the homily was just that notion.  God has gifted to us our salvation, our opportunity to commune with Him.  He offers it to all of us.  He gifts it to Father Chisholm and to Mr. Chia equally.  It has nothing to do with worthiness.  That, my friends is the KEY TO THE KINGDOM – understanding that there (more…)