Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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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.