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Monday, August 30, 2010

Week 8: The Screwtape Letters - Persevering to the End

"To be greatly and effectively wicked a man needs some virtue."  [Screwtape to Wormwood]  

In Letter 29 we discover the patient's hometown will soon fall victim to German bombing.  Wanting to take advantage of the fear this will engender, Screwtape contemplates several possible directions  Wormwood might take.  On the one hand, fear could lead the patient into courage, which in turn might lead to pride.  But it's also possible courage might give the Enemy [i.e. God] a foothold in his life.

On the other hand, cowardice, with its potential for hatred, might prove fruitful. "Hatred," he writes, "is ... often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear ... And hatred is also a great anodyne for shame."  But it's admittedly a tricky endeavor, since cowardice is not a vice most men take pride in.  There is also the danger that cowardice might "produce real self-knowledge and self-loathing with consequent repentance and humility."

Screwtape then suggests a third approach. "Precautions have a tendency to increase fear."  He advises, "Get his mind off the simple rule ('I've got to stay here and do so-and-so') into a series of imaginary life lines."  Properly developed this might even lead into superstition.  "Keep him feeling that he has something, other than the Enemy and courage the enemy supplies, to fall back on...".  Having been born and raised in New England, I can identify with that sin!  Often my first thought is to self-sufficiently deal with a problem using my own wits, proceeding under my own power.  It can be so easy to spend all my time on the path of "what if?" and how easily that can degenerate into superstition! With age,  I've learned to keep my eyes on the Lord and off the "what ifs" and instead, to pray and  line up MY will with God's purposes.  I keep moving forward, but I do so with the understanding that God can work in amazing ways above and beyond anything I can imagine, should He choose to do so!  I try not to "second guess" how God will deal with a problem.  Instead, I bring it before His throne and trust in His goodness and power.  I also struggle to not "set time-tables" within which I expect God to work.  Focusing on my dependence and God's sovereignty gives me a completely different outlook on difficulties and trials!  The Psalmists understood this, which is why I think we find such comfort and direction there...

I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; 
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. 
I will meditate on all Your work And muse on Your deeds. 
Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? 
You are the God who works wonders ... [Psalm 77:11-14] 

Letter 30 The patient proves to have been quite faithful during the first air strikes, much to Wormwood's chagrin.  "He has been very frightened and thinks himself a great coward and therefore feels no pride; but he has done everything his duty demanded and perhaps a bit more." That's not the outcome Screwtape had hoped for!  He does hold out hope that the patient's fatigue might be successfully manipulated, though fatigue has also been known to "produce extreme gentleness, and quiet of mind, and even something like vision."  Screwtape finds "moderate fatigue is a better soil for peevishness than absolute exhaustion... It is not fatigue... that produces the anger, but unexpected demands on a man already tired.  Whatever men expect they soon come to think they have a right to: the sense of disappointment can, with very little skill... be turned into a sense of injury."

Colin recently asked if I could remember our first experience with air conditioning. It occurred during our honeymoon, which was spent at my Aunt and Uncle's home in Newport News, Virginia in early August.  Neither of us had grown up with air conditioning in homes, cars or stores.  We recalled sleeping outside and on porches as children, because of the oppressive heat on the second stories of our homes.  At the time neither of us thought it unusual to be hot, listless and uncomfortable during the summer months.  Now, having experienced air conditioned cars and buildings as the "norm", it would seem burdensome for us to be without them!  "Whatever men expect they soon come to think they have a right to."

But what if God placed me somewhere where air conditioning didn't exist ... would I murmur and complain and demand my "rights"?  How many other areas might affect us this way?  How did you feel not having Internet access during last winter's ice storm?  What if you didn't have a cell phone and couldn't text your friends?  What if you suddenly had only one car in your family?  What if you lost your good health?  "Whatever men expect they soon come to think they have a right to."

Letter 31 brings a sudden end to Screwtape & Wormwood's correspondence.  Wormwood has lost the battle for his patient's soul. The man has been killed by a German bomb ... his faith persevering to the end!  Death of the body was able, at last, to clear his senses to reality.  Screwtape writes to Wormwood, "There was a sudden clearing of his eyes... as he saw you for the first time, and recognized the part you had had in him and knew that you had it no longer.  Just think (and let that be the beginning of your agony) what he felt at that moment; as if a scab had fallen from an old sore, as if he were emerging from a hideous, shell-like tetter [skin sore], as if he shuffled off for good and all a defiled, wet, clinging garment."

