1924) How the Irish Saved Civilization

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By Philip Kosloski at:  www.catholicgentleman.net

     Modern historian and commentator Kenneth Clark said in his popular BBC show Civilization, “Western Christianity survived by clinging to places like Skellig Michael, a pinnacle of rock seven miles from the Irish coast, rising seven hundred feet out of the sea.”  It’s an intriguing claim, crediting the solitary monastery on Skellig Michael with a role in the survival of Western Christianity.

     Author Thomas Cahill broadens the connection to not only include Western Christianity, but “civilization” in his 1996 book “How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.”

     How is it possible that a small monastic community at the edge of the world could have such a large impact in world affairs?

     Over a thousand years ago there lived a group of monks on an island seven miles off the coast of Ireland called “Skellig Michael” (an island recently made famous by Star Wars: The Last Jedi).  They were almost entirely cut off from the world and were (voluntarily) stranded on an island that was relatively small and treacherous to live on.

     It was a difficult life, but one they believed would bear much fruit.

     Along with a desire to go into the “desert” and contemplate God, the monks of Ireland held on to the concept of a “green martyrdom.”  The Catholic Church has always taught about the possibility of a “red martyrdom,” where one imitates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross by dying for the sake of the Gospel.  Additionally, there was the belief that if a person wasn’t called to a red martyrdom, they could participate in the same sacrifice with a “white martyrdom,” where someone might endure ridicule for belief in the Gospel, but not suffer death.

     Early on, especially in Ireland, there developed a third martyrdom called a, “green martyrdom.”  An ancient Irish homily, written around the end of the seventh century, gives a perfect summary of this type of martyrdom:  “Green martyrdom consists in this, that by means of fasting and labor one frees himself from his evil desires, or suffers toil in penance and repentance.”

     The Irish took hold of this type of martyrdom and, not surprisingly, sought out remote “green” places to live out this green martyrdom.  They wanted to be as severe as they could in fasting and penance, and so they preferred the harshest and remote places possible.

     The monks journeyed to Skellig Michael with full knowledge that for the rest of their lives, they would be battling against the “Dark Side” of this world.  They knew it would not be an easy fight and freely chose a life of self-denial, so they could defeat the power of Satan and clear the path to Eternal Life.

     These monks saw themselves as great spiritual warriors engaged in an epic battle against Satan and so they named the island (and church on it) after St. Michael the Archangel, the commander of the heavenly armies.

Preservation of Culture

     Besides leading a life of prayer and self-denial, the monks on this remote island (and many other Irish monasteries) sought to preserve culture at a time when Europe was in chaos.  The barbarian tribes had won the day and the glories of Rome ceased to exist.  These new leaders were not fond of Roman ways and sought to destroy anything associated the classical world.

     The classical way of education in particular was almost obliterated and those in Western Europe were more concerned about survival than enriching a flourishing culture.

     Except in Ireland.

     The Irish monks were masters of Latin and Greek culture and maintained it through the copying of manuscripts and the passing on of knowledge in various monastic schools throughout Ireland.  (While the barbarians were burning libraries and books all over Europe, these monks were collecting, copying, and preserving the written treasures of Christianity and Western Civilization.)

     It is in this context that the monastery at Skellig Michael was born, a “Golden Age” of Irish monasticism, where faith and culture was preserved for generations to come.

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Mark 8:34  —  Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Revelation 12:7  —  Then war broke out in heaven.  Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.

Acts 14:21-23  —  They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples.  Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.  “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.  Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

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The Lord give us peace in our going out and our coming in, in our lying down and in our rising up, in our labor and in our leisure, in our laughter and in our tears; until we come to stand before him on that day to which there is no sunset and no dawn, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

–Irish Blessing

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Pictures of Skellig Michael and the ruins of its monastery (approx. 8th -11th century):

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1923) Sometimes Miracles Get Complicated

Canaan Rogers

Canaan Rogers

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By Joshua Rogers, a writer and attorney who lives in Washington, D.C.  Rogers blogs at: http://www.JoshuaRogers.com

     My seven-month-old nephew Canaan was dying and nobody knew it, including his doctor, who had misdiagnosed his digestive issues.  The real issue was Hirschsprung’s disease, one of the leading causes of death for kids like Canaan, who has Down Syndrome.

     One afternoon, Canaan became totally listless — to the point of almost looking dead.  By the time my brother Caleb and his wife, Rebecca, got Canaan to the emergency room, his body had gone into septic shock.  Doctors and nurses scrambled to rescue him as someone quickly ushered Caleb and Rebecca into the waiting area.

     Right there in the emergency room, Rebecca did something remarkable.  She got down on her knees and said, “God, I’m going to worship You right now.  No matter what happens, You’re still holy.  You’re still good.”

     Four days after Canaan was admitted, a doctor sat down with Caleb and Rebecca and made it clear where things were headed: “Canaan is climbing a mountain that’s too high for him, and we’re just trying to make him comfortable at this point.”

     Nothing could be done to save him — or so it seemed.

