EWtW will be released later this year. Check out the official website here.
EWtW will be released later this year. Check out the official website here.
He would have been 120 years old today, but when he passed in 1973, J.R.R. Tolkien was just getting started. I think he would tell us that Heaven is a far nicer place than earth—or Middle Earth. Of all the quotes I’ve ever collected (aside from Scripture) the one that rang most personal came from him. If you’re an artist or writer, it rings ever truer. Enjoy.
“The Gospels contain a ‘fairy-story’, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful and moving: ‘mythical’ in their perfect, self-contained significance; and at the same time powerfully symbolic and allegorical; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable Eucatastrophe. [The Gospels are not artistic in themselves; the Art is here in the story itself, not in the telling. For the Author of the story was not the evangelists. ‘Even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written’, if that story had been fully written down.] The Birth of Christ is the Eucatastrophe [‘Great Happy Ending’] of man’s history. The Resurrection is the Eucatastrophe of the story of the incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality’. There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
“It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be ‘primarily’ true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the ‘turn’ in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is pre-eminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. Because this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men – and of elves. Legend and history have met and fused.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”, Epilogue
Happy Birthday, Prof. “Tollers”.
“The incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write…” —J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters, 237 (italics in the original)
Imagine eternity. Imagine infinity—imagine absolute life and infinite power, with no beginning and no end. Imagine infinite size and mind, boundless knowledge, unapproachable holiness in both being and motive—perfection beyond anything anyone ever dreamt—ultimate power to create and destroy with utter absence of malice entwined with supreme, omniscient Justice.
Such power—such absolute personhood—holy and just, vast and unstoppable—light so brilliant and holiness so overwhelming that only the holy can enter His presence. Yet He is compassionate, tirelessly loving, overflowing with grace and mercy—all superlative qualities lavished on sullied beings—on rebellious, rejecting, wicked little creatures that He, in the beginning, created to be the recipients of His inexhaustible giving nature—inheritors of all of His love and grace. Suddenly the simple, often clichéd words that Jesus spoke to a desperate Pharisee burgeon with new force, infinite wonder, fresh worship:
“For God so loved—He gave…”
And, as if that were not enough, He told us to approach this infinite, eternal, all-powerful, all knowing, all holy, all righteous, all discerning, supremely just, immeasurably vast God as “Our Father…” That is miraculous. It’s also Christmas.
Now, come let us adore Him.
“The proper study of the Christian is God. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy which can engage the attention of a child of God is the Name, the Nature, the Person, the Doings, and the existence of the great God we call “Father”. It is a subject so vast that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep that our pride is drown in its infinity. Other subjects we can comprehend and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-contentment and go our way with the thought, “Behold, I am wise!” But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing!” —C.H. Spurgeon
God made us lamps of his light, not salesmen or customers of His fire. He fits no category, exceeds every attribution, defies all description. He’s immeasurably more than the object of our study—He’s the subject of the universe itself. He’s “the superlative of everything good you choose to call Him”, Rev. Lockwood preached—yet we still tread the waters of the Sea of Him seeking to stay afloat, waters in which He intended us to drown.
Our God is an Awesome God.
[Photo: Albert Einstein’s office at the time of his death]
What can we say to God in the face of the horrors of the Holocaust? Let’s pray...
Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world,
Which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,
And within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
And say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted,
Extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One;
Blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns,
Praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world;
And say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel;
And say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights,
May He create peace for us and for all Israel;
And say, Amen.*
Photo: Janusz Korczak Memorial, Yad Vashem, Israel
Do not forget his name.
Jesus is alive. Too many saw Him, met with and touched Him after His tomb was found vacated—too many of these died savagely with this testimony on their lips. Still, for many the resurrection remains beyond belief—a thought that lies beyond the ability to cope. Even so, all people must wrestle with this greatest event in human history.
In a science fiction novel set millions of years in the future, a character summarized global history, noting, “Following the death of Jesus Christ, there was a period of readjustment that lasted for approximately one million years…”
How do you cope with such a colossal event…?
“How can you cope with the end of a world and the beginning of another one? How can you put an earthquake into a test-tube or the sea into a bottle? How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire has become flesh; that Life itself came to life and walked in our midst?
“How can you cope with the concept that mankind tried to kill the God but He lived and now is our judge? How can a person come to Easter services and not be profoundly transformed by the fact that once in the history of humanity a truly innocent man died in our place and rose to life never to die again and he offers us eternal life?
“Christianity either means all of that, or it means nothing. It is either the most profound and devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense and just deceitful acting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between. We may not be content there, but we don’t know how to escape until we are personally transformed by the resurrected Jesus Christ—from observers to worshippers of the living God.”
—Adapted from NT Wright, For All God’s Worth
He is risen indeed.
“All the Dachaus must remain standing—the Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes—all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge—but worst of all their conscience. And the moment we forget this—the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance—then we become the gravediggers.” — Rod Serling, “Deaths-Head Revisited,” The Twilight Zone
While some try to erase selected atrocities from the history of hell, humanity is nonetheless charged to either remember or repeat the abominations for which he has proven himself so capable—and in this instance to remember millions slaughtered without reason. The Jews belong to God—He said so in His Book and nothing has changed. The devil is never proven more alive and active than in his relentless malice toward the Jews—and God was never proved more powerful and deliberate than when He regathered His people to their own land after nineteen-hundred years of persecution and near annihilation.
“I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ” Ezek. 37:12-14
The verse is inscribed over the exit-arch of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. Yes, they know it, too.
