Now is bleeding into eternity

As I sit here, my littlest sister is laboring to bring Henry Jordan Martin into the big wide world. I was just there, just visiting Texas, hoping against realism that Henry would come while I was there, but alas, he was simply waiting for me to leave.

This brings me full circle, to ponder the chapter I read in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, last night. At the same time, it highlights a recent Facebook post by a man I have admired for most of my life.

Just a brief background:
Harold Ray Wells, is the father of two of my best friends growing up. What time wasn’t spent in our home around the school desk was often enjoyed in their living room eating breadsticks and homemade cheese sauce, in the backyard harvesting honeysuckle and stalking slugs, at church with them or on vacation with them at Grand Lake.

Mr. Wells was my parents’ Sunday school teacher. He exuded a poise that comes only from being inhabited by the Holy Spirit. He was quiet, intentional, relaxed, happy and peaceful. He was almost an enigma to me as a child, How does he do that?

My heart was crushed when I learned a few years back that he had been falsely accused of a crime. As a police officer nearing retirement and with a stellar reputation, the charges seemed rubber, ridiculous and contrived as they were, we prayed that the lies would bounce off of him and shatter on the floor at the feet of his accusers. God hasn’t seen fit to let that happen. So Mr. Wells is now in prison, awaiting response to his appeal.

Frequently, those of us who pray for him are privy to pieces of his journals and letters that he sends out to encourage us – imagine – him encouraging us. Reminds you of Paul, right?

“Waiting for the love of my life to visit and listening to ‘interludes’. I was thinking that just as I am unworthy of prison, to a much greater reality I’m unfit for paradise. How can I ever complain when both are gifts and both must be received with thanksgiving? Knowing both are divine appointments, designed that God might be glorified. One is temporary and one is eternal. When does ‘eternal’ take place? Before today, before yesterday? If eternal life with God (as Charles Stanley points out) happens the moment we trust God – then could it be that our resurrected life begins at that time and what does that mean? This life, with all it involves, has no power, ownership, or control over us. We are buried with Him in baptism, raised/resurrected with Him to walk in newness of life – a glorified life in a fallen world. The evidence of Christ in you – NOW. How do I do this? Through the crucible of life. I feel as if I am in the 4th quarter of the life testing. What am I made of? Who am I? Who is God? I am experiencing the overwhelming, surrounding knowledge of God’s blessings.”

I added the bolding, because that’s the question I want to address.

When does ‘eternal’ take place?

Consider Lewis’ reference to those on a trial run to Heaven as “ghosts”. And when he treads upon the terra firma of that land, he finds it’s foliage more solid than himself.

The grass, hard as diamonds to my unsubstantial feel, made me feel as if I were walking on wrinkled rock, and I suffered pains like those of the mermaid in Hans Andersen. A bird ran across in front of me and I envied it. It belonged to that country and was as real a the grass.

Most of the time, most people press through this atmosphere, feel the rush of it against their skin and believe that they are real, that where they are and what they do is real. And, even most Christians act as if we won’t live forever. Our habits and decisions are refined to exploit today, and fend off the ultimate end of our personal worlds.

But what if eternal has already begun? What if we will only become more real over time, through long walks with God, through intimate conversations with Jesus and solemn attentiveness to the Holy Spirit? What if we don’t need to squeeze every drop of pleasure out of this moment, because we anticipate endless moments, ever better,  stretched through the expanse of eternity?

What if?

No Needs in Hell

The trouble is, they have no Needs. You get everything you want (not very good quality, of course) just by imagining it. That’s why it never costs any trouble to move to another street or build another house. In other words, there’s no proper economic basis for any community life. If the needed real shops, chaps would have to stay near where the real shops were. If they needed real houses they’d have to stay near where builders were. It’s scarcity that enables a society to exist.

I kind of stuttered over that first sentence, even having read, The Great Divorce, twice before. I had never noticed C.S. Lewis’ emphasis on the word Needs. You see, I’ve thought a lot about this before:

I only recently discovered what I believe lay at the root of my eating disorder. Needlessness. Does that sound crazy? Is anyone really needless? Anyway, what do the privilege of pain and needlessness have to do with each other?

When I peel away of my excuses and peer into my motives I discover a determination to be self-sufficient, needless. Chasing this, I fail. I fail. I fall.

