Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Diet notes

Last night we went to Chili's for dinner. Our son, Bobby and his daughter, Ashley, are with us from Memphis to help prepare for our move. So when we bring a party of 4 into the restaurant, I am not shy about ordering a bowl of hot water. I bring out my powder pack of soup and tear it open and start stirring. So while they were enjoying chicken tenders and Cajun pasta Alfredo, I was enjoying scientifically calibrated chicken soup. Yum, yum!

A certain camaraderie develops among the class members in this dieting project. We let down our hair and talk about constipation and gas and ridicule or dire warning from outsiders. Rodney tells me that he saves his weight record print outs, and I told him that I do too. They compose my highest incentive to keep my commitment. So we just met for our 5th week and I have lost 21 pounds. I think others in the class have lost more, but now I don't care. If I continue to lose an average of 5 pounds a week for the entire program (which they say is not a likely thing) I will have lost an even 100 pounds. My original goal was to weigh less than 200 pounds. That will require 65 more pounds to lose.

Do I think about food? You'd better believe it. I long for a sausage sandwich with a bratwurst and sauteed peppers and onions bathed with mayonnaise. I think my celebrative meal when I finally finish, however, should be a lobster dinner at Ports O' Call. I'll have veggies and maybe the salad bar with it. But sweet Maine lobster meat, dipped in drawn butter...slurp, smack...YES!

Throwing my life away

We are at moving day in 30 days. As the countdown continues, we stand transfixed in our steps with waves of emotion sweeping over us. How did we get here? How in the world are we ever going to do this? There are far more boxes than there is storage space. We rented two storage units and we bought a Tuff Shed for the back yard, and still there is not nearly enough room.

Our thinking simply must be shifted to throw away mode. We are not used to that. For the past 25 years we have been in "save it we might have use for it someday" mode. That makes for an incredible number of boxes and bins. One entire storage unit is choked with Christmas stuff. Another is piled high with my library. It is painful for me to throw away any book. It is hard to realize that I haven't enough years left to use all these books, let alone read many of them. But of course my excuse is that most of them are reference type books which I use to look up something and then return it to the shelf.

Then there is the good junk category. Toys that we have kept so long that they are entering the antique category. We could sell them on eBay, I suppose, but will we? I keep threatening to buy a used circus tent and set it up in the back yard of our new residence to stack all the stuff that will not fit elsewhere. I'm not so sure that it is a joke any more.

The truly difficult part of this whole ordeal is that this downsizing requires us to throw away parts of our lives. I remember when we were holding a yard sale of my father-in-law's trinkets. The man wept because he saw his life being sold for nickels and dimes. Mine is being given away. Seminary families, women's shelter, Goodwill and friends all have been recipients of some of our life gadgets. I'm sure there are more books waiting for my study to be set up than I will have shelf space to store them. I must prune the library and toss the excess. That will hurt. More and more of my life that is on hold in storage will actually have to be jettisoned, and that is painful. If we had a big fire I suppose it would save a little time, and I would hope to adopt the attitude that "it's only stuff". Just right this moment, however, we are in pain.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Tis the season

Because the calendar dictates, this time of year everyone is supposed to be a little more the way we ought to be all the time: cheerful, kind and considerate of others. I am thankful for the slight change of climate in our culture, for even though it is very temporary, it is a lean in the right direction. When Jesus sends His Spirit to live in His people, that Spirit teaches us to be like Jesus. And that is cheerful, kind and considerate of others. In fact we are told to consider others as more important than self. Our Savior actually taught us to love our enemies, and showed us he wasn't kidding when he prayed for his executioners, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Those who do not have the Spirit of God in them will always be temporary. But to the degree that they make an effort, they demonstrate that they know this (the Christian lifestyle) is how they should live.

The dramas I see on TV like to show the Bible believer as a dangerous mental case who is just as likely to be a terrorist or serial killer as any other psychopath. In a bid for political correctness, the Muslim is portrayed as misunderstood, while the Christian (if he is not portrayed as the bad guy) is portrayed as a strange aberration from the comfortable friends that usually surround us.

Then I remember that Jesus warned us that the world would hate us because it hates Him.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On second thought...

Now I'm working on my third week of dieting, and I have something to say. Radical dieting works. I checked in on Wed (because I missed class on Monday by taking my wife to a concert of the Manheim Steamroller) and according to their scale I had lost over 15 pounds. Now that's what I consider progress. I need to ask why some of my blood sugar readings are growing a trifle high in the morning. Maybe I'm not eternally done with diabetic medicine. That would be a bummer.

I think I feel a little better, but the process is gradual and therefore difficult to measure. I think it is a tiny bit easier to mount the stairs. But it may be a psychological trick my mind plays on me because I expect to feel better. Then again, 15 lbs of potatoes makes a heavy sack to carry up and down stairs. Why then should not 15 lbs of disgusting lard not register the same? My daughter asked if I could breathe any better. She remembers visiting me in the hospital when I had a difficult bout with pneumonia. Well, I think I breathe a little better, but I'm not sure that it's not my euphoria over losing that weight that I'm measuring.

Anyway, I remain committed for the long haul. And it will become very long before we finish. I don't think I will ever order a shake in a restaurant for the remainder of my aged life. They are sweet and tasty, but it all becomes tediously boring in due time. The slightly chalky after taste is nicely eliminated with a stick of sugarless gum. The surprise remains to be the fact that I'm really not hungry! I long for a sausage sandwich with sauteed onions and peppers, or a slice of Rosario's pizza, or a Sourdough Jack. But that's because I'm bored with diet food, not because I'm hungry. I'm afraid they will try to tell me to never eat that delicious cuisine again or else. There has to be a compromise. Maybe limit myself to one sausage sandwich a month? Ahhh...slurp, slurp.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dieting stinks

Well we finished our first week of the "Optifast" super diet, and the class checked in last night. I was really hyped up about the program, and (because of the testimonies we heard on the DVD introduction) I expected to lose 10 or more pounds. I followed the program exactly without cheating (even when attending a Christmas party with loads of goodies to eat). But when I weighed in I found I had only lost 5 pounds. I must confess that I was a little discouraged at that. Then when I learned that everyone else in the group (11) had lost more than I did (some more than twice as much), something close to depression set in.

We know that weight loss is a relatively simple equation. When you ingest more calories than you burn, the body stores it as fat. When you ingest less, the body compensates by burning the stored calories. On this diet the ingestion is a fixed figure. Obviously the only adjustment I can make, therefore is to burn more calories. I need to exercise more. But my spine gives me fits of pain when I stand or walk too long. I have been riding my stationary bicycle for 20 minutes a day, but that has not been enough. I guess I will have to ride twice a day. The rest of the time I should be on the move around the house, preparing to move. When I walk around for a tiny little chore (take out the trash) I need to sit and recuperate.

I am happy to report that my blood sugar levels have not exceeded the parameters of normal from the day I began. I would say that this alone is worth the trouble and expense of this diet. But my sights were set a good deal higher. I had hoped to lose 80 pounds. Don't laugh. Many people lose that and more. But when I weighed in it was like I hit the wall. It was cold water splashed in my face. Come to, dude, you're only kidding yourself about the 80 pounds. It will never happen. Out of the thousands of people before you there were probably only 6 who have lost that much, and so they were interviewed for the purposes of advertising.

I remain committed to the full 20 week program, but my hopes have suffered a severe blow. I tell myself that it will be worth all 20 weeks if I can stay off diabetes medication for the rest of my life. Also there is the investment of the cost of the program that is an incentive to continue. Money is a lousy incentive, I find.

Okay, I refuse to growl in every post, but I thought at least one honest report is necessary since this is such a dominant part of my life at this time. All those wonderful church dinners have come home to haunt me now. Ahhh, such is life. Whatsoever a mans sews, that shall he also reap.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Remembering the good guys

I was only partially aware of my great privilege, sitting at the feet of the professors I experienced at Westminster Theological Seminary. Some young bucks are awestruck when they learn that I had Van Til, Murray, Young and Stonehouse as professors. They are the men who wrote the books! They taught the professors who are now teaching at other reformed seminaries. Stories about these men circulate in our small reformed circle of aged friends.

Today I want to remember a story or two about Professor John Murray. He was held in awesome esteem by his students because he had a stern glare to aim at anyone who made unnecessary noise in class. Once he snatched from my quaking hands a note that had only recently been passed from one of my classmates. It read "Why haven't we heard any of this good stuff in our churches back home?" or something reasonably close to that. He didn't allow questions until the end of the class hour. And it was common knowledge that a man's grade was higher or lower in direct correlation to just how accurately he quoted Mr. Murray's lectures during exams.

Carl Erickson tells of the day they were moving earth in preparation for the foundation of the Van Til memorial library. The room was a bit "close" and so the window was open. But the machinery competed with Mr. Murray's voice for the dominant decibels in the room. One of the boys raised his hand and said, "Mr. Murray could you repeat your last sentence, please? I couldn't hear it because of the Caterpillar." However Mr. Murray was not conversant with the brand names of earth moving equipment. He responded with incredulity in his voice, "The caterpillar?"

Jack Peterson tells how he was chosen to transport Mr. Murray from San Francisco to Los Angeles during his lecture tour. He asked Mr. Murray if there was anything he wished to see along their travels. Mr. Murray asked if they could stop to see the giant Sequoias. Jack said that while they were driving through Sequoia National Park Mr. Murray suddenly ordered Jack to "Stop the car!" He stepped out of the car and wandered over to one particularly large tree and just stood there, looking up. When Jack approached him, Mr. Murray simply said, "Isn't it grand, Jack. Isn't it grand."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Finally getting started

Everybody in the world knew about my diet project before it even started. What enormous pressure I am feeling because of that! I guess I need to feel accountable to someone because that will help me remain on track. But I dislike the idea of being accountable to a thousand people. I hate the possibility of losing 40 pounds and feeling that I have failed because I fell so short of my goal. If I were running a marathon (hah! fat chance) and all my friends and family came out to cheer me on, and I dropped out after 3 miles, that would match the kind of embarrassment I anticipate with the loss of 40 pounds. It would have been a lot easier just to lose weight on the sly and let people notice and ask, "Hey! you've lost a lot of weight haven't you?" Then if it was 40 pounds it would be deemed a great success. Okay, my main problem is with me. My dear family is so supportive, they will never consider this effort a failure. I am the one who will count it a failure.