     In the days before social media, we began a massive prayer movement with the help of an email that was forwarded around the world.  Hundreds of people joined our family in standing in faith for Canaan.

     A couple of days later, doctors reported that something unexplainable was happening: Canaan’s badly damaged small intestine was churning back to life.  His little body was making a comeback.

     It’s hard to convey the thrill of that news to everyone. There were cheers and celebratory emails going around, high-fives and hallelujahs.  But after we got our breakthrough, the miracle got complicated.

     Canaan gradually improved, but he still spent several weeks in the hospital.  Since then, he has been through countless surgeries, survived serious infections and still has significant digestive problems.

      Yes, he brings a great deal of love and joy to our family, but it comes with a heavy burden for him.

     Our miracle didn’t fix everything.

     Maybe you’re asking God for a miraculous intervention today.  He may very well provide it — a baby, a spouse, a job, a financial breakthrough or healing.  Until we get that miracle, it’s easy to think, “If I just get this one thing I’m asking for, I’ll know for sure that God is good.”

     Miracles do powerfully reveal God’s goodness, but then we have to keep on living everyday life, which is often full of disappointment and grief.

     We’re not alone in that though. “Even though Jesus was God’s Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).  If Jesus, the miracle maker, didn’t get a pass on suffering, we won’t either.

     Jesus said, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing Me.”  And in those lonesome hours when we can’t see Him, we’ve got to ask God for the gift of faith.

     Only God can give us the grace to believe when it seems like there’s no miracle to be found; but when He does, the result is truly miraculous.  We can, like my sister-in-law, bow down in the darkness and declare, “God, I’m going to worship You right now.  No matter what happens,  You’re still holy.  You’re still good.”

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Hebrews 5:8  —  Even though Jesus was God’s Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered.

John 20:29  —  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Job 5:8-9  —  If I were you, I would appeal to God.  I would lay my cause before him.  He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.

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PSALM 77:1-14:

I cried out to God for help;
    I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.

I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
    I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
    I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
    My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

“Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
    Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

13 Your ways, God, are holy.
    What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
    you display your power among the peoples.

1922) Serving Jesus on the ‘B’ Team

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Tim Tebow’s Filed of Dreams:  Playing Ball, Serving Jesus, by Eric Metaxas and Stan Guthrie, at http://www.breakpoint.org , July 13, 2018

     Tim Tebow is one of the most beloved—and belittled—men to fasten his chin strap on a football field.  About a decade ago, Tebow helped the Florida Gators win two national championships with his vocal leadership and his rugged physical play.  He also picked up a Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football.  But there were always the naysayers, citing his awkward delivery or his run-first mentality, which “would never work in the pros.”

     Many of them, truth be told, despised Tebow’s unabashed Christian witness and pro-life beliefs—he wore eye black with a John 3:16 Bible reference, for instance—and his habit of kneeling to honor his Savior became a verb: “Tebowing.”

     Tebow, however, proved his critics wrong, taking the Denver Broncos on a miraculous run—in sports terms—of improbable, last-minute victories and a shocking overtime playoff win.  Then Tebow’s football fortunes changed again.

     A couple of years later, he was out of the league.

     But Tebow refused to give up and go away as his critics no doubt had hoped.  Instead, he continued using his platform as a major cultural figure to further his gospel witness.

     The Tim Tebow Foundation, for instance, sponsors an annual Night to Shine.  The most recent one provided 90,000 boys and girls with disabilities, who otherwise might be forgotten, with a prom night experience, centered on God’s love.  Some 537 churches with 175,000 volunteers in the U.S. and 16 other countries participated.  If you’ve never seen Tebow and ‘Night to Shine’ in action, watch this video (and grab a box of Kleenex):

< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRz2rWkMTnM&feature=youtu.be >

     A former doubter, David Ramsey of the Colorado Springs Gazette, calls Tebow “the rare athlete more about life off the field than on the field.  He’s one of America’s highest-profile—and most authentic and admirable — Christians.  Tebow isn’t one to talk all the time about his devotion to following Christ.  He’s too busy actually following Christ.”

     Well, he’s also back on the playing field—but this time the field is a baseball diamond.  Tebow has dusted off his bat and glove and has been toiling in the minor leagues, honing his swing and looking to earn his chance at being called up by my beloved New York Mets.

     No doubt the Mets know Tebow would boost attendance in New York, but Tebow is earning the opportunity, and even more amazing, silencing some of his critics.  He’s now playing for the Class Double-A Rumble Ponies in Binghamton, New York.  Tebow, wearing his iconic No. 15, earned a spot in the Eastern League All-Star game, where he went one for four with a double.

     Those who think Tebow has returned to pro sports for glamour and glory do not understand Tim Tebow.  Washington Post sports writer Barry Svrluga described Tebow interacting with baseball fans on a long, hot dusty day in Hagerstown, Maryland: “When Tebow arrived, [at the ballpark] he embraced anyone who approached.  He called people by name.  He took a picture with one kid, spun 180 degrees to take a picture with another, spun back and smiled for the next frame.  One girl held a sign adorned with her prom picture and sparkly words that read, ‘Thank you, Tim Tebow.  From Princess Sarah.  Night to Shine.’

