The Dancing Puritan

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Time to be Resolute

My wife and I have often lamented the rarity of young men who are focused, purposeful, and manly. Where are the manly men? Jonathan Edwards was manly, not because he could bench-press 300 pounds, but because he, as a young man, was resolute.

Are you resolute? Do you make resolutions?

When Edwards was 19 years old he penned 70 resolutions. He reviewed them throughout his life. However, the resolutions would have been without strength, if it were not for his preface.
Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake. 
Jonathan Edwards, in his preface, gives three keys to making resolutions. Follow these three principles and you will be on your way to becoming resolute.

1.  A sense of helplessness.  If you have made resolutions before, then you have also broken those resolutions The first key to keeping resolutions is to recognize that you have no independent power to keep resolutions.

2. Humility and prayer. Since have no independent ability to keep resolutions, then humble yourself and pray. Your inability should not be a point of ultimate discouragement, if it leads you to rely on God for help. Remember, God is omnipotent!

3. God's will. As you make your plans for 2014, submit yourself to God's will. It is good to humbly make plans. It is bad to make plans presumptuously.

Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'--yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:13-17 

Now you have a simple way to make resolutions for 2014. When you fail to keep your resolutions, don't give up! Look to Christ, receive his grace, and start again. You are not trying to keep resolutions in order to gain God's favor. You are trying to be resolute because you are already loved by God (if you are a Christian).

Nourished in the Word Ministries (NITW) is the teaching and writing ministry of Ray Rhodes, Jr. The ministry of NITW is supported through the financial gifts of friends like you.  There are two ways to give.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

In 1982 I played Walter Mitty for a production at the Franklinia Playhouse in Vidalia, GA. Out of all of the roles that I played as a young actor, Mitty was my favorite. The play was based on the short story by James Thurber.

I have often thought that I would return to the stage (not that anyone is clamoring for my return) if I could once again play Walter Mitty. Since no offers are coming my way, I will likely not be making a comeback. However, like Mitty, I can dream.  

One of the reasons that I love the Walter Mitty story is because, I am a lifelong daydreamer. More than once I have been jarred back to reality by someone repeatedly calling my name (usually one of my children). 

If you have never read the Thurber story, I think you will find it well worth your time. You may even do a bit of daydreaming with Walter. If you go to the movie looking for a script that is faithful to Thurber's story, you will be disappointed. However, if you are in the mood for a fun, witty, romantic, and inspiring adaptation, then you are in store for a treat.

The movie (opened Christmas Day) stars Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty and Kristen Wiig as Cheryl Melhoff. Mitty is a 16 year employee at Life magazine and Melhoff has only worked there for a few months. As Life transitions from print to dot com a number of folks are left unemployed (including Melhoff).  

Mitty has been a great employee for Life. His job is in jeopardy because he can't find a negative, from a photo shoot, by the famous photographer Sean O'Connell (played by Sean Penn). This negative was to be the photograph used for the cover of the last print issue of Life.

The movie revolves around Mitty, his attraction to Melhoff, and his search for #25 negative. Early in the movie, Mitty gets lost in his daydreams. For good reason, his daydreams diminish in frequency as the movie goes along. Why do his daydreams decrease in number? The message is an important one. You will have to see the movie to find out.

Mitty finds later in life, what had escaped him in his youth. He finds it on several levels. 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is about life. Life just supplies the context. Just remember, it may not be too late to see a snow leopard.

Stiller and Wigg are excellent in the movie. I also enjoyed the performances by Sean Penn and Shirley MacLaine.

Go see it! 

A short piece about James Thurber:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Glad Tidings of Great Noise

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:19).

Do you ponder? To ponder is to think deeply, to consider. It is to meditate. If you ponder, then you turn thoughts, statements, and events over and over in your mind and weigh them.  What was Mary "treasuring up" and "pondering?" The Bible says that she was pondering "these things." What things? She was treasuring up all of the things that had been told her by the angel (Luke 1:26-45), the greeting that she had received by Elizabeth (42-45), her trip with Joseph to Bethlehem (2:1-7), the birth of Jesus (19), and the visit and message of the Shepherds.  Mary pondered.

I wonder how often we follow Mary's example at Christmas time (or anytime). We are Crazy Busy and therefore we have no Margin (*to quote a couple of book titles). Margin is the space that surrounds the words on this blog post. Around the words, there is room left over. There is space. 

The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Selah (Psalm 46:11).

The word "Selah" is used over 70 times in the Psalms. "Selah" means to pause and reflect. As the musicians would play and the singers would sing, they would pause. The pause allowed for a breath. It also allowed opportunity for a brief moment of reflection.

There is a lot of noise in the Christmas story. Angels constantly show up (Luke 1: 8-17, Matthew 1:18ff, Luke 1:26-38, 2:9-14). People and angels speak lyrically (Luke 1:46-55, 68-79, 2:13-14, 29-32). Shepherds testify to the wonder of the Christmas message (Luke 2:15-20). Bethlehem bustled with activity (2:1). The Birth of Jesus was preceded by, accompanied by, and followed by a lot of noise. There was the noise of the angels, the noise of Elizabeth, Zacharias, Mary, Shepherds, and Simeon.

After Joseph had taken his family to Egypt there would be more noise in Bethlehem, directly connected to the birth of Jesus. There was the noise of " . . . Rachel weeping for her children . . ." (Matthew 2:18). Rachel's weeping was the result of Herod's brutal murder of the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger. 

That first Christmas brought not only "glad tidings" but also great noise.

Not much has changed about Christmas. Christmas is a time of singing praises to God. It is a time for noisy family gatherings. The decorating, shopping, and busyness of the season--leaves little time for pondering. Much of the noise is of the joyful sort. But there is also the loud noise that reflects, as Herod's noise, hatred of God. Babies are brutally murdered as they are ripped from their mother's womb. Why? Because God is rejected and hopelessness abounds. As we sing Silent Night we must not forget Rachel's weeping.

We should participate in and hear the noise of Christmas. We should also ponder. What Child is This? is not just a song, it is a question that must be asked and answered. Who was that babe in a manger? Such a question demands a response. It demands loud praise. It also requires pondering.

Do you ponder?

*Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung. Margin by Richard Swenson.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Basketball for Christmas

Christmas ignites some of the most treasured memories of holidays spent with family. Christmas has always been eventful in our home. Reflecting on growing up in a relatively large family, I appreciate the sacrifices that my father and mother made out of love for us. Many of those sacrifices were most evident during the Christmas season. Two years ago my dad was in his final days on this earth. He would die on Christmas Day. He and my mother were married for over 51 years. That is a lot of time, a lot of memories, a lot of life together! My mother, now a widow, is on my heart and in my prayers. 

A special Christmas that I  remember is the year we lived in an old country home with a wrap-around porch. Outside of that house was an oak tree with a large knot prominently featured. That knot was my basketball goal. Frequently, I would take my over sized basketball and shoot at that makeshift goal.

There was an elderly lady that lived next door and she loved our family. She would watch me play with that ball day after day. Just a short time before Christmas, she died. A few days after her death her husband brought over some presents she had wrapped for us. As I opened my present, there beneath the wrappings was a new regulation sized basketball. I do not have that basketball today, but the death of my friend forever sealed that present and that Christmas in my memory.

Thoughtful and sacrificial giving, always makes an impression upon the heart.  

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Jesus was born to die.  The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus forever seals in my heart and mind the truth that God loves me.  He has demonstrated that love by giving the greatest gift of all, His Son Jesus.  Such sacrificial love calls upon us to trust Him and then to display that kind of sacrificial love to others. May the gift of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus be the anchor of your heart and the focus of your activities this Christmas season and always.

Edited from a post that ran last December.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Opportunities of Christmas

What are your thoughts about Christmas? Whether one decorates a tree, exchanges gifts on December 25th, or sings White Christmas is really not the issue.  It should be said that godliness is not measured by whether one celebrates Christmas or not.  The question goes much deeper. Where are your affections?  What are your motives?  What is your ultimate goal?  These are questions that penetrate deep as you consider what your response will be to Christmas.  Think through the following considerations as you seek to honor God this holiday season.

1. Consider the Bible.   Embrace what Scripture embraces and rejects what it rejects.  When it is silent seek wisdom.  Celebrating Christmas would be among those ‘silent’ issues.  Christians are not commanded to celebrate Christmas.  As Christians we must seek to be Christ-centered people everyday.  There does not seem to be anything fundamentally unbiblical or biblical about decorating a tree or setting aside a season of holiday celebration.  They are really non-issues.  The issue is Christ-centeredness in all of life. For to me to live is Christ...(Philippians 1:19). Beware then of establishing a monument of self-righteousness based on your degree or lack of degree of celebrating Christmas.  As followers of King Jesus we should preach against materialism and worldliness and we should proclaim the excellency of Christ.  Why love the world or the things in the world when there is an all-satisfying, infinitely delightful, eternally lovely Christ to be loved?  That is a message worth communicating.  Decorating or not decorating a Christmas tree has little to do with our ability to proclaim that message.

2. Seize the Opportunities of the Christmas Season. It is, in fact, true that some folks would have any reference to God or the Bible removed from any public place in our culture.  The willful ignorance of our country’s history by such people is staggering.  That being said, the Christmas season seems to be a time when people are more open to discussing the Christian faith.  Christians can choose to seize the opportunities of the season.  For example, while many people are thinking about gifts, peace and goodwill, and family, it seems that Christians should look for opportunity to speak to those issues biblically.  I think that we have increased opportunities to be a witness for Christ during the holidays than at other times during the year.  Seize the opportunities by considering the following suggestions:

   A. Open Your Home During the Holidays.  As Christians we are to love the Lord and we are to love others.  A wonderful way to get to know people is to invite them to your home for a meal or snacks.  That opens up opportunity for engaging conversation.  Invite your neighbors and others to stop by your home during the holidays for coffee and cookies.  Fill your home with Christmas hymns to focus your own thinking and to serve as a witness to your guests.

  B. Give Thoughtful Gifts.  Gifts do not have to cost a lot of money.  We purchase some gifts but we have also made many others over the years.  My wife, Lori, has been teaching our daughters to cook since they were very young.  Through the years they have made a variety of homemade treats to give to neighbors, teachers. family and other friends.  You can attach a handmade card filled with Bible verses to the treats.  One year we gave away a photocopied selection of some of my writings that included a gospel presentation.  Our family enjoys reading and giving books.  Give books that communicate sound doctrine in a winsome way.  Be creative and seek to honor God through your giving.

  C.  Build Family Traditions.  We have a biblical responsibility to pass down the faith.  Christmas traditions, I think, can facilitate us in the effort.  The Bible states: “You shall teach (God’s Words) to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 11:19).  The beauty of all that God has created and how it displays His fingerprints is amazing.  God has not painted this world in black and white but has filled it with colors and tastes.  Christmas can be a time when our eyes are captured and our taste buds dance with more vigor--a time of learning that eating, drinking, and decorating a tree can all be done to the glory of God.  In fact, anything at all, except those things that God has forbidden, can and should be done to His glory.  Everyday Lori and I are seeking to grow in our faith and we are seeking to teach our children of the greatness of God. Our goal is that they will love the Lord and will tell others of His greatness.  One of our Christmas traditions is to read the Christmas story from the Old and New Testaments many evenings in December.  Take time to read the story of Christmas with your family.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Home, Heaven and Bethlehem

Crawfordville, GA

I'll be home for Christmas...if only in my dreams.  

Do you ever get homesick?  There are special attachments that most of us hold for the town of our birth.  I grew up in a small town and never imagined that it would have any real significance to me as I grew older.  However, as childhood dreams give way to adult realities, I have discovered, with the lengthening of the wrinkles on my face, a real affection for the town of my youth.

Certainly it is natural for one to have appreciation for the earthly place that they call home.  However, for the Christian, there is a land on a far away strand tis a beautiful home of the soul; built by Jesus on high, there we never shall die, tis a land where we never grow old (James Moore).  The Christian should have a homesickness for heaven.  Do you long for heaven?

Sometimes heaven has been referred to as a state of mind.  It has been viewed as a place where transparent spirits float amongst the clouds in a kind of dreamy existence.  The Bible, however, tell us that heaven is a real place where real people will spend a real eternity with a real Savior who really came to the cradle in Bethlehem and really lived a righteous life.  He really died on the cross as the substitutionary sacrifice for His people, and really ascended to heaven, where today He really sits at the right hand of God praying for His people.  One day He will really return!

Before Jesus was crucified he spoke to his disciples about the place He was preparing for them.  His words were intended to give comfort and hope to disciples who were about to be severely tested and most of whom would eventually be martyred for their faith.

Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:1-2).

Jesus instills within the disciples hope.  He is about to leave but He will be coming back.  In fact, while He is away He will be actively preparing a place for them and for all who will believe in Him.  Heaven, according to the Bible, is a real place.

If you are a Christian, God is your Father; Christ is your Lord and Savior; and heaven is already your home, though you do not yet physically occupy it.  The Bible teaches that Christians are already citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).  Therefore, we should long for heaven.  We should live for heaven.  We should bring our heavenly citizenship to bear upon all earthly relationships and activities.  The people of this world should be able to look at our lives and see a little bit of heaven on earth. In fact, when the church is gathered, we do get a glimpse of heaven's worship (see Revelation 4-5 and Hebrews 12).

What does this have to do with Christmas? So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.  To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation (Hebrews 9:28).  Christ came to the earth for the purpose of dealing with our sins.  Bethlehem was His first stop on the way to Calvary.  Over the cradle of Bethelehem loomed the shadow of the cross. Yet there is more in view here.  Do you see it?  Beyond Calvary was Heaven to which Jesus ascended and from which He will return for His people.  Without Bethlehem there is no eternal home for believers.  Without heaven, Bethlehem loses it's significance.