So today is my second day. I am happy to report to you that the shakes are really very tasty. I get 4 shakes and a soup each day. The soup this week is "Garden Tomato" and it is excellent. I only enhanced it a little with a strong dash of Tobasco. I realize that the beginning of this diet is easier in the sense that it is a novelty. That cavernous feeling I anticipated in the stomach has not developed. When I watch TV I think I should be eating some comfort food, and so I must fight off a case of the munchies. But I have freebies to help. A cup of hot tea with Splenda is allowed twice a day. Sugarless gum is also a crutch. I am also allowed as many as two diet sodas a day. I think the biggest key is to keep tanked up on water. The regimen requires 64 ounces a day. A tummy full of water does not cry for food.

I also learned that the water helps in several ways to wash away body fat.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Diet countdown

One week from tonight I go to my first class. There we will be given beginning instructions and our "food" supplies. Then for the next 13 weeks or so it is liquid diet for me. I wish I had begun the diet the night I signed up for it. I could be a couple of weeks into it by now, and all my friends and relatives who are hearing about this would see that I have plunged through the hard part--the first week. But as reality dictates, groups are scheduled at monthly intervals and so I wait and think about it for a couple weeks before I ever get started.

I'm not changing my mind. But I do feel extra pressure. Maybe that's a good thing. When my mood gets gnarly and I'm growling about every little thing because my distended stomach has become a lonely cavern, I need to know that I have relatives standing on the sidelines, cheering me on. What kind of fans might this great cloud of witnesses be?

When the Dodgers folded in the playoffs, I was disappointed, but something inside me said, "I knew they would blow it." Well, are my "fans" thinking something similar? This is a radical diet. Surely it may be very tempting to sneak a Sourdough Jack some afternoon. But there will be no question about it. I have either kept my diet or I haven't. There are no "portions" to measure. There are no point exchanges to calculate. I have my food and you have yours, and never the twain shall meet.

But that challenge is the very thing that makes me optimistic about this diet. I know I will feel better and be healthier if I do it. I hope to lose about 80 pounds. When I mount the stairs, that will be an 80 pound backpack I don't have to carry. There must be 100 miles of capillaries that I will no longer be pumping blood through, and that has to be easier on my heart. From the day I begin, they take me off my diabetes medicine. I hope to never go back, but that remains to be seen. My lungs which lost more of their capacity when I was down with pneumonia may find more room with that kind of loss of internal fat.

There are plenty of outstanding reasons for me to do this. But what of my fans on the sideline? What if I only lose 40 pounds? We I (and/or they) assess that to be a failure? The pressure is heavy indeed. Maybe I will have a stroke before I ever begin, and all my fretting will be irrelevant.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not just cheeseburgers

I suppose everyone had a favorite hamburger joint when we were kids. Mine was on Slauson Ave. near 6th Ave. in Los Angeles. It was called "Lil Abner's". We discovered it because it was convenient. At the time I lived on 7th Ave. near 54th Street and I could easily walk to Lil Abner's. Many of the kids from Manual Arts High School dined there occasionally--at least those who lived in my end of town. I don't have any idea when Lou opened his business, but it must have been about 1950 when I discovered him. This is before the Colonel fried his first chicken or Ray Croc (McDonald) sold his first cheap burger.

It was a shack no larger than 20 by 20 with outside stools only. Lou Rubino, the proprietor, was the ironic Lil Abner. He weighed 400 pounds if he weighed an ounce. He was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet, and he was fastidious about the food he served. He had his own secret recipe for chili. He did not serve a cheeseburger with thin slices of cheese nor did he use some sort of "cheese food" for economy. His cheeseburgers included a generous slice of real cheddar. He told me that he watched while the butcher ground his beef to make sure he didn't include any extra fat. He served a tamale with chili and cheese smothered in chopped onions that was to die for.

After graduation my job as an apprentice pressman for Moore Business Forms brought me by Lil Abner's on my way home from work. When I worked swing shift I frequently enjoyed a burger or a tamale and a chat with Lou for my midnight snack. We exchanged Christmas cards long after I moved, after I got married and after I finished seminary and was ordained. Lou Rubino was one of those feel good memories from my high school days. Don't you have a memory like that?

Monday, November 16, 2009


They asked me to teach Sunday School, Adult class. I consented to teach a series on the book of I John, but my books are all packed and in storage, awaiting our move. So I ordered two new commentaries and decided to make new notes from scratch. I suppose it's good for me to work through the book anew. Fresh study helps my soul.

It's a book about assurance (among other things), and who doesn't need help with assurance? Every now and then I get feeling that I must be a reprobate, because I am so closely acquainted with my ugly sins. I need God to tell me that He loves me anyway and everything is alright. But the book doesn't say that! It does not give me the warm fuzzies I was hoping to get.

Basically it says, "If you want to be sure you are a Christian, live a holy life." Hey! That's just my problem. I don't live a holy life. What Jesus did for me on the cross is not a license to sin, but an incentive to holiness instead. John says that we know that we know Him because we keep his commandments.

It appears that the primary commandment in John's mind is the command to love one another. My recollection (and a decent concordance) shows me that this dovetails with everything else the Bible teaches. Romans 13:8 says, "he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law." Several other scriptures say much the same (Galatians 5:14; James 2:8 and Mark 12:31). And sure enough, John gets around to telling us that we know we have passed from death into life because we love the brethren (3:14). Actually that's a little more comforting. I really do love the brethren. I need to love in deed and truth, not in word and feelings only.

One of the thoughtful class members asked me if 3:9 meant that God breaks addictions. Of course I had to say "yes", but I kept chewing on that thought. Is it possible for Christians to get strung out on coke or heroin? It is a sinful choice to even try drugs like that, but we all know that Christians do sin. Of course it is a tragic reality. Then there are those who become Christians while addicted. So the question is: does Jesus break those addictions? I know nothing of the drug experience, personally, but the Bible demands that I answer affirmatively. Who wants to say that God can break the power of sin in our lives, but that there are some addictions that are too hard for Him to break? The thought is monstrous. To ask that question is to answer it.

Now what about other addictions? Gambling, stealing, fornication all claim to be addictions. The medical model for sin is easier to bear. There is no more call for repentance, and there is no more guilt and revulsion. He's not really a womanizer; the poor fellow has an addiction to sex. And then what about my dear Christian brothers and sisters who tell me that the 12 step program of AA was necessary for them to quit drinking? In fact Christian fellowship in the church is not sufficient to keep them from falling off the wagon. They "need" to attend meetings of AA one or more times a week. Is that the deliverance Christ provides? I don't know enough to answer that question. But I do know that the power of the cross is enough to break the addiction to alcohol. That is either true or it is time to tear up my Bible and throw it away.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lose this pillow

It's on my mind so I may as well talk about it. Kaiser has this industrial strength weight loss program, called "Optifast". I suppose that is derived from the word "optimum" and therefore means optimum fast. According to the scientific data I need something in excess of 2200 calories a day to maintain my status as "inordinately corpulent". On Optifast I will be ingesting 800 calories a day. The prognosis is an enormous loss of weight (which in my case consists largely of a pillow where my lap should be).

Also to be expected is a bit of a grouchy disposition. I have vowed not to growl at my wife, so I hope it's okay if I sound off to you, my few readers.

This is a group project, resembling Weight Watchers in that respect. So I have to begin when the class begins, and that date is Nov 30. Three of my medications will be discontinued at that time. It sounds a little scary, but I am looking forward to this. I am hoping to make it a permanent release from diabetic medications.

According to the testimonies I heard on the DVD during our orientation session, we can expect to lose 10 pounds or more the very first week. That should offset my grouchy attitude. Halfway through the DVD the machine stalled out and we never saw the last half of the DVD. I hope that is not a prophetic warning. Some fatties have lost 150 pounds or more.

I was asked at what weight was I last comfortable. I told her that I had never been asked that question before. While I was scrambling for a good answer, she re-phrased the question: "What is your goal?" I told her that I wanted to be under 200. So she wrote down 190-199. The day we married I weighed 155, but I don't even want to go down that far. At this point in my life I do not think that would be healthy.

I will have 4 shakes a day and one soup. I hope I like the flavor of the shake. Everyone says the soup is very good. When we travel I will simply need my shaker and the powder packs. Of course the shakes come in chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, and I hate chocolate. Torani makes calorie-free flavor syrups that gives me the options I need for variety in my diet. No, the flavors do not include chili or enchilada.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ride Alongs (continued)

Black and whites that are patrolling on any given shift might be "crime" cars or they may be "traffic" cars. Of course there are emergencies that call all cars together to handle a crisis. But other than that rare occasion, there is a world of difference between a crime car and a traffic car.

As the name implies a traffic car is to concentrate it efforts on enforcement of traffic laws. These deputies seem to have a different world view than others. A rolling stop is treated like a major crime. And yes, they do hide in alleys and behind obstructions to catch you speeding or running through a boulevard stop. I've been there with the deputy. He taught me to stare at the spoked wheels, and if I was not able to see the spokes when the car made a stop, it was considered a rolling stop, and he nailed the driver. She adopted a coy demeanor and under-played flirting in hopes of avoiding the ticket. When the deputy returned to the car to check her registration, he told me how he reacted so poorly to this tactic that he was sure to nail her for something. In this particular case he could have written two violations because the children were jumping around in the back seat, and they had been doing that even before we pulled them over. Obviously they were not in seat belts. She ended up thanking the deputy for not writing up both violations so that she could erase the demerits with her insurance carrier by attending traffic school. Evidently if there are two violations even traffic school cannot keep her rates from rising.

