Sunday, January 20, 2013
Sunday Afternoon Tea
A life's work shattered by an indiscretion! That's what I thought as I was listening to a Year in Review in December when they were discussing the downfall of a well known general. A sterling career brought down by an affair, resulting in the loss of a career and a reputation.
His was not the only such story I'd heard recently for there was a well known country singer's bout with drunk driving, rumors of immorality among religious leaders, and perhaps the most distressing of all... a favorite artist's fall into drunkenness and immorality before his premature death.
The difference between these men and the general... all of whose reputations would be lost or at the least diminished... was also the loss of a Christian testimony to the world. I have thoroughly enjoyed two books about creativity and the Christian life written by the fallen artist but I can never look at them the same when I know the decisions he made in his final years.
All of this reminded me of the title of a book I read many years ago called Finishing Well: The Adventure of Life Beyond Halftime. Although a book mainly written for men, the book has stayed with me through the years with the words Finishing Well often in the back of my mind.
None of us will live a perfect life, whether we are given ten years or a hundred. All of us look back at something we did or said in previous years (decades as we grow older) and wonder, "What was I thinking?!!!".
Thankfully, while we have breath in us we can ask God's forgiveness and He always forgives those who ask with true repentance. (I have also learned to give grace to my younger self.)
In fact, the Bible is filled with flawed individuals who Finished Well... liars, adulterers, drunks, murderers, etc. You think not? Abraham was a liar as was Jacob, David was an adulterer and murderer, Noah's story includes a drunken binge, and St. Paul was not always a saint... he was Saul the one who murdered Christians.
As I remember, there were only two men in the Old Testament whose story had no major character flaws. Oh, one had a childish slip of wisdom when he shared the dream of his brothers and father bowing down to him but no huge sin... that being Joseph. The other man who led such a life that no flaws are written is Daniel.
I find it interesting that neither of these men blamed God when taken into slavery before reaching adulthood and that they stayed true to Him in spite of circumstances which would cause the average person such distress as to perhaps take their own life. These men did not live lives of strong character because they lived an easy life.
On the contrary, I have found many... no, most of the people I admire in the Word and in more recent history are those who have suffered great affliction and come through it with a stronger faith and testimony to His faithfulness.
As many of you know, my greatest heroes of the faith and the couple whose writing most influenced my Christian life was Francis and Edith Schaeffer (the very title of these posts called Sunday Afternoon Tea comes from their Sunday tea times as they discussed the Word with others).
Their autobiography, The Tapestry, is filled with seemingly impossible trials they went through both prior to forming L'Abri and after it was established. Actually, Edith wrote a book whose title is... Affliction. What did I learn from them?
I learned by staying faithful to the little things of life, I will remain faithful to the big stuff. Edith taught the importance of everyday decisions as she wrote about her gardens, making a chicken stretch to feed a crowd, baking bread, keeping on when one didn't think they had the strength, reading to the child sick in bed in spite of the many tasks waiting on her to do list, sitting in a hospital room hand stitching bridesmaid dresses, and understanding enough about Beauty to encourage the use of candles and tea as we talk to others.
Her life was challenging but she understood character is built stronger when we care about those everyday events of our life that... when formed into a lifetime... help us Finish Well. Edith is now ninety-eight years old but we know she is finishing well. :)
I don't know exactly what happened to those who fell from grace but their stories give us little glimpses into the cracks which caused a life's testimony to crumble. The common attributes to their stores seem to be... fame, pride, greed, hero worship from others, riches... and perhaps (although I have no proof) a separation between the reality of their life and the image which was created?
This is a longer Sunday Afternoon Tea than usual for this reason... what separates a life well lived from one which falls apart before a person has no more days left to invest into Eternity? I truly think it is living our life in such a way that we pay attention to the small things each day.
When we are Jesus to the world around us... as we serve others by making breakfast (again), sorting the whites from the colored laundry (again), mowing the lawn (again), sowing the green bean seeds into the soil (again), mending pockets (again), and stretching our dollars by making bean soup and cornbread (again)... we are doing great things.
There is no time for indiscretions as a man comes home from work every evening to dinner with his family, Saturday ballgames or soccer, and church services each week. A woman who has learned to create Beauty in the kitchen, the sewing room, with a flower garden, or lovely needlework... she has neither the time nor inclination to look for fulfillment elsewhere.
The single mom who works many hours but picks up her child at daycare and prepares the simple meal to be enjoyed together... one who trusts Christ instead of falling into bitterness... one who finds ways to fellowship with His people... she will stand firm and Finish Well.
It is in the way we handle the little decisions which can keep us from the big temptations of life... those which would lead us away from Finishing Well.
We come to realize the importance of feeding our soul with the Word, even if we prop our Bible... as did Ruth Bell Graham when her kids were little... on a kitchen counter to read in passing. We pay attention to that warning in our spirit if we consider watching the movie full of immorality or the TV show that provokes us to laugh at what anguishes the heart of God.
We are curious as to the best sellers talked about online but stay away, knowing they bring with them mental images which defile purity. We turn down the Facebook "Friend request" of someone from the opposite sex we knew in high school (which has not happened to me but I recently heard is now a significant cause of divorce).
Our pastor calls such a thing... providing the devil a place to land. This always brings a mental picture to me of a shadowy plane circling around until it locates a landing strip! Shiver...
What would have changed if the general never met with the woman alone as was the rule in Billy Graham's ministry? How different would have been many lives if that second and third sip of whiskey had not been taken, especially if one knows there is a history of substance abuse in their family.
Would the religious leader have fulfilled his calling if Christ had truly been the center of the ministry and not him? Who knows...
But this we do know... we can't go wrong in this life by clinging to the One who created us and understands us more than we know ourselves. If anyone wants us to Finish Well... it is Him and He provided the road map in His Word. :)
Picture: Carl Larsson's painting titled At Church