5 things I learnt from The Cross of Christ

crossofchristI have just recently finished John Stott’s epic book “The Cross of Christ”. I remember receiving this book as a gift during relay and I spent some time in various chapters studying it and chewing on it. But I hadn’t actually read the whole thing from start to finish, so I embarked to do so this year.

Reading this book gave me a fresh reminder of the cross and what Christ had done on the cross. I want to share with you 5 things that I learnt or was reminded of from this book.

1. Christianity is nothing without the cross.

It is the lamb that is slain on the throne. The cross is the center of history and had been on the mind of Christ from the start. It is a stumbling block and most offensive to some people and to others it is a joy and the heart beat of Christianity.

Without the cross there could be no atonement, forgiveness of sins, evil defeated, salvation for sinners, suffering where Christ can sympathise with all our sufferings..and many more things that took place on the cross.

2. The cross impacts every sphere of our Christian living.

Why? John Stott says the cross is the:

ground of our justification (he has redeemed us from the curse),
the means for our sanctification (we have been crucified with him, the world to us and us to the world),
the subject of our witness (we are to placard Christ Crucified publicly before people’s eyes),
the object of our boasting (God forbid that we should boast in anything else!!)

3. We are enemies of the cross if it is not central to our Christian living

If the cross is not central to our Christian living then we are enemies of the cross and to be an enemy means:

self-righteousness (instead of looking to the cross for justification)
self-indulgence (Instead of taking up the cross to follow Christ)
self-advertisement (Instead of preaching Christ crucified)
self-glorification (Instead of glorying in the cross)

How true that is in my own life!

4. Love was the motivation of the cross

Reading this book reminded me afresh of the love of Christ for us. To take human flesh and walk among this earth in order to go to the cross for my sin and shame, to take on the punishment I deserved in order that I might be reconciled to the Father. It shows a great and deep love that I cannot truly understand.

If we were ever in doubt about whether God loves us, we need to look no further than to the cross – his love demonstrated for us there.

5. I need to be reminded of the cross daily

I forget so easily the triumph, victory, pain, weakness and sacrifice of the cross. I too easily become an enemy of the cross and become self-righteous and self-indulgent. I need to be reminded of the Gospel, what Christ has done on the cross.

I need to be reminded of this daily and I know my friends do too as we struggle through this life and our hearts become deceived and caught up in various things, we need to bring each other back to the cross.

If you have not read this book, I would recommend you do so. Don’t be put off by the size of the book, but instead take your time over it and enjoy the refreshing water that comes from it. Stott turns our eyes away from ourselves and what we must do, and places our gaze on Christ and what he has done. Wonderful.

Resources for Worship Leaders

I just want to flag up a brilliant website for all those that lead sung worship in church or CU, write lyrics, in a worship band or love sung worship in church. This website was created by Olly Knight who was a staff worker with UCCF and he regularly leads sung worship at UCCF Forum and his Newfrontiers church in Canterbury.

Check out his website here: http://www.worshipjesus.co.uk

And the resource page is brilliant with lots on the theology of worship, how to write lyrics and how to lead worship.

I really love singing the songs he writes because they are very trinitarian and soaked in the Gospel! This is worth checking out.

Here is a video with more info:

The Rubber hits the Road

theologyTheology is really easy to talk about. It is easy to sit down around the table with the steam of hot coffee rolling around the edges of the cup, having your bibles open and your notebooks at the ready. It’s easy to say words like penal substitution and Calvinism and eschatology. They roll around your tongue and you spit them out.

It’s easy when your twenty something to see the world as black and white and carry theological debates in your pocket. You can argue about the pie in the sky until the blueberry filling squirts you in the face.

I feel like I am in the business of talking about theology. I can read the arguments and thrash out a theological position. I can quote scripture and I can also tie myself in knots with the straw from the thousands of straw men I create. And it’s good to talk, it’s good to work these things out and question and ponder.

But theology isn’t just about talk.  It isn’t just about the debates or late night discussions about predestination.