     “You’re so welcome,” Tebow said time and time again.

In fact, the Mets staff had to drag Tebow away from the crowds so the team could start the seven-hour bus ride to the next game.

     “If I’m not remembered for baseball, that’s OK,” Tebow told People magazine.  “If I’m not remembered for football, that’s OK, too.  Actually, it’s fine if I’m not remembered at all.  What I want is to serve God by helping people who are less fortunate.  That’s what’s important, not playing a sport.”

See also:

All-Star Tim Tebow continues to play by his own standards 
Dan Wetzel | Yahoo Sports | July 11, 2018
 
This is what Tim Tebow mania looks like up close 
Michael Kaplan | New York Post | July 10, 2018
 
Tim Tebow is headed to Baseball Heaven … and the Mets 
David Ramsey | Gazette.com | July 5, 2018

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/on-a-sunday-in-hagerstown-tim-tebow-is-a-major-star-living-a-decidely-minor-league-life/2017/06/04/1500ef88-4968-11e7-9669-250d0b15f83b_story.html?utm_term=.4bb6be79867c

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Colossians 3:17  —  Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I Corinthians 31b  —  Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

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O God, grant unto me such a knowledge of your will and trust in your grace that I may truly exemplify in my life the faith that I profess, so that others may see the light of Christ shining in what I say and do; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

–adapted from Service Book and Hymnal, Augsburg Publishing House, 1958, page 227

1921) House of Cards (3/3)

     (…continued)  Even C.S. Lewis—so brilliant and so wise in the faith—could be devastated to the point where he felt he had lost God.  Even Jeremiah—who at times spoke to God and heard God’s voice—could at times in this world feel lost and without God.  Certainly we too will have those times when God seems close and times when he seems far away.  We must learn to trust not our feelings but God’s Word in which we read of his promises.

     Christian philosopher and author Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) compared God’s Word to a letter you receive from a long-lost loved one.  For years you have not seen this person or even known if they were alive or dead.  Finally a letter comes, not in the mail, but hand-delivered by someone who saw someone who saw someone who saw your loved one.  The letter is faded and crumpled, and the writing is hard to read, but the signature is unmistakable.  Without a doubt, this letter is from your long lost loved one.

     What will you do?  Will you grumble and complain and say, “This is too hard to read” and throw the letter away?  Of course not.  Rather, you will receive that letter with great joy and hope and enthusiasm.  And then you will, with great care, take it to your desk and get the best light on it that you can.  You will then unfold it carefully, and no matter how long it would take, you would study and read and decipher and do all you can to make out every word.  You would not want to miss even one letter or punctuation mark.  You would want to understand all of it that you could, even though its information is limited and far less than you would hope for.  Then, imagine that the letter said your loved one wanted to meet you and gave you a time and place to meet.  Wouldn’t you read that part with the greatest expectation and care and make every effort to follow the instructions?

     That is what we have in the Bible.  It does not tell us everything we might want to know.  It is not always as clear as we might wish it to be.  But even so, how few struggle to understand all what God is telling us in His Word.  And though the Bible may not give us all the answers we want, it tells us everything we need to know for life and salvation.  Like the crumpled letter, it lets us know that someone who loves us is alive, and he’s always been here, and he’ll be coming again, and he wants us to meet him and be with him forever.  It is for us to read with great care and believe and follow instruction and respond.  It’s for us to pay attention.

     It is not for us to grumble about what we don’t know, or to complain that God seems absent.  The Bible says God is absent because he has chosen to be absent.  All too often people complain that God is absent, but at the same time, they ignore those ways God has chosen to be present and speak to us. God has chosen when and where to reveal himself, and what he will tell us about himself.  It is for us to receive with thanksgiving what we have been given and to believe it.

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Genesis 3:8a…9  —  Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day… (and) the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:23a  —  (Then) the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden…  (and from his visible presence)

Jeremiah 15:18  —  Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?  You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.

Ephesians 2:12-19 (parts)  —  Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.   But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.

II Corinthians 5:7  —  We live by faith, not by sight.

II Timothy 3:16  —  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:  Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  

Book of Common Prayer

1920) House of Cards (2/3)

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     (…continued)  In another passage from A Grief Observed (the book C.S. Lewis wrote after his wife died), Lewis describes how God seemed so far away, even absent, after his “house of cards” faith collapsed:

Meanwhile, where is God?  This is one of the most disquieting symptoms.  When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms.  But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find?  A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.  After that, silence.

You may as well turn away.  The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.  There are no lights in the windows.  It might be an empty house.  Was it ever inhabited?  It seemed so once.  And that seeming was as strong as this.  What can this mean?  Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

I tried to put some of these thoughts to C. this afternoon.  He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’  I know.  Does that make it easier to understand?

