The Dancing Puritan

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Let Not My Love Be Called Idolatry

Sonnet 105 "Let not my love be called idolatry"

Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
Which three till now, never kept seat in one.

William Shakespeare   
(1564 - 1616)

Idolatry is a sin.  That is true whether the idol is fashioned by the hands or the heart. Our greatest threat to fidelity is not in statues or beads but to the more subtle idols that we erect within.

Idolatry crouches at the door of the lover's heart calling him to the worship of love.

The Puritans wrote much about this.  They held marriage in honor.

Edmund Morgan in the book, The Puritan Family, wrote of marital love as ...a duty imposed by God on all married couples. It was a solemn obligation that resulted directly from the marriage contract. If husband and wife failed to love each other above all the world, they not only wronged each other, they disobeyed God.

To the Puritans marital love was:

1.  A duty that husband and wife must be faithful to follow.
2.  A duty that required the husband and wife love one another above all others.
3.  To fail to do one's duty was to sin.

The Puritans did not view love as a mere duty.  They often spoke of the delights and joys of such love. For them duty and delight were wedded together in the Christian's heart. Edward Taylor described his love for his wife as a golden ball of pure fire. Yet even with his romantic excitement he recognized that the ball of fire had to be kept in bounds and subordinated to God's glory.

Yet they also saw the possibility of improperly delighting in one's spouse.

Thomas Shepherd's wife suffered greatly. Shepherd saw her suffering as instruction from God.  He wrote, I began to grow secretly proud and full of sensuality delighting my soule in my deare wife more than in my God whom I had promised better unto.

John Winthrop's wife Margaret, while ill, wrote to him during a time of extended absence; Thus it pleaseth the Lord to exercise us with one affliction after another in love; lest we should forget ourselves and love this world too much, and not set our affections on heaven where all true happiness is forever.

(Puritan quotes above from Edmund Morgan's book, The Puritan Family).

C.S. Lewis wrote of the possibility of turning being in love into a sort of religion.

He writes, Theologians have often feared, in this love, a danger of idolatry. I think they meant by this that the lovers might idolize one another.  That does not seem to me to be the real danger; certainly not in marriage...The real danger seems to me not that the lovers will idolize each other but that they will idolize Eros himself.

This sort of worship of Eros or being in love leads one to boast unashamedly that what they do is because they were driven by love.  Lewis wrote, The pair can say to one another in an almost sacrificial spirit, 'It is for love's sake that I have neglected my parents-left my children-cheated my partner-failed my friend at his greatest need.' The votaries may even come to feel a particular merit in such sacrifices; what costlier offering can be laid on love's altar than one's conscience?

If being in love is allowed to become a god then that sort of god will be destructive.  The god dies or becomes a demon unless he obeys God. If being in love does not die as a god the he will, according to Lewis, ...,live on, mercilessly chaining together two mutual tormentors, each raw all over with the poison of hate-in-love, each ravenous to receive and implacably refusing to give, jealous, suspicious, resentful, struggling for the upper hand, determined to be free and to allow no freedom...

There is only on God.  Worship Him.

Lewis quotes from The Four Loves.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sacred Air

Breathing Seminary Air

Men's Shop and More at SBTS

This morning I was thinking that we might expect too much of the air of excellence. 

The air that I have been breathing this week at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has been refreshing. Everything from the spit-shined floors to the silk ties, fountain pens and safety razors in the men's shop, communicates excellence. Walking through these hallowed halls and conversing with men, substantive in their pursuit of Christ, calls me upward.

I think that the air here, though it may be idolized and imagined that it has abilities that it does not, is nevertheless good air. There is the feel that one should aim high and pursue God's glory in all things.  

Yet the air is a gift. It wafts through the brain bringing with it refreshment, clarity and renewal.  But the air is not the Giver. The air had an origin. The gift was given.  This morning, as I prepare to leave this place, I thank God for the good gift of refreshing air.

From My Reading Stack

 Selection from The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. 

Very often what comes first is simply a delighted pre-occupation with the Beloved--a general, unspecified pre-occupation with her in her totality.  A man in this state really hasn't leisure to think about sex. He is too busy thinking of a person.  The fact that she is a woman is far less important than the fact hat she is herself. He is full of desire, but the desire may not be sexually toned. If you asked him what he wanted, the true reply would often be, 'To go on thinking about her.' He is love's contemplative.  And when at a later stage the explicitly sexual element awakes, he will not feel (unless scientific theories are influencing him) that this had all along been the root of the whole matter. He is more likely to feel that the incoming tide of Eros, having demolished many sand-castles and made islands of many rocks, has not at last with a triumphant seventh wave flooded this part of his nature also--the little pool of ordinary sexuality which was there on his beach before the tide came in.  Eros enters him like an invader, taking over and reorganizing one by one, the institutions of a conquered country. It may have take over many others before it reaches the sex in him; and it will reorganize that too....

Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the ''thing itself' Eros wants the Beloved.

The 'thing itself' is a sensory pleasure; that is, an event occurring within one's own body.  We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling the streets, that he 'wants a woman.'  Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus.  How much he cares about the woman as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition (one does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes).  Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but a particular woman,  In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give.

Houghton-mifflin / 1991 / pp 93-94

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Return to Faithfulness

Beside me this morning is the Sesquicentennial over-sized book that celebrates 150 years of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). It is a beautiful book. I am on the SBTS campus in the Legacy Center as I write.

The history, the tradition the commitment and the vision of this place is everywhere obvious.

The book opens with an overview of the history of this great seminary from Boyce to Mohler. The roots are deep in sound theology and a God-centered vision. But like any honest book it deals with the struggles that this great school faced over the years.

Liberalism held sway at Southern into the early 1990's until following in the wake of the Conservative Resurgence of the SBC, conservatives regained a majority on the board of trustees. Armed with a newfound conservative majority, trustees in 1993 elected a 33-year-old Baptist journalist, R. Albert Mohler Jr,. as the ninth president. By God's grace, the flower of reformation budded quickly (ix).

I remember those days well. A major struggle followed as liberals fought tooth and nail the changes that would come with Dr. Mohler's presidency. The changes were, in fact, not innovations so much as they were a return to the original vision of the school.

Students of history will know that turning the tide of liberalism in religious denominations and their schools is rare. The Southern Baptist Convention is far from perfect. There are continual battles being waged both from within and without.

Certainly if those who love the Lord and are committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible will remember our roots as a denomination and will recount our mountains and valleys we can be stronger in the future. Southern Seminary is a testimony that even a ship off course can be corrected by God's power and grace as his people look to him.

I am thankful to be here today.

Monday, February 25, 2013

God and Basketball: Pt. 3

C.S. Lewis wrote that people who simply 'want friends' can never make any.  The very condition of having friends is that we should want something else besides friends.  Where the truthful answer to the question 'Do you see the same truth?' would be 'I see nothing and I don't care about the truth; I only want a friend,' no friendship can arise--though affection may.  There would be nothing for the friendship to be about; and friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice.' 

Now people can be enthusiastic about white mice and not be friends.  The society for the love of white mice might draw many companions. Yet it is within those companions that some people discover something more.

Lewis writes, Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, 'What? You too? I thought I was the only one.'

Watching our team play basketball this year has been about something more than basketball. It has provided a theatre of friendship. No doubt among the parents and fans there have been those moments of What? You too? that Lewis wrote about. And certainly among the team--there has been a bonding of the heart where souls have been knit together like David and Jonathan.

As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt (I Samuel 18:1-4).

C.S. Lewis quotes are from The Four Loves.  Photos are by Sarah Rhodes.

Read more about the North Georgia Christian School State Championship Here:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

God and Basketball: Pt. 2

Does God care about basketball? Is he interested in such trivial things?

The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds (Psalm 33:13).
North Georgia Christian School Lady Chargers Photos by Holly Dempsey

The better question is, Does God care about his people?

The Puritan Matthew Henry wrote: Their hearts, as well as their times, are all in his hand; he formed the spirit of each man within him. All the powers of the creature depend upon him, and are of no account, of no avail at all, without him.

It is without doubt a sad truth that we take the good gifts of God and turn them into idols of the heart.  As Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit Gods, an idol is what we trust, love and obey ultimately.  What sinners do is take God-given gifts and worship and serve the gifts rather than the giver of the gifts.

Enter grace.

What God does for His people in salvation is that he sets them free. No longer is the Christian in chains of slavery to idols and helpless to break the shackles of idol-love. He is now free to enjoy the gifts of God and turn the entire universe into an arena for worship. That is true in small and large things. It is true, even in eating and drinking (I Corinthians 10:31). It is true even in basketball.

The unbelieving king looks to his army, the warrior leans on his strength and the nations look to their power (Psalm 33:16-17). The unbelieving basketball player finds his hope, his meaning, his joy in basketball (or something else). Their sport (or whatever their idol may be)--drives them and they bow down in obedience to their idol.

But when God invades the heart he brings freedom and opportunity.

He turns idol worshippers into God-lovers. Those who trust in the Lord turn their eyes from their former idols and rest in the sweet knowledge that ...the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love...(16).

The God worshipper looks to the Lord and his heart is glad in him (21).

In the movie Chariots of Fire Eric Liddle said:

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. 

Basketball matters to God. It is one arena where he can be praised. When we play for his glory we show that God matters to us. When we play basketball for the glory of God then when we run, pass, dribble, rebound, shoot and raise our hands to the sky--we feel his pleasure. And regardless of the outcome of any particular game we can Shout for joy in the LORD...because Praise befits the upright (Psalm 33:1).

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ending, Celebrating and Beginning

Today my third daughter Sarah will play her last high school basketball game. Today is the culmination of nine years (since fourth grade) of organized basketball for her. It is an ending, celebration and beginning. She may or may not play in college. That has yet to be determined.  Today--that does not matter.

Today we celebrate the kindness of God in giving to us the gift of basketball.

This morning, I sent this note to Sarah.

Dance with abandon today in the arena of God's glory. 32 minutes. Two teams. Coaches. Fans. Hardwood. Scoreboard. This is a gift to be enjoyed, to be celebrated. Today is your day. It is your team's day. It is all about His glory. Don't hold back--feel the wind of His pleasure as you play to His glory. Celebrate! Play basketball to His glory! I love you and look forward to the game. No matter what--we celebrate God's kindness today.

That note reflects our theology. It reflects my morning meditation from Ecclesiastes.

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved of what you do.  Let you garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.  Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going (Ecclesiastes 8:9).

Today we recognize the possibilities of this present life.

We live, under accountability to God, to his glory. Life is to be lived with abandonment to God. We are not free to violate his laws but we are free to not hold back, to feel the wind of his pleasure as we do whatever we do for His glory.

With a merry heart we work and play basketball.  We live with a sense that in Christ we and our works are approved by God. By God's pleasure, through Christ, for God's glory, we are to enjoy life!

This is his gift.

Today we recognize the limits of this present life.

The things of this present life are not ultimate. Eating, drinking, human love and basketball in their present state are all passing away. We have this life, however long that may be, to receive God's gifts and enjoy them for His glory. That should motivate us in the what and the how of what we do.

Sarah joins her sisters Rachel and Hannah in the last high school game experience. Rachel and Hannah's high school sports career have ended.  But through the endings God gave new beginnings. New opportunities. New ways to glorify him. The same will be true for Sarah and her team today.

Today is not so much an ending but a celebration of God's faithfulness and kindness.  It is also a beginning and a challenge to enjoy life to the glory of God.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Let's Dance

Lord, make me a dancing husband, a dancing dad, a dancing pastor, a dancing believer for your glory and the good of others!

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
Psalm 30:31-32

God is on display in the Psalms. He is glorified, prayed to, cried for, questioned--but in each Psalm, God is front-stage under the spotlight.

Reading the Psalms I can't help but think that the God of the Bible seems very different from the god often proclaimed and often denied. The Psalms lead me to cry out, Lord show me your character. I generally ask three questions of a Psalm:

1. What does this Psalm teach me about God?
2. How did the Psalmist respond to the truth about God?
3. How then should I live?

This morning as I read Psalm 30 I prayed, Lord, I pray that my dancing, gladness and song will not be painted but real. That my desire for a glad Christianity will not only be imagined but will be evident in my attitude, speech and actions.  Lord make me a dancing dad, a dancing husband, a dancing pastor, a dancing friend to your glory and the good of others.

David praises God for answering prayer. In essence he says, I cried, you heard. He is thankful that God's anger is short-lived in comparison to his eternal favor. He felt the salty tears of grief--sometimes the manly David wept all night. But the morning brought joy. God's anger and favor and our weeping and joy are beautifully summarized in verse five.

We once were children of wrath. We lived as objects of God's anger. Yet because of God's sovereign grace we have changed seats. We are no longer in the courtroom and under sentence of condemnation. By grace through faith in Christ we have been brought to the banqueting house. We now sit at his table. 

