Friday, March 29, 2013

Jesus Paid It All

I was reminded the other day that The Passion of the Christ is available through my Netflix subscription. I replied that, having seen it a number of times already, I was not so keen to view it again.

If you've already seen the film, you know what I mean. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend that you do so.

Coming out of a packed theater after the first screening of The Passion in Union City, I was struck by the absolute silence (except for muffled sobbing) of this large crowd of mostly Christian people.

I was stunned by what I had just seen. Biblical scenes of the crucifixion in the Gospels present a detailed verbal description of what occurred on Golgotha hill.

We are visual creatures, however, and nothing before The Passion had conveyed the absolute horror of the physical price Christ paid on my behalf.

Criticism of the film from Reformed commentators consisted of this: That no film could in any way depict the utterly devastating mental and spiritual suffering that Christ underwent, and thus the film in effect downplayed these elements of His sacrifice.

Right. Jesus faced the wrath of God while hanging on the cross. Wrath intended for you and I. The perfect god-man not only bore our sin but was actually made sin.

David said, "My sin is ever before me." If this knowledge of our sin is so distressing to us as God's imperfect children, what must it have been like for the perfect Son of God to become sin and see His Father's face turn away? I can't imagine.

But I recommended this film, didn't I? I can't begin to imagine the mental anguish Jesus suffered. I have absolutely no conception of the spiritual torment. The Apostles' Creed says: "He descended into hell."

But hell has a physical aspect too. To see a film like The Passion is as close as I will come to understanding Jesus' physical suffering. I think I need to be brought face-to-face with that.

We strive to obey God's commands out of love and gratitude for the salvation He has given us.

I, for one, need an awareness of the price that was paid for my salvation. I need to be more grateful than I am.

I need to be reminded.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I'll Play My Best For You

Music is my life and I think it's killing me. -troal

Back in the day (it may have been Thursday), I ate, slept and drank music. I would travel miles to play, and stay up all night playing.

Many of us would gather together to sing loudly (and maybe just a little off-key). There was, we thought, a perfect country and western song; we wished you were here; we were ready for love; we admitted that Mama tried.

It was a grand time. In the context of the times.

I have moved far away from that place. But in this house, as in every place we ever lived, there is a room set aside for music. And occasionally someone gathers there with me to play.

I miss the singing though. The raucous harmonies. Someone shouting, "Play Freebird (or something else, it didn't matter, we did requests)!" The fellowship, I guess you'd call it.

I had a chance for one last sing-along with Paul just before he died. We played and sang all our old favorites. He sang about getting whiskey-bent and hell-bound, though at the end of a year-long struggle with cancer, he had certainly done neither of these two things.

It was a grand time.

When Jesus calls us to himself, He gives us a new life.

Thank you, Lord, for this new family. Thank you for love, joy, and peace. I especially thank you for this brand-new guitar.

I ask only that I sing as whole-heartedly and joyously for you as I did for myself.

Sing with me, yall.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

April Come She Will

A love once new has now grown cold.- Paul Simon

It snowed yesterday evening. We sat at the kitchen table, eating and staring out the window in wonder.

It hailed Saturday evening. Even in NW TN, where the weather is oftentimes weird, this month of March has been a strange one, weatherwise.

Was the beautiful sunshine and warmth we experienced a few weekends ago just a dream? We walked around outside in our shirtsleeves and announced to one another, "Spring is finally here."

Or not. Apparently God is still in control of the weather. That winter should extend all the way through the end of March suits some purpose of His. We accept this. It's just that sometimes we forget.

There are things I desire more than the warmth and beauty of spring. I pray earnestly to see them accomplished. They seem so tantalizingly near, yet my Heavenly Father withholds them.

Why, O Lord?

I am tempted to doubt, but how can I in the midst of constant goodness and mercy? I recall these words, "Your ways are not my ways, neither are your thoughts my thoughts."

"How can these things be?" Mary wondered. Like her, I must bow to God's wisdom and pray that I do not sin in pondering the mysterious ways in which He works.

 Jesus spoke of love grown cold.

I should dread this cold love more than hope deferred or the icy teeth of this continuing winter.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How Do You Save a Gittite?

