Books for this season. Screwtape letters – C.S. Lewis

As I have said before the current requirement for social distancing presents many challenges but also many opportunities. We need to embrace the opportunities as well as overcome the challenges.

For me this includes spending more time reading, it may mean that for you. I have been asked already for recommended books. I am currently rereading an old classic, Screwtape letters written by CS Lewis during the second world war, over 70 years ago. It is a series of letters from a senior devil to his nephew on how to tempt humans. It is an easy read but also profound and still very relevant. Certainly, one of the books I would commend to you at this time.

One of the letters deals with how to cause problems for a young Christian living with his mother. It could equally apply to any close relationship and speaks into situations when we may be sending more time with the same people than is usually the case.

The demon is encouraged to build up a habit of mutual annoyance, daily pinpricks that harm the relationship. This is to be achieved by –

  1. Keeping his mind on the inner life.

Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing him to the most advanced and spiritual ones….

You must bring him to a condition in which he can practise self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.

  1. It is impossible to stop him praying for his mother, but we have ways of rendering his prayers innocuous.

Focus the prayers on the state of her soul, not her rheumatism. This means he is thinking of her sins and, in time, begins to pray for an imaginary person far removed from the real person.

I have had patients of my own so well in hand that they could be turned at a moment’s notice from impassioned prayer for a wife’s or son’s ‘soul’ to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm.

  1. When people have lived together for a while there are things about each other that irritate.

Work on them! Remind him of how he dislikes the way his mother raises her eyebrow. Make him think she knows this and does it on purpose to annoy him. Never let him suspect the same is going on the other way around and how absurd that his mother could know it irritates him.

  1. Recognise hatred is expressed by saying things that if the words were written on paper appear harmless but are said in such a voice and at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face.

Each must demand that what they say is taken at face value whilst judging the other with the most over-sensitive interpretation. From every quarrel they can both go away convinced that they are quite innocent.

There is much more like this, practical, down to earth, witty and very relevant. 31 easy to read short chapter mean this can last you a month.

Paperback it costs £7.37 on Amazon

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Screwtape-Letters-Senior-Signature-Classic/dp/0007461240/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=screwtape&qid=1584971181&sr=8-1

Kindle is only £2.29

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Screwtape-Letters-Clive-Staples-Lewis-ebook/dp/B084S9BVLT/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1584971181&sr=8-1

I will publish other suggestions over the next few days.

 

Some initial thoughts prompted by the Coronavirus

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By Tony Thompson

The events of the last few days have been shocking to us all. I had been in touch with friends in Spain and Italy, talking about the impact on their daily lives and then suddenly we are experiencing the same. I think it is healthy for us all to reflect on how we feel about it. It would be great to hear your reflections. Here are some of my early ones.

The most immediate is a wakeup call to the flimsiness of our plans. I am used to being able to plan what will happen, now it seems I can’t from one day to the next. I expect to go to the shop and buy what I want, now I can only buy what is left on the shelves. I expect to book a home delivery for a couple of days out, now I am lucky to get a slot in 3 weeks. I am used to planning services and preaches months ahead, now I don’t even know when we will be able to meet again. I am used to going wherever I want and meet with whoever I want. Now I am told to self-isolate.

Things work. Things are predictable. It has been easy (and reasonable) to say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money’ (James 4:13).

That has now all changed with chaos in the financial markets, the closure of public events, and the total impossibility of making any plans for travel. All we do know is that life is likely to be much more disrupted and restricted over the coming weeks. We can make plans for this, but we know any plans we make will be subject to rapid change.

James’ warning, ‘What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes’ (James 4:14), has often rung hollow in a world where we are able to plan with confidence. Now it rings clear. That is a good thing. If the current challenges teaches us to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’ (James 4:15), we will actually be in a healthier place.

I realise the world we have created tends to make us very arrogant. We feel we are in control because of the general predictability of our systems and services. But really, we are not. Corona virus is humbling us. It is teaching us not to ‘boast in your arrogant schemes’ (James 4:16). For that we should be thankful – and seize the opportunity it affords us to proclaim the good news of an unshakeable heavenly Father ‘who does not change like shifting shadows’ (James 1:17).

