“The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most temporal part of time–for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”
― C.S. LewisThe Screwtape Letters

The present is suffuse with brilliant opportunity. That’s Lewis’ point.  Carpe diem–seize the day!  But there’s the rub.  It’s incredibly challenging as a Christ-follower to be fully present in The Present. Today isn’t the greatest day we’ve ever known (to misquote Billy Corgan) because we’re stuck in a hurt from the frozen, unchangeable past or completely stressed out about the credit card bill coming or how our kids are getting along at school.

As we continue in our study of the book of Ephesians at Blanchard Warrenville, Paul extols promise after promise about Our Immanently Present God who is available to us through the incomparable power of Father, Son and Holy Spirit–blessing us with “every spiritual blessing in Christ”.  Even the work we do today has been “pre-ordained” and “pre-powered” for his good pleasure.  So will we light up today as Christ’s light wherever we are and with whomever we spend time with?

Let’s think about the kind of “todays” some of our friends are facing.  The Martinezes’ neighbors lost their home last weekend–and almost their lives–in that raging fire.  Let’s light up their neighborhood fundraiser at the VFW in Warrenville this Friday night.  As God’s empowered, loved people, how can be fully present with their neighbors today?  As one of our very own, Marcia, enters into six months of chemo for lymphoma, how can we “Be Light”?  Some of my neighbors are recently laid-off.  I’m not quite sure how I’ll be light, but my presence brings Light because the ever-present Christ is with me.  So I’m choosing to spend time with them at a local bowling league this Friday–just to love them, laugh with them (and spend the following four days recovering from the aches and pains in my out-of-shape 41-year-old body).

The Present is all lit up with eternal rays, indeed.

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I recently had an inspiring conversation around a table with fellow Christian church leaders in Warrenville–many from different traditions than mine.  One lady, who attends a local Greek Orthodox church, shared how her marriage vows–pledged years ago–have stuck with her ever since–that she always remembers her vows included a pledge to “die to herself” that day–for both the sake of her husband and her God.

While I think I understood this idea in my head when I got married, I probably didn’t know how hard it would be to practice all these 13 years.

You can pretty much count on the fact that when I’ve hurt my wife with my words or actions–it’s because I’m being selfish–that I’m not dying to myself in that moment–in fact, I’m slyly (or brazenly…) renegotiating my covenant with her as her husband.

As Lent continues, I’m not only thinking about dying to myself in my marriage but dying to myself for Christ as His disciple, as Paul says, “that Christ might live in me.” (Galatians 2:19-20). How are you choosing to die to yourself every day as a pattern of your everyday life–and not just for Lent?

Many of the choices I make to be a devoted follower of Christ are costly, painful and unpopular.

Like the frequent conversations I’ve been having lately with my daughter about her feeling different or that “she doesn’t fit in” with her friends at school because she chooses to listen to different music than they do; or that she can’t watch the same  movies at home that they do; or surf YouTube without content filtering, etc, etc.  She often says that the part of her day she most intensely feels this awkwardness is the bus ride to and from school. It hurts me as her dad to see her in pain like this.  But I’m not surprised; nor will I apologize for creating these painful/counter-cultural boundaries in her life.

So what are some of the ways you choose to die in your everyday life?

  • When I regularly think about ways to persist in helping my kids memorize our Lenten memory passage from Philippians 2:5-11 instead of talking about more mundane things around the dinner table…I die to myself.
  • When I remember to keep my commitments to trade off a monthly date night by watching another couple’s kids so they can get away as husband and wife and then return the favor for Karyn and I…I die to myself.
  • When I take time to walk in my neighborhood to pray for my neighbors to come to know Jesus through my living example–even when the weather stinks…I die to myself.
  • When I take the time to regularly prioritize time in the bible to have God’s Word read me…I die to myself.
  • When I give away my money to someone more needy than me…I die to myself.

I’ve  been in the habit of quoting C.S. Lewis poetry lately in my blog:  he wrote a lot about his own pain, loss and dying to self, including this one titled Scazons

But Thou, Lord, surely knowest thine own plan
When the angelic indifferencies with no bar
Universally loved, but Thou gav’st man
The tether and pang of the particular,

Which, like a chemic drop, infinitesimal,
Plashed into pure water, changing the whole,
Embodies and embitters and turns all
Spirit’s sweet water into astringent soul,

That we, though small, might quiver with Fire’s same
Substantial form as Thou–not reflect merely
Like lunar angels back to Thee cold flame.
Gods are we, Thou has said; and we pay dearly.