In all fairness, however, when you see a cop "hiding" behind a billboard or someplace else like that, it is even more likely that he is a crime car catching up on his paper work. These poor deputies are required to write up every call to which they respond, and after two or three of them it is absolutely necessary to catch up on this record-keeping. They are good at finding the most remote places for this privacy. I was treated to lunch (hamburger) which we consumed in the abandoned parking lot of an industrial complex. The local greasy spoon seemed glad to give the deputy the burgers because they are glad to have police presence. It makes for cheap insurance.

Once when I was riding in a crime car and we were waiting at a red light, some brainless driver whooshed right by us and through the red light. My driver swore some disgusting obscenity and caught and ticketed this idiot. I think the swearing was due to the fact that this was not a traffic car and had it not been for the flagrancy of the violation the deputy would not have been required to clutter his evening with this offense.

Somehow all the fun of ride alongs dissipated after the death of one of our guys. Bruce Bryan was youth minister in our local Calvary Chapel, and he regularly did ride alongs with the deputies. He was especially interested in ministering to gang members and other troubled teens. They were called to a local restaurant where a known gang member was creating a little havoc. They talked this gang banger into letting them take him home, even though it was a bit out of the district. When they reached their destination the deputy opened the door for the boy who suddenly grabbed the deputy's service pistol and shot him in the face. When Bruce saw what was happening he bolted and ran. The perp shot him too, and after he hit the ground the kid shot him in the back of the head. He tossed the pistol and went into the house to watch TV. The deputy survived (though he lost his eye), but the minister did not. Because he sought troubled kids Bruce was used to wearing a vest during ride alongs, but the first bullet caught his shoulder beyond the vest. The kid who did this was given a long prison sentence, and Bruce's funeral was a record breaker. Chaplains from law enforcement agencies came from Sacramento to San Diego.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ride Alongs

Before a person can ride along with a deputy Sheriff, he must sign away his life. That is to say, the document contains a wide disclaimer that eliminates my family from profiting in a lawsuit over my demise when it occurs during a ride along. I have survived long enough to tell you that there is more than one reason for that disclaimer. The odds that I might be taken out by a criminal are very slim. It's the wild driving of the deputy that put my life in jeopardy.

I want to tell you up front that the Sheriff deputies are easily the worst drivers I have ever endured. Clergy Volunteers usually rode along for only half a shift, and that was enough white knuckling for the evening. One of the deputies told me he wanted to be a Sheriff deputy so he could shoot a gun and drive fast. I'm not at all sure he was kidding. Sometimes the deputy with whom I rode treated me like part of a team. Other times I was made to feel like I was in the way--a mister butinski. Sometimes I rode in a "crime car" and other times I was in a "traffic car". Those two are different worlds.

Only when the call determines may a car use siren and flashing lights. But the deputies drove as though they were always on code 3. This makes for some harrowing experiences. I was sure we were going to be in a wreck, and the anticipated impact would have been at my side door. Thanks to the good brakes of a citizen, left swearing behind us, we were spared the accident.

One of the deputies taught me how to unlock the shotgun, "just in case". I remember tiptoeing behind him as we surveyed the halls of a local business. With his piece drawn, we were looking for a burglar in action. Nothing came of it, but the code we had received indicated burglary in progress.

More than once I was disdained as a potential hazard and certain to be useless during my tour of half the deputy's shift. I'm sure that clergy more clever than I were able to share the gospel with more deputies than I did. We had a captain at the local precinct who was a Christian, and he wanted us to be there. We were intended to be a liaison between the uniform and the general public, and sometimes it worked well.

Once on a code 3 call we arrived after the rescue team treated and transported a little girl who had swallowed something toxic from under the kitchen sink. But when grandma saw that I was a minister she grabbed hold of me and wept. We sat in the living room and I talked her down from her fear and panic. The deputy had another call, but he saw I was doing some good for this lady so he left me there to answer the next call, promising to pick me up after that. I knew the minister who baptized this woman and that enhanced my rapport with her. The deputy is never supposed to leave his ride along, but it worked this time.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sheriff duties

I'm registered with the local Sheriff precinct as a Clergy Volunteer. They have my photo and fingerprints, so I'd better think again about any crime I might have contemplated.

I have been called upon for special duty in a suicide case to sit with the parents while the investigators dealt with the young man's body in the other room. He was an overweight loner who seemed to have just found his nitch in a computer science major at UCLA. But apparently he came home the night before, but a plastic bag over his head and ended it all. They were Roman Catholic people, and they gave me a courteous hearing as I explained the gospel of grace, and how suicide is not the unpardonable sin. I hope they saw the difference between sovereign grace in the Bible and what their superstitions had taught them. But at this time of crisis in a person's life it is hard to know what they might remember. This too is in the Lord's hands.

They called me to counsel with the mother of a 4 yr old girl who died from a fall off the cliff at Point Fermin Park. The mother was certain that the father of the child threw her over the side to keep from paying support for the child. Interestingly enough that case is in the local paper now, and the second hung jury has just reported. It seems they cannot agree on the degree of responsibility with which to charge the dad.

Then there was the time I was called to help keep two families separated in the waiting room of the ER at the local hospital. The boy of one family had been shot in the head and was dying. The other family's boy did the shooting. But he had been shot by responding deputies, and was cuffed to the bed in the same ER. It was a potential for serious conflict, as you might imagine. It turned out that the victim's family were black Muslims, and I told them I was a Christian minister, and asked if I could pray for them. They kindly gave me permission and I prayed for them to find comfort in the gospel. It is important to try to comfort and yet not compromise the gospel. No one seemed to be angry so I don't know how to grade my performance of duty.

Next blog post will tell about my ride along experiences. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tidying up

We are actually going to move. Not far. Only to Lakewood. Yes we already have a home "bought" in Lakewood. It is the home of my daughter and her husband. Since they have purchased a home in Lake Havasu, AZ, they are trying to hurry us into selling our home so we can complete the deal, and move into their home. The hold up has been with 25 years of treasures/trash that have accumulated knee high around us.

Unfortunately Barbara and I are both pack rat types, and we just can't bring ourselves to toss that book or give away that appliance that we haven't used for 10 years. Barbara would be happy to give away her iron (I know she hasn't used it in the past 10 years and more!). She just sold her Singer featherweight machine to our friend Beth who is an avid quilt manufacturer (see her blog: "love, laugh, quilt" where I understand she features a photo of the machine). No sacrifice there, since she bought it the year we were married and has used it maybe three times to repair clothing.

Enter Donna and Jim, lovingly attempting to help us move our treasures/trash to the new premises. It's like pulling eye teeth to gain our consent to throw anything away. The 10 or 15 pounds of disgusting candy left without debate. But everything else seems to maintain some redeeming features to argue in favor of holding onto it. I had never heard of a "Morgan" dollar before. Barbara swears it is a treasure given her by her grandmother. So I checked out the Internet, and sure enough EBay is selling them for something in excess of $17. Some different dates are selling in the hundreds of dollars. They are named for George T. Morgan, the chief engraver of the US Mint at that time.

Then there are special notes and cards that must be packed in the "Barnabas box". These are special encouragements for a favor done or a sermon that was especially appreciated. We need to keep them together for those times when we feel useless or forgotten. Here's a hand made get well card done in crayon by one of my little friends. How precious is the love of a child!

Okay, here are Donna and Jim again to pack a few more boxes. Bless them for their patience and hard work.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Organ Recital

Well I passed another milestone. Three quarters of a century has witnessed my presence on this planet, and we find ourselves increasingly engaged in the organ recital. You know, I need to check my blood sugar. How's your blood pressure? The doctor says my kidneys are working a bit better than this time last year. My PSA is high so I need to take antibiotics and do the test again. My last molar on the top right cannot take a simple crown over the expensive root canal. It needs $600 more work, so I had them pull it out instead. Extractions are so much more reasonably priced than canal/crowns. I won't be needing any molars for the next 6 months anyway.

When I went to urgent care to see if I had pneumonia (I don't, and I am truly grateful to God for that!) I got a shock when I stepped on the scale. It seems that I have gained 24 pounds since June! The doctor said a lot of that seemed to be water. I elevated my legs a little and after a few trips to the restroom I lost 6 of those pounds over the weekend. But something snapped in my head. I am no longer inordinately corpulent--I'm fat! When I mount the stairs, I am carrying a 100 pound body suit with me. I must be killing myself. I know I will feel better and be much healthier if I might lose my pillow.

Someone needs to pray me through this one. Kaiser has a program called "Optifast" that is specifically for folks who are 40 or more pounds overweight. It is a 20 week, physician supervised, liquid diet. I go for orientation on Nov. 4, and I suppose the program begins shortly after that. I have already enjoyed my "thanksgiving dinner" of turkey and stuffing at Hofs Hut on Monday. Actually I suppose you need to pray for my wife who has to live with me through this whole thing. I have promised myself that I will not carp, whine and complain, but I am a weak and sinful man.

What snapped in my head was the sudden light that said "do this or die". I will let you know how things are going from time to time. I promise not to bore you with daily details, however.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ecclesiastical Snobbery

On vacation in Branson, MO, we found ourselves engaged in ecclesiastical snobbery. It's not an unwholesome allegiance to the OPC. We have lived long enough in this denomination to realize that John Mitchell was right when he dubbed us the "Overly Prickly Church" rather than the "Only Perfect Church" as some aver.

My friend, John Toebe, drinks voraciously of reformed preaching, and he says, "Rollin, you just don't know what it's like out there." Well on vacation away from reformed centers is the only time I can get a taste of what John says. And we did get a taste this last week. We were in Branson, MO, a thoroughly "churched" tourist trap.

We scanned the Internet and perused the yellow pages and the consensus was to try the local "Bible" church. I figure that any church that respects the Bible enough to put it in the church's name must be worth trying. They also have an evening service, which is another good sign.

We were rather bitterly disappointed, however. It was not really because the pastor was an emotionless monotone. Nor was it the fact that cute pictures were flashed on the screen during the sermon (I guess to keep us awake and wondering where he was going). The order of service did not include a scripture reading of any sort. The fatal flaw, however, was the tragic fact that the pastor did not preach Christ! He sorta worked his way through John 13 for the account of the washing of the disciples' feet. What a wonderful text to display our servant Savior, who came not to be served, but to give His life a ransom for many! But instead we were given a moralistic harangue about how we ought to wash each other's feet. He told us about a time when he actually did wash the feet of another minister and they both felt humiliated. Aww, how good it is to be humbled. But it was not the humbling that comes from seeing the Savior bearing our sins. It was just the awkward social circumstances of culture.

So for the evening service we chose the local Southern Baptist Church. We thought we knew what to expect, but we did hope to hear the gospel preached. Again we were disappointed. The text was Ephesians 6 and the Christian armor. We should have guessed we were in for disappointment when the preacher said this text was going to be a jumping off point for his message. Here too there were distracting slides on the overhead to help us follow the sermon outline. But by his own admission, the sermon outline did not come from the scripture, but from literature published for a neighborhood watch group. There was some cleverness here, and even some good advice given, but I wanted the minister to bring me to Christ, and he did not do that. It really is amazing how close and yet how far one can get from preaching Christ while using the Bible.

Many years ago (again while on vacation) we visited a church where the minister announced as his text a paragraph from Elizabeth Elliot's book, "Through Gates of Splendor." We met some wonderful Christian people who took us to their home and treated us to ice cream and fellowship. I wept internally to think how these brothers and sisters were being fed with sand instead of the pure milk of the word.

When I ponder these experiences I tell myself, "These are by brothers in Christ. They will be sitting on the same pew with me in glory. While I think so harshly of their preaching, they are out there talking to people about Jesus and bringing them to the Savior. Who do I think I am to pass judgment?" Is it possible that Jesus will tell me that I was right about good preaching, but I ruined my contribution to the kingdom work on earth with pride and laziness and fear of conflict?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Covering the bases

Just to make sure that no proverbial stone was left unturned, Kaiser scheduled my wife for two consultations (not one, but two). One was with a radiation oncologist. The other was with a thoracic surgeon. Now I surmise that within the parameters of medical propriety, there is room for a little salesmanship for one discipline over against the other.

If Barbara were to authorise action against this schwannoma by her spine, the question is should we bomb it with radiation, or should we cut the whole thing out. Not surprisingly the radiation oncologist listed the benefits of his approach. It is not as invasive. It would not shrink the tumor, but it would stop its growth. A few sittings a week for a few weeks and it would all be over.

But the surgeon seemed to think it would be easy to extract this thing with arthroscopic methods. Just a couple little holes, inject a light and a camera and go for it. He warned us that if we allow it to grow into the spine it would get more complicated. He also suggested that if (and there is a very high degree of improbability) this tumor is or becomes malignant, the biopsy would not have detected that because only a small tissue sample is taken. When the tumor is removed the whole specimen is sent to the lab and it becomes certain that there were no cancerous cells.

We arranged the appointments to occur on the same day since this facility is in Hollywood. One was in the morning and the other in the afternoon. We thought it might be nice to have lunch in Hollywood between appointments. Of course we could not find our "Entertainment" coupon booklet. I'm sure there are some eateries in Hollywood who advertise in this book. So we let our GPS tell us what was available in the neighborhood. Well, since this GPS is now two years old we have discovered that these things get out of date. We must have tried three different restaurants listed in this thing, and all of them were long gone. We found a little Italian hole in the wall that turned out to be a nice establishment. My eggplant parmigiana and Barbara's cheese raviolis were excellent.

It seems that it is hard to decide where to eat in a strange neighborhood, and it is just as difficult to decide how to handle a benign tumor. We have already decided to wait until December and scan it again to see if there is noticable growth. We will make a decision then.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


My wife is unique in so many ways. She is one of a kind as far as I am concerned. So why should I be surprised that she has a kind of tumor I have never heard of before? The sheath that surrounds nerve cells are made of schwann cells. Since this tumor is made of these cells it is called a "schwannoma". I thought "Schwann" must be some lab research doctor's name, as is so often the case in weird sounding names of diseases.

These tumors become malignant in less than one percent of the cases. They are usually slow growing, so unless it causes pressure against the bone and/or nerve, we will probably do absolutely nothing. Kaiser wants to check it again in a few months to confirm that it is slow growing, and not a problem. For this good news we give God a big "thank You". And no we did not ask the doctor if she was sure this was Barbara's biopsy report.

I have seen definite signs of relief in Barbara since she received this report. Now we are concentrating our attention on preparing to leave to see our son, Bobby and his family in Memphis. Since we fly out tomorrow morning we do need to focus our attention on all those easily forgotten details. For us the packing of medicine is in itself a big chore. We both have special containers to stash each day's pill supply in separate chambers of a larger packet.

From Memphis we are all driving to Branson, MO, to be entertained in this tourist trap. We expect to see a "family" show and eat more than we should of the good stuff.

If we perish in a fiery plane crash, or from a heart attack because of the greasy food, you will understand why this fascinating column has no more new posts. This too is all in God's hands. My friend, Bob Lee, was absolutely fanatical about eating and exercising. He was in great shape until he keeled over at the ripe old age of 61. As I said before, "All this and heaven too!" God is just too good for our praise to ever do Him justice.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Awaiting the Medicine Man

Sometimes I wonder just how far we've come since the ancient "Medicine Man" for our cures. After all the Indians did chew tree bark for pain relief long before we started refining aspirin from the same stuff.

If he took samples of your hair for some voodoo concoction, and blew pipe smoke into your face for it's application, how far have we come? Some doctors blow a lot of smoke when they are not sure what they are dealing with. They take samples from your body (like Barbara's biopsy sample) and send it off to the lab to do what? Grow a culture? Combine with other ingredients for some concoction? Just because they look at it under a microscope doesn't mean we have made that much progress.

In Barbara's case they lost the sample! I've heard of samples being "inconclusive" and therefore the test must be repeated, but "lost it"? The old Medicine Man didn't lose anything. At least the patient would never guess if he had. Our friend, Judith Toebe, said that when they come back with a report on this new biopsy, Barbara ought to say, "Are you sure it's mine?" Fair question, under the circumstances.

At any rate Barbara did submit to the second attempt at a biopsy yesterday. And yes, it was painful ("Your veins keep collapsing!"). And yes, it did take another day out of her life (from 8 until 3 at least). And, by the way, this doctor did hedge his bet by saying, "You know I had this same procedure and it was inconclusive at first try." We are waiting for the medicine man. He said the results could be here as early as Friday, but most likely we will have to wait until Monday. Not to hear the dreaded "I" word, I trust. Even if it is the dreaded "M" word, at least we might begin to fight this invasive life threatener.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Preaching commotion

One of my favorite Spurgeon stories is this. While they were finishing the new Metropolitan Chapel auditorium for the popular young preacher, Spurgeon mounted the pulpit when the building was vacant and decided to try out the acoustics. He stood and bellowed, "Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world." Unknown to him a workman in the balcony was affixing a seat to the floor when he was startled by the preachers voice. He couldn't get the verse out of his mind. He was convicted by it, and eventually brought to repentance and faith in Christ by the Holy Spirit's use of that unintended sermon by Mr. Spurgeon. It was months later that the man met the famous preacher and told him the story of his conversion.

Once when I was preaching an evening service there was a commotion in the pews toward the end of my message. After the service I learned that Karen, who had been a Labri holdout, finally gave in to the "Hound of heaven" and committed her life to Christ. To this day I have no idea if it had any relation to what I was saying from the pulpit. God does move how He pleases, you know.

Then there was the time Norman Short passed out during the hymn following the sermon, and we were all fearful that he had suffered a heart attack. I think the sermon was so long that when he stood up for the final hymn there was not enough blood flowing to his head to keep him from losing consciousness.

Now my wife reminds me that at our small chapel in Neptune, NJ, Ginny Heath tried to sneak into the evening service without it being noticed how late she arrived. Our son, Calvin (later to become a preacher himself), standing in the pew was looking at the door and yelled to her, "Hi!"

When I was preaching at the Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, NJ, I hoped to get every one's attention for a brief evangelistic message by asking, "Is anyone here without sin?" I raised my hand, indicating that I wanted a show of hands in answer to my question. A man came striding toward me down the aisle, saying, "Yes, I am." Having never anticipated this reaction, I was not sure what I was going to do next, but Len Chanoux, the manager of the chapel, ushered the man to the side for counsel. Later I learned this man was notorious for his disruption of services. Thanks for running interference, Len.

That experience seems rather tame in comparison with my friend Bill Warren, who, durring his sermon, was accosted by a man suffering dimentia, standing and publicly accusing Bill of having an affair with his aged wife.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lord's Supper abberations, part 2

Whenever I tell that story (see below) about the lady who stole the wine, I am reminded of another true story of an anomaly in the administration of the Lord's Supper over which again I was presiding.

It must have been in the late 70s while I was yet ministering in Modesto. Dan Morse was trying to plant an OPC work in the city of Sacramento, and for some reason I was available to supply for him when he was out of town. I think I had a minister in our congregation in Modesto by the name of Bill Fredericks. He probably supplied the pulpit in Modesto so I could minister to the new chapel in Sacramento.