     In the second chapter of Ephesians Paul describes our relationship with God by using words like far away, barrier, dividing wall, of hostility, foreigner, and aliens.  This is just what Lewis is describing, and we all know the feeling.  God can seem very far away, and not only that, it sometimes seems like he’s against us.  Certainly, as Paul says, there is a dividing wall, a barrier, between us.  Faith is never easy.  We don’t see God, and we often don’t understand him and his ways.

     The reasons for this go way back to Genesis (chapter 3), when Adam and Eve sinned and were sent out of the Garden of Eden.  Before that, God was right there with them; there was no distance, no separation.  They saw each other and talked freely.  But then, as a result of their sin, and now our sin, there is now the separation, and we cannot see clearly or understand fully.  It feels that way because it is that way—and God made it that way because of our sin.

     But God has not left us completely.  He has come to us again, reopening the lines of communication.  In the Old Testament God spoke his Word through the prophets and others.  Then, in Jesus, God came to us and spoke to us in person.  In the New Testament we have Jesus’ words and promises to read and hear and believe.

     After describing our distance from God in Ephesians 2, Paul says we have now been brought near to God through Jesus.  He is our peace and has made us one, reconciling us to God and destroying the barrier.  He ended the hostility and made peace.  Now, Paul says, we are no longer aliens and foreigners, but fellow citizens and even members of God’s household.

     We have been separated from God by our sin.  In Heaven we will be again with God in person.  But for now we are in an ‘in-between time’ and there will be this mixture.  Sometimes God will feel very close, and sometimes God will seem very far away.  We know those feelings.  That’s how it will be in this life—for us, for C.S. Lewis, and, for Jeremiah.

     Jeremiah was who one who, like C. S. Lewis, also felt these extremes of God’s distance and closeness.  He was one of God’s most important prophets, and God spoke to him often.  One time Jeremiah said he was sick of being God’s spokesman and wanted to quit; but, he said, “God’s word burned inside my bones and I could not keep it in– I had to speak.”  That’s how intensely Jeremiah could feel God’s presence— sometimes.  But other times God seemed hostile and far away.  Jeremiah once said he wished he had never been born, and shouted to God, “You are to me like a muddy stream.”   At that time, nothing was clear to Jeremiah, and the God he served seemed absent.

     In one sense, God is absent.  In our sin we say we want to do it our own way and ignore God.  So God said to Adam and Eve, and he says to us, “Okay, I’ll get out of your way.”  And God has removed his visible presence from this world.

     We don’t see God, but we do hear from him.  We have his Word, he has given us his promises, and at times we can feel his presence and care.  By his grace, he has chosen to keep in touch, to offer again his gifts, to come to us in Jesus.  And to all who will receive him and believe him, he grants eternal life in his eternal home.

      But it’s not all clear yet. “We walk by faith, not by sight,” says the Bible.  And is kept alive by keeping in touch, by worshiping, by prayer, by not saying no to God and ignoring him.  Then faith can grow and God can seem closer. 

     Later on in A Grief Observed, Lewis describes how he again began to feel God’s care and presence:

I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted.  Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face?  The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it.  You are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs.  Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.

     (continued…)

1919) House of Cards (1/3)

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     Shadowlands is a 1993 British film that tells the story of the doomed love affair between the 20th century’s most popular Christian author (and my favorite) C. S. Lewis, and Joy Gresham, a divorced American poet.  The movie contains no car crashes, shootings, nudity, or crude language, so it was not a huge money maker at the box office.  But it was more successful than many people thought it would be, and those who did see it, liked it.  The Rotten Tomatoes website ‘Tomatometer’ indicates a 97% approval rating by the critics, citing the great performances by Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.   

     The story behind the film was true—but not all that exciting.  C.S. Lewis was an English intellectual who did not lead a very exciting life.  He taught, read, wrote, and debated.  He hardly ever travelled, and for excitement he went for walks.  That’s about it.  He wrote some incredible books and articles, but his life did not appear to have the potential for a major motion picture.

     The movie tells the story of his brief marriage, and even that was more odd than exciting.  Lewis was a bachelor until he was 57 years old, and then he married a women he did not love.  Joy Gresham was a close friend, but Lewis was not at that point interested in love or marriage; he married her only as a favor to her in a practical matter.  Gresham was an American citizen and wanted to stay living in England with her two boys.  However, she was having trouble extending her residence permit and was going to have to leave the country.  By marrying an English citizen, she could stay as long as she wanted.

     So they were married at the court house—‘technically,’ Lewis insisted.  They remained friends, but stayed living at their own separate places.  The odd part was, all Lewis’ friends gossiped about Lewis and Joy being not married but having an affair, and all the while they in fact were married, and not doing anything at all.  This is not how things usually go in the movies.

     Anyway, after about a year of this odd arrangement, Joy was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Lewis, by this time, had begun to fall in love with her.  She had always loved him.  So Lewis asked her to marry him in the eyes of God, and not just ‘technically.’  She said yes, and they were married again; in the hospital because she was dying, but now publicly and by the Church.

     Then Joy’s cancer miraculously went into remission for a while, and for two years they lived together as husband and wife, and grew very close.  Then the cancer returned, Joy died, and C.S. Lewis was devastated.

