The Dancing Puritan

Friday, December 23, 2016

Peace on Earth

Abigail Faith Rhodes at 1 month

The photograph above, of our daughter Abigail, was sent to me on December 23, 2011. I was in a hospital room in Augusta, GA where my dad was near the end of his battle with cancer.  My wife Lori and our daughters were three hours away at our home in Dawsonville. As life slipped away from dad, and the walls of the hospital closed in, Abigail's picture arrived. It represented life, even as death lurked nearby.

Abigail was born on November 14th and my dad died on December 25th. Our daughter Rachel's wedding was December 31st. Almost immediately after preaching dad's funeral on the 28th, I returned home for a dinner to meet Rachel's soon-to-be in-laws. Three days later, I conducted Adrian and Rachel's wedding service. Abigail's birth brought fresh life to our family. Dad's death reminded us of the fragility of life. Rachel and Adrian's wedding service was the start of their new life together. Poignant pictures are etched on my heart as I reflect on those days.

My father's favorite passage was Psalm 23. Fittingly, that psalm was a part of my Bible reading this morning. What a wonder it is that when life is hardest, God, our Shepherd, has "green pastures" and "still waters" and "paths of righteousness" for us.  However, he must make us lie down in those pastures. He puts us to bed, sings us a lullaby, and restores us before setting us on our way again. From dark woods deep in the valley, surrounded by troubles that threaten to undo us, we come to the place of rest. God leads us there. If he doesn't, there is no peace.

If we could, we would flank every valley and perpetually live in lush fields. We would build our house near calming waters and from there we would never venture out. What then? Most certainly we would grow soft, lazy, and turn inward. Instead of finding rest, our restlessness would intensify. God's gifts cannot sustain us without God himself. God must lead us to rest if we are to truly rest. God must give us peace or there is no peace. It is tempting to run from the valley and seek to hide from trouble. For too many folks, "peace" is sought through pills, liquor, recreation, or just by checking out and avoiding tough duties. Left to ourselves, we will seek our rest in places that leave us empty.  There are simply no shortcuts to rest. 

How are we sustained in the valley and how can we be restored "beside still waters?" How can we have peace when all around us a war is raging? There is only one way. Into a world of darkness, God came. God brought peace for broken people who are just as dependent as Abigail was on December 23, 2011. 

Today I am reminded of a hard valley five years ago. It was sometimes difficult to see then, but God gave rest. One of the ways that he sustained me was through the baby in the photograph. It reminded me that there was new life, just a few hours away. She was waiting for me. Yes, God came near through a baby. That's the way it has always been. A baby was promised in Genesis 3. A baby was born in Luke 2. Life came. Hope arrived. Peace was delivered to Bethlehem's manger and was solidified when Jesus died and was raised. Peace is offered to those with whom God is well pleased.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1)

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is president of Nourished in the Word Ministries. He is the author of several books including, Family Worship for the Christmas Season. Send a message here to schedule Ray to speak for your next event or to order one of his books.



Thursday, October 13, 2016

Love Your Family Like a Puritan: Don't Be Chicken-Hearted

To the most wonderful husband & father two girls could ever have--We Love You! Lori and Rachel: Christmas 1991 (inscription in A Quest for Godliness).



Christmas Day, 1991 my wife Lori and our two-year-old daughter Rachel gave me a copy of J.I. Packer's masterpiece, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. I cannot think of any book that I have turned to more in the past 25 years than Packer's classic. In this work Packer compares the English Puritans to the California Redwoods which are "the biggest living things on earth." To Packer the Puritans are giants in godliness. He argues:
As Redwoods attract the eye, because they overtop other trees, so the mature holiness and seasoned fortitude of the great Puritans shine before us as a kind of beacon light, overtopping the stature of the majority of Christians in most eras, and certainly so in this age of crushing urban collectivism, when Western Christians sometimes feel and often look like ants in an anthill and puppets on a string. Behind the Iron Curtain and in the starving, war-torn lands of Africa the story may well have been different, but in Britain and America, the parts of the world that I know best, affluence seems for he past generation to have been making dwarfs and deadheads of us all. In this situation, the teaching and example of the Puritan giants have much to say to us. (12).