Anyway, Pastor Morse had his congregation trained to expect the Lord's Supper every week. He sought to give more people ownership of the worship service by having them rotate the responsibility of bringing a bottle of wine for the Lord's Supper. They even used a common cup and tore the bread by hand. It was very interesting and quaint as an attempt at feeling like the original disciples. The cup was an ornate chalice which I was taught to rotate slightly after each communicant took a sip. As I rotated the brim of the cup I would wipe it with a clean napkin which I carried along the aisle for the purpose. Of course when you study the matter you would realize that it doesn't take that many communicants to cover the circumference of the chalice and begin to repeat using the same surface someone before had touched with his lips. But we used wine, so the theory is that the alcohol would kill the germs. If you are tempted to feel creepy in spite of these safeguards, then you must fall back on your trust in the ability of a sovereign God to protect you from whatever bacilli were remaining on the brim of that cup. Actually the service went rather smoothly, and I thought it was a more intimate communion when it was done like this.

The second time I filled in for Pastor Morse we were a trifle nervous because the lady who was scheduled to bring the wine had not yet appeared, and it was less than 10 minutes before the service was to begin. Bur relief broke out when she came in the door and handed me a bottle shaped brown bag. I took it to the chalice, pulled out the wine, and stopped motionless for a brief moment. She had brought apricot wine! Here we were eating torn pieces of bread and drinking from a common cup because it seemed so authentic--but then the whole mood was ruined because we were not using "the fruit of the vine". Of course the only thing to do (at that hour) was to pour the apricot wine into the chalice and proceed with the service as though nothing was amiss. I'm sure the service was only ruined for me. I've been told of hippies who used coke and french fries. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart, and I know this lady meant no disrespect by substituting apricot wine for the more bloody fruit.

Lord's Supper abberations

The pulpit of Emmanuel OPC of Wilmington, Delaware, was mine many years ago. I have had the joy of guest preaching in recent years, and one of the great blessings is to see just how many of the old families are still in the church. It is not a commuter congregation. It has even been several years now that EOPC celebrated it's 100th anniversary. John Clelland was pastor when they voted to leave the liberal Presbyterian Church. He served so well, and his amazing wife organized a Vacation Bible School like no other I've experienced. Bob Eckardt followed Mr. Clelland, and I was privileged to follow Bob. The great organization of the Christian Education Committee, and the Bible School subcommittee was still in place when we were there.

In recent years Emmanuel had a published author as its pastor, Dr. Robert Letham. He wrote (among others) a good book about the Lord's Supper. Our session studied the book together. When we were in the east for Dad Piper's 100th birthday, we visited with our friends in Wilmington. I had the privilege of supplying the pulpit because the pastor was out of town. The Lord's Supper is celebrated every week in Emmanuel now, and this particular time it was scheduled for the evening service.

At the point in the service where the minister leads in prayer for God's help in receiving the elements appropriately I was aware of some sort of commotion. I opened my eyes in time to see one of the elders intercept a woman who was carrying the vessel of wine out the aisle. He returned the pitcher to the table, and the service continued. Later we discovered that one of the rooms is used by Alcoholics Anonymous members for a meeting on Sunday evenings. But the AA group said this woman was not a part of their constituency. We also discovered that she was present before the service began, watching those who were preparing the elements for the service. Also the wine bottle, drained of it leftovers, was found in the bushes outside the church.

I thought it would be interesting, and perhaps instructive, to administer the Lord's Supper in the congregation of the man who "wrote the book" on the subject. I must, with embarrassment, admit that for a brief millisecond when I opened my eyes I wondered just what part Dr. Letham had provided this woman to take in the service.

Monday, September 21, 2009


What's the worst thing that can happen when you are waiting for the report on a biopsy? To hear that it was malignant. Yeah, that's a bummer, but there is something worse. To hear that it is malignant and inoperable. Yes, that is worse, but there is something else that is a contender.

When your doctor calls and tells you the lab lost your sample, and you have to do it all over again--that's worse! All the other horrible consequences may still be there, but the anxiety of waiting to hear gets put on hold for two more weeks. It's like hearing the doctor say, "Oops!" during brain surgery. It is very difficult to be understanding and patient with that kind of incompetency.

Yes, Barbara's doctor called late today to tell her just that. One sample made it to the lab that determined that she does not have lymphoma. But the sample that was sent to the pathologist cannot be found. How does that happen? Barbara's doctor said she has been calling all day around the Kaiser system to see if she could find it, and that is why she called late in the day.

Now it takes about a week to get an appointment. And it takes about a week to get the lab results (if you get them). The process includes preparation, sedation and last time it took from early in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. Kaiser simply says, "Sorry" and schedules the whole process again. Will they have the audacity to expect us to pay another $5o for their games?

As you pray for us, be sure to ask the Lord to give us grace to deal kindly with people. We surely do not feel like doing that just now.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Waiting for biopsy report

My wife has this spot in the middle of her back that was always itchy. She would ask me to scratch her back for her, and when I evoked those "Oh"s and "Ahh"s it was invariably after I found that same spot and scratched several strokes. "I wonder what causes that?" she would sometimes ask. Not willing to allow the question to remain rhetorical, I would often quip, "Cancer, beyond a shadow of a doubt!"

Well it turns out that that is the same spot where a recent scan revealed a "mass" near the backbone that called for a biopsy. Now my lame attempts at humor seem a bit prophetic. If you know my wife, you know she is not prone to emotional frenzy. She can't wait for the results of the biopsy because she expects it to be malignant, and she is interested in getting that thing removed with dispatch. Barbara can imagine the scenario where the doctor calls you into her office and diplomatically prepares you for the news. She considers all that verbiage as wasting time which could be profitably spend planning a strategy to rid her body of this invader.

During family crises of the past I have enjoyed having a partner who is very level headed and intelligent to help meet challenges. She will be no different this time. I hope I can be as stand-up and helpful as she has been in the past.

The interesting wrinkle about this discovery is that it was "accidental". Barbara's hematologist is trying to find the reason for her anemia, and thinking the spleen was enlarged, ordered a CT scan of her body. Although nothing was found to help in the initial search (something to help solve the mystery of her anemia) the scan revealed this "mass" for which there have been no symptoms. It is difficult for a Christian not to recognize the blessing of providence in this.

Friday, September 11, 2009

One of those days

Some days the dominoes keep falling and knocking down other dominoes. Barbara's day was something like that. She is in the middle of a series of medical tests, and for the one on Monday, she is forbidden aspirin (or any other analgesic) until after that test. So her arm is just a little more painful (not to mention assorted joints of a type "A" personality). Feeling just a little grumpy, and trying to accomplish several errands, she finally made her final stop at the grocery store. She piled the bags into the car, tossed the keys on the car seat, and walked around to the driver's door to get in. Well it seems we have some advanced anti-theft device that automatically locked the doors before she got to the other side of the car. One thing that annoys her to no end is being bested by inanimate objects. She owns the car, not the other way around.

We have triple A service, but her card was in the wallet in the purse in the car. Of course she called her husband, disturbing his cartoon (Ratatouille). So he called triple A, and she waited by the car for 30 minutes. The car was quickly opened, and she resumed her drive home.

Such perseverance under fire deserves a reward, so we tried an "upscale" restaurant for which we had a coupon in our "Entertainment" book. Have you ever experienced a fondue restaurant? This one is called, "The Melting Pot". Even though we have driven by it dozens of times, we have never noticed it before. It is "hidden in plain sight". It is located among banks and other fancy offices, built as a sort of glass rotunda with tinted panels and a sign that appeared clearly enough, but might easily be mistaken for a sophisticated financial institution of some sort.

Our first hint that this establishment might be rather upscale was the fact that the coupons in our book were for $16 off the price of a feast for two. Hey, nobody takes $16 off the price of a hamburger and fries. This was a four course meal that was fun, delicious and fascinating. The first course consisted of an exotic cheese dip with bread pieces, summer sausages, apple slices and cauliflower.

The second course was a large garden salad with sun-dried tomatoes, baby salad greens, and assorted stuff. It would be enough of a meal for anyone.

The third course was the entree. Our choice was bits of fillet minion, sauerbraten, chicken, bratwurst, shrimp, raviolis, veggies and sauces. Each was to be skewered on a fondue fork and immersed in a special broth (ours was spices and citrus Caribbean style).

Finally the dessert course was a chocolate pond with various sweets to dip, including strawberries, marshmallows, banana slices etc. Since I am not a fan of chocolate, they catered to me with a side bowl of white chocolate.

Yes, the word "decadence" did come to mind.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Baseball Frustrations

How can the Dodgers roll over and play dead for the last place team? They obviously do not want the pennant as much as I thought. My wife aggravates me when she makes a pontifical pronouncement every year, "I told you they fold after the All Star game. It happens every year." Like she really knows baseball! What aggravates me most is that she is right. This year--with wonderful new acquisitions (and Manny)--they are fading more gradually. This year we will have our hearts broken during that last three game series with the Rockies, just you wait and see. Yes, Ethier has an amazing 5 walk-off hits this season. They have utility players with 300 batting averages (Pierre and Belliard). But they are rapidly developing the lowest batting average with men in scoring position. That means when it looks like they are rallying, the next batter or two are certain outs.

Enter college football! I am the first one to admit that American football is a more exciting spectator sport than baseball. I frankly do not understand why anyone who has not played organized baseball can really get into the game. All the finesse of the game is just boring delay for most of those watching.

But those of you who just uttered an "Amen" to that sentiment need to ponder the comment of Mr. George Will (one of the more intelligent columnists among us) who is also an avid baseball fan. He said that football enshrines two of the worst features of our culture: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Child's Love

That mushy spot on the brain that develops overnight when you become a grandparent only gets worse when it is a great grandchild over whom you are doting. Case in point, Lilly, my three year old, grinning, irrepressible towhead. Once in a restaurant, while our party was waiting for entrees to arrive, I shared my strawberry malt with Lilly, spoon by spoon. And she reminded me if she thought I was taking an extra turn with the spoon. I never remember sharing anything that was more fun than that.