Ever since I first became aware of the inevitability of my own death when my cerebral aneurysm was discovered in my early 30's, I've often meditated upon what it will be like when this body with its attached sin nature is at last detached from my spirit and soul ... the REAL me.  How we cling to these bodies, yet how glad we shall be to be free of them someday!  It's also amazing to think about the clarity of sight that will afford, compared to the limited vision we now have!  That's why I am so very thankful to have God's revelation to make me aware of all the things I cannot currently fathom on my own!  How encouraging those truths are when I am engulfed in difficulties, pain or trials!  How wonderfully comforting that I am able to look beyond my own perceptions and emotions and place my trust in the One who sees it all, knows it all, and controls it all!

This ends our study of "The Screwtape Letters".  I trust you have found the book to be a challenge and encouragement to your own Christian walk.  I pray that you no longer view the vagaries of daily life in quite the same way you did before reading Lewis' classic work.  My prayer for all of us is that we would always seek God first, that we would be quick to trust Him and that we would respond to His providential care with love, obedience, patience and thankfulness. To God be the glory!

[I have purchased the Focus on the Family radio drama based upon the book. If you would like to borrow it after you've finished reading, please let me know.]

[Week #1]

Monday, August 23, 2010

Week 7: The Screwtape Letters - Deepening Roots

"...we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty... But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate this horror of the Same Old Thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect may reinforce corruption in the will."

Letter 25  When I consider the demand for novelty in our own time, two particular areas come to mind - academia and the publishing world.  Seeking to discover a new interpretation or unique translation becomes particularly dangerous when applied to God's Word.  Consumers are often attracted to book titles with words such as "new," "revealed" or "secret" on the cover.  When it comes to biblical scholarship, however, these works usually end up being straight out heresy or minority opinions well refuted years ago!

Rather than evaluating a subject from a broad range of knowledge, readers often form opinions based upon one author's take on an issue.  All opinions are not equally valid, of course, but discernment is becoming a lost art.  We're too easily influenced by the skills of a talented author, a dynamic college professor, a favorite talk radio personality or the latest movement in Christianity.  We don't work at having a cohesive system of thought, content instead to settle on a favorite hobby horse.  Without realizing it, we can come to embrace a post-modern world view that all opinions are equally valid because truth cannot be known.  Discussions degenerate into arguing opinions rather than evaluating biblical fact.  Scripture is a cohesive, unified whole.  God is making a particular point in every passage.  It is our duty as believers to develop the necessary skills to rightly understand His point.  When it comes to Scripture, the inspired author's intended meaning is all that counts.  Unique interpretations, the application of modern cultural meaning to ancient writings, an evolutionary point of view concerning the "development" of Hebrew religion from pagan religions, forcing verses out of their context in order to make a point,  and proof-texting to back up predetermined belief are potholes we need to watch out for.  Lewis rightly warns that false assumptions in these areas result in false practices.

We should also be cautious when we read a Christian book that gets us so excited about one particular facet of Christianity that we direct our focus too narrowly and no longer value all the other facets of Christianity.  Absolutely KEY to having a balanced Christian life is knowing God's complete revealed Word so well that we're not more susceptible to human logic and reason that to a correct understanding of Scripture as written.

In Letter 26, Screwtape suggests "substituting the negative unselfishness for the Enemy's [i.e. God's] positive Charity [i.e. selfless love]."  That way demons can "teach a man to surrender benefits, not that others may be happy in having them, but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them."  The outer actions may look the same, but the inner heart motivations they stem from are entirely different.  God, of course, discerns the true intents of the heart.  One brings Him glory, the other does not.

I gleaned three things from this letter.  First, bad habits can accrue in a relationship and it's important to recognize them when they occur.  I've learned there is always hope when God is involved!  He can change people and replace those bad habits with Christ-like ones.  Second, carrying grudges is lethal to any relationship!  I remind myself that God loved me while I was yet a sinner [Romans 5:8].  Rereading Matthew 18 helps get everything back into the right perspective!  And third, self-righteousness and obstinacy don't glorify God.  Stubbornly holding onto our sin or acts stemming from wrong motivations doesn't please God, nor help us to become more like our Savior.  Repeated study of the life of Christ in the gospels is vital to having a God-honoring perspective.  It supplies me with reminders when I need them the most!

