Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Resolutions

My wife still remembers sitting in the doctor's waiting room, overhearing a girl with a broken leg who said, "I'm giving up dancing for lent."  Just how impressed did she think God might be with her resolution of self sacrifice?

New Year's resolutions are ridiculous.  The concept itself carries the proof of the insincere intentions.  The fact that one waits until the New Year to make the resolution is the evidence that there is no hearty resolution about it.  I'm going to keep my New Year's resolution to never go sky diving again.  The fact that I have never had a desire to do this, plus the fact that I am 77 years old and have no business trying such a foolish, dangerous thing, makes this resolution most certainly successful.  But what does such a resolution mean?

If something is worth changing in your life, why wait til New Years to make the change?  If it is something wrong or bad, that is to say sinful, then it's worth doing December 30 or January 2 or any other day of the year.  "I resolve to stop killing other people, starting New Year's Day."  No, that won't fly.  Obviously ludicrous, but when we are talking about sin, it is no more ludicrous than saying, "I resolve to stop coveting the riches of others, starting on New Year's Day."  Oh I see, that leaves you one more day to indulge that sin.  Better do a lot of it to make up for the deprivation you will suffer in the future.

It's like Mardi Gras, fat Tuesday, as a day of debauchery and gluttony before the self-deprivation of lent. Does anyone actually suppose God is fooled by such obvious ill intentions?  Does anyone actually want to serve such a small-minded god?  It's only a game quite like the New Year's resolution.

Christian friend, you know your resolution.  I resolve to kill sin more effectively and live more godly.  But, dear friend, we must remake that resolve every day, and alas, more than once each of those days.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Singing apocrypha

You have to realize how doctrinally hard nosed is my church before you will appreciate what I have to say today.  This is the church who chooses not to sing "and opened the life-gate that all may go in" when we publish "To God Be the Glory" in our hymnal.  The committee took the pains to modify Fanny Crosby's first verse to read "that we may go in" instead.  The original could have been construed to mean that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world, meaning every race, tongue and tribe have one, and only one Savior offered to them in the Gospel.  But just to jealously guard the doctrine of election, we needed to modify it.  Okay, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is doctrinally up tight--even paranoid?  I love this church, and partly for that reason.

What amuses me at this time of year is how we let sentiment, tradition or whatever it is, lead us into singing outlandish apocrypha.  Try "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" (Trinity hymnal #200).  Where is the Scripture that tells us Jesus was born at midnight?  The hymn makes no reference to Christ or His saving work.  Instead it anticipates a golden age that eventually comes over the earth with peace.  It leaves out reference to the saving atonement because it was written by a Unitarian pastor who didn't believe in the atonement.

How about # 204, "Away in a Manger"?  In the second verse baby Jesus wakes up, but no crying He makes.  How do we know that?  Is it sinful for babies to cry?

"See, amid the Winter's Snow" (#199) has great words, but what's this stuff about winter's snow?  Bethlehem gets plenty cold in late December (too cold for shepherds to be abiding in the field with their sheep), but snow is rare at this latitude and altitude.

I'm not outraged (should I be?).  I'm not crusading for hymn revisions.  I'm simply amused that my doctrinally hard nosed church sings apocrypha this time of year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chaplain Lynn Wade

We all have met unforgettable characters during our life.  One of those outstanding humans for me is Chaplain Lynn Wade.  My first knowledge of Mr. Wade came from tough sailors with whom I came into contact in church.  They learned to trust in Christ because of the influence of Chaplain Lynn Wade while they were stationed on  the island of Guam.  It seems he confronted men with the gospel in the most militant ways imaginable.  He was not a roughneck himself.  I remember him as tall and trim--even wiry. He wasn't a buff bruiser, but his voice was strong and demanding.  He was military in personality.

Once when he preached in our little church in Eagle Rock, his tithing sermon was from the text in Malachi that says, "Will a man rob God?"  He made his point indelible by reaching over the railing at the stage, grabbing a handful of money from the offering plate and shoving it into his coat pocket.  Change went jingling and rolling across the floor.  But not a soul who was there missed or ever forgot this message.  Well, at least we didn't forget the illustration.

We were a very small congregation, and I'm afraid we had become a bit lax in our prompt attendance, especially for the evening service.  One night we arrived two minutes tardy (maybe three) for evening service, only to find Rev. Wade's note pinned to the door.  "I was here at worship hour and evidently you cancelled it without giving me notice, so I went elsewhere to worship."

We were so impressed by his zeal for the gospel that we even named one of our sons for him.  Paul Wade Keller was our third son.

I was told by someone who was there that Lynn Wade once rode his motorcycle on the sidewalk in Philadelphia when he was in Westminster Seminary.  When I brought it up to him, he didn't seem to think there was anything funny about it.

During the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, held in Denver, CO, many preacher's kids were in attendance, and they wanted to have fun.  When Mr. Wade discovered that one of the kids had filled the sugar container with salt, he rose to his feet in the dining hall and bellered out a brief sermon, rebuking whoever it was that had wasted God's good provisions.  It was his own son who had pulled the stunt, however, and I don't think he ever confessed.  It can be tragic when such an intense person cannot balance his life with a sense of humor.  I cannot pretend to know how things developed in their home.  I do know that the children were made to memorize the catechism rigorously.  But I also know that his children rebelled when they had the freedom to do so.  I hope they repented and came back to the Lord in later life, but I just don't know.

Lynn Wade was suffering with cancer and radiation treatments when I drove him to a speaking engagement.  He was lovable because he loved Jesus, and so do I.  But I didn't have to live with him.  He said that the treatment was sometimes worse than the disease.  I think that was the last time we spoke in person.

It is my observation about Lynn Wade, and many other good men since, that gifted men are often also severely flawed men.  I'm sure Mr. Wade brought more men and women to Jesus Christ than I have in all my ministry.  I know that he made an impression on men who would never be fazed by my attempts to share the gospel.  God uses all kinds of people.  The good is all of grace, but personality is part of God's preparation for such ministries.  Martin Luther is a wonderful case in point.

Monday, November 21, 2011

At War With Each Other

While riding my stationary bike the other day, I was playing a CD of Barbra Streisand.  She was singing a song called "Being at War With Each Other".  It went like this:

     Everyone comes from one father, one mother
     So why do we complicate our lives so much
     By being at war with each other?


     Mmm...maybe I'm crazy but I don't understand it
     Why do we seem to vote to dig more holes
     It's such a waste of a planet


     There must be a reason that I can't see
     Maybe somebody else now knows better than me....

I'm pumping the pedals, trying to get lost for 20 minutes while I engage in this minimal bid for exercise that seems so hard for me.  And I'm actually listening to the words this time.  If you are able to ignore her politics long enough to bathe your ears with her torch song mode and strong convincing voice, it yields such auditory pleasure.  But this time I'm actually listening to the words, and I say--almost out loud--Hey, Barbra, I know the answer to that one!  You're not going to believe it, but God has actually given us an answer in the Bible.  In fact the brokenness of human nature is one of the major themes of Scripture.

And then it occurs to me that my pagan culture does see the problem, but they are terrified to admit it.  We are all broken, and only the original Manufacturer is able to repair us.  And that is the story line of the entire Bible.  Part of that broken condition is the stubborn refusal to repent and cry out to God for help.  Like a foolish toddler with a kitchen knife, we'd rather do it ourselves.  So we go to 12 step programs, or to psychiatrists, or to the local pub and seek solutions.  Hundreds of dollars and years later we have only discovered there are a lot of other broken people out there to join us in our misery.

The Bible teaches us that human misery and human sin are related as cause and effect.  When we declare independence from our Maker, and kid ourselves that we can make it on our own, we become "square pegs" and it hurts when we try to fit square pegs into round holes (the world as originally designed by God).  But the problem is so much more than the logistics of square pegs and round holes.  There is a moral dimension.

