Romanian Grace

The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon. -- St. Cyril of Jerusalem

28 June, 2007

On: How some people learn the easy way but I prefer electroshock therapy

I wasn't actually doing anything wrong. I was merely being a good Romanian driver. The police officer said I cut across two solid white lines and cut into the flow of traffic dangerously close to a minivan. Then he told me that my license was expired and that I did not have proper proof of insurance. Then I missed my court date. Then I called for the amount of money it would take to clear my name, stopped to get a cashiers check for that amount when I was in Ft. Payne, AL, then took it to the office only for them to tell me that I ought to go to court, that my check was not large enough to cover all my fines.

I really am not trying to be illegal. I do not like being criminal and, in this case, was never really even trying to do anything wrong. Actually, it was that pullover that precipitated my going to North Carolina to get that one cleared up (see previous entry) so that I could obtain a legal license.

I am not telling you all this to prove what a putz of a driver I am (a truth to which my sister would attest happily) or what kind of citizen I am. I have found myself asking the question: if I believe in a sovereign God, do I believe that even these headaches/"trials" are from Him? If I believe He is loving, do I think these are from Him? If both of the above, then how do I act differently in light of those truths?

Last night I felt defeated, tossed about, bedraggled, and I was acting as sullen as a four year old at dinner just to prove it. I found myself wanting to run away to Romania. Therein is the lie I want to believe, that geography is the problem. Thing is, I believe the same thing when life is not going so well in Romania: if I were only in the States, I wouldn't be having all these problems. And in a way I am right. I wouldn't have to deal with Romanians and all their quirks if I lived in Dothan, AL; I would have to deal with the Dothanites and all their quirks. And I would fail at it just the same if not worse. At least in Romania I can claim cultural ignorance.

No. The problem is not geography...or wealth...or community...or language. The problem is just this heart of mine, which is deceitful above all else, and desperately wicked. And my heart has a habit of following me around wherever I go. As my pastor has often said: if you ever find the perfect church, get out before you mess it up. I could say the same about even the most ideal of living or ministry situations. Near as I can tell, things externally are not guaranteed to get any better for a while for any of us. But I have heard so many people pray, and have prayed myself, something like: "Lord, this day is yours, so, not my will, but thy will be done." While this is a good thing to pray, the crux is not in praying it but in believing it, in putting it into action. Did I really think that all the little hangups and gliches in my attempts to do the right thing are from the Lord, were part of his plan? Not if I act angry, frustrated, and bitter when they aren't going my way. Lord, make me able to bring to you a sacrifice of praise, which is only a sacrifice when it is hard.

Anyway, as a result of my failures to comply with various State traffic laws, I found myself before yet another judge today (this has apparently been the theme of my time back at home), and I received mercy yet again (this has apparently been the theme of my life since I began calling on the name of the one who stands before the throne of the Holy Judge). I got off for considerably less than I expected to pay, and all charges were dropped. It feels so good. I don't think I will make a habit out of it, however.

I leave you now with a word from Lamentations 3, which is one of my favorites:

My soul continually remembers [my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall], and it is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

And a little further down it says: "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." I know I am not exactly in my youth (although I did have to watch a teen driving safety video today), but my prayer is that bearing the yoke of my stupidity and irresponsibility now will perhaps make for greater blessing later on. Let's hope in Him who is worthy of all our hopes.

09 June, 2007

comings and goings

Here is what I have been doing lately.

I spent 3 hours in the North Carolina criminal court on Wednesday. If you have never done that, I would recommend it, at least once. I think you can go there without actually being a criminal, which is what I would recommend, but either way...

I was there for a traffic ticket I got a year ago that required a court appearance, a requirement of which I was unaware until two days before I left the country. So I ignored it. This is the point at which my friend Steve would say: "Hmm, so you ignored a problem and it didn't go away." Yes. That's right. But the fact is that I was sitting there in the back corner of the courtroom, and the thought occurred to me, as the riff-raff from all over the state slumped in, "I am one of these." It is the undeniable fact that I deny daily. I am guilty. I am the riff-raff, and worse. I stand condemned by law and am subject to the penalty of justice.

Then I had the opportunity to answer when my name was called off the docket. I had to state whether I was representing myself or had an attorney and what my plea was. I stood and said: "Representing myself...guilty." How happy I am that I will not have to repeat those words at the eternal judgment before a righteous judge. How thankful I am (and not thankful enough) that I do have a representative, and he is worthy to plea "innocent" on my behalf.

As for North Carolina, the DA saw fit to extend mercy to me. She didn't send me to jail for fleeing the country and list of other legal technicalities. I escaped with a manageable fine and court fees.

And then there is the feeling you walk out of there with, once freed. Oh, to have a cleared name. What joy! When you know that you are a criminal, you live under fear and guilt. I have never been more nervous than my illegal drive from Chattanooga to NC. I still refrained from speeding for the rest of my travels afterward.

I would also like to comment on how nice it was, at least, to be in court in my home country, in my home language, in a system where you can count on normal proceedings and a general rule of honesty and fairness. I do not think it would be the same for me in Romania, where dishonesty and corruption are the generally accepted rule, and I would most likely be coerced out of hundreds of dollars.

This is also true with medical care in Romania. Anyone, Romanian or no, who spends time in a hospital, in bad need of treatment, can expect to pay at least one hundred euros ($130) in bribes to the doctor, just for him to provide care. Unbelievable. I do not remember if I shared this in the last or not, but a prime example is one man who had a leg taken off a year or two ago, then the other became life-threateningly infected, so he went to have it taken off. This man and his wife life in one of the worst blocks in our town. They have virtually no regular income. The doctor demanded that they pay him 100 euros before he would treat the man. They begged him to go ahead with the surgery to remove the leg, promising to pay when the surgery was done. The doctor consented, but refused to check up on his patient until they put the money in his hands. Unbelievable.

One update on that story: the man who is now a double amputee has received some assistance recently and will be getting prosthetics to enable him to get around without depending on a wheelchair. Praise be to God.

05 June, 2007

There goes the bride: II

Jesus, Lover of our souls,
We give you praise today.
As Susannah stands before us,
The beautiful bride made more beautiful
by the gaze of the man who loves her,
You remind us that
You have not only loved us;
You have not only given us life;
You have chosen to call us your beloved bride.
Though we are so steeped in sin and rebellion
that our holiest thoughts and efforts are as filthy rags,
You present us pure, blameless, without spot or blemish,
in splendor before the throne of God.
Your love is tenacious. It is unconquerable,
and it is inseparable from us.
Lord, enable Jason to love Susannah in a like manner.
Help Susannah to receive that love and to return it.
By the power of Your Holy Spirit, enable all of us
to love You and our neighbors as You have loved us. Amen.

That is the prayer I wrote out for my sister's wedding. That is the one I left at home. The Holy Spirit apparently had different words He wanted to communicate through me that day. I think the final product came out something like that, but it was not the same, and as nervous as I was, I can take no credit for the prayer that left my lips. I really don't think I know what I said.

But what I meant to get around to in my last entry was this: I am not sure I have every experienced something so exhilarating as watching my sister, who is the most beautiful bride I have seen to date (perhaps only my own will be more beautiful), walking sown the aisle toward me, standing in front of me. I was blown away and still do not know how to put it into words. I am not sure I should try. I guess if you have been married or if you have been a pastor, you know what I am talking about.

I think I was given a whole new understanding of the relationship between Christ and the ones He has saved. I have read the marriage metaphor in Ephesians a bunch of times, and I think I got it, at least with my brain, but now much more with my heart. She was beautiful, more beautiful than she had ever been her whole life, yet she could only really look at her husband soon-to-be. And he could only gaze at her.

I know that marriage is certainly more than just the one hour (if that!) ceremony, but it is definitely not less. I knew one guy who always introduced his wife of twenty or so years as "my bride."

"Oh! I am my beloved's, and my Beloved is mine. He brings a poor, vile sinner into His house of wine.
I stand upon His merit. I know no other stand. Not even where Glory dwelleth in Immanuel's land."
--Last Words, by A.R. Cousin [based on Rutherford's letters]

there goes the bride

"The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom's face. I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of Grace. I stand upon His merit; I know no other stand, not even where Glory dwelleth in Immanuel's land."

That is one verse from the massive poem written over many years by A.R. Cousin, based on Samuel Rutherford's letters, an absolutely beautiful poem you can find all the verses to here:

I was in my sister's wedding on Saturday. It was a beautiful event, as weddings go, and I think much work was put into making it so. Perhaps the sign of a well-planned wedding is that it looks like it came off so easily, so effortlessly. Anyway, it was nice. Someone asked me what my favorite part was, and I have been saying, "Looking the bride straight in the face moments before she is given away to the man she loves." It almost makes me want to become a pastor just so I can experience that on a regular basis.

But there I was, standing in front of the church between the preacher and the groom as my sister walked poisedly down the aisle on my father's arm. I was standing up there because I was to read a couple of passages of scripture and pray (with my sister's clear instructions to "keep it short"). Actually, I had recently read the account one Christian man gave of his preparations for reading God's word (reading, mind you, not preaching it) in a church service. He would wake up an hour or two earlier than normal, bathe, eat, and close himself into his study. He would then pray. Then he would read the passage over a few times. He would then study the passage. After that, he would read it aloud. The he would set the Bible open in the front of the room, go and sit down, walk up to the Bible, and begin reading. If he messed up any part, he would put the Bible down and start again from his chair.

It seemed like a nice idea at the time, but I really thought the guy was nuts. I mean, it was just the Bible, and he wasn't preaching it, just reading. I thought it was a little excessive, like Martin Luther's four hours of prayer to start the day, more if he was really busy. But as the time drew nearer for me to do this reading, for this momentous occasion, I believe the Spirit brought my mind back to that man's example, and I began to think about what the Bible testifies about itself. For one thing, Paul writes to Timothy that all of it is breathed out by God and is profitable.... I think that means God's word itself is profitable, whether there is any preaching being done. My friend, Darin, reminds me that God's word testifies that it will go out, and it does not return void. Again, I do not think we can interpret that to mean that God's word, if preached properly, goes out and does not return void. I do not think it says anything about power point presentations, hands-free microphones, outline points printed in the bulletin, etc. I think what I am talking about is part of the doctrine that is sometimes called "Sola Scriptura," and which I think translates: scripture alone.

So, as I began thinking about all this, I started to get a little scared. I began to feel insufficient for the task. It was peculiar, because I do not think I was afraid, for once, of screwing the whole thing up and looking like a dope in front of everyone. I felt more like the guys in the movies who have to defuse massive bombs in the basements of schoolhouses while the kids go about their day oblivious to their impending doom. The guy has to pick between the red and green wire. Sweat is dripping into his eyes. He's colorblind, maybe. A lot hangs on his performance here, much more than his reputation, which all of a sudden seems insignificant, maybe even trite.

So I got my hands on a couple of commentaries (Matthew Henry and a couple of others I can't think of) for Song of Solomon [2.10-13] and Ruth [1.16,17] and tried to get a sense of the passages. I read over them numerous times in my Bible, I wrote the passages out a couple of times each and put the copies in my Bible to read so I could avoid flipping pages and so the writing would be bigger. Then I prayed some more. Then I wrote out the prayer (below) so I could reference it in a pinch if I got real nervous during the wedding.

Then I left the house and forgot my Bible, only to realize it about half an hour before the wedding would begin. It was far to late to make another run home to get the Bible. I went to the church library. They had no Bibles of the version I had practiced from (ESV). They had an NASB, which I do not like reading from, though it is good for study; they had NIV, which I think is not all that great for reading or for study; they had a New King James, which is nice, and is pretty close to my version, but it was bright red. The other one was bright blue. I was running out of time, so I grabbed an old King James pew Bible off the shelf because it was black and left the room.

George Whitefield, who is probably one of the greatest preachers ever to stand in a pulpit, certainly in terms of oration, is said to have ascended the steps to the pulpit repeating quietly to himself, "I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe...." Since I heard this a couple of years ago, it has encouraged me tremendously. I need to be reminded that the outcome of reading scripture or preaching through it, and the ability even to deliver a sermon or a reading, is all dependent upon the Holy Spirit, who freely and lovingly works for us and through us. Thanks be to God.

So. That was my prayer that day (you can tell that I don't do anything original- I just steal from the old guys).

I will finish this one in my next entry to keep one from being too long.