Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When Trials Come

So this is kind of a random post.  About frustrations.  And stress management.  I've been struggling with stress and anxiety a lot this past week.  I have to give it up to God, over and over and over.  But he is so gracious, carrying me on eagles wings, lifting me up to see his beauty when I feel weighed down by the mundane issues of my existence. 
I know I often take on too much... but the real problem is that I usually try to tackle things alone.  I soon realize that the weight is crushing me and I cry out for rescue.  I am beginning to realize that I need to constantly cast my anxiety on him.  I keep clutching my burdens to myself as if I can contain and destroy them, while the reality is that it will only destroy me, and could very well destroy those around me.  I need to remember the command to "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7) 

One of my main sources of anxiety (the kind the subtly and constantly gnaws beneath the surface) is the question of "what are you doing after you graduate?".  I really have no idea.  It seems that everyone is marching off confidently to become a doctor, a nurse, a mother, a teacher, a missionary, an engineer.  I have dreams, yes, but they are hazy.  I feel no "call" as such.  I often have a sense that I am marching steadily toward the edge of a precipice, to the doom of a purposeless fast food career.  Ok, so that was a bit dramatic.  But honestly, I need to constantly remind myself that God is the one who has written the story of my life before I drew my first breath.  I must rest in the promise that he knows the plans he has for me, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jer 29:11)
I know that God is sufficient, and I rejoice in his provisions.  One of these provisions is a nagging voice in my head that tells me to go out for a walk when I've sat staring at an unfinished English assignment for 2 hours.  There are practical things that can help to refresh my mind and spirit when I feel frustrated and uninspired.  For me that would definitely include exercise, but I also find refreshment and fulfillment in cleaning, baking, or doing laundry.  I love doing it because it's so different from the academic brain work I am chained to most of the day, and it's nice to be able to lighten my mom's load.  Even little things like taking a few minutes away from my work to practice worship songs on the piano, or get up to get a glass of water and meditate on a memory verse, can help phenomenally with my state of mind and productivity rate.  What kind of things do you do to manage stress?

"Even youths grow tired and weary,
       and young men stumble and fall;
 but those who hope in the LORD
       will renew their strength.
       They will soar on wings like eagles;
       they will run and not grow weary,
       they will walk and not be faint."  - Isaiah 40:30-31

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Magician's Nephew- Lessons in Human Nature

This, the account of the first human encounter with the world of Narnia, provides one of the most intimate views into the every-day struggles of human nature.  Although The Magician's Nephew has never been my favorite book in the series, I find that I can understand the subtle themes better than when I read it as a child.  Although this is the sixth book published in the Chronicles of Narnia, it functions much like the Genesis creation account, providing important background information that aids in the understanding of the events and conflicts of the other books.

Near the beginning of the narrative, in the dying world of Charn, Digory chooses to act cruelly and selfishly as he pushes Polly and her warning aside in his desire to strike the bell which awakens the evil Jadis, queen of Charn.  Although he initially seeks to justify himself as being enchanted by the inscription under the bell, when he comes face to face with Aslan in Narnia, he is instantly convicted of his wrongdoing, and sees that there is indeed no excuse.  The motif of the "forbidden fruit" is used repeatedly throughout the book.  Just as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis, we often wonder why something is forbidden from us.  Why can we not eat from this beautiful tree, and only from the other trees?  Why must we not follow our impulses, when they seem so harmless at the time?  The very reason we ask such questions hints at the conscience God has placed within us.  Con/science, literally, means with knowledge.  God does not punish us for things we do unknowingly- no, we have no excuse because we know from the Law of his Word and the Law written on our hearts that our deeds are evil.  We make excuses only because we know at heart that we are guilty.  There is no excusing or denying our sin when we meet the Lord face to face, as we all must someday.
The creation scene is beautiful, as the sun rises and the voice of Aslan evokes several different, but strong and decisive responses from the group witnessing the scene.  Uncle Andrew is frightened and resents the voice, while the Witch becomes proud and hard in response to it.  The children feel a wonderful stirring in their hearts as they realize its beauty.  The cart-horse becomes joyful and spirited once again, and the cabby is lost in wonder at this voice which to him seems strangely familiar.  We must all react to the voice of God that stirs our soul.  Will you respond by worshiping God, or by hardening your heart and rejecting his call?