I think the rubber hits the road when life smacks you in the face.

Last week I was watching a programme where cameras followed around 4 families in their every day life. One family had a daughter and her partner expecting a baby but their were complications. They lost the baby. During this the mother makes a comment about religious people having faith and believing in God and how he comforts them. I think she really wanted that, deep down I think she yearned for that comfort.

Thing is, it’s easy to have a sound theology and all the right arguments, but when something like this happens its hard, it’s messy. It isn’t so black and white. I wanted to tell them that Jesus really loves them.

As Christians when suffering comes along we are caused to wrestle with the truths of scripture and God’s character. We ask: Who is God? Is He good? Does the death and resurrection of his Son matter? Does God understand my suffering?

I guess the heart of theology is believing in the middle of my suffering.
It’s clinging to Christ while in pain.
It’s believing in the resurrection when death knocks on your door.

I think theology tastes and feels different when you walk that road. It also sounds different when you walk that road with friends.

I haven’t really gone through great suffering, but ive walked with friends who have. The way they talk about God is different, theology has a different musical note. It’s no longer pies in the sky, but its real and it has to be wrestled with. It’s not about being right or wrong as in a debate, but it’s about clinging to Christ and finding joy and hope.

I think theology is good to talk about. But things aren’t always clear-cut. The part where it really takes effect and really matters is where theology meets real life.

And so, rich theology often comes alive when you go through an experience. Suddenly theology is no longer abstract but its earthy, weighty and holds more significance for you. The Hymn “O Love that will not let you go” by George Matheson, was birthed out of a painful experience of rejection and loss. The reality of the Lord’s love and comforting promises in a time of suffering becomes not just mere words, but wonderful truth to cling to, so that he can sing in his anguish verses like this:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

What beautiful theology! What a beautiful Christ we have! This is theology in action and I feel the best kind of theology there is, a theology that doesn’t just stay at the edges of the table, but overflows into our lives and helps us cling to our beautiful saviour in times of trials and darkness.

A Fairy Tale Ending

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/I really like fairy tale endings. The happy ever after. The smiles and the giggles and the sunset.

When I watch films I really yearn for a happy ending. But I feel guilty about that. The way films suck you in and you find yourself wanting the unhappy loser to find all happiness in the world, but at a great cost.

For example: when you have two people married to each other who have fallen out of love and then the handsome guy comes in and the wife falls for him. We yearn for her to find happiness. We don’t want her to be miserable and stuck in that relationship. We want her to have an Eat, Pray, Love experience. To leave and find herself and be happy.

This is because we don’t want to be stuck in misery. We don’t want to be in a rut of routine. We want a happy ending.

These films reflect something of our hearts desires. But the means are not always great. When I think about it I don’t really want that couple to get divorced or for that girl to change everything about her to find happiness in popularity. But I also don’t want to watch a story with a sad ending. An ending of despair and unrepair. It feels incomplete. It feels like a stain upon my soul. I want more.

So then adverts try to convince us that they hold the happy ending. They say that the happy ending is smelling nice, looking good, having an amazing sports car, being popular and drinking coca cola. A small part of us buys into that lie. We think these things will give us a happy ending.

I yearn, I drink and a part of me dies.

I think we are meant to yearn for happy endings. There is something in our fabric that makes our heart groan for completion. There is something that we love about the happy ever after in fairy tales. The struggle, the cliff hangers only to be resolved in a wedding and then a happy life after.

I think we all want that. We kid ourselves when we say we don’t. Probably because life is really hard at the moment and the reality is really painful. We can sometimes think: this is my lot, this is all life is.

But that isn’t true. I think our hearts are decietful at times, but they tell us something.
Out of the heart the mouth speaks.
In our hearts we want eternity to be a joyful fairytale wedding. If you’re a guy reading this, you may think that isn’t what you want. But would you want the alternative as eternal loneliness, boredom and sadness…? No one craves for that. In fact we do all we can to avoid it. Even with things that give us only a momentary relief.

wedding cakeThe Gospel is a bit like a fairy tale ending. Not that its fake. But it offers a happy ending. There is a wedding and a feast and beautiful bride and a smiling bridegroom. The wicked witch dies and all those who love the groom get to have a happy ending. I think we are all designed to crave this.

