Laudable Linkage

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I don’t usually do these every Saturday, but I accumulated a lot of good reads this week.

10 Reasons Americans Go to Church – and 9 Reasons They Don’t, HT to Lisa. “But this study suggests that there is an under-served group of believers who seem like they’d actually like to go to religious services — if only someone could help get them there and welcome them when they arrive.”

God’s No Is a Yes, HT to True Woman.

Ask Someone Older Than You, HT to Lisa. Advice on how to get help in making an important decision.

How to Ruin Your Life in Your Twenties, HT to True Woman.

You Are Not Your Temptations, HT to True Woman.

What Is Encouragement? HT to Challies. Yes, yes, yes! I wrote recently about well-meant encouragement that is too self-focused and “puffs up.” This post describes what encouragement actually is and does. If I had a rating system for blog posts, this would garner the ultimate number of stars.

What Do People Mean by “Coming Into the Presence of God?” HT to Challies. This is something I have contemplated, too. I’ve seen many people say that we should “invite” God into situations (or worse yet, ask Him to “show up“). But He is always with us. I suspect the mindset might be something like that of people in the same room but all on their phones or doing something else, then a call to meet together has everyone putting everything else aside to pay attention to the other people. But God is always paying attention, never distracted from us. So it’s not that we need to invite Him in – we need to lay aside our distractions and focus on Him.

Cringing at Church: What It’s Like as an Autistic Person in Your Congregation, HT to Challies.

Was the Early Church Communist? HT to Challies. No, but some think so. Here’s why not.

The Boy Who’d Never Tasted an Apple, HT to Story Warren. A parable for kids about sex.

And, finally, I couldn’t help laughing along with this:

Happy Saturday!

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Laudable Linkage

Here’s my latest round-up of thought-provoking online reads:

Danger: Doing “Jesusy” Stuff Without Knowing Jesus, HT to True Woman.

7 Things You Should Know About the Formation of the New Testament, HT to Out of the Ordinary.

Russian Spies, Post-millennialism, and the National Prayer Breakfast.

The Morning Before a Sexual Fall: How the Battle for Purity Is Lost. Though the context is sexual sin, the principles apply to any temptation.

Smells Like Teen Spirit, HT to Challies. “For many, ‘going to church’ is less about worshiping the infinitely holy God who was redeemed a people for Himself by giving up His Son to the bloody death on the cross, as it is about getting a shot of motivational vitamin-B for existential significance. Rather than being called by God into His presence by the mediating work of His Son, “Here we are now; entertain us” becomes the liturgical responsive call to worship. After all, the success of the church is dependent on your excitement, isn’t it?”

6 Warning Signs Of A Bad Pastor And Spiritual Abuse, HT to Challies.

Learn to Embrace Mess, HT to Challies. I didn’t think I was going to agree with this, based on the title, but it does make sense in context.

Confusing Christ-likeness with Christ: Seeking the soft-hearted in the search for a spouse, HT to True Woman.

No, Kids, You Can’t Be Anything You Want to Be.

9 Things Adult Daughters Want Their Moms to Know.

Shouldn’t We Share Our Concerns About a Book Directly with the Author Instead of in the Public Forum? HT to Challies.

How Many Cups in a Quart? A free printable chart.

Fake Views: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Soviet Photoshopping – before Photoshop was invented. HT to Challies.

And finally, a couple of thoughts for the day found on Pinterest:

Happy Saturday!

My Sin Is Not Someone Else’s Fault

When I have to confess something to the Lord or apologize to someone else, I tend to want to explain the reasons I did what I did, as if that somehow justifies my wrong response.

The very first people committing the very first sin did the same thing.

One day I was totally arrested by this thought:

My sin is not someone else’s fault.

Wait – aren’t they responsible for what they did? Don’t other people sometimes deliberately try to get us to sin?

Sure. And they’re answerable for their own actions.

But what does God tell His children?

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV)

When we give account of ourselves to God, we won’t be able to point the finger at anyone else.