Just the other night, when she found me unexpectedly at her house, she climbed up next to me and patted my rotund belly and said something that implied that there was a baby inside. Her mother corrected her (while giggling). Then Lilly kept patting my corpulent gut, saying, "MY Papa, MY papa." If I had all the money in the world I couldn't buy that kind of joy. She was so transparently glad to see me that I didn't care if I did nothing else than spend time with her.

We read books together. We discuss the pictures and how the text goes with the pictures. I try to say something silly to make her laugh, and she constantly melts my heart with her million dollar grin. The love of a child is precious. They are so (relatively) innocent, and they give of themselves so freely. What a great sin it is to betray love like that! No wonder our culture esteems child abuse as an especially heinous crime. Throw the book at 'em!

Friday, September 4, 2009

California Burning

I'm afraid it will take more than a few forest fires to bring the left coast to repentance, but it does cause one to pause for thought. My cousin lives nearer the threat than anyone else of my acquaintance. In fact they defied the order to evacuate and took up the garden hose for defence. They posted a photo on facebook that showed the fire just over the hill from the home across the street. I'm glad to report that the danger has passed without a loss, but I believe they lost several nights of sleep.

The Los Angeles basin is called that because it is surrounded by mountains forming a semi-circle "bowl" with the Pacific ocean completing the circle. It is frequently described as an irrigated desert, and the weather patterns leave us with ideal weather all year long. Without the copious rain of Washington or Oregon, the down side is that what foliage we have is green for way too short a season. After that it is fuel for the fires. The mountain terrain that surrounds us is mostly inaccessible to firemen and their trucks. Our boasting is the lack of uncomfortable humidity, but that also creates the heightened degree of fire threat when it is hot.

But once again the natural beauty of this part of God's creation is spoiled by the depravity of man. Most of our fires are started by people. And the Station Fire, which has charred an area the size of Chicago, and killed two of our brave heroes, was just determined to be caused by an arsonist. It's the story of mankind: sin has ruined everything. Jesus doesn't put out fires, and He doesn't restrain every sin. But it is still true that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Catching Cold

I have a cold. When I have a cold I get grouchy. The compassionate thing for you to do is to pray for my wife. The last time I had a cold was last November. Within a day it became pneumonia, and I never felt so devastated so quickly. Now I find I am frightened that this stupid cold may turn to pneumonia too. They tell me that once you have had pneumonia it is very easy to contract it again. So I think I have a decent excuse to be grouchy this time.

Okay, I'm ready to die, but I'd really rather check out quickly (say a massive heart attach or stroke). It's time to think this through. On the one hand, I am a filthy sinner and deserve to die a slow agonizing death. On the other hand God is in charge and I am His servant. In His infinite wisdom He will do with me as pleases Him. Still on the other hand (hmm...three hands?) God is gracious and He loves me. So shame on me for fussing about it in the first place.

I caught this cold last Thursday night. I remember it clearly. I was visiting my granddaughter and her husband when my great granddaughter, three year old Lilly, climbed up on Papa'a lap and planted a kiss right on my lips. She had a runny nose as she was finishing up a cold herself. I love that little tyke so much that I don't even mind catching cold like that. Someone needs to tell that story at my funeral.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tech Wonders

I was just a kid when the Russians won the race to orbit. I remember seeing the dusk reflection of Sputnik, and hearing the heartbeat of Lika the dog. It was amazing, but even then I wondered what practical benefit could possibly come of such expensive showing off.

Now I am still amazed at Google earth, and especially GPS. My wife bought one of those gizmos last year through her Avon Rep connections. We have found it an invaluable tool when traveling, and even when getting around L.A. to find places we haven't been. Once we load the address and press "Go" a recorded voice tells us every turn to make along the way. It still amazes me.

As the old Road Runner cartoons taught us, modern technology does have its flaws. Our GPS system is no exception. Sometimes our satellite thinks we are on surface streets and it has instructed us to make a "U" turn when in fact we are on the freeway. Many disastrous scenarios could be imagined if we all took our GPS instructions too seriously. It seems that even this wonderful technology needs to be modified by human common sense.

Most of the time we don't need the unit to tell us major highway travel. It is the details near the end of our journey that elude us. Often, however, it is just at that point that we hear the calm recorded voice say, "Lost satellite connection." "Oh great! Now what do we do?" Patience! Patience! It soon gets back on track. Or we may hear that same mechanical monotone repeat the word, "Recalculating." If we decide to take an alternate route, the machine goes berserk either with the recalculating thing or with advice to make a U turn at our earliest convenience.

As sure as I am sitting here typing this post, someone is going to make an extra buck by modifying the technology with specialized versions of the GPS. There could be the British gentry version. "You'd be well advised to turn to the left at the next corner, Sir."

Better yet, the Cockney version. "Blimey, Guv'na ya wonta turn left at da coner."

How about a GPS with a New York attitude? "You're such a schmuck. Now you gotta make a U turn."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Speaking of Dentists

Joe Hendrix is a valuable old friend in my memory. We had the joy of seeing him and his adorable wife, Kim, while we were in Modesto. Joe and Kim were newly married kids when I first met them, and now they too are grand parents.

I think they did a wonderful job of raising their own kids, and even some that were not their own. At least one young man who, in my estimation, may have been headed for prison without the interception of a loving family such as the Hendrix. Joe is a friend who will do anything for you, and put himself out a great way in order to help.

I am embarrassed to tell you that whenever I think of Joe, one story comes immediately to mind, and it is not really fair to Joe. But here it is anyway. Many years ago Joe had a neighbor with a terrible tooth ache. This neighbor tanked himself up with enough whiskey so as to kill any kind of pain, and then asked Joe to help him. It seems he wanted Joe to pull his aching tooth. Joe told him he could not do that, but the neighbor insisted. So Joe reached into his tool chest and found what he could use to pull the tooth. I don't even remember this part of the story. It may have been simply pliers, or it may have been vice-grip pliers. I'm not certain what tool or tools he may have tried. But Joe got him to lie down, and he gripped the tooth and jerked and pulled until it came out. He may have been in jeopardy of arrest for practising medicine without a license. But Joe is willing to put himself out to help a friend. The funniest part of the story is that he pulled the wrong tooth!

I was afraid that my faulty memory was exaggerating the story, so when we met for dinner last week in Modesto, I asked him to confirm the story, and he said "yes" that he had pulled his neighbor's tooth. And he admitted that, "yes" it turned out to be the wrong tooth. I hope I don't remember that story when I must return to the dentist next Monday.

All you need is love.

I never was a great Beetles' fan, but in this song title they got it right. The older I get (and that is becoming formidable) the more I realize the point of life is loving and being loved.

First, of course, is loving and being loved by God. We have great documentation of His love in that He loved and gave His Son to clean up our dirty tracks and open a bank account of infinite merit on our behalf. He did this because He loved us. When you believe that, you can't stop loving Him in return.

I was, however, thinking about relatives and friends. Life is work or boredom or terror without the joy of loving and being loved by friends. I was reminded of this during our vacation week of travels to visit just such people. Some of them drove a long distance just to see us. Maybe they had a dual purpose in driving so far. We couldn't be that important. Others are relatives who are pushovers for a place to crash. Do we take them for granted, or do we have that loving understanding that there isn't much we would not do for one another?

We saw a niece who has always been a winner. No surprise that she is now a pediatrician with a great husband and adorable little boy. We were with our son who is just beginning to make it as a chiropractor in San Francisco. It's nice to hear a satisfied patient who has taken a liking to Jonathan, and sings his praise to all potential customers she can meet. She is an older Asian lady, and for good measure she took us (Barbara, Jon and me) out to lunch at a beachfront landmark.

We visited friends--a couple that I married--in Modesto. They seem to have such a wholesome existence with a vegetable garden, several acres of almond trees and a landscaping business. Their boys are all handsome and courteous, and Brad has taught them hunting, as witnessed by the 7 or 8 deer heads mounted on the living room wall. The dark side is the story of a drifter who kicked in their door and stole all the loose money he could find in the house and rode off on a stolen bike. We have lived in crime-ridden Carson for 25 years and have never had anything like that. The lesson: depravity is in the hearts of all men everywhere.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Driving Dangers

We're on vacation (again) this week. Last night we arrived at my brother-in-law's home, and several family members gathered for dinner. Naturally I was asked to return thanks (either it is a courtesy, or an admission that no one else knows how to pray). When I finished, someone else kindly added a postscript "and thanks for a safe arrival". That got me thinking about our day's experience on California Interstate highways. Indeed it is a beneficent providence that brought us this far.

There are several species of hazardous drivers out there, and someone ought to be able to categorize several of them.

Kamikaze Commuter: this is the guy who is almost late for work (morning), or hurrying to see his beloved family (evening). Don't look for courtesy from this guy. He's got blood in his eye, and every advantage in traffic was made for him and you had better cater to him or expect vengeance by way of an obscene gesture or worse.

Galloping Cowboy: this guy drives a truck that is about a size and a half larger than I remember trucks to be. He may have a gun rack behind the cab and bumper stickers that inform me that there are only two kinds of music: country and western. The truck tires are made for troop transport half tracks and they make an intimidating hum on the road. Whichever lane has the longest space forward to the next line of traffic is his lane for passing you and everyone else who is a potential threat to his masculinity.

Timid Titmouse: often this guy is the greatest threat to the flow of traffic. He is the cause of sudden convulsions of traffic as car after car switches lanes from behind him to regain the speed of the flow of traffic. When he enters the superhighway of 70 MPH traffic, he does so at a cautious pace of 35 to 40 MPH, wondering why so many rude drivers are frowning at him as they speed around him.

