Friday, November 28, 2014

You Deserve Worse

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. -Psalm 103:10

How hateful we should think someone (much less a friend) who came to us in time of pain or sorrow to declare that we deserved worse of God.

That God exacts of us less than our guilt actually deserves.

I would immediately "unfriend (to use the current vernacular)" such a person. Wouldn't you? 

Brother Billy, in preaching through this section of Job, stated that he found no translation for the name of Job's friend, Zophar, but was of the opinion that the name meant, "jerk."

And that might be the kindest response to one speaking such hateful and inappropriate words instead of words of comfort to a friend in need.

Yet that Word which we receive as authoritative and truthful in all its parts contains such words, as well as many words of comfort.

It is true that I deserve worse. That I am a daily recipient of God's mercy as well as His grace.

I sing of the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

I walk in the crisp, clear morning air and meditate on the beauties of what God has made.

I marvel at the love of a woman who must be modeling the love of Christ as she forgives and bears with and cherishes me in spite of my many faults.

I wonder, along with Scrooge, at the happiness welling up within my heart and mutter with him: "I don't deserve to be so happy...but I can't help it!"

I read Psalm 130:3 and ponder the question: if the LORD should keep an account of our iniquities, who indeed could stand?

Of all the Psalms, Psalm 103 is easily my favorite.

It calls me to remembrance of the things I have mentioned and reminds me of a God whose love is higher than the height of the measureless heavens above the earth.

Who has cast my sins as far from me as the east is from the west.

Wayne Watson has put it like this: "Grace keeps giving me things I don't deserve; mercy keeps withholding things I do."

Praise the LORD, o my soul, and all that is within me, praise His holy name.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do Your Best

I had better start by saying how grateful I am for the two women in my life; my wife and daughter.

It is a failing of mine to not take as seriously as they do, matters which are of great interest to them. Not things of earth-shaking significance, mind you, but important to them nonetheless.

My only excuse might be that I am absorbed sometimes in my own musings upon matters of insignificance.

There are also times when the topics of conversation concern subjects over which, however relevant they might be, I have no control. It may be a core difference between the male and female races that, beyond a basic review of the facts of the case, I find no interest in the further beating (as it were) of the dead horse at hand.

I have a stock answer for all such occasions. It is this, "Do your best."

Of course, the women in my life hate to hear these words. Firstly, because, "Do your best," is sound advice in all situations. And we all know, if the ladies would but admit it, that sometimes (most times?), all they desire is not sound advice but an ear into which to voice their complaints/concerns/opinions.

I think that in the case of my two young lovelies, the reason they hate, "Do your best," the most is because it is a conversation stopper.

What reply could you give to "Do your best?"

"I most certainly will not do my best," hardly seems appropriate.

"Yes, but..." followed by anything you would care to insert would simply be unreasonable since what argument could you possibly present against doing your best?

Actually there are two replies one could give to, "Do your best."

They are, "I will," or "Thank you."

Your choice.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Young People in Love

Young people in loooove...are seldom ever hungry. -Alan Hale Sr., singing off-key in It Happened One Night.

I am fond of quoting the old saw that youth is wasted on the young. It's a lie, of course. You have to be young to be able to handle being young.

Have you ever been in love, for instance? Unable to think for a minute about anything but that special one? Basking in their presence like a lizard on a sun-baked rock? A Song of Solomon type love, of overwhelming desire for the beloved?

Remember that? It takes stamina, right? And the passion and idealism of youth.

Of course it won't (it can't) last and I am not being the least bit cynical when I make this assertion. It must grow and deepen into a love more mature, more able to withstand all our sins of commission and omission against one another. Or it must wither and grow stale and die.

And let me tell you, if you don't already know, that the dregs of a dead love are bitter indeed. I remember that one, too. How quickly we forget the good, in the midst of our prideful anger.

I cannot say, as I look around at the many young people of my acquaintance, how thrilled I am to see some of them venturing into life with that special someone. That someone they've waited for and saved themselves for. I recall the excitement of young love and am glad for them.

But I fear for them as well, because I know that time, familiarity and our fallen natures can drain the passion and excitement right out of that young love and leave a cold empty husk.

That first argument won't be long in coming and, before you know it, it gets personal, you feel your self bring threatened and you take counter- measures and the thing gets ugly.

Offenses must come, as Jesus said in another context. The thing is, will there be a harboring of grudges, a keeping of scores, a cherishing of past wrongs, to magnify the offenses over time?

In two of his letters (Colossians 3; Ephesians 5), Paul instructs wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives.

There are two things in view here: servanthood and self-sacrifice. On the part of both parties. Counter-intuitive for most of us, I think.

But necessary, wouldn't you agree, for young love to become more than a bitter memory.

Prayers for the young people then. And also for us, who should be old enough (and wise enough) to know better.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Vampires (But Not the Ones in Lexa)

...for the blood is the life...-Deuteronomy 12:23b

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins...-William Cowper

For much of my young life, the only movies I saw were horror movies. Every Saturday night, my sisters and I gathered in my darkened room in front of a black and white TV set to watch "Fantastic Features."

