Awake, O Sleeper!

jon-huff-let-the-nations-be-glad-epJust a few weeks ago, my brother Jon Huff released a 4-song EP entitled Let the Nations Be Glad. This project focuses particularly on his various trips to the Middle East and the prayers he offered to God concerning the work of the church in reaching the lost.

Yet, this project has been in the making for over a decade. Let me explain.

My brother picked up the guitar in high school and has never really put it down since. It’s no wonder; he is a brilliant musician, writing and playing beautiful songs as if magic worked his hands. He plays effortlessly, singing and making music for the Lord like David. I’ve always admired him for this talent and have long considered him a true gift from God, both as a brother and a friend.

Many people over the next several years longed for an official recording, an album that demonstrated his incredible knack for songwriting. Though opportunities arose, the prospect never really felt right, and Jon kept the thought of recording at bay. Until now. This EP represents Jon’s heart to honor Christ through the gift he’d been given, to bless God through the blessing of music.

When I first heard these songs, I decided to write a poem that corresponded to the overall message of the album. It is called “Awake, O Sleeper”, and I’ve included it here:

“Awake, O Sleeper”

Awake, O sleeper!

And listen to the psalms of a thousand tongues, unstung

By the healing balms of grace,

Singing harmonies louder than water,

A choir formed from the global spectrum of faces,

The spirit of salvation pouring forth from the nations.

Awake, O sleeper!

Taste and see the feast of Jesus

Spread in bounty for His glory,

The smiles of the least of these at the table,

The multi-colored coats on multi-colored bodies,

Dressing the kaleidoscope of the church in all her beauty

From the reddest clay of Africa to the greens of Galilee,

The puzzle pieces of continents brought to their knees by rivers and trees,

Cheeks filled as they breathe the glorious name of Jesus in praise.

Awake, O sleeper!

And hear the voice of one crying in the wilderness,

Preparing the way of the Lord to the deserts,

Prophets in robes, suits, ties, and t-shirts,

Declaring the gospel like doctors in hospitals,

Shouting and pointing to the God that raises the dead,

Who ceases all deceasing and brings breath to the choking,

Gives song to the broken and ear to the spoken prayers of His people.

Awake, O sleeper!

And sound the alarm! Stretch out your arm

To give help to the helpless,

To build homes for the orphans and make churches from stones

‘Til the valley of dry bones is sewn together

With the thread of the blood red tether of God, the gift of His Son

Who shed rivers of grace to pull us back to the embrace of the Giver.

Awake, O sleeper. Awake.

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The Joyous Noise in Beowulf

meduseldHaving just completed a three week study of Beowulf with my British Literature students, I am again struck by one of the more subtle, yet striking passages early in the poem.

To set the scene, King Hrothgar is celebrating with his thanes in the glorious golden mead-hall Herot, an Edenic image of heaven and ultimate koinonia fellowship. As the men pass the communion cup around the magnificent hall, full of dancing and revelry, the king’s bard begins to sing of creation and God’s almighty power:

“Loud in that hall, the harp’s rejoicing / Call and the poet’s clear songs, sung / Of the ancient beginnings of us all, recalling / The Almighty making the earth, shaping / These beautiful plains marked off by oceans […] And then / As now warriors sang of their pleasure”

This moment, with all of its wild and boisterous celebration of God, provides a remarkable perspective on the right view of Christian worship. The noble warriors, toasting their king and pledging loyalty to their queen, fill the evening with hearty laughter, rowdy storytelling, and robust psalm-singing as they praise God for the blessing of creation and the joy of Christian camaraderie. They are not tamed, domesticated, effete Christian men, calmly tucking in their shirts and going about their business. Nor are they mindless brutes, scoffing at all this “girly” singing and storytelling. They are mighty men, knuckles sore from battle and throats sore from exuberant singing. Remember, the same man who sawed off the head of Goliath would later write a poem about it (Psalm 9).