This Christmas, as we think of Christ, we must start with heaven.  From heaven Jesus came.  To heaven Jesus ascended.  From heaven He will return.  To heaven all of His people will go.  As you remember the cradle, don't forget to keep your eyes fixed on heaven.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Christmas Creed

You have probably heard it said, “No creed but Christ.” Sometimes that statement is a result of the diminishing of doctrine as a whole, except for some general thoughts about Jesus. That can’t be a good way to think. For one reason, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).

When that was written, the “All Scripture” referred to the Old Testament. It is true that the ultimate point of all Scripture is to reveal Christ (Romans 1:2ff, Luke 24:25-27).  This is certainly what Charles Spurgeon meant when he said, “I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.’” Anyone who is aware of the ministry of Charles Spurgeon knows that he did more than simply posit some general thoughts about Jesus. He preached from the Old and New Testaments and expounded on many truths. Yet he always took those truths to Christ.

I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.’ Charles Spurgeon

Spurgeon once gave an illustration about a young pastor who preached a poor sermon. The sermon was  "poor" because there was “no Christ in it.” Spurgeon said:

"I have never yet found a text that did not have a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savor of Christ in it."

Spurgeon was not against using creeds, confessions, or statements of faith. A Christ-centered creed is a teaching mechanism. Creeds can help a person to fix big truths to their heart in short form.  The Bible contains creedal statements.  I Timothy 3:16 may be a fragment from an early Christian hymn. It is also a creed.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

Christians were unified around this confession. Paul said, “we confess.” That is what happenes when the church uses creeds as a part of their faith and practice. They say, “we confess.” What is it that is confessed? I Timothy 3:16 opens by confessing the Incarnation. “He was manifested in the flesh.” God became man and remained God. God took on humanity. He pitched his tent here with us.

The mystery is revealed in the coming of God to the earth. Do you want to know the secret of piety? The secret of piety is to confess with your mouth, believe in your heart, and live with by your life, the creed of I Timothy 3:16. As you celebrate during this Christmas season, make I Timothy 3:16 a part of your celebrations. It is a Christmas creed!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Lights

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:30-32

Lights are a vital part of our Christmas celebrations. The Christmas tree is filled with lights. We light candles on an Advent Wreath and we enjoy the candlelight service at our church. Many people drape their homes in lights. Simeon referred to Jesus as "a light" in Luke 2:32. Jesus referred to His disciples as "light" in Matthew 5:14.  As the Christian shines as a light, his godly life points to the brightness of Jesus.

Family Activity

Load the family in your vehicle and take a night drive through town. Survey the many different kinds of lights and decorations that you notice. You will likely see many thousands of lights on even a short drive around town. Sing holiday songs together as you drive and enjoy the beauty of sparkling lights against the night sky. Stop by a local restaurant and enjoy some dessert. Talk about the significance of Jesus as the Light. He is our clarity in a world of confusion and darkness. Think of ways that your family can shine as lights in a world that is shrouded by sin.

"Light dawns in the darkness for the upright" (Psalm 112:4).


Our Father in heaven, thank You that Jesus has come and brought light into a world darkened in sin. Thank You for the hope that we have in Christ. Help our family to shine as bright lights in a world of darkness. May our lives point to Jesus who is the light of the world. Amen.

Today's post is from Family Worship for the Christmas Season by Ray Rhodes. To order click beneath the picture and send us a message.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Expectations

At the end of the day it is a mixed bag, isn't it?  Christmas that is.  The season begins with a bang (actually with a Turkey on Thanksgiving).  Fresh from the table (and a game or two) shoppers are rushing to the store.  They are looking for that great deal, waiting in line at Walmart for the ridiculously priced iPad. They storm Victoria's Secret and even camp for a week at Best Buy.

Christmas opens with a promise that this is going to be the year when the magic happens. The family will get along. The presents will actually be special and appreciated. No more socks or ties. This will be the year when chestnuts roast and Jack Frost tickles our nose. The kids will smile, the family will sing, the bells will all be silver and sweetly chime "ding-a-ling." Can't you just hear them ring?

The Hallmark channel will get the tears flowing, perhaps at the same time the marshmellows are roasting. After the movie Grandpa will tell us of "the glories of Christmases long, long ago."

We fall for it year after year don't we?

Yet never are expectations met. After the wrappings are discarded we are soon checking our email, Facebook, and texts.  By noon the Christmas music sounds dull. It is an experience that is over and yet we hope that it might peek it's head around the corner and excite us again.

Some years we come face to face with suffering. A loved one in the hospital.  No money for presents (and barely enough for food). Perhaps Christmas greets us with a death.  Sometimes a loved one even dies on December 25th.  There is little time or desire for presents. We are met at the door by grief. The tears fall. Being home for Christmas will never be quite the same.

But what then? Do we drown in our tears? Or do we grieve with a senes of hope? You see the message of Christmas is a message of real promise and true expectation.  The Christmas story tells us that God pitched a tent here on the earth. He came to live among us as a baby, a boy and a man. And he lived a perfectly righteous life, died a substitutionary death (substituting for sinners; taking what they deserved), and was raised again from the dead.

Christmas should be a reminder to us that our hope is not found wrapped in beautiful paper, nor is it in family unity and peace on earth. Our hope is in Christ alone.

So when Christmas winks at you with promises of happiness--remember. Remember that the promises of the Christmas season will not be found in gifts, and family, food, and music. Those may all be good gifts from a kind and gracious God--and we should thank Him.  But they are not the end. They are pointers. They point to Him.  And the suffering that we may face at Christmas--its not the end. It is just a reminder that the glitter and gold of this world is quickly tempered.  Suffering should point us to Christ.  He suffered for us that He might bring us to God. As you exchange gifts, exchange expectations!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Christmas Vision

Adapted from Family Worship for the Christmas Season by Ray Rhodes. To order click here and send us a message.

Do you have a vision for Christmas? Do you often find that your expectations for the Christmas season fall short? Do you find yourself frustrated by the time Christmas Day rolls around?  Perhaps it is time for you to reconsider your Christmas vision.

Christmas is about much more than your family and is much larger than your living room. The vision of Christmas stretches from before time and beyond time. The Bible speaks of the ". . . hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began" (Titus 1:2). The birth of Jesus was planned before the world was created. God's plan of redemption was orchestrated "before time began." The Bible teaches that the salvation of God's people will bring Him glory in "the ages to come" (Ephesians 2:7).

When God sent His Son into the world it was the outworking of His plan that began before time and that continues into eternity. God's love for the world is amazing and was most wonderfully demonstrated in the sending of Jesus (John 3:16).

This is what we are embracing afresh at Christmas. Our vision of Christmas must look back to eternity past, forward to eternity future, and embrace a large vision for missions to the entire world.  That is what motivated Paul to say, "Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they may also obtain the salvation, which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (2 Timothy 2:10).

Making it Practical

Do an Internet search for Christmas customs around the world. Write down some of the more interesting traditions of people from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Mark the places on a world map and pray that the people of that region would hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Find out  about missionaries who are serving in those areas and pray for them by name. When it is possible (and acceptable with security concerns) write a letter of encouragement to them. Put a collection box near your Christmas tree that will be used to collect coins for mission's giving.

A Prayer

Our Father in Heaven, I pray that your character would be recognized as great throughout the world. Please encourage and enable Your missionaries in their work. Please help our family and church to be faithful to share Christ during the Christmas season and always.

Scripture references from the New King James version.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Word to Husbands

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ love the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of the water with the word (Ephesians 5:25).

The primary responsibility of a husband is to love his wife. It is sad that some wives seldom (or never) hear or feel that they are loved. On the one hand, it is impossible for a husband to make his wife feel loved. However, there are things that he can do to encourage her that she is loved. His responsibility is not to make her feel loved. His responsibility is to love her and tell her that he loves her. In doing so he is cultivating in her a capacity to know and feel that she is loved. He should do nothing that would argue otherwise.  How can you cultivate in your wife a feeling and a knowledge that she is loved?

1. You should be desirable. When your wife thinks of you, she should have every reason to think of you with desire.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you (Song of Solomon 1:2-3).

Why did she desire his kisses? Because his love was "better than wine." There was a sweetness, richness, and depth to his love. When she thought of him she thought of the best things in life. Like good wine his love was mature, invigorating, and delightful.  When he came to her mind she imagined kissing him, smelling him ("your anointing oils are fragrant), and she thought of his well-known character ("your name is oil poured out").  Based on these verses, a husband should be a good kisser. He should smell good. He should live a good life. When a man loves a woman, he loves her in every way. Because of love, he cares about how he smells and how he looks. How are you doing?

2. You should tell her that she is loved.  If your  wife does not know that she is loved, it should not be because you have not told her.

Behold, you are beautiful, my love;
behold, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves (1:15).

It is important for you to regularly tell your wife two things: "I love you" and "You are beautiful."  You should find numerous ways to express your love to her. Though you never compare her negatively to other women (in the sense that she does not measure up) you may compare her positively. 

As a lily among brambles,
so is my love among the young women (2:2).

He describes her beauty in very specific ways (4:1-7; 7:1-9).

How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O noble daughter!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. (7:1-2).

3. You should tell her that you want to be with her.

Come, my beloved, 
let us go out into the fields
and lodge in the villages;
let us go out early to the vineyards
and see whether the vines have budded . . . (7:11-12).

Does your wife know that you love her, that you think she is beautiful, and that you want to be with her? 

Guys, we have a responsibility to learn how to better communicate with our wives. If they do not know and feel that they are loved, it should not because we have failed in our most basic duty to love them.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Parenting at 52: Watch out for "Precious."

Today I received a notice from Amazon. The email indicated that my order would arrive in two days.  What did I order? According to Amazon I ordered headphones for $350 and a video game for $50. I immediately called the family members who order things from my Amazon account. They all denied having placed the "1 click" order. I then clicked the cancel button on the order and called Amazon. All that they could tell me was that the order was placed at about 4:30 AM PST. 

The light began to dawn on my confused and dark brain. Where was I at 4:30 AM PST? Well, I was in my office at 7:30 AM EST. Then I remembered that my daughter Abigail (age 2) was with me at that time. She is fascinated by technology. It is not uncommon to find her hidden away with my phone.  This morning, while the coffee was brewing, she turned on my Kindle and turned on an Amy Grant Christmas album. I was busy setting up my computer and getting my books organized for the day. When it was time to take Abigail back upstairs, I checked the Kindle. I simply noticed that she was on the Amazon page. 

While I was on the phone with Amazon, I remembered the Kindle. I connected the time of the order with Abigail playing with the Kindle. I then figured it out. Abigail ordered some very nice headphones and a cool video game. I suppose that she was buying me some gifts for Christmas. I tried not to curse the "1-click" shopping option that makes ordering so easy. Thankfully the kind folks at Amazon were able to cancel my order. I changed my password, just in case.

I was reminded this morning that parenting at age 52 is very different from when I was 28. When I was 28 we did not have a computer or a cell-phone. Amazon did not exist.  Things were much slower 24 years ago. Parenting at 52 means coming to grips with technology, for one thing. I am not anti-tech (obviously). I think that we see the creativity of God on display with the development of all of kinds of devices. However, like any good gift from God, I have to be on guard for problems. The problems are not a result of the existence of technology. The problems are much deeper than that. The problems go all the way down into my heart. Technology, and anything else under-the-sun, serve to shine the searchlight on my sinful heart. 

This is the lesson that I must learn and that I must teach my children. Sin is first of all a heart issue. "1-click" shopping is not a bad thing. The bad thing is when I am so anxious over a product and my heart is racing, that I can't wait to click. Two-day shipping is not a problem. The problem is that my heart does not want to wait for anything. The problem with technology is that the creators of technology are savvy concerning the human heart. They know that we are impatient and that shiny things easily mesmerize us. 

At age 52 I have to better learn how to use and redeem technology for the glory of God. I need to help my daughters to see that "all that glitters is not gold." I must learn and teach patience. And I have to learn and teach that technology can become a "Precious."

I have a love/hate relationship with powerful things. Like Gollum I can see such powerful things as "Precious." I am tempted to think that if I can just get the "ring" then I will become the "master." And I hate what I can allow the "ring" to do to me. So I fight. Competing voices cry out. The only way that I can master technology and its virtual power, is to submit to the real Master, God the Creator.  

Parenting at 28 meant dealing with all sorts of things that were precious and that competed for the loyalty of my family. Parenting at 52 means dealing with new kinds of masters that are faster and that can change your life with just "1 click."

Friday, November 29, 2013

Someone to Walk With: A Meditation on Friendship

Remembering C.S. Lewis on the Date of His Birthday
Born: November 29, 1898, Belfast, United Kingdom
Died: November 22, 1963, Oxford, United Kingdom

The Pasture
Robert Frost

I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too.

I'm going out to fetch the little calf
That's standing by the mother. It's so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too.

I enjoy the simple pictures painted in the artistic poetry of Robert Frost.  His thoughts, inked onto paper in The Pasture, reflect our innate desire for friendship. Friendship, at one level, is simply having someone to walk with.

Friendship as someone to walk with, finds a literal example in the life of C.S. Lewis.  

Humphrey Carpenter, wrote a great book (The Inklings) on the friendship of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and others.  Lewis was fond of annual walking tours in the spring with a few friends.   Carpenter writes: 

It was an idyllic way to spend three of four days.  Footpaths were plentiful, . . . inns were numerous and cheap, . .  .and pots of tea and even full meals could be bought in most villages for the smallest of sums . . .  But though the route was different every year their habits were almost unvarying. They did not attempt to cover vast distances each day, in the manner of fanatical hikers. Lewis said he disliked the word 'hiking' because it was unnecessarily self-conscious for something as simple as going for a walk--but they certainly set a good pace, and would reckon to do perhaps twenty miles a day, maybe a little more on easy country or rather less if the going was tough.  

