Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Monday, January 31, 2011

Speaking Truth

I'm remembering a dear brother in Christ from about 50 years ago. Let me introduce you to my friend by first doing a little preaching. Ephesians 4:15 exhorts us to be "speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ." In it's context those words are telling us how we contribute to each other's spiritual growth. The body is a unit, but each of us has his or her own contribution to the good of all the rest. And at least one way this is done is by the way we talk to each other. Here the apostle tells us to speak truth to each other.

I can imagine at least three ways in which speaking the truth in love can be understood as designed to build up one another. First, of course, is the sense in which untruths will only lead us astray. And that never helps us grow. Vital, helpful relationships are characterized by honesty. My wife always asks me how she looks in a particular combination of clothing or jewelery. I never allow myself to be cruel about it, but I know she expects the truth from me. I'll tell her why I like something else better. The lesson here is that a wife should never ask her husband questions like this and then get miffed when she is told the truth. In the long run, the honesty is appreciated as helpful and contributes to the intimacy a couple enjoys.

The second sense in which speaking the truth can be understood, is found in verse 29 where the apostle insists that we never speak corrosive words, but only words that build up and minister grace. This is akin to the old adage that if you can't say something nice about a person, don't say anything at all. That may not be a bible quotation, but it is biblical in its sentiment.

But I can't shake the notion that the phrase "speaking the truth in love" carries an even more profound sense. I think we need to speak THE truth to one another. Not necessarily just quoting bible verses to each other, but reminding each other of bible truths will certainly be edifying.

I think I have experienced this. When I was in seminary (many years ago) we attended a little OPC in Philadelphia called "Mediator". Barbara and I worked with the Jr. Hi kids in this church, and there was an elder there whose name was Charles Mayson. I love that man. He had the most uncanny ability to stimulate my thinking in godly ways. In natural conversation he would ask questions like, "Do you think Jesus knew our names?" Then we would talk through who Jesus is, and see the obvious conclusion together. "Does God change His plans in order to answer our prayers?" We both knew better than that, but chatting about the answer took my mind in good spiritual pathways. I wish I could identify a friend today who stimulated me the way Charles Mayson did.

A few years ago we found Barbara's baptismal certificate in our archives, and were taken aback to find it was signed by elder Charles Mayson. It seems that Barbara's father, the Rev. Russell D. Piper, also attended Westminster Seminary, and knew that same elder when his first child was born and was presented for baptism.

I think I'll pray that God will give me a friend like that. Better yet, I need to pray that I might be that kind of friend to someone else.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Healing Power of Jesus"

Those were the words that caught my attention. They were in a 4 page advertising flyer that came into our home. Actually I used the coupon on the other page to get a cheap haircut. But now I am confronted with another cheap ad that takes my Lord's name in vain. It's just a cheap, copper, bracelet with magnetic therapy with the name "Jesus" molded into it. It claims to provide the penetrating power of magnets and also the soothing power of copper. If you wear this bracelet, and believe in the miracles of Jesus you will be combining "the most powerful forces of heaven and earth!"

The blasphemy makes me want to scream.

The only thing that makes it worse is the picture of some dude with shoulder length hair that I have learned by experiencing my culture is supposed to be Jesus. They didn't have cameras two thousand years ago. No portrait artists asked Him to sit for them. But I think I recognize this guy. We had several guys who looked almost exactly like this back in the sixties. Only then we called them "hippies". This guy looks far too western to be the middle eastern Jew that Jesus must have resembled. The Bible specifically says he has no form or comeliness that we should desire him. Teenagers did not nudge one another and call him "hot". He was no rock star with frenzied crowds following.

The draw that Jesus had was found in his words and deeds that came from heaven. His words are the words of life, and his deeds pointed to Him as the Lord of glory who can heal and save.

This bracelet that can be bought for less than 10 bucks makes Jesus so cheap!

I haven't even touched upon the breach of the second commandment. This is certainly intended to be a graven image of Someone in heaven. If God is jealous for the glory of His Son, He must be angry at such degradation of our Savior represented by this newsprint hawking of His blessed name.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ugly Anniversary

No, no, not my anniversary. The anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 1973. One of the very few times our denomination ever addressed the president of the United States was the occasion of anticipating the legalization of abortion. I was there at that General Assembly. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is extremely reluctant to communicate with any representatives of our government. Others do so with such frequency and relative frivolities that we shy away from any appearance of church interfering with the state.

