Friday, December 28, 2012

After This, the Judgement

R. C. Sproul addresses evil and human suffering in his book, "Reason to Believe." He says an interesting thing: "You can pray for whatever you want but don't ask God for justice or you might receive it."


We have seen evil committed upon a member of our family this week. A hateful, spiteful, vindictive person has pursued a good man to his grave.

I know Jesus said "there is none good but one." But you understand that I am speaking of a loving father and husband whose job called on him to stand between his community and harm.

Now apparently there are those who would pursue him, via the internet, beyond the grave. Like I said, evil.

My word to all these people: this man is in God's hands now. God is his Judge. Before you take sadistic pleasure in that thought, remember this: God is your judge too. We will all face Him (Hebrews 9:27).

So I pray. For God's mercy for my niece and her children.

For those of whom I've already spoken?

Here is my dilemma: how can I, who deserves justice but received mercy, call out for God's justice upon the evildoers amongst us? Am I not commanded instead to "pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you?"

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


It all seems so simple, so true, so right.

For one who was taught Christianity's tenets from childhood. And then then strayed from them, rebelled against them and finally rejected them altogether.

Perhaps it was an incomplete education or maybe, being young and easily distracted, I forgot to pay attention. I don't recall hearing about God's absolute undeniable sovereign control over everything in His creation.

Life's blessings, yes, but life's bumps, bruises and heartaches? Life itself and its maddening pursuit of happiness (read self-gratification), but sickness and death?

I began to be angry at God. And since I had been taught that I could choose God (Jesus) or not, at age 23 I chose NOT.

Oh I came back eventually. The prodigal son, I viewed myself, and God so tickled that I had decided to come home.

Then one cold, stormy rage-filled evening, one of those flashes of lightning revealed to me for the first time: me. Me as God saw me, selfish, bitter, controlling and full of anger.

What could I do but cry out, "God save me?"

Grace. Unmerited favor. You can't deserve it. You can't earn it. Otherwise it would be something else besides grace.

I needed that saving grace. And I need grace every day. For I know the inclinations of my heart. I know the idols that linger there. I know what gives me the desire and strength to tear them down. Little by little and day-by-day as I pray for God's kingdom to come in my heart.

Grace. Alone. The Reformers called it Sola Gratia. Paul says my very faith (and all that flows from it) is a gift of God's grace (Ephesians 2:8-10).

To God alone be the glory.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It's American to Make Fun of Those Less Fortunate Than Yourself

We all poke fun. Right?

Now I realize that this can degenerate into an exercise in pure-dee hatefulness. For that reason, I try to limit my fun poking to members of my family. It's tradition. You make fun and are made fun of. Suck it up.

The less fortunate part? Well they do have to put up with me, so 'nuff said, awright?

Talking with a friend the other day and it came out that he did not express himself as much as he might like around his immediate family. I don't know, I got the feeling he thought they were too delicate or something.

Anyhow, he was feeling bummed about it. And listening to him, I was feeling like.... Do you remember that scene from The Godfather (both book and movie) where singer Johnny Fontaine is complaining to Don Corleone about how his slutty movie star wife just dogs him around all the time?

No matter if you don't. We guys have all heard our friends complain about how their wives oppress them (that's right, ladies, I said it!), taking advantage of being female and being all emo and stuff.

So at some point in this whinefest, the Godfather just has had enough and he grabs Johnny by the hair of the head and gives him a good firm shake. And shouts, "BE A MAN!"

That's how I felt.

Be mean to your wife and kids? I didn't say that.

I find that it is much easier and sometimes less painful to express what you feel through humor which is the whole point (can you believe I finally got there?!?) to this diatribe.

Ask Ein and she can tell you that when she was living here and started to have a meltdown, I would make fun of her till she would become ashamed of her sissifiedness and begin to laugh.

Mean, huh? Not really. I would hug her and use my "which way did he go George" voice: "Why are you sad, George, don't cry George or your eyelashes will shrink George."

The deal is that life is tough and there are people who are going to really be mean to you. So get those feelings off your sleeve. Sounds awful, I know, but sometimes "Get over yourself" can actually be  good advice.

Not all that Christian a way to behave, you might say. Seems as though I recall Jesus being pretty rough on the Pharisees (Matthew 22:29; John 8: 42-47) and sometimes even His own disciples (Mark 8:33; Matthew 14:31).

Otis Redding said, "Try a Little Tenderness."

But isn't there a time for plain speaking as well?

After all, guys got feelings too.

No, seriously.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Run Awaaay!!

God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. -1 Corinthians 10:13b

I broke my glasses a few days ago. I had just poured my coffee and sat down to read. I began to clean the gunk that accumulates on the lenses and the frame came apart in my hands, depositing a lens in my lap.

You may have noticed that you reach a certain age when you are effectively blind without glasses. Everything is at least a little blurry. Reading? Fuggedaboudit. I have reached and passed that age.

I think it says a lot about a person's level of faith how they deal with life's frustrations. It takes a certain level of Christian maturity to remember Paul's instruction to "give thanks in all circumstances (this is God's will for you -1 Thessalonians 5:18)."

I wish I could report that I stood strong in the face of temptation. I covet your prayers.

So the question arises: what is this way of escape? I'm sure that all of you could offer various insights as to how you've overcome temptation.

Here is a thing. Could it be that with every temptation comes an opportunity to resist by praising God?

What if I had responded to my frustration in not being able to see by thanking the Lord for his wonderful provision of eyeglasses. It was a probable infidel, Ben Franklin, who invented bifocals. How marvelous is God's providence in the ordering of all things for our good and His glory!!

Perhaps I should have praised Him for the invention of Scotch tape (the ultimate solution to my problem).

I might have been thankful for the reminder of how much we (I) depend on Him for ALL things.

I certainly did thank God as the tape gave way in the rain Sunday night and the lens disappeared in the glare of the lights on the wet concrete. For standing behind me was a brother in Christ who spotted the lens lying on the bottom step outside the church.

If this computer locked up , what would I be able to praise God for?

If the Mercury (our main mode of transportation) were to give up the ghost suddenly, would I be able to find cause for praise?

In both of his letters to Timothy, Paul warns his young friend to flee from various temptations.

Sometimes, we are caught flatfooted by life's curveballs. If gratitude is not a default setting in my thinking, I may find myself in trouble again.

Lord, help me find the door and help me remember to thank You on the way out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fall Down, Go Boom!

