Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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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.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Do you have any idea how ludicrous is this picture? Septuagenarians watching children who are four years old and 18 months old can be a mite challenging.

That would be our great grandchildren. I can imagine a scenario ending with sudden cardiac arrest or an episode of temporary insanity. But it is worth the risk. It turned out to be a refresher course in human depravity. Believe me when I say that doctrine is much more vivid when it has little shoes. Our home lost it's baby proof qualities a long time ago. Little David is afflicted with compulsive button pushing syndrome. So when he walks by the TV it suddenly comes on--or off--whichever is the opposite mode from that which I had chosen. Music boxes mysteriously play music. And little Davey's compulsion is dramatically exacerbated when he has been told "That is a no no.".  The next time the crime is perpetrated it is done with the most winsomely charming grin.

While all this is happening, big sister, Lillianna, is behaving like an angel because she has already made herself a first rate computer operator. She is helping Woody rescue somebody in a game on the Disney website.  But now and again she wants to play one of our games.  Unfortunately there are not enough games for four year olds in our home, and then she says, "What else?"  She loves to help Papa in the garden and then chores take twice as long, but I also get twice the pleasure because she "helped" me.

I asked Bub (that's what they have dubbed this adorable little boy) if he had a load in his pants, and he immediately said, "no!" shaking his head with exaggerated certainty. But his lie was betrayed by the most toxic stench imaginable. At our age this becomes a two person project, but we haven't forgotten the basic technique.

So we decided to wear them out at Pirate Park. The place is designed for the smallest of citizens, and they really like it. This time, prompted by the example of other kids, Bub decided to climb the stairs to come down the slide. It's made of cement and is a model of safety design. If a little body happens to descend more rapidly than desired, the floor is made of rubber composition, and the traveler will bounce. But our caution proved unnecessary because little Bub came down feet first on his tummy. This created a braking friction as his shirt hiked up and his bare belly dragged all the way down.  Nana watched in frozen disbelief as he opened his bottle of water and calmly poured it down his shirt.

When this active toddler decided to explore the landscape outside the park, of course I followed, carrying his shoe that seems to invariably dislodge itself several times a day. I knew he needed to travel a long distance before encountering danger, so even though I had him in view, he must have been 50 feet from me when we both spotted a tiny puddle left on the pavement. I'm sure we both knew what was about to happen. Now if he were headed for a busy street I'm sure I would have found it in me to run enough to avert tragedy. However at this point in my life I no longer consider a wet sock a tragedy. He found such giddy pleasure stomping in that puddle that I knew this was a time when it was okay for boys to be boys. I sorta wished I was his age so we could have shared the obvious joy together.

We love it when the great grandchildren come, but we get all the exercise we need in a day when they are in our care.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hymn choices

Did you ever analyze hymns that people choose to sing? There is really quite a bit of difference between a foxtrot ditty and a stately chorale. There are those who refuse to join the congregation singing anything other than a paraphrased Psalm. I love to sing the Psalms, but I have not yet been convinced that God is displeased when we sing the name of Jesus! But that is a different fight than the one I want to pick today.

I remember when the original Trinity Hymnal was published. My friend, Howard Porter, who was the organist at Calvary OPC, Glenside, PA (the church right across the street from Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia), told me that he had a friend who was organist at a Roman Catholic Church in the area. Both men being musicians, Howard loaned a copy of the Trinity Hymnal to his friend to see how he appreciated the classical tunes. When he returned the book, his comment went something like this: "The music is beautiful, but the hymnal contains a lot of grace doesn't it?" I wish all OPC church members would appreciate that--but as a note of commendation, not criticism.

What a great difference there is between "Little Brown Church in the Vale" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" just for a quick example. One is full of sentimental schmaltz and the other confronts one with the awesome depth of Christ's love for poor lost sinners.

Contrast "Sunshine In My Soul Today" with "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" for another ludicrous example. One is celebrating how I feel now that I'm saved, while the other is uttering the most solemn devotion to Christ, crucified.

My point is simply that there is too much emphasis on how good I feel or how victorious my Christian life has become. I feel like a hypocrite when I sing the second verse of "Blessed Assurance". "Perfect submission perfect delight, visions of rapture now burst on my sight; angels descending, bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love." Those are beautiful words. That is the ideal Christian life. But I need to confess to you that I have never been able to say my submission to the Lord was "perfect". