Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Children learning to walk

No, actually they are not my children, but I have a claim on their lives.  As a retired minister I can understand the apostle John's feelings when he wrote, "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth." (III John 4)  John is not talking about genetic relationships.  During his long ministry in Ephesus, John had to see children, raised in the church and latching on to Jesus Christ with the same faith their parents exercised years ahead of them.

Perhaps he had in mind those who as adults first came to know our Savior under his ministry.  Trials had confused many and injured the faith that many had confessed.  In the early days of the church it was illegal to be a Christian.  Some had moved away and John had lost track of them.  John himself had been sent to exile on the island of Patmos.  And what goes through the mind of a pastor who has learned to love his people so?  He wonders how it is with their souls.

What a joy, then, when someone brings a good report about one of these "children" of the apostle.  His circumstances were transformed by the news that one of his children was still walking with the Lord.  He is walking in the truth.  In spite of the bombardment of propaganda about the divinity of Caesar (not to mention the threat against those who denied it) John heard that his children were walking in the truth.  This is what brought greater joy to the heart of this aged apostle than anything else.

That is the joy I recently experienced, seeing dear ones to whom I had the awesome privilege of ministering the gospel in years past.  This young lady who has now finished two years of college was a precocious two year old when I first loved her.  She shows every evidence that she sincerely loves Jesus, and is doing her best to walk with Him in her daily life.  She has done short-term missionary service and she chooses godly Christian friends.  She still delights her parents without a hint of rebellion.

Her adorable sister used to dance across the floor more often than walk.  I knew her, and spoke to her even before she was born.  She is making the same good friends and walking the same path with the same Lord Jesus.  The brothers seem to be headed the right direction also.  It brings me great joy to hear and see these things.

Her inseparable friend is another case in point.  Geography finally did separate these two, but in kindred spirits they have maintained their mutually edifying friendship.  This second girl's mother is another whom I would like to claim as one of my children in the Lord.  Though I did not bring her to initial faith in Christ, I had the privilege of encouraging her through some hard places, and the evidence of her love for Jesus has never been more obvious in any one's life.  It makes her one of the most beautiful women I have ever known.  She and her daughter are walking in the truth, and I find it an emotional and spiritual high to see them again, knowing they love the same Savior.

Of course I am pleased to hear that these friends are well.  It is a joy to know they are happy.  But you need to know that I have no greater joy than to hear that these "children" are walking in the truth.  They love Jesus, and I anticipate hearing even greater things from them and abut them.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Resurrection epistemology

How is it that you know you are not just a butterfly having a dream?

How do you know the sun will come up tomorrow?

How do you know you are going to heaven?

The answer to these--and so many more questions--is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead three days after His crucifixion.

You might say that you are going to heaven because Christ died for your sins.  This is not a wrong answer, but it is not complete.  Jesus died for your sins--and rose again the third day!

Thousands of criminals were executed by Roman crucifixion over the years of the empire.  Enthusiastic friends of any one of them might make the same claim.  "Hey, Simeon said he would die for my sins, and I believe him."  What's to prove him wrong...or right?  He may have died right enough, but what evidence is there that Simeon's death, or Christ's death, had any significance for you?

The only One who can forgive sins is God.  And the only One who can raise the dead is also God.  Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection. (Rom. 1:4)  "Christ died for our sins, and he was buried and he was raised again on the third day, according to the Scriptures." (I Cor. 15:3, 4)

Without the resurrection of Christ, we would be left to blind faith--the kind of faith unbelievers smirkingly think we Christians exercise.  Faith is not just wanting something to be true.  Christian faith is based on evidence that we consider trustworthy.  That's the way human beings think.  Christian faith is not blind faith.  It is faith in facts.  Not much different than faith that the sun will rise tomorrow that is based on facts about our universe and about earth's rotation.

But Christian facts include those that are revealed in the Bible.  Unbelievers are denied access to all this data by choice.  They think it is no loss, because they suppose the Bible is made up of fairy tales and other stuff that requires blind faith.

Christians believe the Bible because Jesus said it was true.  He said the Scriptures cannot be broken.  He said in that book we have eternal life.  And He also said that the Scriptures speak of Him.  The thing is, Jesus predicted His death by crucifixion and His resurrection three days later.  He taught it over and over again.  Then these same disciples whom He taught were caught by surprise and were discouraged and confused by His death.  Moreover they were shocked out of their proverbial socks to see and touch the risen Christ.  When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in about 55 AD, he mentioned an occasion on which more than 500 people saw the resurrected Christ at the same time.  This was but 20 some years after the event, but no one came forth to challenge that claim.  The tomb was empty.  The body was nowhere to be found by His enemies.

