Thursday, November 13, 2008

The "Change" we REALLY DO need

I've been toying for some time with the idea that the Christian faith
is a "Not Yet" proposition... A map that we follow toward our Great Hope
(the Hope of Glory!) but largely devoid of the kinds of water-in-your-face,
nose-against-the-glass, "real" experiences that comprise our everyday lives...

...and this is in fact the "trump card" that the Evil One has in his deck:
"Why wait for someday," he whispers, "when you can enjoy the pleasures and
self-actualization that I can offer you right now?"

This idea gains strength in my mind to the extent that I sometimes call myself
a "Skeptical Christian"... that is, I consider much of what I hear from
many Christians to be complete baloney: "God answered our prayers and gave us
a nice day for our church picnic" (of course, the farmer in the next county
prayed for rain, and was disappointed)... "God told me who the next president
is going to be" (and then the other candidate wins)... "Please God help me
win a spot on the dance team" (a team made famous by the skimpy and sexy
outfits they wear on the sidelines)...

With these two thoughts book-ending many of my musing about Christianity,
I often feel a kinship with people who admit to the nagging sensation that
God is quite simply nowhere to be found, not in this life... Bertrand Russell
was once asked what he would say to God if, after a life of atheism, he found
himself presented to the Creator... he is said to have replied, "God, you didn't
give us enough evidence."

But the more I read about and ponder the work of what Christians call the
"Holy Spirit", I think I'm beginning to understand the very real "here and now"
aspect of the Christian life:

It struck me most clearly in a sentence from C.S. Lewis that I read again today,
from a sermon I've read dozens of times (the best thing, IMHO, that Lewis ever
wrote), entitled, "Weight of Glory"

    Those who have attained everlasting life in
    the vision of God doubtless know very well
    that it is no mere bribe, but the very
    consummation of their earthly
    discipleship; but we who have not yet
    attained it cannot know this in the same
    way, and cannot even begin to know it at
    all except by continuing to obey and
    finding the first reward of our obedience in
    our increasing power to desire the ultimate

    Just in proportion as the desire
    grows, our fear lest it should be a
    mercenary desire will die away and finally
    be recognized as an absurdity. But
    probably this will not, for most of us,
    happen in a day; poetry replaces grammar,
    gospel replaces law, longing transforms
    obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a
    grounded ship.
So then, it would seem that what we CAN begin
to enjoy in the Here and Now -- a kind of "foretaste" of Glory -- is an
honest-to-goodness CHANGE on the inside... An increasing desire for
God, and perhaps even an increasing ability to "hear" Him as He speaks...

The more I understand the Scriptures, and the work of the Holy Spirit, and,
frankly, a bit more (on an amateur level, of course) about human psychology,
this new picture of "everyday reality" begins to take hold...
    " continuing to obey and finding the first reward
    of our obedience in our increasing power to desire
    the ultimate reward..."
The Scripture says "Don't quench the Holy Spirit's fire" (1 Thes 5:19)... So,
as a believer, I can DO things to weaken the Holy Spirit's influence in me?
Conversely, I can make Choices that stoke that influence, and which actually
increase it? I can begin to EXPERIENCE glory here in this life??

    Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only
    in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to
    work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God
    who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
    -- Phil 2:12,13

And as I've been pondering this, I realized all over again that Scripture is
absolutely FULL of Verbs, things Christians are called to DO as part
of our faith... We DO things, outwardly, and God uses our "co-operation" to
CHANGE us, inwardly... And so THIS, then, is the sort of experience we can
begin to have, the experience of Change on the inside: We find ourselves
WANTING different things, Sensing different things, things that match,
more and more, what Scripture says God is like...

Now here's the somber part: The sword cuts both ways...
Here's something else from Lewis:
    "People often think of Christian morality as
    a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules,
    I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.' I do not
    think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say
    that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part
    of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different
    from what it was before.

    And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices,
    all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a
    Heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature
    that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself,
    or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with
    its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature
    is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power.

    To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and
    eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to
    the one state or the other."
    --Mere Christianity
So why can't we hear or feel or touch God, now, in this life?
Well, if God's primary concern for us is the Redemption of our Souls, and if
CHANGE -- from God's perspective -- means transformation from the inside out,
then even "signs" and "miracles" and "appearances" are, in that sense,
inside out, upside down, backwards even... The Biblical story of the rich
man in hell has him asking Abraham to go and warn his family, so that they too
would not go to that place; Abraham replies that if they will not listen to
Moses and the prophets, they will not repent even if someone rises from the dead...
(Luke 16)... Talk about real-world experiences!

But if, through the Spiritual Disciplines and through Godly Wisdom we begin to
experience that Transformation of our very selves, I think we'll begin to seek
"external" experiences less and less...
    Be imitators of God, therefore...For you were once darkness,
    but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light...
    everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light
    that makes everything visible...

    Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise
    but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because
    the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand
    what the Lord's will is."
    --Ephesians 5


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