Lori's inscription in my copy of Quest was written from her heart. Like the beloved in Solomon's Song, she viewed (and views me) as the best-of-the best. However, when I read the Puritans (or about the Puritans) I feel very much like a dwarf. I often feel dwarf-like in my role as a husband and father. However, this dwarf wants to grow and I know that the Puritans can help me in my "quest for godliness."

Packer is a prolific writer and it is sometimes difficult to get beyond one of his introductions in the many books that he has written. It is not because of poor writing that working through one of his introductions is so difficult, but because his words sting with conviction. If you don't believe me read his introduction in the Banner of Truth edition of Baxter's The Reformed Pastor.  What follows is a selection about the family from chapter 1 of Quest. Read it and then repent in sackcloth and ashes.

Steadily Love Your Spouse as Your Best Friend
The Puritan ethic of marriage was to look not for a partner whom you do love passionately at this moment, but rather for one whom you can love steadily as your best friend for life, and then to proceed with God's help to do just that.
Train up and Care for Your Children. 
The Puritan ethic of nurture was to train up children in the way they should go, to care for their bodies and souls together, and to educate them for sober, godly, socially useful adult living. The Puritan ethic of home life was based on maintaining order, courtesy, and family worship. Goodwill, patience, consistency, and an encouraging attitude were seen as the essential domestic virtues.
Family Life is a School of Character Developed Through Suffering 
In an age of routine discomforts, rudimentary medicine without pain-killers, frequent bereavements (most families lost at least as many children as they reared), an average life expectancy of just under thirty years, and economic hardship for almost all save merchant princes and landed gentry, family life was was a school for character in every sense, and the fortitude with which the Puritans resisted the all-too-familiar temptation to relieve pressure from the world by brutality at home, and laboured to honor God in their families despite all, merits supreme praise.At home the Puritans showed themselves mature, accepting hardships and disappointments realistically as from God and refusing to be daunted or soured by any of them.
Share the Gospel at Home First 
Also it was at home in the first instance that the Puritan layman practised evangelism and ministry. 'His family he endeavored to make a Church,' wrote Geree,  '. . . labouring that those that were born in it, might be born again until God.'
Don't be a Chicken-hearted Spouse Who Looks for the Exit 
In an era in which family life has become brittle even among Christians, with chicken-hearted spouses taking the easy course of separation rather than working at their relationship, and narcissistic parents spoiling their children materially while neglecting them spiritually, there is once more much to be learned from the Puritans' very different ways.
Charles Spurgeon died with 7,000 (out of 12,000 total) volumes on his shelves that were either by or about the Puritans. Perhaps you would benefit from reading a Puritan volume or two. Packer's Quest will get you excited about reading and benefiting from the Puritans.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is President of Nourished in the Word Ministry. He leads Bible conferences, marriage retreats, and various other events. Message him on Facebook to schedule an event.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Encouragement for the Afflicted and Those Who Minister to Them

What is a Christian to do when confined to the sick-bed of affliction? I remember visiting a church member a number of years ago. Due to physical affliction she was unable to attend church. I detected a note of discouragement as she spoke to me. She wished that she could do more for the church but her condition squelched her abilities. She said: "About all that I can do is pray." I took the opportunity to remind her of the great gift and power of godly prayer. I sought to encourage her that when she prayed for the church, she was calling on the King of Heaven to visit His people with His power, and that was no small thing.

Charles Spurgeon had a great heart for those who were confined to their dwelling due to sickness. Many of his sick friends, though unable to attend church service, nevertheless read Spurgeon's sermons. His words are encouraging to those who are afflicted and are instructive to all who minister to them.