But how does that change us now?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes in Spiritual Depression:

A depressed Christian is a contradiction in terms, and he is a very poor recommendation for the gospel… Nothing is more important, therefore, than that we should be delivered from a condition which gives other people, looking at us, the impression that to be a Christian means to be unhappy, to be sad, to be morbid, and that the Christian is one who “scorns delights and lives laborious days.

Do you think that a faithful Christian is one who scorns delights and lives laborious days?

H.L. Menken portrays the typical caricature of the Puritan attitude in these words, The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

Though there may have been Puritans who viewed happiness as a contradiction to the Christian faith, such an attitude was not the norm.

C.S. Lewis wrote, But there is no understanding the period of the Reformation in England until we have grasped the fact that the quarrel between the Puritans and the Papists was not primarily a quarrel between rigorism and indulgence, and that, in so far as it was, the rigorism was on the Roman side. On many questions, and specially in their view of the marriage bed, the Puritans were the indulgent party...they were much more Chestertonian than their adversaries.

Christians weep. Christians mourn. Christians should not look through rose colored glasses, blind to reality. But Christians must look through gospel informed glasses.  

As Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, we must never look at any sin in our past life in any way except that which leads us to praise God and to magnify His grace in Christ Jesus.

The Christian is to remember that he once was in chains, bondage and death but that now he is free.

J. I. Packer in Hot Tub Religion writes, We need to emphasize the Christian's heritage of enjoyment. Unbelief makes us fear that God is a hard and unfriendly taskmaster who will begrudge us pleasure and require us to do things that we do not want to do and cannot enjoy. Scripture, however, shows us that the opposite is true. "You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand" (Ps. 16:11). 

I have too often live the Puritan caricature. I have acted as if joy must be found that it might be dismantled. I am gradually discovering that dancing Puritanism is really biblical Christianity lived out.

I am still stumbling as I try to dance. I trip over my feet. Joy is too often not evident. My writing reflects my desire, my prayer--more what I want to be than what often I am. 

Is there a time to weep?  Yes.  Is there a time to dance? Yes! (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

Lord, make me a dancing husband, a dancing dad, a dancing pastor, a dancing believer for your glory and the good of others!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lets Talk About Habits

In The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg writes about how even small changes in one's life can lead to powerful habits.  Lets talk about habits today!

The old rule of thumb (origins debated) is that it takes 21 days to develop a habit. The latest research points to something closer to 60 days.

A habit is something that one does automatically. They have done it (whatever it may be) for so long
that it is now a part of the core of who they are. In fact it is really hard to not engage in a habit. And habits are not only vices but also virtues. Sometimes habits are a mixture of vice and virtue. I have a habit of drinking at least one milkshake every night. It is automatic! Is it a vice?  Is it a virtue? Is it a mixture?

A few days ago I embarked on a journey of writing a letter to my beloved Lori each day for eight days (today was day six). Is it a habit yet?  I don't think so, however, it is on my mind each morning and something that I look forward to. I am hopeful that day eight will not be the end of my habit.

I am trying to develop new and good habits. Purposefully doing good things on schedule has a way of cultivating a delight in doing those good things.

For example I look forward to getting up early every morning and reading. My goal is to be in my chair with coffee in hand by five am. I then read the Bible, pray and read sections in several books.  Following my time of reading I write Lori a letter. While writing her I am reading from the Song of Solomon (SOS). SOS gives me the language of love. For example, today I was in chapter six.  I focused on the phrases, my beloved and my love. Why do folks not use those phrases these days?  We say, my wife or my husband.  But we don't usually say, my beloved.  My beloved means more, it seems to me, than my wife. My beloved indicates joy, treasure, delight, security and happiness. I like the words, my wife.  I love the phrase, my beloved. I digress except that one habit feeds another habit.  Reading encourages writing. Writing motivates reading. To cultivate a deepening of the roots of my hopeful habit of letter writing to Lori, SOS gives me a language.

After breakfast I write my blog post and then I am on my way to a day that is packed full of work.

The point is that doing good things consistently—even when my heart is not fully into it—usually brings the result of changing my heart over a period of time.

What good habits, that might bring great results in your life, do you need to cultivate?  Remember it will take some time for your good things to become automatic. It will likely take more than 21 days. It may take 60 days or longer. It will be worth it. A good habit wedded to a joyful heart cultivates a purposeful life.

You already have a lot of habits. Some need to be exploded. Others need to be fed. Make a list of some good habits that you could develop that would make a real difference in your church, family and marriage.  And get started. Today should be day one to a lifetime of good habits.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Expressing Love

Eat friends, drink, and be drunk with love 
(The Song of Solomon 5:1b).

What do you do about the hindrances to expressing love in marriage?

True love is exciting. The Song of Solomon (SOS) is ripe with provocative imagery concerning love. However, lest we get caught up in the excitement and let down by disappointments, we must learn how to respond to the hindrances of expressing love.

It is clear that there were unrealized expectations in the expression of love between Solomon and his bride (SOS chapter 5).

He came to the door and she was tucked in for the night. Yet when she heard him—her heart was thrilled. By the time she got herself together he was gone. She went looking for him—she wanted him. Her heart was sick with love.

You have occasions like that. You imagine a date, a talk, a walk, a movie, a dinner and other things—but tiredness and other challenges shut the door. You couldn't find a clear pathway to express love. You looked but the opportunity escaped.

During those times you must be careful and not give in to temptation. When your spouse is tired, stressed or preoccupied it is important that you not fall into despair and begin thinking wrongly. Continue to go to the door and think and say sweet things.

SOS speaks of being drunk with love (5:1). Think about that for a moment. It takes time to get drunk with alcohol. It is not typical for a person to take a sip of wine and fall into a drunken stupor. What is the key to drunkenness?  Time--that is the key (now of course no one should want to get drunk--that is a sin).

It takes time to get intoxicated. And it takes time to get drunk in love.

Time is what is needed. But not just time.  You need to shepherd time.

Dr. Albert Mohler quotes Peter Drucker; Effective executives do not start with their tasks. They start with their time...Everything requires time. It is the only truly universal condition. All work takes place in time and uses up time. Yet most people take for granted this unique, irreplaceable, and necessary resource. Nothing else, perhaps, distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time (p. 184, The Conviction to Lead, Mohler).

