This Letter is about Christian virtue, specifically, the virtue of humility. It seems the patient, the young man in the story, is in a dance with humility as he continues to get his spiritual legs under him.
There are a bunch of moving parts in this Letter. Let's see if we can pull it all together.
For the Christian to have a humble heart is pretty standard, Christianity 101 stuff. The Bible talks about our being humble a whole lot, so it must be a pretty big deal to God.
"Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven". Matthew 18:4 (HCSB)
"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted". Matthew 23:12 (HCSB)
Arguably, I think most of us get that we're to be humble. Truly humble - honorable, compassionate, respectful, temperate, gracious. Nothin' wrong with any of that, right?
But, Screwtape is suggesting here that humility gets to be a problem (in a good way, for the demons) when we become proud of it. "Proud of our humility". Wait a minute. What?
Pride. It's clear from the scriptures that pride - self pride - is not Godly. It's destructive. It causes us to fall. It's a disgrace.
"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall". Proverbs 16:18 (NIV)
"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom". Proverbs 11:2 (NIV)
So, how could it happen? How could good humility go bad? Well, according to Screwtape, humility becomes pride when.....
Our focus leans inward and away from God
We become impressed with our ability to be humble
Let that sink in a minute.
Now, Part 2:
I'll kick it off with a question:
Since we're supposed to be humble and pride-less, then that means we are to think very little of ourselves, right?
Answer: Not exactly.
First of all, to think too little of ourselves would be an opinion. And frankly, we are not entitled to an opinion on our worth. Only God is qualified for that.
Secondly, a low self-worth can morph into self-contempt and, as Screwtape says, "self-contempt can be made the starting-point for contempt of other selves". Who knew that hating yourself hurts other people?
Bottom line: Because God loves us so incredibly, unbelievably much - even Screwtape acknowledges this - we are Significant. Prized. A hot property, A big deal. We should think highly of ourselves, because we are cherished by the Most High.
I'm not a bigger deal than you. You're not a bigger deal than me. Our MSRP's are exactly the same.
Pretty much everybody is familiar with the scripture:
“....Love your neighbor as yourself.[a] There is no other command greater than these.” Mark 12:31 (HCSB)
Absolutely. And, thanks to this new insight from Screwtape, I would also suggest we love ourselves (the same) as our neighbor.
I love music. All kinds of music. Country, rock, R & B, classical... if it's good, I like it.
But, here's the deal. I think we all need to spend some of our listening time - when the world is screaming at us from all directions - listening to Christian (gospel, contemporary Christian, hymns, praise & worship, whatever you want to call it) music. For Believers, a Christian song can affirm our faith, lift us up, bring peace to our heart, hammer home a scripture, reveal a truth - pretty much whatever we need in that moment. Look, I love me some Eric Church, but not as much as Jesus does. And Bon Jovi may be livin' on a prayer, but that doesn't cover me, you know what I’m sayin’? I NEED to take in some Christian music every single day.
That’s not to mention, it's just plain fun to get my personal worship jam on in the car, in the shower, on the exercise bike. Major stress reliever. (True story: Good thing I was on a stationary bike this morning, instead of a real one, when I closed my eyes and threw up my hands listening to Casting Crowns' "Voice of Truth", or there could've been a serious accident.)
So, OK. This post is an encouragement to you to work some Christian music into your daily routine, if you’re not doing that already. It can rock your world, I’m tellin’ ya.
I also wanted to share with you my current Spotify playlist of Christian songs. Some are old, some are new. These are some of my favorites – some because I just like the song, and others I have found the message incredibly powerful during certain times in life. Maybe one of them will really resonate with you, too.
And, if you would, feel free to share (Reply) here – with me and other Faith by Dummy Blog readers, some of your personal, go-to Christian songs. I’m always looking to add more to my playlist.
Link to my Spotify “Christian” Playlist:
Oh, and one more thing…… While you’re in Spotify, I would love it if you would check out my Faith by Dummy Podcast. Let me know what you think! Thanks!?
I am a runner. And this post was written on the run. Literally. During my morning workout.
Ok. Well, I’m not actually a “runner”. More like a “jogger”. Ok. I’m a “plodder of a BMI-inflated carcass on a treadmill”.
