It was 1976, and I was a senior in high school. While I must admit that I was not particularly interested in books or theological writings, I do remember one book coming onto the scene that garnered great attention and enthusiasm. The book was entitled, How Then Shall We Live by Francis Schaeffer.
Honestly, I did not have the intellectual capacity to read the book or know what it all meant. I was consumed with a love for music of all kinds, and I happened to have the great fortune of personally knowing some of the greatest songwriters of Christian music.
Schaeffer’s book led us on a journey.
His central premise was, “when we base society on the Bible, on the infinite personal God who is there and has spoken, this provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives and by which we can judge society.”
This leads to what Schaeffer calls “freedom without chaos.” The book and ten subsequent films about it were quite a hit among Christians at that time.
While I missed the opportunity and impact of How Then Shall We Live, I am thankful to have been given the privilege of being shaped by a song with a similar title: “I Then Shall Live.” As a young preacher’s kid, music written by Bill and Gloria Gaither became a vital part of the fabric of my life. I remember when they drove down to Kingsport, Tennessee in their station wagon, pulling a small U-Haul trailer holding their records and sound equipment.
It was Gloria Gaither who wrote the song, “I Then Shall Live” in 1980. I was an employee of Gaither Music then, and at that point in my young and immature life, I got to promote and sell “I Then Shall Live” to bookstores in my territory along the southeastern coast of the U.S. Twenty years later when I heard the song again, it were as if it was the first time I’d ever heard it.
Bill and Gloria had given me the gift of the CD which previewed the soon-to-be-released song on a new Gaither Vocal Band album.
I listened to the song. It was one of those defining moments in my life.
The song has become the “song of my life.” I asked a local Oklahoma City artist to paint the words on three framed canvas panels which now hang in my office. If my family can afford a tombstone large enough, I hope to have these words printed on it, just above my dates of birth and death. Right below these words, I hope to have this verse from Matthew 22: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
What if we all lived as people who have been forgiven? Shouldn’t this fact be celebrated every day? Have we forgotten the overwhelming, exhilarating, hard-to-fathom reality that our debts have been paid, our name is clear before the God who created us? Doesn’t it make sense that if we have been forgiven, we would eagerly forgive others? Could we be filled with compassion to a degree that we will risk loving as we’ve been loved?
Come on, people–how can we claim to live in the extravagance of Jesus and not offer others what He has offered to us? Don’t we need to return to the cordial practice of at least attempting to see another’s point of view, even if we don’t agree?
Frankly, I can’t stand to live in a world that allows me to surround myself only with people who see everything my way. Why would I ever choose to live such a shallow and hollow life? Doesn’t the Bible call us to truly commit to radical kingdom living? Why don’t we?
I urge you to take some time to think about these questions. Just imagine what a different world it could be if we all love our neighbors with these ideas in mind!