We are not just "broken" but instead we are rebels against the holy God who made us and all things.  We find ourselves hating Him because He will not let reality revolve around our personal interests.  He wants us to be holy, loving and helpful.  We want pleasure, attention and wealth.  We want to be god.  And that was exactly the sin committed by Adam and Eve.  Yes, we all come from one father and mother, and that is only part of the problem.  They passed on to us those perverted chromosomes, and we are guilty, hellbent, broken sinners.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love toward us has made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up and seated us together with Christ in heavenly places.  By grace you are saved.  This is the heavenly position that is given to everyone who turns from his sin, and asks God to forgive him for Jesus' sake.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Date Night

Over the years date night has been important for us to cultivate our marriage. Besides that, Barbara is really my best friend, and it's just plain fun to be together. Okay, before you puke over this drippy sentimentalism, I want to share with you one of our special date nights. It must have been on or about our 15th anniversary. Our plans were not very imaginative: dinner and a movie. But God's plans injected a little tragedy/humor that made it a little more memorable. (Otherwise it might have been lost in my deteriorating synapses.) We were in Wilmington, Delaware, and the weather was threatening. Actually there was steady drizzle, though not a true eastern rain. The kids were safely in the charge of a trusted baby-sitter, and we were on the road, when suddenly our car sounded like an airplane. The muffler popped loose from the exhaust pipe. If that has never happened to you, I want you to know that it is a racket that you cannot blithely ignore. Our family car was making rude noises in public. Like loud flatulence at a Quaker meeting, this had to be stopped! Finally I pulled the car to the side of the road where we could be a little secluded. My suit was a little old so I removed my coat and slid under to see what I could do. During my wriggling and contortions I managed to tear my pants all along the crotch seam. I gerryrigged a wire coat hanger and quieted the car, but now I had the challenge of continuing my date with clothing disrepair. Returning home would seriously truncate our evening plans, so we plunged ahead. Only when we reached the restaurant did I realize the extent of my seam damage. I asked Barbara to walk close behind me, and we must have looked like a clown act as she stuck to me as close as chewing gum on the bedpost. We were seated at a table with a covering that extended over the edge but a few inches. I was suddenly keenly aware of the challenge facing modest girls in short skirts. I was seriously distracted all through dinner, trying to remember to keep my legs crossed. As I remember, we both got the giggles before the evening was over. What had begun as a "tragedy" turned into sublime providential humor. As you can tell from this log, it has become a lasting memory.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tarantula

When I was in grade school we lived about two blocks from the hills in Eagle Rock.  We kids climbed around those hills daily during the summer months.  On occasion we saw the Occidental Cross Country team running by us.  Castor beans grew in the wild and oak trees dotted the landscape.  There were trap door spiders to observe, and/or capture.  But the most discomfort for an 11 year old boy was the tarantula.  I remember a neighbor sweeping one off his driveway into a large jar.  It's not a love/hate relationship, but rather a terror/fascination relationship I have with spiders.  And when one is as large as my hand, and black and hairy as well...it really creeps me out.

I've been told that tarantulas are really not dangerous.  Well they may not be poisonous, but the danger for me, waking up with one on my chest, would be the danger of a heart attack.  I know they are available in pet stores, of all places.  I remember reading in the paper about a boy who brought his pet tarantula to school for show and tell.  As boys are prone to do, he tried to show him off by not only handling him, but giving him a kiss!  According to the newspaper account, the spider bit his lip, but he only suffered a painful swollen lip for the prank.

One of our trips through Kings Canyon National Park encountered about four tarantulas crossing the road.  I was fascinated.  Telling the kids to stay in the car, I stepped out and approached these scary little beasts.  You will have to tell me if it was my imagination, but I'll swear that they hissed at me.  I could see the lead spider raise its head and front legs at me, and I heard a distinct hiss.  Of course I turned on one foot and headed straight back into the car.  It was a classic case of cross cultural communication.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Murder in Seal Beach

Here we go again.  Another wicked man has taken his gun and blown the life out of 8 people in the clean, friendly neighborhood of Seal Beach, CA.  I hate when this happens.  I hate it, but I'm not astonished as many seem to be.  God has told us about the moral warp that has infected the human race after the fall.  In fact it was rather early in history that God said, "Every intent of the thoughts of his heart is only evil, continually."  Or Psalm 14 that says that God looked down on the children of men to see if any did understand and seek God, only to find that they are all together become filthy, and there is no one that is good, no not one.  The events in Seal Beach on Wednesday are just another unfortunate outcome of the sinful condition of human nature.  There should be no great surprise here for a Christian. Grief, yes, but no surprise.

The irony is that our culture seems fanatically determined to believe that human nature is basically good.  This is what gives the media commentators pause when angry sinners lash out with irrational slaughter like this.  Sooner or later (for the defense attorney it will be sooner) someone will try to give a reasonable excuse for this behavior.  They seem to display a religious commitment that requires the isolation of this man from society.  He was out of his right mind because of his boating accident, or because of the threat of losing custody of his 7 yr. old son.  There has to be a reason...something other than admitting that there is a dark side in every one of us that will drive us to unspeakable deeds if left unchecked.

Then we might hear the skeptics and atheists cry out, "Where is God when things like this happen!"  I'll tell you where God is.  He is still saying that these were not worse sinners than any others, but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.  Life is suddenly over for 8 people, and the lives of dozens of others have been irreparably scarred by the loss of loved ones.  Providence teaches, no, shouts at us, that life is short.  Life would be senseless if that is all there is, but when you know that after this there is a judgment, it begins to come back into perspective.

The very first message that Jesus preached was summarized by, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand."  Every man, woman and child needs to know that they could be snatched into eternity without even a moment's notice.  If that innate sense of justice is going to be satisfied, we'd better believe in the judgement seat of Christ.  Without it, the existentialists are right to say life is absurd.  But they only say that.  They do not live as though they really believe that.  When Jean Paul Sartre railed against his own government for cruel behavior against the Algerian guerrillas for their immoral behavior, he had to publicly admit that he was speaking in flat out contradiction to his philosophy.  We all know right from wrong, and when right is not rewarded or wrong is not punished in this life, there is no resolution if one stubbornly refuses to hear God speak of heaven and hell in the bible.

Proper dignified minds may belittle the belief in a "sky high heaven and red hot hell" but without the Bible's perspective on eternity, those same proper people are left with no ultimate meaning for life.

Let us morn those who were senselessly murdered.  But let us take this harsh lesson to heart.  It is appointed to men once to die, and after this: the judgment.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Little Stars

Whenever I attend a wedding (rather than conduct one), I look for the stars of the show.  That would be the flower girl and the ring bearer.  They are such cute miniature humans!  They can be so delightfully unpredictable, and therefore account for some of the most memorable moments in what occasionally becomes a tedious routine in our culture.

Barbara, the preacher's daughter, remembers the groom who fainted...twice!  They finally brought him a chair to finish the ceremony.  She also clearly remembers a wedding performed at the manse during which the ring fell, rolled along the floor and fell down the vent of the floor furnace.

But I digress.  I was reflecting on the little stars of the show.  Like little Raymond who was the ring bearer for my daughter's wedding.  At rehearsal, he balked and cried, and simply WOULD NOT walk down the aisle.  The next night, we were prepared to conduct the wedding with or without his cooperation.  But this time, sporting an adorable little tux, and now with a church full of terrifying people, he marched down the aisle like a pro.  You never know.

When my son was married in Memphis, the ring bearer DID become terrified by that great crowd.  They begged, cajoled and finally dragged him down the aisle.  And when he arrived, he anchored himself to the leg of my other son, serving as a groomsman, clinging for dear life, and never let go.

More recently when our nephew was married in the San Francisco area, the scene was outdoors at a picturesque park, seemingly made for the purpose.  Someone had thoughtfully sewed the ring to a satin pillow for the ring bearer to carry to the pledging couple.  But when he arrived, alas the pillow was there, but not the ring!  The groom's father, known to be a quick thinker, took off his own ring, and the embarrassed couple used it because of the urgency of the occasion.  I still have a snapshot of the wedding party, on their hands and knees, routing through the grass, looking for the lost ring.  They didn't find it until they brought a metal detector the next day.

The little flower girls have not left me with such dramatic recollections.  I remember a flower girl, with a basket full of flower petals, who did not drop a single one on her trek to the altar.  Some have cried all the way.  And I do remember one who shouted "No" to her mother, who was trying to tend her after she arrived up front.  The memorable part of this scenario was that she shouted right after the minister asked, "Will you take this woman to be your wedded wife?"

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hair

I heard Dennis Bartell on the radio this morning, with his little great composer quiz.  The question was which composer was vain about his hair which was blond and flowing.  He was small of stature and his face was pale of pallor, but his hair was outstanding, and he was proud of it.  The answer is Mozart.  Actually I guessed the correct answer, but it got me thinking about hair.

I remember when classical musicians were called "longhairs" with something of disdain in the voice.  But culture evolves, and at my age I can see that culture evolves all too rapidly.  So this "longhair" epithet has fallen into disuse because today it is the rock musician who has the long hair, and it is part of his shtick.  Young impressionable girls swoon over the shrieking rock star as he nearly swallows the microphone and his shoulder length hair flairs around him.  It is far more likely that it would be the fan of classical music (who is usually much older) who might use "longhair" as a derogatory epithet for the rocker.