We want bad guys to lose and we want the good guys to win and be happy. We want evil destroyed and we want love to win. We want Spock to defeat Kahn and then get the girl after. We want Neo to beat the matrix (or Mr Smith) and bring peace to Zion. We want Will Smith in the pursuit of happiness to fight against poverty and get the job he desires. We want Frodo to destroy the ring and bring peace to middle earth.

No one wants evil to triumph. We want love to win.

Love does win in the Gospel. Death gets the sting taken out of it. Jesus triumphs through his suffering and blood on the cross. Then he invites us into the happy ending – to be part of that story. Its crazy cos we are all destined for the unhappy ending. But Jesus says we can be the bride, enjoy eternal happiness and we get to meet his dad, who is great. And there is NO evil stepmother.

My heart yearns for this. I was made for a fairy tale ending. But it can only come through and in Jesus. Lets share that story!

“Bilbo: Have you thought of an ending?
Frodo: Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.
Bilbo: Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?
Frodo: It will do well, if it ever came to that.
SamL Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Fascinate people to Jesus

fascinating[Re-post and Re-written]

There is something about Christians that should be different. We should stand out.

Shine.

Go against the crowd.

We have a message of hope, we carry an eternal promise of truth. We have Jesus.
Jesus is beautiful.

Everyday when I switch on the news I cringe and slump. But in my heart I can say Jesus is beautiful.

His death resurrection gives us hope.

Our lifestyles should reflect this truth. We should be courageous in Love, reaching out to the dirty, the outcasts, the low in society, the unclean, the hopeless, the people without a voice.

We shouldnt be concerned with social status because we wear a different dress code. Our actions and words should scream a different story that’s so radical from society:

that promotes Jesus over man,
that shares the good news,
that welcomes in the broken and the weak
that says to a suffering world that Jesus understands. He has been there and carries the marks of suffering too.

We should fascinate people to Jesus. The Great I AM. The Shepard.

The Lamb. Our Great High Priest. Our God. Our Husband.

We are to fascinate the world by not being concerned with self-image, or trying to buy the latest gadgets, or trying to be popular. Not with beauty of self but beauty of Christ.

And that beauty shines through the church.

Jesus loves the church.

Church is a place where people can limp over the line and be welcomed in with arms wide open.

The church is both messy and beautiful and Jesus loves the church. The church is the bride of Christ.

The bride of Christ is to fascinate the world to Jesus.

A Direct line to God

chord In the toilets at Marjon University they have an emergency red cord and most likely that’s been pulled enough times for someone to put a note on it saying: “Emergency Assistance Cord“. I.E dont pull it unless it is an emergency.

But someone has written above it “A direct like to God“. It made me smile. They saw this red cord and for a laugh wrote this.

Sometimes prayer feels a bit like an emergency line to God.

It is like divine panic button. Call God only in an emergency.

It can feel like that in the christian life. Days and days go by and all is hunky dory, the sun is shining and life seems beautiful. There feels no need for God. No need to speak to him or include him. I am fine thank you – I don’t need you right now.

This isn’t an emergency so I wont pull the red cord.

Not until I get to the point where I suddenly have to find accommodation for my relay worker or my bus is late and therefore I am late for an important meeting or a crises pops up and I think: I need to pray! This is an emergency.

When I read that sign, I laughed. But I also thought; this is how I often see God. My personal 999 operator. Where he will answer with: “what is your emergency?“. From this its easy to think that God only wants to listen to the big, important stuff and if I told him about my worries or even my joys he will respond with “Why are you wasting my time? This isn’t an emergency“.

My view of God in this is twisted. Because God isn’t like this. Our trinitarian God isn’t like this.