Is Lewis implying that this isn’t just my personal problem? Is an agenda of Needlessness the very wormy foundation that is cracking beneath families, governments, and marriages…in fact society in general? I think so.

I learned though anorexia, that I could not be needless of food, of familial love, of rest, and stay alive. Humans were never, ever created to be needless. In fact, even in the Garden of Eden before The Fall, God gave man relationship (a spouse) because man needs companionship. God gave man food to eat in the garden, because man needs nourishment. He gave man work, to tend the garden, because man longs to have purpose.

Without the limitless space to print Lewis’ entire book here, it’s impossible to give you appropriate context for this quote. (That’s a hint, hint to read the book!) The best I can do is explain to you that the speaker is referring to Hell or a life on earth without the presence of God: “The trouble is they have [in Hell] no Needs.”

So, I pray with the Psalmist, that God would teach me my fragility, make me keenly aware of all my needs and that He is sufficient to meet them, that I might gain a heart of wisdom, and fear the Lord.

Ps. 90:12, Ps. 111:10

Welcome to Hell

Truthfully, my first read through C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, was simply for enjoyment. I did hope that perhaps a little theological wisdom would seep into my mind as I read the pages for entertainment.

It wasn’t until more than halfway through the book that I even realized Lewis was struggling to depict Heaven, a reality beyond comprehensible reality. It wasn’t until this, my third reading, that I understood the mysterious place of origin.

The narrator finds himself in a dismal town, all but deserted save for a crowed of people waiting to board a train. Curious and disillusioned with the present, he wanders into the queue of people. Perhaps the destination will prove more interesting than this God-forsaken place.

Ah, and the story unfolds, for the narrator is indeed in the most God-forsaken place. They stand in Hell, but by some sheer mercy, he and anyone who will board the train, will be instantly transported to Heaven. There, they must decide whether to stay in Heaven or return to the familiar land of Hell where they began.

Seems like a no-brainer right? Given the choice, Heaven or Hell, I can hardly imagine anyone who would opt for the latter. Even the most convinced of atheists, when presented with the question (purely hypothetically, of course) would chose Heaven. But Lewis begs to differ.

As the crowd jostles for priority seating, arguments necessarily arise. The inconvenience of waiting, the need to politely step aside for others or ignore an unintentional elbow, gets everybody crotchety.

Listen:

I was now next to a very short man with a scowl who glanced at me with an expression of extreme disfavor and observed, rather unnecessarily loudly, to the man beyond him, ‘This sort of thing makes one think twice about going at all.’

‘I’m a plain man that’s what I am and I have got to have my rights same as anyone else, see?’

A moment later two young people in front of him also left us arm in arm…it was clear that each for the moment preferred the other to the chance of a place on the bus.

And it’s true, that’s a little what Heaven is like. There is only one way there, through Jesus Christ, and we have one choice, either to ride upon His righteousness and be accepted into Heaven through Him alone, or, to walk away.

Now the choice doesn’t seem so cut and dry, does it? Must we really abandon our RIGHTS! in order to go with Jesus? Must we really prefer Him over the other loves of our souls?

On Monday last week, God began pressing into me deeply, the truth that there is no god besides Him. Like pressing His thumb into a seal, He led me over and over to verses that declare His uniqueness. Finally, on Friday I strung all the the references together – a beautiful strand of wisdom. (Proverbs 1:9)

I have had so many gods besides my Lord. So very many times, I have stood at the bus stop and then been distracted by a tantalizing fragrance, an interesting conversation, a glittery bauble, a second-rate toy, my rights, my better idea, my preferred relationship. Then, for a moment at least, I left the platform and scurried to find whatever struck my fancy.

Please do not think for a second that I am suggesting you can lose your salvation. By no means. I am secure in Christ, but if I am honest, there have been many times that my heart has strayed from pure devotion to Him.

Praise the Lord, that He has never left me. Praise the Lord that He patiently waits for me to come running back when my cheap lover failed me. He is so good. But that I would never be distracted again! There is no love, no joy, no peace anywhere as there is near my Savior.