Then I remember when men with long hair were excluded from proper Christian fellowship.  Now it is quite common.  In fact that same rocker mentioned in the last paragraph might lead a worship team on the stage of a church with "contemporary" worship style.  We are so influenced by culture.  If we are not adopting worldly standards of culture and behavior, we are at least confused by culture, and our senses become dulled.  We major in the minors.

Ray Commeret, a now deceased colleague of mine, was a bit maverick in his methods, and generous in his sense of humor.  I remember the day he drove in to French Creek Bible Conference with a full black beard, rolled down the window of his car, and said in his excellent Brooklyn Jew accent, "Is this the House of David?"  He had just returned from an extended vacation to pick up children at French Creek, and it was obvious that he had not taken a razor with him on vacation.  I understand that he hadn't used his razor yet when he first entered his pulpit after vacation, and his sermon title was, "How Long is Christian Hair?"  I have no idea what his text was, nor just how he preached Christ from it, but knowing his integrity as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, I'm sure it was a legitimate Bible text, and I'm sure he pointed people to the Savior.  Compared to some of the dramatic antics of Old Testament prophets, this was not really far out of line.  He was a living example of how we can major in the minors.

When I look at old photos of myself, I sometimes laugh at the hair.  It wasn't that long, but it was simply old fashioned--and the sideburns!

Somebody obviously thinks that Jesus had long hair.  In fact the famous Salmon portrait of the Christ portrays a rather effeminate, western European face with long hair.  Who is this?  Are we to believe that Christ sat for the portrait?  In what museum might I find the ancient camera that captured His likeness?  And yet every "miracle" appearance of Christ in porch light shadows or burnt pancakes is identified by the same general image.  Why do we reject the rendering of the black Christ?

Scripture says that there is nothing outstanding about His physical appearance.  There is no beauty that we should desire Him.  His human nature must bear the Mediterranean Jewish coloring and bone structure.  I wonder how many westerners would be pleased with his appearance.

I love Jesus because He first loved me, and gave himself for me.  His physical looks will not even be noticed by believers when we see Him face to face.  In that day we will see perfectly, and when we see His face, we will see the lover of our souls, and that is all we will see.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jerome, Arizona

When we visit Sedona, as we did again this Summer, we always take a day to see Jerome again.  It is a tourist trap with personality.  There are galleries, shops and restaurants that all have a glint in the eye because they know they have something few little towns have.  They have a wild and scandalous history that lingers in the air--or at least in the museum.

One of the infamous madams of this town served as mayor  for a while.  At least two sheriffs have had to shoot and kill the bad guys.  When the copper mine was founded, workers needed housing, and that is the beginning of Jerome.  It became a bustling settlement on the side of the mountain where the main street is a switchback that becomes narrow enough in one place that it becomes a one way street.  This is the infamous highway 89a.  T shirts and caps carry the slogan "I survived highway 89a".

At one point in its rich and varied history, the high school boasted a state champion football team.  But where you find hard working men such as these, you will probably find the provision of wild entertainment designed to help them spend their money on a "good time".  And so there grew up with this town several bars and more than one bordello.  The unique topography of the town, everythting being on a steep hillside, afforded an escape route out the back door of the brothel to the street below.  When a suspicious wife came looking for her husband, he was seldom found thank to this service.

The fortunes of the town rose and fell dramatically, depending on the need and price of copper.  At one point in her history, Jerome was the fifth largest city in the state of Arizona with fifteen thousand citizens in 1929.  But after that fateful year, copper lost it's value, the mine closed and men looked for work with the WPA.

What eventually saved the town seems to be the influx of an artisan crowd of hippies and flower children, moving to the hills and making it an artist's village, cashing in on the rich history of the town to interest visitors and keep things going as a tourist trap.  Whatever the town was, it is now a charming town above the Verde Valley where, just incidentally, the OPC is "mining" for souls with a fledgling church plant in Cottonwood.  If you are ever in the area, you must visit Jerome, and if it is a weekend, visit our little church in Cottonwood.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Memorable felines

I always had a cat, growing up.  Early blogs of mine tell of Blondie, my favorite feline of my youth.  But after we were married and had kids, we had cats adopt us.  There were many.  Open the front door and in walks an adorable cat.  It meows and rubs against your leg so affectionately that suddenly you have a cat.  Of course it is true, what they say about dogs may have masters, but cats have staff.  All those sayings about cats have at least a strong element of truth.  Thousands of years ago cats were worshipped in Egypt, and somehow they never got over it.  If this intimidates you, you become a cat hater.  If this amuses you, you become a cat lover.

We had a cat named "Mahershallelhashbaz" (which, roughly translated, is: "hasten the spoil, rush on the prey")  Now that seems a fitting name for many a hungry feline.  It has the added benefit of being a Bible name.  But alas it was not really clever for us to name it thus, because Corie ten Boom mentions her cat by that name in her famous book, "The Hiding Place".  The only remarkable thing I can remember about this cat is that it left some poop on the stairs which Barbara discovered as it came up between her bare toes.  Cats know who likes them and who doesn't.  They have this way of making a statement with a turd.  Our friends, Barry and Trisch Dorsch, had a cat who held a mutual contempt with  Barry.  One day after tossing the cat out of his desk chair, he found an exclamation poop behind that chair.  Now that's an eloquent statement!

Once we actually owned a pedigreed Persian cat.  All other experiences were with the alley cat variety that adopts it's owner, er... staff as mentioned above.  But our youngest, Jonathan, had made up his mind that he would like to have a Persian cat.  His mother bargained that if we made enough money in a coming garage sale, he could buy the advertised bargain Persian.  It worked very well, and he was a beautiful model of fluff, posing for the admiration of all.  We named him Cyrus, after the great Persian king of old (also a Bible name).  But other than laying around, looking beautiful, he did nothing.  The most boring cat we have ever owned.  He got some ailment, caused by his delicate digestive system, that cost us $180 at the vet.  Not long after this he seemed to have the same ailment, but this time he disappeared, presumably to die.  I'd rather think that some Persian admirer swiped him, but we will never know in this life, because they didn't have micro chips in those days.

I'm sure I mentioned our white cat in an early blog of mine.  The story of her chasing savvy squirrels into the trees of Wilmington, Delaware, is a favorite.  How they would jump from the end of a limb, leaving her clinging to this bobbing tree branch, was fun to repeat.

We had another white cat that moved with us from Modesto to Carson.  This one was named "Pernicious" (you know, as in "pernicious anemia").  In order for us to get her in the car to travel with a modicum of calm, we had to drug her with a powerful pill from the vet.  Wow, did she fight against the effects of that drug.  She could barely open her heavy eyelids (actually cats have a dual set, and we could see one set she was unable to open).  As I drove the VW bug down highway 99, she would occasionally emit this low feline noise, a miniature version of a lion's growl.  But she made it.  And she grew old with us.  By her 13th year the family was strongly lobbying me to put her to sleep.  When some sort of infection ate away one of her ears I finally relented to the ugly assignment.

Most of our cats were necessary to serve as pets for our famous dog, Talitha.  We discovered that during a period without a cat, our dog was moping around the house.  She was always a peppy, friendly canine, and so we noticed her poor mood.  But as soon as the next cat adopted our family, Talitha revived her interest in life.  Our eldest son, Phil, taught our dog to "get that cat."  She would catch the head of the cat in her mouth, while the acclimated cat would kick with her hind legs.  They frequently played like this and nobody was hurt.  That night we would see them curled up together to sleep.  It was only a problem when Phil took the dog for a walk and gave her the order with a neighbor cat.  Since the neighbor cat didn't know the game, she was usually treed.  So I say most of our cats were pets for Talitha.  She was not really a pet.  She was a member of the family and she grew up with our children.  We had her for more than 16 years.

Bill Cosby had it right when one of his routines, describing the difference between cats and dogs, pictured the dog as carrying master's slippers and saying, "What else do you want, Master?"  But the cat is sitting on the couch watching TV.  He says, "Hey, you, cat." 
"You're not talking to me."
"You haven't caught any mice lately."
"I'm full, man."
Yeah.  Cats have staff.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

More baseball lore

When I was a kid I could play baseball all day long, and on more than one occasion I did exactly that.  My first "organized" team was in a playground league at Ladera Park, near Dorsey High School.  We were a scruffy bunch of rubes who just liked the game, even though we stank at playing baseball.  As the season progressed, and we lost every game, some of my friends lost their loyalty to the team or to me or to the institution of baseball itself.  We were not unlike Charlie Brown's team.