I do have a direct line to God. But not just for emergencies. I have one through Jesus Christ by the Spirit:

Hebrews 7v25 – Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Romans 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

I love this. I love that Jesus is ALWAYS interceding for us. I love that Jesus prays for us as we see in John 17. I love that the spirit cries Abba Father on our behalf. Jesus brings us to the Father, he intercedes for us. Without him we could never of gone to the father, we would have been like the Israelites not being able to go near the mountain because we would die.

We are carried on Christ’s heart to the Father. A Father who loves us. This direct line that we have to God is a line that is carried by Jesus to the Father through the Spirit. And he wants to hear our hearts and our worries. Not just big emergency stuff, although that too. But also everyday stuff. Worries, anxieties, jobs next year, healing for my friend, good results, getting to work safely, good relationships at work, good conversations and whatever else faces us in the day.

Sometimes people may think we shouldnt be so quick to bring our problems to God. We shouldn’t be so quick to ask for healings or an ease to our suffering or help in our day. That we shouldn’t bring things that may seem trivial. That we should sweat it out a bit. But I am not up for that.

If we have a Father in heaven who wants to hear us. A Son who ALWAYS interceded for us carrying us to the Father on his heart and a Spirit that helps us and cries Abba Father to the Father. Then I want in on that. It makes me want to pray about everything. I want to thank God for everything. If God is Tri-unity of love and invites me in on that – then I want in.

Why? Because I am deluding myself in thinking that I can manage on my own or do perfectly well without God. I am wrong in thinking that God is only interested in certain prayers. It is all lies. Sometimes lies of the enemy. Sometimes lies I buy into because I forget the Gospel.

Some people may say – you can’t just ask God for things all the time.

And I wonder – why not? I don’t mean to demand things from God or treat him like a jackpot machine. But why not come to him like a child comes to the Father and ask for help? Or bring my worries? And also thank him for being great? Why can’t I do that all the time? Isn’t that what a loving Father wants? Isn’t that what Jesus is doing already on my behalf?

My heart needs to remember this. And this is a preach to myself more than anything else.

But I do have a direct line to God. But not a red emergency cord. I have a person who carries me on their heart all the time and another person who cries out Abba Father and a Father who hears this and delights in this and never tires from this.

I really want in on that!

The Glory of God

gloryflowerI just want to give glory to God” – this is often an honest and heart-felt statement from Christians. It’s coming from a place of surrender and desire to please God and do his will. Yet I often wonder what giving Glory to God means. I wonder what Glory means. I was looking on the Desiring God website and found a little snippet on what Glory means and they said:

“So God’s glory is the radiance of his holiness, the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections.”

You have to ask yourself – who (rather than what?) is the radiance of his holiness? who is the radiance of his manifold, worthy perfections? Well Colossians 1v15 and Hebrews 1v3 says

    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
(Colossians 1:15 ESV)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)

It seems that the radiance of Gods holiness and glory is Jesus. Jesus is the glory of the Father and the Father pours his love by his spirit into his son. It feels less abstract. Jesus is the Father’s Glory.

It’s really easy to see Glory as something of strength and power. It’s something of greatness and worth. When we say we want to give God glory I know that to mean – I want to be the best I can for God, I want to be strong for God and to give the best talk and be the best evangelist and work the hardest and serve the longest and in that I want to give all praise to Him. It feels like Glory is power and might and its something I must display to give God glory.

When I think about how Jesus glorifies the Father it actually happens at a place of weakness and hopelessness. It’s at a place of feebleness, pain and death. Jesus glorifies the Father at the cross – displaying to all the earth the Fathers love for his children and yet he displays it in utter weakness. Utter powerlessness. The stench of death fills the room, hope hangs and dies. Does that feel like glory to you? Is that what you had in  mind when you said “I want to glorify God?” Probably not.

I don’t think it’s an accident that Jesus goes to the weak, the poor and needy instead of the rich, powerful and pious . I don’t think that it’s an accident that throughout the history of the bible the Lord chooses men and women who are weak, messed up, stumble with their words and not the most clever of the bunch to lead others and share his good news instead of using the most clever, the most eloquent of speakers, the most popular and good-looking. Glory seems to come through weakness.