Lewis refused to allow the party to take packed meals, insisting on plenty of stops at pubs. He and his friends always made a mid-morning halt for beer or draught cider, and there was more beer at lunch time as an accompaniment to bread and cheese.  Lunch was always concluded by a pot of tea, and more tea was drunk at an inn or cottage in mid-afternoon. Indeed Lewis cared for his tea just as much as for his beer, if not more so.
Lewis like to argue with his companions as they walked.  They were all of them well matched ... but too much serious talk was discouraged. The kind of day they really liked was one such as in Dorset when they 'got through the serious arguments in the ten miles before lunch and came down to mere fooling and school-boy jokes as the shadows lengthened.'  (34-36).

The walks and the ongoing discussions by C.S. Lewis and his friends were instrumental in making him the man that he was, and that we honor today.  His thinking and his speech were not developed in isolation but were cultivated in the warmness of lively conversation. Part of the greatness of C.S. Lewis is found in the fact that he had friends to walk with.

It is important to be alone. In the chaos of human existence it is life-restoring to withdraw for a time to rest, reflect, read, pray, meditate, and to just be alone. However, being alone can be dangerous if  isolated from friendships.  Minds have warped, dreams withered, vibrancy dulled, and in some cases lives completely destroyed, due to withdrawing from others and failing to make friends.

God has designed us for fellowship, for friendship.  In the gospel, God reconciles enemies to himself and makes them friends.  He then makes his friends members of a community of friends (the church) and gives specific instruction as to how those friendships are to work.  Jesus regularly withdrew from the crowds and from his closest companions.  Yet much of his earthly life was spent in the presence of his friends.  Should we choose a different path?  Do we not need time alone before God in prayer and meditation? And do we not need the accountability and encouragement that comes via friendship?

J.R.R. Tolkien in his diary wrote of C.S. Lewis, "The unpayable debt that I owe him was not influence ... but sheer encouragement."

Friendship is having someone to eat and drink with, someone to debate with, and someone to laugh with.  It is having someone to encourage and to be encouraged by. And, like Jesus and the disciples, we need a variety-pack of friends; folks that share core convictions with us but who nevertheless are different from us. Friendship is having someone to walk with.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Unknown Lady of Thanksgiving

Image Credit

When Americans sit down to their Thanksgiving Day meal on Thursday, perhaps the Pilgrims and Indians will be a part of the talk around the table. It is doubtful that many will remember that 1621 was the year of that first Thanksgiving. If the discussion continues then Abraham Lincoln will, no doubt, be mentioned. His Thanksgiving proclamation of 1863 established the fourth Thursday in November as the National Thanksgiving Day.

There is a very important person who was instrumental in the establishment of a yearly National Thanksgiving Day. She is not now well known but was a giant in her day. She was a writer, editor, and ladies advocate on various fronts (especially education) She was instrumental in the preserving of Mount Vernon as a national memorial, she helped to send out the first women medical missionaries, she believed in physical fitness for ladies, and she was a homemaker and mother of five children. She was a widow. Her husband died when she was only 34 years old.

Assisted in publishing by some of her husband's friends she initially wrote two books of poems. The second book contained the famous children's poem, Mary Had a Little Lamb. Her writing career blossomed and eventually she became the editor of, what would become the most influential ladies magazine in America,--Godey's Ladies Book. She would serve as the editor of Godey's for almost fifty years. This publication contained everything from recipes, to moral fiction, to poetry, and advice on issues related to womanhood. It was also through Godey's that she gave her most public attention to the establishment of a national Thanksgiving Day.

She wrote an important novel, Northwood, in 1827.  In this novel she described life in New England in the early 1800's. It was also in this book that she advocated for a Thanksgiving festival.

We have too few holidays. Thanksgiving like the Fourth of July should be considered a national festival and observed by all  people.

In Northwood she devotes two chapters to Thanksgiving including sections on the Thanksgiving worship service. She describes in detail the food and decorations for the family celebration.

In 1846 she stepped up her efforts to promote a national Thanksgiving Day. It would take 17 years before President Lincoln would issue a proclamation for such a day (1863). During those preceding years she would write many hundreds of letters (by hand) along with her editorials, promoting Thanksgiving Day.

In 1853 in Godey's Lady's Book her vision became evident. She imagined a day where  ". . .millions of people sitting down, as it were, together to a feast of joy and thankfulness. . ." She also had a vision for the kinds of foods that would be enjoyed (such as duck, ham, pudding, and especially roasted turkey and pumpkin pie).

After many years of writing and promoting her passion for Thanksgiving and arguing for the benefits of such a day (reuniting family, remembering God's faithfulness, and strengthening the unity of the nation), she wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln requesting his consideration for such a day. The result is now the famous and beautifully written Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863.

It is a little known fact, these days, that the author of Mary Had a Little Lamb is to be given much credit for our national holiday. She was a homeschooled and self-educated young lady. She faced many challenges as a single mother with five children. Yet in the face of her challenges she took up a pen and became one of the most influential women of her generation and in all of American history.  Do you know her name?  Sarah Josepha Hale is the mother of our Thanksgiving Day. Why not bring her into your conversation on Thursday?

To learn more:
Family Worship for the Thanksgiving Season by Ray Rhodes, Jr. To order message us here.
The Lady of Godey's: Sarah Josepha Hale by Ruth Finley

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pilgrims, Indians, and a lady named Sarah

Almost 50 million Americans will travel fifty or more miles during the Thanksgiving holiday to visit with family and friends. With the growth of America since its founding has also come the scattering of families across the land. Thanksgiving Day calls families to journey "over the river and through the wood" to sit around the table, enjoy a meal, and remember days gone by. In the homes of Christians, Thanksgiving serves as another opportunity to recount the faithfulness of God and to give him thanks.

Message to Order
Several streams converged that have helped to form the Thanksgiving Day tradition that Americans celebrate on the fourth Thursday of November each year. Most prominent is the gathering of Pilgrims and Indians at Plymouth in 1621. This celebration followed a bountiful harvest and the best conditions that the Pilgrims had enjoyed since touching the shores of their new home. Soon after arriving at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in November of 1620, the Pilgrims began exploring the New England coastline and they came face to face with the brutality of a North Eastern winter. With the cold, wind, snow, and rain and without adequate shelter, their suffering increased and their number was reduced. By April of 1621 only 51 of the original 102 settlers were alive. Out of the 51 there were only twenty men and eight women. The rest were children.

From their great grief came the provision of God. Friendship with the Indians was cultivated, vegetables were planted, trading was established, homes were built, and life improved. For three days in the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God and with Indian friends that ate and danced. This celebration is the foundational event for our modern Thanksgiving Day.

Though there were days of thanksgiving at various times and for various reasons from the early days of the settling of America, there was missing a formally recognized National Day of Thanksgiving. That would change--primarily through the influence of a lady by the name of Sarah Josepha Hale.

Sarah Josepha Hale: Part One  
Sarah Hale

Sarah Hale was born in 1788 while memories of the Revolutionary War were still fresh on everyone's mind and the fires of patriotism were burning bright.