As one of the protagonists, Digory is a character with whom we empathize and relate.  After he meets with the Lion face to face, he sees the true nature of his sin and repents of his selfish attitude. In a poignant moment he fleetingly contemplates bargaining to do Aslan's bidding if the Lion would help his mother get well, but instantly realizes that Aslan isn't the sort of person to be "bargain[ed] with".  Instead, he agrees to embark on a quest to help remedy the evil that he brought into this new world.  Overcome with grief for his mother, Digory looks pleadingly into Aslan's face and marvels to see that Aslan's sorrow over his mother's sickness is even greater than his own.  What a comfort to us that "Jesus wept" for the death of a friend, and the sorrow of the mourners (John 11:35).  Many of us know this verse as the shortest verse in the Bible, but it is laced with such tenderness and should be held dearly to us in times of grief.  We do not grieve alone- Christ shares our sorrow.  He has borne the sorrow of the ages, and bears the sorrow of the future as well.  And yet, he cares for us individually, counting the very hairs of our heads.  He desires to heal our hearts and bind our wounds.

I realize that I have touched on many themes in this short synopsis, and I apologize if it is confusing... it will probably make more sense if you have read The Magician's Nephew.  I have one more point to make, and personally I think it is the most important to understand.  In light of the perfect, righteous, loving, and compassionate nature of Christ, who are we?  May I propose that we are all "Uncle Andrews" at heart?  Just to paint a brief picture of what that looks like, let's take a peek at Uncle Andrew's nature.  He believes he has a link into the world of magic- a "high and lonely destiny", if you will- through his possession of the magical rings.  He doesn't even understand them, but yet he uses them to cruelly destroy guinea pigs, and tricks his nephew and Polly into using the rings.  He justifies his actions to Digory by telling him that grown-ups, and especially magicians, don't have to live by the same code of ethics or morality.  When Uncle Andrew is unwittingly dragged to Narnia, he works hard to convince himself that the Narnian animals were roaring rather than speaking, and that Aslan was a "dumb animal" and did not in fact create the world of Narnia, that he eventually believes his own illusion.  Although this poor old man is obviously in a prison of his own making, we can't help but feel a bit sorry for him as he is enslaved by the powerful and evil witch, Jadis, who ironically also says she has a "high and lonely destiny".  How are we like this sniveling, despicable, pitiable man?  In almost every way.  We have seen the glory and perfect design of God's created world, but many close their minds to it.  God is not silent, but if people work hard enough to pretend to hear something else, they can eventually deceive even themselves.  We are utterly depraved and despicable, enslaved by our sin to the power of evil.  We serve the devil, an entity much more cunning and subversive than Jadis, but equally as alluring.  Indeed, Satan masquerades himself as an angel of light. (2 Cor 11:14)  We can be freed only by the power of God, who has power over our sin, over death, and over Satan.  Do not harden your heart or close your ears!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

An Introduction to the Chronicles of Narnia

Despite the obvious connections with the biblical creation and redemption accounts, CS Lewis did not seek to create a solid allegory.  His purpose, as with his other works of fiction, is to imagine how God would create and redeem a world much different than our own.  In the Chronicles of Narnia, this is done subtly, never disturbing the fantasy world that children are so drawn to.  As I first picked up these books and devoured them at age 8 or 9, I would sometimes almost believe that such a world existed.  Of course, I knew in my head it didn't, but it was a delightful fantasy.  Even as a young child, I could see that the world was a place touched by evil and sorrow.  Surely, within all of us there is- or at least there has been at some point- the desire to believe that there is somewhere better.  As a Christian, I rest my life in the hope that neither this world, nor the imaginary world of Narnia is my home- my home is the place in heaven which Christ is preparing for me.  In my pre-teen and early teen years, I continued to read and re-read these books.  I still find them to be a refreshing and though-provoking read.  As CS Lewis said, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest."