The team evolved and new players asked to join.  Inevitably they were an improvement.  Eventually we came to the point that I was the last player from the original ragtag group.  But I didn't want to quit.  It was my team (i.e. it was my name that was registered with the playground organizers as the contact person for this team).  So, since all the new guys were better players, it turned out that no one wanted to play catcher.  Neither did I, but I wanted to play, so I became the catcher.  When Tim McCarver refers to the catcher's gear as "the tools of ignorance", I know with intimacy just what he is talking about.  It's uncomfortable to squat for the whole game.  When the batter just nips the speeding pitch, the ball changes direction just a tad, and that is enough for it to miss my glove and hit me.  When opposing runners are trying to score, and someone pegs the ball to me, it never comes into my glove.  It frequently hits the dirt just in front of the plate, raises a cloud of dust, and I have to try to snag the ball and make the play.  It all looks so simple on TV, but it's not.  I ate a lot of dust, and took a few hits from sliding runners, and if I didn't succeed in tagging him out, my team mates would get all over my case for not making the play.  That was my introduction to organized baseball.

The playground announced that there would be a baseball clinic for us to attend, and a local celebrity would be there.  It was Billy Schuster, who played shortstop for the Cubs, and then for the triple A Pacific Coast League "Los Angeles Angels".  He was known to be a clown, as many ball players seem to be.  I went to the clinic, and learned tips on throwing, catching and batting.  It was the basics that I needed to learn.

Billy Schuster told us the following story.  There was this guy we'll call "Joe" who played for a professional team.  This team was making a tour of small communities and playing against the local men and boys all across the country.  (They did that in the old days before the Major Leagues moved west.)  Well, as the story goes, the team visited a town so bush league that the ball park didn't even have fences. When the batter hit the ball hard enough it might roll for 600 feet or more while the batter rounded the bases.  The outfield melded into desert landscape with mesquite and tumbleweed bushes dotting the landscape.  Joe played center field, and didn't want to get stuck in that position.  Joe had an idea.  Early in the morning of game day he took a bag of baseballs out to the park, and carefully hid one behind each bush he thought might be useful.

Well, game time arrived, and Joe was ready to surprise the local yokels.  And it worked very well.  Some big cowboy would drive that ball between fielders and start running.  But Joe just reached behind a bush and tossed the planted ball to the infield, holding the runner to one or two bases.  This worked without a hitch for 6 innings.  But the local cowboys were hitting well, and Joe's pitcher was not one of the club's premium players.  Finally it happened.  Joe chased another line drive to left-center, and when he reached behind the bush he found that ball had already been used.  He tried the next bush with the same disappointment.  The runner was rounding second at full speed, and Joe had to do something to stop him.  The next bush was a real surprise to Joe because when he reached behind the bush, his hand grabbed a rabbit by the ears.  Here he was looking at this little rabbit in his hand while the runner was rounding third, heading for home.  Joe thought, "What the heck.  I've got to do something."  So he tossed that little bunny into the infield.  The shortstop relayed him to the catcher, and guess what!  The runner was out by a hare!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tubing the Stanislaus

I always wanted to be the young people's leader in all the churches I served.  Sometimes it clicked and sometimes it flopped.  But I do so enjoy being with jr. and sr. high young people.  Truth be told I enjoy all ages.

Well my story today is about youth group I enjoyed in Modesto sometime between '74 and '83.  I decided we ought to go tubing down the Stanislaus River.  There are no rapids to maneuver and it looked like a perfect day's outing for the group.  The problem was that I had no experience.  I didn't think it required experience to float down a river in old inner tubes.  What's so complicated about that?  Have you any idea just how meandering a river can be?  By my estimation we should be in the water by nine and at the bridge by mid-afternoon at the latest.  No one corrected me.  If someone expressed doubt I plunged ahead with a leader's confidence.  "Follow me!"  You know that a leader should exude enthusiasm to engender the confidence from his followers that he needs.

We passed one home that I recognized, and I was alarmed to think how near the beginning of our little outing this home stood.  Families began to express concern.  Little Ruthie got snagged on the branch of a submerged tree, and I rescued her.  It didn't appear to be a life threatening situation, but she was very grateful nevertheless.  As sunburns were brewing and parents were pacing it became apparent to all of us that something was amiss about my calculations.  There didn't seem to be any neutral stopping places along the way.  All we could see were the back yards of bordering estates.  Joel was bold enough to stop along the way and approach one of those homes, and knocked at the back door.  When no one answered, he walked in and borrowed their telephone.  Remember those were the days way before anyone had a cell phone.

Now at least thanks to Joel's bold home invasion and phone message all the folks at home were aware of the fact that we were safe and floating.  I think it was nearly nine o'clock in the evening before the last of us tube adventurers was fished out of the Stanislaus River.  We all ached for a couple days, and even laughed about the whole trip.  It was a memorial monument to the foolishness of their fearless leader, but they loved me enough to just laugh and not hold it against me.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A corker of a mechanic

By necessity I learned auto mechanics.  When pastor's salary qualifies him for poverty level benefits, he finds ways of saving money.  One of those ways is to eliminate (or at least reduce) the obscene price of auto repairs.  So I used to change the oil in all my cars, including the filters and make minor mechanical repairs.  So it was not strange for me to replace the fuel filter on our old, green Pontiac station wagon.  That was 30 years ago.  Cars were mechanical contraptions way back then.  Now they are just a large piece of computer hardware.

Now it so happened that at that point in our lives Barbara was working for the transportation department of Modesto Junior College as a secretary.  She got to know the "boys" who were bus drivers and mechanics.  It was very natural, therefore, for her to ask them about any problems I might be experiencing in my efforts as home mechanic.  We had a cute VW bug as well as the green monster wagon.  As each of our kids reached that magic plateau of driving eligibility, they learned how to operate the four-on-the-floor stick of the VW.  Everybody loved that "scooter", and they still hold it against me for turning it in for that stupid Sapporo.  Whenever all eight of us were traveling, however, the choice of comfort was the green monster.  There was no seat belt law in those days.  (Yes, I am very old indeed.)  Two or three kids could always stretch out in the back on a mattress in the bed of the wagon. 

The fourth of July was approaching, and I was having a problem with the green monster.  It would start and idle normally, but as soon as I tried to put it in gear and pull away from the curb, the monster would cough and quit on me.  We were planning to drive from Modesto over to the San Jose area to see relatives and enjoy fireworks with them, and we needed to use the green monster for that.  So Barbara asked her buddies at MJC for suggestions.  I wasn't too proud to try them all.  Nothing seemed to cure the Pontiac of the feebles.

We put it up to a vote among the kids.  Shall we spend the fourth here, or shall we cram everyone into the VW bug and go see uncle John?  Uncle John won the vote.  Did you ever see the circus clown act in which a dozen clowns climb out of some miniature vehicle?  They had nothing on the Keller family.  Philip found enough room behind the tiny back seat to contort his body.  Two kids sat on the back seat, each with another kid on his lap.  Baby Jonathan sat on his mother's lap as she rode "shotgun".  It was an 80 mile trip, and only once did the crew insist on stopping to stretch.  I wonder if anyone was watching.  At least no traffic cop was looking.  Even in the dark ages we must have been violating some existing law.

Some days later, out of desperation, I made a more radical check of the Pontiac.  Some of the boys from the traffic department, when they heard that I had recently changed the fuel filter, suggested that I check to make sure it was not a faulty part.  One of the laws of mechanics says that if you have recently worked on a part of the car, it is most likely that it is the recent change that is at fault.  So I tore it all apart and carefully examined every part.  Uh oh!  Now I remember that when I disassembled the gas line in order to install the filter that the siphon effect was spilling my fuel onto the ground.  I solved that problem by finding a tiny cork to plug the line.  To my complete embarrassment I found the cork still doing it's job.  It seems the cork had turned at an angle just enough for a trickle of gasoline to flow through.  But when I stomped the gas pedal and the carburetor gasped for a flood of fuel, it was still getting the tiny trickle, so it coughed, sputtered and stalled.

You can imagine Barbara's buddies at MJC holding their sides and wetting their pants after she told them.

Monday, August 8, 2011

She's a delight!



If you see a twinkle in my eye, it must be a reflection of my great granddaughter, Lillianna Jeannette Christian. She is only four, but she's a delight.  She is computer savvy.  She asks to play the games on my phone, and when I let her (of course) she asked me to help her because she was stuck.  When I looked, she had begun downloading games to the phone all on her own.  Only this time it was stuck because the program was asking for my credit card number!  "No, Lilly, we only get the games that are free."