In their early years, Sarah and her brother were  homeschooled by their mother. College was not a possibility for a young lady in Sarah's day (later Sarah would help to open doors for women to receive a college education). Educational limitations were no match for Sarah's passion to learn. Though she had only a few books, she studied them intensely. She read the Bible and The Pilgrims Progress. Her brother Horatio instructed her from his college text-books and she was able to learn Latin, advanced math, and other disciplines.

By the time Sarah was 18 she was teaching school and her gifts were obvious. She as a faithful student, a devoted Christian and she was growing mightily in character.

At age 25, Sarah married a popular young lawyer named David Hale. He was a great encouragement to her and she loved him dearly. Both enjoyed reading. Sarah wrote:

We commenced, soon after our marriage, a system of study and reading, which we pursued while he lived. The hours allotted were from eight o'clock until ten--two hours in twenty-four. How I enjoyed those hours! In this manner we studied French, Botany . . . and obtained some knowledge of Mineralogy, Geology, etc., besides pursuing a long and instructive course of reading. In all our mental pursuits, it seemed the aim of my husband to enlighten my reason, strengthen my judgment, and give me confidence in my own powers of mind, which he esteemed more highly than I did. I equaled him in imagination, but in no other faculty. Yet the approbation which he bestowed on my talents has been of great encouragement to me in attempting the duties which were to be my portion. The Lady of Godey's: Sarah Josepha Hale by Ruth E. Finley.

Taken from Family Worship for the Thanksgiving Season.

Visit us tomorrow to learn how Sarah Hale was instrumental in our National Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Last Friend

Jack and Joy

Some of the information about C.S. Lewis in this column is adapted from The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter, pages 233-252.

There is an ending for everything under the sun. People come and go; jobs change; events transition and children get married. Things, once so seemingly permanent on our calendar and in our traditions, transition to something else. The transitions come to a final transition when life is swallowed up by death and then death gives way to life eternal.

Everything changes. One moment we are holding the hand of a loved one and the next they are gone.  They have moved away to that far-away land. They are not coming back.

One day we will have a last friend.

For C.S. (Jack) Lewis that last friend was a lady from New York, Mrs. Joy Davidman Gresham. They first became acquainted when she wrote to him. Lewis was accustomed to getting letters from American fans. The letters from Joy were distinct and captured his attention.

Joy Davidman was born a Jew, declared herself an atheist at the age of 8, and later became a member of the Communist Party. She was a teacher and a writer of poetry, novels, and scripts. She married a Communist, William Gresham, in 1942.

Joy discovered The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce by Lewis. The struggles of her husband and their marriage led Joy to a sense of helplessness and humility. She was converted and became a Christian. Though she and her husband both professed Christ, their marriage continued to fail and they would eventually divorce.

She made a trip to England in 1952 and Lewis invited her to Oxford for a visit.

She was fascinating to C.S. Lewis. He wrote, Her mind was... quick and muscular as a leopard. Passion, tenderness and pain were all equally unable to disarm it.

By 1953 Joy moved to England with her two sons. They visited Jack and his brother Warnie Lewis in their home for four days in the winter of 1953. Lewis wrote to a friend, Can you imagine two crusted old bachelors in such a situation? 

Joy continued writing and in 1955 her book, Smoke on the Mountain, based on the Ten Commandments, was published. Lewis wrote the foreword.

She moved to Oxford in the summer of 1955 and regularly visited with Lewis. Their friendship, through various challenges, grew. One of the challenges was that Warnie Lewis was suspicious and probably a bit jealous. He and his brother were very close.

In 1956 Joy's permit to live in Great Britain was not renewed.

She was married in April of 1956 to Jack. Lewis called the marriage a pure matter of friendship and expediency. They did not live together and the marriage was considered an act of friendship, simply that Joy could remain in England. Lewis saw the marriage as a civil marriage distinct from a marriage in the Christian sense. The distinction between civil marriage and church endorsed Christian marriage was a position that he held prior to meeting Joy.

Joy began suffering hip problems and had to go the hospital. It was discovered that she had bone cancer.

Lewis remarked, soon after he heard the news of her cancer, No one can mark the exact moment in which friendship becomes love.

Humphrey Carpenter wrote:

  ...The days of talking about the marriage as a mere expediency were over, and Lewis and Joy determined that they must be married in the eyes of the Church. Warnie too had been won over. 'Never have I loved her more than since she was struck down,' he wrote in November 1956, shortly after the cancer had been diagnosed. 'Her pluck and cheerfulness are beyond praise...God grant that she may recover.'

C.S. and Joy were married, in the Christian sense, at her bedside in the hospital, on March 21, 1957. Her death was seen as imminent but prayers were offered for her recovery. She began to heal. By the summer of 1958 her cancer seemed to be in full remission and she was moving rather freely, though with a limp. Even the doctors, considered her recovery a miracle.

Lewis discovered romantic love. He remarked to one of his friends, Do you know, I am experiencing what I thought would never be mine.  I never thought that I would have in my sixties the happiness that passed me by in my twenties.

With Joy now in the home of C.S. and his brother Warnie, she brought a woman's touch to their world. Warnie wrote, What Jack's marriage meant to me was that our home was enriched and enlivened by the presence of a witty, broad-minded, well read, tolerant Christian whom I had rarely heard equalled as a conversationalist whose company was a never ending source of enjoyment.

The marriage had a profound impact on C.S. Lewis.  He was different in the best sense of the word.

By October 1959 the cancer had returned. Her pain increased and yet she continued to persevere.

In May, Jack. and Joy were on a dinner date. He recalled, how much happiness, even how much gaiety, we sometimes had together after all hope was gone.

On July 12th, 1960 Joy and Jack were playing Scrabble. Lewis wrote of that night, How long, how tranquilly, how nourishingly, we talked together that last night!

By midnight on July 13th, after a day of horrific pain, Joy died.

Lewis struggled greatly in the days following Joy's death but eventually the grief began to subside. His own health declined. In 1963 he had a heart attack but recovered. He said, I can't help feeling it was rather a pity I did survive. I mean, having glided so painlessly up to the Gate it seems hard to have it shut in one's face and know that the whole process must some day be gone through again, and perhaps less pleasantly.

On Friday afternoon, November 22nd, 1963 C.S. Lewis died. His brother Warnie, his best friend for all of his life, was at home with him.

His death resulted in the death of the Inklings as well. As one friend said, He was the link that bound us all together.

C.S. Lewis, prior to meeting Joy, did not welcome conversation from his friends about their wives at the meetings of the Inklings.  Joy changed everything.  She was his last friend.  She was the friend that gave him what he had missed for so long. She gave him the friendship of a wife. She put a spring in his step and was a source of joy to his heart. His last friend was in a sense, his best friend.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Death of C.S. Lewis: The Last Battle

Aslan turned to them and said: 'You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.'
 Lucy said, 'We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.'
No fear of that,' said Aslan. 'Have you not guessed?'
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.
'There was a real railway accident,' said Aslan softly. 'Your father and mother and all of you are--as you used to call it in the Shadowlands--dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."  From The Last Battle. 
In July of 1963, C.S. Lewis suffered a severe heart attack. Death was so certain that last rites were administered. He later said: I can't help feeling it was rather a pity I did survive. I mean, having glided so painlessly up to the Gate it seems hard to have it shut in one's face and know that the whole process must some day be gone through again, and perhaps less pleasantly.

