The Dancing Puritan

Friday, May 20, 2016

Graduation Day





Over the past three years of doctoral studies, I have often thought of this day. For at least twenty years, I dreamed of graduating from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). Today is graduation day.

When this journey began, I knew that the way ahead would be difficult. Having assurance that my wife Lori was on board, and enjoying the encouragement of our church, I decided, after prayer and counsel, to take the plunge. I cannot adequately describe my appreciation for the love, encouragement, and prayers that I have received from so many people. Breathing the refreshing air of God's grace at SBTS has helped me in more ways that I can recount in this post. I have been pushed, stretched, challenged, and had my work sent back to me with seemingly more mark-ups than the actual text that I submitted. One time in particular, I thought about quitting, imagining that with all of my responsibilities that school was too much. I felt (and feel) inadequate, too old, and lacking sufficient brain power and physical strength. God used my family, church, and professors to pick me up, dust me off, and push me back into the ring to fight again. I am thankful.

The history of SBTS is one of sacrifice, dogged determination, and God's grace. It was primarily 4 leaders, who simply refused to quit, that put the school on their backs and sacrificed time, money, sleep, and worldly acclaim to do their dead-level-best to make sure that if the seminary didn't make it, it wouldn't be due to lack of effort. Those men were often tempted with offers that "they could not refuse" in the midst of scant times at SBTS. They were offered, in some cases, the opportunity to lead major (well-endowed) universities (such as the University of Alabama), and other high profile and generously salaried positions. However, they refused to let go of Southern Seminary. Though the seminary began in 1859, it struggled through the remainder of the 1800s. And though eventually the school established financial stability, its theological vibrancy faced the deadly threat of liberalism. By the early 1990s SBTS was in the grip of liberal leadership and seemingly beyond recovery. However, through the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, R. Albert Mohler was elected as the 9th president of the school in 1993. 

At Dr. Mohler's first commencement service, many students refused to shake his hand. Some students turned their back on him. Once again Southern was facing a fight for survival, this time it was not a financial crisis but a battle for the soul of the institution. Dr. Mohler, looking to the Abstract of Principles, held professors accountable to teach by the school's confession. Over time many of the more moderate/liberal professors resigned, or were fired. Liberal students graduated and new professors were hired. SBTS is a much different place today than it was in 1993 when 33-year-old Albert Mohler was elected president. It is much more in line with the 1859 vision of the founders.

There is much on my mind this morning as I write. I have a growing sense of the sacrifices that have been made so that I can, at age 54, walk across the stage today and receive a diploma from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Soon after the War Between the States, the future of SBTS was in great doubt. Basil Manly, John Broadus, William Williams, and James Boyce met to decide the future. Broadus courageously declared: "Suppose we quietly agree that the seminary may die, but we'll die first." Though classes were suspended during the War, SBTS reopened on 11/1/1865. I will remember the words of Broadus when I graduate today.

You can watch graduation Friday at 10 at www.sbts.edu.   Here is a video that recounts Dr. Mohler's presidency: https://vimeo.com/76963904 

See Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: 1859-2009 by Gregory A. Wills to learn more about the history of SBTS.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 14: Change Your Ring Tone






14 Days of Love
Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here
Day 11: How to Choose a Gift for Your Spouse: Here
Day 12: Discussion Points: Here
Day 13: The Journey: Here


Day 14 is simple. Assign a special ring tone on your cell phone for your spouse. When Lori calls me I hear: "O Most Beautiful Among Women." Many times, I have been in a public setting and my phone rings: "Call from O Most Beautiful  Among Women." Its quite a conversation starter and a reminder to me of how blessed that I am.

Scan back through the previous 13 days with your spouse.

Happy Valentine's Day.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 13: The Journey

A few years back--somewhere along our journey

I wrote the following post on 2-15-2014. It is to my wife Lori and about our marriage. For reasons known to Lori and me, it seems especially relevant at this present time in our journey. Read this with your spouse and take 15 minutes to discuss together how "easy is not all it is cracked up to be." On this Valentine's Eve--recount your story together.

It might have been easier, had love never broken the exterior; if like a rock skipping across water, we had only lived life on the surface in a tidy and comfortable romance. If we had embraced the smiles and fought the tears, it might have been easier.

Yet easier, it has not been. We have felt the plow turn the ground and break our hearts. The laughs have been mingled with salty tears.

When we started this journey, we didn't know. People told us of trials to come, but we could not really see them, until we tasted them. We did not think much about going to bed angry, hurt, disappointed, and disillusioned. Seldom did we imagine a life where the rocks didn't simply skip from one happiness to the next.