I’ve been a “plodder” for probably 15 years now, and I hate it as much today as when I began. It hurts. It’s hot. It’s boring. I want to quit half-way through every time I do it.
But, I do it. Because, for me, it’s the best bang for my buck in getting some needed cardio and sweatin’ out some stress.
It’s also a great time to think – if I can stay conscious. I have some of my best spiritual epiphanies when I run (plod). And here’s one that came today:
First, I should say that it’s beginning already to get hot here in the South. Temps are rising and the humidity is predictably disgraceful. So, my morning runs the past few days have become even more, let’s just say, ‘challenging’ (can’t wait for July!). At the dreaded halfway-point in my run today, the pain hits. My legs feel like lead. I’m sucking air that’s heavy and stagnant. I can’t breathe. I might puke. I’m sure my body temperature and heart rate are in the stroke zone right about now. I wanna quit. Maybe I should. And then…..
This puff of cool air swirls around me. A surprise of a breeze. A breath of fresh air, literally. Meteorological mercy. It didn’t last long, but just long enough for me to be able to hang in there and finish this run I started.
Which gets me to thinking how it’s the same with God. Right about the time we think we can’t go one more step in whatever we’re dealing with in life, He provides the breeze, the air, the oxygen we require to keep going. And not only keep going, but finish.
That’s lesson one. But, I’m even seeing a second spiritual application here in this “air-apparent” encounter:
If I hadn’t been sweating, hurting, and dying to quit, this breeze would likely have gone unnoticed. It meant so much because I needed it so much. It was significant because I was miserable.
I just wonder how many times we miss out on receiving a restorative breath from God because we won’t push ourselves past our spiritual comfort zone. We won’t run where it’s scary or uncertain or it might even hurt. We don’t let ourselves get to the point of panting for Him. Maybe we should get out of breath more often.
I open my mouth and pant because I long for Your commands.
In the last few Letters, the young man had been starting to slip a bit, getting more lax and relaxed in his daily walk, particularly in comparison to his fervency at the time of initial conversion. And the demons were loving it.
Well, in this Letter (13) there seems to have been somewhat of a spiritual renewal, and it’s making the demons crazy. Screwtape is really giving it to Wormwood for letting this happen. Apparently, the guy has experienced “repentance, renewal and grace” which, as Screwtape says, constitutes a “second conversion” that is probably “on a deeper level than even the first”. To me, this characterizes the complexity and depth of our spiritual growth over time, through life experiences, crises, ups, downs – all the things that, perhaps ironically, make us more receptive to (and more serious about getting ahold of) God’s care and grace. (Screwtape talked about this in an earlier Letter, in how we are closest to God when we are in a spiritual ‘pit’, yet none of us ever pray to be in a pit).
The dude in the story, it seems, has spent some time lately in commune with God - whether intentionally or inadvertently is not made clear. But, through this actual ‘quiet time' in reflecting and soul-searching, he has reached a point of spiritual renewal and re-focus. And – this is the best part – his assigned demon could do absolutely nothing to stop this from playing out because the Holy Spirit was present with the guy. Booyah! I love this! Now, I should say this is my interpretation of what happened. You see, Screwtape describes this “asphyxiating cloud” that prevented Wormwood from “attacking” the patient during this quiet and thoughtful time. This cloud, according to Screwtape, is well-known to the demons as God’s “most barbarous weapon” that appears when He (God) is “directly present” with a human. I'm saying this has got to be the Holy Spirit. And this “certain mode not yet fully classified”, as the demons call it, is driving them nuts! They hate it. They don’t completely get it, but they absolutely know that they have no strength, no power, in the presence of the Holy Spirit (I'm picturing the spirit world equivalent of kryptonite). Screwtape laments, “Some humans are permanently surrounded by it (the Holy Spirit) and thereby inaccessible to us”. Too bad, demons. You lose.
