Wednesday, November 30, 2016

There Is a Season

...and a time to every purpose under heaven. -Ecclesiastes 3:1b

It seems as if we have proceeded from summer directly into winter here in NW TN.

 I exaggerate (slightly?) but the turning of the leaves has been the extent of our autumnal experience in absence of the gradual decline in temperatures that is generally the norm around here.

As you see, the regularity of seasonal change is part of the pattern of our lives and so we take notice when there are perceived irregularities.

Have you noticed that there is a similar rhythm in the flow of our lives?  This is noted by the Preacher in the opening chapters of Ecclesiastes.

In case you're wondering, the beginnings of these musings are as simple as pictures on a wall. Six of them, in fact.

The first is of Joyce, Sandy and me in 19th Century regalia, a riverboat gambler and his family.

Below it is a portrait of Joyce and me, done by Sandy. We are older now, all in black against a blue background.

Below this, arrayed on either side, are four photos of each of our parents. Dads are in the uniform of the U.S. Navy and moms are depicted in their teens. All of them would have been roughly eighteen years of age.

Amazing, isn't it, to think of our parents as teenagers.

Which leads to meditations on the march of time and the nature of things (back to those seasons, hmm?)

I was blessed to be in the home of two dear friends this past Thanksgiving Day. Of all the blessings of the day, the blessing of family was most apparent. Children of children, and their children, filled the spacious home.

It is much the same at GPC. We are a young congregation (excluding myself and a couple of others). Children (and babies!) are everywhere!

It is a season for growing and learning in their lives. And the interaction between young and old is a joy to behold and be part of.

For the young parents, it is a season for creating memories, strengthening bonds of love and sacrificing that these babes might grow in wisdom and knowledge of the Lord.

I will admit I have wondered, watching all this over the past few months, whether God might bring someone special into my life.

And as I sit in Sunday School sharing His Word with three bright young minds, as I sit, on Sunday evenings, in a nursery crackling with youthful energy, it occurs to me:

He already has.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Heard It In a Love Song

...can't be wrong. -Toy Caldwell

I suppose it might seem odd to find the Song of Songs included in Old Testament wisdom literature.

This song, composed they say by Solomon for the dusky maid of verse five in the opening chapter.

And taken simply as that, a love song, its beauty thrills the heart.

Who wouldn't love and be loved like this?

Our professor of Old Testament at Ouachita Baptist College may have been correct in stating that we were too young for him to teach from this portion of scripture.

The young lovers in "Romeo and Juliet" were willing to die for their love.

But as we see here, we must be willing to live for our love.

To endure.

The Reformation Study Bible notes that we find three qualities of love between a man and a woman revealed here: self-giving, desire and commitment.

What a thing it is to have experienced such a love.

Who can live these qualities to perfection?

There is One who can and does perfectly love.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Serious As a Heart Attack

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. -Hebrews 11:1

In one of our songs, there is a line that goes: "In the blink of an eye, a new life began; in the blink of an eye, you're free from all the pain."

My friend Camille posted a blog entitled "What Should I Fear."

There is an implied implication here (I believe) to consider the question personally.

On June 14, 2014, I began to suffer a heart attack.  It began as a weak, slightly sick feeling while I was doing yardwork at GPC.

I drove home, crawled into my recliner and took an Alka-Seltzer for what must have been the worst case of indigestion ever.

The nausea and pressure abated somewhat but returned in a few moments.

I've had worse (broken bones trump all that indigestion stuff), but I still wondered what I might do to obtain relief.

The minutes ticked by and the pain seemed to ebb and flow, but also to center more on a oppressive weight on the chest.

It was when a sharp pain up and down my left arm commenced that I became truly concerned (okay, okay, you can call it fear!)

My first thought, as I recall it, was: "So this is what it's like to die."

We Christians have this quaint habit of seeing God's hand in everything because, well, His hand is in everything. And I began to pray.

"To live is Christ, to die is gain," said Paul and his words rang in my ears and calmed my spirit.

The fear didn't kick in until I thought of my wife and daughter.

"Oh God," I began to pray, "if this is your will for me, then be it so; but O Lord, for the sake of my wife and my daughter, would you spare my life for a while longer?"

And the pain stopped immediately and I did laps around the house.


I went to the ER, was loaded aboard an ambulance and taken to Paducah where the excellent doctor in the hospital there placed two stents and sent me home in a couple of days.

And so God spared my life for a while longer. Some of His purpose in this have been apparent, some has yet to be revealed.

I recently heard a pastor say that when we come to worship, it doesn't begin when the pianist starts to play and congregation becomes still, but we are only joining worship that is already in progress and the spiritual world becomes part of our material world.

The real reality of heaven has become ever more real and present in my thoughts when my wife passed over and when I reflect on the praise and worship she is most surely engaged in.

And I think, "So this is what it will be like to die."

And I ask, with my friend Camille: "What should I fear?" 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Happy Birthday

                  Joyce Wanda Tolar
                  b. October 3, 1960

Do they celebrate birthdays in heaven?

