When I Am Weak

"When I Am Weak" a blog post by marissabaker.wordpress.comI hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. My family gathered at my Uncle’s house for turkey, lots of mashed potatoes, euchre playing, and several enthusiastic Apples to Apples games that could probably have been heard by people driving by in their cars.

Today, I have another C.S. Lewis quote to share with you. As I think I mentioned in last week’s post, I’ve been reading The Problem of Pain. In chapter 6, he makes this statement: “tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.”

Comfortable Dirtiness

To put this statement in context, Lewis was talking about human tendency to only turn our attention to God when things are going badly in our lives. When we are scared or in pain, we rush to God and ask him to take it away and bring us through the trial. But all to often, we try our best to forget the thing that brought us back to God as soon as that prayer is answered.

God has had me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over — I shake myself dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.

We need our weaknesses and our sufferings to help bring us into God’s family. I did a search for the word “suffer” in the KJV, and found it used more than 50 times to refer to Christ’s suffering and/or the necessity of us following in His footsteps.

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29)

Importance of Fire

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

The analogy of a refining fire is one that is frequently used in scripture. Gold and silver are purified by fire (Zech. 13:9), pottery needs fired to give it strength (Is. 64:8). We tend often think of fire as a bad thing, perhaps because of the association with fiery punishment. But fire in the context of trials has a positive connotation. Even if the affects are unpleasant, the result should be us moving ever closer to glory.

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Peter 5:10)

God Hasn’t Given Up

There are two ways we can take the idea Lewis expresses when he says, “tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.” We can either get depressed and worn down by the realization that trials will not end until we are perfected, or we can look at trials as proof that God hasn’t given up on making us like Christ.

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

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Asking For Less Love

I’ve always thought that a land flowing with milk and honey sounded a little underwhelming. I like both, but surely there were better things (like chocolate or unicorns) that a perfect land could be filled with. But then a few weeks ago, the thought popped into my head that it wasn’t just milk and honey God was giving them, it was all the things which could be made using milk (dairy) and honey (sweetener). Ice cream, pasta sauce, pretty much every recipe on this blog. In itself, the milk and honey promise was deeper than I thought, and it was also symbolic of all the physical blessings God promised physical Israel for obedience (Deut. 28:1-14).

"Asking For Less Love" a blog post by marissabaker.wordpress.comI’m sure there were Israelites who said something like, Milk and honey? That’s it? “We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic,” those were much better (Num. 11:4). They did not understand that what God offered was infinitely better than what they used to have.

How many times do we devalue God’s promises, choosing instead to cling to things in this world because we do not realize just how much better the things God wants to give us are? In C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, he says that if we think we want less than God offers — wishing “God had designed us for a less glorious and less arduous destiny” — we are “asking not for more love, but for less.”

"Asking For Less Love" a blog post by marissabaker.wordpress.comSometimes we wish for things that are not good for us because we do not fully understand or value what we are being offered. God loves us too much to let us settle for a curse when He wants to give us a blessing. That’s why He keeps trying to bring us back to Him when we stray. Just look at how many times, in the midst of just punishments for sin, He begs Israel to come back to Him for their good (Hosea 11).

My Favorite Fantasy Books

"My Favorite Fantasy Books" marissabaker.wordpress.comI’m writing a fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo this year, and since I have that genre on my mind, I thought I’d share a list of my favorite fantasy books. Maybe someday the novel I’m writing will be on another blogger’s favorite books list.

Books In No Particular Order

Concerning Hobbits

Though it is often considered childish compared to The Lord of the Rings, and I’ve heard that Tolkein wished he’d had time to re-write it, The Hobbit is my favorite book by J.R.R. Tolkein. I love all the books of Middle Earth for what Tolkein can teach me about writing fantasy, but just to sit down and enjoy reading a book I pick up The Hobbit.

“It’s all in the wardrobe just like I told you!”

childrens_storyThe Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are a few more “children’s books” that I didn’t read until I was in my late teens, and not all at once. I think I read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when I was 16, then The Magician’s Nephew, and finished the series a few years after that. I suppose it is fitting that I didn’t appreciate Narnia until I was older, since it was C.S. Lewis who said, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

I’m Okay With Corlath Kidnapping Me

I mentioned The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley on my previous book list, but it belongs on here as well. I like the way McKinley handles magic in this world, the lore she weaves through the story, and the strong characters she creates. Some of the most interesting characters are not even human — the heroine’s incredible war horse and a hunting cat named Narknon.