I used to take refuge in the King James version of 1 Corinthians 13:5, especially in that word easily in the phrase “love…is not easily provoked.” And then a trusted pastor told us that the word “easily” isn’t in the original text. If you look up the Strong’s numbers for this verse, which link to the Greek or Hebrew words and their translations – there is no link for “easily.” Many other translations leave it out.

So I can’t use that as an excuse: “I tried to resist, you know, and did for a while, but really, it was just too much. Anyone would have reacted that way at that point.”

No, God has promised “a way of escape” in each temptation. Too often I am looking for a reason to give in rather than a way to get out of temptation.

We all fall and fail every day. What are we to do?

1. Accept responsibility. Acknowledge what we did wrong and own up to it. (And if I can interject this here, we also need to teach our children to do this. Yes, we understand that they act out when they’re tired, hungry, etc., and we attend to those issues first. But when they do something deliberately wrong, we need to avoid making excuses for them and teach them to own up to what they did.)

2. Confess it to the Lord.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.  Proverbs 28:13, ESV

I’ve been told that to “confess” means “to say the same thing as.” In other words, call it what the Bible says it is. I didn’t tell a little fib: I lied. I wasn’t just a little out of sorts: I was selfish and irritable and unkind.

3. Rest in His promise of forgiveness.

4. Confess it to anyone else involved. A trusted former pastor once said that the circle of confession needs to be as wide as the circle of the sin. If I spoke harshly to someone in private, I need to go back to that person, apologize, and ask their forgiveness. If someone embezzles funds, well, that’s a much wider circle.

5. Make restitution if necessary. If something was stolen or property was destroyed or damaged, we’re responsible to to return, replace, or pay for it. If someone’s reputation was damaged, we do what we can to acknowledge our own blame and clear the other person.

6. Mortify (kill) the sin. I admit this is a concept I struggle with, because if you “kill” something, then you don’t expect to have trouble with it the very next day – or hour. But Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (ESV; the KJV uses the word “mortify”). A helpful explanation is here, but an idea that helps me don’t give it life support. Do all you can to undermine it, to weaken it, rather than to give it any impetus. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13;14, ESV).

7. Seek victory. Pray and seek God’s Word for His help in overcoming sin. Perhaps memorize applicable Scriptures or copy them and put them on a card in a prominent place as a reminder.

8. Plan ahead when possible. The young man in Proverbs 7 who got taken in by  the wrong kind of woman was where he should not have been in in the first place (v. 7-9). We might need to avoid certain places. If we’re going into a situation where there might be trouble, we can make a plan of action: for instance, if I have a tendency for gluttony and a lack or control around food, before the company Christmas party I can plan exactly how much I’ll allow myself, perhaps eat a little beforehand so I am not hungry, seek to talk to people instead of prowling around the refreshments.

9. Look for the way of escape that God’s Word promises. So often when we’re thinking about doing something that, deep down, we know we shouldn’t, a “still, small voice” will be trying to talk sense to us and talk us out of it all the time we’re trying to justify it. We need to ask the Lord to help us, but we also need to take action and flee.

10. Yield to God. Give Him “the right of way.”

Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God (Romans 6:13).

11. Follow the right way. The same verse that talks about “fleeing youthful lusts” goes on to tell us to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22). We need to concentrate as much or more on doing as on don’ting. Erwin Lutzer said in How to Say No to a Stubborn Habit that if someone tells you not to think of the number 8, all of a sudden that’s all you can think about. The best way to deal with a wrong thought is to replace it with another thought. We tend to follow what we focus on.