Weaving Willy: this guy works himself to death in order to get there 20 minutes before you. He sees a hole in the next lane just large enough for his vehicle and jumps lanes, looking for the next opportunity to do it again. Those who are really good at this can make you dizzy if you watch them. On our way here I had the leisure to watch one such driver whose car was equipped with a bubble luggage carrier mounted on top. I could see this bubble weaving its crazy way from left to right for several miles. If we were headed to the same destination, he would no doubt have arrived a good 20 minutes ahead of me, but why?

Taillight Tommy: this is the guy who seems to want you to admire his taillights. As soon as you leave anything close to a safe distance between your car and the one ahead of you, Tommy thinks you are wasting space on the highway. So he fills it by pulling in front of you and putting on his brakes just for good measure.

Fortunately, most experienced freeway drivers realize the simple logic of it all. We are all flowing at 65-70 MPH. Rudeness and lane changing will not improve your ETA more than a few minutes, so stay put and be glad you are not stopping for signals on surface streets. Unless your wife is in serious labor and you are headed for the hospital, take it easy, Jack!

Monday, August 17, 2009


Many years ago I served on the Diaconal Ministries Committee of my denomination. We met twice a year in Philadelphia. After our move to Modesto, CA, attending meetings involved travel. But we had made great friends when I was serving the church in Wilmington, DE, as pastor, so now I made arrangements to visit friends when I attended DMC meetings. In fact our meeting routinely lasted two days, so I would borrow our friend's car and help transport other commuters to the meeting.

This particular meeting we had made arrangements to stay overnight at the home of one local member of the committee for Friday night, and return to the Committee building Saturday morning to complete our meeting. We were a friendly bunch, so no one was in coat and tie. We wore our casuals. I had forgotten my razor, and was looking extra scruffy. In those days it was not the popular thing to sport a nascent beard all day long. It has become the style today, which frequently irks my wife's prejudiced comments. All the TV heroes seem to have sandpaper chins these days.

Anyway, here was this motley crew (no intended reference to any musical group) on their way to committee meeting early on a Saturday morning, when that fearful black and white with rotating red light appeared behind us. I dutifully pulled the car over to the curb. both officers approached our car. I was asked to get out of the car and come to the back of the car.Later we were told there had been a rash of home burglaries in the Philadelphia suburbs and the suspect car had out of state plates.

Well here we were a car with Delaware plates, my license was for California, another guy was from Rochester, NY, and just for good measure we had a black member of the committee from Denver, CO. No sooner had I emerged from the car when a backup black and white arrived. We were quizzed separately with clipped, accusative attitude. They only relaxed when our separate stories fit. They thought they had nailed the suspects for a moment, and truthfully, so did I.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

One more time

So the last two root canals were done today. They were both "do-over"s. Things that occurred to me while in the chair: this time I bet the zylocain doesn't work; did he just say "oops"?; he has the strangest pictures on the wall; I paid a lot of money for this guy to stick needles in my gums; there's that smell of singed enamel dust again; I think the dental assistant has a crush on me; does this numbing stuff ever go so far that it effects the brain?; I hope no one dinged my car door in the parking lot; he has been distracted too much and I think the zylocain is wearing off.

I've had three different rooms to observe those pictures, each one different. One of them has grotesquely elongated human and animal figures. One has an exposed woman's breast shone from the window of a non-descript mechanical contraption. In one pic there is a robotic looking figure that remotely resembles a woman's figure. Only the face is feminine. Another is a Dali-esque pocket watch, bending as it slips over a precipice. In my meditations I think I have discovered a common theme and the reason they are on display in the dentist's workplace: They are all painful approximations of reality. They might have been real figures, distorted by delirium. They are ugly distortions, and I, for one, find them painful.

Now that I have finished with the root canals, I can look for the appointments back at my regular dentist for the crown to cap these vulnerable teeth. One of them was what the dentist called a "perforation". Instead of the earlier canal going all the way down, as it should, it went through the side of the root. He refilled it that far and explained to me that we just hope for the best. Obviously he was reaching for a disclaimer in case I have a problem with it. I told him that at my age it will probably last as long as I need it.

I was able to eat a hamburger for lunch, so I am a happy man.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dentist again

Trying to be a hero I took the first available appointment. Why not get it over with? You may have read that I had to go to a referral dentist because the first one did not take my insurance plan for root canal work. Well my first pain was getting up at 6 so I could make my 7:30 appointment.

No, I didn't get the gorgeous Dr. with the mesmerizing grey eyes. But he seems to be competent (in dentistry, competency is always to be preferred to beauty). Because of my hip replacement and my heart attack they must first pump me full of amoxacillin. Next is a thousand needles of zylocane. Now that my lip is very fat, or non-existent for all I can tell, it is time for that high pitched drill. As he tears into my tooth with a vengeance, I can smell the aroma of singed enamel dust. Anyone who has been to the dentist recently knows that smell. Just when I think the pain should send me through the ceiling, I realize that I can't feel a thing. The thousand needle zylocane accomplished its mission.

I finally climb from the chair and stagger to the receptionist counter to schedule the next assault on my mouth. Here comes the doctor and says, "We just had a cancellation and I can take you now, if you want." "You mean right now?" "Yes." I'm still in the hero mood, and so now I have been violated on both sides of my mouth.

In the car I have a bottle of water which I can't feel touching my anesthetized lips. That was yesterday. Today I may truthfully say, "It only hurts when I chew." Actually, I have found a way to chew without any pain, but I slip once in a while.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It's Dentist Time!

I was doing just fine when we were lapsed on our dental insurance. Has it actually been 2 years since I sat in that chair? It seems like yesterday. They have new technology at the Dental Arts office. I't so cool that they just plunk this hard plastic domino with a cable in my mouth, buzz the xray and bing! The image appears on the computer screen. Okay, so maybe that's old stuff for you, but remember it's been 2 (maybe 3) years since I have been here.

Then the torture master pulls up a swivel chair, looks in my mouth and starts dictating to his lackey at his elbow. "Negative. Plague. Tartar. Gingivitis." he spouts like a submarine captain barking cryptic orders to his torpedo man. All the words are so very insulting and intimidating. Are they going to rip out all my teeth? What insidious plans are developing here? There is a code number and even though I know he is identifying one of my teeth, I don't know the code so I do not know the attack plans, even though I am hearing him myself.

I know whenever they are finished fixing my teeth, sometime during my final visit, he is going to tell me how to care for my teeth. Brush, mouthwash, floss, water pick. And he will talk down to me as though the teeth actually belonged to him and I have somehow violated a sacred trust by the sloppy way I have cared for them.

Okay, now I find out that my insurance is not good enough for the house specialist in root canals, and I need no less than four! So I am given a referral to another doctor a few miles down the road. This dentist happens to have an opening the next day, so let's get it over with.

More cool xrays and then consultation. Only this time I am assigned an associate, and it is a gorgeous young lady with mesmerizing grey eyes. She asks if I have had any pain in my teeth. I tell her that this tooth has been a little sensitive to hot and cold and even to sweets. So she takes her steel instrument and bangs on my tooth and then asks me if it hurts. Since that didn't really work well enough, she puts down the instrument and rubs the gums hard with her finger. "Yes," I say, "That's a little tender." She was successful. So we schedule that one to get drilled out tomorrow morning at 7:30.

But before I left the office I felt the first round of pain. They called my insurance carrier to see what my co-pay will be. Ouch! Was it that long ago that my entire dentist bill was less than that?!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hair and Trust

A good marriage doesn't need any proof. But if you want to test the trust level between you and your spouse, cut one another's hair. Barbara cut my hair this morning, and just to jerk her chain I emitted a blood curdling scream when I looked in the mirror. It's just a tad too short for my 'drothers. But to tell you the truth, just as long as she is not ashamed to be seen with me in public I couldn't care less what others think. So the coiffure is fine.

What may surprise you most is that Barbara also asks me to cut her hair. Now there was the time that I may have been a little too enthusiastic, and the result required a couple of weeks before she boasted of how good a job her husband did. But most of the time she just washes her hair and raves about how nice I made it look. I never attended barber school, but we do have a secret. Barbara's hair is still naturally curly enough that it arranges itself after washing. Nobody could give Barbara a bad haircut.

When I used to go the barber, they never laughed when I complained that I was bald after they cut my hair. Do you suppose they heard that one before? Well, this morning I told Barbara to put some back, and she didn't laugh either. I am not very good at haircut humor.

I had a Mohawk haircut when I was 9 years old. I wonder...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Of the Writing of Blogs

To paraphrase the Teacher, "Of the writing of blogs there is no end." Actually the word he used was "books", but I feel licensed by twenty-first century technology to make the more modern paraphrase. Everyone seems to be writing a blog these days, even my 12 year old grandson. I was emboldened by my daughter-in-law and her exceptionally clever writing to try blogging myself. I have always enjoyed creative writing, and thought I would give it my best shot. After all I am an old enough codger to have a large backlog of experience from which to draw. But there is a law of diminishing returns to that proposition. You see, although I may have a plethora of rich experience from which to draw, I can't remember them. Age brings with it experience, and at least some of that experience has taught me a little wisdom. But I'm not sure I have taken enough zinc to retrieve all that good stuff. That's why it is so scary to realize my friends at Presbytery call me a "father" in the church, and expect the requisite wisdom to flow from my shriveling brain. I don't know how he does it, but Andy Rooney always has an entertaining last word on "60 Minutes". I know he does it on TV, but what he does is the same as a blog, except it is audio-visual instead of in print. The old curmudgeon is interesting, even when I disagree with his perspective. He just keeps blogging on. I hope I might do something like that with this obscure column. In fact I have just completed a blog which says absolutely nothing, and yet (I hope) you found to be mildly entertaining.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I like to say that Barbara and I fell in love on a roller coaster. It is a slight exaggeration, but it sounds so romantic. Okay, maybe not to everyone, but if you are the adventuresome type, it does sound exciting. Of course there are the lame attempts at humor: "our relationship has experienced its ups and downs". "Our life together has been one long exciting ride."