So, going back to why Wormwood is in trouble with Screwtape..... The ‘patient’ has been able to experience this quiet spiritual renewal because Wormwood has allowed (hasn't been able to stop) him to indulge in some real and “positive” pleasures. Godly pleasures. Not sensual pleasures, but those things that feed the soul. Like reading for enjoyment instead of because you need to be "well read". Or like spending some quiet time – alone, literally – in the middle of nowhere because you love it. The demons’ agenda for us is the exact opposite - to keep us busy, vain, in pursuit of “the best” things, detached from ourselves (existentially) and from God. But now, the patient has what we might call “re-found” himself and who he is in God, and Wormwood was supposed to prevent that from ever happening. Whoops. I like when Screwtape laments that once this happens - once we become “wholly” God’s - we are “more of (our)selves than ever”. This tells me that the things of this world are more than distractions – they are barriers to being what God made us to be. What we can be. What we are.
Screwtape ends this Letter by telling Wormwood that the only thing to do at this point is keep the young man from acting on his newfound ‘repentance’. “Let him think about it all he wants”, Screwtape tells Wormwood, as long as he doesn’t "convert it into action".
Lord, help me to find and then lose those distractions in my life that are barriers to being who you made me to be. Amen.
Oh, and P.S. Thank you, God, for sending us the Holy Spirit, the ultimate super hero.
I am not a big fan of New Year's Resolutions, myself. I like to think that I don't need a "date" to take care of business, make a change, whatever needs to be done. Yet, I know that, for a lot of people, New Year's Resolutions are at least, traditional, and sometimes even helpful.
With my hesitancy in mind, I would like to offer my one, and only, personal New Year's Resolution:
February the 3rd.
And April the 9th. July the 7th. October the 19th.
Lord, help me to be as enthused about making positive changes in my life throughout this year, long after New Year's Day has faded away, as I am today. I pray that I can maintain my commitment to You and all the things - the good and even the ugly - that you want me to do this year. I just don't want to "Drop the Ball" (sorry).
Well, I guess, since this is a Christian blog, I really should have a "Christmas" post. After all, Christmas is kind of a big deal when it comes to our faith. And I totally get that - God sending his Son to earth to be our Savior, all of that. I get it, and to say I'm grateful is an understatement. Yet, in full disclosure, I have to tell you that, personally, Easter gives me the biggest bang for my buck as a Christ follower. Jesus defeated death! Booyah! The Christian Super Bowl!
I've reflected a bit on what really strikes me, spiritually, about Christmas. And it is this ---
The virgin birth. The fact that a woman, hand-picked by God, was impregnated without having been with a man. That totally makes no sense. Scientifically impossible. Unbelievable. Certainly, the virgin birth lends to the purity of Jesus, as God could have just as easily chosen an already married woman to bring the Savior into the world. But, I think there's an even deeper insight here.
As I see it, God made the virgin birth of Jesus purposely unbelievable because our entire faith is, pretty much, unbelievable. Let's see.....
Well, first of all, God sent and sacrificed his SON. His child. I don't know about you, but I'm not sacrificing my child for anybody or anything. Unthinkable.
When God forgives our sin, He forgets it. For. gets. it. Gone. Like it never happened. Unfathomable.
The God of the universe takes the time to even care at all about us unworthy bunch of whiners. Preposterous.
Jesus lived, suffered, and died for people who treated him like crap. Irrational.
We can communicate directly with the God of the universe through prayer in Jesus' name. Unimaginable.
Suddenly, the virgin birth doesn't seem all that far-fetched. I kind of see Jesus' birth as God's way of saying, "Hang on, I'm fixin' to blow your mind".
Sometimes questions just pop into my head.
Just a brief background. If you were raised in 'old school' church, you are quite familiar with singing assigned hymns out of the hymnal during song service. Most of these hymns come with 4 verses (often referred to as "stanzas" if you're really old school).
Yet, invariably, we were always assigned to sing Verses 1, 2, and 4. Skip verse 3. Pretty much every time.
Why is that?
Do Verses 3 have something in them that is existentially 'questionable'? Something in them we don't need to know?
Has there been a study that determined that singing Verse 3 in a hymn adds nothing to the altar call response rate?
Do we skip Verse 3 in order to save time? How much more time would it really add to sing just one more verse?
I think the next time I feel ignored or excluded, I'm going to say "I'm feeling like a Verse 3".