If you were to say to the Lord “I just want to glorify you” and then something happens in your life – you get cancer, you are housebound, you have depression, you are seriously ill and you are weak and you are helpless and needy. Would you still feel like you can glorify God? Or were you thinking that this glory was more about your abilities, strength and “best ofs”? What if God says that through your suffering you will glorify me more – would you believe Him?

It’s hard. It’s hard because the world says we should be the best and the strongest. The christian organisations say they want the best leaders and best evangelists.

But it seems that the Lord works his glory through suffering and weakness. He showed it on the cross most of all. The Glory of the Lord was broken, weak and bleeding but yet He shone out through that the love and beauty of the Father. I often find that those christians who are most suffering, who are most struggling and just clinging on in weakness taking each day at a time, they are the ones who most show me Gods glory. They are the ones who most show me Jesus.

Glory is about weakness not strength. So when you say, “I just want to glorify God” you may want to recognise that God may take you through a place of suffering and weakness for that to happen. Because it’s in that place that you will most likely be surrendering all to him and give him praise. Glory isn’t about power and might. Glory is Jesus, dying on the cross.

Can we know God?

solitudeI read a sad article today. An article written here.

A question is behind this: Can we know God? The writer of the article says no, he says “The more you claim to know God and attempt to delineate his nature the less likely you are to have hit the bull’s eye.”

He goes on to say: “Faith is not the progressive unearthing of God’s nature but a recognition that he/she is fundamentally unknowable. The signpost points not to growing certainty but towards increasing non-knowing.”

It saddens me because if this were true, if God is indeed unknowable then all of us are in trouble. An unknowable God does not speak into or indeed to his creation (Genesis v3) or walks among them (Genesis 3v8) or dies for them at the cross (Mark 15v33-39). An unknowable God doesn’t adopt us as sons to the Father (Galatians 4v1-7) or betroths us to the Son (Hosea 2v19-20). He doesn’t sing over us (Zephaniah 3:17) or warms our heart with his tender mercy (Luke1v78). Instead we are left outside, cold and very alone.

We can do as David Bryant advises: Is anything left or does this destroy the very fabric of spirituality? What remains is a Quakerlike silence during which we can respond to the numinous, develop our perceptions, hone our morality and enhance our wonder at the staggering complexity of the universe.

It sounds modern, inclusive and quite pleasant. Keep God unknown and then I don’t have to seek him, I can instead find my own path. But this silence will eventually erode you and keep you lost forever. This silence feels very lonely and I don’t think the universe is shouting any answers back.

Instead there is better news than this: come and meet the God that is revealed to us. Come and meet Jesus who reveals the Father to us. For he is:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
(Colossians 1:15 ESV)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
(Hebrews 1:3 ESV)

Can we know God? Yes through Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals to us who the Father is:

No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.(Matthew 11v27).

What a glorious verse! Come and know the Father because the Son has revealed him to us! Come to Jesus and you will know God. My friends, God is not unknown – the Trinitarian God has been revealed and has pierced this world with his everlasting light so that you no longer have to sit in darkness. Faith is not saying that God is unknown, Faith is receiving what Christ has done for you and believing that he is truly God and truly reveals the Father to us.

Bryant says: “If we envisage God as a person clothed with epithets such as powerful, loving, just, fear-inspiring and omnipotent we are creating a manmade image.”

And yet God chooses to come to us as a baby, which is what the Christmas story is all about. And through being fully human and fully God he shows us who the Father is and what he is like. And he is powerful, loving and just. Believe me you wouldn’t want a different God. The Trinitarian God that is revealed to us through Jesus Christ which we can read in scripture and it is good news and better news than an unknown God.

Calvin says: “For God would have remained hidden afar off if Christ’s splendour had not beamed upon us.”