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. -1 Corinthians 10:12

So I had a pretty nasty fall this weekend. I not only had my dignity wounded or merely scraped my knees, but banged my forehead on the hard earth of reality and bloodied the nose of my pride and complacency.

No need to go into the sordid details. Why give the devil any glory?

Is it just me? Do any of you receive these lessons in humility that you certainly did not ask God for? I was comforted (a little) to share this experience at our Sunday morning prayer session and to find that several of my friends had had issues that morning as well.

I wonder if Paul perhaps underwent similar episodes so that he was inspired to warn us to "take heed?"

At times like these I am re-reminded of the need for Spirit-driven sanctification. Forgive me for the sports analogy: It's like taking an especially hard lick on the football field. God the Spirit picks me up, dusts me off, slaps me on the butt and says "Get back in there, son!"

So if you see me, how about a few words of encouragement. You know, like: "Gimme some pushups while you're down there!"

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 31, 1517: A New Beginning

In the early 1500's, a young German monk named Martin Luther underwent a deep crisis of faith. He came out of this dark time after reading Romans 1:17 and understanding its implications: No longer would he be plagued with doubts about his right-standing before a wrathful God. The righteousness he so desperately sought was not a result of his striving but God's declaring righteous those who believed in Christ. This changed Martin Luther's life. This changed the world.

In 1517, a man named Johann Tetzel came to Wittenberg to sell indulgences. At this time, the Church taught that the souls of dead Christians must spend time in a place called Purgatory, doing penance for sins, until they were worthy to enter heaven. This totally unbiblical teaching in effect trampled the atoning blood of Christ underfoot.

Someone had come up with the idea that indulgences might be sold not just for the living, but to release those souls trapped in Purgatory. Tetzel even had a catchy jingle to illustrate this: “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.” Some within the Church had felt that this was similar to the Pharisee’s burdening of the people that Jesus had condemned in Matthew 23:4.

Luther was angered and saddened at this exploitation of the people’s fears and superstitions, fears and superstitions which had been taught to them by the very Church which Christ had entrusted with the care of their souls (Matthew 28:19-20).

On October 31, 1517, Luther posted 95 theses (or points) in public (the story goes that he posted them on the chapel door of Wittenberg castle), challenging anyone who disagreed to debate him publicly. The theses attacked the selling of indulgences. Luther stopped short of blaming the pope, but instead blamed the advisors who surrounded him.

As we have seen, God works, in the fullness of time, to accomplish His ends. So between the time when Wycliffe distributed hand-written copies of his Bible translation and the time Luther posted his 95 Theses, something wonderful had happened.

In about 1440, a man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press, making possible the mass production of printed matter. The result of this was that Luther’s 95 Theses were spread across Germany in a few weeks, and across Europe in a matter of months.

Of course the Church got wind of this and was very displeased. The pope himself compared Luther to a wild hog in a vineyard. In days gone by, Luther might have been very quickly burned at the stake. Here we see another working of God’s providence.

The ruler of Saxony was a devout man known as Frederick the Wise. Though he had never met Luther, Luther had a reputation across Germany as a learned man and a skilled preacher and teacher. Frederick was quite proud to have this man as head of the theology department at Wittenberg’s university. He blocked all attempts to have Luther brought before the Church authorities.

The Church’s efforts to silence Luther reached their climax at the Diet of Worms (a council of the German princes) in 1521. This was a meeting called by the Holy Roman Emperor to discuss mostly civil matters. It must be noted that the pope tried to use this council for his own purpose: to stop Luther.

When asked point-blank by the council to recant (take back) his words, he refused. He stood by all that he had preached or written. “My conscience is bound to the Word of God,” he said. He stood before the Holy Roman Emperor and refused , on the authority of Holy Scripture and his own conscience, to back down.

Finally, the Diet ordered Luther to return to Wittenberg and not to preach. The Church had lost in its efforts to have the state silence him. It is a testimony to man’s fallen nature that, instead of ceasing to persecute Luther, Church officials set a plan in motion to kidnap and arrest him. Frederick beat them to the punch and had his own men grab Luther and place him out of harm’s way in Wartburg Castle, in a remote part of Frederick’s realm.

For the next ten months, Luther remained at Wartburg and spent most of his time writing. He finished his German translation of the Bible during this period. Meanwhile, across Germany, his works had ignited the flames of the Reformation.

Across the rest of Europe, as well, the news spread and men began to read and preach the Word of God again.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What About Evil?

Could be the heaviest theological question ever. There are as many ideas on the origin of evil as there are people pondering the question. The general consensus: We don't know!

It is said that "Fools rush in where angels (or wise men) fear to tread." That being said, I hope at least to be a "fool for Christ."

Please bear with me while I define my terms. I'll get to the point, I promise. Will you agree with my point? No promises.

We are created in God's image. We model some of his character traits: creativity, ability to express love, desire for relationships, self-knowledge or awareness. There are others, but you get the idea.

This self-awareness (God's covenant name is I AM) in humanity is something that has been on my mind.

Here in the Reformed neck of the woods, we hold to God's sovereignty. God is autonomous; self-existent.

In man's case, it would seem that self-realization ("I think, therefore I am"), carries with it a drive toward autonomy ("you will be like God"-Gen 3:5b).

Autonomy is from the Greek (autos self; nomos law). Here is a definition from the redneck dictionary: auto-no-my or "No! My Self!

Were Adam and Eve created "very good?" Yes. Did God foresee the fall? Yes. Is God the author of evil? No.

It would seem that self-awareness carries with it the desire for self-rule (Lucifer, right?). I've seen it described as a vacuum. Or maybe a law of moral physics (every action has an equal and opposite reaction). In other words, the very existence of good (God) may explain the existence of evil.

Like I said, heavy stuff. Here's what I do know: as far as personal evil is concerned, I don't have to look far to place the blame. It would be comforting to say, as Eve and Geraldine did, "The devil made me do it!"

But I am aware of a "desperately wicked and deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and like David, "my sin is ever before me (Psalm 51:3b).

Where DID evil come from? Here is a better question: "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24b) Paul's answer: "Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25)

Monday, October 22, 2012

I, Monster

I love my pastor. He has the most eclectic tastes of anyone I've ever known. Except in his theology.

He loves bluegrass music. He also loves Pink Floyd (?!). He once cited all seven verses of Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Have to Serve Somebody" in a sermon. Dylan is right of course.