Surviving another 365 days upon this wicked earth truly is cause for congratulation and celebration .

So that when I pass this milestone each year or you awake on your natal day, we exchange greetings, well-wishes and hopes for "many more."

We even gladly endure the birthday spankings (if you are so inclined), though where this perverse custom originated I cannot say.

I will venture a guess that the "one to grow on" symbolizes the pain that accompanies growth.

But what about heaven? Is it useful to count the years in a place where "time shall be no more?"

It is useful, though, isn't it, for we who remain to recall and celebrate the lives of those whose lives have so touched ours. Fond memories, tears and laughter flood our hearts as we celebrate the blessing of having loved and been loved by these dear ones.

Happy Birthday!

...all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. -Psalm 139:16b

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Barking Dogs

If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, "Curse David," who then shall say, "Why have you done so?" -2 Samuel 16:10b

I think I have learned a lesson today. A young dog has taught this old dog a new trick, you might say.

As I began my walk this morning, a dog began to bark aggressively. And though he was confined in the neighbor's back yard, I took offense.

Actually, I must admit, to my shame, that I began to formulate a prayer for the smiting of this poor dumb creature.

And God (in his mercy), instead of smiting me, instead reminded me that in His creation nothing happens unless He wills it.

The story of David and Shimei occurred to me as did the question, "If God has told the dog, 'Bark at RB,' how can I say, "Why are you barking?' "

Cause enough to repent (of pride for one thing), but what of our fellow human beings? What of those whose whining, complaining or general negativity wear on our nerves so badly?

I don't believe I have ever called upon God to strike down upon them with His furious vengeance, and then they will know that He is the LORD!

Well ,maybe certain politicians (a couple of imprecatory Psalms and Acts 1:20), but I have since repented of these attitudes.

Back to the question. What to do with such people?

This is Spurgeon's take on the subject:

I believe David offers the best response for the Christian. And that is to remember that God has ordained that this dog bark.

Which leads the ultimate question, the one that must be at the heart of all our seeking: "How is God glorified in this?"

Then I may ask, "What good does He intend for me in this?"

Sound advice. I'll try hard to take it.

Friday, July 22, 2016

How Was Your Day?

...and bring me my big piece of chicken!!!-Chris Rock

Are you easily offended? Then Chris Rock is probably not for you. His routines are laced with profanities and sexual references. And lots of uncomfortable truths.

This morning I was reminded of his "Bring the Pain" HBO special back in the 90's (amazing, isn't it, the things which trigger memories?).

Speaking of relationships (which he always got around to doing), he gave two important pieces of advice to guys. First was the importance of hammering on your kids to "tell your mama!" Moms need to be appreciated and kids as well as dads need to express that appreciation constantly, cause Mom's work is constant and ongoing. So tell her, kids, how much you recognize and appreciate the countless small (and not so small) things that make your life good.

Men, says Chris, don't forget to ask this question: "How was your day?" And then listen to the answer. You may reply briefly at the end ("I tole you dat bitch crazy!" if she works outside the home), but remember that you are not being called on to fix anything (unless you are specifically called on to fix something) but to express genuine empathy and understanding.

If you are easily offended then perhaps you should skip the rest of this.

One of the signs of being easily offended is to take offense when an inquiry is made about the events of your day.

This reaction for example: "Yeah, right, like you really care!"

If you believe this, what are you doing WITH this man?

Guys have days too, Chris pointed out. Like maybe your guy works for a real scheisskopf of a boss at a job he really hates. So you can have lights, gas and water.

Our needs at the end of a long day, he continued, are simpler: to sit quietly and briefly to unwind, and that BIG piece of chicken.

Me? I think God made husbands and wives to be a comfort and joy one another. To share simple pleasures. To laugh at life's craziness or our own foolishness.

As if life's hardest lesson might be to not take oneself too seriously, and to love one another as we have been loved.

And to remember; we are only "unworthy servants," having merely done our duty.

And how was YOUR day?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Your Island of Fun in a Sea of Negativity

He coulda had fun sometime.-Karl Childers

I have heard it said that sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Not that there's anything wrong with crying. The Bible tells us that there's a time to weep.

And, hey, even self-inflicted wounds hurt!

Nonetheless, I have come to the conclusion (don't stop me if you've heard this, just nod and laugh) that all the world is divided into two parts: the first where life is lived as a soap opera, and the place where life is approached like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Where I spend my days depends largely on how seriously I take me.

One of my favorite quotes is in the margin of this blog: "I am just a man, like any other."

In our Sunday morning Sunday School discussion this past Sunday, the word "entitlement" was used. It is the sickness of our age, I believe, and its most visible symptom is any thought or sentence that begins with "I deserve."

Well we all know what we REALLY deserve, right? I've also heard it said that if God never did a single thing for us besides saving our souls, we should rejoice.

I agree. But I know that he pours out such daily blessings that we can't count them. There's this, for example:

So how is God glorified in my trouble, my trials, my pain?

I find myself asking that a lot. It can be quite obvious sometimes. Other times it's one of those questions you add to the list of things you'll ask Him when you see Him face-to-face.

If you're not scared speechless at His holiness, that is (Isaiah's reaction).

Or maybe simply overcome with joyous laughter.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Morning by morning new mercies I see. -Thomas Chisholm, from the hymn inspired by Lamentations 3:22-23

My heart has been heavy within me as I have prepared for the study of the 28th chapter of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters.

The arrogance and presumption of the demons that, given time, they might be able to "unravel the soul" of any of God's elect from heaven is galling.

But I am saddened beyond my ability to express sadness to know that some brothers and sisters in Christ are so foolish (and ungrateful) as to give credence to this outrageous lie from the pit of hell.

That our God, having saved us, is unable to preserve us in His salvation from the attacks of Satan.

That He might lose us, that we might be pried from His grasp.

That the devil, a mere creature, might thwart the will of his Creator
and defeat His holy purpose.

What then are we to make of Jesus' statement that He would lose none whom the Father had given Him (John 6:39)?

We have many promises of God's faithfulness in His Word. More than I could list here. No doubt, some of them come to your mind as you read this. Familiar verses, so precious and full of comfort.

And we have the testimony of our hearts as we recall with gratitude the mercies daily rendered unto us by our Heavenly Father's hand.

In this world, we may fall into sin, repent, and be forgiven.

But could we ever doubt God's preserving and sustaining love?

Be it not so, O LORD!

Friday, April 22, 2016

I Shall Not Want

The LORD is my shepherd....-Psalm 23:1a

Half empty or half full?

It's a daily temptation, is it not?

Yes, you say, but think of the blessings; salvation in the here and now, the promise of an eternal dwelling place....


But you know where I most often find comfort and deliverance from temptation?

It is in the countless small things.

Springtime's warm sun and light breeze.

Laughter and relaxation in the company of beloved Christian friends.

Work, believe it or not. Satisfaction in a job well done. The opportunity to witness (oh so subtly, at times). Interacting with image-bearers of God, however flawed we may be.

I have heard it said that God is in the details. I believe it.

To see His hand moving in my life and the lives of others, how could I complain of lack?

Goodness and mercy, the psalmist calls it.

Amen and thank you, Lord.

Friday, April 8, 2016


And we both know what memories can bring, they bring diamonds and rust. -Joan Baez

I heard a man speak of a woman he had known and loved in his long-ago youth. It was a strange thing, he said, that he could not see her face in his mind's eye.

There was poignancy in this matter-of-fact statement and the bare traces of pain in his stoic expression. Had he wept aloud, I would not have been as moved by the moment.

 No loss without love.

Memories. Do they bring both hurting and healing? The corrosive fraying of regret and loss upon the strings of the heart? But the sparkle, the glow, ---- of beauty revisited?

Have you noticed that our memories are crystallized in the music that we love? A turn of phrase within the lyrics, the upward lift of the melody. These freeze the moment in time and store it in our hearts.

Sandy and I have labored hard, this past year, to express memories and emotions in a musical context. It has been a healing process, a re-bonding of sorts.

We look forward to sharing the music. Our fondest hope is that it might help someone process their own memories. We believe (perhaps you do, also) that the sharing of an experience enhances it somehow; intensifies it, renders it less painful, makes it more precious.

It's like taking a picture and setting it to music.

You must remember this....

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Burning of Red Paul

Bleeder valve - Device on a liquid propane tank which releases gas vapor, allowing the tank to be filled.

He was called "Red Paul" because his hair was a fiery orange-red. Our friend Izear once said that if he would wear a white cap, he would look like a match.

It was a hot late August in the delta. A hot and dusty day in which we had been spraying weeds and disking the turnrows in preparation for the coming harvest.

The sun was several hours from setting as we parked the tractors under the large elm tree next to the butane (LP) tank.

Dad had pulled the pickup next to the 1000 gallon tank and was attaching the filler hose to the truck's fuel tank.

Vapor hissed from the bleeder valve. You could see the wrinkles in the air as the gas escaped toward the tailgate of the pickup.

The same tailgate to which Red Paul ambled up, arms resting on it, one foot propped upon the bumper.

Fumbling in his shirt pocket, he produced a pack of Camel non-filters, shook one out, and hung it on his lower lip.

Dad had turned away into the truck's cab. I had opened the door on the passenger's side, not noticing when Paul flicked his Bic lighter.


A streak of flame enveloped Red Paul and he jumped/fell several feet backward and to the ground, dropping the lighter. Fire extinguished.

Dad rushed to Red Paul, who sat dazed in the dirt. I grabbed a tow sack and started beating out the fire which had flared up in the bed of the truck among the grease and empty oil cans.

Red Paul, apparently not much the worse for wear, had become Pink Paul.

We loaded him into the truck and sped toward Helena Hospital, not more than six or eight miles away, stopping as we went to beat out the flames that were fanned into life in the truck bed as we sped along.

 The folks in the emergency room diagnosed first degree burns, gave the victim some salve for the more painful spots, and told him that his skin would peel and that his eyebrows would grow back.

I can say, without malice but simply stating fact, that Red Paul was not a pretty man to begin with. Having a pinkish, peeling face and no eyebrows did not improve this.

Warning: smoking cigarettes can be hazardous to your health.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

When the Willows Bloom

This popped up on my FB timeline today.

The willows I wrote about have budded and are nearly in full leaf and as I re-read this post from a year ago, I had a new reason to celebrate God's goodness.

There were two trees in the front yard when we moved into this house thirteen years ago. It would not be an exaggeration to say that they both looked like they belonged in some haunted forest.

The one next to the driveway appeared stunted, with gnarled, twisted branches, and every summer would produce bitter-tasting, inedible berries which resembled tiny, marble-sized persimmons.

Which, when they fell, made an ugly, smeared. red-yellow mess on the driveway.

The other tree grew in front of the front bedroom window. It too was unattractive and prone to dropping sizable branches on the lawn for me to clean up. It bore apples, small green apples the taste of which tended more toward a mouthful of dirt than any sort of apple.

At one point, a whole section of the tree collapsed across the lawn and into the street. The remainder leaned threateningly toward the house.

So when Gary (our landlord) came to cut down the apple tree and asked if we would like the other tree gone as well, my immediate reply was, "Yes, please."

The two willow saplings which took their place were an immediate source of joy to Joycie and me, but especially to her.

They looked rather forlorn that first winter, desolate limbs drooping leafless to the ground, or whipping about in the bitter wind.

But they were the first trees on this block to bud and bloom, and every spring, she would always say, "Look, aren't our two trees beautiful?"

I thought of that as I looked out the window from the kitchen table and saw the green appearing on the long slender branches.

I thought of the joy that something as simple as two willow trees in bloom can bring to a grateful heart.

Spring is here again.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Music, Music, Music

I hope the next big trend in music is...talent. -meme shared on Facebook

So my high school classmate, James Dickey "Hoot Baby" Darnell weighed in on this topic with the comment, "More good music was written and played between 1950 and 1980 than in any other time in the history of the world."

A bold statement.

Especially when you consider disco. 

Sandy and I were having a very similar conversation just the other day. We subscribe to the theory that "God gave rock'n'roll to you (Argent; 1973)."

We noticed two things.

The first thing is that there have always been those who try to take advantage and ride the rock'n'roll wave in an oversimplified, formulaic fashion. Cookie-cutter music, I calls it.

But, thankfully ( and more importantly), there have been (and still are) those whose music seems always fresh, varied and (of course) rockin' while remaining instantly recognizable as their music.

Quick, who recorded "Nothin' But a Good Time"? Unless you are a hair-band aficionado, You probably wouldn't know.

Conversely (or Nike-ly?), we can hear the opening chords of a Foo-Fighters song, for instance, and immediately say, "Ah, it's Dave and the guys."

The point is that, as musicians, we gratefully acknowledge (and borrow from) the past while enjoying current crunchy offerings from talented player-songwriters.

Always striving, as Willie Brown commanded, to "take the music past where you found it."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

My Bee-hind Got Left Behind

...and be sure your sin will find you out. Numbers 32:23

This was told to me by my father whom I regard as a usually reliable source.

You know about the tractor shed, situated maybe thirty yards from the back porch of the Old House.

Seems my dad and a couple of the hired hands were working there one morning, when they heard a ruckus from the house.

Which consisted mostly of me screaming and my mother calling, "Come back here to me!"  Or some such motherly advice.

The situation quickly became apparent as I rounded the corner, taking very long steps indeed, with my two-year-old legs, yelling, "Daddy, Daddy!"

Lagging behind, but not too far behind, was my mom, clutching a willow switch.

Being nearly eight months pregnant, she advanced slowly but inexorably in my path (like the "turning of the earth," as John Wayne would have put it).

I continued in my flight from justice and rounding the far corner of the shed, noticed a storage room filled with oil barrels and other things. A hiding spot.

Dashing inside, I quickly hid my head between two barrels.

It is a commentary, I suppose, on the as-yet unformed nature of the two-year old mind that I apparently reckoned that as long as I could not see my pursuer, she could not see me.

I soon learned the fallacy of this line of thought when my mother stepped into the narrow room and found that which she had been seeking.

The rest of the story, as my dad related it, takes little time to tell. I re-rounded the corner, cries of pain replacing screams of fear, two-year old legs taking very long steps, my mom hot behind me, whistling willow switch doing its job and onlookers collapsed in laughter (rather mean-spirited laughter, to my way of thinking) at the boy who ran from his mother and whose bee-hind got left behind.

Friday, March 4, 2016

That Great Day

And when he appears, to wipe all our tears forever away....-Jonny Lang

I used to wonder what it meant to be "heavenly minded" and why I wasn't as much so as I felt I should be.

My faith, it seemed to me, was lacking since my thoughts of heaven were fleeting at best and somewhat vague. To have thoughts of heaven, I felt, would of necessity involve thoughts of standing before Jesus and beholding, for the first time, His lovely face.

I must admit I have had trouble conjuring images of Jesus' face. But I recall his saying, "Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me."

So maybe in a sense I have seen Jesus; in the face of an aged saint as we sat and visited and smiled together, or in the faces of my brothers and sisters in Christ whenever we sit down to share a meal and enjoy the sweet fellowship of laughter, tears and sharing our innermost thoughts.

I have come, in this past year, to long more for heaven as I have seen friends and loved ones called home and shared the grief of those who have suffered loss as well.

As much as I have loved life, it seems every day to be more a blessing as I see more clearly the final goal at which we, God's blessed children, are aiming.

Trials and troubles? Oh yes, we will always have those.

Well, not always.

There will be that great day. Isaiah foresaw it. As did John. Jesus spoke of it. Paul looked forward to it.

"Behold, I make all things new." This is the promise.

And we look forward to that great day.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Is It Really a Contest?

I am in competition with no one. I have no desire to play the game of being better than anyone. I'm simply trying to be better than the person I was yesterday.

The only time I can recall ever being truly angry with my brother was over a game. An argument had arisen over interpretation of the rules and he was as angry with me, I believe, as I was with him.

An incident from our childhood? Sadly, no. We were both full-growed boys and the competition (involving several of our friends) was fierce.

I may have mentioned before that my siblings, though loving and supportive in every way, were every bit as competitive as I was; indomitable in defeat, insufferable in victory.

The incident with Rodney caused me to take a step back and look into my heart. Did I really need to win so badly, was my self-worth so dependent on my having my way, that I would sacrifice this precious relationship to achieve my desire?


In this political season, I found this past week's Sunday School lesson apt. Screwtape instructed Wormwood to direct the patient toward a "party" church.

Did this church, I asked the class, then have streamers, balloons and funny hats?

Obviously not. Obviously the demons had something else in mind.

I forgave my brother and he forgave me, as brothers do.

Hey, where's my funny hat?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

All That Blood

for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. -Matthew 26:28

I can tell, when someone tells me they don't really care for reading in the Old Testament, that they have probably been reading in Leviticus.

Goes something like this: I should read the Bible through, so I start in Genesis and it's pretty smooth sailing, lots of stories about some interesting characters.

Exodus is pretty good too; the plagues, the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments, but then you begin to get bogged down in the minutiae of the construction of the tabernacle and all its furnishings.

Then comes Leviticus. Chapter after chapter of the endless detail and description of the sacrificial system, including precise instruction on the handling and usage of entrails and blood and body parts.

The thing that always (always) strikes me is the sheer number of animals. Why so many? And the blood.

All that blood.

In the film The Passion of the Christ, we see Mary, after Jesus has been flogged, on her hands and knees attempting to wipe up all the blood that has been spilled on the paving stones of the courtyard.

Our hearts break for this mother vainly trying to clean her Son's blood off the ground. And there is so much blood.

Thinking of this, I begin to understand the Books of the Law with their endless repetition and the oceans of blood that were shed under the Old Covenant.

And a little of what God wants me to understand as I wade through all that blood, and experience, to the slightest degree, what the Old Testament believer experienced.

It is this, I think: how could all the blood of all the animals in all the world begin to pay the penalty I owe?

Old Covenant believers were simply looking ahead to a perfect sacrifice; one where the blood shed would atone, once and for all, for every sin, every trespass, every act of rebellion I ever committed.

Blood of the perfect God-man, effective to save to the uttermost, effectual to save each and every one that God has chosen, no matter what the number.

Amazing love!
How can it be
that thou, my God,
shouldst die for me?

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Smell of Diesel in the Morning

Amen!!! And diesel!!! People think I'm crazy but it always reminds me of Daddy. -Debi Tolar Ringer

Springtime always came early in the Delta, it seemed.

Early in March, I would drag myself from my warm bed in the Old House, dress, and trudge the forty or fifty feet out to the shed where Daddy and Red Paul would be fueling the tractors.

The chill morning air would fill my lungs as I walked, and sting my cheeks, and by the time I reached the John Deere 4430, I would be awake.

I cranked the tractor and heard the familiar clatter of the idling diesel. The diesel smell was oily and black in my nostrils as the black smoke hanging low and heavy in the morning air.

Reflecting the low-rising sun, dew sparkled in like diamonds in the patches of grass dotting the pale tan earth.
Moving out, I looked behind me and down at the divots left by the cleats of the tires in the soft ground.

I drove to the far 60, next to the railroad track bordering Lexa.

I hit the power-lift and the disk made a satisfying soft crunch as the  blades bit into the loamy soil and began to turn it over onto itself, the earth underneath a rich dark brown.

And I could smell it. The odor of freshly-turned earth. It contained the promise of new life; life springing from ground disked, harrowed, and planted.

There would be long straight rows of cotton here soon, pale green leaves rustling in the warm breezes of June and after that, in late September or early October, fields white like snow.

After the harvest, late fall sliding into early winter, the disk would come again; this time turning the bare stalks under for winter's rains, frosts and freezes, returning to the earth some of the nutrients taken from it in the growing season.

All that was half a year away or more.

For now there was the diesel smell and the rich scent of freshly turned earth.

I've smelled nothing like it, before then or since.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Old House

The old house is still standing, though the paint is cracked and dry.... -Green, Green Grass of Home
                                                the Old House sometime in the 90's

I find myself an increasing rarity among friends and family: one who remembers living in a house without indoor plumbing.

The Old House, formerly a shotgun house, perched on the crest of a razorback ridge cutting across Highway 1 in the otherwise flat delta farmland of Phillips County.

I say "formerly" because a bedroom had been added to each side of the front room facing the highway, making the shape of a "T."

In 1959, with my brother Rodney on the way, Dad added an extra bedroom on the north side of the house, and (glory of glories!) a bathroom!

We lived there until my senior year in high school when, in one of those odd bits of trading country folk do (involving farmland and tractors), we moved across the highway into a two year-old brick ranch-style house.

I was gone from there in less than two years, so my memories center mostly on the old house, with its tractor shed and cow barn.

My younger sister and little brother were conceived there and brought home to there after they were born.

A giant willow stood a few strides from the back porch, providing a wide shady area under which to play in the summer, and long, supple switches for disobedient children year-round.

The cow barn also doubled as a chicken coop and I learned that there is an art to removing eggs from the nests of bantam hens, if one desires to remain unflogged by tiny but fierce wings.

My behind got left behind in one of the side rooms of the tall tin-roofed tractor shed. More about that another time.

I hoed cotton in the fields surrounding the house and taught my sisters to sing three part harmony.

Even after I had grown and gone away, I returned there.

Three of my four children were conceived there.

And once, when my mother objected (and rightly so) to my living there with a woman to whom I was not married, my dad said, "Nobody's gonna tell my boy he can't come home."


I live in a place that I have called home for twenty or more years; in a house, my home for thirteen of those years.

My youngest still returns there to check on the Old Man. With a fussiness which I find amusing, but also precious.

She cried recently when I took a tumble over a garden hose, dumping just-off-the-grill hamburgers onto the concrete driveway.

I cursed, then laughed, then invoked the five second rule.

The Old House now exists only in memory, being in the process of decay and collapse way back in '85 when Joyce and Sandy began to live with me.

But the memories are vivid and constant and I think of them whenever my mind wanders back to that long-ago home.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Like Arrows Piercing Valentine's Heart

Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. -Song of Songs 1:15

The deep longing of true love is a palpable ache for the beloved, which does not fade with time nor diminish with distance.

Even death cannot break these cords of love, this love which plays upon the strings of memory a melody that daily grows more poignant, more beautiful.

To think that the love with which I have been loved, the love with which I have loved is but a very dim reflection!

I have read the Song of Solomon each Valentine's Day for as long as I can remember.

This scriptural depiction of romantic love speaks to my heart and exposes my deepest emotions.

But I know it points to something deeper, it and all the related passages speaking of the Bridegroom's love for His beloved.

Because I have been loved by someone who desired my good with all her heart and soul, I can begin to understand the eternal, supernatural and all-sacrificing love of my Savior, the depth of which I can barely begin to grasp.

But God has revealed Himself in His Word and so I have the promise of a love of which, as blessed as I have been, I have only had a foretaste.

And though our hearts must be broken over our sin and failure, they are at the same time healed with joy and gratitude.

I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Stop! And Let Me Tell You....

...what the Lord has done for me. -sung by "The Little Red Ants" choir

The piano began the opening of the last hymn. "Just As I Am," I think.

Perched on the edge of my seat, I bolted forward. I did not run or trot, but there was a purpose to my eight-year-old stride, a determination not to be deterred until I grasped the hand of the evangelist standing before me and poured out my desire to be saved from the devil's hell he had just described.

I was in. My dim notion of Jesus, what He had done and what was going to be required of me as His faithful follower, did not matter. I had walked the aisle, shook the preacher's hand and said, "I believe."


The fear faded. And the security and safety of my life (in a time when all the children I knew were secure and safe) filled my mind with a sense of comfort and familiarity.

I continued in church. There were Sunday sermons on living for the Lord and Sunday School lessons about the Ten Commandments and Zaccheus coming down from that sycamore tree.

By the time I was 23, I had left the church. I had made a hash of my life and looking around for someone to blame (not me of course), I settled on God. I was already upset with Him anyway for hatefully sending people to hell.

And I broke my Daddy's heart, I am sure, when I told him, "I believe in a god but not your God."

Fast-forward nearly thirty years. God had blessed me richly in a renewed love and appreciation for my Dad before He called him on to heaven. God had sent me a woman (finding me in the most unlikely of places) to love me and care for me.

I was back in church. It had been awhile, I thought, but hey, the Bible never really said how long the Prodigal Son spent in that foreign land, right?

A couple months into that new life came a wake-up call.

For the first time ever I was given a glimpse (as if a lightning flash lit up the landscape of my heart) into who I really was.

Not an eight-year-old who had been mean to his sisters or sassed Mama behind her back.

But a fifty-some-odd-year-old man who had lived his life up to that point entirely for himself. No love of Jesus to be found at all in that vision.

"God save me!" are the words I remember, though whether I cried them out loud or not, I cannot say.

It's been a little more than fifteen years since that night. I have learned in that time that John Newton was right about God's grace: it is perfectly, gloriously amazing!

Is there any such thing, do you suppose, as a succinct recitation of a remembered event by a senior citizen?

The end of the matter is this: my mother and father never ceased to pray for their children. So I pray.

Do you love someone who is outside Christ?

Don't stop praying.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Forever In Your Debt

For all I've learned and memories kept, may I be forever in your debt.-Sandy Tolar

Time heals all wounds they say.

But faith, more than time, is the great healer. Faith in the One who makes (will make) all things new carries the promise of restoration.

And joy.

It can be a hard thing for us as Christians to accept the concept of death in a world over which our Heavenly Father reigns. The pain of loss and separation are overwhelming, and I have often wondered how those who have no faith can cope with the pain.

Memories, it seems, are God's benevolent gift to all humanity. If one of the ways we deal with pain (emotional, physical or otherwise) is to externalize it, memories during a time of grief are indeed a precious balm.

I have shared how, on the night of Ms. Joycie's passing, four of us sat in the living room, going through pictures and selecting songs for the slide show at the viewing. Is it possible to express grief through laughter?

I certainly think so.

Even long after the fact, the memories sustain us through the ache of longing.

And as we acknowledge the debt of a love, which has been expressed to us, how much more precious is the faith in a glorious and joyous reunion? 

Monday, January 18, 2016

I Prayed For You

Well, we're orphans now, and you know they'll have to split us up, cause nobody's gonna want all three of us.- my brother Rodney, after the death of our mom.

Early in 1959, when I found out my mom was expecting, I began to pray.

Though I often accompanied my dad in his daily activities as a farmer and small businessman, many other times I stayed at home.

Alone in a house full of women: my mother and two sisters. At ten years of age, I felt outnumbered. Although I loved them (especially you, Deb), I sensed that males and females are different.

And that I needed some backup, you know, another guy. Someone to be guys with.

So I began to pray. Fervently. I prayed for a little brother.

At 8:30 p.m. on October 21, 1959 (Daddy's 33rd birthday), Rodney Phillip Tolar arrived in the world.

I won't meditate on the theology of answered prayers or God's purpose in ordaining the events of our lives other than to say all things work together for the good for those He has called to be His children.

I'll just say God blessed me with a little brother.

The difference in our ages eliminated any serious possibility of sibling rivalry. Just a cool little guy and (I hope) a cool older guy hanging out with each other.

And as he grew older, partners in crime.

And better than that, partners in rock and roll.

It is typical for musical tastes to be passed down (or even up) among siblings. When it came to sitting up all night, playing loudly, we were pretty much in lock step.

Sadly, as we both moved around, following jobs, his above-quoted prediction has gradually come true. I haven't seem Rod in several years and spoken to him only briefly a few times.

No reason really other than time, distance and inertia.

I do miss him and his zany, outrageous humor. And just the hanging out, doing the guy thing and not talking much if at all.

And I'm still praying for him.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Of Vi-eeners and Calico Bottoms

We farmed all over Philips County, Arkansas.

Not that we were "big" farmers. Just that land rent was cheap back in the day, and my dad would pick up 60 acres here, a hundred there, and 80 down the road from that, until it seemed as though we spent as much time moving farm equipment from one place to the other as we did in the field, farming.

You haven't known excitement until you're halfway across a narrow bridge, the disc you're pulling lapping into the oncoming lane, and an 18-wheeler coming your way decides to share the bridge with you.

That's one reason I was always glad when we went to Calico Bottoms. It wasn't that far from the home place and we would be there a couple of days before we had to move again.

Which also meant that we (actually mostly me; Dad or Red Paul didn't seem to get excited about such things) could enjoy the farmer's version of a picnic lunch for a couple of days.

It might consist of thick-sliced baloney on white bread and mustard smeared on with a wooden ice-cream spoon. But lots of days it would be Vienna sausages, crackers, and pork'n'beans (eaten with the same wooden spoon), all spread out on the torn open paper sack from whatever country store Dad bought it from.

And all on the tailgate of the pickup under the shade of a giant elm tree on the edge of the field.

And as nightfall came, we would pile into the truck, worn out from
the bone-shaking racket of those John Deere tractors and covered with the gray gumbo dust. And head for home.

Calico Bottoms was the first place Daddy ever let me drive the truck by myself.

Calico Bottoms was also the first place I ever drove one of the big green tractors.  

It was where a deep dredge ditch bordered the west side of the field, and my heart was in my throat each time I came to the end of a row and had to spin that tractor around without dropping one of the front wheels (and thus the whole tractor, and also myself) into that ditch.

Calico Bottoms was where Red Paul ignited a stream of LP gas by carelessly flicking his Bic while my dad was fueling the truck. I learned that a not too pretty red-headed man looks even more not-too-pretty with his eyebrows singed off and his face all pink and shiny. The folks at the Emergency Room gave him some salve and sent him home.

The nearby country store was well stocked with the new 16 oz. bottled RC colas and was clean and well-kept, unlike what we called "The Cat-Poop Store (a sanitized version of what we actually called it)" up in Lee County. I won't say anymore about that except to observe that nothing will ruin your appetite like the sight of several cats licking the meat saw that is about to be used to slice your baloney!

My friend, professor and Sunday School teacher Art Hunt got a kick out of my pronunciation of "vi-eeners" when I gave my demonstration speech on the benefits of that delicious blend of mystery meat.

But if you should doubt the tastiness of vi-eeners, here's a question: have you ever seen a TV ad for Vienna sausages?

Nope. And you won't because they are so dang tasty that Armour and the other folks who make them don't need to advertise them. Folks just buy 'em and eat 'em.

If they should ever decide to put one of those "recommended serving" pictures on the can, it will look like this: vi-eeners laying on a paper sack next to a pile of pork'n'beans and a sleeve of saltine crackers.

All served up on the tailgate of a white Ford pickup under an elm tree in the Calico Bottoms.

Of course.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Verse You 'Grave for Me

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.-Psalm 27:13

As I read through Isaiah again, this morning I read my favorite chapter in the whole Bible, Isaiah 55.

I have heard of those who say that the Gospel is only presented in the New Testament. I would differ strongly.

The invitation to the banquet, the representation of Christ, the call to repentance, the reassurance of the efficacy of the Word. It's all there.

And then verse 12. My favorite in all Scripture. What a picture! What a promise!

The mountains and hills will truly be alive with the sound of music! The leaves will rustle in heaven's gentle breezes  and the rustling will be the sound of uproarious applause.

Joy and peace, those two most sought-after conditions of the human heart will flood my very soul.

When Brother Billy finally reads these words over me, you may rest assured that I am already experiencing the delight described here.

One thing is missing from this description: the greeting.  Psalm 17:15 speaks of this assurance. Job is confident that (in his resurrected. glorified body) he will behold his living Redeemer standing at the last upon the earth.

To open my eyes amid scenes of pastoral beauty and see my Savior smiling down at me. Is this thought not precious to you?

One other thing.

When I would be gone from home for one or more days and return, always as I pulled into the driveway, I could see the curtain part and my wife's face looking out. Then the door would fly open and she would rush out, almost before the car had stopped rolling, to greet me.

You may wonder how a five foot three inch tall woman could envelope anyone in a bear hug, but I tell you, it is literally true.

It's icing on the cake, I suppose, to know that I will embrace her once more, this beloved sister in Christ. That I shall throw my arm around my daddy's shoulders and kiss his grizzled cheek. I will embrace my mom and kiss her on her forehead.

What a reunion. And to enjoy the fellowship of these and so many more in the presence of my God forever and ever.


Monday, January 4, 2016

A Crying Shame

...this people draw near me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me....-Isaiah 29:13

The tenth chapter of Ezra presents a remarkable scene. Those Israelites returned from Babylonian exile are standing in the open square in front of the rebuilt temple.

They are not listening to a sermon from Ezra, the man God has sent to minister to them. He is inside, clothes torn in mourning, praying for forgiveness for his people.

And they are outside, men, women and children, in the cold December air on the temple mount in the rain. They are shivering, the Bible says, because it is cold and wet but also out of fear because they have disobeyed the Lord their God.

And they were weeping.

How strange.

And yet I was strangely convicted as Brother Billy preached through this text this past Wednesday night.

Yes, I have felt sorrow and conviction over the sins I commit. How could it be otherwise for the person renewed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit?

But to weep in that sorrow and conviction?

Could it be, as our pastor commented, that we have lost our ability for Godly sorrow?

Scripture's call to personal holiness is clear and unmistakable.

I was struck as well by the thought that many of these Israelites had not committed the sin of intermarriage with their pagan neighbors (the cause of their weeping and repenting). They mourned for the sins of their nation.

When I think of the Pilgrim father's commitment to make their new world settlement "a city on a hill," a shining light for their apostate homeland, and look at the America we live in today, I feel despair, anger and disgust.

I shake my head in wonder that Christian bookstores are filled with works on how to have my best life now while our faith is increasingly on the defensive. If you were to look for J.I. Packer's book, Rediscovering Holiness, you might not find it.

Church attendance seems to be optional. Many who do attend are entertained by bands and flashing lights and are lifted to an emotional high but hear nothing of substance from the pulpit.

It seems the vertical has vanished from worship and it's all about the horizontal; what can we do to make you feel good about yourself.

No wonder we have lost our ability to weep.

But our God is able to save to the uttermost, and we know that what seems impossible to man is imminently do-able for our Sovereign LORD.

It would seem that earnest heartfelt prayer is what is needed at this time.

Yes we must pray for our nation and her leaders. But much more than that, our prayers for the Church must be fervent and heartfelt.

The returned Israelites wept, perhaps in part, because the memory of an exile imposed by an angry God was fresh in their memories.

May we never have to recall such a memory.