Because of Bob…

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

 

A Light in Mordor

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

It’s like a chapter from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings—hope dims in the creeping clouds of Mordor while armies driven by fear and rage cower in the eaves of the deepening shadows. But it was just today’s Facebook and news reads. Angry? Depressed? Fearful? Hopeless? It’s easy to slide into the reeking pits of the Land of Shadows.

Who do we believe? What is truth? We won’t find it in Mordor. The shadows “are only a small and passing thing,”—hope, truth, light remain like the stars and aren’t going anywhere. Man has made his mess, God made the stars.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.” —Psalm 20:7–8

Arise.

—j

The Resurrection According to J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Birth of Christ is the Eucatastrophe* of man’s history. The Resurrection is the Eucatastrophe of the story of the incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. 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.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

The greatness of the Resurrection of Christ is beyond measure—it’s the superlative of all happy endings. Are you His? revel in it. Are you not? Plunge into Him. You will live forever, just like Him. Besides, He loves you—He still has the scars that prove it.

—j

*The ultimate happy ending

The Eucatastrophe of History (Merry Christmas)

Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien declared, “The Incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write…” (italics in the original). But later on he tried. Here is what he wrote…

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 Birth of Christ is the Eucatastrophe of man’s history. The Resurrection is the Eucatastrophe of the story of the incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. 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.”

Good job, Ronald, and Merry Christmas to all.

—j