So Billy is reading Mary Shelley's book, "Frankenstein."  In his introduction to yesterday's sermon, he speaks of the passage in the book where the creature sees his own reflection  for the first time. In a pool of water. And discovers that he is a monster: essentially a dead thing, but animated somehow with the spark of life.

We then stand, as always, for the reading of God's Word. First we pray, then Billy reads Romans 3:9-20.

These words leapt off the pages of my Bible at me:

...there is no one who does good,
not even one.
Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.
The poison of vipers is on their lips.
Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

See what I mean?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Give Your Heart to Jesus

Saw this on a church sign today. On a whim, I searched the phrase, "give your heart," on Blue Letter Bible's search engine, on every translation of the Bible that they have available (8 or 10 or so).

Nothing there. Hmmm. 3 searches did bring up a partial result-Ezekiel 36:26. The heart offered in this verse is not the one given up to God by the repentant believer. No.

Oddly, God speaks here of giving a new heart to the sinner so he CAN believe. Not the same thing at all.

I decided to try this from a different angle. Everybody knows the old hymn, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." I searched for "decided" and "follow" in the same sentence. A little bit better luck this time.

John 1:43 came up 4 times. You know, where Jesus "decided" to go to Galilee and told Phillip, "'follow' me." Hmm. Still not the same thing.

Bro. Billy will be preaching in Romans this Sunday. Chapter 3, verses 9-20. If you're in the neighborhood, come on by. I think the key verse is probably...there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. -Romans 3:11

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

It's a Gift

A man can only receive what is given him from heaven.-John 3:27b

One of many reminders in scripture that our salvation is a product of God's gracious giving.

But then again, what isn't? I'm sure you've compiled this list in your head: our very lives, our breath, our bodies, our health, loving families, jobs (even if we sometimes hate them), friends, a place to worship with like-minded believers. We praise and thank God for these gifts, as we call out to him daily in our prayers.

There are other gifts. Some of these are so hard to be thankful for:
trials, temptations, conflict within the family and within the Body of Christ, seasons of spiritual dryness. We are to be thankful for these gifts(?) as well.

I am thankful for the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable me to render thanks.

Here is a thing. I struggle with sin and I am reminded: what hatred of sin I have is a gift; what ability I have to resist it is a gift. I heed the call to mortify sin and I grow discouraged. My Enemy is strong and very subtle.

Then I am reminded that the One that is within me is stronger than the one that is in the world. It's as though Christ were saying, "Get over yourself! Victory is mine. I have defeated sin and the devil. Now this righteousness of mine I give to you. I have declared you righteous. It's a gift. Get it?"

Help me, O LORD to remember what I have and where I got it.

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? -1 Corinthians 4:7a

Monday, September 17, 2012

What is Truth?

We'll begin by assuming that there is truth and that it can be known.

How could we have a conversation, otherwise?

How would I know what decision to make when I face one of life's constant dilemmas? Whose advice to follow?

Here is a thing which is not true: "Just follow your heart."

What if my heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked? I shudder to think of all the places my heart has led me.
The selfish deeds I have performed and the hurt I have caused "just following my heart."

What an incredibly selfish little organ my heart is! Still, perhaps you don't have that problem? Look deep and long before you answer.

So if "every inclination of my heart is only evil, all the time," where will I look for truth?

For the Christian there's a ready answer. There is a God who speaks to his children. We are told that Jesus is the Living Word of God. There is also a written Word. If I believe in God, do I accept Him at His word? That His Word is true? How could I do otherwise?

If God tells me He is perfectly righteous, I must believe Him. If He tells me I must be righteous too, I go "How?" There's this problem of the heart remember? Back I go to the Word.

Which reminds me of the Living Word: God's Only Son, God in the flesh, Jesus. He's already lived a life of righteousness. I can have this righteousness credited to me if I believe on His Name. Better that that: this faith is free! A gift from God.

So how about this: what if I just say I believe in Jesus? I don't have to do any of this righteous stuff, right? Hmmm.

Back to the written Word where I read that a heart changed by Jesus' perfect love will want to do this righteous stuff; will actually be broken when I fail to live up to God's standards and fly to Him begging forgiveness.

 So I bow to the authority of God's Word. And the Truth I find there. Especially those parts about my heart (Jeremiah 17:9; Genesis 6:5).

What about the non-believer? Mercifully, God has a Truth for you as well: repent and be saved (Acts 3:19). I'm praying

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Accidentally Like a Martyr

I've never been able to understand what Warren Zevon was aiming for with those words.

But the chorus tears at anyone who has ever participated in the break-up of a marriage: "We made mad love, shadow love, random love, and abandoned love; accidentally like a martyr. The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder."

I suppose this morbid train of thought was set in motion as I re-read an apologia for the demise of my first marriage.

The people for whom it was written have never seen it. The time wasn't right. We couldn't co-ordinate our schedules. I couldn't find the words to properly express my sorrow. Okay, so I'm just a coward. Right?

Mario Puzo asked "How did things ever go so far?"

Mostly because nobody was paying attention. Isn't that how the huge majority of life's messes "go so far?"

I know that. So do you. Accidents happen. So why do we keep doing the things that seem right in our own eyes?

Prayer: God, please help me pay attention.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

God Sends the Wednesday Night Bible Study Class a Teacher (sort of)

“All my dad will say is they’re talking to somebody,” said Stacy.

“My dad said, ’we’ll see,’” said Jimmy. “I hate when he says that.” I listened as complaints bounced around the table in the Upper Room. Apparently it was a deep, dark secret who our Wednesday night teacher was going to be.

“Where’s your dad?” Lizzie asked me.

“Yeah, where’s Mr. Ray?” echoed several of the others.

“Better late than never,” spoke the Old Man from the doorway. “Sorry, gang. I got held up downstairs.” He laid his Bible on the table and parked himself in the empty chair between Ron and Jim.

“You beat me here tonight,” he grinned at Ron, who grinned back uneasily. The Old Man smiled and glanced around the table at each of us in turn.

“Let’s talk.”

I do not exaggerate when I tell you what a chill those words brought into that room. For one thing, not a one of us had ever heard our parents utter those words except as a prelude to something really awful happening. In the second place, he had always opened our study sessions by telling to turn to this, that or the other verse of scripture. Now this. Observing our expressions of dread, he laughed.

“The elders have asked me to lead your Wednesday night Bible study.” If there had been curtains in the room, the collective sigh of relief would have blown them off the windows.