He is coming and He is not slow. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

But there remains only one way. “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:16

And I can promise you, that there is but One God, whose glory, whose reward far surpasses all other temporary fascinations.
“How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. And who is like your people Israel–the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt?” 
2 Samuel 7:22-23

For additional references to God’s uniqueness and surpassing value: Micah 7:18,
Ex. 15:11, Zeph. 3:17, Ps. 113:5-6, Ps. 71:19, Ps. 86:8

Different is Good (not just at Arby’s)

I mentioned that I made a second discovery the first time I read the preface to C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce. Don’t worry, this observation is much shorter than the last one.

Most of you know that I have an eating disordered background. I don’t know if that’s the proper way to say it, but I think it makes sense. I dealt with anorexia for, at this point, more than half of my life.

One factor that frequently contributes to body dysmorphia,* is the idea that there is a perfect physical standard. All forms of media pummel our brains with visual and audial messages about an ideal body shape. Women, particularly are susceptible to these bogus rants.

Perhaps C.S. Lewis wasn’t thinking of the size of his thighs when he wrote the book, but I certainly see a reasonable application for a few of his comments.

“Even on the biological level life is not like a river but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.”

Imagine if we applied that to our bodies!
What if it’s true?
What if, the more distinct we are the better?
What if the most radical aspects of our beauty are those which define us from everyone else?
What if the most outstanding characteristics of our physical beings are those which no one else has?
What if our most celebrated potential is that our individuality can inspire, challenge and enhance the differences of others?

jayThink of it…why do we admire a blue jay? Is it not for the crisp azure of his feathers, starkly rimmed in black and white? Like God forgot to remove the tape after painting the edges of his feathers.

I appreciate a quail’s cry simply because I recognize it and he sounds like a familiar friend. I don’t wish the cardinal was the color of the sea, and I don’t wish the quail said, “Sue Smith,” instead of, “Bob White.” Their perfection is in their distinction.

I don’t love my dog, Brave, because he’s adorable, but he is adorable to me because his special, “I missed you,” tail wag is different from any other lovable mutt’s. He is precious to me because he’s unlike any other dog I’ve ever met.

Think even of a season’s grape harvest, pressed into a magnificent vintage. What makes a wine favorable? Is it not because one year’s drought deepened the flavor and another climate’s cool soil heightened the acidity?

So what if we applied Lewis’ concept to our own bodies, if as God’s creatures we believed that the farther apart we grow we increase in perfection.

“Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.”

*Body dysmorphic disorder is a type of mental illness, a somatoform disorder, wherein the affected person is concerned with body image, manifested as excessive concern about and preoccupation with a perceived defect of their physical features. Wikipedia

Resource for thought: Health at Every Size

Lewis takes on Blake

It’s just like me to skip the preface. I know some people who read every printed word of1409691_sunset_sky_with_dramatic_clouds a book, from the preface to the acknowledgments, from the contents to the appendix, from the teaser to the “Also by”…

Not me. Though I have my compulsions and perfectionist tendencies, those do not extend to my reading habits. Hence, in my now fourth reading of C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, I am only now discovering the logic behind the title. I have recommended this book to dozens of people, but never followed my curiosity about the title to its logical end…read the preface.

“Blake wrote the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. I have written of their Divorce,”.

Of course, that meant I had to find out what the, Marriage of Heaven and Hell, was all about. The combination of Heaven and Hell was Blake’s ambition. Lewis’ intent was to prove their complete incompatibility. We must chose.

…in some sense or other the attempt to make that marriage is perennial. The attempt is based on the belief that reality never presents us with an absolutely unavoidable ‘either-or’; that, granted skill and patience and (above all) time enough, some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development or adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain.

There were a couple things contained in the brief two page preface that solidified my need to read this book again and to share it, piece by piece, with you.

First, the title revelation:
Just as in his book, The Screwtape Letters, Lewis expresses an uncanny foreknowledge, peeking right into our bedroom windows, as it were, listening to our modern discussions of morality, politics and religion. Either that, or, the same issues that plague us today were of concern to his generation as well. Issues such as absolute truth.

Absolute truth…I think that little nugget can be found at the root of nearly every philosophical debate, and certainly at the root of every religious argument. For, each side of the discussion is bent on convincing their opponent of their exclusivity of their own truth. And if there is absolute truth then one opinion is necessarily excluded.

Even those who argue, “Anything goes. What is true for you may not be true for me,” are espousing a specific, exclusive worldview – namely that subjective truth is the standard, disallowing objectivity.

We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision.