Like James, this is a time to proclaim: ‘Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded’ (James 4:8). Our plans are flimsy: His are immovable.

You may also want to watch a short video, just 5 minutes long, where some one shares her previous experience of coping with uncertainty and unwelcome shocks.

https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/kissing_the_wave

 

Failing as a leader is OK.

More thoughts from Dan Allender

 

God loves reluctant leaders and, even better, he loves reluctant leaders who know they are frightened, confused, and broken. In fact, he seems to have a special fondness for rebels and fools. Does God choose troubled leaders because few other people are foolish enough to say yes, or does he choose weak, troubled people because they serve a unique purpose in their broken state? The answer is yes.

 

Here is God’s leadership model: he chooses fools to live foolishly in order to reveal the economy of heaven, which reverses and inverts the wisdom of this world. He calls us to brokenness, not performance; to relationships, not commotion; to grace, not success. It is no wonder that this kind of leadership is neither spoken of nor admired in our business schools or even our seminaries.

 

Paul calls leaders not merely to be humble and self-effacing but to be desperate and honest. It is not enough to be self-revealing, authentic, and transparent. Our calling goes far beyond that. We are called to be reluctant, limping, chief-sinner leaders, and even more, to be stories.

 

The leader who fails to face her darkness must live with fear and hypocrisy. The result will be a defensiveness that places saving face and controlling others as higher goods than blessing others and doing good work.

 

We assume that if God spoke to us out of a burning bush and told us to do something, we would bow before him and then immediately do as he bid. Not Moses. He stood his ground and fought God’s plan.

 

Most leaders had no intention or desire to lead; instead they were thrown into the mess by being discontent. If they had been willing to endure life as it was, then they would never have become leaders. The person who merely puts up with life becomes a manager or a bureaucrat, not a leader. The difference between a manager and a leader is the internal urge to alter the status quo to create a different world.

 

Why we should enter Christian leadership reluctantly

More thoughts from Dan Allender

 

A good leader will, in time, disappoint everyone. Leadership requires a willingness to not be liked, in fact, a willingness to be hated.

 

But it is impossible to lead people who doubt you and hate you. So the constant tug is to make the decision that is the least offensive to the greatest number and then to align yourself with those who have the most power to sustain your position and reputation in the organization.

 

Doubt is the context for surrender. And flight is the path for obedience. When we’re reluctant to lead, doubting ourselves and our call, we are ripe for growth as a leader.

 

We should bless men and women who have done their level best to escape leadership but who have been compelled to return and put their hand on the tiller. We should expect anyone who remains in a formal leadership context to experience repeated bouts of flight, doubt, surrender, and return. Why would this be God’s plan? Why does God love the reluctant leader? Here is one reason: the reluctant leader is not easily seduced by power, pride, or ambition.

 

The reluctant leader detoxifies power by empowering others to bring their vision, passion, and gifts to the enterprise. She creates an environment of open debate that honours differences and where no one fears reprisal.

 

A reluctant leader knows that her calling to lead is ridiculous, but she bears the high glory of God’s decision to call weak fools into the work of leading others. Consequently, a reluctant leader smiles at the striving ambition of power- hungry leaders to make more and keep more.

 

The joy and challenge of Christian leadership

Thoughts from Dan Allender

I have recently been reading a book by Dan and have found some of what he says very helpful indeed.

 

The joy of leadership

The bottom line is simple: it is in extremity that you meet not only yourself but, more important, the God who has written your life. It is through leading that I’ve known the greatest need for a deep, personal, and abiding relationship with Jesus. I wouldn’t trade that for all the money, fame, glory, and honour in this life. I suspect the same is true for you.

 

Leading is very likely the most costly thing you will ever do. And the chances are very good that it will never bring you riches or fame or praise in exchange for your great sacrifices. But if you want to love God and others, and if you long to live your life now for the sake of eternity, then there is nothing better than being a leader.

 

The challenge of leadership

To the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed colleagues.

 

This is the strange paradox of leading: to the degree you attempt to hide or dissemble your weaknesses, the more you will need to control those you lead, the more insecure you will become, and the more rigidity you will impose— prompting the ultimate departure of your best people.

