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Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Yesterday was a hearty day of learning for me. It started in my Foundations of the Faith class at Providence Hall. We finished up a month-long series on Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. (Note to self: a month is not nearly long enough! Especially when I only get to teach on it twice a week. But something is better than nothing, right?)

It's a mixed bag in terms of how much students got out of our discussions. Lewis uses language that is so intricate and thought-provoking. And sometimes, just plain hard. So it takes awhile for teenagers (anyone, really) to shift gears into his vocabulary and logic. But it is so worth the effort!

In yesterday's meeting we spent time looking at two letters from the end of the book [Spoiler alert: if you haven't read the book, I'm giving away the ending here...] Letter 28 is a review of how the demons Uncle Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood have worked at tempting and deceiving and "muddling" the "patient." This book was written in 1942, so the heavy presence of the war, compounded by the carpet bombing of London, is prevalent as a ready source of discouragement and temptation. As a class we then spent time together thinking about and comparing how we are tempted in sunny Santa Barbara in 2010.

One of the many wonders of this short novel is how Lewis gets us to see how even the stupefying horrors of war can be used to bring believers closer to God. More wondrous still is how Lewis resolves the book. The "patient," a new believer tormented in various ways by Screwtape and Wormwood, nonetheless thrives in his faith, despite various ups and downs -- or "undulations," as Lewis terms them. Then the book ends with a big surprise -- the patient is killed during the bombings. As one student told me, "this actually brought me to tears. It took my breath away to realize that this was a good thing."

Indeed, amazingly, this is a "happy" ending, because the demons' efforts at destruction and damnation are thwarted. The patient ends life in this world loving his Savior, safely in the arms of the "Enemy," as the demons refer to God Himself.

As a school, we reviewed what we'd learned from our time reading through Screwtape:
  1. Beware of how subtly and persistently Satan wants to destroy you. He will never give up.
  2. The greatest weapons you have against temptation are prayer and godly, unselfish love.
  3. This life is not all there is. We are sustained as we realize that we are being shaped for eternity. Develop a hunger for heaven...
There are a world of things I could say about those 3 lessons learned. But one thing in particular really hit home. The daily Nouwen quote that arrived in my email inbox said this:
If we do not wait patiently in expectation for God's coming in glory, we start wandering around, going from one little sensation to another. Our lives get stuffed with newspaper items, television stories, and gossip. Then our minds lose the discipline of discerning between what leads us closer to God and what doesn't, and our hearts gradually lose their spiritual sensitivity.

Without waiting for the second coming of Christ, we will stagnate quickly and become tempted to indulge in whatever gives us a moment of pleasure.
By sending this quote yesterday, I believe that God was using a "holy highlighter" with me, reinforcing the very words in my own life that I was to be teaching to others. I was reminded to strengthen my heavenly appetites, not my worldly ones. God is most satisfying when I allow myself to be hungry for him, "waiting patiently in expectation for him." If I eat the "junk food" of this life instead, I gain a false sense of fullness that leaves me shallow and wanting.

Thus I enter Thanksgiving, the beginning of the new church year (starting with Advent on Sunday) wanting to feed myself with Jesus even more, stoking the fires of true spiritual hunger. But where do I start? Providentially, a great opportunity to do so arrived in my mailbox the very day!

I have included a photo of the book that arrived. It has just been released by Zondervan, and its title is simple: Common Prayer. The subtitle says a bit more: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. One of its authors is a friend of mine, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I can't even begin to describe all that it includes. But simply put, it's a unique sort of daily devotional, especially useful for groups to use too. I am so excited to get started on it. It provides a generous yet challenging structure for deepened prayer and devotion. I am going to get it for friends, and recommend it to everyone I talk to. I suggest you do the same... perhaps we can start a quiet little revolution!

I say all this not just because I want to support my friend's book (though I do!); but because I was reminded in multiple ways yesterday that, when it comes down to it, I have one fundamental prayer in my life:
He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30, NIV)

Restated in other versions:

He must increase, but I must decrease. (NASB)

That's why my cup is running over. This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines. (The Message)

One paraphrase I heard states it this way: "Less of me, and more of Thee."

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Advent, Happy next year in Jesus Christ. Stuff yourself with more of Him!

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