The Dancing Puritan

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thank God for Billy Graham

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

I don't remember when I first heard of Billy Graham (BG). He was a part of my childhood and teenage years and remains a part of my life. It seems that I have always known him. 

I most remember BG for his television broadcasts. As a boy I would sit at rapt attention as he preached. The number of people who responded to his sermons amazed me. I love the way Dr. Graham has always shared the gospel with such simplicity. I appreciate the passion in which he presented the message. I enjoyed the music, especially George Beverley Shea singing I'd Rather Have Jesus. I still remember the announcer asking the television audience to write to Billy Graham, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The announcer would then say That's all the address you will need.  I tried it out. I wrote to Billy Graham. A few weeks later I received a letter, some Bible study materials, and Decision magazine. I received a copy of a book entitled The New Topical Textbook. I still have that book. Inside I wrote, From Billy Gharm (sp).

I have another book, Book of Bible Lists that came from The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). My brother Andrew gave that book to me when he was about 10 years old. He also was greatly influenced by Billy Graham. I seem to remember sending five dollars to Billy Graham Ministries. For several years (I think) Decision kept arriving at P.O. Box 89 Crawfordville, GA. I looked forward to it.

I thank God for Billy Graham.

I am thankful that the crusades. I am thankful that Dr. Graham preached passionately and simply the gospel of Christ. I am thankful that Graham lived a life above reproach. I am thankful for the generosity of his ministry. I am thankful that the Lord has preserved his life these 95 years and that even now, Rev. Graham is calling people to come to Christ. I am thankful for the two opportunities that I had attend a BG crusade in Atlanta. 

We sang Just As I Am in church yesterday. Memories flooded my heart as I thought of those childhood years when my parents would gather us around the television to watch Billy Graham. I thought of the crusade choir and vast congregation singing that hymn. I was thankful. I am thankful that for all who will come to Christ, just as they are, that God will receive and change them. Christ changed my life. One of the people that he used was Billy Graham. I am eternally thankful.

Friday, November 1, 2013

27 Years Ago

27 years ago tonight, I walked on this golf course with a lovely young lady. That night was the beginning of a journey, an unexpected journey. Why were we walking on a golf course on November first, 1986 in Villa Rica, GA? I was working at the Georgia Tech Baptist Student Union (BSU) as the Campus Minister Intern. The BSU planned an event, for students, at the golf club. There was dinner, music, and dancing. As a leader with the BSU I was not allowed to date any girls from Georgia Tech. However, the young lady that I walked the golf course with that wonderful evening was not a student at Tech. Therefore, I received permission (from my supervisor) to bring this young lady to the BSU dinner/dance.

That being said, neither of us viewed our going to the event together as a date. We were just friends, getting to know one another, and neither of us had an "official" date, so we decided to just go together, as friends. However, as the evening went along, we talked and laughed and began the process of getting to know one another in a deeper way. We enjoyed the conversation and company of one another. After an evening of dancing, walking, and talking we began the journey home. We were hungry again, and so we stopped at the Waffle House for a late night "snack." I should have known, at that Waffle House moment, that I had met the love of my life. After all, she was willing to go to Waffle House.

That providential evening, across a crowded room (oh, I am sorry, I am getting swept away). Lets try again. That providential evening a friendship deepened and a relationship began that has had a transformingly positive impact on my life. When I spent time with Lori Hudson that evening, I was surprised with joy (to borrow a C.S. Lewis phrase). One of the things that I most remember about the early days of our friendship was the laughter. Lori laughed at my jokes. Laughter filled the air and bubbled out of the heart of Lori Hudson, whenever we were together. That evening led to weeks and months of getting to know one another that included our engagement in early February of 1987 and our marriage on August 15th of that same year.

This morning as I sat around the breakfast table, I told a part of our love story to our children. I said, 27 years ago I had a date with your mama. We could have never known that 27 years later that there would be a house full of children sitting around the table with us. I have a wonderful wife and you have a great mother. It has been a fantastic journey. Lori is the love of my life and my very best friend. I hope to live a long life. I want to grow old with Lori Rhodes. I want to better treasure, honor, protect, and cherish her. I want to better understand that the life that we have together is all pointing to the generosity of God in the provision of Jesus.

So though today is not our formal wedding anniversary, it is an important date on our calendar. 27 years ago our brief friendship took a turn for the best. I am prayerful and expectant that the best is yet to come.