It is no wonder, then, that the joyous noise of worship in Herot summons the envy and wrath of Grendel, the terrible beast “born of Cain” who is exiled from the mighty hall. At this point, I prefer Seamus Heaney’s translation:

“Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark, / nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him / to hear the din of the loud banquet / every day in the hall, the harp being struck / and the clear song of a skilled poet / telling with mastery of man’s beginnings, / how the Almighty had made the earth / a gleaming plain girdled with waters”

So Grendel attacks Hrothgar’s men out of a supreme irritation by the “din of the loud banquet.” He is furious at their joy. In this way, Grendel embodies the very nature of evil, a jealous, petty fiend livid at the joy of the Lord. He is a demonic figure representative of the Devil himself, and, as C.S. Lewis describes him, Satan is the “cosmic killjoy.” His is an unsatisfying lust, an alienated loneliness, a banal and uncelebrated eternity of selfishness and pride. Who can forget the cry of the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as her staggering sledge grates across the thawing ground and she stumbles upon a small party of Narnians celebrating the return of Aslan?

“What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence?” 

She cannot stand the sight of righteous feasting, of glorious revelry, the “din of the loud banquet.” And neither can Grendel. His attack on Herot, then, and the subsequent arrival of Beowulf show us the power and danger of the right worship of God. As Charles Spurgeon said, “There is no more levity in a hearty laugh than a hearty cry.” We must resist with every ounce of our power the popular notion that Satan has cornered the market on fun and joyful partying. All sin and worldliness can do is drain the potency of glory and gloss it over with a thin coating of happiness and thrill. Only in Christ and the merry jubilation of His people can true wildness and joy be found.

Or, in other words, as Lewis affirms, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

The Watchman Waits for the Morning

I’d like to introduce my wife Kristen Huff as the guest writer for this post. I am thrilled she has taken the opportunity to respond to Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman which released earlier this summer.

Disclaimer: Spoiler Alert

Everyo9780062433657ne has that person in their life. You know, the one you look up to. The one who can do no wrong. The one you trust that if all the world goes crazy, he or she will be right there, a consistent moral force to speak truth into your life.

For Scout Finch that person was always her dad, Atticus. He had always been the one to do what was right. He was the rock she and her brother depended on, as well as the one who did what no one else in the town had the guts to do. We all remember the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird. He boldly defended a negro in court at a time when race relations were at the height of social issues.

In Go Set a Watchman, a grown-up Scout finds herself once again observing her father amidst a heated discussion concerning race relations. Yet, she is mortified to see that, instead of being the bold defender of negroes, her dad, and also her fiancé, quietly sit, blending in with the crowd.

She runs from the scene carrying a storm of emotions. What follows is a bout of physical and emotional illness as she tries to grasp the fact that her father has somehow changed, or perhaps was never the man she thought he was. After several attempts to distract herself from the betrayal she feels by those closest to her, she runs to her uncle for answers. His explanation for her devastation is incredibly enlightening:

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious. […] now you, Miss, born with your own conscience, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle onto your father’s. As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings — I’ll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes ’em like all of us. You were an emotional cripple, leaning on him, getting the answers from him, assuming that your answers would always be his answers.”

I had to stop after this and think. I have been thinking about this scene for several days now, especially in light of recent events at my alma mater, North Greenville University. Do we not often place unrealistic expectations on our leaders, heroes, and parents? We set them up in our minds as these perfect people who, if they sin at all, it is just a small fib or a sharp word here or there. To find out that a moral leader or hero has done something horrible feels like the end of the world to us. Like Scout, we go screaming for answers and assume our entire faith has been shattered.

Let’s do some self-examination for a moment. How many of us really made it through college without some sort of sexual sin? I think, if we are honest, that would be no one. So, there we all are, 18 years old and thinking we are spiritual. Attending chapel, taking part in ministry and secretly making out with our significant other and probably doing a whole lot more than that. I have a feeling our professors/faculty/administrators and, dare I even say, our president had a pretty good idea about our “secret sins,” but did they broadcast it and condemn us for it? No. They just kept on serving us, loving us, and praying for us. Eventually, the Holy Spirit got through, and those of us who were truly saved repented, beginning the process of making things right.

So, here is my conclusion after several days of thinking through this book in light of recent events. We all have a watchman, our conscience, and if we are saved, it is controlled by the Holy Spirit. The best thing to do is what it says in Psalm 130:3-8: 

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.