12. Behold Him.

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. II Corinthians 3:18

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

Our sanctification as well as our salvation rests on the finished work of Christ. We don’t become any more or less saved or more or less loved when we sin. But sin keeps our relationship from the full fellowship we would otherwise enjoy, hinders our testimony, dishonors the Lord, and so many other things. God expects for His children to grow in Him. So when we do sin, we need to confess it and rest in the love of a Father who is more than ready to forgive.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Psalm 103:8

*I’ve been addressing people who are already born again and have become children of God. Forgiveness of sin and grace to overcome it is only possible when we have that relationship with God. If you’ve never believed on Christ as savior, please read more here.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Laudable Linkage

Here are some noteworthy reads discovered recently:

Antidote to False Teaching: Stability and Growth in The Knowledge of Christ. Quote: “The single most effective method for studying any book of the Bible is accessible to every believer.”

3 Truths to Speak to Your Temptation

Imagination and Evil. Quote: “Children’s books that scrub any evil from the story are burgeoning. The conflicts are based on misunderstandings or due to a different perspective. They are easily solved with a pleasant discussion. It’s very sanitary! But are we telling our children the truth by painting an evil-free, pain-free world? Stories are not innocuous; they convey a worldview just as powerfully, if not more so, than direct statements.”

Me Before You: Dear Hollywood, Why Do You Want Me Dead? “11-year-old wheelchair athlete tells the culture to get over itself”

Check Your Words at the Door

My Husband Doesn’t Put the Kids to Bed, and It’s Really Okay

I’m not sure why I keep reading Jess Connell. I enjoy her posts but she mainly writes about raising children, and I am past that stage. Maybe to recommend her to others? Anyway, here are three that struck a chord with me lately:

Motherhood 101: The Class We Never Got. Learning “on-the-job” while feeling overwhelmed.

How To Set Your Kids Up For Obedience.

Is Homeschooling a Safeguard Against Rebellion?

Praise Him in the Hallway.

More Weird Things Writers Say.

Imagine If Ebooks Came First.

And to end with a smile…

Cover squirrel

Husky
Happy Saturday!

 

Book Review: The Renewing of the Mind Project

Renewing the MindI first became aware of The Renewing of the Mind Project by Barb Raveling through my friend Kim’s blog. She had also introduced me to two of Barb’s other books which I reviewed together last year: I Deserve a Donut (And Other Lies That Make You Eat) and Taste For Truth: A 30 Day Weight Loss Bible Study.

Barb begins with her testimony of the joy she found when she became a believer in Christ and the changes He worked in her heart and life. After a while, though, she “left her first love” and began skipping her quiet times with her Bible and prayer. She’d make resolutions and minor changes, but the same bad habits kept resurfacing. She knew only God could change her, and she prayed for that and waited, but nothing really happened. Finally she realized Romans 12:1-2 about being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” had an expectation for her. It is God who does the changing, not our self-will or self efforts, but He does expect us to learn the truth He has given us in His Word and apply it.

She expands on this in Chapter 3, “Just Say ‘No’ to Sin?” She brings up God’s commands to the Israelites to walk around the walls of Jericho a certain number of times for a certain number of days. She points out that it was definitely God who brought the walls down, yet He required this action and obedience on their part. She notes that though Jesus won the “ultimate victory…conquered sin through His death and resurrection, and we’re already new creatures if we’re His children through faith (2 Corinthians 5:15-21, Romans 6:4-11),” there are still things He “tells us to do after we’re saved, if we want to be transformed” (p. 13). Things like “Fight with spiritual weapons (Ephesians 6:10-18); “Take your thoughts captive to the truth” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5);  Abide in Jesus (John 15:1-5); Abide in God’s Word (John 8:31-32); Walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25)” (p. 13), among others.

Do you see what an active role God asks us to play in the transformation process?…[This] list requires all kinds of effort. But there is a problem: the word effort is a no-no in the church today. People mistakenly think that if we talk about effort, suddenly we’re not believing in salvation by grace through faith, and we’re going all legalistic. Nothing could be further from the truth (p. 13).