“Whatever may happen, however seemingly inimical to it may be the world’s going and those who preside over the world’s affairs, the truth of the Incarnation remains intact and inviolate. Christendom, like other civilizations before it, is subject to decay and must sometime decompose and disappear. The world’s way of responding to intimations of decay is to engage equally in idiot hopes and idiot despair. On the one hand some new policy or discovery is confidently expected to put everything to rights: a new fuel, a new drug, détente, global government. On the other, some disaster is as confidently expected to prove our undoing: Capitalism will break down. Fuel will run out. Pandemics will lay us low. Climate change waste will kill us off. Overpopulation will suffocate us, or alternatively, a declining birth rate will put us more surely at the mercy of our enemies.
“In Christian terms, such hopes and fears are equally beside the point. As Christians we know that here we have no continuing city—that crowns roll in the dust and every earthly kingdom must sometime flounder, whereas we acknowledge a King that men did not crown and cannot dethrone, as we are citizens of a city of God they did not build and cannot destroy. Thus, the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, living in a society as depraved and dissolute as ours. Their games, like our television, specialized in spectacles of violence and eroticism. Paul exhorted them to be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in God’s work,” to concern themselves with the things that are unseen. “For the things which are seen are temporal but the things which are not seen are eternal.” It was in the breakdown of Rome that Christendom was born. Now in the breakdown of Christendom there are the same requirements and the same possibilities to eschew the fantasy of a disintegrating world and seek the reality of what is not seen and eternal—the reality of Christ.” —Malcolm Muggeridge (with a few minor updates)
2021 will be glorious.
Bob Ayala was singing the very first time I darkened the tent flaps of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Some friends from Seattle has discovered the Christian tent-venue in Orange County and invited me to tag along. I was stunned. Bob was a Christian balladeer who sounded like a mixture of Jose Feliciano and Neil Young, but his lyrics were introspective, spiritual and utterly gripping. Because of Bob, Calvary became my home and I am now one of her pastors. But I digress.
Whenever Bob came to town I was there. He sang and emoted through his oversized Gibson J-200 guitar, and God spoke through him. He couldn’t see, but God gave him eyes that pierced human pretense and dug deep into a man’s soul. After three years listening and absorbing his gift, I decided I needed to meet him—and learn.
When I first called him, he thought I was joking. My first question was an obvious one—what kind of guitar he played (it was the finest sounding instrument I ever heard), and he told me. My other question strained credulity and made him laugh. “Do you give guitar lessons?” I was serious. I’d been playing guitar for a few years, but lacked artistic form—something he possessed in abundance. I wanted that. He hummed and hawed and finally said, “Well, I could use the money, so okay.”
That began our friendship. Lessons soon evolved into visits, endless chess matches, jam sessions in his tiny living room and nights out with he and his bride, Pam, in Westwood Village feasting at LaBarbara’s Pizza.
Then, one day he asked to borrow my el-cheap-o 12-string guitar, which I happily handed over. I dropped by for a visit a couple weeks later when he asked me to listen to something he wrote on my guitar, specifically for a 12-string instrument. He called it “Ancient of Days”. It went on his first album and has been my favorite worship song ever since. In 1979 he performed the music at Kathee’s and my wedding—Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, played classically with a slight folksy bent. He surprised us both with the greatest original wedding song never published. It had no title and still rings in my and Kathee’s hearts after all these years.
I received a call from Bob in 1982 when he asked for my thoughts about a life-changing decision he needed to make—and for prayer. Melody Green, Keith Green’s widow asked him to take over the music ministry for her late husband at Last Days Ministries in Texas. This was huge, and I knew that if he said yes, I would not see him again for a long time. The answer was obvious—God was calling.
The last time I saw Bob was back stage at a Keith Green Memorial Concert where we spoke briefly between sets. We felt rushed and he was justifiably preoccupied. A few years later he and Pam called me from Texas. We chatted for a couple hours and he excitedly told me about his new CD (Who Was This Man). That was the last time we spoke. Pam passed into heaven in 2008 and Bob moved to the east coast where he led worship for a truly blessed congregation.
It was because of Bob that I have led worship and performed songs for more than 35 years. It was because of Bob that I discovered the joys and convictions of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, learned to emote with my guitar and play chess with a blind man wearing soaked white teeshirts, sitting in front of fans on sweltering SoCal afternoons. I know, I know—it was because of Jesus—but He used Bob to get to me.
Bob left for heaven yesterday—the same day as C.S. Lewis did years before. I think it was God’s way of saying ‘well done’ with a smile. You may not remember his first album, Joy by Surprise, but the album cover was simply prophetic: Bob stepping out of a dark doorway into a sun-drenched Narnia, seeing for the very first time—the face of Aslan.
“…The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And as He spoke He no longer looked 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 [Bob] lived happily ever after. But for [him] it was only the beginning of the real story. All [his] life in this world and all [his] adventures… had only been the cover and the title page [of the book]; now at last [he is] 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.” —C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, The Chronicles of Narnia
“Nothing can extinguish it. To the end of time it shall be there and shall always manifest itself, and men must never lose heart because of that. All [mankind’s ideas and struggles to create his own utopia] are absolutely worthless—the society in which utopianism is the great pursuit is the one that is about to commit suicide. The great guarantee that human life is always worth creating, always worth bringing into this world, always worth living is that there is built into it an indestructible awareness that life belongs to eternity and not to time. [This] shines with an incredible brightness in the one place in the world where you would not, under any circumstances, expect to find it surviving. The Catacombs.” —Malcolm Muggeridge, Firing Line #433, with W.F. Buckley, Jr., Sept. 6, 1980, PBS
We can preach politics or we can preach Jesus.
We can rage against the machine or we can love like Jesus.
We can trumpet conspiracies or we can comfort like Jesus.
People need Jesus.
Learn, live, preach, love like Jesus.
It’s what’s important—it’s what will last.
It comes at great risk and sometimes great cost, but it’s the one and only thing that can fix the world, one heart—one life at a time.