We were playing a kid's game on the computer which required the player to duplicate the ordered cake for the bakery.  When the cake is mismatched, the chief baker comes out to bawl out the player.  Since Lilly does not yet read, I have to read it for her. He says something like, "That cake was not what the customer ordered!  You have to match the picture."  Yadda yadda.  This time I decided to entertain her by reading these lines in character.  My voice was loud and gruff.  Lilly reached over her shoulder and patted my face.  "Calm down, Papa, calm down."

She enjoys helping her Papa water the plants in the back yard.  I fill a watering can with water and she pours it on the most remarkable places.  (You don't think I would trust her to hold a spouting hose, do you?)    In spite of my efforts she usually gets a little wet during this activity.

Now her fifth birthday is approaching, and watch out world!  Her mother asked her what she wanted for her birthday, and she responded, "A dirt bike."  Please tell me where a little tyke comes up with an idea like that.  "No, Lilly, you're not getting a a dirt bike for your birthday."  "What else do you want?"  "A boat."  Do you get the idea some meddling adult has been whispering in her ear?  "No, Lilly, you're not getting a boat.  Now think about it.  What would you really like for your birthday?"  Her mother reported to me that she was stopped at a red light so she could see in the rear view mirror her eyes peering up and a very thoughtful look configuring her little face.  "A driver." she said.  A what!?  "A driver."  What would you do with a driver?  Where do you want to go?  "A driver could take me to see you at work."  I didn't know the concept of a driver was even in the vocabulary of a four year old.  I conjured up a distorted image of "Driving Miss Daisy".  She's either been watching the wrong shows on TV or some mischievous adult has been playing games with her head.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

In the Tomb

It rather frightened me when I took the call to serve the OPC in Wilmington, DE.  I was leaving a tiny new church plant in Neptune, NJ to be the pastor of the fifth largest church in our denomination.  They were going to hire a secretary for me because they finally realized how much work the former pastor had laid upon his shoulders.  Jay Adams was my senior pastor at the time, and I asked him what I was going to do with a secretary.  She can't write my sermons for me.  Jay said, "Put her between you and the phone.  She'll be worth more than 6 assistants."  And that is just what happened.  It was nice to have a charming buffer between you and the irate church member.

But there was no place in the building that was built to be an office.  They took a large closet and made it a tiny office.  We had one window, but being below ground level we could only see daylight from the window well dug below ground level for the purpose.  We had two nice desks in there, but the space was so limited that the desks reached from one wall to the opposing wall with no space between them.  On the counter space immediately behind us as we sat at our desks was the mimeograph machine on which we printed bulletins and other documents.  Needless to say that I spent as little time as necessary in the office.  I set up a nice desk at home, using a varnished wood door supported by two metal filing cabinets of the right hight.  That made a mammoth desk on which I could spread out all my books and papers needed for my current studies.

Vit Paul, my secretary, had an ironic sense of humor.  She named the office "the tomb".  We had to leave the door open all the time for fear of claustrophobia or lack of oxygen or both.  When Presbytery realized that I now had a secretary they elected me Clerk.  I could hand my rough drafts to Vit for her to transcribe into the numbered pages of the Presbytery minute book.  Bottom line was, the time the church saved me by hiring a secretary, was more than used up by my responsibilities as Clerk of Presbytery.

Then there was the day we had a fierce thunderstorm.  Unless you have lived in the east, you do not know what a thunderstorm actually is.  To get the effect you may sit in your car while you get junior to pour a bucket of water slowly over the windshield.  It couldn't have been more than 30 feet from my front door to the car in the driveway, but if I didn't use an umbrella I would be soaked to the skin getting to the car.  This thunderstorm struck on a Sunday afternoon, as I remember.  I was concerned that the tomb (office) might be leaking since it was underground.  I drove over to the church to investigate.  Now a truly wise minister realizes this is a trustee concern.  He learns how to delegate labor.  But I was not a truly wise minister.  My concern about water was not without merit.  When I stepped into the tomb I could see the water above the sill of the window about four inches.  It looked like an aquarium.  And not unexpectedly, the water was leaking copiously through the cracks into the tomb (office).  Instinctively I dashed to the window and opened it!  This swift action of mine, of course, brought that four inches of water immediately onto the floor of the tomb.  So I closed it, of course.  Why, I cannot now tell you.  I think I was hoping the water would still be there in the well instead of on the floor.  At this point I did what I should have done in the first place.  I called one of the trustees and reported the mess.

Aren't there certain instances in everyone's life that are good to recall just for the purpose of maintaining a modicum of humility?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Zoo trip



These are only a few of the funny animals you can see at the zoo. We buy annual membership in the L A Zoo Association, and usually go twice or more every year.

My personal favorite is the giraffe. They are so gracefully lanky, and they stride with majestic symphony of sinews and frame. They remind me of a slender model, walking the runway with beautifully patterned clothing.

Lilly, my almost 5 year old great granddaughter, remembers the last time we visited the zoo that her "papa" didn't get to visit his favorite exhibit: the giraffes. So this time we planned to see them first.
Of course I lingered there as long as was seemly under the circumstances with several other people in our party and several other animals to observe.




And what zoo trip is complete without seeing the monkeys? Of course this monster is not a monkey, but close enough. This giant orangutan spent most of his time in the little shade he would find. Sometimes he looked out at the people to see these silly creatures who kept gathering outside his home. No, this variety does not throw excrement at the public. We have visited primates that do this in our past zoo experiences.

One of his shady spots is found next to the glass in one of the observation pavilions. When he is resting there he is about 4 inches from my hand as it is held against my side of the glass. Lilly took very cautious steps toward this heap of fur that was so close. Just then he rolled over and lifted his Kong-like hand up to the glass. Wow! Lilly instantly jumped backward about two feet. It was a creepy, overwhelming sight for anyone, but especially for a human small enough to fit in that hand.

Lilly's brother, David, is our wind-up toy. He goes like crazy, bouncing as he runs. He hasn't yet learned how to walk, just run. But when he winds down he really crashes. Water vapor was pumped into the air around the umbrellas that overshadow the picnic tables where we ate. Some of that water damped the pavement near us, and little David kept trying to make it splash by stomping his adorable little feet on the wet spots. But eventually he succumbed, and there was no reviving him once he hit the wall.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Two year olds

Aren't they fun! Now that I am a great grandfather, I can enjoy these raw mannered, miniature human beings without bearing responsibility for their embarrassing behavior. Last night I was reminded of this by my own great granddaughter in Souplantation. She was running wild, and as a two year old she is very good at it. There are only two time references in the mind of a two: now and never. When you don't give them what they want right now, their understanding is that they will NEVER get it. At this age a child is incapable of registering a quiet complaint, of course. Instead the body gyrates as we hear high frequency vocalizations worth many decibels. At Souplantation everyone has an interesting tray in front of himself/herself. Cassie made the rounds, pointing to this drink and to that interesting entree, even sticking her cute little finger into messy things without licking off the residue.

We see ourselves in the bald-faced bid for attention, and the unabashed demand that it's all about me! We do it with such practised disguise. It will take them several years to learn to pull this off with deceptive and convoluted reasoning. That is what we learn as adults, but the basic concern about self is just as ugly as it is raw in a two year old.

It is somewhat amusing to see the way adults behave when a two year old is in the crowd. All these mature conversationalists suddenly become blithering idiots. In any group there is one or two personalities whose natural tendency is to dominate the direction of conversation. Not when there is a two in the group. Adult conversation never gets very far before it is interrupted by the needs (demands?) of a toddler. And nobody seems to mind. I know when it is my great granddaughter, my mind (if not my mouth) says, "She can do no wrong." I'm such a terrible theologian when I am around her!

When we are in a restaurant without family, I know I search the other booths for the eyes of a little one. I love to flirt with babies and toddlers. I've found an interesting thing: there is a wide variety of responses I get from kids. Some eyes are full of mischief, and they are so happy to respond to the faces I make with grins or grimaces to entertain me.

Then there are some kids who studiously refuse to make eye contact with me.  I surmise by the family behavior (especially a humorless authority figure in the family who is making unreasonable demands) that life for a kid in this family is a drudgery. Surely they will run away or get married (do they still do that?) at a very early age.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Paper Route

It's a rite of passage for a boy to have a paper route.  He learns to have a little responsibility, and gets a Jr. grade lesson on running his own business.  When I was just a lad I had a paper route near my neighborhood in the Crenshaw district in south Los Angeles.  It was not very scary territory way back then, and I was never in danger, except the danger of going into debt.  Normally the boy must buy his papers from the company, and he sells them for a profit.  But if he gets lazy and doesn't finish collecting from all his customers, he is in danger of coming up short of his bill.  Now there was one small  complication to my route, and that was the fact that this neighborhood newspaper was thrown on everyone's porch whether they ordered it or not.  I was told to ask for a quarter a month for this service.  I was begging--soliciting a handout.  Even then 25 cents was not really that much, consequently many people payed me cheerfully.  Others were belligerent and cursed me for cluttering their porch.  So another benefit of this paper route was to learn human nature at ground zero.