“I hope yall have been thinking about the question I asked last time: ‘what do you want out of this class?’” The unease began to creep in again. To be honest, I had not given the thing another thought. I was prepared to bet that none of the others had either. A brief glance confirmed this conclusion for the Old Man as well.

“Why do you guys call this the Upper Room?” Whoa. Who knew the answer to that? Not me. I’m just the new kid, I thought.

“Um, well,” said Lizzie, who was rapidly becoming our spokesperson, “it has a certain ring to it and it is in the Bible after all.”

“This is true,” he replied. “So what do we know about the Upper Room? What went on there?”

“The Last Supper?” asked Zack.

“Absolutely right. What else?” Zack looked around for help. We had nothing for him.

“What about the day of Pentecost?” asked the Old Man. Ah,yeah. There was that too.

“Remember?” he continued. “Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem after He ascended into heaven. They were in the Upper Room and the Holy Spirit came and they began to testify. Thousands of people were saved that day.” Recognition had dawned in the eyes of most of us. We waited expectantly to see how he was going to make the link between that Upper Room and this Upper Room.

“You know, I don’t expect tongues of fire to appear over your heads.” Several, including myself, began to recall the story of Pentecost.

“The point is: those folks in that Upper Room began working to change their world on that day.” He paused to see if he had our attention. He did.

“What would it look like to see a group of young people dedicated to sharing Jesus’ story and living out their faith in front of other young people?”

“What do you mean, ‘living out our faith,’ Mr. Ray?” asked Chad.

“How about this?” asked the Old Man. “There are always kids at school who are not popular, or maybe newcomers or maybe just shy. What kind of difference do you think it would make to one of these folks if you just said ‘Hi’ and smiled each time you saw them?”

I snuck a peek at my friends to see if they might be remembering a simple kindness someone had done them. I certainly recalled the first time Kels had walked up to me and began gabbing away the first time we met. I noticed several smiles around the table.

“You see, guys,” the Old Man continued, “I’m not asking you to be something you’re not. But you are Christians. And we are called to love others.” He sat back and let that soak in for a bit. I could tell everyone was turning over in their minds the things he had just said. He let us ponder a while longer before speaking again.

“You know, I’m reminded of Jesus’ statement: ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Let’s turn to Matthew 25.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

No Chihuahuas in Heaven

It occured to me as I watched Wolfie walking across the back yard: now that's what a real dog looks like!

I know, I know. You love your little rat/dog crossbreed with its bug-eyes, its squeaky voice and its complete inability to shut up even for half a second.

But let's face it. Jesus has said he will make all things new. That means everything will be restored to its Original perfect state. VERY GOOD, in other words.

So not only will you and I be our young, handsome and/or beautiful selves; but everything will be restored to perfection.
So obviously no yapping crossbreeds need apply. Actually good news for Wolfie who will be restored to his 100% Huskie self. Or maybe the 100% wolf. I don't know.

Also, while we're on the subject, of course there will be CHOCOLATE in heaven! The tree of life on each side of the river will yield twelve crops of fruit, one for each month. For the healing of the nations. If there's anything more healing than CHOCOLATE, I don't know what it is!

Which brings us to the logical question of who will process the cacao beans into actual CHOCOLATE. Hershey is out. If companies could go to hell, well they've moved their factory to Mexico. Need I say more?

So I don't know. Some Swiss company, I'd guess. Probably the guys who made the special CHOCOLATE for John Calvin's 500th birthday back in '09.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Penny For Your Thoughts

My mind is like a speeding locomotive. My thoughts rush on in a train to whatever destination I choose. I arrive (sometimes in a timely manner) at conclusions. My thoughts are freighted with meaning (though many times only to myself).

I am blessed of God. He has promised that if I aim my thoughts toward heaven, my hunger and thirst will be satisfied. If I seek Him out, He will reveal Himself to me.

There is an urban legend that pennies placed on a railroad track will derail a train. I have personally busted this myth. It takes a larger obstacle than a penny to offset the weight and speed of a train.

My thought process is much more fragile. Even the least distraction can deflect the mind from things sacred to things profane.

So I pray: Deliver me from the evil one. Yes, Jesus has my soul firmly in his grasp. My desire is to be rescued from the power of evil to sway my thinking. From the bright and shiny things which distract me from the necessary things.

Fiery darts? Satan has no need of those.

The devil has a penny.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Wednesday Night Youth Bible Study Class Prays For God to Send Them a New Teacher

My name is Samantha, in case you haven’t guessed. My mom named me after some t.v. character she saw when she was a little girl. Everybody calls me Sammy.

I guess you’re wondering what we were doing praying for God to send us a teacher. It went like this: Ms. Beth just finished telling us that she was stepping down. She felt like we needed someone nearer our age, with more energy, you know.

She was a sweet lady and I hated to see her leave, but the others were pretty distraught; the girls crying and hugging her neck and the guys hanging back and looking sorta glum. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to be mean or anything, but I think a lot of it was guilt.

From what I had seen during my few months, the group did pretty much what they pleased. I’m sure we were a pretty discouraging bunch to deal with.

So afterward, we sat around wondering what would happen next.

“I think we should pray,” said Chad; at least I think it was Chad, I hadn’t learned to tell him and Brad apart yet. Everybody else nodded. We were all silent for several seconds.

“Who’s going to start?”

“You were the one who thought of it,” said Jimmy. If we had had a preacher’s kid, Jimmy would have been it. His dad was only a deacon but Jim was pretty rowdy nontheless. The rest of us looked at Chad expectantly.

“Okay.” He ducked his head and began. “Lord, you know Ms. Beth is leaving and we ask for you to bless her and restore her good health. Lord, we also ask that you forgive us because we know we were not always the best bunch that we could have been to her. But we mostly pray, God, that you bring us a good teacher, one that knows a lot about the Bible, but who is interesting and everything and help us to be better students. Amen.”

Chad looked up.

“Oh, uh did anybody else want to pray?”

“No, you did just fine,” Lizzie assured him. We all agreed that it was a good prayer and also that we really would try harder if God would only send us someone not boring but at least a little bit fun.

I myself didn’t have any problems having my dad as a teacher like some people might have with their dads. I mean like I said before he was the best storyteller ever, plus sometimes he was just as goofy as one of us. None of my friends knew that, though. We were fairly new and though my dad had made friends with all the grown-ups, these guys really didn’t know him. Being the new kid, I just kept quiet and waited to see what would happen.