I attended the premier viewing of Frances Schaeffer's film series: "How Shall We Then Live?" in the Oakland auditorium. C. Everett Koop, who served the USA as Surgeon General, was there, telling us that the thinking of our medical and academic liberals were demonstrating intellectual schizophrenia by declaring that a fetus is not a human an hour before it is born, but actually is a human as soon as he is born. We learned that human life is actually determined not by objective scientific determination, but by the whim of the mother. If she doesn't want the fetus to become a child, it doesn't. On the other hand, if an expectant mother is abused, resulting in a spontaneous abortion, the abuser can be charged with the murder of a human being.

We've come a long way since 1973. The unconscionable slaughter of one and a half million babies a year for almost 40 years creates an appalling debt of national sin. It is hard not to believe that God's patience will soon come to an end and break forth with judgment against us.

More recently I remember carrying a sign on the side of the road on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade a few years ago. These Christian protesters had signs like, "Equal rights for unborn women" or simply "Abortion Kills". A pedestrian passed me with a frown, saying, "And what are we going to do with all the extra children?" Of course I was able to say, "Well we adopted two of them. How about you?" But he kept walking and grumbling.

Is it possible that abortion advocates actually believe they are not killing innocent human beings? Is it possible that they really believe that five minutes before birth she is not a true human life? Is this the kind of warp that develops in human thinking when we are determined to sin? It must be so or else why in the world would "civilized" human beings perform or defend partial birth abortions?

At least Norma McCorvey (the real name of Jane Roe) has been forgiven and received by Christ. Now she crusades against the infamous court decision that bears her name. But nobody listens. When a culture becomes hell-bent on justified slaughter of innocents, there is no reasoning with it. The Ammonites did the same with their sacrificed babies in the red hot arms of Moloch. But God's judgement finally broke loose on them.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Rat

Modesto Christian School encouraged the students to be engaged in the pursuit of science, and it seemed that hands on experience was a good way to do that. Accordingly, Bobby's 6th grade class had a live rat in a cage in their room. Perhaps everyone has had a similar time in their schooling. We found out about this project the day Bobby came home with a large cardboard box containing this white rodent. "What's this for?" "Each kid in our class is taking a turn to bring him home for the weekend to make sure he gets fed." Well, of course, all six of our kids appreciated this cute deviation from family routine. He got plenty of attention. I don't remember if we gave him a name, or if he already had a name, but if I accurately remember what kids are like, it is likely we called him something other than "rat".

I'm guessing that every weekend was a grand gastronomic vacation for Mr. Rat, as kids tend to be overly kind to these beasts. At any rate we had the room and the curious inclination to host him for the weekend. What we foolishly ignored was the fact that Mr. Rat came to our home in a cardboard box. We had no wire cage. It usually does not require inductive experiments to realize that rats gnaw. And cardboard is very easily gnawed by a rat. And therein lies the tale (tail?).

During the night Mr. Rat discovered the emotion of loneliness. He missed the attention that six adoring young humans had been lavishing on this rodent all day long. Now it was dark and quiet. Are rats nocturnal creatures anyway? Seeking human companionship, he quickly gnawed a hole in his box, and began to explore the house. We put him on the service porch where the vacuum was stored, but nobody even thought to shut the door. It was a sprawling ranch house. He passed through the kitchen and the family room and down the hall. He passed the bathroom, Donna's room and two other rooms that served as boys dormitories. We found no evidence that he explored these rooms, but he certainly may have done that. He turned the corner and scampered down the hall directly into the master bedroom.

Now our king sized bed was situated in a way that Barbara's side was the longest distance from the service porch, and yet this is where he made himself known. In the middle of the night she screamed my name: "Rollie!" and threw the rat on me. It seems that she woke up with the rat walking through her hair. I guess it was worth screaming, but when she screamed my name, it made me feel that it was all my fault. Heads of household tend to get that feeling anyway. I think the kids were awakened, so I gathered the rat and returned him to his sleeping quarters, only to discover the huge hole in the corner of his box. But this time we had the sense to simply shut the door for the remainder of the night.

Barbara reminds me that in the morning Bobby was looking very guilty for the incident, since he had brought this guest into our home.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Killing my father-in-law

Okay, now that I have your attention, let me tell you another yarn from my memory banks. Barbara's father lived to see his 100th birthday, and he was a sharp witted enjoyable guy almost til the end. He got to ride horseback on his 98th birthday, but that is another story.