One of the strangest stories in the Bible has to be the one where, as King David is preparing to flee Jerusalem to avoid being slain by his son Absalom, a troop of Philistine warriors shows up.

Led by Ittai, from the city of Gath, they offer their services to the king. David advises them not to cast their lot with him as his future is extremely uncertain.

Ittai's reply resonates with me in the same manner as Ruth's reply to Naomi: "As surely as the LORD lives, and my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be."

In my novel, FIELD OF BLOOD, Ittai plays a pivotal role in the battle of Ephraim's Wood. Writing this scene, I wondered about what might motivate a soldier, a sworn enemy of the Israelites, to take up the cause of Israel's king. To join his sword to a desperate undertaking as David's flight and final stand certainly was.

We understand the love that Ruth had for her mother-in-law. But here was a man who had seen David's armies devastate his people, who may have received wounds from one of the protagonists of this work, David's Three.

Reflecting on this, it occurred to me that once, I was at enmity with the God of heaven, a hater of the kingdom of Christ. I thought Christians to be fools and weaklings when I thought about them at all.

Near the end of the novel, Ittai asks Eleazar, "Can there be sacrifice enough for me?"

Everyone who comes to understand the depth of their rebellion against the Holy One of Israel must ask this question in some form or other ("What must we do to be saved?").

The answer is found throughout Scripture; the LORD has provided the sacrifice.

Thanks be to God.

On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided. -Genesis 22:14b

In the Spirit and In Truth

For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. -Isaiah 58:2

What is "in spirit and in truth?" What does that kind of worship look like? I know what it does not look like.

Tell me if it's just me but have you ever experienced a lack of focus in the midst of worship? An inability to concentrate on the purpose for worship. It's more a spiritual distraction than mental or otherwise, I think.

Each aspect of our worship requires a thoughtful, meditative, prayerful approach. I know this. Yet I find unwelcome thoughts intruding. Or worse yet, my mind simply wanders.

Have we lost our concept of God's power and holiness? Is it because the Old Testament judgements against false worship no longer seem to be in efect?

Is the reason for that notion because our God is so slow to anger that we take His mercy for granted?

This is what we see among the congregation of ancient Israel. God's prophets threaten judgement and call His people back to true worship. Yet we see that decades and even centuries pass by and they say, "It can't happen here. Our God is a God of love and mercy."

But the biblical record is clear. It did happen there. God judged His people Israel with a terrible judgement.

That's what scares me.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Xenophobia Is NOT Fear of Warrior Princesses

Why are people so awful to one another?

I know that the Hatfields hate the McCoys, the Krips can't stand the Bloods, the Arabs despise the Israelis and North Korea hates everybody (including each other).

But I'm talking about people who wear the name of Christ being mean to other Christians. "Tattling, backbiting and excessive anger," to quote from a commonly used Church Covenant.

It is sad to watch unbelievers destroy relationships and each other as they pursue their own selfish desires through life. But how heart-breaking to observe Christians whose only joy seems to be in wrecking churches and the reputations of those not "on our side" in their petty disputes.

Xenophobia is "fear of the stranger." It is the natural state of humankind since the fall. A fear of "the other," those different from ourselves or outside our group, that progresses quite naturally to hatred.

But didn't Jesus "give us a new commandment?" I'm supposed to love my brother in Christ and he me. I suppose it's okay if you are a trifle put out with me from time to time. My wife certainly is.

I'm not talking about innocent offense here. Or the occasional lapse (God knows I have trouble keeping my big mouth shut sometimes). I'm talking about a deliberate (and wicked) attempt to wound someone whom we are commanded to love.

God's general mercy (Psalm 145:9) allows all people to experience love. But His sovereign mercy (that which saves sinners) compels us to "love the brothers." How dare I (God having been merciful to me) not extend that mercy to other Christians, and refrain from willfully doing that which would harm them?

James has warned us to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger."  "If possible," reminds Paul, "as far as it depends on you, live peacably with all."

May God guard us from the temptation to speak ill of others. May we instead seek to encourage one another and build one another up.

Oh, by the way; I think Lucy Lawless is OK. For a New Zealander.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mally Made the Cheerleading Squad

In honor of my granddaughter Mallory, I present the following excerpt from an an account of
my failed attempt at being a cheerleader.