As Lewis recovered from his heart attack, perhaps he remembered the words that he had put in Lucy's mouth. Just as Lucy and friends had so often tasted the air of the Narnia within Narnia, so Lewis had been to the very Gate. He had been sent back from the Gate, but not for long. On November 22, 1963, C.S. Lewis had the Gate opened to him. He entered into the world that he had often thought so much about. As he drew nearer to that world everything became larger and larger. He had traveled through the Shadowlands. At his home, just outside of Oxford, he tumbled out of bed and hit the floor. He fought the final fight. At 5:30 PM, in the arms of his brother Warnie, he died. As Lewis wrote in The Last Battle "The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."

In Till We Have Faces Lewis writes: “Death opens a door out of a little, dark room (that's all the life we have known before it) into a great, real place where the true sun shines and we shall meet.”

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote: "...We owed each a great debt to the other, and that tie, with the deep affection that it begot, remained. He was a great man of whom the cold-blooded official obituaries have only scraped the surface."

50 years after the death of C.S. Lewis, I think we have still "only scraped the surface." C.S. Lewis was a flawed man. However, with the perspective of 50 years on our side, we can say with Tolkien that he was a great man. For Lewis, the story continues and each chapter gets better.

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily every after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.  The Last Battle.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Remembering C.S. Lewis: Uproarious Friendship

He had, indeed, a remarkable talent for friendship, particularly for friendship of an uproarious kind, masculine and argumentative but never quarrelsome. Warnie Lewis writing about C.S. Lewis

We have many friends via social networking sites but fewer actual friends, according to a Cornell study reported by (here). Ned Potter, reporting on the Cornell study writes: "Forty-eight percent of participants listed one close friend when asked, 18 percent listed two and 29 percent listed more. A little more than 4 percent didn't list anyone."

There are many suggestions as to the reasons that our circle of close friends continues to decline. For some it may be simply a matter of time. We don't view friendship as necessary and therefore cultivating and maintaining friendships are lower on our list of priorities. Who has the time and the energy these days to develop friendships? It is hard enough to care for one's own family and make a living in our culture. Many people are emotionally spent and friendship is give-and-take emotionally. Some of us have been burnt by our friends and think that it is just not worth the effort.

Where are the friends that we can share our darkest thoughts with? Where are the friends that we can laugh, cry, talk, and walk with? Where are the animated conversations bubbling over with colorful expressions? Though we may have thousands of "friends" via social media, where are the people that can be confided in?  Potter writes, "We may 'friend' more people on Facebook, but we have fewer real friends -- the kind who would help us out in tough times, listen sympathetically no matter what, lend us money or give us a place to stay if we needed it, keep a secret if we shared one."

We can bemoan the demise of friendship or we can take positive steps to change the trajectory.  C.S. Lewis can help us. W.H. (Warnie) Lewis writes of his brother in Letters of C.S. Lewis:

All of his friends will bear witness, he was a man with an outstanding gift for pastime with good company, for laughter and the love of friends--a gift which found full scope in any number of holidays and walking tours, the joyous character of his response being well conveyed in his letters. He had, indeed, a remarkable talent for friendship, particularly for friendship of an uproarious kind, masculine and argumentative but never quarrelsome.

Warnie Lewis describes the friendships of the group of men who made up the Inklings:

The ritual of an Inklings was unvarying. When half a dozen or so had arrived, tea would be produced, and then when pipes were well alight Jack would say, 'Well has nobody got anything to read us?'  Out would come a manuscript, and we would settle down to sit in judgment upon it--real unbiased judgment too, since we were no mutual admiration society: praise for good work was unstinted, but censure for bad work--or even not-so-good work-was often brutally frank. To read to the Inklings was a formidable ordeal…

Sometimes, though not often, it would happen that no one had anything to read to us. On these occasions the fun would be riotous, with Jack at the top of his form and enjoying every minute--'no sound delights me more,' he once said, 'than male laughter.' At the Inklings his talk was an outpouring of wit, nonsense, whimsy, dialectical swordplay, and pungent judgment such as I have rarely heard equaled--no mere show put on for the occasion, either, since it was often quite as brilliant when he and I were alone together.

The Inklings would meet, according to Warnie ". . . in Jack's rooms at Magdalen every Thursday after dinner.” But they also met once a week at a local pub. Warnie writes, "And there was also another ritual gathering, subsidiary to the Inklings proper: the same company used to meet for an hour or so before lunch every Tuesday at the Eagle and Child in St. Giles', better known as the Bird and Baby. "

C.S. Lewis understood that behind true friendships is a sovereign God. He writes in The Four Loves:

But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ who said to the disciples 'You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,' can truly say to every group of Christian friends 'You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as revealing. At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

C.S. Lewis: Writing for Children

Remembering C.S. Lewis: Part One

November 29, 1898--November 22, 1963

It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one's adult enjoyment of what are called 'children's books.' I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty--except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we out to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all. A mature palate will probably not much care for crème de menthe: but it ought still to enjoy bread and butter and honey. C.S.L.

One of the reasons that the writings of C.S. Lewis continue to capture the imagination of children and adults is that he saw pictures as he wrote.

With me the process is much more like bird-watching than like either talking or building. I see pictures. Some of these pictures have a common flavor, almost a common smell, which groups them together. Keep quiet and watch and they will begin joining themselves up. . . I have no idea whether this is the usual way of writing stories, still less whether it is the best. It is the only one I know: images always come first.

Lewis did not think that the best way to write was to imagine a particular need that a random person might have and then to write about it. His writing was much more personal than that. He said ". . . I think we can be sure that what does not concern us deeply will not deeply interest our readers, whatever their age."

His writing for children grew out of his sense of commonality with children. "We must write for children out of those elements in our own imagination which we share with children: differing from our child readers not by any less, or less serious, interest in the things we handle, but by the fact that we have other interests which children would not share with us."

Lewis writes:

Once in a hotel dining-room I said, rather too loudly, 'I loathe prunes.' 'So do I,' came an unexpected six-year-old voice from another table. Sympathy was instantaneous. Neither of us thought it funny. We both knew that prunes are far too nasty to be funny. That is the proper meeting between man and child as independent personalities. On the far higher and more difficult relations between child and parent or child and teacher, I say nothing. An author, as a mere author, is outside of all that. He is not even an uncle. He is a freeman and an equal, like the postman, the butcher, and the dog next door.