Barb shares a couple of clarifications:

Don’t make the mistake of thinking [transformation] is the easy three-step plan to fix up your life. It’s not. Instead, it’s a way of life. A continual taking off lies and putting on truth in order to break free from our sins, bad habits, and negative emotions so we can love God and others better (p. 6)

We’re not starting from a point of having to measure up to be acceptable to God. We’re starting from a point of already being accepted by God if we’re His children through faith (Ephesians 2:4-9). This gives us a secure foundation. We can rest in His love and walk hand in hand with Him, working on this project together (p. 7).

[God] sees things right now in your life that He’d like to change. Not because He’s a demanding perfectionist who’s disgusted with you. But because He’s a loving Father who cares about you and also about the people you interact with each day. So as you look at your weaknesses, look at them from the comfort and safety of your Father’s arms. knowing that He’s looking at them with you, but through eyes of grace and love and a desire to help (p. 8).

She shares another motive for transformation: God wants us to “lay down our lives to love God and others well. The more we stay stuck in our sins and negative emotions like worry, anger, and insecurity, the harder it is to do that” (p. 14).

Some years ago, after being distressed with an angry response of mine, I looked up several verses on anger, typed them up in a neat list, and saved them to a file. That helped while I was working on them, but making lists in themselves doesn’t renew my mind. Barb describes the process like this: “The renewing of the mind is an active time of fellowship with God…but [it] is more than just reading the Word. It’s mulling over the Word, meditating on the Word, memorizing the Word, and allowing the Word to transform us” (pp. 15-16). It is “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

When we’re in the midst of temptation, everything within us is screaming to just give in and do it! We’re believing lies right and left–so many lies that there’s no way we can say no to temptation in our own strength. We desperately need to go to God for help so we can see the situation from His perspective. Because when we see it from His point of view, we’ll actually want to obey Him. The truth is, Satan and the lies of this world are so convincing that unless we go to God again and again to discuss life with Him, we won’t have much of a chance of living the way He asks us to live. If we want to be victorious over our habits and emotions, we need to take time to renew our minds (p. 17).

Barb goes on to discuss ways to meditate on the Scripture, using it in fighting sin and in prayer, and a concept she calls truth journaling, a way of putting out your thoughts one by one and then applying truth to them. Sometimes it is easier to evaluate our thoughts when we can take them out of their swirl in our brain and get them down in black and white, and applying the truth to them in that way helps to reinforce truth. She walks the reader through renewing our minds to deal with negative emotions, stop a bad habit, start a good one, or accomplish a goal.

The rest of the book is divided into different headings (emotions, stopping a habit, etc.) and then subdivided into specific areas (loneliness, insecurity, entitlement, failure, pride, frustration, stress, “I’ll start tomorrow,” and many, many more.) Under each specific emotion, habit, or thought, she has a list of questions, things you might need to accept or confess, Bible verses, and tips. For instance, some questions under the Entitlement heading are:

Why do feel like you deserve your habit in this particular situation?

Do you think God agrees? Why or why not?

What usually happens when you live by your rights and feelings in this area of your life?

Would your life be better if you gave up your rights and held life and your habit with open hands?

Are boundaries easy to follow or do you usually have to give up something to follow them?

What will your life look like in a few months if you consistently follow your boundaries?

Then she lists several Bible verses applicable to this subject. She ends with these tips:

It’s hard to break free from our habits because we hear the message everywhere we go: Life should be fair. You shouldn’t have to suffer. You deserve the good life. So when something bad or unfair is going on in our lives, we automatically reach for our habits.

The best way to break free from entitlement habiting is to adopt a biblical perspective of life. God never said, “You deserve the good life.” Instead, He said, “If you want to follow me, you have to give up everything” (Matthew 19:16-22, Matthew 16:21-28).

When we hold our habits tightly with clenched fists, we’re basically saying, “I deserve this, God, and I am not willing to give it up!”

God replies, “Your habit will never make you happy. Come to me and I’ll give you the abundant life.”

The more we hold our habits with open hands, willing to give up all things for God, the more content we’ll be. If you want to gain victory over entitlement habiting, learn to hold your habits–and your “right to the good life”–with open hands (pp. 186-187).