I love you Mal, and am certain that you will make a MUCH better cheeleader than I did!

     I don’t know if you ever heard of a powderpuff football game or not. The very term is probably considered sexist these high-powered modern days. Anyway, the girls would put on the shoulder pads and helmets and the knee-britches and all, and then go out on the field and just pound away at one another. The object was one of hilarity for the spectators as they observed wobbly forward passes, backfield collisions, wrong-way runs and general ineptitude. Like I say, pretty sexist stuff, I guess. You gotta consider the benighted times, though, right?

     The reason I’m telling you all this is that, of course, the cheerleaders decided to stage a powderpuff game (the term is so archaic, by the way, that my spellchecker keeps coming on every time I type the word) and, naturally, the equal and opposite idea occurred that the guys should be cheerleaders if the women were going to be competing for gridiron glory. Innocent enough, right? I’m not even going to remind you of the obvious fact that whatever sounds so harmless in theory usually isn't so harmless when you actually do it.

Mrs. Jenson, the cheerleader sponsor, informed us guys that we must learn some cheers. It had turned out that there were only seven of us confident enough with our masculinity (or goofy enough) to go through the ordeal of dressing up in cheerleader outfits. Nobody thought we would actually have to learn cheers too.

     Mrs. J. taught us some simple ones like:

           Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar,

          All for juniors, stand up and holler.


         Hurrah for juniors, Hurrah for juniors

         Someone in the stands is yelling “Hurrah for juniors”

         One-Two-Three-Four, Who ya gonna yell for?

         Juniors, that’s who!

      Then Ronald Cowsner threw in:

          Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon rind

          Look on the scoreboard and see who’s behind!

     But Mrs. J. said we would skip that one and learn just one more instead. That’s when Dicky Parker suggested “Rocka-Cha-Cha.” Now Dicky seemed like an alright ole boy and all, but sometimes ya wondered about the guy. I mean he was one of the ones who didn’t go out for the football team and I’m not saying anything, but you know? Now, here he was, wanting Mrs. Jenson to teach us “Rocka-Cha-Cha.”

     The words to this cheer went like this:

          Let’s GO, Rocka Rocka and a Cha Cha Cha

          Let’s FIGHT, Rocka Rocka and a Cha Cha Cha

          Let’s WIN, Rocka Rocka and a Cha Cha Cha

          GO .........FIGHT..........WIN

          CHA CHA CHA,

this last bit while putting your hands behind your head and doing this hip-wiggle thing that looked real cute when the girls did it, but what self-respecting guy would want to “look cute” in front of his classmates, and his parents and the whole school and all? So we were about ready to KILL Dicky Parker cause Mrs. Jenson thought it would be great if we learned the cheer and nothing could be said to talk her out of it. I even told her I didn’t think my parents would let me do it because we were Baptist. No dice. And what about those cheerleader outfits?

     My girlfriend, Juanita, was halfback on the junior’s team and, as I mentioned, she was a cheerleader. No, I mean a real cheerleader who actually stood on the sidelines on Friday nights and yelled for the Bears to go-fight-win. Anyway, she thought it would be real cute if I wore her uniform, which consisted of a pleated maroon skirt, a white turtleneck, a maroon vest, and this little Tyrolean-looking hat, but without the feather, that just screamed SISSY. In the first place, as I also mentioned, no normal guy wants to look “cute,” and in the second place, did you ever see how girls stick their chin down and look up at you and kinda poke their lip out when they want something and you’re not cooperating? It’s disgusting.

    So anyway, the uniform fit me all right, just the vest was a little tight in the shoulders. Actually the whole dressing-up thing seemed like a lark when we first agreed to it, but none of us had considered the consequences of it, though we drew the line at wearing lipstick and absolutely refused to kick up our legs behind us like cheerleaders do. I mean, none of that stuff.

     Reality began to dawn on the morning of the game when I was packing Juanita’s cheerleader uniform in my gym bag and realized that by 2 p.m., I would be standing in front of a bunch of people, wearing a Maroon pleated skirt, white turtleneck, tight maroon vest and a silly little maroon hat. Oh yeah, and my little sister insisted that I wear the plastic blonde pageboy wig she had gotten last Christmas, and I didn’t want to hurt the kid’s feelings. My only solace was that six of my classmates would share my misery.