Sick saints, what a delight I feel in ministering to you! Shut out from the sanctuary and the sound of the Word, you find a solace in reading what others have crowded to hear. Accept my tenderest sympathy in your affliction, while I breathe the prayer that He who suffers in you, may abide with you. The Great Captain of the host has called you to glorify Him on your beds; it may be you could never have done this in active service; what a mercy is it that a sick chamber affords you opportunities to honour Him. Your patience, holy resignation, and joyous faith, make you invaluable teachers to those believers who visit you, and even your ungodly friends may be greatly blessed by your means. Little do you dream how well your words are remembered, and how powerful they will be even when you have fallen asleep in Jesus. From the green mound in the cemetery your loving voice shall sound in their ears. Those very persons who now seem so indifferent, may be the first to be converted by your testimony. Speak well of your Lord; you see Him often, let His name be ever in your mouth. He makes your bed; let your bosom be a pillow for Him. Let your chamber be a sanctuary, your bed a pulpit, your living loving experience of divine grace the constant sermon. We cannot do without you in the Lord's battles. Your power for good is wonderful; forget not your advantageous position, but lift up the banner of your Lord on high. Let no persons retire from your bedside without being enriched by some affectionate admonition. In the night-watches, when your eyes are held walking so that you cannot sleep, plead for the Church, the world, your minister, your friends, and do not omit the unworthy brother who now writes to you. What showers of mercies your intercessions may bring down. The golden keys of heaven are at your girdle, open the treasury and bless us all. 'As the sufferings of Christ abound in you, so may your consolation also abound by Christ.

Sick saints . . .
1. Read the Bible and read godly literature.
2. Recognize your unique opportunity to glorify God from your sick bed.
3. Your patience and joy under trial is an example to fellow believers.
4. Unbelievers are blessed by your testimony of grace.
5. Your Christian witness will live on after you are dead.
6. "Speak well of your Lord" as you rest in Him. Let your bed be a pulpit.
7. Remember that your fellow believers who are not confined "cannot do without you in the Lord's battles."

To those who minister to the sick . . .

1. Do not fail to remember them in prayer.
2. Make sure that your sick friends have access to sermons (a manuscript, your notes, audio/video).
3. Visit the sick regularly and write to them often words of encouragement.
4. Let them know, how much you need for them to pray for you.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Spurgeon's Counsel: Don't Think about Preaching



Many pastors find it difficult to read the Bible without thinking of sermon preparation. Spurgeon shared with his congregation how he delighted in Jesus by not considering preaching. He wrote:
When I take my Bible, and want to feed on it for myself, I generally get thinking about preaching upon the text, and what I should say to you from it. This will not do; I must get away from that, and forget that there is a Tabernacle, that I may sit personally at Jesus' feet. And, oh, there is an intense delight in being overshadowed by Him! He is near to you, and you know it. His dear presence is as certainly with you as if you could see Him, for His influence surrounds you.

When you read your Bible, are you able to feed on it for yourself? Certainly Spurgeon spent time in sermon preparation. However, he knew that sermons best grew in soil that had been cultivated through personal Bible reading. For Spurgeon this was to "sit personally at Jesus' feet" and to know the "intense delight in being overshadowed by Him."

Quotes are from C.H. Spurgeon, Till He Come: Communion Meditations and Addresses (London: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 44.



Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Vacation Thought or Two

Do you have Summer vacation plans?  It is often imagined that a vacation is an escape from life, at least an escape from the daily grind. However, for Christians a vacation is not an escape but rather an opportunity to encounter Jesus. Below are a few items to pack for such an encounter.

1. Psalms By the Day: A New Devotional Translation by Alec Motyer. I have long wanted someone to write this book. Psalms is "a working translation with analysis and explanatory notes, and a 'Pause for Thought' based on the passage read. Motyer's Psalms includes brief word studies, commentary, and devotional thoughts. Mark Dever writes, ". . . expository without being dry, devotional without being forced. . . . a delicious combination--richly full, concisely put."