Monday, August 6, 2012

In a Clearing in the Forest of Ephraim

As well as Eleazar was able, he had prepared Josheb for burial. All around him, survivors of the blocking force were doing the same for their fallen comrades. The wounded, all but the worst cases, had been loaded in carts and taken to Mahanaim.
Eleazar stood on the portion of the ridge where the heaviest fighting had taken place and gazed across the clearing. Where only an hour ago, the battle had raged, groups of soldiers had now begun stacking the enemy dead.
As many battlefields as he had stood upon after the slaughter had ceased, he was always dumbstruck to observe how men could massacre one another. The slain lay in heaps along the ridge and in front of it. Friend and foe together were locked in the enbrace of death.
The charnel-smell assailed his nostrils and he breathed a prayer of thanks that darkening clouds had covered the sun as it inclined toward evening. It would rain, he thought. Strange how almost always, after these contests of butchery, the rain would fall. I was as though God were weeping torrents of tears over his fallen creatures and washing the earth clean of the bloodiness of their hateful awfulness.

He saw, as he looked, a lone figure stumbling toward him and recognized the slender form of Ethan. As his adopted son drew nearer, Eleazar saw that, though unhurt, he was covered head-to-toe in the blood and grime of battle.
He moved stiffly toward the lad to embrace him and saw that Ethan’s begrimed face was streaked with tears.
They clung tightly to each other and Eleazar was overwhelmed by the memory of the long distant battlefield where he had first encountered this youngster.
“Father, how could they have slaughtered each other so?”
As many times as he had heard this question asked and as many times as he had asked it of his own heart, Eleazar had no words to answer and so, remained mute. Instead, he was awash with memories of his own first experience of the aftermath of battle. He had stood, stomach churning, gazing on the slain as Jonathan had tried to comfort him.
“How have men been created in the image of God,” Ethan wondered aloud, “that the only way they can settle their quarrels is to blaspheme Him by murdering one another?”
Again, having no reply, Eleazar kept his silence. Watching as the funeral details began to heap wood around the piles of enemy slain, he glanced at his son.
“You have been helping to gather the dead.”
“Yes,” Ethan replied.
“An unpleasant but necessary task.”
“If were left to me, they could rot where they lay.” Ethan’s face flushed with anger. He stopped short as his eye fell upon the ordered rows of the dead laid out along the ridge. These had died holding the trap shut on Absalom and his rebel army. The boy flushed a deeper crimson.
“I meant the enemy.”
“I know.”
Ethan looked down at the lifeless form of Josheb. The shattered halves of his broken spear lay across his breast. His arms were crossed over them as if he grasped them to himself. Eleazar had tenderly washed his face and his countenance bore the expression of one who had just laid down to sleep.
Eleazar laid a gentle hand upon the young man’s shoulder.
“Come, we must attend to these.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Sun" of Encouragement?

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. -Proverbs 3:27

Have you ever wondered what it is God has called you to do? Especially within the context of the church? Not everyone is called to be a pastor or an elder or a teacher. So what, exactly, is the Christian to do?

John Milton, in reflecting on his blindness, wrote, "They also serve who only stand and wait."

I've been thinking about Barnabas.

Barnabas means "son of encouragement." Since the word "courage" come from the Latin "cor," meaning heart, I guess you could say that to en-courage someone is to give them heart.

Would you say there's a big need for that in the Church? How would I go about that, do you suppose?

Getting back to Barnabas. As nearly as I can recall, not a single word of his is recorded in scripture. But looking at the many times he is mentioned in the book of Acts, it seems as though there would never have been a Paul, had there not been a Barnabas.

He came alongside Paul in his early Christian life, spoke on his behalf, and then went to Tarsus to seek him out, in effect setting him on his path as missionary to the Gentiles. In short, he loved Paul.

It's a sign that we are Christ's, when we love the brethren (and the sistern!) . To be a ray of hope in the midst of gloom and depression. To shine a little light into the midst of confusion. To reflect the light of the love of Jesus.

The proverb quoted implies an expenditure of some sort on our part. That I should extend myself and reach out in some way. Would an investment in love yield far more valuable returns than an investment in money? 

As you and I seek to serve the God who has given us everything, can it be that His service could consist of something so simple as a listening ear or shared insight?

"...stand and wait." Was Milton speaking of mere inactivity? Or does "to wait" imply an availability and a willingness to serve?

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these my brothers, you did for me. -Matthew 25:40b

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

This is the Day...

the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Another 24 hours. Thank you, God. Right? 

Here's a question: did God simply create this specific period of hours, minutes and seconds, then hand it over to us to fill up in whatever way we wish?

Maybe we should begin the discussion with this question: does God have absolute control over everything he has made?

Let me tell you what happened to me yesterday morning: right out of the box, before I had barely had my first sip of coffee, I faced a trial, a temptation, an overwhelmingly sinful urge.

My wife came into the room with a bad (how I perceived it) attitude. Those of you who know me also know how I react in these situations. So you will understand that it was by the grace of God alone that I gave the soft answer, that turneth away wrath.

Where did that come from, so early in the morning? This woman God gave me (Adam's phrase, I believe) demanding (it seemed) that I be hateful to her.

Can it be that God has provided not just the day, not just the joys and blessings, but the sorrows and the temptations? Our loving Heavenly Father?

We're on dangerous ground here. James 1:13-14 specifically states that God does not tempt us, but that our temptations spring from our own reactions (to unfolding circumstances).

Here's a clue, I think, from Jonah, chapter four: the phrase "God provided" occurs three times; two of God's providings are distinctly unpleasant to Jonah. We find the origin of the modern phrase, "mad enough to die."

I don't think I've been called to preach the sermon that will lead 120,000 people to repentance and salvation.

The psalmist is calling me, however, to rejoice in the day and all it brings. Whatever God may "provide."

Which reminds me of Augustine's prayer: "Lord, command what you will, and give what you command."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Like I Say

Re-reading Camille Kendall's "Messed Up" post from a couple of weeks ago. You know, the one about young believers being disillusioned as they look around them and see fellow-Christians living a lackadaisical, seemingly uncommitted life.

Automatically, I wonder: "Is it me?" We all have our days, right? But to be the cause of discouragement in one of Christ's young ones. I do not want to be in that place.