This is important in marriage because marriage exists to display the gospel. Therefore, wise usage of time is essential. To love your spouse you must make sure that you are engaged in the tender loving care of time.

You are in love with your spouse. You think about and pray for them.  But would you say that you are intoxicated with love?  It is hard to get intoxicated by love if you seldom drink from love. You have to find ways to uncork the bottle, get the glasses, pour the love and drink (all the while not falling asleep).

I think that is the way it is with romance. Romance does not mean a thrill a day. But it does mean that we take control of the clock. Just as it is important to eat breakfast, wash clothes, teach school, write blogs, and program computers—it is important to take time to drink from the aged and seasoned bottle of love. If we want to be intoxicated with love—we have to drink love.  To drink love we have to have time to drink love. To have time to drink love then we must be committed to the tender loving care of time. To have such a commitment we must understand that we are stewards of time and that time must be managed for ultimate purposes.

We have the same 24 hours as Solomon did, as George Washington did, as Ronald Reagan did. Funny thing about Reagan-he worked hard but he had a balanced view of things. He said, “Hard work never killed anyone—but why take a chance?” Yes, work hard. But work is not your only duty. Enjoy work.  But work must never become your mistress. All work and no romance makes for a dull marriage. All romance and no work makes for a poor marriage.

So what do we do? When the opportunity to express love escapes we must look for new opportunities with our spouse. We must get out of bed, take a lantern, go out into the city streets and do whatever is necessary to communicate love.

It is important to think the best of your spouse. Even after the chapter five episode in the SOS, the lady said, My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand…His arms are rods of gold…His legs are alabaster columns.  His mouth is most sweet and he is altogether desirable.  This is my beloved and this is my friend (10-16). She still loved and spoke the language of love—even though she (and he) had been disappointed.

When you think of your spouse think of the sweetest things of life. Guys call for your wife. She is your dove your perfect one (5:2). Ladies if he turns away because he thinks that you are too tired or if he is called away for some reason—then don’t give up.  Pursue him.  He wants your heart to be thrilled when you hear his voice (4). Take time to be intoxicated with love. It starts with one drink but it requires continual trips to the fountain.

The fountain is the gospel.  It is in the gospel that we learn what love is. It is there that we see the sacrifice, the commitment, the patience, the mercy, the forgiveness and all of the expressions of true love. Your romance tips and tricks will quickly dry up.  The gospel is an ever flowing fountain of love.

I came to the door and you heard my voice.
At that moment you wrestled with a choice.
You were tucked in for the night and what could you do?
Yet your heart was thrilled that I longed for you.

Thinking the time was not right for the expression of love;
I still had thoughts of you, my darling, my dove.
I walked away, into the night.
You came for me but I was out of sight.

We need time my love to drink from the well,
To drink and drink till our hearts they swell.
If sick and intoxicated we are to become.
We must drink and drink from moon to sun.

I long to drink from the well of  love.
You are my darling, and you are my dove.

Based on The Song of Solomon Chapter Five

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Song of Solomon Challenge

For the past four days I have been writing a letter each day to my dear wife. The letters are based on a chapter from The Song of Solomon (SOS). There are eight chapters in SOS and therefore I plan eight letters. However, I am enjoying the exercise so much that I may not stop. What if I wrote her everyday for the rest of our lives?

What are some of my observations at the half-way point of my letter writing?

1. I am learning more of my need for Christ. 

As I read each chapter I am convicted by how far short I have fallen as a husband. I can't live up to what is written in SOS. Does that mean that I should not try? Of course not. I am not only reminded of my need, I am reminded that Christ has supplied all that I need. He is the perfect lover of the bride. My hope is in him. That motivates me to pursue excellence in loving my wife even though I am falling short. Some days I feel like a total hypocrite. But I can't and don't want to stop writing. I am compelled to ask Lori to forgive me and to be patient with me. I am motivated by the grace of God to be a faithful, creative and romantic husband.

2. I am learning what Lori really needs from me.

The lady often speaks (more than the man I think) in SOS. She says, As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste (2:3).

The imagery is powerful. Solomon provided security and sweetness to the lady. She was delighted to sit beneath his shadow of protection and enjoy his fruit. He was strong. He was sweet. Shazam!  What a fresh and creative way to describe the role of the husband. He is to provide safety and sweetness to the marriage.

The purpose of marriage is to display the gospel (Ephesians 5). That is why we should spill a lot of thoughtful ink on the subject. In the gospel we see God as our protector from his wrath. He protects by providing the shade of his Son that we might rest. To the Christian Jesus is beautiful. The Psalmist desired to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27:4). He had a single-minded focus. He wanted God's presence, God's beauty and God's voice (4). The husband brings the protection of the gospel and displays the sweetness of Jesus as he nourishes and cherishes his wife (Ephesians 5:29). Most wives will appreciate the strength and protection of a gospel-minded husband that cherishes her.  She loves strength and she loves sweetness.  Are you strong and are you sweet?  The gospel will transform you!

3.  I am learning that discipline and delight are friends.

Sometimes discipline is viewed as an enemy of delight. It is just the opposite. Purposeful discipline is wedded to delight. Yes, it is possible to write a letter a day for eight days and do so in a burdensome sort of way. What I am finding is that the discipline has helped to cultivate delight in my heart. Writing the letter is a top priority each morning. After I read the Bible and selections in the several books that I am working through, I then write (type) a letter to Lori. It really is delightful. Today I received encouragement.  My letter was a bit late. I discovered that Lori was wondering when it would arrive. She was expecting my letter.  That encouraged me.  Funny thing, unbeknown to me, when I clicked print on my computer she was actually at the printer. As the letter came out she said, "I was wondering when the letter was coming."

Dr. Donald Whitney writes in his book, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, Discipline without direction is drudgery. What is the aim of my letters to Lori? My desire is to nourish and cherish her, with the goal of displaying the love of Christ to her, so that God might be glorified in our marriage. My aim is to love the Lord and love my wife in a gospel displaying way. This is my delightful duty. The discipline frees the wings of delight.

Consider taking the Song of Solomon Letter writing challenge.  More to come.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wyatt Earp is my Friend

Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp 1881 after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Image from

Yesterday I had lunch with a dear friend.  We talked, among other things, about friendship.  It was a delightful time. We discussed my writings on friendship. We committed to meeting regularly to rekindle our old friendship.  I look forward to that.

The Dancing Puritan focuses a lot on marriage and friendship. Though we plan to write about many things over the years, I think that there will often be repeated the themes of marriage, family and friendship. Along the way we will examine some of the great friendships and marriages of history.  Always remember that history and biography are your friends. Visit those friends often, they are twins.