Quotes above are from Of Other Worlds: Essays & Stories by C.S. Lewis

Monday, November 18, 2013

Barricading Joy

One of the dangers of legalism is that it redefines worldliness in such a way that joy is barricaded. Make no mistake, worldliness is a sin. However, many things that are often classified as sinful are not necessarily sins. They can be. Anything can be. Yet worldliness is not defined by a sin-list. Worldliness is living life with no consideration for the reality of God. Worldliness has a lot more to do with what a person believes than whether he dances, for example.

Some Christians have fallen into grievious error, concerning worldliness. The result has not been pretty. Instead of enjoying everything that is biblically lawful, they have developed lists of rules that they imagined would serve them well in regulating their behavior. The result has often been a cleaning up of the outside while leaving a mess on the inside. While varnishing the exterior the fumes from the varnish have suffocated the heart. The heart cannot pump blood when the oxygen supply has been cut off. In an attempt to protect the heart, the heart is killed. Legalism is deadly and it often acts in a murderous way towards others. When a person develops a personal list of of ways to achieve righteousness, they usually seek to impose that list on others. The list often contains items that are not forbidden in the Bible. But even the commands of Scripture can be attempted in a wrong way. Obedience to God's commands is beautiful, but obedience requires the oxygen of grace.

The evangelical field is littered with hollow-eyed professing Christians who have spent their evangelical lives jumping through hoops, in well-meaning attempts to live the separated life. They have worked hard. Separation as the ruling factor leaves its adherents empty and disillusioned, but still running the spiritual treadmill. They lose their song, music,  passion, and their first love. Life is drudgery. Hoop jumping is tiring, but not in a good way. Godly fatigue is cleansing. Serving and separation that are invigorating characterize the godly person. Such joy escapes the person whose life is marked by refusing to touch, to taste, to celebrate, to eat, drink, and cheer for their favorite sports team.

Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes, tells us that life is fleeting and that everything is vain. However, he teaches the wise person how to take the vain things of life and enjoy them in a way that glorifies God. Remember that worldliness is pursuing happiness apart from God (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25). God-centered living is inseparably connected to God, by faith. With that connection one can plant, harvest, get married, have children, build vineyards, enjoy good music, and sweep the streets with a sense of meaning. After all, it is God who gives us the business that we are busy with (Ecclesiastes 3:10).

The worldly person has expectations for money, sex, possessions, food and drink, that those things cannot provide. The end result of real worldliness is total emptiness and a meaningless life. The godly person, on the other hand, has discovered:

. . . there is nothing better. . . than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil-this is God's gift to man (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).

God is glorified, not when his gifts are refused but when they are enjoyed. The Legalist cannot bring positive glory to God because he is afraid to receive the gifts of God, with a smile. He fears that the gifts might corrupt him and so he builds barricades in an attempt to keep sin out. What he really does is smother grace. It is good to protect the heart from sin. The Bible commands it. However, the way to protect the heart is not by refusing the generosity of God. In fact, it is the generosity of God that leads to repentance.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Amy Grant: How Mercy Looks From Here

Amy Grant was born on November 25th, 1960 in Augusta, GA. I was first introduced to her music in 1980. Though she had released five albums prior, the release of Age to Age (1982) expanded her audience and she became increasingly successful as a writer, singer, and musician. 

In late May of 2013, Grant released her first studio album in 10 years. That album is titled How Mercy Looks From Here. Though I have enjoyed most of her music since my 1980 introduction, the new release has become my favorite non-Christmas album. How Mercy Looks From Here brings us a seasoned Grant. Throughout her life she has enjoyed the mountaintop and she has also walked through dark valleys. In reading the literature available she acknowledges failures and various challenges. She has enjoyed the embrace of Christians and felt sharp displeasure from the same. She has known the pinnacle of success; the heartbreak of divorce, and the death of loved ones. 

How Mercy Looks From Here is her most substantive album to date. Though she does not mention the book of Ecclesiastes as an influence on this project, I can hear the message of Solomon in almost every song. She writes about death specifically in If I Could See, Better Not to Know, Deep As It is Wide, Shovel in Hand, Our Time is Now, How Mercy Looks From Here, and Threaten Me With Heaven. That is seven out of fourteen songs on the expanded version of the CD 

Every breath taking me closer
Every step leading to paradise
They say the faithful get to go there
I believe there's a love
Deep as it is wide.

I hear when you get to the river
You look back for the very last time
And when you cross, you get washed off forever
Hurry up boy, eternity's on the other side
Deep as it is wide.
(From the song Deep as it is Wide).

In her song Better Not to Know she writes:

Oh, It's Better Not to Know
The Way It's Gonna Go
What will die and what will grow
Oh, Nothing stays the same
Life Flickers Like a Flame
As the seasons come and go
Goodbye more than hello
It's better not to know.

It is not hard to hear Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 in those words and also in her song Our Time is Now.

Time is illusion
Time is a curse
Time is all these things and worse
But our time is now,
Yes, our time is now,
Let us sing before our time runs out.

Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes that there is a frustration about life under the sun. One generation comes, another departs, and the sun keeps coming up. The meaning of life can't be found in pleasure, money, houses, wine, or relationships. However, when a person is connected to God by faith then even the vain things of this vain life can and should be enjoyed to the glory of God. So, let us sing before our time runs out.

Amy Grant's Christian faith is the undercurrent of every song. She reminds her listeners of the presence of God in the song Here. She writes about the devastating Nashville flood of May 2010 in the title song How Mercy Looks From Here.

When you face your greatest fear
Losing all that you hold near
Open up your eyes my dear, my dear
That's when boundless grace appears
Unseen angels hover near
Saints are singing loud and clear
Oh, how mercy looks from here
Oh, how mercy looks from here.

She sings a prayer that God will lead her to the ones I need and to the one who's needing me in her song Greet the Day. And in Faith based on John six and Hebrews eleven she sings a call for people to believe in Christ:

Jesus said: 'I'm gonna tell you the truth . . ."
It was not Moses who has given you
bread from Heaven
It was my Father who has given you
true bread from Heaven
The bread of God is He who gives life
to the world
Believe, believe in Me
Believe, believe.

There is no shortage of opinions and perspectives about Amy Grant. There are many strong disagreements with her music and some of her life choices. You will likely find what you are looking for. Though I only met Amy Grant only one time, she has been a constant friend of mine for 24 years through her music. Perhaps one reason that I relate to her music is that we are in the same season of life. Her music often reflects the way that I am feeling as I grow older.

Happy Birthday (11/25) Amy Grant and I am thankful to our Lord for your album How Mercy Looks From Here.

I can see the tears upon your face
There's no hiding place
You're afraid that soon I will be gone
Time will still move on
You're searching for the answers you can't find
They will come in time.

What's the worst thing that could happen
If they say my time is through
Would it take away the love
Or the years I've shared with you
What's the worst thing that could happen
What's the worst thing they could do
Threaten me with heaven
If they want to. . .
That's all they can do.

I hear the angels through a window pain
Calling out my name
And someday when they carve that name in stone
I won't be alone
But if by chance a miracle appears
 I will dry your tears.

Amy Grant, Dillion O'Brian, Will Owsley, and Vince Gill