This feeling was intensified as I have struggled with how to witness to my older grandchildren. I see these young people just beginning their lives and, God love 'em, they seem prone to tread the same paths I trod and make the same stupid mistakes I made. Result: misery all around.

I know they would respond with a respectful "Yessir" to any well-meaning advice I might give, but how could I blame them if they responded mentally with a "Yeah, right" ?

I'm blessed with four daughters who have forgiven my shortcomings as a father. But how would they feel to see this old fool trying to meddle in their kids' lives?

I think I know how David must have felt. He had sinned so badly, he must have hardly felt qualified to offer discipline and guidance to his rowdy bunch of sons. So he stood back and did nothing.

Don't want to be there either.

So here's what I think. Young people, hear me. Young Christian brothers and sisters; grandchildren striking out on your own. Do as I say, not as I have done. I have made many mistakes, but I have learned from them. I have been where you are. Let my hard-earned experience be of benefit to you.

There are people around you who HAVE gotten it right. Latch on to these folks. If they offer to be your friend, let them. If they offer to be your mentor, let them.

If God blesses you by placing someone like this in your life, embrace that blessing. You might not think so, but you will be a blessing to that person(s). It's one of the many ways He works all things to our good and His glory.

Oh, and don't forget to thank Him.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Deadliest Sin

There's this hymn they sang in church when I was a little boy:
I Am Satisfied With Jesus.

At Grace Pres, we just celebrated our three year anniversary. I was doing a blog for the church website, reflecting on where we had been and where we might be headed.

I remembered the excitement of those days. We were doing a new thing. The faith of Luther, Calvin and the other reformers had not been taught in Obion County for nearly 25 years.

Time to stop and reflect. Is that passion still there? Or are we maybe too comfortable as we've settled into our new 100 year-old home?

We all know about the seven deadly sins. I'm thinking there's another one, much more deadly because it's soooo sneaky. Nothing wrong with being satisfied, right? Well, there's self-satisfied.

They call that complacency. You know, just comfortable and content with the way things are. Too satisfied to make our visitors feel truly welcome? Too satisfied to reach to out those in our midst just to ask, "How are you doing?" And then to listen? Too satisfied with our little group to speak lovingly and winsomely (pay attention here, rb) to those who don't "get it?"

Complacency. Hmmm, well you can see how that would be an easy trap to wander into.

Oh yeah, that hymn? The last line of the chorus goes: "And the question comes to me, as I think of Calvary; is my Master satisfied with me?"

I gotta remember that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Come to the Waters

I had a dream last night.

You ever have one of those where you wake up thinking: what brought that on?

A dear brother in Christ and I were desponding over folks who profess Jesus as savior, but seem not to desire Him as Lord.

Now, I have a ever-increasing awareness of the beam in my own eye. It is, as the old song says, HARD to be humble. Not because I'm so great, but because of the tendency of the heart toward pride.

So as the the dream progressed, our hearts became increasingly broken for those who can't seem to want to claim the abundant life of surrender to Jesus' Lordship.

Not that any of us ever acheive it completely, but there are those who dwell in misery (unnecessarily) as they seek to accomplish their will through their power.

And so we were driven to tears and prayer.

And then I woke up.

What a strange dream.

This salvation.

How is it that some skip across its surface like stones across a pond, while others plunge deep into its cooling, refreshing waters?

The promise is for everyone who thirsts.

Aren't you thirsty?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It is Enough

Been thinking about the children of Israel. I owe them an apology.

It's a biblical fact that their faith faltered as God led them through the wilderness. And I used to look down my nose at them and think, "How could they be so stupid?!"

But I think I found out how. They received just exactly enough manna for each day, In fact they were told not to gather up more than a day's supply or it would rot.

Kinda reminds you of what Jesus said about piling up treasure here on earth, huh?

So I think that each day as they used the last of the manna for the evening meal, they looked at the empty container and began to worry. Or even panic. "Oh no! It's all gone. What if God doesn't send any tomorrow? What will we eat? We'll starve!!!"

See, each and every creature on the face of God's earth is dependent on God for their daily bread (just like in the prayer, right? Or did you think Jesus would teach us to mouth empty platitudes?)

Of course, when I was working, I relied on that paycheck every week. This is sad for a Christian to have to admit: I sometimes forgot that my Heavenly Father was the One doing the providing.

So back to "enough."

That is what we get. But the children of Israel complained because they didn't have an abundance each and every day. Enough was not enough.

But I would never do that, right?


Maybe it's just me.

Or not.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Work, Witness, Worship

It has been said that "great minds think alike." So if we have "the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16b)," how much more so?

On pondering the work that God has been doing in my life recently, I have been reminded of Egypt. God delivered his people "from the house of bondage." In fact, the phrase, "out of Egypt," occurs 74 times in the KJV.

The most awesome writer that I personally know is Camille Kendall. Her latest blog post is:

Ah, my brothers and sisters in Christ! This is God's ideal for His children.

When He took them out of Egypt, He took them through a place where they had no resource but God alone. Have you ever thought what a scary place that is? Have you ever been blessed by following God through that place?

Of course, for them and for us, the Land of Promise is the ultimate goal. You may equate that with heaven as I have done.

But here's a question: when we speak of entering God's rest, does that mean the hammock or the fishing hole? Or something else?

You see, that's what makes Camille's post such a blesing to me. The children of Israel entered the promised land to work, to worship and to witness. This was God's command.

This promise is for God's children today as much as it was then. That we take joy in all we do and understand how God is glorified when we faithfully follow His leading. Even if He leads us through a dark and scary place.

Friday, May 18, 2012


God's church began in the Old Testament. There we see Him choosing a people and calling them to Himself.

It is fitting that Grace Pres. began in the old Jewish Center. It is in the Old Testament that the coming Christ of God is first revealed, and men were saved because they believed in the One to come.

The faith of the New Testament church is based on the revealed word of God.

As we have seen, our practices in worship and system of church government are based on the Apostolic Church, as nearly as we can perceive her, outlined in the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul, Peter, John, James and the rest.

But we are Israel, grafted onto the Old Testament church, which God established from ancient times.

In many churches across the land in our day, the Word of God is no longer being preached. What is heard instead are the words of Pelagius, the words of James Arminius, the words of Charles Finney, the words of Karl Barth.

Lies are being proclaimed, from the father of lies. It is no wonder that church attendance is dropping like a rock, when such God-dishonoring rubbish is spewed forth from the pulpits.