Of course, Barb isn’t saying that if you just answer these questions, read or even memorize the verses, and read the tips, then, Voila! You’re done! You’ve conquered! You’ll no longer have trouble with that habit! No, as she said in an earlier quote, it’s a way of life. When we’re tempted, when we’ve failed, when we think we have pretty good reasons for what we want to do or feel, when we’re going into a situation where we know we’ll have trouble – these are all situations, among others, where we need to go to God’s Word and renew our minds to think like He does.

A few more quotes that stood out to me:

[Boundaries] cramp our style, but you know what? Our style needs to be cramped. Because there are consequences to doing “what we want when we want” with our habits. Just think of your own habit. What happens when you do it as much as you want to do it? Do you live a wonderful, peace-filled life, thanking God every day for your habits? Or do you live a stressful, regretful life, full of the consequences of too much habit? (pp 60-61).

Is God enough to satisfy you even if you don’t get what you want? (p. 131).

Will breaking your boundaries make you feel better?…Will it solve your problems? Will it create new problems or make the situation worse in some way? What do your boundaries protect you from? Do you need that protection today? (p. 183).

The key to gaining victory over reward habiting is to remember that boundaries make our lives better, not worse. And if boundaries makes our lives better, then breaking them is a punishment — not a reward (p. 206).

Her mention of boundaries in these quotes refers to whatever specific guidelines we set up to curb a habit – say, for instance, we’re not going to eat sweets after dinner, or open Facebook until we’ve had devotions, or whatever. “The minute we set boundaries, our first impulse is to break them. Since we feel guilty about breaking them, our minds frantically (and secretly) try to come up with some justification of why in this situation, it’s okay to break our boundaries” (p. 202). There may be some times to legitimately break our boundaries, but we need to be honest with ourselves and not just make excuses and remember why we set the boundary in the first place.

As you can surmise, I found this book immensely helpful, hopeful, and encouraging. I love Barb’s direct, practical, straightforward style and her emphasis on the power of the Word of God and not a “formula” to help us change to be more like our God. She has a website here: the “Renewing of the Mind tools” tab expands on some of the principles in the book.

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Book Review: The Screwtape Letters

ScrewtapeThe idea for what would become The Screwtape Letters first came to C. S. Lewis in 1940, and, when they were completed, they first appeared one at a time in a weekly Anglican publication called The Guardian. The public response prompted publishers to make it into a book as soon as possible. It was first published in England in 1942 and in the USA shortly thereafter.

Lewis thought it might be both “entertaining and useful” to write a series of letters from an older devil to a younger apprentice in his work of tempting and tripping up a new “patient.” The type of approach, presenting “a negative point of view to lift up the positive,” was unusual for Lewis, but he felt it “would give a fresh, even comical perspective on the subject and might attract readers who might not normally think about such things.” Why a comical approach for such a serious subject, one that ended up being very difficult and unpleasant for Lewis to write about?” Partly to “[lure] the ordinary reader into a serious self-knowledge under pretense of being a kind of joke”* (McCusker’s preface) and because “humor involves a sense of proportion and a power of seeing yourself from the outside” (Lewis’s 1961 preface).

In his preface to the original edition, Lewis notes that “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” In the same preface he “[advises the reader] to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle.” He writes in the preface to the 1961 edition that “Satan, the leader or dictator of the devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael,” an archangel, and “God has no opposite.”

At first it is a little hard to get used to the reverse thinking of the letters: Screwtape refers to God as “the Enemy,” to the devil as “Our Father Below,” to his position in the “Lowerachy” of hell, etc. It takes frequent mental adjustments throughout the book, and I can see at least partly how it could seem so oppressive for Lewis to try to express what a devil’s thoughts might be.

Screwtape’s nephew, Wormwood, is his apprentice and correspondent, and Wormwood, seems to want to come at the patient with a full-fledged attack and arguments. Screwtape counsels him that argument is not the answer, because by arguing, “you awake the patient’s reason, and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?” (Letter 1). Likewise, Wormwood wants to be able to “report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing…Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” (Letter 12). Thus, distracting someone on the verge of a spiritual crisis with thoughts about lunch proves quite effective.

