Monday, March 30, 2015

The Ballad of Jack and Susan

Dedicated to my sisters, Brenda Diane and Debi Louise Tolar

Jack loved motorcycles. The faster he could make them go, the better he liked it. He especially loved racing motorcycles. He loved throwing them into the curves, rear wheel spewing up dirt, footpegs nearly dragging the ground and every ounce of his wiry frame focused on the angle of the lean, the twist of the throttle and the rush of the wind in his face.

Susan loved Jack. They were boyfriend and girlfriend or maybe husband and wife, I don't remember which. His love of speed and danger frightened her and she sometimes expressed her concern for his safety. But not wanting to nag, she most often kept her fears to herself. She most likely prayed for him.

Betty was Susan's best friend. Susan no doubt shared her fears with Betty and no doubt they prayed together for his safety. Betty almost certainly loved Jack too, but being a loyal friend, kept these feelings to herself and desired Susan's and Jack's happiness.

On the day of the big race, Susan blinked back her tears as Jack prepared to go to the track. She could not bring herself to go with him, having had some vague premonition. Jack reassured her that things would be alright, as they always were. Kissing Susan and hugging Betty, he left the house.

The race started. Jack was leading the pack as he headed into the fourth turn on the third lap. The bike's back wheel hit a clod of loose dirt kicked up on a previous lap. The motorcycle slammed to the ground then flipped, end over end.

Though he was wearing a helmet, the force of contact with the packed earth knocked Jack unconscious. The bike landed on the front wheel and the handlebars jack-knifed, causing one of them to crush Jack's ribcage, which simultaneously punctured both lung and heart. He died almost instantly.

The scene when Jack's broken body was borne home to his two women was heart-rending. Susan and Betty wept aloud over his lifeless form and no doubt expressed many feelings of regret that they had not insisted upon his refusing to participate in such a dangerous activity.

I viewed all this through slitted eyes, half closed in simulation of death. After suitable and dramatic expressions of grief and mourning, I raised up and my sisters and I began to plot the next adventure in the continuing saga of Jack and Susan.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Just Passing Through

My father was a wandering Aramean....Deuteronomy 26:5a

Travel light.

In olden days when we would travel the 200 miles to the family in Arkansas, the rear springs of the Mercury would sag under the load of luggage my wife and daughter crammed into it.

I always wondered aloud, at these times, whether they were moving back south rather than going for a 2-day visit.

Proverbs 3:9-10 reminds me that God deserves the first and best of all He gives me.

It is a sure indicator of our fallenness, don't you agree, that God's commands seem so counterintuitive to us. Commands given for our good and our benefit, we resist obeying.

But we have been given the Spirit as a sign and seal of our salvation. And at times (much of the time?), He works in us, in spite of us, to perfect our faith.

John Calvin said that our hearts are manufacturies of idols and any serious meditation on this saying reveals the shameful depth of its truth.

How hard it is to hold loosely to the things for which we have an especial fondness. Yours are different from mine and mine from the next person's.

Maybe it is the unimaginable variety and commonplace nature of these idols that render them so hard to detect. And so hard to acknowledge. And so hard to forsake.

Even God's blessings, it seems, can become in and of themselves objects of our affections.

So we have the commandments, to remember that we have nothing that was not given to us, to understand the ephemeral nature of this life and its things, to desire to render unto God those things which are His.

Could this be one aspect of Jesus' offer to relieve us of our burdens?

John Bunyan was right. We are pilgrims. And as such, we are only passing through.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It's All About Grace

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.-John 14:15

As you will see, when you follow the link, the excellent Dr. Sproul has hit the nail on the head again.

If you quibble with the doctrines of grace, the notion of God's choosing those "on whom I have mercy (Romans 9:15)" may seem odd, strange or even repulsive to you. As it did to me at one point.

Having been raised in church, I felt I knew the Bible and all about God. I had been taught that we may choose to love Jesus and felt that I had so chosen.

Very commendable but quite illogical since there wasn't much in my life to indicate that choosing. Even more illogically when I began to run up against the (opposite but necessary) notion that one could just as freely choose eternity in hell, I balked.