2. Spurgeon, C.H. Til He Come: Communion Meditations and Addresses, London: Marshal Brothers, n.d. This is also available on Kindle and Christian Focus Publishers. Spurgeon urges his readers: "Go forth, beloved, and talk with Jesus on the beach, for He oft resorted to the sea-shore." This collection of meditations and addresses were not published in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit and a number of them were given while Spurgeon was on vacation (recovering, resting) at Mentone, France (his favorite vacation spot).


3. Field Notes journal (48 page memo book). The Field Notes memo book will easily fit into your pocket. They offer a variety of designs and one edition that is waterproof. As you read and admire God's glory in creation, make a few notes for meditation.


The resources above are available through our book store. Send me a facebook message HERE for more information.  Happy traveling!


Friday, May 20, 2016

Graduation Day





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 14, 2016

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






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


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

Scan back through the previous 13 days with your spouse.

Happy Valentine's Day.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 13: The Journey

A few years back--somewhere along our journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine's Day

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






Friday, February 12, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 12: Discussion Points

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

At Spurgeon's College with my beloved wife Lori


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

Today's Activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Thursday, February 11, 2016

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

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




How do you choose the right gift for your spouse?

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Wednesday, February 10, 2016

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

Remember

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activity

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

Read the following verses together tonight.

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

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






Tuesday, February 9, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 9: Grace



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



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

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

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

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

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

Activity: Show Grace!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray Rhodes is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries.



Monday, February 8, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 8: Friendship

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






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. And then there is 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 move 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 eventually divorced.

She travelled to England for a brief visit in the early 1950s and Lewis invited her to Oxford.

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."

In 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 grew through numerous challenges.

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

She married C.S. in April of 1956. Lewis called the marriage "a pure matter of friendship and expediency." They did not live together and their marriage was an act of friendship, that Joy might 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 Lewis held prior to meeting Joy.

Joy suffered from hip problems that became so severe that she had to be hospitalized. She was diagnosed with 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 hospital bedside on March 21, 1957. Her death was considered imminent, but prayers were offered for her healing. She recovered. By the summer of 1958 her cancer was in full remission and she walked 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 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."

Joy changed everything for C.S. Lewis.  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 became his best friend.

Activity


C.S. and Joy's friendship began with their correspondence with one another.  They were both writers and they both were Christians. Joy had a robust personality, a brilliant mind, and she was an excellent conversationalist. C.S. and Joy enjoyed talking, reading, playing games, and found happiness in one another. Joy made Lewis a better man as she encouraged him in his work. Lyle W. Dorsett writes: "Joy Davidman pushed him to take up non-fiction once more [he had stopped writing non-fiction] and as a result she helped him produce Reflections on the Psalms (1958) and she enthusiastically talked him out of a writer's block so he could finally go forward with his long-time coming Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer." Dorsett continues: "In the final analysis, then, those of us who thank God for the way C.S. Lewis has been our teacher through his books, must also be grateful for Joy Davidman Lewis. Without her the Lewis collection would be smaller and poorer." (Dorsett quotes: Here).  

How can you encourage your spouse today? Are there ways that you can push your husband forward in his work? How would reading to and with your wife strengthen your relationship with her in positive ways? Every person faces challenges in their work, relationships, and they sometimes feel overwhelmed? Is your home "enriched and livened" by your investment of prayer, energy, creativity, and laughter? Ask God for help and pour your life into your beloved companion.

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

*The Inklings were a group of literary friends that met regularly in Oxford to discuss literature and to express friendship.

This post was adapted from a 2013 column published at "The Dancing Puritan."





Sunday, February 7, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 7: Work on the Inside

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here


Day 7

King Solomon made himself a carriage from the wood of Lebanon. He made its posts of silver, its back of gold, its seat of purple; its interior was inlaid with love by the daughters of Jerusalem. (SOS 3: 9-11).

Solomon's carriage was designed for "the day of his wedding" (11). Built from the wood of Lebanon, shining with silver and gold, and with the royal color purple covering its seat, Solomon's carriage delievered him to his wedding in great glory. However, the most important characteristic of his carriage was its interior "inlaid with love."