Much later in life my boys had a paper route.  One boy prepared with his clothes neatly laid aside the night before, in order to get a good start out the door.  When the other boy did this route he was often heard banging around, looking for socks, shoes or some other necessity at 5 in the morning.  We were living east then, and I had mercy on my boys when it was snowing.  We packed the papers in our VW and I drove the route while they would direct me.  There was an infamous dog at one of the homes, who leaped against the door, barking loudly.  I think he even broke glass in that door on one occasion.  It so happened one snowy day that my third--and smaller--son begged to go with us.  As we came to the home with the ferocious dog, my smallest son wanted to deliver the paper.  There was no denying him.  So he carefully tiptoed up to the door, delivered the paper, and turned to come back to the car, when suddenly this barking, growling beast came racing out from behind a bush in the yard.  Our little guy ran with a panic for the safety of the car, but the dog actually bit him on the derriere before he made it.  He was not really hurt, but he was thoroughly terrorized.  However, he provided a howl of a story that we have never tired of telling.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy birthday, America

The Moore home in Jamestown


It had to be the hand of God else we would have never made it. When I read McCullough's "1776" I was on the edge of my chair (figuratively at least). There was a time when I was certain the Patriots had no way they could win. British troops were more experienced and outnumbered us. We lost ground again and battle after battle until Washington crossed the Delaware and surprised the celebrating Hessians at Trenton.

When Patrick Henry et al. signed the Declaration of Independence, they were sticking their heads in a noose. That was an act of treason! The Brits had barricaded New York harbor, and there was a time the Continental Congress had to move from Philadelphia for fear of capture.

I'm afraid I would have been a loyalist instead of a Patriot. I would have felt constrained by Romans 13 to submit to the powers that be (Britain) and take my lumps (taxes).

Washington must have been quite a man. Where ever he rode through his troops he stirred up courage and loyalty among them. When it came time to elect a president of this upstart nation, he was the unanimous choice of every party. Northerners and Virginians (southerners) didn't understand or trust one another, even then. But everyone seemed to agree on Washington (even though he was a Virginian). He also had a way of charming the ladies at a banquet or a ball. Men, women, northerners and southerners all considered him a man of integrity in leadership.

Then there was the special appeal of old Ben Franklin. I understand he had quite a way with the ladies as well. But it was the unusual esteem of the French for Franklin the inventor that helped encourage the French to help us fend off the British and win our independence. They thought Franklin to be a genius because of his experiments with electricity. Franklin and John Adams were very different in character. Adams was a no-nonsense negotiator with strictly business on his mind, when they were an emissary to court the French. He was a prig. Franklin was more amiable, liked to party and knew when to drop a word appropriately.

On our trip east we saw the Moore home, the place where Cornwallis surrendered to Washington. We were told that Cornwallis refused to deal with these rebel British subjects, and sent a representative while he stayed in his quarters, ostensibly feeling ill.

Such little pieces of providence fit into the time line along the way. Coincidences and finesse along with courage and determination not to let this nation across the Atlantic to "tread on me". There are men to thank for our freedom to be sure, but those who are alert to the details of history must ultimately thank God. I'm proud to be an American. Happy birthday, America!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tomatoes



I used to get tomatoes that just started to fruit, and when I began to get excited they would develop the blight, or get hit with tomato worms, or just set tiny fruit to my complete frustration.  I hope we are turning the corner on good tomatoes.  Last year's crop was still yielding red Romas in January!  Okay, maybe they were a bit green, but when I picked them and brought them into the house, they turned red and cooked up well.

This year we put out only two plants.  I forget if one of them is a "big boy" and the other an "early girl" or what.  I thought I would remember but I have two problems: 1) I am not actually a veteran farmer, and 2) I am 76 years old and there are a lot of other things I don't remember either.

But I just had to show off this nascent crop.  One of these is as large as a fist.  We are going to pick the orange ones and leave them on the kitchen counter while we are away at Family Camp next week.  I expect to enjoy several BLTs when we get back.

The weather man says our weather is going to dramatically warm up this week, so I will have to flood them thoroughly on Monday, and water them as soon as we get home Friday afternoon. 

Our zucchini are waxing prolific again this year.  I planted them in various locations in front and in the back yard.  I even stuck one in a pot.  It is very interesting to see them develop at differing rates, probably depending on the different degrees of richness of the soil, and perhaps the exposure to the sun.  The lone plant in the far back yard seems to be thriving the liveliest with 6 squashes about ready to eat already.  The one in the planter is the scrawniest, but it has already yielded an edible squash.  Fried with onions in olive oil and sprinkled with generous dashes of Parmesan cheese, they are a delight.  I see I need to drag out my zucchini recipes again.  Maybe a baked zucchini dish, or zucchini bread.  We've already had stuffed zucchini.  I found a chunk of baked salmon in the freezer.  I put it through the food processor with a slice of whole wheat bread and some Italian spices and a little grated cheese, and this made a luscious stuffing for the squash.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thanks, Pastor Dan

Dan Overduin has been my pastor for almost 10 years now, and upon his retirement I want to say "Thanks be to God for raising up faithful shepherds like pastor Dan!"

He always preaches Christ, an essential for any minister who deserves the adjective "godly". But he does not organize his thoughts in traditional, hermeneutical categories. He is not difficult to follow, and is clear in his diction. I was going to say he is pleasing to the listener, but that would give the impression that there is no conviction of sin, and that is manifestly not so.

His style is personal, unpretentious, and thought provoking. He usually presents a twist or insight that I did not see coming. And without ostentation, Dan evidences that he has done his homework in the study.

But Dan is my pastor, not just my lecturer. He cares about me, and I know it. He has been at my bedside in the hospital when I thought he ought to be taking care of some other of his demanding responsibilities. I am not actually a member of the local church, being a member of Presbytery. Yet he (and his warm hearted flock) has made me feel I am really part of the family.
On the occasion of his retirement, Presbytery has prepared the following minute to record in its minutes:

"Upon the retirement from regular pastoral duties of the Rev. Daniel Overduin, it seemed fitting that Presbytery mark this occasion with a recorded thanksgiving to God for raising up and equipping this godly and humble servant of the church and of her Lord.

"Both the longevity and faithfulness of Dan’s ministry in this Presbytery require a minute of recognition. Mr. Overduin has served the Lord in the bounds of this Presbytery since his ordination March 8, 1968. He briefly served as associate pastor in Manhattan Beach, before being called as pastor of our Beverly congregation in 1969. Faith Church, Long Beach, issued a call to him in 1975, and he has continued in this position for 36 years.

"Mr. Overduin has shepherded his present congregation for these many years until it has become the warm and active family of God that it is today.

"His service in this Presbytery includes several years in which he served as chairman of our Missions Committee.

"After 43 years of ministry in the Presbytery of Southern California, Pastor Overduin has the distinction of seniority among us by many years. We are grateful to God for this service, and we pray that he may find fruitful ministry among us for many years to come."

I couldn't have said it better had I said it myself...oops, as a matter of fact I did write it myself. But I was asked to compose it by the Presbytery.

Friday, June 10, 2011

General Assembly



The 78th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church begins with the handing of the gavel from the retiring Moderator, Alan Pontier, to the newly elected Moderator, Danny Olinger. This was preceded by a stirring sermon from the retiring moderator from Revelation 12.  The singing is always uplifting because there isn't a timid voice in the house.  Men's voices, singing in parts, with enthusiastic volume is rather breathtaking to hear.  These are men who believe the gospel, and sing it with convincing boldness.

Mr. Olinger, characterized by a sweet servant spirit, has been leading the most efficient, quiet and smooth running assembly in the history of the church. In my judgement this is because everyone came for the purpose of celebrating the 75th anniversary of the denomination. There was no work for the Committee on Appeals and Complaints. Almost every election has been a white ballot for the incumbents. This is a disappointment because since the last time I was a commissioner to GA they have gone to electronic balloting.  Each commissioner is given a hand held device (gizmo) about the size of a small cell phone, with buttons to push, electronically recording his vote, and I have not been able to use my "gizmo" but a few times.

Every committee has had a good report, and every advisory committee has been silent on the reports. In the early days of the church, nobody seemed to trust committees to do their work, but that has all changed. I hope that is indicative of the maturation of our church rather than complacency.
Whatever it is, this assembly (with fewer hours allotted this year) is about over and we have the resort reserved until Tuesday noon. I think we will do a bit of partying, er rather, rejoicing in the Lord.

