Pure in heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8 ESV

We were discussing this verse, along with the other Beatitudes, last night in College lifegroup. One of the people in our group mentioned that this verse is hard – that he struggles with being pure in heart.

It dawned on me that I’m not  exactly sure what “pure in heart” means. I realized that I haven’t thought about it much, to my discredit. Then a definition of pure in heart presented itself to me; here it is:

“You’ll know that you’re pure in heart when you would be comfortable with other people being able to hear the innermost thoughts of your heart.”

I realized right then that I have so far to go. I think all sorts of horrible things. I entertain bitterness, envy, anger, selfish dreams, and all manner of other bad things in my heart and it would horrify me if other people could hear my thoughts.

I’m not kidding – this scares me. I need heart surgery.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. – Psalm 19:14 ESV

“It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Tired of waiting for Aslan

In her column Nikabrik’s Candidate, Gina Dalfonzo sheds light on the Donald Trump phenomenon through a character in C.S. Lewis’ novel Prince Caspian. Nikabrik, you may recall, was originally a loyal Narnian, but he so hated and feared the Telmarine invaders that he decided that if Aslan continued to delay to intervene, they may as well get help from another powerful source: the White Witch.

Nikabrik’s fears are legitimate. His enemies are real and powerful and committed to the annihilation of his entire race. He is right to recognize the need for help. He is wrong to decide that help must come from a force equally merciless—wrong when he tells Caspian, “I’ll believe in anyone or anything . . . that’ll batter these cursed Telmarine barbarians to pieces or drive them out of Narnia. Anyone or anything, Aslan or the White Witch, do you understand?”

When his friend Trufflehunter reminds him that the Witch “was a worse enemy than Miraz and all his race,” Nikabrik’s retort is telling: “Not to Dwarfs, she wasn’t.” His own people and their safety are all that matter to him now. Instead of being an important priority, this has become his only priority—and any attempt to remind him that other considerations exist brings only his contempt and anger.

This is how good people with strong, ingrained values—people who have invested time and money in the sanctity of life, religious liberty, and similarly noble causes—can come to support a man who changes his convictions more often than his shirts. This is how people concerned about the dignity of the office of President end up flocking to a reality-show star who spends his days on Twitter calling people “dumb” and “loser.” This is how some who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are lured by a man who openly puts all his faith in power and money, the very things Christ warned us against prizing too highly. As one wag on Twitter pointed out, “If elected, Donald Trump will be the first US president to own a strip club,” and yet he has the support of Christians who fervently believe that this country needs to clean up its morals.

As Joseph Loconte has observed, the Narnia stories offer us “a view of the world that is both tragic and hopeful. The tragedy lies in the corruption caused by the desire for power, often disguised by appeals to religion and morals.” How dangerously easy it is for the desire for power to take on that disguise—and how easily we Christians fall for it.

Tired of waiting for Aslan—who may be nearer than we think—we turn elsewhere.

Read the whole thing. Now I don’t think Trump is actually comparable to lucifer, of course, but I do think his fervent support among evangelicals (if polls are to be believed) is really alarming.

Pulling at the other end of the cord

It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive.” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back — I would have done so myself if I could — and proceed no further with Christianity. An “impersonal” God — well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads —better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap — best of all. But God himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband — that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God”!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing he had found us?

– C.S. Lewis, Miracles

We’ll blink first.

Humility: from unnatural to natural to almost unnoticed

I hope to expand upon this thought at a later time (you ever notice that, with me, the “big post” is always scheduled for “later”? But I digress) . . . *ahem*, but one of the quotes in my rotation played a part in a radical change in my thinking on humility. Here it is:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Humility does not come natural to most of us. It’s just not in our fallen nature. I believe, though, that through the work of God in our lives humility can become a natural state. The danger at that point is that it becomes a natural, very much observed state, with lots of “holy cow, I just did something humble!” moments. Which is one of those two steps forward, three steps back kind of things.

True humility is so natural that it goes unnoticed in most cases.

This intersects with a lot of my thoughts on blogging, social media, and just how we’re to live and move and have our being. More (perhaps) later.

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Men must endure their going hence”

C.S. Lewis' GraveToday is the 47th anniversary of the death of the great C.S. Lewis.