When Wormwood’s patient becomes a Christian, Screwtape threatens “the usual penalties” but admits there is still plenty they can do, such as to “work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax” that occurs a few weeks after his conversion, for “If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.” Wormwood can also point out the flaws in the patient’s church and fellow churchmen, “[keeping] out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?'” (Letter 2).  He offers a few more suggestions, among them:

Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him toward themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. (Letter 4).

[The Enemy] wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them (Letter 5).

Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours–and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here (Letter 7).

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the human to take the pleasure which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula (Letter 9).

A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all–and more amusing (Letter 9).

But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical…If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it (Letter 11).

Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? (Letter 14).

Tortured fear and stupid confidence are both desirable states of mind (Letter 15).

The search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil (Letter 16).

Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him…They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own.’ (Letter 21) (Ouch! This one hit particularly home for me.)

That’s probably more than enough, but there is so much more. When the patient does begin to feel as if he has done something wrong, Screwtape advises trying to help him avoid “the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognized, sin,” but rather to encourage a “vague, though uneasy feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well” (Letter 12). If the patient gets to the place of proclaiming “No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue…not even the expectation of an endowment of ‘grace’ for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation! This is very bad” Letter 14).

The particular edition I read also included “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” originally an article in the Saturday Evening Post in 1959. It’s written as Screwtape giving an after-dinner speech in hell at the annual dinner for new graduates of the Tempter’s Training College for Young Devils. Though it contains some general advice from Screwtape, a great deal of it involves politics and education and “devilish” tends on those fronts.

Lewis said in his preface to the 1961 edition that “Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology. They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. ‘My heart’—I need no other’s—’showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.’ ” Thus this isn’t an exhaustive study of every way we can be tempted. I was a little surprised at a few obvious things he didn’t cover (like trying to keep people away from Bible reading). Maybe he felt those were obvious enough that they didn’t need to be dealt with. He doesn’t really discuss spiritual warfare, either, or show how a “patient” can resist temptation except in a few passing observations. His main purpose was to show how Satan can so easily get us off course, sometimes by the merest step away from the way God intended things.

I won’t give away what ultimately happens to the patient or Wormwood, but I did enjoy this peek into the devices of the devil. As I said when I introduced this book for Carrie‘s Reading to Know Classics Book Club for this month, II Corinthians 2:11 was a motivating factor in reading this book: “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.”

There were a few little places where I didn’t agree with Lewis, most notably a mention of Limbo in Screwtape’s toast, a place for “creatures suitable neither for Heaven nor for Hell.” McCusker quotes a letter from Lewis in which he describes it as a place for the “virtuous unbeliever,” where it’s pleasant except for a “faint melancholy because you’ll all know that you missed the bus.” I don’t know where he got such an idea (it’s noted he explored it further in The Pilgrim’s Regress, which I have not read), but it is not a Biblical concept. McCusker also has a note from a chapter in Letters to Malcolm on a sentence where Screwtape mentions a “final cleansing” before death for humans that Lewis also believed in Purgatory, not as a Catholic doctrine so much as just a need for a final cleansing from whatever sin we were stained with when we get to heaven. I thought that was odd as well. When we repent and believe on Christ, all our sins, past, present, and future, are forgiven, and we’re seen through the righteousness of Christ, not our own. But otherwise, I thought he showed amazing insight and a great deal of cleverness in writing about such concepts in such a way.

The particular version I read was the e-book The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition by C. S. Lewis with preface and annotations by Paul McCusker. I found it on a great sale a few months before reading it. His preface and annotations were very helpful: the annotations included definitions of obscure words and explanations of some unfamiliar references as well as cross-references to some of Lewis’s other writings that expand on concepts mentioned here. Sometimes I wrestled with whether to chase down the references or just read the story, but most times it was rewarding to get that additional insight. I was grateful McCusker included both the preface to the original version and the 1961 version here as well.