Heart-rending reports came from the mission fields--especially Japan--telling what the Lord is doing to bring men and women to himself. The earthquake and tsunami devastation has loosened the soil of many hearts which has been hard for generations. Young Japanese pastors are begging us to send more young missionary helpers to fill this new void with the saving good news of Jesus and His love. If I didn't have so many medical liabilities I would be tempted to go myself. But I don't want to get there and keel over so as to be another problem for these overworked servants on the field.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bloody Lane



Behind the Piper farm there is a sunken road, worn by the years of wagon wheel traffic and erosion.  Beyond that is a field and woods in the fertile, green rolling hills of Maryland.  The Mumma farm is out there a few miles, and their farmhouse was the only one burned down.  The Confederate troops were fearful that this was too good a rallying point for Union soldiers who may seek refuge at a later point.  And because it was the Confederates who destroyed this property, they were never reimbursed for it.  The guarantee was given that if any property was lost because of Union soldiers' occupation, they may file a claim and be reimbursed.  But there was no such provision if it was damage caused by the Confederates.

General Hill deployed his troops along this sunken road, since it formed a natural trench from which his men could fire at the enemy while relatively under cover.  Just before the Union advance, General Robert E. Lee rode by, encouraging his men. 

A Frederick Hitchcock remembered How "reaching the top of the knoll we were met by a terrific volley from the rebels in the sunken road down the other side, not more than one hundred yards away....The air was full of whizzing, singing, buzzing bullets."  Another soldier's recollection was "a savage continual thunder that cannot compare to any sound I ever heard."  Colonel Parker reported that the Confederate volleys "brought down the enemy like grain falls before the reaper."

For more than three hours these combatants fired at one another at point blank range until the Confederate line was broken and the southerners were driven toward the Piper Farm.

About 5,500 soldiers were killed or wounded during the fighting in and around the Sunken Road, today known as Bloody Lane.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Piper farm


What was your great great grandfather doing on September 15, 1862? I would guess that my great great grandfather was raising a stein of ale after a long day in front of the ovens of a bakery in Germany. Barbara knows what her great great grandfather was doing. Henry Piper was witnessing the troops of General Robert E. Lee commandeer his farm northeast of Sharpsburg, Md. Generals James Longstreet and D. H. Hill chose Henry’s farmhouse to be their headquarters during the battle of Antietam. The Piper daughters served dinner, and offered wine to the generals, but Longstreet declined, fearing the drink might be poisoned. Only later, when Hill was unharmed did Longstreet imbibe.

As staff officers and orderlies swarmed the farm property, Piper knew that a battle was imminent. He took his family, and found refuge on another Piper farm not far away. It was the farm on which Henry played as a kid. The rumbling of canons and supplies gently shook the ground as the Pipers fled on the evening of September 16. The hideous noises of canons and hand to hand combat were heard even from the Piper’s temporary quarters all day on the 17th, as the battle of Antietam snuffed out the young lives of 22,000 boys and men.

Tragically, when the day ended, stunned survivors, nursing the ghastly wounds they or their friends had sustained, strategists calculated the battle was a “draw”. Once again we learn that nobody actually wins a war.

Henry Piper and his family waited to hear news of the property and the safe opportunity to return to the farm. On the 19th they returned to see crowds of soldiers moving out of their property and down the road for further deployment. Only then did they see the house still standing, and though few edibles remained, and their furniture was strewn about and stained with the blood of men seeking cover from the heat of battle.

This is just some of the fascinating information we are gathering about Barbara's family, and their place in history.

Monday, May 23, 2011

bird nursery


Up in the corner of our porch is this little nursery. We would like to have documented it further, but we are going out of town for three weeks, and the little ones may have flown the coup by that time.

We are not authentic birdwatchers, and consequently we have no idea what is the Latin title of the varieties we have seen at our feeder, and now see right on our porch. But we do care enough to mount a bird feeder, and in the front yard, a hummingbird feeder. Yes, we CAN tell them apart from the others.


We think the birds are cute, and we enjoy watching them, but neither Barbara or I seem to be committed to the necessary book research, and we don't speak Latin.

So here is what we caught with the camera. Maybe an ornithological type person would like to tell me if this is a finch a wren or what.

We have enjoyed our bird feeder, and the crowd of feathered friends that chirp and flutter around it like a flash mob.  We look for wild birdseed on sale, but even that gets expensive in the long run.  The feeder sports 6 holes, each with a perch, and then a wider circle at the bottom to catch the spill.  It doesn't.  When I fill it and retreat my distance, the bolder ones cautiously perch and begin to chow down.  Then others come and begin the game, chasing one another away to the fence while they nibble a little.  Whoever first said, "She eats like a bird." cannot have meant it as a compliment.  Some varieties eat half their body weight in one day.  (Okay, that statistic maybe bogus, but I think I read something similar to that.)

From the seeds that spill, some germinate amid the rocks below.  Last year I let them mature to see what they were.  But grain bearing weeds just cluttered the landscape.  This year I already tore out a crop.  The weird thing is that the snails seem to like this stuff.  Is that possible?  Anyway I have had my way with those snails.  I wish some varieties of birds would eat them.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Christ is coming

It is certainly tragic that Harold Camping is making Bible believing Christians a laughing stock before our increasingly cynical culture. My son called me today to say, "Hey, I guess I'll be seeing you tomorrow." Of course I got a good laugh out of it, but in more sober thought I realized how I should be more upset than I seem to be.  I think it would be wonderful if Jesus did come tomorrow, because I belong to Him and He belongs to me.  That always makes tomorrow a good day.  If He returns, then it would be the best day ever.

Then I was reminded by an article in World Magazine just how hard it is going to be for those who have spent themselves and their substance because they followed Mr. Camping's directions.  If they are real believers in Jesus, they will recover (and we church going believers ought to hold out a hand to them).  If they only have a temporary faith, then a whole new host of cynical folks will be hurt beyond repair.

Then it occurred to me that we have been thinking about the return of Christ a lot more than we usually do, just because of Harold Camping's crusade of publicity.  For me, personally, that has been a blessing! Yes it has.  I found out in the past few days just how pleasant it is to think about Jesus coming again.  I was just wondering how He can deal with all the people of the world in a personal, one-on-one manner, as the Bible seems to teach.  From there I said, of course He is God, and God can do this without a problem.  We will not be waiting in an enormous line for our turn.  The experience will no doubt be one-on-one, personal, with every person who has ever lived at the same instant.  It simply has to be like that, if you think about it.  And that is what I have been doing lately--thinking about it.  I'll be able to look into His face and thank Him for loving me, and giving His life for me, and it will be intimate and personal, but millions of others will be having the same experience at the same moment it time.  Time!!  Did I say "time"?  You see how difficult it is to think about these things.  Time will be no more.  I am actually getting a bit excited and even wishing Camping were right.

Yes, for me personally, Camping's heresy has been a blessing!  It's always a blessing to think about Jesus, and His coming again.

Let's remember to pray for, and reach out to those who have been bitterly disappointed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It IS Spring!

Some cool weather has crept up on us today--and even some drizzle.  But it is, nevertheless, definitely spring.  I read in a gardening book a long time ago that in cool weather tomatoes sulk.  Well they may be in sulk mode today, but they have already experienced several warm days of spring, and are showing the results.  I planted two tomato plants in the "fertile ring" in which the zucchini overwhelmed me last year.  It is a raised, circular planter in the middle of my cement patio.  And the ideal soil that last year gave life to these prolific gourds, now seems dedicated to supplying a plethora of tomatoes this year.  All I added to the soil was a heap of steer manure, and the plants seem to be very grateful for that.



We replaced the watermelon with another watermelon.  Only this year we put out the killer snail bait early enough to support this now spreading vine.  Yum, yum. 

Another six pack of zucchini got planted.  That quantity seems to be the smallest available at our nursery.  This time I planted them in various places in both the back and front yards.  At least three of them are sporting yellow blossoms (and they tell me the blossoms are delicious when dipped and deep fried).



My lettuce didn't do that well.  I show a photo of the head of leaf lettuce that looks great, and tasted fine as an accoutrement on my last salmon patty sandwich.  But when I planted early seeds, we made the tactical error of planting just before we left for a few days.  Those days proved to be rather hot, and the soil baked the seeds to death.  Then the heads I purchased got a little scorched, one went to seed, and I gleaned a little from what was left.



The long and the short of it is that I see salad growing before my eyes.  Oh yes, there are the three peppers.  One is a giant bell pepper.  One is an Anaheim chili and the third is a jalapeno.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Obama got it right!