But if God is unknown to you. Then come to Jesus. You could sit in silence and search for the hero inside yourself or cry out to the vacuum universe for answers of “who am I?” Or instead you can come to Jesus.

Come to him who holds the universe in the palm of his hand, who says to you that he will carry your burden, who will be a light in your darkness and who will give you his identity and the Father will proclaim over you “I am well pleased”. My prayer is that David Bryant and all who may agree with his article will come to Jesus, come and know him and drink deep out of his living water because then they will know God and God will no longer be unknown to them but revealed and found so beautiful.

Feasting on the Bible Part 1

Do you feel guilty when you think about reading the bible? When someone asks you – “so hows your bible reading going?” – what do you say? Do you feel guilt and shame rise up in you because you know you haven’t read it for weeks, maybe months? I wonder why that is? What compels you to read it in the first place and what stops you? Who makes you feel guilty when you don’t? Who told you that you should and what reason did they give?

Dan Hames has written a great article on three reasons why you don’t read your bible, here it is in a nutshell:

1. You don’t have time

2. You think the bible is about you

3. You think your bible reading is for God’s benefit

The first one doesn’t really count. Honestly it doesnt. If you have time for TV, facebook, looking at blogs, going out, shopping etc then you have time to read your bible – we make room for what we want to do. Having no time is not an excuse – let’s be honest here, you just don’t want to read. And let me be honest, there are times I don’t want to read it either because I find it boring, irrelevant and a waste of time. Yeh I am being honest. Why do I think those things? Because of the other two points that Dan Hames has mentioned. Its boring and irrelevant because I think the bible is about me and when I open it and if I don’t see me there then I think its boring and out-dated, in fact it gives me no sort of guide on what I should do today and what type of job I should get. It doesn’t give me any horoscope type predictions on my life – what happens if mars meets venus at a coffee shop and spills latte over the red carpet, what does that mean!! Tell me: Where am I in this story?!

Dear God,

In this bible you gave us, you are missing the main character – me! please change this so that I can read more about me in this story… Ok? thanks….  Amen.

Well here is the thing, we arn’t the center of this story. From Genesis to Revelation its all about the Fathers son – its all about Jesus. He is the focus of the story. Yes the Old Testament is about Jesus and it brings me joy to tell you that when you read the OT you can see Jesus in the scriptures and it’s not just about morals and strange laws. Why not open your bible and pray that you would see Jesus in what you are reading. It’s not a “where’s Wally”, it’s a  story  about the chosen seed, offspring, saviour, deliverer, redeemer, husband, king, and lover… the thread of the OT is woven from Jesus, with Jesus and to Jesus.

Where do you feature you may ask? Well if you are going to appear anywhere your character is the rebel, prostitute, outcast, foreigner, grumbler, sinner, disobedient one. Yeh you don’t start out that great. But that’s you and me. But look what happens to those people when they trust in their champion and saviour – they are brought to new life, they are saved, they winners with their champion because he has won it for them. This story isn’t about me, it’s about Jesus. Lets take our eyes off ourself and onto him. Lets see him in scripture and I tell you that you will delight in scripture much more – because the bible isn’t a great “how to guide” and it was never meant to be, we are meant to read it so that we may see more of Jesus who reveals His Father to us. That is wonderful.

And so reading your bible isn’t for God’s benefit. Really it isn’t. It’s for your benefit – to feed you, point you to Jesus and warm your hearts. God isn’t keeping tabs on your bible reading. If you are reading it because you think you have to or God will be displeased with you, then you will only read it out of guilt. As Dan Hames says:

“”In this context the Bible is given to us as a gift to feast on, rather than a project to complete before judgment day.  We will find we go to it to savour and enjoy, and when we miss a day we might feel hunger pangs, but we could never feel guilt, fear, or condemnation. “

Come and feast on the wonderful banquet that is on the table in front of you. Come, taste and see. Come and see Jesus and find that he is wonderfully fulfilling, warming our cold hearts. Thats what I need every day.

Part 2 will be about how we can read the bible.