     C.S. Lewis was at this time a professor of literature at Cambridge University.  Since becoming a Christian in his early 30’s, Lewis applied his towering intellect to explaining and defending the Christian faith.  It was this aspect of C.S. Lewis that gives the story another interesting twist.

     You see, it is not uncommon for people to ask, “Where is God?” when tragedy strikes.  When one is in deepest sorrow and grief, it is quite common for God to seem far away and uncaring.  These are the emotions that C.S. Lewis deals with in Shadowlands, and that, I suspect, is why the movie was so well-received by so many people, whether or not they were Christians.  The feelings and questions are some we all have had at one time or another.  The questions in C.S. Lewis’ life were especially significant for him because in the 30 years before that he had spent so much time answering the difficult questions and explaining the mysteries of the faith.  But now the questions and doubts hit him personally like a ton of bricks.  Lewis struggled intensely and he now had no answers.

     C.S. Lewis was an atheist until he was 33 years old.  Then, after an intense emotional and intellectual search and struggle, he became a Christian.  In the academic community where he worked, many of his friends remained atheists, and they could not imagine Lewis becoming a Christian.  He therefore had many challenges to his faith and spent much time defending it.  He did so with such intellectual power and eloquence that his debates turned into books, which turned into best-sellers.   Most of his books are still best-sellers, 55 years after his death.

     One of Lewis’s early books was called The Problem of Pain.  In this book he deals with the problem of suffering, and how a loving God can allow such pain in his world.  This kind of defense of the faith is called a ‘theodicy’ and this is one of the best theodicies ever written.  It is logical, biblical, persuasive, challenging, and well written.  When reading it, one can even begin to think they fully understand this great mystery.  And the book certainly does help, giving us some helpful handles.  But complete understanding of this mystery is beyond our limited understanding.   That is what C.S. Lewis found out when his wife died.  This logical, intellectual giant who had all the answers, was emotionally devastated by his personal grief.  He found himself hanging onto his faith by a thread.  God, who at one time seemed so close, now seemed very far away.  During this time he wrote another book called A Grief Observed, in which he writes of this struggle to believe again.

     Lewis did survive, and his faith endured.  In fact, some of his best work was done after this crisis.  (The movie, sad to say, doesn’t make this as clear as it should.)  But the questions raised and the grief Lewis faced are, at one time or another, faced by us all. And Lewis’ story provides an opportunity for us to think about these things.  (continued…)

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   From A Grief Observed by C.  S. Lewis:

     “Feelings, and feelings, and feelings.  Let me try thinking instead.  From the rational point of view, what new factor has (Joy’s) death introduced into the problem of the universe?  What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe?  I knew already that these things, and worse, happened daily.  I would have said that I had taken them into account.  I had been warned – I had warned myself – not to reckon on worldly happiness.  We were even promised sufferings.  They were part of the program.  We were even told ‘Blessed are they that mourn’ and I accepted it.  I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for.  Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.  Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this?  No.  And it wouldn’t for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people’s sorrows had been real concern . The case is too plain.  If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards.  The faith which ‘took these things into account’ was not faith but imagination.  The taking them into account was not real sympathy.  If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came.  It has been an imaginary faith playing with innocuous counters labelled ‘Illness’, ‘Pain’, ‘Death’ and ‘Loneliness’.  I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered to me whether it would bear me.  Now it matters, and I find I didn’t.”

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1918) Saving Every Moment

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By Greg Morse, posted July 10, 2018 at:  http://www.desiringGod.org

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     With the touch of a button, we can memorialize our kids on their first day of school.  We can record the laughter from the Ferris wheel on our first date.  We can hear his corny joke over and over, seeing that weathered face one last time with every push of play.  Life is a vapor, and God has gifted this generation with the ability to seize our little mist like never before.

     But with all good gifts handled by fallen man, it can become misused.  The photo can become prized above the moment it captures.  Who doesn’t feel pressure to keep the phone within reach to catch special moments as they come?  Each of us is tempted, like none who came before us, to live-stream our life but forget to live.

     By all means, enjoy taking souvenirs from the past.  But when stockpiling and photo-taking becomes compulsive, when we start living for the next uploadable Instagram, when we can no longer enjoy unrecorded beauty, then, we have become memory hoarders.  We miss precious moments not because we didn’t have our phones, but because we did.  Like kids texting at the dinner table, we forgot to look special moments in the eye.  We pass on the first take of life in favor of a later viewing, trading the real for the replica, and in so doing, counterfeiting our joy.

     Our camera-usage reveals three crucial truths about us.

  1. We Fear Death

   Memory hoarding reveals what we all already know but rarely consider: life is fleeting.  “Here today, gone tomorrow” terrifies us.  It was just yesterday we attended sleepovers and played outside at recess.

     We dread death, and this fear subjects us to “lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15).  The grave beckons, the walls close in, and fear besets us as we await the grim reaper.  And as the shadow prowls in the dark, we attempt to squeeze as much life from the peel as we can, while we can.