I want to say something positive about the President of the United States.  He had the courage to give a "go ahead" to the Navy Seals, when they took out bin Laden.  Can you imagine the amount of grief he would have taken had our intelligence been wrong again, and bin Laden was not where we thought?  This was a work of military precision and years of intelligence focusing.  It was a success of the special forces we have out there protecting our country.  Thanks to all of them!

But when vengeful gore seekers demanded the publication of photos of the bloody body of Osama bin Laden, our President gave a firm, "No!"  I think he got that just right.  As long as we know we got the right guy, we don't need to prove anything to anybody else.  The President exercised his sensible judgment and presidential statesmanship when he said, "That's not who we are."  "We don't need to spike the football."  I say he got that right.

Now I hear the voice of moral confusion raising it's silly objection, "Was this murder?"  It's the same moral confusion that cannot distinguish between the heinous crime of murder and the justice of capital punishment inflicted by the state.  The Bible makes a clear distinction between personal vengeance and the vengeance of justice ministered by the state on behalf of God Himself.  When this distinction is obliterated only moral confusion is gendered.  Romans 12:19 plainly says, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine.  I will repay, says the Lord.'"

Then in chapter 13:4 we read, "[civil authority] is a minister of God to you for good.  But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil."  The context explains that there are no authorities but those which God has ordained.  And when it is time for justice to bring punishment--even death (sword)--God expects the civil authority (the state) to be His servant in accomplishing this. 

This is why cops who shoot the bad guys are not guilty of murder.  If investigation proves that it was a "good" shoot, it was the wrath of God coming down on the one who practices evil.  And it is the same principal that applies to agents for the US government (e.g. Navy Seals) when they shot Osama bin Laden.

I salute the Seals and the President because I believe they acted in obedience to the will of God.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Baseball lore

Pie Traynor was known as a very mild mannered, good playing third baseman for the old Pirates about a generation or so ago.  He was clean of reputation until so offended by a decision of the famous Beans Rearden, that he spoke one note of severe criticism and was thrown out of the game.  When Rearden called "safe" a sliding runner whom Traynor had clearly tagged out, he screwed up his rebel spirit to say, "Mr. Rearden, I'm getting sick and tired of your stupid decisions!"

When the famous Dizzy Dean was pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals, he was seriously beaned by a line drive back to the mound.  The game was stopped as his team mates gathered around the sprawled pitcher.  His brother, Paul Dean, asked, "Diz, are you hurt?"  Staggering to his feet, Dizzy said, "Shucks no, Paul.  It were just a glansin' blow."

In 1935 (I recently read, and no, I wasn't there) at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, they had an overflow crowd at the stadium, and fans spilled onto the field.  They say it was rather chaotic.  A local burlesque queen by the name of Kitty Burke, ran up to the batter, Babe Herman, grabbed the bat out of his hand and dared the pitcher, Paul Dean, to pitch to her.  He did.  She hit his underhand toss back to the mound and was thrown out at first base.

Some upstart catcher kept muttering complaints about the way Beans Rearden was calling balls and strikes.  Finally Rearden tore off his mask and barked at the catcher, "Shut up and play the game or I'll bite your head off."  The provoked and eloquent retort was, "If you do, you'll have more brains in your stomach than you do in your head."

When you mention "the catch" to a real baseball fan, everyone knows you are talking about the famous catch made by the "say hey kid", Willy Mays on September 29, 1954.  The New York Giants were playing the Cleveland Indians in the first game of the World Series.  Sal Maglie was lifted in the 8th inning with two men aboard and heavy hitting Vic Wertz coming to bat.  Manager, Leo Durocher, brought in Don Liddle, a lefty, to face him.  When the count drew to 2 and 2, Wertz hit a very long and high drive to deep right center field.  Anywhere but the cavernous Polo Grounds it would have been a home run.  But Willie Mays turned and sprinted straight back to the warning track to catch the ball over his shoulders, whirl and throw it back to the infield to prevent the stunned base runner from advancing more than one base.  Durocher then brought in another relief pitcher, Marv Grissom.  As Don Liddle handed Marv the game ball, he said, "Well, I got my man."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trains in my memory



I'm afraid this is another story about the "old days" from an old guy.  In fact it was so long ago that I was 4 or 5 years old.  My parents had divorced, and we were living with my aunt Rose and uncle "Butch" somewhere in Highland Park, California.  I remember being my uncle Butch's favorite until his daughter was born.  I remember my mother fell, running for a street car to go to work.  She bit her tongue and required a few stitches.  One of the stitches broke, and for the rest of her life she showed off the lump on her tongue.

My aunt Rose's house had the remnants of a walnut grove for a back yard.  I love walnuts and I used to love climbing trees.  There was an alley next to the house, and on the other side of the alley were the railroad tracks.  These were not the diesels you see pulling Amtrak today.  These were the smoke-belching steam engines that hobbyists prize.  They were black with huge wheels and the rod connecting the wheels that thrusted back and forth with majesty and power.  There was the steam whistle that echoed across the landscape with that unique two-tone dissonance that was so characteristic of the steam engine that the sound itself brings pangs of nostalgia to many of us old guys.

I wondered how flat this huge engine could make a penny become.  So I tried it, placing a penny on the track.  When the next train roared by I couldn't wait to find my flattened penny, but I never found it.  I suppose it was vaporized, or turned into a copper spot on the monstrous wheel.  In my uncle's garage I found a piece of solid steel bar, about 4 inches long and maybe a half inch in diameter.  Huge trains require larger chunks of matter to flatten.  Yes I did!  I carefully placed the bar of steel on the track.  I waited for the train to come by.  I knew about when the train was due because, of course we lived there, and people who live right next to a railroad track do hear them and learn the schedule.  So I stood and watched as the next engine charged through.  It was dusk, and I distinctly remember seeing the bar of steel turn red-orange and then it began circling on the great wheel for several turns.  I figured that it instantly turned molten and later fell off onto the gravel along the track, but I only searched in vain.

In later years I imagined the scenario of derailing the whole train.  But in my memory this behemoth didn't even flinch.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sinking Saturday

I awoke this morning thinking about the disciples and how they must have felt on that Saturday before the resurrection.  Remember how Peter rebuked his Lord when Jesus foretold his death and resurrection? It was unthinkable for the disciples to imagine the end of the ministry of that One to whom they had committed their lives as the long awaited Messiah.  They must have often read or heard the scriptures which prophesied the glorious reign of Messiah, and that the glory would last forever.

Remember how the disciples spoke to the, as yet unrecognized, resurrected Savior.  They told this "stranger" on the road to Emmaus that this Jesus was the one whom they were hoping was the one to redeem Israel.  The communication implied that their hopes had been dashed by the crucifixion, and they were trying to make sense out of these things.  This betrays their frame of mind between the crucifixion and the resurrection.  They were not stuck in unbelief, but they were certainly in confusion of mind.  Their high hopes had seemed dashed to the ground.  Certainly it was sinking Saturday for them.

Remember how Luke records that the women disciples had visited the tomb to find it empty and hear the angel proclaim, "He is not here, but He has risen."  When they reported to the rest of the disciples, Luke also records: "And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them."  This also reveals a mindset that must have included dismay, confusion, depression and justification for my title of "Sinking Saturday".

Everyone knows that people who are dead for three days do not come alive again!  Unbelievers today see the message of the resurrection as nonsense just as did the disciples, and why not?  We know that brain cells begin to die a very short time after the blood stops flowing.  Even though there are sensational stories of people who came back from apparent death, none of them leaves an interval of three days.  That's just nonsense.

Whoa, hold on just a minute.  Let's remember that we are talking about something that God has done to send us a message.  It's the same God who called matter into existence by the power of His word.  Are we actually going to say that this God could not do such a thing?  It is the very fact that resurrection is "impossible" that it makes the perfect kind of event to tell us that Jesus is really the Son of God, and that our sins are actually left at the cross.  Someone has said that we do not believe in Christ because of the resurrection.  We believe in the resurrection because we believe in Christ.  Only He could lay down His life and take it up again, because He had the word from His Father in heaven.

I suppose someone somewhere who is a true enemy of the gospel can claim this story to be a grand conspiracy of the church.  But no honest investigator can pretend that the explanation of the resurrection is the "swoon theory" or that the gospel writers intend for us to understand a "spiritual resurrection" that doesn't fly in the face of modern science.  No, it is the very fact that it does contradict universal human experience that God made it happen this way.  There is no doubt that Saturday was a downer for the disciples, but it made resurrection day just that much more glorious.