My friend reminded me of a scene from the movie Tombstone.  A man asks Doc Holliday why he sticks with Wyatt Earp.  Doc says, "Wyatt is my friend."  The man responds, "I got a lot of friends." Doc replies, "Well, I don't."

Though there are quite a few ways that we will not want to imitate Holliday and Earp, they were loyal friends.  They were willing to die for one another.

Sometimes friends fail in their loyalty.  Paul, near the end of his life, was consigned to a dark, cold and damp dungeon.  It was a horrific place. He longed for a warm coat, his books and his friends.  He told Timothy (one of his dearest friends) to get to him as soon as possible. In his correspondence with Timothy he mentions that one of his friends had abandoned him. Paul writes, Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4).

Because Demas loved the world he deserted Paul and abandoned him in the time of his greatest need.  Demas was Paul's friend. He failed him.  Let us learn from that example.  Remember that the best of friends are frail and subject to fail us.  Forgive them.  Let us do all that we can, in the strength of our Lord, to be loyal to our friends.

John Piper recently preached on Paul's last words visit: John Piper.  In that message he speaks of the friendship between Paul and Demas (and others). The sermon is fantastic. Have a wonderful Lord's Day.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

That's Not a Lie, That's Love.

Image fromSteve Lipofsky
Michael Jordan turns 50 tomorrow. For years analysts have been on the search for the next Michael Jordan. Even with the extremely talented players that make up the NBA there is no one quite like Jordan. It might be said that out of all the basketball players during and since Michael Jordan's time that he stands out as the very best. He is unique. Other basketball stars are like players on the Washington Generals compared to Jordan.

Solomon was fond of making comparisons in his writing. His comparisons were not of the negative sort instead they resulted in confidence. He wrote of his beloved, as a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women (Song of Solomon 2:2). In other words, all other women are like brambles compared to his girl. She is a lily. A bramble is a vine or shrub and it is prickly. It is rough and wild. The lily is cultivated and more refined.  It has six overlapping petals at the base, which form a trumpet shaped flower. It is soft, delicate and beautiful.

When Solomon surveyed the world of women (and he was good at that) he found them all to be wild, unkempt, prickly brambles compared to his soft, delicate, cultivated, refined and beautiful lady. She was a lily.

When we think of making comparisons we lean towards the negative. Sometimes a person is stupid enough to verbalize a negative comparison such as why can't you be more like your brother? But often the comparisons are secret. The woman thinks, I wish my husband were more like Thelma Lou's husband. You get the idea.

Yet comparisons can have a very positive impact.

Solomon is not attempting to slander all the other girls in his world. He is engaging in private conversation with his girl. He is not saying that all other ladies are worthless and void of beauty. He is simply saying to his girl something like this: In my eyes you are the cream of the crop, the best of the best and the lily among the flowers.  

What was Solomon not doing?  He was not conducting a scientific experiment. He did not look at a chart with all of the measurements of the other ladies in his region and develop a mathematical formula that led him to conclude that the features of his lady scientifically were superior to the other ladies. That is not the way love thinks. The thoughtful husband is not thinking, My girl has better legs than Juanita down at the Diner. Juanita's legs are the right length and have perfect dimensions. But my girl's legs, based on my exact scientific calculations, surpass even Juanita's legs.

Solomon is not speaking as a scientist.  He is speaking as a lover.  He is not concerned with Juanita's legs. He has a single eye that is focused on the woman that he loves.

The result of Solomon's comparisons (see also 1:9) was that his lover was confident. She said of herself, I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys (2:1). Positive, heart-felt comparisons inspire confidence.

And she says of Solomon, As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow and his fruit was sweet to my taste (2:3).

The apple tree is a rare find in the forest. The image brings pleasant thoughts like shade and sweet fruit.  The woman gladly sat beneath the apple tree. The other guys may have been muscular and manly but none of them were comparable to her apple tree that provided protection and nourishment. She did not sit around fantasizing about the scientifically superior taller trees. She, like Solomon, spoke the language of love.

Did Solomon and the lady lie when they spoke in such comparative language? To quote the great country-music-singing philosopher Brad Paisley, That's not a lie, that's love.

Day Two for those of you who took the Song of Solomon letter writing challenge yesterday!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Love Letters

Letter writing has fallen on hard times. We don't put pen to paper very often. It might be argued that the price of stamps are too high. They are. It is suggested that we are busy and we need fast paced communication like email, text and the like. We are busy and we do seem to need, in our culture, the rapid fire communication that technology allows. However, there is nothing quite like a letter. It takes time to write a letter and it requires a lot more thought. Letters left behind can significantly impact future generations.

I have a few letters that were written between a young couple while they were courting. This courting couple became my grandparents. Here are a couple of excerpts:

From Crawfordville, GA
March 6, 1922

Dear Pauline,

I received your letter Saturday.  I sure was glad to hear from you...
You are about ready to go to Athens aren't you? I don't know what I will do with myself while you are in Athens for it seems like I have not seen you in a month of Sundays. You have not been off of my mind for one minute, only when I was asleep.  I dreamed one night that you were married.  If that had been true, I know I would have fallen dead in my tracks. I have often wondered why we couldn't have the pleasure of being together like other boys and girls.  I expect that everything that happens is for the best. But I long for the time when we will be together forever...

Yours until death,

Union Point, GA
March 11, 1922

Dear Raymond,
...Yes, I have thought of you every day since I left home...Who did you dream that I married?
Hope to get a letter from you soon for I always like to hear from you.
Your truest friend,

There is a lot more in both letters about friends, weddings, death, courtroom trials, weather and the Baptist Young People's Union.  It is interesting in those letters that my grandfather Raymond was much more open about his feelings and my grandmother was more reserved. He spoke more of his thoughts for her and she gave more details about her day-to-day life.

He signed, Yours until death.  She signed, Your truest friend. There must be an expert somewhere that can interpret their valedictions.

It is fascinating to read through their letters. I have only a few but they are a treasure to me.

Do you write love letters?

Let me give you some homework that might stir up the love that you already have for your spouse.  Write a Song of Solomon letter each day for the next eight days (only insert your name; Song of Andy or Song of Helen). I started today with chapter one. It was a lot of fun and I think that Lori enjoyed the letter. I am not going to share it with you but perhaps one of my grandchildren 91 years from now will find that letter and post it on their blog.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Thrills

Image from N.Y. Times

20 years from now you will not recognize the love that you had on the day you were married. Those words came from our pre-marital counselor 26 years ago. He planted a vision in our hearts that day. We have never forgotten those words.