Letter 27 deals primarily with prayer.  It's not always easy for us to get beyond our human, logical way of thinking about biblical revelation.  It's not that God's Word is illogical; I think it just takes time for us to know His Word well enough to get a cohesive picture ... and it will always be an incomplete one this side of eternity.  I recall trying to wrap my mind around biblical truths as I became aware of them as a new believer, trying to understand why an omniscient God chooses to be affected by the prayers of His people or why an omnipotent God chooses to use feeble men to bring about His program.  I can't honestly tell you I have it completely wrapped up ... but I do know Scripture well enough to know it's true.  God wants us to pray, acknowledging our dependence upon Him, and He wants us to serve Him with a willing heart to bring about His purposes.

One proof of the God-inspired authorship of Scripture is its presentation of truths that can be hard for us to comprehend.  Men don't naturally think this way!  There are so many seeming dichotomies presented. It can be hard for us to fathom how both can be true, but it's actually a pattern seen throughout God's Word.  We are naturally creatures of "either/or", not "both/and".  Concepts such as sovereignty AND free will, assurance AND perseverance, knowledge AND love, Jesus' deity AND humanity, and so many other biblical concepts are not natural to man's way of thinking.  We tend to think only one is possible, that such things are mutually exclusive, while God's Word clearly teaches both are true and are better viewed as two sides of the same coin.

Letter 28 summarizes the patient's perseverance in the faith thus far.  He has spiritually matured in his walk with the Lord, trusting Him more, relying on Him more, knowing Him more fully and thereby becoming better able to resist the attacks of Satan's forces.  Screwtape informs Wormwood, "He has escaped the worldly friends with whom you tried to entangle him; he has 'fallen in love' with a very Christian woman and is temporarily immune from your attacks on his chastity; and the various methods of corrupting his spiritual life which we have been trying are so far unsuccessful."

Now Screwtape suggests direct attacks to undermine his perseverance.  The patient has started out faithfully, but will he persevere to the end?  "The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it all - all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition."  On the other hand, prosperity can also provide temptations for falling away. "Prosperity knits a man to the World.  He feels that he is 'finding his place in it', while really it is finding its place in him.  His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home on earth, which is just what we want."

Every believer wants to someday hear the Master say to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant."  Yet we don't always think about the perseverance necessary to reach that point.  It's always good to evaluate our prayer life, our hunger for God's Word, our willingness to identify sin and our quickness to repent of it, our love for the brethren, our joy in the Lord and our priorities in life.  There is no "coasting" involved in perseverance!

[Week #1; Week #8]

Monday, August 16, 2010

Week 6: The Screwtape Letters - Adjusting Focus

"Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury.  And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied.  The more claims on life, therefore ... the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered."

Letter 21 deals with our having a sense of "ownership" of things, such as time.  Most of you have probably heard me tell about the watershed moment I experienced several years ago while reading the Missions to the Military magazine from the Hammons.  There was an interview with a young man who had just found out he was being deployed to Eastern Europe.  [This was before the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts, a time when military men did not expect to be deployed into hostile areas.]  I think the young man was only around 20, but his response to this unexpected interruption in his life showed great spiritual maturity.  He said, "I can't wait to see what God has planned for me!"  That's when it hit me ... he wasn't complaining that this was an interruption in his current service for God ... he wasn't agonizing over whether or not serving in Eastern Europe was God's will for his life ... he saw every step of his life being controlled by God.  He just kept walking faithfully and expectantly.  He was a willing, alert tool ready to serve wherever and whenever God might choose.  What a lesson to learn!  Living my life this way means seeing the opportunities God places in my path, instead of rushing on to the next thing on my 'to do" list.  That telephone call in the middle of lesson prep isn't an interruption, it's an opportunity to use God's Word to comfort or exhort someone.  My husband needing me to show him how to do something on his computer isn't an interruption, it's an opportunity to demonstrate my love for him. My child's rebellious sin isn't a frustrating, maddening interruption to getting my housework done, it's an opportunity to teach him or her godly truth.  My "late" arrival at the grocery store isn't an interruption to my schedule, it's an opportunity to witness Christ to a lady I "happen to bump into" who needed someone to talk to.  Overhearing a conversation in the library while reading a book isn't an interruption, it's an opportunity to teach the Bible to two young women who have lots of questions and very little knowledge.  What a difference it makes when you look at life that way!