     One way memory-hoarding attempts this is by documenting every passing moment worth remembering.  We try to keep the portal open to the past so that we might travel back and forth, eating the best of both seasons’ harvest.  The brevity of life makes it too small a thing to enjoy moments only once.

     But our panic often backfires.  Our incessant filming often disrupts the very moments we attempt to capture.  To record our children playing, we stop playing with our children.

  1. We Seek Immortality

 I talked to a dead man recently.  He had not updated his profile in some time.  I found out a week ago he has been dead for as long.  The incident struck me as bizarre.  Funny quips hung on his wall.  He smiled in his profile pic.  His personality and image were in pristine condition.  His life’s work stood a click away.  He, as many of us hope to be, was embalmed on the Internet. Though he died, he lives.

     Collecting memories, at its most relaxed, is an attempt to savor the best wine life offers.  At its most frantic, it is a shot at immortality.  If science has not cured death, at least technology can prolong our image, our thoughts, and our names on the World Wide Web.  Some of us use our phones, not so much as a portal to the past, but as a portal to a limitless audience.  And like an actor with a part too small for his liking, we spend a lifetime sashaying across social media, drawing as much attention as possible, before being forced to exit stage right.

     We long to be remembered.  We are not beasts, content to live and die in the field nameless.  We are made to live forever; God has placed eternity into our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11).   We pine for the place where remarkable moments cannot be stolen.  But instead of trusting the one who destroyed the power of death to deliver us from fear, we use God’s gift of technology to seek what it has never truly offered: eternal life.  We frantically write our names on the walls of the Titanic.

  1. We Have Forgotten Our Hope

Our piles of photographs suggest that even we Christians hold to this life with strained knuckles.  We embrace the lovely as though we don’t expect to see it again.

     Although we might not articulate it, we may feel apprehensive about being reminded that this world is not our home.  We read the truth, “The world is passing away,” secretly saddened.  This is understandable.  This world is the only one we’ve known.  All our joys have been here.  Our loves have been here.  But faith reverses the priority. “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

     As the world’s final page is turning, “whoever does the will of God abides forever.”  The best, for us, is yet to come.  We need not doubt nor fear our immortality.  The grandest moments here — the ones which compel us to grab our phones to smuggle what we can for a keepsake — are, at their most precious, only hints of what is to come.

     There exists a glory for the Christian in letting precious moments, after being fully tasted and delighted in, pass without regret.  We need not obsessively stuff memories and prop them up on display like some do wild animals.  This is not the closest we will get to heaven.

     For the child of God, all precious moments worth recounting here will be given us in the next life.  In eternity, the essence of all that pleased us here and now will return to us in full when we see God face-to-face.

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James 14:4b  —  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Hebrews 2:14b-15  —  (Jesus) shared in (our) humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Ecclesiastes 3:11b  —  (God) has also set eternity in the human heart.

I John 2:17  —  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

II Corinthians 4:18  —  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

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Teach us to number our days, O Lord, so that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.  Amen.  (Psalm 90:12)

1917) Giving Others the Benefit of the Doubt

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A definition of “giving a benefit of a doubt to someone” is “to believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you have the possibility of doing either.”  This  means that if someone you know does something strange/wrong, you assume he either made a mistake or had good intentions; instead of flat out thinking he’s a bad person.

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Giving the benefit of the doubt is useful when we don’t know the whole story.  And we never know the whole story.

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“The Reason We Assume the Worst When People Don’t Text Us Back”

by Joshua Rogers, June 23, 2014, at: http://www.joshuarogers.com

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     A dry cleaner has never lost my clothing before — that is, until last week when my pants turned up missing after a trip to the cleaners.  I looked all over my closet to see if the pants had slipped off the hanger, but they were nowhere to be found.  

     I should’ve figured they would lose them, I thought.  The business was in a little run-down shopping center in a rough part of the city, and the woman behind the counter was rude when I came in.  But I needed to get the pants back, so after looking one more time, I walked into the business and told the lady that she had returned my suit without the pants.  Not surprisingly, she was defensive.

     In broken English, the middle-aged Asian woman said I didn’t bring any pants in.

     “Ma’am, I wouldn’t have just brought in a suit jacket,” I said.   “Can’t you just check to see if there are some navy blue pants lying around somewhere?”

     She grew more defensive and said that she was positive I didn’t bring in any pants because she always double checks people’s orders.  This probably happens all the time, I thought.  We went back and forth a little bit more, and the more she defended herself, the more annoyed I got.  But then suddenly, I stopped and rethought everything.  I knew I hadn’t dropped the pants when I left the cleaners, but what if I had never brought them in the first place?  

     “Hold on one second,” I said, suddenly taking on a slightly more humble tone.  “I need to call my wife.”

     I called my wife and asked her to look in the drawer where I normally put the dry-cleaning.  Then the cashier and I waited for the verdict as my wife made her way to our bedroom.

     “Yeah, you’ve got some navy blue pants in here,” she said.

     I thanked her, got off the phone, and sheepishly said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry.  They’re at my house.  You were right — I never brought them in.”