If you have never read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis then you must get a copy as soon as possible and read.  Since it is Valentine's Day then turn to the chapter on Christian marriage.  Lewis explains what our counselor was trying to communicate to us.

Lewis writes: People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on 'being in love' forever.  As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change--not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean that it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction.  The man who has learned to fly and becomes a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening...It is simply no good trying to keep the thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go--let it die away--go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow--and you will find that you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life. It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth, at the very age when new horizons ought to be appearing and new doors opening all around them. It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy.

Are you seeking the same sort of ignitable thrill with your spouse every day that you had in the early days? The early thrill lit the match of commitment but it was not the glue that would hold the marriage together. Those who seek a thrill a day in marriage will grow numb to any thrill at all. They will constantly be on the lookout for some new thrill and will likely fall off of the cliff. Thrill seeking will lead to emptiness, coldness and boredom. The door will be opened for all sorts of out-of bounds experiments. This is why so many in Hollywood discard their marriages as one throws out a paper-cup.  The initial thrill is gone and they go looking for a new thrill.

Real love is not like that. When you put an end to thrill seeking you will find the quieter interest and happiness that follow. You will find that you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.

College was thrilling for me. After I graduated I travelled back to campus often. I remembered the thrills and tried to recapture them. I had missed the purpose of college. College, though thrilling, was not designed to be the end-all thrill.  Its purpose was to strike the match that would ignite a lifetime of purposeful work. How odd and twisted it would be if I now, as a 51-year-old man, were to travel back to my dorm room each week in hopes of recapturing the thrill of college.

Would it not be equally foolish if Lori and I sought to continually go back to the days of our early romance? How mindless and fruitless it would be for us to try to recapture the thrills of our engagement and wedding day. Those are good memories and memories that should be soul stirring but we have moved on. We are now flying the plane, planting the garden and we have the thrill of getting to know one another. We have a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. My wife is much more beautiful to me today than was the young girl that I married. The wedding day was thrilling but it was just the beginning. Marriage is not the end of all thrills but it brings more than a thrill a day. It brings a life of knowing and discovery.

25 plus years later we barely recognize the love that we had on August 15th, 1987. We would not trade our lives together now for the thrills of our early days. The memories are still sweet to the taste but they have given way to a deeper and richer life together.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

One of the Early Dancing Puritans

Matthew Henry: 1622-1714

I am away from my computer today so I have invited the great Puritan, Matthew Henry to write my post.  When I went to seminary in 1985 I left Crawfordville, GA with a King James Version of the Bible and a One-Vol. Matthew Henry Commentary.  I was equipped for scholarship, or so I thought.  Our professors did not want us to use Henry as a source for academic papers.  His commentary was described as "devotional."  Though I now appreciate and understand my professor's sentiments, I have found Henry to be warm, helpful and good to read towards the end of sermon preparation.  He was a giant in his day and remains highly revered even today.  Many Christians have Matthew Henry on the shelf.  Charles Spurgeon held the writings of Henry in high regard.

Spurgeon wrote of Henry: He is most pious and pithy, sound and sensible, suggestive and sober, terse and trustworthy. You will find him to be glittering with metaphors, rich in analogies, overflowing with illustrations, superabundant in reflections. He delights in apposition and alliteration; he is usually plain, quaint, and full of pith; he sees right through a text directly; apparently he is not critical, but he quietly gives the result of an accurate critical knowledge of the original fully up to the best critics of his time.

It is my joy to have Matthew Henry, one of the original Dancing Puritans posting for us today.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!  It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes (Psalm 133:1-2)!

How commendable it is:  Behold, how good and how pleasant it is!  It is good in itself, agreeable to the will of God the conformity of earth to heaven.  It is good for us, for our honor and comfort.  It is pleasant and pleasing to God and all good men; it brings constant delight to those who do thus live in unity.  Behold, how good!  We cannot conceive or express the goodness and pleasantness of it.  Behold it is a rare thing, and therefore admirable.  Behold and wonder that there should be so much goodness and pleasantness among men, so much of heaven on this earth!  Behold it is an amiable thing, which will attract our hearts.  Behold it is an exemplary thing, which, where it is, is to be imitated by us with a holy emulation. Note how the pleasantness of it is illustrated. It is fragrant as the holy anointing oil, which was strongly perfumed, and diffused its odors, to the great delight of all the bystanders, when it was poured upon the head of Aaron, or his successor the high priest, so plentifully that it ran down the face, even to the collar or binding of the garment.  This ointment was holy.  So must our brotherly love be, with a pure heart, devoted to God. We must love those who are begotten for his sake that begat.

From Matthew Henry: Daily Readings Edited by Randall J. Pederson and published by Christian Focus.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Are you going to heaven?

As an old preacher once said, everybody talking bout heaven ain't going there. Many people imagine heaven and even imagine that when all is said and done that they will be going to heaven. However, only those people who have come to Jesus with their thirst will make it to heaven.

Heaven is a real place, where real people will spend a real eternity.

J.C. Ryle wrote:

There is a pass in Scotland called Glencroe, which supplies a beautiful illustration of what heaven will be to the souls who come to Christ.  The road through Glencroe carries the traveller up a long and steep ascent, with many a little turn and winding in its course.  But when the top of the pass is reached, a stone is seen by the wayside with these simple words inscribed upon it:  'Rest, and be thankful.'

Those words describe the feelings with which every thirsting one who comes to Christ will enter heaven. The summit of the narrow way will at length be ours.  We shall cease from our weary journeyings, and sit down in the kingdom of God. We shall look back on all the way of our lives with thankfulness, and see the perfect wisdom of every step in the steep ascent by which we were led.  We shall forget the toil of the upward journey in the glorious rest.  Here, in this world, our sense of rest in Christ at best is feeble and partial: we hardly seem at times to taste fully 'the living water.'  But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is imperfect shall be done away. 'When we awake up after His likeness we shall be satisfied' (Psalm 17:15).  We shall drink of the river of his pleasures and thirst no more.

Are you going to heaven?  Only those whose sins are forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ will arrive at heaven.  

The Bible says: In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, 'If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.  He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.'  John 7:37,38

Are you thirsty down deep in your soul? Do you know that you are under God's wrath and are right now unprepared to meet God?  You have broken God's law and stand guilty.  Do you thirst after forgiveness and do you long to be reconciled with God?