As we mine the contents of this fascinating story, I challenge you to make your choice. It is either Heaven, to which there is only one objective path, or Hell. But blessed be our Savior, who being not willing that any should perish, has indeed been patient, giving each one long enough to make that critical choice.

2 Peter 3:9
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

We’ll touch on my second observation in the preface next time (:

Closing Lewis

Did you see the movie Thor? Remember that great, impassable chasm that in the end seemed to forever separate him from his love? The movie portrays two distinct realms, the world of the gods and the world of men.

Now, truthfully, the gods of Thor, were more like men, even in the fantasy. They could do evil and good. They had rivals and equivalents, relatives and love relationships. They lied and were deceived. But Praise the Lord, our God is not such!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” Is. 55:8

Though it’s admittedly fiction, allow me to blow some holes in movie’s premises about gods and men.

At the close of the book, The Screwtape Letters, Lewis’ main character and narrator is blasting his nephew and protege for allowing a young man to slip through his demon fingers. The human died with full knowledge and acceptance of Christ’s substitutionary death which purchased his pardon and eternal life.

It’s interesting to consider that first moment of real life. It’s murky, a muddy puddle, to peer into the mystery that we’re told we cannot even imagine.
“However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ — the things God has prepared for those who love him–“. 1 Cor. 2:9

But as expected, Lewis does a masterful job of imagining what that might be like. You see, though God is utterly unlike us, we were created in His image. And then, Jesus came to earth clothed in human flesh so that a perfect man could ransom the lives of wretched men.

God has allowed our worlds to overlap. In fact, from the beginning, His desire was to walk with us daily, visibly, physically. Only sin has carved this chasm between us.
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Is. 59:2

But that chasm is most certainly crossable. In fact, it has been crossed already, by Jesus, so that we can be reunited with our Creator. For those of us who have humbly accepted Christ’s payment for our sins, we have the promise that we will see Him!
(1 Cor. 2:9) 19
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,”. Hebrews 10:19-20

So listen to Lewis’ description of a Christian meeting his maker:

he saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you[Wormwood, the failed demon], is now cool light to him, is clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man.

and

-that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower.

Think of it, Friends! Think and be thrilled that it cannot be contained! Your great future, the glory of beholding His face and being able to stand before Him loved and unashamed! What magnificence! And it is not far away!
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 24-25

In fact, except for the physical vision of Jesus, it all ready is.
“For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” Eph. 2:6

P.S. Lewis was such fun. I think I might go very slowing through his book, The Great Divorce, with you next. What do you think?

 

Real Miracles

Earlier this year, my husband and I were blessed with an opportunity to do something kind for someone anonymously. It wasn’t one of those things we do on a regular basis, like try to be friendly, give someone a lift, babysit for a neighbor or loan someone a tool. No, it was one of those things that never occurs to me in the scope of my daily life. So, when the impetus came out of the blue, I knew God was urging us to do something new.

Afterward, I started wondering how this person must have felt about their, “miracle” when the gift mysteriously appeared. I’m confident that they knelt in worship and gratitude to the God from whom all blessing flow.

I chuckled, if they only knew, it wasn’t a real miracle, it was just a couple of Jesus followers who listened to His voice and (though this isn’t always the case) obeyed. Almost instantly, God put His hand on my heart.

“What do you mean, ‘Not a real miracle?'”

“Well God, it’s just that it was only us. They must feel like it’s manna from heaven, or multiplied loaves, but really, it was just another human!”

“Dear One,” I heard Him clearly say. “Just because I choose to use one common means or another does not make my goodness any less of a miracle.
Remember Elijah’s crows in 1 Kings 17? He could have claimed it wasn’t a real miracle, just a bunch of crows dropping food to him out of the sky.
Humans often relegate goodness to the ethereal; alternately, they try to explain it by means of coincidence.
Apart from me there is no good thing. (Ps. 16:2)
Therefore, Beloved, all good acted upon, all good things given, the very fact that you are capable of kindness is part of the supernatural miracle that I AM.”

After that personal didactic, it was interesting and affirming to read C.S. Lewis’ description of this thought process in the final pages of his book, The Screwtape Letters.

You will notice that we have got them completely fogged about the meaning of the world, ‘real’. They tell each other, of some great spiritual experience, ‘All that really happened was that you heard some music in a lighted building’; here ‘Real’ means the bare physical facts, separated from the other elements in the experience they actually had.