It is our prayer that this story might prove encouraging to its readers. Let the defects of the author be overlooked and let the reader be inspired by this tale of a people who remained true to God's holy, inerrant, infallible Word. In spite of their flaws, their weaknesses, they hungered for every word which proceedeth from the mouth of God.

We are their heirs and successors. May we remain faithful, as they did, to the legacy of scripture. May we cling to His word, His truth, His salvation as the only rule of our faith.

This is our prayer.

Monday, May 14, 2012

To Keep from Crying

Do you know anybody who doesn't laugh?

Even if you try really hard to make them laugh?

Can it be that the Father of all blessings has not blessed some of His children with a sense of the ridiculous?

You've heard the saying, "It's better to laugh than to cry." What about those who are unable to see how preposterous life sometimes is?

There's this man I know. A good guy. A sincere person. In fact, if I were to think of a word to describe him, it would be "earnest." Not the guy who made all those stupid movies, either.

See what I mean? It's the ability to make that leap. It's automatic, I think, in most of us to connect one meaning of a word with another sillier meaning.  It's like how you sometimes step outside a non-funny situation to see the absurdity of the whole thing. And you crack a joke. And you laugh.

This guy I know. He doesn't laugh. Actually, he sometimes looks slightly pained. Most of the time, being a really good guy, he simply pauses for a moment, waiting politely, while I get hold of myself.

You know what's really strange? His mom is so droll. She'll say something totally off the wall, then watch you crack up before she breaks into this little smile. I love this lady!

Hey, I can be serious too. No really. I'm not kidding.

Here's a question: can there be joy without laughter? I think maybe so, but I'm not sure how.

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Prayer For the Dead

What's this? No such thing, I hear you say. Surely Jesus teaches us in Luke 16:19-31 that there is no redemption after death.

Which is true. But hear me out.

The psalmist in the 88th Psalm feels so estranged from God that he likens himself to one already dead. The Psalm ends with no ray of hope as most of the lament psalms do.

The final line? "...darkness is my closest friend." And that brings me to the point of tears. But not for the psalmist.

We were born dead. In at least three places (Ephesians 2:1; 2:5; Colossians 2:13), Paul teaches us this. He also speaks of quickening to those of us who have received Christ.

So I weep for those of my loved ones who are still at enmity with God; who want no part of his worship, or fellowship with his saints, or any comfort from his holy word.

Yes they still walk around above ground, breathing God's good air and enjoying the blessings of life on this earth. But their hearts are dead (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26).

May God have mercy on them and quicken their hearts of stone.

I pray for the dead.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Master of Puppets

Master of puppets,
I'm pulling your strings
Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams.

Sounds like addiction, hmm? Name your poison.

As I peruse the lyrics,

maybe I can see something else there. The thing behind the addiction. The appetite behind all the destruction.


And its author.

The thief. He comes to kill, steal and destroy.

The father of lies. Look at the lyrics again:

Master, master, where's the dreams that I've been after?
Master, master, promised only lies.

Sound familiar?

The fruit was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable to make one wise. Remember?

John Owen said "Be sure to be killing sin or it will be killing you."

It will make you a slave and take your life.

Listen to the master of puppets gloat:

Come crawling faster, obey your master.

It doesn't have to be this way.

O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemy triumph over me (Psalm 25:2

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Q. "What is truth? (John 18:38a)"
There has been a lot of discussion about this around here lately. Can we claim to know the truth? Can we overthink the truth? Can we oversimplify the truth?

Pilate's question to Jesus may have been merely a cynical dismissal of Christ's claims about himself. Or it may have been the honest query of a heart on the horns of a moral dilemma.

Nowadays, the question might be asked as a prelude to a reminder that it is the height of arrogance to claim to know the truth.

A. "I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6a);"
This is Jesus speaking of himself.

"I tell you the truth."
Jesus utters this phrase 78 times in the New Testament (NIV; "verily,verily" in the KJV; "truly, truly" in the ESV). In John's gospel, he frequently uses this phrase when making statements about himself.

If we believe Paul's assertion that all scripture is God's inspired word (2 Timothy 3:16), then we hold the answer to Pilate's question in our hands.

I've gotta say it seems simple to me. Maybe that's because I spent years and years pursuing alternative truths. That's the philosophical equivalent of running down a series of blind alleys. In the dark.

Are you a Christian? What are you going to believe? The biblical signposts seem clear:

"To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. (Isaiah 8:20)"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

John Nash Loses It and Why

Short answer. God's will.

Not like you're thinking, though there is that.

I was  thinking more of string theory. Not that John Nash was involved with that (he wasn't, was he?) But could a person not get lost in the numbers when that's all you see. As the underlying basis of everything, I mean.

Like that episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes 3D. Or Tron.

As I understand it, string theorists suppose that everything in the universe is held together by these tee-iny little wiggly elastic strings. That you can't even see. See Acts 17:28, Job 12:10, etc. for more on that (God's will, in case you don't have your Bible nearby).

John Nash's deal was probability theory (I think). Kinda the same thing in a way. He went crazy. Waddya think the chances of that woulda been, John?

Me? I just prefer faith.

That God will continue to hold things together. That He will continue to hold the future in His hand.

It's what I've been given and life is simpler that way. Right?

Or am I just crazy?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

In a Dry and Thirsty Land, Where no Water Is

I have several Christian friends who hate their jobs.

I can relate.

I have prayed many a prayer to be delivered from what I felt was an
awful situation. Funniest personal prayer: I prayed Psalm 91:3 for a
year to be delivered from working at Tyson's!

It can be and IS oppressive, I know, and not so funny. I think part of this discomfort may be explained by Revelation 18:3. The world system, as typified by Babylon in scripture, is a place of idols . Power, money and control are the things sought after and worshipped.

As David sought the presence of God in a dry and thirsty land, so our souls cry out for deliverance from a place where Mammon is god.

But Brother Lawrence taught me something about God's presence. There, in the kitchen, with the dirty pots and pans, he began to understand that God is everywhere, where there is a believing heart.

Paul showed me that even in the Roman dungeon, there are people who need me. Or rather what God has so graciously given me: the joy of His salvation.

So it seems to me I have been given a job; not just to earn money for my bread (though God did mention that to Adam). But to shine the light  I have been given in a place where the idols of Babylon are worshipped.