Come to Jesus.  Rest in him.  Trust in him. Jesus left heaven's glories, came to this earth, lived without sinning, died for sinners on the cross and was raised again from the dead. He is able and willing to save all who will come to him and drink. Drink of Jesus. When you do, heaven will be your home.

Quotes above from J.C. Ryle's book: Holiness published by Charles Nolan Publishers.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Love God. Love others. Work accordingly.

I lead Nourished in the Word Ministries (NITW). At the heart of my calling is teaching and writing about marriage, family and friendship.  NITW exists to glorify God through teaching and writing about relationships.

One of the dangers of my calling is that I am sometimes viewed as a relationship expert.  That, I am not. I often feel that my writing and teaching are more of a prayer. I do not want the demeanor of a guru but of a pilgrim that is learning, growing and desiring to be faithful to God and faithful in my relationships. As I teach and write I am praying that God will help me in all of my relationships.

I think of my relationships often. I feel both the joys and the burdens that come with them. I see my failures far more often than I do my successes.  I am not an expert but I do want to help.

Yesterday, I received an email from a dear friend.  He and his wife are providing the resources to send several couples to our upcoming marriage retreat. (Marriage retreat is March 16-17 in Toccoa, GA. Contact me for details Marriage Retreat).  Their love for God motivated them to love others in a very practical and potentially life transforming way. They seem excited to help others. I want to be more like them.

The email was convicting.  It left me asking the question, Do I live to love others?

In the ongoing struggles of life it is easy to feel overwhelmed and to become self-focused. It is easy to forget the great commands of our Lord to love him and to love others. Those two commands are the priorities which must drive everything else in life.

When I was in seminary a professor shared the job description that he gave to members of his staff.   His three brief sentences get to the heart of our calling. Love God. Love others. Work accordingly.

That is what I am called to do in all of my relationships.  Love God.  Love others. Work accordingly. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Warmth of Friendship

We know that we need friends and that we need to be friendly.

Yet we also want to be alone. Some of us imagine that we would do just fine as a hermit with no strings, no attachments and no expectations from anyone. We dream of living as a free-bird flying high and singing only to music that we have written. We imagine such freedom as the good life.

It is a lie.  Hermithood is appealing but untrue.

Solomon displayed God given wisdom, seasoned by the years, when he wrote:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Friendship brings encouragement, warmness and strength.  Two are better than one.

Why do we avoid two and opt for one?  Why settle for two when three is even better?  Why choose woe rather than reward?  Why choose to be frigid when you can be warm?  Why settle for weakness when you can be strong?  It does not make sense.  But we chose weakness when we stay home instead of going to church. We imagine sleep or a movie might be better for us than being with people.

Why do we decline the dinner invitation or fail to offer one?  Why do we mostly choose our privacy over interaction with others?

It is really simple.  We are selfish and we do not believe the truth. We think that we are wiser than Solomon and more knowledgeable than God.  We choose what we imagine might be good for us and fail to embrace that which the Bible says is good for us.

It is possible to fall off of the horse on either side. The social butterfly, who is always flying from home, has fallen. The butterfly needs to land and drink nectar rather than always fluttering around.  The Mystic misses the mark by constantly withdrawing to the mountain to pray and contemplate.  I am reminded of the rather simple lyrics from an early Amy Grant song.

...And I'd
Love to live on a mountain top,
Fellowshipping with the Lord.
I'd love to stand on a mountain top,
'Cause I love to feel my spirit

But I've got to come down
From the mountain top
To the people in the valley below;
They'll never know
That they can go
To the mountain of the Lord.
Amy Grant: Mountain Top

It is a simple but profound biblical truth that we need one another. We need the warmth, security and strength of friendships. We need table-talk, long walks and soul-stirring conversation. We need someone trustworthy to share our worst heresies and darkest struggles with. We need someone to grab us and shake us back into reality and hug us back to hope. 

Laughter alone brings sweet relief 
but laughter shared gives a lift beneath

This talk about friendship might lead you to imagine that friendship is a savior for lost souls.Nothing could be further from the truth. Friendship was wrecked beyond human repair in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve fell from sweet fellowship with God and one another.They chose to break God's command. They went from being God's friend to being his enemy and they went to war with one another. We are their children.

But God was and is merciful.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:10).

The Apostle Paul wrote that verse.  He knew what he was talking about. He had been an enemy with God.  By God's grace he had been reconciled to God.  God made Paul and God makes all who believe in Jesus his friends.

Through reconciliation with God friendship is restored.  It is still broken but now it can be redeemed.  Now, by grace, two can walk together.  Two can provide warmth.  And three can find strength.  Only through Christ.

Friendship with God makes possible friendships that encourage, warm and strengthen.

Why choose anything less?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Death and Friendship

The Inklings of Oxford were writers and friends. At the core of the group were C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. The group met twice a week to drink, eat, converse and to read aloud to one another. The first people to ever hear the Lord of the Rings and Screwtape Letters were the Inklings. Loud talk, laughter, analysis, debate and general discussion marked their gatherings. These men were bound together in common interests and mutual respect.

Yet as any of us know, friendship is not without it's trouble. To be close to a person is risky. A friend, once loyal, might desert us at the end. The Apostle Paul wrote of such a person, ...Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica...(2 Timothy 4:10). Those words did not easily roll off of the lips of Paul. To be abandoned by a friend is painful, to say the least.

The closest of companions may abandon or forsake us. Even if our friends never prove to be disloyal they are, like us, mortals.  David wrote in Psalm 27, For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in (10).

The word death means separation.  When a person dies they are separated from their body, from their family, from their work, from their possessions and from their friends.

Death invaded the Inklings. A girl, riding her bicycle near Oxford, was visibly upset when she cried out, Charles Williams is dead.

Warnie Lewis (brother of C.S.) wrote, I felt dazed and restless, and went out to get a drink.  There will be no more pints with Charles...the blackout has fallen, and the Inklings can never be the same again.

It is interesting what one thinks of at the death of a friend. Warnie Lewis immediately remembered the hours that he had spent with Charles Williams and the other Inklings at the Bird and Baby pub.  One of his first thoughts was, there will be no more pints with Charles. Nothing could, would or in fact should be the same when a friend dies.

C. S. Lewis spoke of his walk from the hospital to the Bird and Baby.  The Inklings were already there.  The very streets looked different said Lewis.