How can I forget the week that my heart was ripped out? You came home as the week ended. There was nothing that I could say, but you let me draw near to you. Friends had disappeared. A million smiles could not fix me. Your arms got me through. 

Then there was the day, now chiseled deep on our hearts that we called the children to our room. They found a place on our bed. We shared with them a hard story of loss. The news was familiar, but this time it penetrated deeper. We cried, we prayed, we held each other. It was not easy.

What could have prepared us for that season--when we seldom could enjoy one another's company? The days ran into weeks. We will never forget the drops of grace that sustained us. A meal proved to be the bread of life. It was not easy.

But, we have held our babies. We have retreated to quiet places. The waters of the beach have tickled our toes. The sounds of an old hymn have squeezed out the tears and then taken us to the heavens. We have known the grace of God. His grace was there when the flowers wilted and it surrounded us when roses covered the meadow.

It is often so noisy. There is seldom a quiet place. It is not easy. But, how we love the noise; the smells, the colors, the chatter, the music, the requests, and the appointments. Even the unfolded laundry--reminds us of our life together--still unfinished, still wrinkled-- but gathered with love.

It could have been easier. But then, no faith would have been required. And we would not have known the love that we now know. What if our path had not been redirected on that day when we were imagining a time with just the two of us? What if the nest had soon emptied and the birds left for new lands? It would have been much easier. 

And now at night, I pull you close. We keep each other warm. It would be cold, had it been easy. We are close. And through the walls and up the stairs our precious ones rest. It is not easy for them either. They have walked and will travel rocky and lonely roads. It won't be easy, but they will love. They are loved. 

Stay close. Easy is not all that it is cracked up to be. 

Happy Valentine's Day

14 Days of Love
Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here
Day 11: How to Choose a Gift for Your Spouse: Here
Day 12: Discussion Points: Here






Friday, February 12, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 12: Discussion Points

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here
Day 11: How to Choose a Gift for Your Spouse: Here

At Spurgeon's College with my beloved wife Lori


My latest post for B&H Academic, "Spurgeon's Valentine," takes a brief look at Charles and Susannah Spurgeon's romance.

Today's Activity

*Read the B&H Post.
*Discuss with your spouse the following points.

1. The disconnect between spending money on romance and broken relationships.

2. Spurgeon said that marriage is "not all sugar" but that "grace in the heart will keep away all of the sours."  Take a minute to consider your marriage. Refer back to "Day 9." How is God's grace displayed in your marriage?

3.  Would angels "find themselves out of their element" in your home? If so, how can that change?

4. What is the "anchor that holds strong amidst trials and temptations" in marriage?

5. Are your wife's clothes "precious" to you? What is your attitude towards clothing, makeup, and other items that are important to your wife? Compare your present attitude to Spurgeon's.

6. Spurgeon sent a letter to Susannah in a box of "Presburg biscuits." What does that tell you about Spurgeon?

7. Spurgeon bought Susannah a table for her bed. Talk about the thoughtfulness evident in that gift.

8. Spurgeon's delight in Susannah's comfort and joy is striking. Do you find delight in working for the joy of your spouse?

9. Spurgeon was in tune with his wife and put Susannah above himself? How is the "tune" of your marriage right now?

10. Would you like for your wife (or husband) to write you a love song? See Day 1.

11. What does Susannah's response to Spurgeon's love song tell you about her?

12. Take the hand of your beloved and pray for one another. We all have fallen short of God's glory. Jesus never did. Wherever you are in your marriage, there is hope. Don't give up. Look to Christ, seek him in prayer, and find a godly married couple to counsel you through any hard times that you are experiencing.


Ray Rhodes leads marriage workshops and Bible conferences. He is the president of Nourished in the Word Ministries.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 11: How to Choose a Gift For Your Spouse

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here




How do you choose the right gift for your spouse?

1. Ask, at various times throughout the year, what gifts that they would enjoy receiving. I have asked these questions: "If money were no issue, what gift would you enjoy receiving?"Since money is an issue right now, what is something inexpensive that you would really enjoy?


2. Keep a list: Putting together a list is easier than you might imagine. Of course write down the gifts that you discover from #1 above. However, you probably do not want to be asking your wife/husband just before a special occasion what they want? Learn from everyday listening. I often hear Lori mention some item or activity that she would enjoy. However, hearing alone is not enough. I need to write down what I hear. You might consider keeping a pocket notebook for writing down gift ideas. My wife keeps a list on her phone for everyone in our family. Write down sizes that you will need for clothing and apparel.


3. Involve your children. Your children are your secret weapons and they will likely enjoy helping you choose a gift. I like to buy clothes for Lori. I have often called or sent a text message to one of my daughters asking for advice while I was out shopping.