Calvinists who read this might conclude that I was quite likely unsaved (or unregenerate as we prefer to put it). I began to prove this by first judging God for His meanness in sending people to hell, and them by rejecting the notion of the biblical God altogether.

Oh, I retained the notion of a god. Emily Dickinson, I think, summed up my theology:

I had made a deliberate left turn onto the broad and crowded highway to hell. 

Now you would think that, sometime during the next thirty years, the God I had rejected would have obliged my choice by removing me from among the living.

But as I have stated, it's all about grace. God, you see, mercifully extended my life as I did what I pleased and piled up proof upon proof that I was totally undeserving of any mercy.

Yet here I stand today, in total agreement with what you will read in Sproul's article.

And if the gratitude given in response to grace seems incomplete and at times nonexistent, God is merciful.

Jesus noted that "the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41)."

Thank God for His grace.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Nets, Snares, and Fetters

One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. -Ecclesiastes 7:28b 

The Preacher's observation seems rather cynical at first glance. Not one good woman in a thousand? Seems harsh, hmm?

Someone has done the math and pointed out that, according to this observation, only one-tenth of one percent separates the sexes. Not much to choose from there especially when you consider we are all fallen in our natures and therefore corrupt and deceitful.

How many times, after all, have you succeeded in fooling yourself (I have)? Are you doing so now? In fact does it not take all the honest soul-searching we can muster to observe the depth of self-deceit of which we are capable?  

It is easy to notice as well the careful diligence with which Satan labors to drive wedges in our marriages. So when I consider a man who had 700 wives and 300 concubines (that's a thousand, folks), I wonder that he was able at all to write anything near to the Song of Songs.

So when he speaks (in v.26) of the woman whose "heart is snares and nets" and whose "hands are fetters," I don't doubt that there may have been one or two of these in his acquaintance.

It doesn't take a doctorate in theology to understand that none of us are angels.  The Preacher knew his own heart apparently and notes (v.29) that "God made man upright but they have sought out many schemes."

Finally, it has also been noted, that these observations, made of matters "under the sun," speak clearly of a worldview where a sovereign God is conspicuously absent.

To read even one of Paul's New Testament epistles is to be struck by the amount of space dedicated to reminding Christians of the need for a God-centered outlook on life.

Which leads me. in the final analysis, to believe that none of us (male or female and etc.) has any room for self-congratulation.

Or any biblical basis for finger-pointing.

As Pure As the Driven Snow

He has made everything beautiful in its time. -Ecclesiastes 3:11a

You can see the two willow trees in my front yard, looking through the window by the kitchen table.

Their drooping, leafless branches seem especially to be weeping at this season of the year.

This morning, however, those branches, covered with a glaze of ice, gave the appearance of a frozen fairy fountain. Sparkling in the low light of the winter's morning sun, each tree rose from the snow-covered lawn twenty feet into the air and cascaded down in a shimmering display of icy brightness.

Reflecting upon that sight and the beauty of yesterday morning's heavy blanket of snow, I was reminded that God made His creation in the perfection of loveliness.

I think of the Garden of Eden as being a picture of springtime lushness and life. And I understand that creation as we now experience it is but a pale reflection of that perfection.

But even that reflection displays God's glory to such an extent, Paul tells us, that we are left without excuse before Him.

How much more are we blessed, then to experience the Maker's world through our other God-given senses?

The sounds; of the music of those wind-driven willows, of great symphonies, of voices raised in hymns of praise, of the familiar voices of dear family and familiar friends.

The tastes; of good food lovingly prepared, of the salty sweat as we labor in the summer sun, of chocolate.

The smells; of impeding rain on the autumn breeze, of fresh cut grass or fresh turned earth, of a busy kitchen.

And the touch; of an infant's tiny hand grasping your finger, of  your child's small hand placed lovingly and trustingly in your own, of the calloused grasp of  a beloved brother in Christ gripping your hand in friendship and fellowship.

One day, we will experience all these, in the presence of our God and Savior, perfectly, beautifully, and in their fullness.

I look forward to that.