How blessed we are to have had such a gifted man in our midst. His writings have been a great help to me, beyond what I can express. I was at his house earlier this year, and that was an experience I will always treasure.

I look forward to meeting the old Oxford Don someday (but he’ll be young again!) in the Kingdom of the One who delighted his imagination and illuminated his wisdom.

Happy anniversary, dear professor Lewis.

Spiritual Blessings

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

– Ephesians 1:3

Spiritual blessings . . . They are what Paul blesses God for in his introduction to the book of Ephesians. What follows this statement is one of those classic Pauline run-on sentences that proceeds for 11 more verses. I love that, by the way.

This brings to mind a question: what are “spiritual” blessings? Paul describes them in the aforementioned run-on sentence (vv. 4-14). The spiritual blessings he lists include things like being chosen by God, being adopted as sons, being forgiven and redeemed, among many others.

The second question that will rise, unbidden perhaps, to one’s mind is this: do I really want those? I mean really want them. Sometimes, if I take a look at my own life, I find that I spend a great deal of time chasing after physical blessings – the unholy trinity of treasure, pleasure and power.

Which fires me up more? Physical or Spiritual blessings? How about you?

David Guzik has this to say, in his commentary on Ephesians:

If we have no appreciation for spiritual blessing, then we live at the level of animals. Animals live only to eat, sleep, entertain themselves, and to reproduce. We are made in the image of God and He has something much higher for us, yet many choose to live at the level of animals. God wants us [to] know every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Far too easily pleased. Yes, that, often times, is a very apt description of me. Which is why I need to heed more urgently the words of Paul written here in the first chapter of Ephesians; the words of a man who had very little of the physical left (he was in prison at the time). Stripped of the baubles and trinkets of this world, the vibrant, towering, monumental spiritual blessings that are found in Christ alone held an even greater awe, wonder, and joy to this crusty, scarred apostle.

May I get a glimpse of that.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

“The only complete realist”

Read today in church:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

– Hebrews 2:14-18 (ESV)

When I think of the Lord’s suffering, it’s common for me to concentrate on the last day of his life. This is what we call his Passion, when Christ endured the excruciating pain of torture, mockery, and execution for our sakes and for God’s glory.

I often forget that Christ’s entire life was part of his Passion. As the writer of Hebrews recounts above, Christ “suffered when tempted”, the only man who has ever resisted fully and completely the temptations common to us all.

C.S. Lewis has a great quote on this (and is there any quote from old Jack that isn’t great?); this was also shared from the pulpit today.

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness – they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist.”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In contrast to this, I had a very weak day. Emotionally on edge, for reasons I’m not exactly sure of, I lashed out more than once today at those closest to me. I did a poor job of resisting the temptation to give into what my flesh was telling me to say. I’ve asked for and have received forgiveness, but the regret lives on.

Thank God that every new day is truly a “new day” when you’re in Christ. I’m going to bed tonight hoping to do better tomorrow, trusting in my great High Priest to continue molding me into the man he wants me to be.

Balance: Heavenly minded, earthly good

“Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good”

Have you ever heard that statement before? I have. In the past, I have assumed it referred to people who thought only of the sweet by and by to the exclusion of the duties and callings of this life. But I didn’t think much more of it, and I didn’t really know anyone I’d put in that category.

Recently our pastor used that phrase in a Sunday morning message. He followed it up with a quizzical look and this statement: “I’ve never known anyone too heavenly minded”.

He has a point – particularly in this country, where we’re so inundated with the bright, sparkly things of this world and where teachings on heaven and hell in our churches are few and far between. What brings this to mind is what I’m seeing as a resurgence, writ large, of the tension between heavenly minded and earthly good in current church debates, and primarily in the emergent conversation.

Here is the point and accusation being made in that conversation: Jesus came to inaugurate his Kingdom on earth, to fix the mess we’re in, and to overcome the Roman empire with a new kind of reign based on God’s ways, so that God’s will will be done “on earth as it is in heaven”. Unfortunately, the argument goes, all we’re concerned about in modern evangelicalism is “getting people saved” so that they can go to heaven and avoid hell. Evangelicals care too much about heaven, to the exclusion of this present world and all its troubles, for which they do very little.