When he was a mere 96, we traveled east to see him. The family that lived across the street from our family (40 years ago now) had moved their parents to an elegant retirement community near Lancaster, PA. Combining the two visits seemed wise. Quarryville, where dad was living in retirement, is an excellent place to spend one's latter years. There were always alternate choices of cuisine, and the tables were set with fine plates, crystal goblets and cloth napkins. It was clean and comfortable. The place is populated with former ministers, their wives and assorted Presbyterian retirees. One of dad's table mates was the professor who wrote the Hebrew grammar from which I first learned the language. At another point in his long stay in Quarryville, he had a lady table mate who, with dad, did so much laughing at lunch that they were frequently asked to tone it down. He used to bring a page from his joke telling desk calendar for her to read, and they would giggle and guffaw like 4th graders.

It turns out that the dining hall at the other retirement place was a step higher in elegance than the beloved Quarryville. We had to show dad. Since our friends invited us all to dine with them, we took dad to taste for himself. But when we put him in the wheelchair and headed for the elevator, we were told that the elevator had stopped working. We were not to be thwarted, however, and decided to carefully maneuver the stairs with dad still in the chair. Now the caveat was this; I was still recovering from hip replacement surgery. My progress must have been a trifle slower than I thought. This was a short flight of stairs, because there was a landing after about 6 stairs before the stairwell doubled back to reach the next floor with another set of stairs. I carefully navigated the first stair, tilting the wheelchair back and taking one step at a time. The second stair also went without incident, but about the third stair I began to realize that I had tragically over-estimated my repaired hip, and by the time we hit the fourth stair something tragic was ominous. My footing was compromised, and the chair slipped from my hands.

To this day I can replay, in slow motion, the picture of my aged father in law tipping out of his chair, hands flailing in the air, and the chair crashing after him to the landing. What have I done!! I've killed my wife's father! No bones were protruding, no blood was evident, and he even was able to gain his feet soon after. But the remainder of our trek down the stairs, dad chose to take the stairs on his feet with a tight hold on the banister.

Later that evening, as we dined elegantly at the other home's buffet, dad made a joke about his son-in-law trying to kill him. It was at that point in the evening that I knew he was his old self, and had successfully survived my ostensible attempt on his life.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

He's a good boy

Last week the whole nation was caught up in the grief filled aftermath of the 22 year old who shot so many people in Tucson. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords took a bullet point blank that was a through and through of the head. An adorable nine year old girl was slain, and several others took bullets. I caught a quote from the boy's mother,"He's a good boy." Oh really? Forrest Gump might have said, "Good is what good does." But then I remembered one of the girls from the infamous Columbine high school shooting was quoted as saying she still believed in the basic goodness of mankind. It seemed to me that the press was all too quick to print this sentiment. It seems that the public forum always reaches for the ludicrous affirmation of the basic goodness of human nature when the ugliness of total depravity breaks forth in some obvious display.

The reason for this is that reality tends to shatter the basic religious convictions of the world. The basic goodness of man is one of those convictions. How can one stand to be a humanist, knowing that human nature is sinful. Jeremiah says the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. If you believe that you have to abandon humanism as a religion. The alternate is to believe in biblical religion, and fallen men can never do that.

It is interesting to note that although this world likes to believe in the basic goodness of man, yet they also argue that this man is never perfectible. After all we are only animals, a few steps higher than other primates. If humans engage in a little sin it is interesting, exciting and excusable. But when this despicable behavior assaults other humans, the philosophers stutter and spit out the all but humorous mantra about the basic goodness of man.

They say that man is basically good, but never able to be perfect.

The Christian says that man is basically bad, but he is perfectible.

This is only to say that biblical truth matches reality as we experience it much better than the maxims of worldly religion. That man is made in the image of God explains the great potential for good things that we know to be in man. The fall of human nature into sinful rebellion against God explains the filthiness, violence and selfishness of people. The whole point of the gospel is that the soul who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Man is irreparably broken, and God alone is able to repair him. Jesus receives sinners--and changes them. So the Christian sees the coming of our Savior as the time when we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Man is perfectable, but God has to work this, and His promise is that He is doing it as we speak, and will complete the job when we see Jesus.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bar Hopping

Rambling through my mind, I recalled a rather unique experience in evangelism many years ago. The Rev. Jack Miller invited a few of us new ministers to work with him in projects of evangelism. The one I am remembering was bar hopping evangelism. Jack was an up-front guy, so the first thing he did when we entered a neighborhood bar was to introduce himself to the bar tender, and explain that we were not here to cause trouble, but just to talk to anyone who wanted to share their problems. Most bar keeps are a bit weary of hearing the same problems from the same guys day by day anyway.