Carrie will have a wrap-up post for discussion of this book tomorrow. If you’ve read it with her book club, you can link up your post there. I am looking forward to seeing what others thought of this book. It was my first time to read it, but I can tell it’s going to be one I come back to often.

By the way, Carrie shared in her review a clip of a play made from this book. I agree with her that it works better as a book than a play!
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*It is difficult to put page numbers for quotes from an e-book, because they might vary on different devices or with different size fonts, so I just put what section or letter the reference is from.

Reading to Know - Book Club

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Laudable Linkage

Here are some good reads from the past couple of weeks:

How to Enjoy Every Moment When Not Every Moment Is Enjoyable. If I rated blog posts, this would be 5 stars. Though this is primarily from the perspective of a mom with young kids, it really spoke to me about taking care of my mother-in-law. Quote: “Not every stage is rainbows and flowers. Some stages are a ‘pouring out’ of yourself.”

3 Things to Consider Before That Next Big Sin.

I Can Imagine. I don’t think I had ever made this connection before. If I can use my imagination to understand how hobbit, rabbits, soldiers, etc., feel in books, that same imagination can help me in understanding what my children think and help them in relating to each other.

The Most Overlooked Characteristic of Who You Want to Marry.

The Crucial Importance of Stay-at-Home Wives – not just moms. HT to Challies.

10 Free Thanksgiving Printables, seen on Pinterest. I especially like the leaf made of words.

Also seen on Pinterest:

prayer

Happy Saturday!

We follow our focus

Does anyone else have this experience…when you’re driving, and you look away from the road, do you start heading in the direction you’re looking, without trying to? I have had that happen often and have learned not to look away for long, or else I’ll end up in a ditch. I’ve had to be especially careful since we moved to TN: the hilliness makes for some steep drop-offs, and not all of them have guard rails. In fact, I was so afraid of veering off the edge of the road when we first moved here, that I kept a close eye on the edge, only to find myself drifting that way. Or I’d be so afraid of getting too close to the edge that I’d overcompensate and drift toward the lane of oncoming traffic. I had to learn to keep my eyes on the road ahead with only occasional glances in other directions. Of course, drivers do have to keep an eye out for other cars, pedestrians, cats and dogs (and ever deer in some places here), traffic lights, potential trouble situations, etc., but by and large, our eyes have to look straight out in front to keep us safely where we are supposed to be on the road.

800px-Million_Dollar_Highway_10_2006_09_13(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

I think the same holds true spiritually. We do have to watch out for potential dangers, we have to be aware of the “don’ts” in the Bible, we have to guard against temptation. But there is danger in a continual focus that direction. Solomon, who warned many times in Proverbs against strange women, ultimately had his heart turned away from the Lord by multiple wives and concubines. It is sadly not unusual for a preacher who majors often on immorality to succumb to temptation in that area. I remember reading in a biography of some famous preacher from years ago (unfortunately, I can’t remember which one) the advice that young people should have their purity meetings and then move on to something else. I don’t know what they did at purity meetings – I assume they heard preaching about it and then were encouraged to make their vows. But I thought the advice not to linger long on that one area, but to move on to the larger focus of the Christian life, was wise.

This applies in other areas besides morality. If I stare at a chocolate cake while trying to resist it, I am likely to fail. In one missionary autobiography, the author wrote that she struggled for years to truly love other people, and as long as she looked at herself and and her lack of love, she was defeated. But when she began instead to focus on God’s love for her, then gradually He enabled her to truly love others.

We’re told in Scripture not only to “flee also youthful lusts” but also to “follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (II Timothy 2:22); “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (I Timothy 6:11). It is not enough just to try to avoid doing wrong: we need to actively pursue what is right.

Ultimately we are changed more and more into His image by beholding Him in His Word and in our prayer time. II Corinthians 3:18 says, But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;
who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2