There are many who began to read the Bible just to discount the Christian faith who had their head (and heart) turned by the power of the Holy Spirit as they read the Scriptures.  Please don't mock until you have read it for yourself.  Honesty will then require you to at least admit that the accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection were written by sober men who themselves believed the resurrection to be fact.

Of course we know that it is impossible for dead people to come alive again.  Brain tissue begins to deteriorate within minutes, and the rest is not far behind.  Every Christian also knows this.  The only possible exception to this scientific fact must be accomplished by God, who created human flesh in the first place.  It had to be impossible in order for God to make His point.  Christ is risen, and therefore He is right.  No one else in the history of the world can make that claim.  It's not that we Christians are light minded dolts who swallow every story told them.  The difference between being a Christian and not being one, is not a matter of intelligence.  It comes down to a different source of data with which to make informed decisions.

If you're not a Christian, and you are reading this (of course you are), my plea is simply that you would read through the Gospel of John, and see if God is speaking to you in these words.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dodger Reject

I can remember the day I woke up to the reality that I would never play professional baseball.  Admittedly it came rather late in life, but it was a definite point in my personal history.  Many years before that realization I had already turned in my uniform to attend church instead.  Nevertheless, that thought enjoyed lingering in the back of my mind for much too long.

But that's not when the Dodgers rejected me.  No, that was a rejection by the Southern Pacific Railroad municipal league team.  In fact the Dodgers couldn't care less about my baseball skills.  That doesn't break my heart.

What does break my heart is that the Dodgers couldn't care less about my prowess as a Dodger fan.  It is as a devoted, 60 year commitment, blue blooded rooter that I have been rejected by the Dodgers.  I learned to listen to Dodger games

In order to pay obscene salaries to their stars, the Dodgers have contracted with filthy lucre for 4 billion (yes, with a "B") dollars to own their own TV channel, which is exclusively available through Time Warner Cable.  Since I have DirecTV, this is not an option for me.  I found out that about 70% of Southern California has also been cut off from TV access.  If my provider will not contract for exorbitant fees, I'm left out in the cold.

The Dodgers advertise that I should write my provider, asking them to pay the extortion to give me this access.  Even Clayton Kershaw, a beloved Christian brother, has been contracted to be a barker for this sideshow flimflam, beseeching fans to lobby for this service by paying the extraordinary extortion.

When the O'Mally family owned the Dodgers, we were proud of this baseball club.  They developed their own players in a well-developed farm team system.  While other teams were shamelessly out to buy winning teams, we used to take comfort that our Dodgers were still a traditional baseball organization rather than just another multi-million dollar business.  We thought they were a "class act", but now we are forced to admit that they are just another "crass act", trying to buy a World Series trophy.  Did I hear that they are in fact the highest salaried team in baseball?

To see a game fleeces me of $15 to park, $35 for a seat and $5 for a hot dog.  I guess I am able to afford this once or twice a season, but I'm not sure I want to any more.  I feel like a Dodger reject.  They don't want me to follow the progress of the team during the season.  They don't want me to be able to see them play on TV.  So why should I care whether they win or lose?

Loyalty dies hard.  I still care too much how Kershaw pitches this year.  I am pulling for Dee Gordon to hit so well that they dare not send him down.  I desperately want to see Puig learn from his foolish mistakes and childish attitude.  I guess I am doomed to remain a Dodger fan for this year at least, but I am going to try my best to break the habit.

"Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction."  (I Timothy 6:9)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

On being grace-minded

No matter how long you've walked with God, there is that remnant nub of works-righteousness hiding in our reborn hearts.

"How can I expect God to bless my day when I so recently sinned against Him?"  

"I need to read a lot of scripture and bring dinner to a needy family before I will feel confident to ask God for anything."

Imagine how David must have felt when he had to flee Jerusalem and the palace because of reports that his rebel son, Absolom, was closing in upon him, stealing the hearts of Israel and seizing the palace.

Samuel records him trudging up Mt. Olivet with his head slumped and tears forcing their way down his rugged cheeks.  How dreadfully he had sinned with Bathsheba, and how miserably he multiplied his guilt by planning the death of her husband.  Though David repented, and though Nathan, the prophet of God, told him his sin was forgiven, there were consequences with which David would be haunted.  One of those consequences was trouble in his own household.  Now it was coming in more dramatic form than David could have guessed.

Shimei threw gravel at David and cursed him from the hill top as David was making his way out of town.  David restrained his faithful companion from wreaking vengeance, saying, "Let him alone, and let him curse for the Lord has told him."  