      The good news was that my fellow cheerleaders looked even sillier (if that were possible) than I did, which I found out as we were getting dressed in the locker room before the game. Most of them had managed to borrow the stupid-looking hat from their girlfriend or a cheerleader buddy. Dicky Parker wore his sister’s outfit and looked better in it than she did, though if you tell anybody I said it, I’ll swear you’re lying like a rug.  The other guys were wearing various combinations of maroon skirts and white tops that their moms had dragged up from somewhere for them. All except Ronald Cowsner. I once read a story by Mark Twain where he was describing something that he said would have made a cow laugh. I never understood what he meant until I saw Ronald in his get-up. First-off, Ronald was a big ole, slow-moving, corn-fed country boy who played left tackle on offense. When he wasn’t rockin’ his cha-cha at powderpuff games, that is. I don’t know what Amazon woman he’d gotten it off of, but he’d found a reddish-purplish skirt that hung down about halfway to his ankles. He had on one of his daddy’s white short-sleeved Sunday shirts and since he kept his hair in a crewcut, he had one of his little brother’s diapers tied over his head and up under his chin like an old washerwoman. But the killer was the bra. He must have lifted one of his mother’s bras from the clothesline. She was a well endowed woman and he had it stuffed full of toilet paper and not knowing how to adjust it, I suppose, wore ‘em low, gunslinger-style, down close to the waistline.

     So we ran onto the field, waving our pom-poms. I mentioned we had pom-poms, didn’t I? Of course, there were hoots, catcalls and whistles. Ronald was prancing around like he had no shame, so most of the attention was focused on him. Also the crowd was paying attention to the girls, warming up out on the field. I scanned the stands to make sure my dad wasn’t there. Thank goodness for small favors anyway.

     Next, the referee did the coin toss and we started with the ball on our twenty yard line. It had been decided to forego the kickoff since the kickers would miss the football, as often as not, when they tried to kick from the tee.

     The girls had practiced their hearts out and played really well, actually, but at crucial moments, somebody would fumble or throw the ball to the wrong team or tackle the referee (which is a penalty, even in a powderpuff game) or something like that, so by the fourth quarter, the score was knotted at nothing-all. The sophomores had the ball deep in their own territory with not much over a minute left to play. It was crunch-time. So we brought out our secret weapon.

     “Let’s do ‘Rocka-Cha-Cha,’” said Dicky Parker, whom we had elected cheerleader captain because he just looked so right for the job in his sister Charlotte’s uniform. We all nodded. Our team needed us.

     Dicky yelled out:


          “Cha Cha” (us)

          “One-Two” (him)

          “Cha-Cha-Cha” (all)

          “Let’s GO, Rocka Rocka and a Cha-Cha-Cha” (Two crossover steps to the right, arms extended to the front, then to the sides in a “T”)

           “Let’s FIGHT, Rocka Rocka and a Cha-Cha-Cha” (Crossover back to the left, same arm movements as before)

          “Let’s WIN, Rocka Rocka and a Cha-Cha-Cha” (Two steps forward, same arm motions)

          “GO” (Arms extended to the front)

          “FIGHT” (Arms extended to sides)

          “WIN” (Arms overhead in a “Y”) (Then hands clasp behind head and hips wiggle)


     At the last “CHA,” as if on cue, one of Ronald’s bosoms sprang a leak and toilet paper, a lot of toilet paper, spilled out from under the front of his white shirt and into a fluffy pile at his feet.

     There was silence for a moment, then from somewhere about the middle of the stands, came a sound that can only be described as a cross between a war-whoop and someone choking to death. Waves of laughter followed us as we fled the sidelines with Ronald trailing a streamer of toilet paper from his other bosom.

     On the field, everybody stopped playing to observe and join in the hilarity. Everybody, that is, but Carolyn Mullins, the sophomore quarterback, who had just received the snap from center and proceeded to reel off an eighty yard touchdown run with nobody watching but the referee. The game ended six to nothing, sophomores.

     I discovered, that day, that there is a reason for gender roles; the things a girl would look cute and adorable doing, a guy would look just plain stupid attempting. Turns out cheerleading is one of those things..