How To Melt Wizards

I don’t hesitate to laugh-out-loud when I’m reading books, and The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede kept me giggling most of the time I was reading. I received some pretty puzzled looks from my family, until my sister read the four books and laughed almost as much as I did. The first book, Dealing With Dragons, is the best, and features a princess who asks a dragon to take her captive so she can avoid marriage, then proceeds to chase off all the princes who try to rescue her.

Dancing Bears

The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman is the first in a series of modern fairy tale retelling. It’s based on “Snow White and Rose Red.” Bear (aka Arthur Denniston) is one of those fictional men I fell in love with as a teenager the moment I read the scene where he dances with Blanche. I also really like the cover art for the first edition.

“True love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops.”

If you like the film The Princess Bride, you’ll love the book by William Goldman. I recommend the 30th Anniversary Edition, so you can read Goldman’s introductions. He talks about being on-set for filming (which was, of course, done on location in Florin). It can be fun trying to figure out what actually happened and what didn’t (and whether or not it really matters).

McKinley Fairy Tales

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley is my favorite “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, and is also the only novel of hers that I’ve thought had a thoroughly satisfying ending. Her retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” Spindle’s End, also deserves an honorable mention just for the fact that magic in that world is so thick and tangible they have to dust if off the kitchenware before cooking.

Visionary Fiction

A Sword For The Immerland King, by F.W. Faller, is the book that introduced me to “visionary fiction.” His website defines it this way:

a fiction, stated as fact to allow the reader to explore the greater life issues in the safety of a good armchair, to wonder at their own shortcomings and marvel at the confidence of others who inspire them to vision and purpose in their own lives. It is allegory and truth rolled together in a plausibility that transcends time and space and gives us pause to ponder who we are and where we are going.

What Faller does with his world of Tessalindria reminds me of Tolkein’s work with Middle Earth, and what I’m hoping to do with Ves’endlera.

An Oracular Pig

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, follow the adventures of an assistant pig-keeper named Taran. It spans five books and is, I suppose, technically another series of children’s books. One of the most interesting things about these novels is that they are based in part on Welsh legends. The author uses some names from the original legends and hints of Welsh geography (which he warns is “not to be used as a guide for tourists”), then inserts main characters born out of his own imaginings.

Worlds of Ink

Inkheart, Inkspell, and Inkdeath are the three books in the Inkworld series by Cornellia Funke. Setting aside the great fantasy content for a moment, these are beautiful books. Each chapter begins with a quotation and ends with a sketch. They are books about books, with main characters being read into the real world and back into books and blurring the lines between reality and fiction.

The Subject of Kneecaps

I’m a little fuzzy on the subject of violence in the Bible, and talking with or reading the opinions of other Christians doesn’t make it any less confusing. We can all agree murder is wrong. After that, there doesn’t seem to be much agreement at all. Should a Christian use violence, sometimes even deadly violence, to save someone’s life or defend themselves?

Zoë: “Preacher, don’t the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin’?”

Book: “Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.”

— Firefly, episode 9 “War Stories”

In this situation in Firefly, Shepherd Book armed himself and joined his shipmates to rescue Malcolm Reynolds from torture and death. He did not violate the commandment “You shalt not murder,” or even the King James’ rendering “Though shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13). But does this kind of violence violate the spirit, if not the letter, of such commandments? If he had killed in self-defense, would it have been wrong?

Murder vs. Killing

I don’t think there is any question about murder being wrong. Even in societies without the Bible as a guide, laws against murder are usually part of the culture. It’s on the subject of “killing” where things get sticky for Christians. If someone is attacking your family, is it permitted to use violence to stop them? Does unintentionally killing someone who is trying to harm you make guilty of murder in God’s eyes?

The Hebrew word translated “kill” or “murder” in Exodus 20 is râtsach (H7523). Strong’s defines it as, “to dash in pieces, that is, kill (a human being), especially to murder.” Like many Hebrew words, the exact meaning is dependent on the context, and The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament points out that the word is used “to indicate premeditated murder” as well as “an accidental killing,” slaying someone as an “act of revenge,” and “death by means of an animal attack.” Other scriptures help narrow down the definition, as C.S. Lewis points out in this quote from Mere Christianity.

It is no good quoting “Thou shalt not kill.” There are two Greek words: the ordinary word to kill and the word to murder. And when Christ quotes the commandment He uses the murder in all three accounts. … All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery.

The Issue of Hate

Should Christians defend themselves? "The Subject of Kneecaps" marissabaker.wordpress.comC.S. Lewis was not a pacifist (he wrote a whole article on the “why” of this viewpoint, but I have yet to find a copy). I admire his writings, but there are other people whose opinions I admire who are adamant that it is wrong for a Christian to serve as a soldier and wrong for a person to kill someone in self-defense.