Our "monster of ceremonies," Sivad, would open the crypts of horror moviedom and present the classics: Frankenstein, Wolfman and of course Dracula.

Scary stuff for youngsters in a dark room. But in spite of the thrills and chills, I never really believed in any of it.

But, as I noted in a previous post, there must be an underlying basis in  fact for this stuff to be halfway scary, to strike a chord of fear within our hearts.

My two favorite authors of vampire lore are Bram Stoker (of course) and Anne Rice, who agree that the way in which one partakes of the vampire's eternal undeadness (which is different from immortality, right?) is to drink of his blood. Anne Rice calls it the "Dark Gift."

So have these two come up with some sort of documentation of vampirism, a basis in reality?

Well of course not, but it reminds me of something I have been looking into lately: the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (please, dear reader, read on before you accuse me of blasphemy).

Examining the legend of Vlad Tepes, one wonders if the vampiric drinking  of blood may be a perversion of the sacrament. Francis Coppola suggested as much in the opening of his filmic depiction of  the Dracula legend.

Vampire legends apparently have been around for quite a long time and it may be that the medieval Church turned these superstitions to its own purposes. In fact there are practices in today's Protestant Church which have their beginnings in pagan rites and rituals, adapted in earliest times for use in Christian worship.

I am not suggesting that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is such a practice. Its institution by Christ at the Last Supper is clearly stated in all four gospels and reiterated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.

I am positing that as the church spread through the wildernesses of Europe, it played upon these fears (as it was wont to do) for the avowed purpose of drawing pagan unbelievers to Christ.

Another subject for another time and I will only say here that the Gospel is effective unto salvation and man-made devices, however well-intended, are superfluous to the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit and generally cause more harm than good.

But I digress.

Vampires, right?

There are reasons why I say that these myths might be viewed as perversions of biblical reality.

Note the reversal of roles, for example. The biblical doctrine of Christ's sacrificial atonement depict the shedding of the blood of the all-powerful Anthropos, the man-god, to give life to the weak and helpless. Those dead in sin, as Paul states the fact.

The powerful undead prey upon the weak in all vampire lore, no matter how sexy a spin the authors of such tales might put on the matter. Indeed, they draw their very sustenance from those weaker than themselves. A perversion of Christian teaching.

Christ rose from His tomb to give life to his elect. Dracula rises from his tomb to inflict death, horror and misery.

I will say that the Church clearly identified vampires as satanic in nature. This is a thing which is sadly lacking in the recent culture of unbelief. An unbelief, I might add, which goes back further in time than just the past decade or so. 

Vampires for giggles and the occasional chill up the spine? I'm not opposed to it. But as vampires become sexier and somehow the notion of romantic love is twisted into the story, I believe we might do well to consider the possible sources of our fascination.

And to reflect upon the very real, only true alternative to eternal undeadness.There is a fountain, as William Cowper notes in that beloved hymn, and in that fountain alone is the source of life everlasting.

And as for dressing up to frighten one's children? All I can say is that I have been redeemed and forgiven for my sins of which I have heartily repented.

And may you, my daughters, follow the example of your Saviour and forgive a foolish old man.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

If You Pull Out a Drawer From the Chest-of-Drawers It Makes a Handy Bassinet

I lived most of the first half of my life in "The Old House."

My friend Camille Kendall has written a book about an old house, Bethel Road, which I highly recommend. Here is the link:

The Old House was not that house.

The Old House became the Old House when we moved across the road into the new house during my senior year in high school.

The Old House was your basic shotgun house (3 rooms straight in a row) with additions made by my dad for a growing family. You used to see a lot of these houses in the rural delta, usually situated on the front edge of a cotton field.

Ours, like all the others, stood about a foot and a half off the ground, the height of the cement blocks on which its frame rested. The plank outer walls were covered with the "fancy" tarpaper siding with the brick pattern imprinted on it. This served as the only insulation in a day when most Southerners thought "insulation" was a word which described U.S. foreign policy.

By the winter of 1985, the Old House was showing the effects of a half century of wear and tear, the ceilings sagging in several of the rooms and the rusted tin roof flapping and banging whenever a southerly breeze would arise.

There is a certain restfulness about a flapping tin roof, by the way. I slept through a tornado in '83 which took out the tractor shed several dozen yards away from the Old House.

I lived in the south bedroom at this time, a space heater fueled by a 30 gallon propane drum being the source of warmth. A blanket nailed over the door warded off the chill air from the rest of the house. Pretty much.

Hardly the place for a woman and infant child.

Free beers and pass-the-hat were usually adequate compensation for hard-working musicians, so on the weekends, when we would play the nightclubs, I would have cash and would rent a motel room for the three of us.

Pretty cozy, actually. The double bed served as combination banquet table and TV viewing area for the family unit. And we discovered that the room's two chairs, pushed together, make a just-the-right-height stand for one of the drawers out of the chest-of-drawers, which made a handy bassinet, just the right size for a month-old baby.

And this was our arrangement for the next six months, until warmer weather enabled me to move my girlfriend and our baby out to the Old House.

The rest is history.