     Maybe you hear that story and think it’s no big deal — it was an understandable mix-up.  Perhaps, but quite frankly, every day I fight the temptation to make negative assumptions about others, whether it’s the lady at the dry cleaners or my friends who have stuck with me for years.  For example, I get annoyed when friends don’t reply to a text, and on a bad day, I assume disrespect on their part.  For some reason, I don’t stop to think that maybe their phone rang as they were responding, and they just forgot to follow up.  Or maybe they were running late for an appointment and didn’t have time to reply.  Seriously, there are plenty of explanations, but for some reason, my mind gravitates toward the negative one.

   And how about that lady at the security desk who’s consistently rude when I try to speak?  It’s easy to take it personally and assume she doesn’t like me for some reason, but maybe her husband is abusing her, or maybe both of her parents died within the last year.  Or maybe she’s just shy, and maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t have anything to do with me.  

     Either way, when I give myself permission to project negative facts, motives, or thoughts onto other people, it often says more about my heart than it does the person I’m judging.  And what it says is that I’m not secure enough to give the same benefit of the doubt I want others to give me.  That is, I’m so afraid I’m not loved that every slight, every sign of disrespect becomes an event, an infraction that must be mulled over, resented and possibly addressed with confrontation.  In the economy of insecurity, I simply can’t afford to give people grace when they don’t meet my expectations.

     There is one way out of this cramped hellhole of insecurity, and it is through the wide open space of Christ’s love.  His love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:7), but before we can extend that kind of love to others, we must first receive it.  And when I say that we must receive it, I’m not talking about the initial act of saving faith in Christ.  I’m talking about the saving faith of believing that today, Jesus is bearing with our weaknesses; that today, He is believing and hoping for the very best in us; that today, He is tolerating brokenness in us that we refuse to tolerate in others.

     When we unreservedly receive that kind of love — the kind of love we can’t earn and don’t deserve — we’re so much more willing to extend it to others.  And we don’t have to freak out and protect our fragile egos when someone lets us down.  We’re willing to assume the very best (which might actually be the truth), because we know there’s a Savior who’s already doing the same for us. 

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I Corinthians 13:4-7  —  Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I John 4:19  —  We love, because He first loved us.

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I confess and ask for your grace, because I have so often in my life sinfully spoke with malice and contempt against other people.   They depend on me for their honor and reputation, just as I depend on them for the same.   Help us all to obey this commandment, giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and explaining their actions in the kindest way.   Amen. 

–Martin Luther, prayer to go with the eighth commandment.

1916) Being Honest, Humble, and Grateful Patriots

There are two very different perspectives on America in our dangerously divided nation.  There are many who, while enjoying all the benefits of living here, can think of nothing good to say about the place.  They blame the United States for all of the world’s problems, and work to undermine its basic principles.  These people are not only wrong, but blind and ungrateful.  Many others talk about “God and country” as if the two are of equal value.  They will not tolerate any criticism of the American way of life.  These people are also wrong.  Our hope is in God alone and any blessings we enjoy as a nation are from his gracious hand.  Also, the United States, like every other nation on earth, is accountable to God and under his judgment.  The following essay describes an honest, humble, and grateful approach to Christian patriotism.

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A Great and Terrible Nation

“A Great and Terrible Nation” by Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today magazine, posted July 3, 2018 at:  http://www.christianitytoday.com

     Many Christians want to believe that America is a Christian nation, and for the best of reasons.  Many of the early founders were devout Christians.  Much of America’s history has been shaped by Protestant and evangelical values.  God has indeed blessed the nation with extraordinary natural resources and bold and courageous people.   It has been and continues to be a land of opportunity, which is why so many across the world want to come here.  And its Declaration of Independence and Constitution are grounded in the ideal of liberty as espoused by no other nation in history.

     It is no wonder, then, that many feel America has been chosen by God.  It’s not surprising that many Christians join the words God and country, and that others think of the Bill of Rights as divinely inspired—“nearly as important as the Resurrection,” as one patriot put it to me recently.  One might see some idolatry there, and to be sure, some Christians go too far in this direction.  But let us be charitable and assume that my friend, in hyperbolic fashion, was suggesting that something about the American experiment is a miracle.

     But by no means is America a Christian nation.  It is certainly not in any formal sense.  That is, there is nothing in our Constitution that makes that assertion.  Zambia has declared itself a Christian nation, as have Denmark and Costa Rica and a few others.  But we have not.

     It is often said that our founding leaders were mostly Christians and they shaped the nation to that end, if not formally.  This is patently untrue.  While some were devout Christians, others were deists (like George Washington), and some were hostile to orthodox Christianity (like Thomas Jefferson).  To be sure, they crafted our founding documents in a time when Christian values hung in the air.  Their goal, however, was not to create a Christian nation but a free people.  These are the simple historical facts of the matter.

     As Jesus noted, the most telling sign of a Christian is the fruit of one’s life.  If “by your fruits you will know them,” it’s hard to make a case that America has been a Christian nation.  We are increasingly reminded of two brutal realities that have made America as we know it possible.