4. Ask their best friend. I will play the part here. Hi good friend of Lori. Has Lori mentioned anything to you that she would enjoy? Clothes? Trip? Date night to restaurant? 12 gauge shotgun?


5. What would you like to buy your beloved? Think outside the blender or white dress shirt box? Go beyond even candy and flowers (but keep them in your arsenal). Nostalgic gifts work for some people. Does your spouse ever talk about items or places that they really enjoyed when they were younger? Ebay is your friend. For example, if your husband enjoyed going to a favorite place on vacation when he was a boy, get him an item connected to that place. Lori often went to Savannah, GA when she was a young girl. It would be relatively easy for me to find something unique to Savannah to get Lori for a special day.


6. Give a gift that requires effort on your part. Try to avoid last minute shopping and just picking up the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe your neighborhood grocer has just the item and if so, that's great. However, be willing to drive a few miles extra and pay a few dollars more to get the right gift. The "right" gift is the one that is given joyfully, lovingly, thoughtfully, and skillfully.

7. Surprise, Surprise, Surprise. Lori and I still remember with great joy, gifts that came with an excitement of surprise. On our 25th Anniversary, I planned three days of activities for us (they did not take the entire day, but parts of three days). Lori did not know from one minute to the next what was next. One day I took her to breakfast at one of our favorite places in Dahlonega, GA. We walked around town after breakfast and then spent the rest of the morning at home. The next day we had lunch and a tour at a winery. We closed out the day by going to a dinner and movie restaurant. On day three, we celebrated at a fine restaurant near Atlanta. I worked out a plan ahead of time with the waiter. When he brought dessert to our table, he also brought a gift that I had wrapped and given to him for Lori. Lori opened up her box and received her new earrings.

Before each event I gave Lori ample time to get ready. I told her what to wear but not where we were going. I planned our dates without Lori having to make any decisions. She liked that. She still likes for me to lead the way in planning our dates.

8. Have Fun. A handwritten note and a candy bar with love is better than a diamond ring and joylessness: "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it." (Proverbs 15:17).

G: Generosity: Be generous, not stingy. Yes, be wise but always generous.

I.  Invest: Invest time and energy in knowing your spouse and gift-giving will come easier.

F. Focus: Your list will help you to focus on specific items and keep you from random shopping.

T.  Thoughtfulness. Be thoughtful. What does your husband enjoy? What is his favorite color? What would he do if he had an afternoon to himself? What makes him laugh?

Gifts do not have to be expensive. With a little creativity, a gift may be very inexpensive (thought it does cost time, energy, effort, thoughtfulness). Enjoy giving. Because of God's love, He gave his only Son (John 3:16). The gospel is ample motivation for giving cheerfully to your spouse.




Wednesday, February 10, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 10: A Simple Plan for Building Your Marriage

Remember

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here



Earlier this week I heard a gentleman say: "When I was younger, I was fascinated by complexity." He is a business man and he was recalling a time in his life when he dreamed of "layers and layers" in his organization. Now his philosophy is to "keep it simple."

Keeping it simple is also a good approach to marriage. Here are a few suggestions.

S: Stay close: Marriages are more likely to be successful when both partners stay close to one another. This is not always a matter of proximity, but a matter of intentionality. What I mean is that even when close face-to-face contact is impossible, you still pursue closeness through communication. There are "little foxes" that must be caught so that they will not "spoil the vineyards." (The Song of Solomon 2:15). You must always be on guard so that your heart and loyalties are not divided from your spouse. Stay close through phone calls, emails, text messages, handwritten letters, and by spending time together. Talk to one another by lovingly and courageously facing challenges together.

I: Invest in a Calender:  It has often been said that "if you do not know where you are going, any old train will get you there." To survive in our busy culture you will need to have, use, and often refer to a calendar. Take a year-long approach and build in special times for your marriage. Lori and I have enjoyed 4 marriage retreats over the past 10 years. These were all non-programmed retreats. Our new approach is to schedule one marriage retreat each year for the remainder of our marriage. Retreats, date nights, and other marriage building exercises will not happen unless they are scheduled.

M Measure Progress: Your calendar you will reveal your priorities over the next 12 months. For example, if your goal is to attend a marriage retreat/event each year, what steps will you take to go from plan to reality. Write your marriage goals and priorities down for the next year and note your progress or lack thereof, Determine a way that works for you to measure progress.

P: Pursue Opportunities: Along with your calendar, work and a plan to measure progress, it is important to be proactive in pursuing opportunities. You may think that it is impossible to pull away for a week with just you and your wife, or to even schedule a monthly date night. Lori and I have 6 children and we understand the difficulty of getting away together. However, we also understand the greater difficulty of not getting away.  Do an Internet search for Christian marriage events, and sign up for one. Just do it. A little bit of research may lead you to some very inexpensive options.