In Letter 22, we see Screwtape and Wormwood's relationship deteriorating further as they jockey for position, with Screwtape suffering a rather humorous "meltdown" at the end of the letter.  Wormwood's patient is slowly growing in spiritual maturity and is now in love with a committed Christan woman.  Screwtape does not take the news well!  It's interesting that he speaks of her home as having a "deadly odour" which rubs off onto others.  A family walking closely to the Lord, living out their faith in their relationships with each other positively affects all who come into contact with them.  There's a God-honoring goal for you home ... and mine!

" will be quite impossible to remove spirituality from his life.  Very well, then; we must corrupt it."  Screwtape to Wormwood

Letter 23 reveals a change in strategy.  If Wormwood can't turn the patient away from worshiping Jesus, then he suggests changing the "Jesus" he worships into something other than what Scripture reveals Him to be.  This strategy is certainly alive and well today!  If you've never heard of The Jesus Seminar, read the following excerpt from wikipedia.  I think it's good to be aware of movements like this so that we don't misunderstand when we hear people talking about the "historical Jesus".   They're not merely referring to the fact that Jesus existed in history, they are applying human reason to the Scriptural portrayal of Jesus, voting on what they think is true and what they think is false, rather than accepting Scriptural revelation as written.

          The Jesus Seminar is a group of about 150 individuals, including laymen and scholars...
             The Seminar uses colored beads to decide their collective view of the historicity of the
          deeds and sayings of Jesus of Nazareth...

          The seminar's reconstruction of the historical Jesus portrays him as an itinerant Hellenistic 
          Jewish sage who preached a "social gospel" in startling parables and aphorisms.  An 
          iconoclast, Jesus broke with established Jewish theological dogmas and social conventions
          both in his teachings and behaviors, often by turning common-sense ideas upside down, 
          confounding the expectations of his audience... the fellows argue that the authentic words 
          of Jesus indicate that he preached a sapiential eschatology, which encourages all of God's
          children to repair the world.

So, in their view, Jesus died to "repair the world".  That certainly is not the message of Scripture! It's true that Christians have historically had a significant moral impact in the world, that has been a secondary side effect, not the primary focus of the gospel.

Letter 24 targets the danger of novice believers developing spiritual pride.  "It is always the novice who exaggerates... the young scholar is pedantic."  In his interactions with his girlfriend and her family, who are further along in their Christian walk than he, Screwtape writes, "He has no notion how much in him is forgiven because they are charitable and made the best of it because he is now one of the family.  He does not dream how much of his conversation, how many of his opinions, are recognized by them all as mere echoes of their own."  Reading that brought a blush to my face as I recalled what I was like as a new believer in our weekly Bible study.  It's a good reminder of the importance of patience when interacting with new believers, particularly opinionated ones!

For someone new to the faith, I'm not sure the sudden contrast between being with believers and being with the world can be maneuvered through quickly and easily.  There's a time of adjustment as a new believer begins applying his new world view.  At first the contrast between the saved and the lost seems overwhelming.  He may find himself frustrated with the actions and opinions of unbelievers, and feel safely cocooned among his Christian family.  Christian radio often exacerbates the problem of "us" and "them".  But as time goes by, you realize it is unjust to expect Christian behavior from the those who do not possess the Holy Spirit.  At that point I think you begin to see the lost as God does and you look for opportunities to reach them with the gospel, instead of condemn them for their unbelief.  It's a process most of us went through, may in fact be going through right now.  Eventually you become solid enough in your Biblical understanding that you respond with compassion instead of anger, and you have a great desire to teach God's truth and help people realize their great need and Christ's provision.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Week 5: The Screwtape Letters - Controlling Appetites

The next group of letters focus upon the danger of allowing our senses to rule us.  In Letter 17, Lewis expands the common understanding of "gluttony" to include the "gluttony of Delicacy," exemplified by the attitude of the patient's mother, whose over attention to the precise satisfaction of her food preferences leads her into "querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern."  21st Century America has turned this sin into a marketing tool!  Do any of you remember when coffee was ordered one of two ways: either "black" or "regular"?  I marvel at times listening to people give their coffee orders!  There's nothing inherently wrong with having food preferences, of course, but problems do arise when the satisfaction of personal preferences begin to rule us, leaving us dissatisfied with anything less than our exact personal specifications.  We have become a nation of complainers.  We've come to expect everything and everyone should meet our personal requirements ... our coffee, our food, our spouse, our job, our church.  We have each become gods of our own little world, demanding that our personal preferences become the standard for all, without thinking through how impossible that would be to attain!  Our "belly" comes to dominate our life.  Screwtape calls it "the 'All-I-want' state of mind."

