A Meditation in Honor of Jack Saffle
This is my Jack “F.R.O.G.” You probably have one too. This was Jack’s calling card, his signature move. Mine showed up one day on my desk in the study of the church where I was a minister and Jack was a member. There it sat on top of a stack of books, surrounded by a thousand other books – big books, serious books, theology books, my books.
By aptitude and appetite, vocation and passion, I’m a thinker. Early in my life I heard Jesus in the Gospels say that we are to love God “with all of our minds,” and I immediately set myself to that task. St. Anselm’s motto in the 11th century was “faith seeking understanding.” It’s mine too, but it’s tricky.
Through the years I’ve learned that it’s easier for me to read, and even to write a book or two about God, than it is to actually know God. Talking about God is so much easier for me to do than talking to God. And I’ve learned the hard way that thinking about God isn’t even close to being the same thing as trusting God. This is where Jack’s “F.R.O.G.” comes into play.
“F.R.O.G.” stands for “Fully Rely on God.” At the same time Jesus said that we are to love God with all our minds, He also told us to love God with all our hearts. Jack handed out frogs as a way of keeping the heart front and center. Some of us need reminding. As much as I am a “love God with all your mind” kind of guy, Jack was a “love God with all your heart” kind of guy. We needed each other. I think Jack and I were both better Christians because we were friends.
I made Jack think. I could actually see him doing it during the weekly Bible Studies I taught at the church, Bible Studies that my friend Jack never missed. I could see on Jack’s face when he was wrestling with some idea that we had lifted from the text of Scripture to take a closer look at. I could see when Jack was trying to “get” what we were talking about, like steam coming out of his ears, and I could always see when Jack “got” it.
Jack made me get out of my head. Jack was more of a doer than he was a thinker. Jack wasn’t in weekly Bible Study with me to fill his head with ideas, he was there because he wanted to be a better Christian. James told his readers in his letter included in the New Testament to be doers of the word and not only hearers of the Word (1:22), and that was Jack. If something is true, then Jack wanted it to make a difference in his life. After writing a bunch of books about theology, one of the first thinking Christians that I read wrote a book he called, “How Then Shall We Live?” This is what Jack’s “F.R.O.G.’s” were about.
The God Jack believed was there, was a God Jack tried to consciously rely on, and he wanted us to try to consciously rely on Him too, fully. That’s the message that I took from the “F.R.O.G.” that Jack left on the desk of my study at the church surrounded by all my books some 20 years ago. And it’s the message that I take from it now in my study at home when I see it on the bookshelf across from my desk where I read, and think, and pray, and write these days. The God that all those books on those shelves are about is a God who is really there, a God who deeply cares, and a God who wants to be trusted.
Jack’s favorite Bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I know this because Jack told me so, more than once he told me so. Jeremiah 29:11 fits nicely with his “F.R.O.G.” emphasis. Jeremiah 29:11 is a word from the Lord that the Prophet Jeremiah spoke to the people of Israel as they were being carried off into captivity by the Babylonians. This was not a good day for them. In fact, they had likely never had a worse day.
The walls of Jerusalem had been knocked down and the Babylonian army had streamed in killing people and breaking things as they went. The great Temple of Solomon, the House of God on earth, had been ransacked and defiled. The King, blinded and bound, had been marched off in disgrace, with his people following in tow, exiled and enslaved. It would have been very easy for God’s people to have concluded at the end of that day that God had forgotten all about them, forsaken them. But that’s when the Lord told them – “I still have plans for you, plans for your well-being welfare and not for your downfall, to give you a future and a hope.”
Words like that can sure ring hollow in the ears and hearts of people who are suffering, in people who have sustained a great loss and who are feeling a great sadness, people like us here today. Jack’s “F.R.O.G.” approach to life faces its greatest challenge in places and at times like this. When death comes as the culminating moment of our earthly pilgrimage, will we “F.R.O.G.” – will we “fully rely on God”? Can we hand ourselves and our loved ones over to God when we are standing with both feet deep in the valley of the shadow of death?
I was looking at one of my books last week, an 800-page book about God, and on one of those 800 pages its author asked why anyone would think that fully relying on God was ever a good idea? I found his answer to be extremely helpful, and timely. He said that the Old Testament is full of promises from God about how He was going to send a Messiah, and then on Christmas morning that Messiah showed up in Bethlehem’s manger. Jesus Christ said that He would come again from the dead after He died on the cross, and then on Resurrection Sunday morning He did. And Jesus promised to send another Comforter when He went away, and through that Comforter to always be present with His people, and on Pentecost He did, and it’s been so ever since.
That author’s point was that we can “fully rely on God” for the things that God has promised to do for us in the future because of the way that God has already shown Himself to be so reliable with the things that He promised to do for us in the past. That’s important for us to know because what we’re doing here today, what this service is all about, the foundation on which it rests is a promise. It’s the promise of Jesus in John 6:37-40 –
“Those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. For I have come down from heaven to do the will of Him who sent me… and this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me… It is the Father’s will that all who believe in me should have eternal life. I will raise them up…”
I know a priest who says that “every believer should ask to be buried with this page of the Gospel clutched in their hands.” Short of that, he says, no Christian should approach death, their own or that of a loved one, without these Gospel words firmly lodged in their hearts. Jack gave us frogs to make this same point. In life, in death — “Fully Rely on God.”