A beautiful wedding service is a sight to behold. However, pomp and circumstance may delight wedding attendants, but they cannot sustain a happy marriage. Just as a lovely gown may conceal an unhappy bride, so a loveless marriage may be hidden from view by a decorative veneer.  

Your life must be "inlaid with love" if you are to love your spouse. There must be something behind your love-letters, journaling, song writing, and kisses (see previous blog posts) for your marriage to honor Christ and bless your spouse. You must work on your interior––your heart: "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." (Proverbs 4:23). 

Activity

Work on the interior of your life.

Private Worship: Go to a quiet place and pray. Pray with an open Bible, a pen, and a journal close at hand (See Donald Whitney: "Have a Real Prayer Closet." Here).  Alone with God, read and meditate on a passage of Scripture, and allow it to inform, encourage, and direct your prayers. 

Congregational Worship: Building an interior that is "inlaid with love" does not happen in isolation. God designed you for community. Tim Keller in his book Prayer writes "if we ponder the very beginning of the Lord's Prayer--'Our Father' . . . it shows us that we cannot know God only on our own but must do so in community with others." 

Today is the Lord's Day. It is a day for stirring up love by gathering with fellow Christians for congregational worship (Hebrews 10:24-25). 

You love your spouse when your heart is "inlaid with love." An interior of love is crafted in the closet of prayer and by gathering for worship with your local church.

Ray Rhodes is president of Nourished in the Word Ministries.







Saturday, February 6, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 6: 30-Day Challenge

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here

Go back and read yesterday's entry for a reminder of what love and marriage are all about.

Day 6



Several years ago I determined to read a chapter from The Song of Solomon each day, journal from my reading, and write my wife Lori a love-letter every day for 30 days. The 30 days turned into 60. I continued writing after the 60 days, but not every day. I still write Lori love-letters, just not as frequently. She has a special place where she keeps all of my letters.

Today, I am challenging you to write a letter to your spouse, every day, for 30 days. Start today! Base your letter on a chapter, or section of a chapter, from The Song of Solomon (SOS). When you have read all of SOS, simply start again. I have been reading Solomon's Song for years, and it never grows old.

Here is a sample, not of a letter, but of a journal entry based off of SOS. Remember, I am just drawing some points of application from SOS. I am not engaging in in-depth exegesis when I journal. These are sort of "first thoughts."

Journal Entry

I want Lori to be filled with so much joy in our marriage that she wants me near (2) and when I am traveling, for her to look forward to my return. How can I love Lori in such a way that she will always miss me when I am away from home (or even downstairs in my study)? How can I love her with a love that is "better than wine" that is inseparable from a sweet-smelling life?

1. Kiss Excellently (1:2). Practice makes perfect. Don't miss an opportunity to kiss. The words over our bed are "Always Kiss Me Goodnight." 

2. Love Exceptionally (1: 2-3). A woman that is loved will generally want to be kissed by the one who loves her. Never stop cultivating godly character and sacrificial love. Mediate deeply on the gospel.

3. Date Excitingly. (1:4, 2:4, 8-14)"Draw me--Let us run." Cultivate such a life that she will want to be with me and go places with me.

4. Speak Extraordinarily (1: 9-17, 2:8-17). Let the musical language in Solomon's Song inform how I talk to Lori.

5, Romance Exclusively. Note in SOS how often the words "my love" and "my beloved" occur. There must be no competitors (not children, friends, hobbies, and certainly not any other ladies) for my relationship with my beloved. Never give Lori any reason to doubt that I am a "one-woman-man." Guard against being flirtatious and always be wise in any dealings with other ladies.

I often begin my days by reading Psalms and trying to get my mind and heart focused on God. I follow by reading a selection from Tim Keller's book Prayer. I close by reading from SOS and writing down my thoughts. I want to begin my days focusing on God and thinking about my relationship with Lori. It is my desire that our marriage increasingly give a positive testimony of Christ and His Church.

Let me know if you take the 30-Day Challenge. Follow me and send me a message on FB: Here: Here and Ray Rhodes@NITW1 on Twitter.