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


Rebecca said...

What a strong and true post! Well written, too :) Re-enforces my determination to "Finish Strong", by His grace.

(I'm glad to know that Edith S. is still living. I'd lost track...)

suzanne said...

dear brenda, i don't know you personally, but i look forward to each post you write and your sunday afternoon tea posts are so encouraging! thank you for this one, especially.

Terra said...

I love your reminder to Finish Well, and I will look for Tapestry, it sounds like a fine book.

Anonymous said...

Spot on! Pam (SD)

Jane said...

You have many good points here. Lots to think about and share with others.

terricheney said...

Well we are definitely thinking along the same lines at present. My conviction came this week with a seemingly innocent thing: an online earning tool that rewards points for watching videos now and then. For the most part harmless but every now and then there is a disturbing scene, or the title makes the video questionable. Not 'bad' but opening the door for thoughts/images that really oughtn't be there. So I've had a nice little talk with God. I'll avoid those and trust him to provide me with videos or activities to earn those points that buy the gift cards that provide little extras. Just one more decision that had to be made in my Christian walk. Not big, not earth reversing, but a choice made just for good and not evil.

Vee said...

It is always sad to hear those stories. slewfoot is ever on the prowl. As I am sure you know, many stories have followed the Schaeffers and so many in the Christian community. Thank God that He is still in the redemption business. We frail creatures need Him desperately.

Anonymous said...

Your post is fabulous, inspirational. I'm going to pin it because I want to keep it handy to read again and again.
Really wonderful.
Thank you so much!

TeresaAngelina said...

I am reminded of a holy monk, a leader of his community, the Abbot in fact, who upon his death bed was told by one of his monks that he finished the race, his struggle was over. In his old and holy voice hoarsely said, "Not quite yet." We struggle for the finish line to our ends.

Anonymous said...

Reading the list of artists who fell I could only identify perhaps one. That though is not the substance of what you were trying to convey. Was this post long? No it was to the point and written perfectly. If you were called to write a book of many pages on it you would also be spot on. God has given you a talent and a mission. Thank you for following it. The lesson hit home with me too and I am so happy I read it. The sly fox comes in to spoil things in sometimes little doses and presented in a beautiful package,.. we can ignore if we are not careful. Sarah

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

This is my favorite post you have ever written and I enjoy every post!

Such truth that you have shared with us today, friend.

I want to finish well, and I am going to cling to Him who is able!

Bless you!


Thickethouse.wordpress said...

What a good post, Brenda...When I was in high school (a Catholic Girls school) we were taught not only to avoid sin, but to avoid what was called "the near occasion of sin" - which just means temptation. Our family (at the nephew level) recently nearly had a tragedy which was fortunately avoided, but would never even have become a near tragedy which upset many people if the people involved had not allowed themselves to take the first step on a road leading nowhere good. At that point, I think, there is not a great temptation and it is pretty easy to just avoid those first steps. But at least that particular problem was stopped the worst happened. Sorry not to be more clear, but I think you understand what I'm not saying.

amy said...

Thank you....God Bless:)

Friedas Farmhouse said...

Lovely post Brenda~ So many encouraging & good thoughts shared. May your week be wonderful~

Anonymous said...

My dear friend discovered the danger of Facebook. Her husband was injured and unable to work for several months. Unknown to her, he started corresponding with his high school girlfriend that he hadn't seen in decades. When he recovered fully, he left. She never knew it was coming.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing, Brenda!

I am currently reading L'Abri by Edith Schaeffer, which I got off the book list link that is on your home page. It is becoming one of my favorite books, and I'm so thankful you mentioned her others in this post b/c I will look for those when I am done. My husband is a pastor, and sometimes I/we need a little vision of what can/could be to help draw us up and out into the Lord's work.


hopeinbrazil said...

A lovely post, Brenda.

Maureen H. said...

"I have also learned to give grace to my younger self" (6th para. of this post: Very pertinent to myself! And a valuable lesson for all of us to learn. Deep and worthy words, Brenda.

Front Porch Grace said...

Great meat here, Brenda. Being watchful and careful in even the small things shows true character, which only comes from proper alignment of our lives with our love of God.

Excellent, needful post.

Your remark about being grace-full to the young you? That's...needful.

Thank you for listening to the Spirit of God.

In His Grace,

Lori said...

What an awesome and inspiring post Brenda, God sure is using so many wonderful ways. God bless you..Lori