So when we had permission to be there, we ordered drinks and sat on bar stools at different places around the room. I ordered a ginger ale, and proceeded to nurse my drink for about an hour, wondering what in the world was I doing here. Next to me, at the corner of the bar, was a talkative young man, gulping down several beers, faster than I can drink water. My frustration was that he was talking to the guy on the other side of him, and I had no idea how I could wedge my way into the conversation in any fashion that seemed natural. More than once he needed to excuse himself to visit the men's room. What goes in must come out, and there was a lot of fluid going in.

Just about the time I thought this experiment was a failure, this guy turns to me and asks, "And what do you do?" (gulp) Okay here goes nothing. As soon as I tell him that I am a minister, I'm sure that will shut off the conversation--but it didn't! "I'm a minister of the gospel." "You are?" he responded with a genuine enthusiasm. "I've got a lot I wanted to ask a minister." That encouraged me to be a little bolder. "Yeah, we came in to talk to any guys who want to talk about their problems, but mostly to talk about how you can have eternal life."

I told him a few of my favorite gospel stories, and he listened with what I judged to be sincere attention. His big question was, "How can you be so sure?" I told him my story of conversion while watching Billy Graham on television, and my timid call to the ministry, and he still wanted to know how I can know. Well, of course, when anyone asks the epistemological question, we have to get them into the Bible. The evening ended with the guy weeping while we prayed for him and left him with the gospel of John. "Read this and pray, asking God to show Himself to you in this book." I never saw the man again. But I have often thought about trying that venue for evangelism again. I guess I am a coward because I have never tried it again--at least not yet.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Vacation addendum

So we thought our 2 hour wait on the I 40 was a hardship. We were glad to safely arrive home in sunny southern California. But we discovered that our homeland had been inundated by an uncharacteristically drenching downpour for a week before we arrived. It was probably that storm that formed snow where we had been in New Mexico. I grew up with the slogan of the Chamber of Commerce: "It never rains in California". Of course the footnote to the slogan is that this describes the Summer season only. But I have lived here for some fifty or more years of my life, and I can remember very few downpours like we experienced in the east.

As for the snow we had to tensely combat for miles before we descended the plateau of Arizona that houses Flagstaff, that too was a trifle compared to the inconvenient mini blizzard that closed the passes into the L.A. basin from the north. Today I heard of friends who were delayed by the snow to travel one mile in three hours. This was on another Southern California highway north of us.

So I want to publicly thank God for His good providence that has wonderfully overruled our stupidity several times to get us home safe and (reasonably) sound. Plan as we may, it is ultimately in His hands. And I wouldn't have it any other way. In Him we live and move and have our being. But even more than that, He has promised His own: "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tomatoes in January

After slipping and sliding on the roads east of us, we quickly remembered that in the rest of the country it is winter. Back here in California we found tomatoes still growing in our garden. Okay, the vines are dying, and there is not a great abundance, but I needed to show you at least one.

Here it is. And there are more, but they are not as impressive. Next to the tomatoes are my jalapeno peppers.

There was a large watermelon also, but the vine had withered and died, so I picked it and stored it in the auxiliary refrigerator in the garage. I'm not about to boast of my farming abilities, but I can testify to the great growing season here in Lakewood, CA. As John Calvin would have said, I lucked out on the soil amendment I picked up at the local nursery. That is what made our fig tree so happy (old post: "The Happy Fig").

Monday, January 3, 2011

Vacation Adventures, part 2

"It's freezing in here!" I wish I had a nickel for every time my wife has said this. During our treacherous trek across New Mexico, she said it again. We were trying to get to Havasu, NV in time to celebrate Donna's birthday (Dec 31), but the weather turned on us. The driving was tension filled (see blog below) and slow. When it was no longer safe for me to try to drive any further because of the weather and because of the tension fatigue in my back and arms from fighting the steering wheel, we stopped in Acoma at a casino/hotel we had visited on our way east.

The room looked very nice, and we settled in, and Barbara recited her famous line. It wasn't exactly 32 degrees, but it was rather chilly. In order to accommodate her needs, I walked over to the unit which was spilling out tepid air into our room for the purpose of setting the heat a bit higher. The unit was built with dials to regulate the AC and the heater. But the knobs for these dials had been removed! I reached into the empty hole in the casing to see if I was able to grasp the stem on which the missing knob had been affixed. My efforts were vain, however.