While I think that representation is a bit of a caricature, I can see that there’s some truth in it. But the corrective being suggested seems, to me at least, to just be another fling off the other side of the horse. The books coming out, for instance, on the emergent side of the aisle seem to be paying short shrift to eternity. Their message: the church is too heavenly minded. We need to start being some earthly good.

And, in this way at least, they’re right: there are clear Biblical commands toward earthly goodness, and we are all as believers compelled by Christ’s love to love our neighbors, to do good to those around us, to meet the earthly needs of the least of these. And the reason we are to be this way is very simple: to glorify our Father in heaven.

I find myself tangled in yet another false dichotomy when it is suggested (or inferred) that earthly goodness and heavenly mindedness cannot coexist, and it makes me wonder if theologies built upon a foundation of our efforts to solve the world’s problems are theologies that, deep down, don’t really believe in eternity. Because if eternity is true, this life really is a vapor, a wisp, one blade of grass in a vast field.

If we are to be earthly good (and I believe we are), we are to be that way for God’s glory, and because, to paraphrase a recent, popular movie, what we do today echoes in eternity.

If eternity is true (and I believe it is), how much does the weight of it overwhelm day to day concerns? And how much does the need for each person on earth to heed the call of Jesus to repent and believe overwhelm all other issues in this life? These questions become rhetorical when you consider that in a snap of the fingers, we’ll be gone, and eternity will be what remains.

I believe that balance is a very important aspect of our faith, and I would like to see more of a balance, in my life, in the teachings of the church, and in the current in-family debates in Christendom, between heavenly mindedness and earthly goodness. May we never lose site of the enormity of eternity, and the glorious and frightening prospect that it has for us and for our neighbor. In the light of this, may we serve our neighbor, in Jesus’ name, as we would want to be served, doing God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven, for the glory of the Father.

I’ll leave you with a C.S. Lewis quote that sums up what I’m trying to say exceptionally well:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

– C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Some thoughts on Lewis’ The Great Divorce

It’s nice to see that Mark of GospelDrivenLife is back home from his “fishing” vacation.

He read C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce several times while he was gone, and provides some excellent insight, excerpted below:

Lewis says up front that this book is a fantasy, a dream. It is not theology, per se. No, there are no bus rides from hell to heaven. No, the damned are not met by the saved as they get off the bus and they are not persuaded to remain in heaven by them. But the imaginative dialogue serves more purposes than can be served by mere prose. Art and poetry have a place in the teaching of truth — and this book is art and poetic as well. He develops a few things so very well.

First, Lewis unmasks the dismal pettiness of sin. Whether in the bickering folk in line for the bus, or the image of hell ever expanding as people fight with each other, or the portrayal of pride, or apostasy, or self-righteousness, or manipulation, or lust — Lewis manages to make real that sin is a perversion of who we were made to be. There is nothing pretty about sin. It deforms and ultimately shrivels the soul that it owns, turns the grumbler into a mere grumble. There is nothing beautiful about sin.

Second, Lewis shows the abounding joy of heaven. At every point in the book, even when offering correction, the “bright people” are full of delight. The theme of the delights of drinking truth, seeing God, forgetting the past in a massive awareness of grace, ending all past feuds at the feet of the Savior, and the transformation of earthly appetites into glorious desires leading to God — these are developed in the succession of events in a way that makes me thirst for that great day.

Third, Lewis sees heaven as the sanctification of our full humanity, not a denial of it. The characters in the presence of God, sinless and free, are not less human for their purity but more so – and the damned are feeble beings, unable to walk across the grass because it pains the soles of their feet. They are mere shadows. Some, as they refuse to heed the embracing call of glory, actually disappear. A man captured by lust yields to the killing of this red lizard upon his shoulder — and the lust, now dead, is raised as a fierce and beautiful stallion. The guide later comments that if lust redeemed becomes a stallion, what would the purified love of a parent for a child become?

Well said. As Mark later states: “If the joys of heaven are at all what Lewis describes, it certainly brings to life the glory of God, the greatness of our salvation, and the promise of Jude ‘faultless in his presence with exceeding joy.'”

I recommend you go read the whole thing. Actually, go read The Great Divorce first, if you haven’t already. Then go read the whole thing. 🙂