The death of a friend is not the end of meaning for those who remain. It is not the death of memories or influence. Lewis wrote to the widow Michal Williams: My friendship is not ended. His death has had the very unexpected effect of making death itself look quite different: I believe in the next life ten times more strongly than I did. He seems, in some indefinable way, to be all around us now.

The thoughts of Lewis are similar to those described by others who have experienced the death of a loved one. There is a sense in which the friend is still around, though invisible. Their influence lives on. The things that they have collected still exist. Buildings that they built, books that they wrote, mementos they have left behind--all point to the reality of the person. As the Bible says of righteous Able: By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks (Hebrews 11:4).

It is we, that are left behind, who are most vulnerable when a loved one dies. That is especially true of widows and orphans. That is one of the reasons the Bible mentions on several occasions that God cares for widows and orphans.  They, of all who are left, are the most fragile and the most needy for attention. Yet anyone, after the death of a friend, is vulnerable to loneliness and depression.

The person dying may also feel a profound sense of loneliness.  The Apostle Paul, near death, wrote from a cold and damp dungeon and revealed his desire for companionship. He wanted Timothy at his side. ...For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.  Do your best to come to me soon...(2 Timothy 4:6-9).

Do your best to come to me soon Paul wrote Timothy.  Though Paul had the confidence that soon he would be with the Lord. Though his deep conviction told him that being with Christ was far better than anything on the earth. He nevertheless wanted Timothy near him at the end of his earthly journey.

Nothing is the same when a friend dies.  Nothing.  But we must not fall into despair.  Paul wrote, to live is Christ (Philippians 1:21). To be with Christ is indeed far better than life here, but as long as we live we must work for the betterment of our friends.

When facing the heart-wrenching loss of a friend we must remember to live on. We must keep fighting the fight of faith. To live on with purpose after the death of a friend will require knowing God and embracing friendship.

Quotes about the Inklings (Williams, Tolkien, Lewis etc) are from the book: The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Planning and Habit: Keys to Friendship

C.S. Lewis lamented the fact that many of the post-war undergraduates rarely took long country walks, which he himself had felt to be such an important part of his development. Gone too were the small coteries and cliques of friends which had mattered so much to his generation (Humphrey Carpenter).

I wonder what Lewis would think of us now? The world-wide-web has replaced, for too many folks, the world-wide-theatre of nature that God gave for our stewardship and enjoyment. The cell-phone has our generation looking down, not to examine flowers or bugs, but rather to check messages from both real and virtual friends.

There simply is not time for walks with friends in the country, the city or anywhere else for that matter. 

The life of our Lord was spent walking. Walking the way Christ walked is to follow, by faith, his character and objectives. It does not demand that we dress, eat and walk, (instead of drive), as Jesus did. However, the actual walking of Jesus is instructive. Jesus was up in the mountains and down in valleys. He spoke of flowers and birds. He walked by the sea and was driven to the wilderness. As he walked he poured his life into his disciples. He enjoyed the world that his Father through him had created. Much of his time was spent walking with his friends.

It is not enough to lament, with C.S. Lewis, the lack of friendships. However, his complaints are worth considering. He was concerned that the young generation was driven by a crowd mentality. He said, Caucus has replaced friendship

One of the reasons that I have warmed up to C.S. Lewis is the emphasis that he placed on friendship. The example of Lewis is encouraging. That example is seen in planning and habit, which are keys to a revival of friendship in our culture.

Lewis probably did not schedule in a calendar his visits with friends. However, he knew that on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings that he would be with the Inklings. This was their plan and this was their habit. Friendship was integral to who Lewis was as a man. Gathering with friends was a non-negotiable. The gatherings were not viewed as a burden that they had not the time to bear. I think that the time that they spent together was an investment that they could not afford to neglect.

Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams and the rest were prolific. Hours spent with friends each week did not hinder their work--it enhanced it. Their meetings encouraged work, examined work and helped to create joy in their work. Laughter and loud discussion, debate and analysis gave delight to their work.

I am not sure that we can afford not to invest in friendship. Could it be that we would be more fruitful, more creative, more energized for our work if we worked more at our friendships?  Would not spice be added to our daily duties if there were time afforded for friendship?  

How will friendship happen?  Planning and habit will lead the way. All work and no play indeed makes for a dull life, dull work and dullness in creativity. The right kind of play, with friends, might change the way and the results of our work.  

Quotes above from The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Powerful Image a Super-Powerful Gospel

My granddaughter, daughter and son--in-law

Though I had been in such a room many times before, it was different this time. I walked into the room and it was not my wife Lori, but my oldest daughter Rachel, that was on the table to get a sonogram. My little girl (age 23) is carrying a little girl. The high frequency sound waves scanned my daughter and revealed the picture above of my granddaughter. We watched the little girl in the womb as she stretched, opened her fingers and wiggled around.  

The technology is amazing. To be able to take a vivid photograph of a baby in the womb is astounding. Just a few inches separate the baby from the outside world. Just a few inches separate my granddaughter from my arms.  

The pictures above show the five-month old (in the womb) little daughter of my oldest daughter Rachel and her husband Adrian (The bottom left is Rachel and the bottom right is Adrian).

People often ask, how can a person look at a sonogram, hear a heartbeat, and not know that the child in the womb is a real person, a real baby? The fact is, as John Piper writes, we know, they know, everyone knows that a baby in the womb is a real person (Piper column).

The problem with those who choose and support abortion is not a lack of knowledge but a choice to suppress knowledge so that one can do what they want to do. When the truth is suppressed then a person can be what they have always wanted to be--God (Romans 1:18-32).  

Ultimately people are not convinced of ultimate truth by sonogram photographs. Willful spiritual blindness is the issue. Blind people cannot really see vivid 3-D sonogram images. Deaf people cannot really hear the beating of a little heart just beneath the skin of the mother. The cure for spiritual blindness and deafness will never be found via technology. The cure is found in God's Word through the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 26:18).  The blindness of the spiritually lost person is too dark to be healed by our best methods. It is not too dark to be transformed by the power of God through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17). Though a sonogram image has and might be a means of preventing an abortion, it will never cure the ultimate problem. It is the gospel that changes the heart.  

The invitation for Lori and me to accompany Adrian and Rachel to the doctor yesterday was a special gift. I am very thankful to have received the gift of being able to see the image of the little girl that we long to touch and hold. However, we did not need an image to know that the baby is real. There is a more certain testimony than even a sonogram.  God's Word tells us.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 138: 13-16).