As I lay recuperating on my bunk, I noticed that prior to the blower on this tepid unit there came a distinct electronic "click" from the opposite wall. Sure enough there was a thermostat located there. I struggled to my feet to report to Barbara that the number in it's window recorded a "72" degrees. She said, "I don't care what it says, it is NOT 72 in here." I agreed with her. There were buttons on the thermostat, so I attempted to adjust it. I found that the only change it would let me make was whether or not to show the temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit. At least this proved that the "72" it kept reporting was not a decal.

Then I decided that if I cannot adjust the temperature setting, then I was going to fool it into thinking the temperature was less than it actually was. I went down the hall to gather ice cubes at the machine. I tied them in a plastic bag, and affixed it to the thermostat with a rubber band. Surely this would give us an extra blast of heat. But alas, this unit kept throwing tepid air into the room, and turning off periodically, pretending it had responded to our need for heat.

At this frustrating turn of events, it occurred to me that this was a casino. My experience is consistent with the casino philosophy. We all know "the house never loses." Barbara had earlier observed a woman feed $20 into the penny machine, only to come away in a few minutes with 11 cents. Right after her, another woman came to the same machine and threw away another $20. You see, they are rigged to give the player the allusion that she is in control, when she is not. Okay, that describes my frustrating experience with the thermostat. The whole place must be rigged!

We both cuddled together in one of the two queen beds and shivered through the night. When we decided to try the road again the next morning, we opened the outside door only to be blasted in the face with the coldest air these Californians have felt for a long time. Now THAT was freezing! We found out the next day that the temp was only 4 degrees. We were glad to have a nice car that threw good, hot air into our faces in rather short order. We picked up our water bottles only to find they were frozen. They were not even slush, but solid bricks.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The I 40 parking lot

We planned this auto excursion to Tennessee and back, thinking "surely snow crews would keep the interstate clean" and thought we would be safe and unhindered along our trek.

Well, we weren't quite that gullible. We did reserve in mind the possibility that we would have to take an unscheduled extra day in motel culture. But that would have spoiled our itinerary, which was intended to place us at our daughter's doorstep on her birthday, Dec 31.

So when we left Memphis, we did some serious marathon driving (700 miles one day, 400 the next and 500 for the third). You may have guessed that I am just a tad weary of driving. But I have learned that all driving is not the same. It is not the number of miles alone that make for a tedious driving day. Packed snow and streaks of glare ice which make driving a series of brief bobsled races interspersed with pavement recovery sections to keep us on the roadway--that is what I call tedious.

Somewhere east of Gallup, New Mexico, we took part in a social phenomenon which I will call, "parking lot pageantry". You've heard of the "flash mob" Christmas caroling presentations at various shopping malls. The first one I was aware of happened in Macy's of Philadelphia, and they called it "a random act of culture" when there was a "spontaneous" outbreak of the Hallelujah Chorus. What we experienced was similar inasmuch as unexpected activities took place in a public location that was originally created for a different purpose. The Interstate 40 was created for high speed travel. On this occasion, however, we involuntarily participated in massive parking lot pageantry.

Both lanes ahead of us rather suddenly came to a halt. Neither lane moved. We waited, but nothing was moving. People began to come out of their cars, looking ahead along the highway to see what might explain this. When I took to the road on foot I could not find an answer either. The snow was coming down, beautifully and dramatically in huge flakes that floated down like large white platters under water. It was piling up rapidly, and we began to wonder if the highway was closed, or at least restricted to vehicles equipped with chains. I took out my cell phone and tapped my yellow pages app for the New Mexico state police. When I called, I heard only a recording that said some areas experienced slowing because of road work. No reports of road closures, nothing.

We saw a lady jump from her car, form a snowball and throw it back into the car to pelt her trapped passengers. An elderly gentleman pulled along side of me, driving along the shoulder of the road, and asked me if I knew what was the matter. After my disclosure of ignorance, he asked if he could pull his car into the space ahead of us. (There was only about half car space which remained after someone else had vacated his place in the pageantry to cross the median strip and head the other direction.) His car only partially left the shoulder of the highway by pulling the nose of his car ahead of us. We were parked there for a full hour, enjoying the show, when there came a horn blast over my left shoulder. It was a huge wrecker (tow truck) which stopped to swear at the guy ahead of us whose car was still partially blocking the shoulder of the road. After humiliating the old gent (look whose calling him "old"!) the tow drove, straddling the shoulder and the median to creep on ahead to tackle the problem. At this time we had confirmed our suspicion that there had been an accident.

It was a good 90 minutes before we began to move--slowly--west along this high speed road. When we got about two miles along the road, there was little evidence of the accident. Disturbed areas of snow in about three or four spots that seemed to indicate it had been a multiple car incident.