A good friend of Karyn’s recently shared a great idea about her and her husband’s commitment for Lent.  For her, Lent is too much about taking away— instead, she suggested that they use Lent as an opportunity to add on extra effort.

For instance, trusting the Holy Spirit to empower you to improve one of your weaker spiritual disciplines:  like listening to God in solitude or using your family’s mealtimes more intentionally to read a Psalm together each day (how many of our families actually eat meals together anymore?), or, like we’ll be encouraging at Blanchard this Lent, memorizing Philippians 2:5-11 together as individuals and families.

As Christians during the Lenten season, we have an abundance of spiritual power and authority at our disposal; but, much to our loss, we let all this good fruit wither and die on the vine, though it’s right in front of us.  As C.S. Lewis laments in his poem, Posturing:

“Thou givest grapes, and I,
Though starving, turn to see
How dark the cool globes lie
in the white hand of me,
And linger gazing thither
Till the live clusters wither”

During our Solemn Assembly last Sunday, not only did I treasure the rich celebration at the end of our service, affirming our newness in Christ but I also had the privilege of enjoying a quiet morning at home with my family.  There was a spiritual intensity to our day together that I very much enjoyed, highlighted by my oldest daughter sitting on our living room couch reading Nehemiah 8-9 on her own to learn a little bit more about the historical precedent for our Solemn Assembly later that night.

Perhaps you were there? Do you have a story to tell? I encourage you to share yours here, which will eventually be uploaded to our website to share with the rest of Blanchard’s family.

In the mean time, I’ll ponder that good thought some more today:  rather than deny myself during Lent, how might I be able to add to my faith this season?

Ever been surprised by tears?

I had one of those moments last week as I drove Maggie to orchestra practice at 7:30 in the morning.  We were both pretty tired.

As I pulled out of the driveway, the tires crackled on the ice and I noticed one of my Christmas presents–the new Jars of Clay album (The Shelter)–was quietly playing on the CD player in the background…

You need all the encouragement you can get on mornings like that– those depressing, gray Chicago mornings.  The song “Call My Name” came on.  I had already taken a liking to this sweet, simple poem from a son to his Father.  So, as Maggie and I listened, I was surprised at the tears welling up in the corner of my eyes.  I wasn’t sure if Maggie noticed me crying or not  (I wouldn’t care if she did–I’m a pretty weepy dad, anyway) but we kept listening; and, as I casually reached up to wipe my eyes, I glanced back at Maggie and saw her eyes all teared-up, too.

I couldn’t have been happier, honestly— to have my ten-year-old daughter’s heart tuned to the sound of her Heavenly Father’s voice.  To know that her young soul resonates with the sound of her “Daddy.”  It gives me great hope that she will indeed grow up into her identity as a dearly loved daughter of God.   “Call My Name” paints a compelling picture of a sweet conversation between the songwriter and His Father in heaven.

I would link the song to this post–but that would cost money.  I’m too cheap for that. But you can hear some of it in the background of this YouTube clip. Here’s a sample of the lyrics:

I’ll go when You call me
I run when You tell me where to go
We are desert walkers under shady clouds
Your fire shows there’s more of You to know

When You call my name
When You call my name
Send me to the edge of the Earth
Show me what our life is worth
When You call my name

My tears stirred by a simple song at 7:30 on a cold winter morning remind me once again of my mortality–that this temporary life of ours simply isn’t home–and never should be.  We were created to long for Home–as C.S. Lewis constantly wrote about–to be back there with our Father Creator in heaven.  I’m reminded of one of Lewis’ beautiful poems (something he’s not often known for.)  He writes in “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer”

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust,instead of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts,
even from my thoughts of Thee,
O Thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got way too much “trumpery” in my own life.  Just let me hear my Father’s voice every day at 7:30 in the morning on the way to orchestra practice with Maggie. That’s enough for me.

And let those Homesick tears flow.