 

Paradoxically, when we muster the courage to name our fears, we gain greater confidence and far greater trust from others.

 

So if you love truth and are bound to its proclamation, flee the cults of pretence and Christian artifice. Seek out a new context in which to lead. If you find a church or organization that is not bound to pretence but might simply be ill equipped to admit what the Scriptures teach about our struggle with sin, you will be in a place where honesty has the greatest potential to alter the culture of latent deceit.

 

True core strength is willing to feel helpless and disturbed, and it results in a self- disciplined and passionate life rather than in a controlling life that fears what may surprisingly arise.

 

Finally, the beleaguered leader can easily isolate himself and fill his loneliness with the cancers of addictive substances and behaviours, ranging from sex to alcohol to simple workaholism.

 

Few leaders operate out of confidence built on anything but the crumbling foundation of arrogance. Few know peace that is not dependent on performance. Few exercise freedom and creativity that are not bound to conventionality. And few possess the capacity to care for people that is not shadowed by either the urge to please others or to knuckle under to the tyranny of “should.”

 

All I can do is say amen to all this. May we seek to accept the challenge to admit our inadequacies, disown arrogance and rely on our God.

Tony Thompson

Sticky situations – Exodus 14:10-15

The Israelites have just been liberated from captivity of the Egyptians. They were being led by Moses into the promise of God. Then God instructed his newly liberated people to go backwards and asked them to wait there. He asked them to go back towards where they just escaped after years of captivity and camp there! That sounds like the most absurd, impractical thing you could do.

After that, God then went and hardened their captivator’s heart so that he could rally up his army and pursue after the newly liberated, former slaves. The Israelites after a while look up whilst in the desert, only to see the Egyptians charging at them. They naturally begin to panic and start to question the point of the rescue mission, when they were still going to be hunted by their wicked captors.

In retrospect, to them, it was better, more comforting to live under the level of oppression they were in, than to face what looked like certain death. Fear and panic kicked in and they lost sight of all God had done to bring them out of slavery. Loosing sight due to fear and panic, disabled them from rationalising that if God did all of that to get us out, surely he can’t leave us out here to die.

Then God simply asked Moses why he was crying out to him and that he should tell every one to get a move on. Moses, before hearing from God, told the people to be still in their time of panic. God then said, “start moving”. Rationally, God’s instruction makes sense. You see the enemy fast approaching so the natural response is you get up and start moving. Moses however thought the better option was to be still, something you wouldn’t opt to do naturally in the face of danger. The Israelites opted to panic and assume the end.

It makes you question, did Moses suggest to be still to hear first from God. If that’s the case then I understand why he would say that and I admire him for thinking about hearing first from God rather than acting on impulse.

Reflecting on this scripture and my current circumstances, it makes me realise that God has the power and will do whatever he wants to with my life, in order to glorify himself and to make me understand that the glory belongs to him. By default, I think life should be peachy and everything should be straight forward. However my past experiences in life and present ones say otherwise.

It’s interesting that God purposefully made the situation more difficult for the traumatised former slaves. But in doing so, the Israelites were able to see that, no one could snatch them from the hand of God. They were able to see God raise them up, in the presence of their enemies and after, crush their enemies before their very eyes. They were able to see God make a way where there seemed to be no way. They had no choice but to look to God because it was only him that could deliver them from this predicament.

Situations like this build faith. They make me have an appreciation for God. Many times when I feel like I’ve been liberated and it’s smooth sailing from here, I find myself moving backwards and suddenly in the middle of a storm. Before, I’d think God was punishing me for sinning and for being bad. But after many storms, I’ve realised it helps me see God clearly. Sticky situations help me understand my limitations and God’s omnipotence.

They make me understand God’s love for me and his faithfulness as well as commitment to me. From this scripture, I know that fear and panic will only make me forget and lose hope. Which makes no sense when the God of hope is my God. So as God commanded the Israelites to “Get Moving!” while they panicked and concluded it was over because of their great enemy, I too, will get moving because God is about to do the impossible in front of my enemy. He is about to make a way where there is no way. He is about to crush my enemy before my very eyes for his glory. I will give him the glory and glorify his name with my life.

Thank you God.

 

Stephany Medani

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