For some people, I think the distinction between murder and killing comes down to the idea of a death being accidental and/or premeditated. We know from the instructions God gives for cities of refuge (Joshua 20) that accidental killings  do not come under the death-penalty ascribed to murder. The reasons given for not condemning a man who accidentally caused his neighbor’s death are these: “he struck his neighbor unintentionally, but did not hate him beforehand” (Josh. 20:5).

People seem to go two ways on interpreting this verse. One: killing someone in self defense does not constitute murder because you “did not hate him before hand.” It was not a premeditated, vengeful killing, therefore it is considered an accident. C.S. Lewis seems to come down on this side when he says, “We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating.”

Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)

Deliberate Self-Defense

The second argument I’ve heard goes something like this: planning to defend yourself makes the death premeditated. You might not be deliberately trying to kill a specific person, but if you intend to kill whoever attacks you and your family, the killing was planned. This also means you don’t fulfill the requirement “he struck his neighbor unintentionally.”

Something doesn’t sit well with me about this last viewpoint. Perhaps it’s partly the implication that most people who intend to defend themselves if attacked also have a desire to kill (which I don’t see in the people I know who are prepared to defend themselves). There are also elements of hypocrisy. The person who thinks self-defense is wrong will probably not hesitate to call 911, and if the person attacking them is killed by police officers I’m not sure they’d feel terribly guilty.

I don’t have much of a conclusion for this post. In theory, I tend to lean more towards C.S. Lewis’s views. In practice, though, one of the reasons I quit Tae Kwon Do is because I hated even practicing how to hurt people. What are your thoughts on this subject?

“Daddy, give me sixpence”

marissabaker.wordpress.comWe had evening services yesterday, so there was a whole free day to fill with activities. My plan was to find all the book stores in the area and visit each, but we ended up at two antique stores and a mall instead. There was, however, a used book store in the mall, so I have one of the bookstores here checked off my list. I was particularly glad we stopped because I finally found a copy of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity in hardcover for less than Amazon.com sells the paperback.

Some time ago, I signed up for an e-newsletter through biblegateway.com that sends a C.S. Lewis quote every day. This morning, it was a quote from Mere Christianity. It’s long, but I’d like to share it with you, if you don’t mind.

As a great Christian writer (George MacDonald) pointed out, every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son. In the same way, he said, “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.”

I think every one who has some vague belief in God, until he becomes a Christian, has the idea of an exam or of a bargain in his mind. The first result of real Christianity is to blow that idea into bits. When they find it blown into bits, some people think this means that Christianity is a failure and give up. They seem to imagine that God is very simple-minded! In fact, of course, He knows all about this. One of the very things Christianity was designed to do was to blow this idea to bits. God has been waiting for the moment at which you discover that there is no question of earning a pass mark in this exam or putting Him in your debt.

Then comes another discovery. Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to his father and saying, “Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.” Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction. When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins.

I think this is a great way to look at our relationship with God as His children. There’s not a thing we can do to earn salvation on our own. The second paragraph in this quote is saying basically the same thing Paul says when he writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Every good thing in our lives is a gift directly from God. All that is good in us is a result of His work in our lives. We bring nothing to our relationship with God but our broken selves, desperately in need of Him to make us whole.

Such a realization is important because we cannot have a relationship with God without humility, and we cannot have humility if we think we are doing God a favor by agreeing to be part of His family. God’s family will be made up of people who know they have nothing to offer God and are wild with joy that He wanted to work with them anyway.

“Because We Love The Brethren”

We had a lovely first day of the Feast yesterday. Our little group is live-streaming from Pacific Church of God, and the sermon yesterday was excellent. Mr. Railston’s main theme was using the Feast to make a positive difference in the lives of other people, instead of focusing on “what can I do for me this Feast?” Our focus should be on rejoicing with others and giving them reason to rejoice, not simply making ourselves happy.

There were two scriptures that particularly stood out to me. In a discussion of Matt. 22:35-40, Mr. Railston pointed out that the first great commandment, loving God, could be done in isolation. The second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, must be fulfilled in the presence of other people. And here’s the second scripture:

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. (1 John 3:14)

"Because We Love The Brethren" marissabaker.wordpress.comI’ve studied the subject of love in the Bible often, but I hadn’t thought much about the scripture in 1 John, or about the fact that we need to be around people to love them. It’s not that I really expected to love my brethren as a hermit — I just hadn’t thought of it in those words. I tend toward a more introspective approach to life, and my first reaction is to worry about changing myself and bringing “every thought into submission.” While it is important to be personally working toward perfection, I think my approach should probably be a little closer to C.S. Lewis’s councel to “not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.” Sometimes action has to come before we feel like doing something or we think we’re perfectly ready.