Letter 18 addresses sexual appetites.  Screwtape gives a nod to the success poets and novelists have achieved in redefining "love" and thereby eroding the sanctity of marriage "by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually short-lived, experience which they call 'being in love' is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding."  [Remember this was written in the early 1940's!]  He also comments how the label "love" tends to be applied to any infatuation and used "to excuse a man from all the guilt, and to protect him from all the consequences, of marrying a heathen, a fool, or a wanton."  People are easily swayed by emotion, sometimes to their own detriment.  In counseling sessions I've often heard sin justified by emotion, as if we had no control over our emotions and expected to be ruled by them, rather than by God's revelation.

Letter 19 continues the theme of love.  The love of God is explored, and misunderstood, by Screwtape and the demons.  Satan's pride and lack of love has blinded him to having a correct understanding of God, who IS love, personifies love, as Scripture tells us.  I've been thinking about how we tend to desire, even demand, that kind of love from others, yet seldom demonstrate that level of love ourselves.  What a dangerous characteristic of the sin nature!  Maybe it's just me, but I find this is something I constantly need to be alert to.  God wants us to be focused on loving, not on "being loved."  Too often we look at verses commanding US to love and twist it around in our minds to demand love from others.  It's a good biblical practice to read those commands and focus on our own walk before God.... Am I being loving?  Is that a loving thing for me to say?  Is that a loving thing for me to do?  Am I exhibiting a loving attitude?  Am I building up or tearing down?  Am I serving others or myself?

There's a commercial on TV that reminds me of the issue of "the ideal woman" raised in Letter 20.  At the beginning you see a woman dressed in clothing from the early 20th Century.  As she walks through the house, she pulls her dress off over her head to reveal the next stage of what was considered stylish dress.  I don't remember what is being sold, but the ads make me realize what a silly thing "fashion" is and how people's idea of beauty changes so frequently over the years.  When I was a child, Marilyn Monroe's voluptuousness was the fashion.  When I became a teenager, Twiggy's boyish, anorexic image became the fashion.  Screwtape writes, "As a result we are more and more directing the disires of men to something which does not exist - making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible."  If that was true in the early 1940's, how much more unattainable is the "ideal" in the age of the air brush and Photoshop?  Personally, I love candid shots of celebrities ... in their "natural" state most look just like the average person on the street, just skinnier.  I remind myself that it's all smoke and mirrors, that outer beauty fades, but inner beauty grows as you walk obediently with the Lord.  This is certainly an area that needs to be addressed in parenting.  Helping your child develop a godly attitude and focus in life should be a parent's primary goal.  The question that always helps me to get my thoughts back in the right place is, "What matters the most for eternity?"  Those things need to be my priority.

[Week #1; Week #6]

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Week 4: The Screwtape Letters - Strengthening the Inner Man

"The characteristic of Pains and Pleasures is that they are unmistakably real, and therefore, as far as they go, give the man who feels them a touchstone of reality."  [Screwtape to Wormwood]

In Letter 13, we find the enjoyment of true pleasure has lead to a change of direction in the patient's life, as he turns away from the direction he had started to go with his new friends.  How often people settle for the glittering, but false pleasures of "vanity, bustle, irony and expensive tedium".  I don't think we realize how vulnerable we are to appeals to our vanity.  "Even in things indifferent it is always desirable to substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or fashion, for a human's own real likings and disliking," advises Screwtape.  Of course, our ultimate pleasure is found in God, yet sadly, how often we're willing to settle for things less satisfying.

We see additional evidence of advancement in the patient's walk in Letter 14.  He has abandoned broad vows of commitment, "lavish promises of perpetual virtue", in favor of daily reliance upon and obedience to God, "daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation".  Wormwood's young man has taken his first steps down the road to humility.  Screwtape suggests two possible courses: either inspire him to have "pride at his own humility" or encourage him to become so introspective about it that he begins to foster self-contempt, which can then "be made the starting point for contempt of other selves, and thus for gloom, cynicism, and cruelty".