Let me start by saying that this is not a 'ghost story'. As a Christian, I don't have any interest (or business) in ghost-hunting. But, I do think there are a couple of life 'nuggets' here. I can explain at the end.....here's the story:
My mom was a dear, sweet lady. Loving, yet quiet and reserved – a lot like me (yeah, right). She held deep religious beliefs and lived by those her whole life. My mom always encouraged me and let me know that she valued and loved me. That’s not to say that we didn’t have some awful times – ah, the teenage years – but I always knew my mom loved me and I loved her.
My mom was not much of a disciplinarian; that was left to my dad and, actually, to my grandmother who cared for me as my mom was one of the few moms working outside the home back in the 60’s (at least, in our little Midwest town, she was). On those occasions when I behaved badly, which usually involved my ‘mouth’ opposed to my fists, my mom always seemed hurt and disappointed in my behavior, rather than angry with me. She had a quiet way of scolding me in a manner that let me know she was not pleased, but also included a reminder of how “pretty” (physically? spiritually? regardless, I loved it) I was to her. She would say, “You’re too pretty to act that way”, when I had my little ‘attitude’ for not getting what I wanted. Or, she would say, “You’re too pretty to talk like that”, when I used ‘un-ladylike language’ (I never heard my mom say a cuss word in her whole life). She said this phrase with such regularity, it kind of became a joke between us. “I know, I know, mom, I’m too pretty to do that”, I’d say before she could, when I knew I had transgressed.
I miss my mom. She passed away 15 years ago from Alzheimer’s disease.
A few years ago, I was in the hospital for what I guess would be considered a pretty serious illness. Sparing all the gory details, let’s just say I was hospitalized for 6 days, tube down my throat, major surgery, lots of fun. I can remember lying in that hospital bed on about day 4 thinking, "Man, I really must be sick". My husband was a rock star, rarely left my bedside the entire time. My family members all came to see me in the hospital (my sister, upon seeing me, making a comment that I looked like !@#$ - true to our lovingly competitive relationship).
One of those hospital nights, my husband had stepped out of the room, at my encouragement, to get a bite to eat in the hospital cafeteria (yum). It was one of the first times since my admission through the ER that I was in a hospital room by myself. I lay rather lifeless and flat on my back, as I had done for many days. I didn’t have the strength to sit or stand - it would have been nearly impossible anyway, with all the tubes and wires tethering me down. Even though I was somewhat apprehensive about being alone in this now not-so-strange environment of the hospital, I felt relaxed and peaceful in my dark room with only the glow of monitors for light, and the distant and newly familiar sound of nurses and patients out in the hallway.
My husband returned to my room after only a few minutes away, apologizing for not bringing me back anything to eat (nervous humor). “You doing OK? Have any of the nurses been in to check on you while I was gone?”, he asked, leaning down to kiss me on the forehead. “No, but the lady in the bed next to mine stepped over and spoke to me” I told him, gesturing toward the curtain beside my bed that divided my hospital room into two. My husband paused, with a perplexed look on his face. “There’s nobody in the other bed. There hasn’t been another patient over there”, he informed me. “Yeah there is”, I said. “It’s an older lady with white hair. She was wearing a nightgown and she stood at the foot of my bed and spoke to me”. Thinking maybe I was mistaking one of the nurses who had come in to check on me while he was gone, my husband asked, “Well, what did the woman say?” I paused for a moment, re-envisioning my visitor, with her comforting presence and kind words. I then answered, “She said to me, You’re too pretty to be this sick”.
Was it Imagination...Hallucination...Medication? I don't know, and it doesn't matter. I learned a couple of things here:
First, we never know what we might say to someone in our life that sticks with them forever. We need to make sure what comes out of our mouth is valuable and edifying.
Secondly, I think (hope) that God does allow specific moments in our life when we can receive direct encouragement from someone we love who has left this planet ahead of us. It's not a ghost thing, but it is spiritual.
We hear a lot about the value of "quality time" spent with kids (and grandkids). And this concept fits nicely with the chaos of modern life, for sure. But, I'm thinking "quantity time" is a tad bit underrated, and here's why.
Some of the most meaningful and memorable moments I've ever had with my kids and grands have not been at an amusement park or a spectacle on ice, but in the car ride home from school when I give my advice on how to handle a bully. While sitting on the sofa watching a God-awful kids' movie and answering a million "why" questions. Or, just holding the head of a puking kid in the middle of the night.
If it weren't for "quantity time", I would've missed all this.