Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Monday, December 27, 2010

White Christmas no dream

On the very day! If you ever notice, the song, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" takes place in Beverly Hills, LA. The verse lead into the familiar part of the song specifically says that. Well I am no longer dreaming because we experienced the storybook reality here in Chattanooga, TN. It was almost as dramatic as the timing of the snowfall in the movie. About six in the morning the flakes began to fall, and they kept falling gently and steadily until we had four inches. It was gentle enough to make piles of snow on posts and branches. Our time with the family was idyllic.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why do you need Jesus?

My friend and fellow OPC minister, Tom Champness, preceded me in the pulpit of Grace Church, Modesto. One of the members there told me how Tom once asked the congregation, "By show of hands, how many of you consider yourself to be a sinner?" The response was unanimous. They knew the scripture that says "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." But Tom was not satisfied. He then asked, "Who considers himself to be a dirty, filthy, rotten sinner?" Only a few people were willing to raise the hand at this. Not all of them realized that in God's eyes these questions are identical.

And it is precisely that reason that I need Jesus. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. His death on the cross is designed to cleanse the filth of sin. His atonement paid the price of sin in our stead. Jesus said that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

But just how can we invite dignified people to join our church if we are calling them filthy sinners? We can't win people over by insulting them. The great temptation we have learned from the salesman model is to modify the packaging of the appeal to outsiders, so that coming to Christ will be more attractive. Repentance is just too negative a package.

Here in Memphis there must be a dozen mega churches that have a more or less reformed affiliation. It's a cultural phenomenon that I have not experienced any other place on the face of the earth. The tragic disappointment for me is when I find one or more of these churches have slipped on the temptation to dress the gospel in a more saleable package. I attended one of these churches only to find that the message was that we need to come to Christ because of our problems. It was almost said that we need him because of our sin, but the message fell short. Not only was the word "repent" not heard, but the concept was not clear at all. I came away with the impression that people were invited to come to Christ because he makes it easier to live life here below. He helps us face difficulties. He comes to us personally and never leaves his own. God with us is a wonderful experience.

All these things are true and wonderful. I suppose the appeal is legitimate, but not without the mention of repentance. John came to prepare for the Messiah, and his message was to "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." Jesus' first recorded message was identical. Was the gospel actually preached? I am hard pressed to say that it was. Am I being too picky? Is it not possible to invite people to come to Christ without belaboring the point of being a sinner?

Friday, December 17, 2010

We found Groom

Travel can be far more fascinating when you stop more often. Case in point: Barbara's doctor who did the knee replacement, advised her to stop every 90 minutes to walk and stretch because she is still recuperating. We didn't actually keep a perfect schedule, but we did stop within two hours of the last rest, and it made for some interesting experiences.

Sometimes 90 minutes pass and there are no appropriate places to get out and stretch. The other day in Texas, for example, the wind was whipping us at gale force (or nearly). The car was dancing on the highway, and the only "rest" stops along the interstate were picnic areas. We tried one, but I wouldn't let her get out of the car for fear she would be blown over. The alternative was to pick the next town and drive in to find someplace.

That place was a town called "Groom" Texas. The population was something a little less than 600 people. Not all roads were fully paved, but what appeared to be main street was. It made Barbara remember "Bridgewater, SD" the town she escaped following her high school graduation. There is a special charm to a small town that can only be found there. The friendliness of the people is so un-contrived and winsome. While there may also be a special terror in such a small town, it is of no concern to the brief visitor. The young teen who was laying out rugs from the market and sweeping them, greeted us like we could have been favorite relatives.

As we slowly struggled our way up the block and back to the car (remember our purpose was to walk and stretch), a balding middle aged proprietor came out of the local emporium, greeted us, and offered us the calendar his business distributes. He knew we were new in town (in a town that size everyone knows everyone who belongs there), and I'm not sure but what he wanted to check us out to be sure we were not there for some nefarious reason. But he too was so neighborly that we were overwhelmed with the gesture.

I'm so glad to have the calendar because I do not want to soon forget this little piece of small town pleasantness, and I can be reminded all next year whenever I look at this calendar.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Those Texas Rangers

They ride speedy crossovers now instead of fleet ponies, but they are just as vigilant as ever. My son, Calvin, warned me about the sneaky speed traps on Texas highways. He claims that small towns count on tourists for much of their revenue by suddenly decreasing the speed limit, and then posting rangers at those strategic places to nab unsuspecting motorists who simply remove the foot from the accelerator and let the car slowly coast down to the posted speed. Between the first limit sign and the compliance of one's vehicle several hundred feet of road will find you inexcusably moving at excessive speed. Since uncle Fred is the judge there is no point in appealing.

I think his imagination was getting the best of him again, so I set my cruise control three or four mph over the posted limit like all cool California drivers do. Sometimes (on long trips, for example) we tend to go as much as 5 or more miles over the posted limit, hoping that a display of cool demeanor and otherwise careful and courteous driving habits will dissuade the officer from actually administering the costly citation.

We told our son that since we were taking the interstate highway, there would be none of those small town shenanigans. But today, as we cruised through the Texas panhandle region, one of those diligent gendarmes nabbed me. We were courteous. We had license (without recorded offense). We had proof of insurance. We had valid registration. He must have noticed that we were California cool, and he was especially impressed that we were on a mission to visit the "kiddos" (his term), he issued only a warning citation. We thanked him and continued on our way. Only now this same woman who had been coaxing me in other states to get us there as quickly as possible, now was ragging on me for the least overage. The speed limit is a generous 70 mph, and we made it to the border at 69.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Did you ever think that Jesus' mother got a bad rap? Think yourself in her position after the shocking announcement by the angel. When her pregnancy was disclosed, who really believed her? The Bible tells us that even her pending husband was sure she had been unfaithful. He was planning to get rid of her privately.

Come on now, if your daughter says to you, "Daddy, my pregnancy test was positive. I've tried it a second time. But I've never had intimate relations with any guy." "Yeah, right! And did you see any pigs fly today?" Two thousand years ago they knew about the birds and the bees. It took a special revelation from God to turn Joseph's mind, and presumably he was the one person who trusted her most.

When the angel explained the details of her virgin pregnancy Mary submitted herself to the Lord's will with humble praise. She was truly a pious chick. But what about the neighbors? What were they whispering behind the hand? At her cousin's home it becomes apparent that Elizabeth was on board with highest honors for cousin Mary. And Mary erupted with praise to God, her Savior, mentioning that all generations will call her blessed.

Unfortunately we protestants have over-reacted to the Roman Catholic Church who are coming ever closer to worshipping Mary (the last thing she would have desired then or now). So when we hear the phrase, "The Blessed Virgin Mary" we react in revulsion. We would never use that phrase, and yet Mary anticipated that it would be appropriate down through the ages, and she was right.

At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus said something that sounds a little like a rebuke to Mary. She tells Jesus that the embarrassed couple had run out of wine, and Jesus responds by saying something like, "Lady, what business do we have with each other?" Maybe we don't get it, and maybe he is reminding his mother that in the miracle business He has no assistants. At any rate humble Mary simply tells those waiters to do whatever He tells them.

When we get to the little band of disciples gathering after the ascension of Christ, there is Mary among them. She had learned long before this that Jesus, even though He was her son, is her Lord and Savior. It must have taken amazing mental and spiritual gymnastics for her to understand her place, but, young as she was, remember Mary was always keeping these things and pondering them in her heart. She is my sister in Christ, and she is a wise and wonderful one. Let's give her all the honor that is appropriate.

Three cheers for the blessed virgin Mary!