In a very early blog I told the story of how my date, Nance, balked at getting on the roller coaster at Long Beach New Pike, and Barbara spoke up, saying, "I'll go." During our courtship and marriage we have laughed together on many different coasters. Now that I am 74 years old, I'd rather say "been there, done that." I have enjoyed my coaster career, but I have retired from that too. My Barbara Lu, however, still rides every coaster in sight.

When she was a teacher at Peninsula Christian School, the eighth grade "ditch day" was often a trip to Magic Mountain. Guess what? When you buy group tickets, they give a freebie to the chaperons, and BL was always ready to go. In fact the kids used to ask her to accompany them around the park because she was willing to go on anything, but some of their companions shied at steep, terrifying rides.

Because of an incentive package for listening to a time share sales pitch in Las Vegas, we got tickets to ascend the Stratosphere. You know, it's the tallest structure in Vegas, and it always is seen in the opening pitch for the original CSI show on TV. The observation deck is 105 stories up, and it is breathtaking to look over the rail from up there. It seems that some insane entrepreneur actually built a roller coaster on the roof of this observation deck! Of course my Barbara was ready to try it. I had to tell her that if she took the ride, I would have a heart attack. She only had to think a moment or two before deciding to refrain.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Polished Speaking

When we were still "young people" in the OPC there was a Presbytery-wide youth group known as the "Machen League". It was a fond reference to our beloved founder of the OPC. As a new believer, and barely still a teen ager, I found myself a vice president of the Machen League of Southern California. It was in that capacity that I traveled from my home church, Westminster, Eagle Rock, to Long Beach to address the troops about commitment. It was a mini sermon. I had just made reference to Jesus' shocking demand that His disciples hate father, mother, wife and brother in order to follow Him. I told the young people that He did not really mean "hate" but simply used hyperbole to emphasize the priority of love to Him. To support my exegesis, I pointed out that the Scripture actually commands husbands to love their wives. As accurate as my intentions were, the execution of them left something to be desired. From the podium I was heard to say, "Husbands obey your wives." We all had a good laugh. I was proud of my composure when I paused to say, "Okay, we had our laugh, but the point is important." Then I went on to quote the Scripture and said the same words again: "Husbands obey your wives." Well, there was no more regaining of composure after that.

I discovered that day, before ever attending seminary or being ordained, just how easy it is to get my tongue tangled on my eye tooth so I couldn't see what I was saying. Since that time I have reminded a congregation of worshippers how during Jesus' time Israel was under the "roke of yome". That one was dangerous because it was a phrase that just seemed to roll off my tongue so smoothly that it seemed right.

My only comfort in the public speaking gaff department is that my dear friend, Carl Erickson, has thrown a few out there that top mine by quite a large margin. When he said that Moses refused to be called the daughter of Pharaoh's son, his mother-in-law turned to his wife and said, "Frankly, I don't blame him." When getting to a place in history during his preaching, he said, "You all remember VD day in Europe."

His congregation threw him a great party, celebrating his 40 years of ministry in the same congregation, so I guess they find him that much more lovable for his human ability to Malaprop his way through a sermon. Ministers are also frail creatures who need plenty of love, overlooking their gaffs.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Growing Lilly

Hey, I haven't stopped playing with my grandchildren. Someone took them away and gave me great grandchildren instead. One night I went to bed and when I got up in the morning I was a very old man with great grandchildren. It was a dirty trick! But I want to say that these great grandchildren are every bit as much fun as the grandchildren were.

Our little Lilly is almost three already. Whoa, slow down a bit. I want her to be that grinning, irascible little towhead for several years, and I know from experience that if I blink too many times it will be all over. She is such a happy child. Her parents must be doing something right.

Now the other day, when her body language wreaked of defiance and she told her daddy "No!" she was threatened with a spank. Sure enough she pushed the envelope, and she earned her swat. I know something about the hand that administered that swat. I was there on the day she was born to see that same hand holding and caressing this little Lilly. I saw her daddy use the little finger of that same hand as a pacifier on that day. There was a lot of love in the bonding I witnessed almost three years ago. And I know that same love was there administering the swat

As this Lilly grows she may be delicate in many ways, but there was no mark left on her little derriere. Instead there was a little mark placed on her memory board, saying "You may not cross this line." When a parent fails to place that marker, it is not because of love for the child, but love for himself. This child is always cheerful, cute and fun to be with. It's such a crazy life. I can easily remember when Lilly's mother was the child, asking for the swat.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Calvin!

You're looking good for 500. I'm sure to be forgotten in a few years after my perpetual vault is sealed with my earthly remains. My grand kids will remember their silly papa, but my lasting influence will be nothing like that of George whatsisname in "It's a Wonderful Life". But you, John, even though you asked for an unmarked grave, you have a bunch of groupies like no rock star ever thought of having. Even my western culture that is throwing away it's Christian memory as rapidly as possible, has reluctantly demonstrated your lingering influence in it's history. We have taken the principle of the separation of church and state and turned it against the church, when you used it to protect the church. We have labeled a hard working man of integrity with the Calvinistic work ethic. It would be a shame if future generations were to follow a Keller work ethic. It would not bear the weight of scrutiny for integrity.

Dear John Calvin, you have taught me that God is really God. He really is in control, and He really is good. His holiness deserves my best praise. My miserable efforts at doing good or pleasing God's perfect evaluation only cry out for my everlasting condemnation. On my best day my motives are mixed and the results are shallow. That God is so loving that He upholds me with sovereign grace is my only hope--and it is a living hope.

When I read your theology it jumps off the page with living relevance. Other theology works, cogent and helpful as they may be, just do not ring with the pulsing vitality that I find in the "Institutes". Thanks, John. I will see you in glory.

Monday, June 29, 2009


I am not a scientist, but I know there is a spot in the brain somewhere that goes soft the day one becomes a grandparent. Okay, I am relying on anecdotal evidence, but so far my incomplete survey is displaying 100% results in favor of my thesis. Take the case of my "military" friend, Bill Warren, who would rather "remove the temptation" than see his granddaughter's cute little hand get a spank. This observation was relayed to me by his other daughter who commented, "That is not my father!"

I realized the day Stacy was born that my granddaughter could do no wrong. My theology tells me this proposition is impossible. My personal experience as a father only reinforces the biblical doctrine of human depravity. But grand parenting schizophrenia allows for me to preach total depravity on the one hand, and coo mantras of innocence to my little grandchildren on the other.

All of that was about 10 minutes ago. Now, all of a sudden I find myself a great grandfather. But no matter, it only gets worse. My son-in-law challenged me with, "My granddaughter is cuter than your granddaughter." After a full 30 seconds, Stacy got the point and complained, "Hey, wait a minute! That's me!"

Hey, they're coming too fast! Now I have a grandson too. Little David was born last Tuesday, and he is quite a handsome fellow, if I do say so myself. He even has a nice head full of dark hair. I have often thought of starting a side business making wigs for little newborns. It seems especially shameful for a little baby girl to be bald. If enough people agree with me we might pool our capital and invest in "Mops for Tots" or whatever.

Some kids come out looking as though they have just survived 5 rounds with Sugar Ray. They have red splotches all over their face, bulges and wrinkles where they shouldn't be, and they make it even worse by scrunching up the face and bellering. Now when someone points to his little darling, and he looks like a retiring boxer, I have learned to say, "Now there's a baby!" Truth has been told yet feelings have not been crushed. Anyway, my great grandson is more handsome than yours.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I mentioned that I was a latchkey kid, growing up. Some of my free time was not spent wisely. Let me tell you about my dad's slot machine. He came home with a nickel slot--you know, a "one-armed-bandit" they used to call them. Now you need to know that private ownership of a slot machine was perfectly legal, as long as it was minimal and used only for family entertainment.

He liked to take things apart and fix them. And when he dismantled the slot, he discovered that each wheel had a series of holes. Depending on just how the wheels lined up at the end of each turn, a metal rod poked through the holes to determine if there was any payoff, and if so, just how much money ought to be paid. Some of the holes had been plugged, so dad realized the machine was "tighter" than it's original condition. He removed all the plugs and adjusted the symbols on the wheels to reflect the new value. All the stuff I just said simply means that he made the machine so it would pay off more than it did before.

Visiting friends would always find an attraction to the machine. Several of them enjoyed a small handful of nickels payoff. Most of dad's friends would feel a social obligation to pump the money back into the machine, but even if they didn't we were not about to go broke because of it. Well, I knew where the key was kept, and when I came home from school I would open the back, grab a bunch of nickels, and play the machine. It was fun to put the nickel in and pull the handle. The wheels spun around and the machine clinked a couple of times and it was all very fascinating. As long as I pumped all the nickels back into the machine before either of my parents got home, no one was any the wiser.

Well one day I did it. I inserted the nickel, pulled the handle, and clink, clink, crash! I had hit the jackpot. Money came out of the payoff tube, and nickles came crashing out of the display case as well. Money was falling all over the floor, and I was busted! It wouldn't work for me to just open the back of the machine and stick the money in the collecting tray. The display case on the front of the machine would be conspicuously empty! I had to try to pump all that money back into the machine before mom or dad got home. Now remember dad had "loosened" the payoff odds for this machine. So as I feverishly fed this little bandit and pulled the handle, it kept paying off the smaller increments of three oranges, three cherries or plums. Here came 10 more nickels. Now there were 20 more. Aaahhh! Why can't I lose? Doesn't everyone know the house never looses? It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. I was dripping with sweat (perhaps it was mostly nervous sweat) when I finally finished my task. But I did it. Since there was no harm there was no foul. That made it a little easier to tell dad what I had done. But I didn't tell him for several days. He was pretty cool about it.