Key to developing a proper sense of humility is coming to the realization that we did not create ourselves. Our talents, our abilities and our spiritual gifts were all given to us by God, so how is it possible to be either prideful or dismissive about them?  They were given for a purpose ... that we might love our Creator and glorify Him in all we do.  Which leads me to a rather awkward question:  taking all of that as a "given", how then do we encourage one another in ministry?  Our tendency, I fear, is to praise the gift, the talent, the ability rather than how that gift, talent or ability resulted in our having a better understanding of God and His purposes and motivated us to act accordingly.  We focus on the tool rather than on the Master Craftsman using it.  Personally, I would be encouraged much more if, as a result of my teaching, you said to me, "Now I understand this about God ...." and you began to trust Him more, or if you said, "Now I have a better understanding that God expects me to ...." and you started doing the work of the ministry, than if you told me, "I love how you teach". While I work very hard at trying to teach well, the teaching is only a means to an end.  It's the results that really matter!  Does it result in you knowing God and His word better?  Does it result in you living a life that glorifies Him?  Does it result in you falling in love with Jesus Christ?  THAT would be a true encouragement!

"Tortured fear and stupid confidence are both desirable states of mind." [Screwtape to Wormwood]

Letter 15 deals with where we tend to place our trust - in what we think we see, in what we hope will happen or in God's governing hand.  As creatures of time, how easily our understanding of events can become skewed.  Since we can't possibly know what tomorrow holds, God desires men would be "continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present - either meditating on [their] eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure."

"[God's] ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity ... washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.  But [Satan & his minions] want a man hag-ridden by the future - haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth - ready to break [God's] commands in the present if by so doing [it] makes him think he can attain the one or avert the other - dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see ... a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now ..."

While Scripture does not suggest we never plan for the future, we are instructed to do so in light of the knowledge that God is sovereign.  Reflecting upon my own life prior to salvation, it's easy to see how my hopes for happiness and fulfillment were always pinned upon the future.  "I'll be happy ... when I graduate from college ... when I get a job in my field ... when I get married ... when we own a home ... when we have children."  It's important I don't allow that way of thinking to follow me into my Christian life!  I need to check myself and redirect my thoughts whenever I catch myself thinking, "I'll be happy ... when I have financial security ... when my son is in full-time ministry again ... when my friend's cancer is under control ... when everyone in my church loves the Lord with all their heart, soul and mind."  Instead, I need to be asking myself, "Am I  ... walking in obedience  today?  ... being thankful today?  ... communicating with God today?  ... serving God today?  ... loving others today?  ... using my God-given spiritual gifts and talents today?  ... trusting God today?  ... glorifying God today?

Finally, Letter 16 addresses commitment to a local assembly of believers.  This is probably the one area our attitudes are more heavily impacted by our culture than they are by biblical truth and early church practice.  Oftentimes we're not even aware of it.  We don't live in a culture of commitment.  We don't tend to think corporately.  Instead, we tend to see ourselves as the Masters of our Fate.  Invictus is not a Christian poem!

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed...

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

I often point out the pronoun "you" in the NT is almost always plural, a corporate "you" written to a local body of believers, not a singular, individualistic "you"!  God has chosen to work through local assemblies in this age and He gifts people according to the needs of that assembly.  His intent is that they would all work together as one body of believers in one assembly, committed to one another and to the work of God. [1 Cor. 12:11-12 Screwtape writes to Wormwood, "Surely you know that if a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that 'suits' him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches ... the search for a 'suitable' church makes the man a critic where [God] wants him to be a pupil."

And over each local body of forgiven sinners, God places pastor-teachers/elders, whom He gives the task of training up the members through the preaching of God's word, in order that those members are able to do the work of the ministry. [Eph. 4:11-12 On their part, local church members are commanded to, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." [Hebrews 13:17 The Greek word for "submit" is a descriptive one.  It means "to yield", literally "to place yourself under."  It's related to the verb "be subject" used several times in Eph. 5:21-24, where wives are commanded to place themselves "in submission" to their husbands.  Now that's not natural to our "flesh", nor is it natural in our culture!  God is making a call for full-fledged commitment, because we trust God knows what He is doing!  How often we view things with merely human eyes.  But acting on our purely human view does not lead us into a good place with God.  Numbers 12 should serve as a warning to us!

"What [God] wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise - does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment."

[Week #1; Week #5]