Monday, December 13, 2010

First vacation crisis

Last minute packing can be a hastle. Ours was no exception. When we were an hour later than we proposed to leave I was cramming the last box of stuff we simply "had" to include into the back seat of the car. Oh, oh, I need to straighten something on the other side of the back seat. I'll just walk around and take care of it by opening the door on that side of the car. Here, I'll just shove it in a little. "Crunch, wham!" Oh no! What was that? The box I had just crammed into the other side of the car was at the other end of my push. It fell to the ground upside down. Of course there was no top to the box. That would have protected at least some of the contents from spilling out on the ground. Now I am crabby. I am jamming the "essential" garbage back into the box and back onto the other boxes on the back seat. Oops, there's a Hershey's Kiss that rolled under the car. Forget it. I am in no condition to be getting on my ancient knees just to retrieve a stupid piece of candy. Let the neighborhood scavengers find it.

It was only after we arrived at Donna's house in Lake Havasu City, AZ, that Barbara asked me to get her partial that she had packed in that box. Yes, THAT box. Even though the box was not large, I searched it twice, and a couple other boxes just for good measure. It was not there. The roof of her mouth was irritated by this set of teeth, so she sealed them into a small Tupperware container with a little mouthwash. She installs them when needed, but they were not there this time. The Tupperware container was round. When the box fell in the driveway, it had rolled all the way out to the curb. I don't remember feeling a thump when we pulled out of the driveway. I'm reasonable certain I didn't run over them. Hey, today is the day the street sweeper comes. I don't really want to follow that scenario.

We called our sweet granddaughter, Stacy, and asked her to go to the house and see if that is what actually happened. In the car our four year old great granddaughter, Lilly, asked her mom, "Where are we going?" "To Papa and Nana's house." Lilly knew we were gone so she asked, "Why?" "Because Nana dropped her teeth." "How?" "Her teeth come out." At this, Lilly threw her head back, smacking her forehead with her hand, and dramatically sighing, "Ooooh!"

Sure enough, the container was there in the gutter. The street sweeper had not yet visited. Thanks to Stacy's help, the teeth are headed for our next visitation station: Bobby, Lori and the kids in Memphis. They tell us, "If it fits, it ships" and it did.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Quick healer

The physical therapist told Barbara she needn't make any more appointments. She can bend her knee 120 degrees, and almost completely flat (the other direction, of course). She had back to back appointments today, so she saw the surgeon too. Although he admitted that he didn't remember her knee because he has done 30 knee replacements since then, he too was impressed with her movement, and gave us license to ravel to Tennessee next week. She was kicked out of PT with her first knee replacement in a remarkable 3 weeks. Well, she did it again.

The secret is that she stepped on the edge of a box top the other day and fell on her derriere. I was not available to help her up, and so she sat there pondering her predicament. "How can I get to my feet without damaging my knee?" You see, these are the problems that are pondered more often than the problem of world hunger when you become a septuagenarian. Did I say this episode was a secret? Well it might have been a secret except Barbara has no pride. She blabbed fluently to the doctor, and anyone else she has been talking to about her knee. When I finished my important business and finally entered the room, there she was sitting awkwardly on the floor. After she assured me that she was not hurt, I tried to lift her from the floor, but I'm not the man I used to be. I gave it my best shot, but miserably failed. Before I could contrive a successful scenario, Barbara got on her newly replaced knee and pushed herself up with the other leg. I guess she is more healed than I realized. Now if I could just help her manage her pain a little better, I would feel like I'm worth her keeping me.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Okay, I have to admit that I miss the seasons. Lakewood, California is not New England, but we do have some fall colors. There are several trees like the one above near our house. There is a very yellow tree showing off just a few blocks away. God's Fall paintbrush does touch Southern California modestly.

