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Personal testimony: Awakened by Mere Christianity

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This week, 115 years ago, C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Born Clive Staples Lewis on November 29, 1898, he would go by “Jack” throughout his life among his friends and family. Though Jack spent the first half of his life a committed atheist, when he believed in Christ in 1931 at age 33, his life took a permanently different direction. Today, Lewis is remembered for being one of the best Christian writers of the 20th century. Go into any Christian book store in Jackson (Lifeway, Family Christian Stores) or even non-religious booksellers (such as Barnes and Noble at the Renaissance shopping center in Ridgeland or Books-A-Million off Frontage Rd in Jackson), and you'll see a plethora of C.S. Lewis books available.

On a personal note, C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity has impacted me more than any other book I’ve ever read. Mere Christianity was the first book that I felt completely spoke to me. It didn’t speak past my situation, but right to it. It pointed to my heart’s problem and pointed to a solution. It made the faith come alive to me in a way that I’d never experienced before. It made me want to have a more real relationship with God than what I currently had. It made the Christian faith to appear so beautiful, so ancient, so intense, so “magical”, for lack of a better word.

Since my earliest days as a Christian, I struggled constantly with spiritual pride. If there’s anything that characterized my freshman year of high school, it was self-approval. My dad being pastor at Smyrna Presbyterian Church meant that scholarly theological writings were always at my fingertips, and as a recent convert I couldn’t get enough of them.

I wanted to know all about the end times, all about predestination, all about the gifts of the Spirit, etc… And I looked with disdain at anyone that didn’t seem as enthusiastic about all the topics that excited me. At this point in my life, non-Christians weren’t objects of love, but rather objects of fear and horror. Evangelism concerned me little. I just wanted to sit in a corner and expand my knowledge.

I often told myself at Sunday School that I was the only person in the class that really had his act together. I began to look at myself as being really the only one who had the answers. When I went through the Max Lucado book, Just Like Jesus, with my youth pastor and faced the question, “How would your life look different to your friends and family if suddenly every action you did was precisely what Jesus would do?” I honestly couldn’t think of any area in my life that wasn’t already thoroughly Christ-like. I began to beat my friends over the head with the Bible, quoting often about the fires of hell.

As much knowledge as I was acquiring, I began to be miserable. The Christian life isn’t intended to be a stone throwing endeavor, but that’s all I’d made it out to be. My “faith” was simply ammunition in my arsenal for critiquing people. It didn’t take me long to become miserable. I began to feel dead again. In one sense, God was as real to me as my right hand, but in another sense, I realized I was substituting head knowledge and self-righteousness for a real relationship with God. I told my youth leader at church about my dilemma and he prayed with me. I resolved that I would beat the problem, that I would suck it up and be humble. But we all know such resolutions are unworkable.

It seems as if all I ever heard at Sunday School was how important it was for us kids to be spending time everyday reading the Bible and praying. But I was already doing that, and feeling more and more dead by the day. The Bible is a book of life, but if it’s being misused, it can seem like a book of death. Every passage I read merely made me feel superior to my peers, whom I judged to be Biblically illiterate.

My prayer time had the same affect on me. Prayer wasn’t a time of connecting with God anymore. My devotional life, the very thing that was being commended to me week after week in youth group as the heart of everything, was slowly beginning (in my eyes) to kill me. I wasn’t feeding my soul, but merely feeding my ego.

How could knowledge of the Bible and prayer make one more like Christ? So far all it had done to me was to make me more like the sanctimonious men so sharply rebuked by Christ. Humility and scholarship seemed incompatible. I felt like I could choose between knowing the Bible and being proud of it, or discontinuing my devotional life and being humble for it. The tension weighed heavy on me.

I craved to be considered a mature Christian in my circle of friends and couldn’t bear to give up the reputation, but I also, on one hand, craved to be known for what I really was, to drop the façade and be real. I wrestled with this seemingly irreconcilable dilemma for months, before finally cracking under the pressure. I think it was sometime in April of ’98, nine months after being baptized, that I decided I’d had enough. I looked up at the sky and said, “God, if this is what the Christian life is like, then f*** you!”

I guess I almost considered it a sabbatical from my Christian life. I wasn’t planning on becoming an “unbeliever.” I just wanted to take a temporary break from God and I’d go back to him when I felt like it. Three years later, I was given a copy of Mere Christianity.

In part 2, I’ll explain why this became a book that helped clear up the muddle I’d made of my Christian life.

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