     The first is the conquering and subjugation of Native Americans.  This land was not a barren, unpopulated wilderness when Europeans arrived.  From day one, there has been a variety of people here—Navajo and Sioux, Choctaw and Cherokee and more than 500 other groups.  Each with a unique language, culture, and history.  Each bearing the image of God.  And each, one by one, mercilessly conquered and then pushed aside into reservations.  There is no other way to put it.  During its westward expansion, the United States signed more than 500 treaties with Native American nations, and each and every one was eventually broken unilaterally by the US.  This is not national behavior one could call Christian.

      Second is the enslavement of Africans, which began officially in 1641 when the Massachusetts Colony passed the “Body of Liberties” and ironically permitted slavery under certain conditions.  Our Constitution recognized the legality of slavery and the unequal status of slaves with the three-fifths compromise.  With this small beginning emerged a cruel system that encompassed nearly 4 million slaves by the beginning of the Civil War.  It would be hard to deny that the early economic growth of our nation depended on the use of slave labor.

     What should give Christians pause is the fact that devout Christians justified the conquering and often the slaughter of Native Americans as well as the brutal enslavement of Africans in our land.  These are not incidental moments of injustice, but deliberate and steady, justified decade after decade with the Bible in one hand, and expedience in the other, by millions of believers.

     The point is this:  Can we in any way, shape, or form say that America was founded on Christian principles when its very existence and prosperity were set on a foundation of unimaginable cruelty to millions of other human beings?

     This is not to say that America has practiced unparalleled evil in world history.  Every nation has sins it needs to repent of.  The irony of American history is that a nation founded on subjugation and cruelty nonetheless became a land of freedom and opportunity for millions.  It has been and continues to be a beacon of light for refugees across the world.  Our economic and justice systems, for all their flaws, make it possible for people to prosper in ways unimaginable in most of the world today.  And yes, a few prophetic Christians in their day spoke up about the injustices perpetrated on Native Americans and blacks.  And nearly all Americans today deeply regret how we have treated Native Americans, blacks, Chinese, Japanese, and a host of other ethnic and cultural minorities in the past, and most of us rightly continue to deplore injustice in any form— whether it be toward ethnic and racial minorities or (to name one especially grievous injustice) developing children killed before birth.

     In short, the United States is a nation like all others, in some ways blessed by God, in some ways standing under God’s judgment.  And so it shall be until the Lord returns.

     On this and every Independence Day, we can thank God for the many blessings we enjoy, undeserved as they are. We can also repent of the ways we have denied the very values we proclaim in our founding documents and in our Pledge of Allegiance, in which we hold out the ideal of a nation that practices “liberty and justice for all.”

     But let us not proclaim that we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles.  That is a lie—one might even call it a blasphemy.  America is a great and terrible nation, like so many others (“terrible” meaning having done dreadful things but also “formidable in nature”).  Let us continue to love it, as we love our flawed families and friends.  Let us continue to serve it as God leads us to.  Let us continue to reform it, as has been the practice of every generation.  And most of all, let us continue to pray for it, that God would continue to have mercy on us and on our children, and on our children’s children to the third and fourth generation.

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Isaiah 40:15  —  Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; the Lord weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

Matthew 22:21b  —  (Jesus said), “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

I Chronicles 7:14  —  If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

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God bless America
Land that I love
Stand beside her 
And guide her
Through the night with the light from above.

–Irving Berlin  (1888-1989) A grateful immigrant

1915) Overcoming Bitterness Like Jesus

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By John Piper

     No one was more grievously sinned against than Jesus.  Every bit of the animosity directed against him was fully undeserved.

     No one has ever lived who was more worthy of honor than Jesus; and no one has been dishonored more.

     If anyone had a right to get angry and be bitter and vengeful, it was Jesus.  How did he control himself when scoundrels, whose very lives he sustained, spit in his face?  I Peter 2:23 gives the answer:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

     What this verse means is that Jesus had faith in the future grace of God’s righteous judgment.  He did not need to avenge himself for all the indignities he suffered, because he entrusted his cause to God.  He left vengeance in God’s hands and prayed for his enemies’ repentance (Luke 23:32-34a):

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.  When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals— one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

     Peter gives this glimpse into Jesus’ faith so that we would learn how to live this way ourselves.  He said (I Peter 2:21):

You have been called [to endure harsh treatment patiently] . . . because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

      If Christ conquered bitterness and vengeance by faith in future grace, how much more should we, since we have far less right to murmur for being mistreated than he did.

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Heavenly Father, as we are forgiven by you, may we forgive all who wrong and offend us.  Help us remember that no one can harm us without doing himself a far greater injury in your sight, so that we may be moved to compassion for them instead of anger, moved to pity rather than a desire for revenge.  May we not be tempted to rejoice when they are troubled, nor be grieved when they prosper.  We will not benefit from the downfall of our enemies, so we pray that you have mercy on them, and then also give us the grace to forgive them from our heart.  Amen.

–Martin Luther

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