But David was grace-minded.  He knew God as few people do.  Later God calls him the man after "my own heart".  When God forgives sin, He actually puts it from us as far as the east is from the west.  A forgiven sinner is always a recipient of God's blessings.  He always enjoys direct communication to God.

Fast forward to Psalm 3.  This Psalm specifically identifies itself as being composed on the occasion of David's flight from Absolom.  He bemoans the fact that his enemies are multiplying, and they are saying that God will not help him.  It was tempting to believe those taunts because David was forever aware of his sin.

But David knows that God is a friend for forgiven sinners, and He is never a fickle friend.  He says, "But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the One who lifts my head."  Leaving Zion, David's head was bowed, but God lifted that dear head in due time.

"Salvation belongs to the Lord" David shouts at the crescendo of the Psalm.  Only one who is grace-minded can do that in such circumstances.  Sin disqualifies us from the favor of God.  Our shame would take us to the mat and hold us there except for one thing: Salvation belongs to the Lord.  Once He has declared His love for you, there is no way He will change His mind.  After all, He knows the end from the beginning so what could possibly make Him change His mind?  Since salvation is dependent upon what God has done, rather than upon anything you have done, it is secure for now and for eternity.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Running Boards

Just when I thought this term was obsolete I see an advertisement for truck running boards.  It seems to be the latest and coolest accessory for your chic truck.   A running board is a fancy step just under the door of your truck to help you climb into your monster.  Baloney!  I remember when all cars (and trucks) had a running board.  Ecclesiastes is right: there is nothing new under the sun.

I fondly remember my Aunt Rose's model A Ford.  It had a rumble seat (go grab your dictionary for that one), and it had running boards.  It was so cool to stand on her running board and cling to the window frame as she drove slowly down our street.  For a nine year old boy this was such daring fun.  But in  my youthful judgement the ground was not going past me all that fast.  Before my Aunt could stop me I jumped from the running board to the pavement and said, "Bye!" only to discover my running gait was not as quick as I had calculated.  I hit the pavement with a resounding "splat".  Of course Aunt Rose immediately stopped the car to see if I was injured.  When she discovered that it was only my pride that was damaged, she breathed a sigh of relief.  And from that day forward she loved to tell the story, with great dramatic flair, especially with the onomatopoetic "splat" to finish the account.  I was (and I guess I still am) sensitive to the "dissing" of embarrassing stories about me.

Then there was LeRoy Rafner's running board.  He was a high school buddy of mine.  When the "gang" wanted to go to the movies or play a little over-the-line, it was not uncommon for us to help LeRoy deliver papers on his route so we could get going sooner.  He must have had an old Chevy sedan circa 1938, with running boards from which we would toss the papers at his direction.  One of the guys handed a paper out the window to one of us on the running board on either side of the car, depending on which side of the street was the next target house.  To tell the truth I'm not sure we saved all that much time, but we did it because it was fun.

Looking back on these intimate experiences with running boards, I'm wondering how long it will take our nanny government to pass laws against the stuff we did as kids with these new fangled things called "running boards".

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dental Records

Okay, so I watch too many crime dramas.  One of the educational benefits is how to identify bodies burned beyond recognition.  Now we don't have to deal with this issue on a day to day basis, but it is interesting that such identities are usually made by comparing dental records.

The older a person gets he realizes just how unique each person's set of teeth and assisting faux implements might be.

This came to my mind simply because I have recently been rendered in need of repair to these faux implements.  I was innocently chewing on a dried peach when I heard a dreadful "crunch".  At first I feared that I had found a seed in the peach.  But I soon learned that the problem was a broken front bridge when three connected front teeth fell into my lap.

I saved them in a discarded medicine bottle.  But the immediate problem was this was Saturday night, and the next day I was scheduled to minister the Lord's Supper and teach adult class in Sunday School at our church in Costa Mesa.  The thought briefly occurred to me that a little Krazy Glue might create another cute little endorsement story, but I chickened out.

My wife suggested I might get by as long as I don't smile.  You want me to live a day without smiling? That's not going to happen.  I checked out the mirror, and she was right, so I compromised.  During the Lord's Supper I kept the stiff upper lip, and not a soul noticed my problem.  But these are my friends, so when it came time for Sunday School (in this church SS follows worship hour) I just had a little fun explaining my problem, and then turned to the Psalm for study.