The Inner Ring

When I was at school there was always the “cool” people who hunted in packs. They would listen to the latest music, have the latest fashion and didn’t seem to do any work. But nonetheless we all knew that they were a cool group, I don’t know how we knew, but us the outsiders knew that we would never be in that cool gang so long as we had skirts below the knees and wanted to get good grades. These kind of groups are not just in school but also in society – in the work place, in families, communities and the church. There are groups of people who make what CS Lewis calls an “inner ring”, a group of people who Lewis describes as:

“It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the
insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be
designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration: it may be called
“You and Tony and me.” When it is very secure and comparatively
stable in membership it calls itself “we.” When it has to be suddenly
expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself “All the sensible
people at this place.”

Do you know the kind of groups he means? You find them everywhere, probably most commonly called cliques now. CS Lewis rightly says that this is unavoidable, its part of human nature to connect with like-minded people and make friendships with them sharing in interests and visions. And it isn’t wrong to have them either in order for organisations and communities and churches to function, there needs to be a group that’s in the know and makes decisions.

But Lewis doesn’t focus on those groups in his inner ring essay, he instead focuses on the outsiders and their desire to be in the inner ring. He says:

I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.

I think this is true and a part of it is wanting to feel valued and wanted. We want to be a part of a group of people who value us and accepts us – we long for that community and when we find ourselves outside of that inner ring we feel rejected. So we strive even harder to be in that group. Because “It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons: but to have them free because you don’t matter, that is much worse.” This is certainly not exempt from the church, where there are many inner rings (we pretend there aren’t, but there are) and people from the outside struggle to find a place and struggle to feel a part of the group. Even when they pierce the first part of the onion they find there are more inner rings to pierce through!

But Lewis asks an important question for those wanting to be a part of the inner ring:

“Let Inner Rings be an unavoidable and even an innocent feature of life, though certainly not a beautiful one: but what of our longing to enter them, our anguish when we are excluded, and the kind of pleasure we feel when we get in?”

How have you felt being on the outside? How much are you striving to be on the inside? And once inside how much do you relish the idea of being “in” and others being “out”…

He says this striving would result in two outcomes:

1. HE warns us that if we spend our time striving to be in this inner ring, then we may find we become scoundrels -” Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skilful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.” Our drive and determination to be accepted at all costs will find ourselves clouded and not quite ourselves at all. It will cause us to reject others, to think more highly of ourselves and to lose friendships.

2. He then warns that the novelty will wear off – “Once the first novelty is worn off the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humor or learning or wit or any of the things that can be really enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.” And that is a pleasure that cannot last.” If you just want to be “in” but have no care for the people, they will soon bore you and you will be looking elsewhere for another ring to break through. The grass isn’t greener on the other side.

What to do then? If you are feeling rejected and outside?

Lewis says: “The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.” To do that is more simple and natural then we can imagine:

“If in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the center of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.”

I think what Lewis is saying is a breath of fresh air! We don’t need to strive to be a part of an inner ring that we see, but actually through natural friendships we may find ourselves in a ring of our own that is based around friendship which will make you far happier then striving to be in a ring for the sake of being “in”…

Perhaps I would also include that knowing Jesus means you’re in the most intimate and outward looking ring ever – that of the Trinity. You are very much included to enjoy the love of the Father just as the Son loves the Father through the Spirit!

This model of the Trinity should effect our inner rings where they are continually outward looking and wanting to include all people. You may be striving to be a part of an inner ring that you think will give you more status, meaning or control – but it wont make you happy. Instead your natural friendships will cause an inner ring and if it was to reflect the Trinity then it should be warm, friendly and ready to include all people. Include the outsiders, those on the edge of society, church and at work. I guarantee that when you look around on Sunday morning at church there are more people on the outside of the ring then you think and perhaps its an opportunity to include them into your friendship group, home, life and inner ring.

“To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of Insides,” full of delightful intimacies and confidentiality, and he desires to enter them. But if he follows that desire he will reach no “inside” that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction.”