L: Learn Together: Have you ever read a book with your spouse? Find a good book and purchase two copies and determine a page count for individual reading over a period of a couple of days. No one is allowed to exceed the agreed upon page count. On the third day, read out loud together (and then repeat the process). Two things are accomplished: 1. You are learning from the same book--a unified approach. 2. Your out loud reading will encourage conversation based on your reading.

E: Enlist Help: Have you ever had a mentor? One of my goals for 2016 is to pin-point an older married man and to ask him if he will serve as my mentor. I want this older man to talk with me about his marriage and to provide counsel to me out of his knowledge of the Word and from his experiences. Pray for and seek out a godly mentor.

Activity

Its SIMPLE. Stay close to one another. Prayerfully make priorities and plans by investing in and using a calender.  Develop an easy approach to measuring progress. Read over your priorities and plans every month and consider what steps you are taking to achieve them. Pursue opportunities to build your marriage. Learn together through reading and discussing the same book. Enlist help by finding an older couple who are willing to mentor you.

Read the following verses together tonight.

Stay close. Song of Solomon 2:8-17, 3:1-4, 8:13-14
Invest in a calendar. Proverbs 21:5
Measure progress. Proverbs 24:3-4
Pursue Opportunities. Ephesians 5:16
Learn together. Ecclesiastes 4:9
Enlist help. Proverbs 15:22

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries. Ray leads marriage events at churches and other venues. 






Tuesday, February 9, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 9: Grace



Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here



I am writing near a fireplace in a rustic den as the snow outside falls gently to the ground. Earlier this morning, I walked over to the dining room where hot coffee was waiting on me. I took my coffee to a sitting room where I read the Bible and spent a few minutes journaling. My thoughts centered on the word “grace.” Each morning before an open Bible, I am confronted by my need for grace.

Before this night is over, I will look deeply into the eyes of my wife Lori. I want to see her, really see her. I know a few of Lori's burdens, but I imagine that a number of her challenges are hidden from my view. Perhaps she does want to put anything else on me. Maybe I have built walls that seem impenetrable. I have often been too been busy or too distracted to notice what her eyes, if not her words, were telling me.

What does Lori need from me? She needs grace. How foolish of me, a recipient of the lavish grace of God, to ever withhold grace from my dear wife. I need grace from her. How utterly thoughtless I am when I fail to be a conduit of God's grace into Lori's heart.

This evening, look into the eyes of your spouse. Look deeply. See, know, and discover them. See them through the eyes of grace.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace. 
I Peter 4:10

Activity: Show Grace!

G: Generosity. Are you a generous person? Or, do you withhold love, intimacy, and good gifts that you have the opportunity to share? Don’t try to save up generosity, open your heart to your spouse. Recently Lori needed new shoes. She felt that I did not want her to get new shoes. I don't know exactly how I communicated to her that "her old shoes were just fine" and that "new shoes could wait." But something I said, or didn't say, led her to think that I didn't want her to have the shoes. When I discovered how she felt, I was horrified. Though we do not have a lot of money, I want to display a generous heart to my wife and children.

R: Rest.  My guess is that your beloved works hard. Beyond their workplace responsibilities, or their homemaking duties, they carry other burdens. What can you do for them that will provide a place and time for refuge so that they can experience restorative grace?

A: Acceptance. Life comes quickly. Dreams can be lost in a moment.  Rejection is around the next corner. You are married to a person who, like you, falls short and needs forgiveness and acceptance. Our arms are designed, in part, as a safe place of acceptance. Let your husband/wife know, verbally and non-verbally, that they are accepted.

C: Compassion. Whereas acceptance works to restore confidence, compassion enters into the brokenness of your spouse and lets them know how much you care.

E: Encourage. You encourage your spouse when you stir up courage in their heart. Encouragement offers hope, indicates belief in, and strengthens the one to whom it is directed. Discouragement is no respecter of persons and it can lead to utter despair. When you encourage your beloved, you are instilling hope into their heart. They need one person, at least, who believes in them.

Grace:  Generosity, Rest, Acceptance, Compassion, Encouragement.

Read the following verses with your spouse before retiring to bed tonight.

God generously gave his Son (Romans 8:31-39). God offers rest to his sons and daughters (Psalm 23, 127). To know Christ is to be accepted (Ephesians 1:5-6). God is compassionate beyond compare (Psalm 78:38-39). God encourages us that we might encourage others (Romans 15:5-6).

Romans 15:5-6New International Version (NIV)

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ray Rhodes is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries.