Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Saying "Goodbye"

Final goodbyes are packed with emotion.

One of our very dear friends is currently headed for the finish line, and we must cheer her on to victory.  What a difference it is when there is a living hope in the finished work of Christ.  He has canceled our guilt by his work on the cross.  And He has fired our confidence in the future by rising again from the dead to prove His promises.  How hopeless it is to face death without this.

In my 50 plus years in the ministry I have said "goodbye" to many people, and some very dear friends.

Before even getting to seminary (and before we were married) Barbara and I experienced the passing of her grandfather--on her 20th birthday.  He was convinced that he had been sent to a nursing home to die, and so he did.  It was not, therefore, a pleasant birthday for her.

Then there was the dear old lady friend from our church who was dying of heart problems.  While we were visiting her, we three began to sing something like "What a Friend we have in Jesus" and she stopped singing to grasp her chest.  When Barbara and I also stopped singing, she made motion for us to continue singing as her pain subsided.  Singing the love of Jesus was more important to her than death pains.  Not long after this she passed into glory.

I'll never forget the time I was visiting a dear saint who had labored in service of the Lord for many years.  Even though she knew many scriptures, I have learned to go with the familiar.  God's children always seem to appreciate the old, familiar verses.  She was not well enough to communicate at this time, but she knew me and knew I was there at her hospital bed.  I decided to recite Psalm 23 without use of a Bible.  It was one of those things when the very familiar plays tricks on you.  I left out a phrase of this Psalm, and I know she knew it.  I can imagine the two of us laughing about this when I see her in heaven.

It has to be a priority of every pastor to visit his people when they are in the hospital.  I have always tried to keep this responsibility at or near the top of my list.  When I haven't visited in a day or two, or when I have heard of a change in condition, I always made it a point to be there quickly.  One such character was in our Wilmington congregation, languishing with cancer tumors popping up here and there.  When I came to his bedside one afternoon, he was choking on growths in his throat.  He looked at me and said, "You show up at the damnedest times!"  To this day I'm not sure that was a compliment or a complaint.

When I'm not certain of the spiritual condition of the one I am visiting, I stay with the familiar, and usually read John 14:1-6, making emphasis in my comments about Jesus saying no one goes to the Father except through Him.

People don't want to talk about dying, but when they are in the process, the subject can hardly be avoided.  Even though I may have a man as a captive audience, it's not fair (or helpful) to overwhelm him with nagging toward repentance.  But just to lay upon him the simple claims of Christ on him by reading John 3:16; John 5:24 or Romans 6:23 and praying that the Holy Spirit will use it as He pleases.

Those visits must be about Jesus.  Certainly it is not about me (how convincing I can be), and not even about my dying friend (pleasant memories or false comfort).  I must tell myself, "Keep it simple, Stupid!  Keep it simple."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Baseball prowess

I got a base hit off a major leaguer.  It's true.  It's true, but admittedly a managed truth.  Politics has certainly taught us a lot about putting a spin on our reports.  We have learned to manipulate the facts to obtain a calculated effect, and I must admit that I am guilty of just that.

Here's my story.

Way, way back when I was almost 20 years old, I frequently found myself on a baseball diamond some place or other.  On this day I was on the field of La Cienega Park, near Dorsey High School.  When we had finished our game a pickup game was beginning to form.  There weren't enough players to reject me, so I was chosen to play on one of the teams.  You know, good old fashioned sandlot baseball.

The pitcher for the other team was a young star named Billy Consolo.  On one of my trips to the bat I got a broken bat single, and that is my claim to fame boasted in the first sentence above.  Shortly after this Billy Consolo was drafted by the Boston Red Sox as an amateur in 1953.  They called them "bonus babies" in those days.  When offered a certain amount of money the team was required to keep him on the roster for at least a year.  Billy played third base for Boston, and though he was never spectacular, he managed to stay in the majors with one team or other for nine years.

As for me, well my career went from sandlot to Municipal Ball (about two cuts below semi-pro) with the Southern Pacific Railroad team.  I was only a utility man, but played every game, nevertheless.  Sometimes I played third base (I understand why it's called the hot corner), short stop, second base or left field.  I never hit a home run, but one day I had four hits in five at bats.

I don't consider my time on the baseball diamond a waste of time.  I was participating in the American experience at it's best.  Even the greatest players of the game fail two-thirds of the time at bat.  That's closer to the reality of life than other sports experiences.  In life too, I probably failed at least two-thirds of the time.  But when God gives you the exhilaration of a "base hit" in life, it's so much more joyful in contrast to the last two defeats.

Well I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never play baseball again.  That's okay.  When you get to be 80 there are a lot of things you will never do again.  I no longer wonder what I will be when I grow up.  Actually I no longer fear that I might die young and miss something.  God has been so good to me that the only things I regret are my sins.  Yes, and I really regret them.  If it weren't for God's declaration of "once for all" (Hebrews 7:27) in the covering of my sins, I would certainly despair.

I may have failed two-thirds of the time, but my pinch hitter bats a thousand!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Memorable Anniversary


There's a moment in time when a tragedy becomes a hilarious memory.  One of those moments occurred on or about our 17th wedding anniversary.  I was pastor of our church in Wilmington, DE, and it had to be a Monday night.  That was the day I took away from the weighty thoughts of the church to enjoy my wife.  We had made reservations for dinner at a nice restaurant, and were anticipating a special evening together.

Well, the evening was special, but the way God planned, and not the way we had planned.  

Let me prepare the scene by telling you that our station wagon had taken our family to a camping vacation earlier in the year.  At that time I backed into a rock that was just low enough to fit under the back bumper, and just high enough to hit the tail pipe.  This makes for an interesting experience.  

The tail pipe bent just enough to make a shorter route from the holding bracket at the bumper and the holding bracket at the muffler.  This created a tension on the junction of the pipe with the muffler which shortly worked the muffler joint loose.  Now when the tailpipe comes loose from the muffler, it can be jerryrigged with a wire coat hanger until a more permanent fix can be done.  But if that tension happens to dislodge the muffler from the exhaust pipe coming from the engine, it is an entirely different experience.  It is the sound of an airplane engine.  It cannot be ignored or postponed.  

We jerryrigged it nevertheless, and all was well.  That is, all was well until we took the car for our anniversary outing.

I wore my tweed suit and gussied up for my special girl.  We were on our way to the restaurant when we were rudely reminded that wire coat hanger jerryrigs don't last forever.  We were making prop plane imitations that could turn heads for miles.  And yet we happened to be on a portion of highway that was relatively uninhabited.  Like it or not, this racket had to be abated and right now.  

There was a light rain falling.  The roadway was wet, but not flooded.  My tweed suit was not my best suit, but until now, looked rather nice.  I resigned myself to the fact that I had to crawl under the car, suit and all, to make the repair.  While struggling with the wire and the hot tail pipe in the gritty puddle I began to see the humor in our situation.  We usually tend to take ourselves too seriously anyway.  It was during this struggle that I noticed the seam in the crotch of my trousers was ripping open.  By the time I had concluded the second jerryrig, I had opened a slit several inches long, just at the crucially private section of my anatomy.

Now we had to make a decision.  Undaunted, we chose to complete our special date night with the dinner reservation.  After parking the car we engaged strategy for me to follow close behind Barbara so as to block the view of my embarrassing exposure.  It seemed to work well, but we may have looked strange as I walked so closely behind her that we seemed to be playing the game of shadow.  When we were shown to our table, I had another challenge.   The table cloth was not long and did not fall much over the edge of the table.  My exposure would be evident to the whole world if I didn't keep my legs crossed.  Suddenly I realized how modest young ladies must be trained, and I needed to learn in just a few minutes.

So between the airplane noise of the exhaust pipe, the drippy environment and the ripped crotch of my suit, we began to giggle about the evening.  I have no idea what we had to eat that night, but I will never forget the loud car and the torn pants.  It was a special evening after, but it was providential humor that made it special.

Monday, March 30, 2015

First church and first home

Fresh out of seminary and trying to plant a church is not an easy situation.  The men who were earmarked for leadership had a poor notion of seminary education and a consequent faulty set of expectations of me.  I think they adopted the caricatured model of seminary being some magical institution that opened my head and poured into it all the knowledge of Scripture and theology I would ever need.  They were quite puzzled that I needed to spend my mornings in the study rather than going door to door and winning converts to fill our chapel.

I did go door to door, but since no one ever taught me how to be effective at this, it yielded few results.  A nice atheist couple with whom I had extensive conversation never attended church.  And yet a year later they called me on the phone, asking if I was willing to christen their new baby.  I did learn that the longer I could engage strangers in friendly talk, the more inclined they were to receive an invitation from me.

We lived on Railroad Avenue in Neptune, NJ.  As you might have guessed, across the street from out second floor apartment were railroad tracks.  It was a shabby apartment in the shabby part of town.  There were large patches of pealing paint in the stairwell, and the roaches ran for cover when we turned on the light at night.

Philip, our first born, was a rug rat here.  He was 16 months when Calvin was born, but hadn't decided to walk as yet.  We had a borrowed little 6 mo. crib in the middle of our living room, and that is where we laid our precious new family member.  We thought it a good idea to tell Phil that we were bringing home a baby for him.  He took well to this catechizing, and he used to crawl over to the crib, pull himself up and reach into the crib.  He would gently stroke baby Calvin's head and say, "Baby, baby".  It was really quite cute.

But Calvin had developed jaundice and returned to the hospital at 8 days of age.  His bilirubin count was just a few points below demanding a transfusion before his body caught up with the process.  My poor wife had to commute to and from the hospital to nurse him (even though the medical community discouraged it).  When the Sabbath came, these nascent leaders demanded that she continue to play the piano for services.  I was too foolish and too weak to stand up for my wife, and she carried the burden.

When Phil crawled over to the crib and did his routine, he reached his hand into the empty crib and said with an inquisitive tone of voice, "Baby?".  We both wept.

Phil may have enjoyed that apartment more than anyone else.  He loved standing at the front windows, watching the choo choo chug by.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Procrastination

I've heard it said that procrastination is the main doctrine of the Presbyterian church.  I'm thinking this ignorant quip may be unintentionally close to the truth.  I used to have a motto sign on my desk which said, "I'm going to stop putting things off, starting tomorrow."

If it weren't for the last minute, I wouldn't get anything done.

"Procrastination always gives you something to look forward to." (Joan Konner)

"One of the greatest labor-saving inventions of today is tomorrow." (Vincent T. Foss)

We like to make jokes of procrastination, but there are occasions that it is anything but funny.

New Year resolutions are a strange twist on procrastination.  We put off committing ourselves to a course of action that we know is the right thing to do (lose 10 pounds, for example), but we wait until New Year's Day to begin.  If it is something good and right to do (either for self or others) then why in the world did we wait until the first of the year to do it?

Christopher Parker said, "Procrastination is like a credit card; it's a lot of fun until you get the bill."

In fact James 4:17 says there is a kind of procrastination that is sin.  They are called sins of omission.  "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin."

James gives good reasons not to procrastinate.  For one thing life is short.  Our life is but a vapor.  For another thing, providence is quite unpredictable.  You do not know what a day may bring forth.

And for all that you'll never know how long I put off publishing this post.  Where is that sign that used to be on my desk?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Jehovah and the Jitney

As a young pastor I fancied myself as a pastor for the youth group.  Whenever there was an activity I was driving a carload of kids to attend.  We went to snow camp.  We went to youth rallies.  Sometimes our weekly meeting required some transportation by me.

I found my joy in being accepted by high schoolers as not only the leader, but part of the group.  It's my opinion that kids take me more seriously if they see that I like to play and have a more balanced personality than they may have originally thought.

In my first church I couldn't seem to get the group started on the right foot until one of the girls in the church determined that she was going to make it work.  She had a strong character and a commanding manor.  I think she may have threatened some of her school friends, I don't really know this, but she showed me how important it was for the young people themselves to take ownership of the project.

Anyway, Bonnie's brow-beating invitations brought together 20 or more kids to the first meeting at her house.  A couple of the boys took turns leading the Bible study portion of our meetings.  Then we had refreshments and played some special games and just hung out (before that term was actually invented).  What was so remarkable was that this meeting took place on Friday nights, competing with the local basketball games.  And the kids kept coming back.  Only when I thought there was needed supplementation or that we were straying from the meat of the text did I offer my comments.  The Lord was with us.  These kids even talked about spiritual matters during the "hanging out" part of the meeting.

One of the neighbor kids who had visited the group came knocking on my door one night, asking me to tell her what made them tick.  She said she could see these kids had something she did not have, and she wanted to know what it was.  Talk about a straight line!  We talked about Jesus as I explained the gospel and she asked Christ to come into her life.

One year, coming home from a winter camp, my Rambler American stuffed with kids, we were delayed by freezing rain and snow.  This wasn't the fluffy stuff that blows and drifts like baby powder before a fan.  This was crunchy stuff that hit and stuck and froze up my windshield wipers more than once during our treacherous journey.  I stopped and relieved the wiper blades of ice formations more than once.  Here I was leaning over this slushy car, whacking the nascent glaciers off as the traffic squished by, throwing dirty slushy snow at my feet.

All I could think about is how the parents of these young people must be worried about them, and how I could get them home sooner.  Oh yeah, this was long before the day when everyone owned a cell phone.  In fact they had not yet been invented.

The final stop before heading home was to drop off the daughter of an important business man in Westfield, NJ.  My home was still 40 miles south and it was dinner time and I wanted to get home.  It seems that this family was holding a formal dinner with friends, and they invited me to stay and eat with them.  I squirmed at the invitation because although I was hungry, I could hardly be more inappropriately dressed with my dirty, wet blue jeans and sweat shirt.  The girl's father was so genuine and disarming that I did stay and sit amid these suits and ties and gowns.  He said he could always trust me to take good care of the kids, and that he really wanted me to dine with them.

We don't deserve to sit with Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb either.  It is only at His gracious invitation that we dare to come.  But when Jesus calls you just can't say "No".  In that case He actually takes away our filthy garments and clothes us with spotless clothing, reflective of the holiness that He drapes over every believer who heeds His call.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

9 out of 10

Nine out of 10 readers of this blog are of Mensa intelligence.  Since you are now reading this blog, you want to believe this statistic, and are willing to accept it.  Of course, I made it up out of my own fertile imagination.  It is possible that I have taken a scientific survey.  I tested 10 of my friends and found 9 of them to be so intelligent.  But, alas, I didn't even do that.  I just flat out lied.  We all know that old hack, figures don't lie, but liars can figure.

If I told you that 9 out of 10 statistics are drawn out of thin air, you might be willing to accept that because of your own experience with alleged and suspicious published statistics.  But that would simply be praying on your unfortunate anecdotal evidence.  But anecdotal is no more scientific than my fertile imagination or polemical guesswork.

I remember reading that coliform bacterium can travel through 12 sheets of toilet paper in 4 seconds.  I suspect that this is one of those phony statistics, but it's graphic image has improved my sanitary habits by a large degree.

I guess it all goes back to the truism that we tend to believe what we want to believe.  Isn't there any source of statistics that we can trust?

Even scientific statistics are subject to our skeptical scrutiny.  We were told of the danger of eating butter with all the fat content.  Now they are saying that margarine is worse for us than the butter.  We learned that artificial sweeteners are a must because of the dangers of too much sugar.  Then a study came out to show us that artificial sweeteners create formaldehyde on the brain.  We get the idea that these scientific studies draw conclusions most complimentary to the interests that are funding the study.

We seem to do best by listening to someone who really knows, and taking it on his authority.  It's good to have a PhD chemist or engineer as a friend.  He may have read both studies and can explain how there is partial truth in each camp.  He may be able to read between the lines of esoteric phraseology and tell you what the study report really means.  It's nice to hear from someone who really knows.

When you find yourself stuck in the middle of a mine field, it would be a good thing to know who drew up the map you decide to use.

And, of course, that brings me to our Lord, Jesus Christ.  He didn't have an engineering degree, but He knows.  And He is the one who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me."  He also said, "Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in Him who sent me has eternal life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death into life." (John 5:24)

You ask me, "What are his credentials?  Why should we believe him?"  That's a fair question.  The short answer is: because he came out of the grave to prove it.  Jesus predicted His death by crucifixion and his resurrection 3 days later.  Then those who were eye witnesses gave us their dossiers.  You find them in the first four books of the New Testament.  Don't scoff until you read them.