The general rule which we have now pretty well established among them is that in all experiences which can make them happier or better only the physical facts are ‘Real’ while the spiritual elements are ‘subjective’; in all experiences which can discourage or corrupt them the spiritual elements are the main reality and to ignore them is to be an escapist.

The Imprint of Virtue

With finite perspective, we usually only see either vice or virtue. Depending on which we angle of a person we first observe, often we form a fast opinion and relegate that person at least generally, or for a time, to a category: Good or bad.

When my husband has spent half of the weekend watching movies and droll TV shows, I feel disgust and a swelling sense of pride for my own productivity. While he is reclining, I can hardly seen any virtue. When we speak, my tone becomes snippy and condescending because I cannot manage to see all of the good things I know and love about him, while still entertaining my irritation at his vice.

Does that make sense?

Recently, I heard a marital counselor interviewed for tips on how to avoid conflict. The suggestion that struck close to home was this: When conflict is brewing, or I’m angry at my husband, I immediately try to think of his Christ-likeness. (paraphrased)

Don’t get me wrong, there’s an abundance of, “happiness everywhere, see the good in everything, pink glasses, rosy walkways, tolerant wimpy-ness,” to go around. I’m not just talking about finding the good in someone, but searching out their Christ-likeness. I promise it’s there, they were created in His image.

Just a thought from Screwtape on this matter:

Are we to aim at cowardice-or at courage, with consequent pride?Well, I’m afraid it is no good trying to make him brave. Our research department has not yet discovered (though success is hourly expected) how to produce any virtue. This is a serious handicap. To be greatly and effectively wicked a man needs some virtue. What would Attila have been without his courage, or Shylock without self-denial as regards the flesh? But as we cannot supply these qualities ourselves, we can only use them as supplied by the Enemy-and this means leaving Him a kind of foothold in those men whom, otherwise, we have made most securely our own.

Hmmm… is finding that Christ-likess the key to broadening the foothold of God in their lives so that the love of Jesus can seep in?

For excellent expansion on this idea, read Kelley’s post here at She Loves Magazine

Not long after the incident at school I remember my son asking from the backseat, “Do those boys have God’s fingerprints on them, mom?” As we pulled into the driveway I assured him, “Yes, they are made in God’s image just like us.” “So, God loves them like he loves me and my sister?” I answered in the affirmative. “So I shouldn’t be mean back? I should forgive them and give them another chance?”

And there it was … acknowledging the image of God in others and letting that truth control how we seen them and respond to them. We don’t return evil for evil. We offer forgiveness and we believe everyone gets second chances (and then some) from a generous God. We try to see the humanity of those boys like our own, and how a loving God embraces us all.

Insights from a Demon

In the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy, I almost hesitate to write this post. But maybe it’s more appropriate than ever to question, “What is evil?”

They [humans] of course, do tend to regard death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good. But that is because we have taught them to do so. Do not let us be infected by our own propaganda. Uncle Screwtape from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

What causes us to revile death is the foreboding of the unknown. Let us rejoice that in Christ, even death is no mystery!

“For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Cor. 15:56-57

Another quick thought from Uncle Screwtape addresses something I hope dig into deeper later this year. This is the presence of beauty, the distinct fragrance of God’s love for us and His goodness toward all mankind, even in the most secular.

Even if we contrive to keep them ignorant of explicit religion, the incalculable winds of fantasy and music and poetry-the mere face of a girl, the song of a bird, or the sight of a horizon-are always blowing our whole structure away. They will not apply themselves steadily to worldly advancement, prudent connections, and the policy of safety first. So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to the earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or “science” or psychology, or what not. Real worldliness is a work of time-assisted, of course, by pride, for we teach them to describe the creeping death as good sense or Maturity or Experience.

“Let us set our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him…” Heb. 12:2

God has dripped Heaven into our atmosphere. Even on the ugliest of our days, the sun still stretches its fingers over the horizon. Even in the face of our enemy, is the astounding creativity of our Perfect Creator. Yes, Heaven is not far from us. But, let us not be willing to stay here forever either. The greatest JOY will be seeing Jesus face to face.

(Screwtape is the demon in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters. The book is a collection of Screwtape’s advisory letters to his nephew, a young tempter.)