I told them the story of the guy who was scheduled to be an after dinner speaker, but during dinner he broke his teeth.  In frustration he turned to the man seated next to him and explained his dilemma.  To his surprise the man reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a set of teeth.  He thought his problem was temporarily solved until he discovered the teeth were too large for his mouth.  "Great try, but I'm afraid these won't fit.  Thanks for the effort."  But to his utter shock, the man reached into the other coat pocket and produced another set of teeth.  They fit just well enough for him to deliver his brief message and sit down.  "Wow, am I glad that's over.  And what luck was that for me to sit right next to a dentist!"  "What dentist?" the man said, "I'm an undertaker."

That may have been a tactical error, because it was with difficulty I helped the crowd to give serious minded devotion to the text of Psalm 3 (which, ironically, has the line "you have shattered the teeth of the wicked").

Now the dentist says I have an abscess beneath one of those anchor teeth.  I need to get them extracted, let the swelling subside, and then begin molds for the eventual installation of a removable plate.  This stuff happens when you are the local fossil.  I don't need to be concerned about dying in a fiery crash.  My dentist can identify me as one in a million.

All that dental work will take time, of course, and now I am scheduled to preach in Tucson, AZ on March 2, and my mouth will have no aesthetic improvement between now and then.  As God says to Moses who was "slow of speech": "Who made man's mouth?"  I pray His word will be clear and plain even from my crooked mouth.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Carl Sandberg (not the poet)

If you asked me to list the top 10 most unforgettable characters I've met in my life, Carl Sandberg would certainly be among them.

Carl was a student of theology, and a contemporary of mine.  He finished his undergraduate at the same tiny college I attended, but a year before me.  He told me that he had been a Communist in Chicago, as was his father, when his attention got arrested by the preaching of a street team from a charismatic church.  He began attending this church, where he was subsequently converted.

He became a bit uncomfortable with the emotional antics of this church group, and found his way into a very narrow baptist church: the General Association of Regular Baptists.  For those not acquainted with this church, may I say they are as jealous of orthodoxy as the OPC, and sometimes just as cantankerous.  They seem willing to doubt the orthodoxy of every other denomination, with the possible exception of the OPC.  The reason for this exception was the early association two of these professors had with J. Gresham Machen.

Carl told me that at this point in his life he was drifting more and more into reformed thinking as a result of his study of the Bible.  In fact during Greek class at the Baptist school, he was called upon to translate Acts 9:18 and he read: "and he stood up and was baptized".  Against accusations of misinterpretation, Carl said he merely translated it.

Eventually someone at L. A. Baptist said he ought to be an Orthodox Presbyterian instead of a baptist.  He said, "What's that?"  And that is how he was introduced to the OPC.

Carl always had a controversial point of view, and accompanied his views with a controversial attitude.
Someone who knew Carl better than I said, "As far as personality alone is concerned, he should have remained a Communist."

At Westminster Seminary, following a class taught by Meredith Kline, Carl approached the professor, telling him of a book he read in which the author reconciles the Egyptian dating with that of the Bible.  Dr. Kline seemed fascinated with the idea and so he asked how he does this.  Carl said the author proposed that Egyptian dating was off by several years.  In response Dr. Kline threw back his head, laughed, and announced, "He's out of his mind!"  Then he picked up his bulky brief case and stalked out of the room.  Carl was left with his mouth hanging open.

Speechless was not a frequent posture of Carl.  He had a way of interrogating, rather than questioning, when he raised his hand in class.  Van Til and Clowney were frequent beneficiaries of Carl's whetting encounters.  The major exception was his appreciation of Professor John Murray.  In fact he once wrote me a note during class, saying, "Why don't we hear this good stuff in our home churches?"  I don't know where he attended church, but my home church did teach me good theology.  Immediately after I read the note I found the good professor standing next to me with his hand outstretched.  Into that hand I deposited the aforementioned note, being grateful that it was flattering rather than derogatory.

A mutual friend of Carl and another student, Alan Wyat, anticipated with apprehension the sparks that might fly when these two fiery personalities finally met.  The occasion, as best I can recall, was the return of a borrowed hauling trailer.  One of the principles offered an outrageous opinion about a current event.  The other countered with a psychiatric evaluation of the speaker, and suddenly the fat was in the fire.  These were now Christian men, in whom the Holy Spirit had begun, but by no means completed, the work of sanctification.  Therefore there were no fisticuffs.  But there were barrages of verbal exchange that raised concern for all in the room.

Neither of these men completed the course of seminary with me.  To the best of my knowledge they both dropped out of Westminster.  Subsequent careers of either man are not known to me.  I read that Carl was a teacher in a Christian school in Virginia, but that exhausts my information.