In the meantime, I look forward to the time when I shall hear, when WE shall hear, the words: "Come out of her, my people...."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Am My Beloved's, My Beloved is Mine

Intimacy is something we all seek. That experience of knowing and being known. This may sound outdated; but to belong to someone.

It is easy to agree with the above statement, but maybe very hard to understand it, in all the fullness of its meaning. There's implications.

Take for instance, the notion of the Church as the bride of Christ. For a guy like me, this seemed a little bit odd. Jesus as my bridegroom. Hmmm.

I mean, I was the seeker, the initiator. Problem is, I stopped with physical intimacy. So I rode the merry-go-round. With each new love would come the initial euphoria of discovery.

But always, at some point, the newness wore off and I would begin to take note of the flaws (never mind my own), to be annoyed by them, and finally to resent the person so marred by them.

Seek and you shall find, it is said. Sometimes, the best things seek us out. God is all-wise and He knows what is best for us even when we don't.

So He sought me out. I did not want Him. He wanted me though.

I once told a friend that I was fond of my wife, but I didn't love her. That, as it turns out was a lie, told to provoke his reaction.

Here's the thing I've found about marriage. God made it and gave it to men and women. To fill the earth, to provide the basic unit of human society. But it's something better than that.

In heaven, we will know as we are known. Perfect knowledge. Perfect intimacy. So I think that marriage is God's gift to us. Our foretaste of heaven.

Jesus loves me with a perfect, self-sacrificing love. We cannot love that perfectly (not yet). But the intent of the heart, to love another person more than you love yourself, to give all you have for their happiness. And to be loved that way in return.

Meanwhile, I take joy in the love of another and loving her in return. I look forward to the day when that love will be perfected in Christ.

Happy Valentine's Day

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mother's Day

Has it really been three years since she passed away? Seems as if so much has happened, doesn't it?

This is not about that, though. This is for the living. This is for Deb, and Rod and me and also for all our babies and their babies and so on through the generations. The extended Tolar clan, I guess you might say.

Have you often longed, these past few years, to enjoy her company again? To sit in conversation in her living room or at her table? You may have imagined what that conversation would be like and the things you both would say.

Imagine this. I know (for she told me many times, especially when I was still an infidel) that she lifted me up in prayer. Daily. It is not hard to realize (as if you didn't already) that she did the same for you. Each of you. Or to understand that she prayed for God to preserve you. Body and soul.

So I imagine that if you could talk to her, she might ask, "Do you know Jesus?" "Are you serving Him with all your heart, soul and mind?"

Today is our Mother's day. Will we honor the day (and her) by honoring the God she loved and served?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

For He Spoke and It Came to Be

Even when I was an infidel, I had a sense of God.

I would drive the ten or fifteen miles to Bear Creek Lake every Sunday morning in the summer, look out on the sparkling water and let the sights, sounds and smells fill my senses. A lot like Emily Dickinson worshipping in her garden, I suppose.

In the winter, I would shoulder my .410 and take off across the fields. The exertion of walking across the rough ground, made uneven by the fall's harvest machines, would quickly dispel the chill of the winter air, and I would contemplate the bleakness all around me and understand the beauty and necessity of rest, in that even the very earth must have her season of quiet.

Paul says that since what may be known about God is plain to all men, their foolish hearts are darkened by their denial of Him and their refusal to worship Him. What a blind and foolish heart was mine!

Yet, Isaiah speaks of God pouring out his Spirit, like water on dry and thirsty ground , upon his people. And Jesus told Nicodemus that that same Spirit must effect rebirth before one can even see, much less enter into, the kingdom of heaven.

Psalm 33 says that God spoke, and it came to be. My eyes give evidence of this. How much more so this reclaimed and regenerate heart.

Praise be to God!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

It was with surprise and a little dismay that I learned, awhile back, that there are those in the Reformed community who have not seen The Passion of the Christ. And would not see it.

Their reasoning runs like this: no visual representation  of the crucifixion could portray what actually happened on the cross. Jesus took my sins upon himself. He literally suffered the agonies of hell.
Read Spurgeon's commentary on the 22nd Psalm:

I'm sure that all Christians understand this as a "psalm of the cross." But Spurgeon does us the great service of rendering a phrase-by-phrase examination of this vivid description of the horrors of hell.
Most truly does the Apostles' Creed speak of Christ as having "descended into hell." 

Having seen The Passion several times, I can understand this view. What I saw, however, impressed upon me an idea (however incomplete) of the suffering that was done on my behalf. Those of you who have seen the film will recall the utter shock with which you left the movie theater. And the events shown were only the prelude to the cross. I can say that I needed to have these things forcefully impressed upon my heart.

So I would say, view the film, if you haven't. Then get "the rest of the story (the most important part)." Read Psalm 22 and meditate on its description of Christ's suffering. I recommend reading Spurgeon's in-depth comments on the psalm.

He also said this, in his introduction to the 23rd Psalm: "It is only after we have read, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!' that we come to 'The Lord is my Shepherd.'"

Only when I can comprehend the wrath of a Holy God against sin, that was poured out on the Suffering Servant, can I be truly grateful for the salvation that has been mercifully, graciously given to me.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Take It Down? No, Not Yet

I remember one year we left the Christmas tree up till the middle of March!

I think that, after Christmas Eve communion at GPC, putting up the tree is my favorite part of the holiday experience. And I think this year's tree is my favorite yet.

Same tree, but we have loaded every bit of decoration we own onto its limbs. We put it up a mere week before Christmas this year, so all the more excuse not to hurry about putting it away.

Actually, I have a theory (as usual) about why some folks will keep their Christmas tree up way into January. Think about it. For two whole solid months now, we are faced with mostly dreary and typically miserable cold, messy, windy days. The warmth and bright sunshine of spring seem eons away. Truly did Shakespeare refer to "the winter of our discontent."

Now, I understand that we are to be thankful in all things. But, yall, I really struggle with that in the dead of winter, when my very bones seem to ache with the cold!!

How great it is, then, to step into the living room from outside and behold this big old overdecorated Christmas tree twinkling merrily away. Or to stumble up the hallway early in the morning to find it glowing in the darkened room. It's almost like thinking about the promise of heaven as we make our way through this often dark and dreary world.

So I may leave the tree up a while longer this year.

Who knows, you may come to visit me in March and find a tree full of all different-colored lights, red and silver garlands, and other assorted goodies taking up one wall of our house.

And the paper-plate angel on the very tip-top.