We never lived in heavy snow country, but I can remember spectacular snow storms that struck Christmas eve. Many nostalgic memories include picturesque snowfalls. Something romantic like a scene from a Christmas card forms good memories for a sentimentalist like me. Good Shepherd Chapel was our church plant in Neptune, NJ in the early 60s. We developed the popular tradition of a community Christmas eve service of Scripture readings, carols and brief sermon. It became the one time of the year that neighbors came to our little church, so we gave it our best. The most memorable of these services was the night we had a blizzard during the service. Cars couldn't get our of the parking lot. After singing "Silent Night" with candlelight at the conclusion of the service, we emerged from the church to see the silent snow covering everything in sight with its thick blanket. I remember helping push several cars out of the lot, and one car needed the help of a rope and horse who happened by when we needed him.

Of course this doesn't mean that we were better at worship that night, but it did leave a pleasant memory for everyone who pulled together through the combined beauty and ordeal of the blizzard, and worship was associated with that pleasant memory. Snow is also part of God's amazing handiwork.

I enjoyed the eastern springtime as well. The lively shade of green in new growth around us, the crocuses jumping up through the thin layer of late snow, all meant that the sharp colors of Azaleas were not long after. It was the long, hot, humid Summers that made me long to return to the left coast.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

C. W. "Chuck" Lee

My dear friend and longtime next door neighbor died September 19. I just heard this news almost by accident yesterday. Chuck Lee was a retired college professor, an atheist and a nudist. And he was easily the best neighbor I ever had. When we first moved to Carson, he was my friendly welcome to the neighborhood. Early in our relationship he came to the door in the buff and acted as though nothing was amiss. When I returned home and reported what had just happened, my daughter freaked out. She never went to his house the whole time she lived with us until the day she married.

Chuck had planted his yard to resemble a mountain meadow as much as possible in the city. Over the years his trees grew very tall, and only recently he consented to cut down the trees in the front yard. All the other neighbors had their bids for house beautiful with neatly trimmed and varying shades of green lawn. Not Chuck. Thanks to his landscaping, his yard was a veritable forest, intruding itself into this city block like something out of another dimension. His back yard included a grotto with a bench for meditation. Two white rabbits populated this yard until a hawk snatched one of them.

He didn't have a mail box. He only took his mail from a rented box at the post office. Measuring all the junk mail we received over the 26 years we shared on Jay St.I'm not sure but what he had the better idea.

Barbara enjoyed his HO model railroad that actually tunneled through walls of his upstairs bedrooms. He had created little stations that were supposed to represent early renditions of actual depots of early California.

He never used his stove. The manufacturer's cardboard sheet was still at the bottom of the oven when I saw it.

When he disclosed to me that he was an atheist, I, of course, believed God moved me there for the purpose of witnessing to him. I'm afraid I didn't do it enough, or cleverly enough, and yes, I believe God was in control even of our relationship. But now that he has died it doesn't leave me feeling very good about it. Once he told me that his daughter fell in with the wrong crowd and became a born again Christian. He said that her IQ fell by 50 points after that. She went to New Guinea as a missionary for New Tribes Missions. I could see God's irony at work here, but Chuck only saw her wasting her life.

Once I got him to came to our church when we were showing a series of films about the Christian response to Darwinism, and he was quite unimpressed. But if he needed a plumber or an auto mechanic, he always asked me if I knew of a Christian tradesman to do the job. Is that transparent or what?

He borrowed the book, "Born Again" because he was interested in the autobiography of Chuck Colson. We prayed that God would move his heart, but he returned the book in an astonishing few days. He said he skipped all the "religious" stuff.

He was always courteous and considerate. Even when we were talking about God our conversations (though far too brief) were always conducted politely. He trusted me with the key to his front door, "just in case water is flowing out of my garage while I am away" and even after we moved he insisted we keep the key "just in case."

He was not at all overweight as many of us contemporaries are. In fact he walked frequently, and at length all over Carson. He was seldom sick, and I think his death was quite sudden. He was just a year older than I, and God has given me another reminder that I should enjoy each day I spend with Him and with my wife.