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As I grew older, the stories of talking animals, battles, and the glorious power of Aslan still entertained me, but I found myself drawn more and more to the meaning behind the words.  I noticed the brief notes and comments that Lewis placed unobtrusively throughout the text, and realized that they had a deeper meaning that often corresponded with the lessons I was learning in my study of the Bible.  Occasionally, I noticed that some ideas seemed to oppose biblical principles.  So, although I could not agree with 100% of what Lewis said, I was learning important lessons.  I knew that I should learn from and enjoy what I read, but that I must examine it by what I knew God said was true.  I admire CS Lewis for his skill at writing, apologetics, and rhetoric, but I have realized that no one person is entirely worthy of trust or emulation besides Christ.  That disclaimer and warning aside, I will, in my next post, embark on my purpose of unearthing an important lesson on battling evil and temptation that can be found in The Magician's Nephew.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Modern Message From the Past

Sorry, no Narnia notes yet.  I'm actually still reading the first book (for the 16th time- no, I'm not exaggerating).  

Instead, I'd like to share a short excerpt that was on the back of the church bulletin today.  It struck me- not just because it so accurately portrays the malaise of today's church, but because a sermon written on October 7, 1888, can so perfectly diagnose the church on October 3, 2010.  Words of truth are indeed timeless.

This excerpt from Charles Spurgeon's sermon isn't lengthy, but it is incredibly eye-opening.  I challenge you to take a minute or two and read it.  How important is Truth to you? 

No Compromise- Exposing the [Post]modern Missional Strategy

This is the suggestion of the present hour: if the world will not come to Jesus, shall Jesus tone down his teachings to the world? In other words, if the world will not rise to the church, shall not the church go down to the world? Instead of bidding men to be converted, and come out from among sinners, and be separate from them, let us join with the ungodly world, enter into union with it, and so pervade it with our influence by allowing it to influence us. Let us have a Christian world.

To this end let us revise our doctrines. Some are old-fashioned, grim, severe, unpopular; let us drop them out. Use the old phrases so as to please the obstinately orthodox, but give them new meanings so as to win philosophical infidels, who are prowling around. Pare off the edges of unpleasant truths, and moderate the dogmatic tone of infallible revelation: say that Abraham and Moses made mistakes, and that the books which have been so long had in reverence are full of errors. Undermine the old faith, and bring in the new doubt; for the times are altered, and the spirit of the age suggests the abandonment of everything that is too severely righteous, and too surely of God.
The deceitful adulteration of doctrine is attended by a falsification of experience. Men are now told that they were born good, or were made so by their infant baptism, and so that great sentence, "Ye must be born again," is deprived of its force. Repentance is ignored, faith is a drug in the market as compared with "honest doubt," and mourning for sin and communion with God are dispensed with, to make way for entertainments, and Socialism, and politics of varying shades. A new creature in Christ Jesus is looked upon as a sour invention of bigoted Puritans.

That is what "modern thought" is telling us; and under its guidance all religion is being toned down. Spiritual religion is despised, and a fashionable morality is set up in its place. Do yourself up tidily on Sunday; behave yourself; and above all, believe everything except what you read in the Bible, and you will be all right.

Be fashionable, and think with those who profess to be scientific—this is the first and great commandment of the modern school; and the second is like unto it—do not be singular, but be as worldly as your neighbours.

The new plan is to assimilate the church to the world, and so include a larger area within its bounds. By semi-dramatic performances they make houses of prayer to approximate to the theatre; they turn their services into musical displays, and their sermons into political harangues or philosophical essays—in fact, they exchange the temple for the theatre, and turn the ministers of God into actors, whose business it is to amuse men.

This, then, is the proposal. In order to win the world, the Lord Jesus must conform himself, his people, and his Word to the world. I will not dwell any longer on so loathsome a proposal.  In this fallen world, nothing is quite as evil as religion that departs from the truth.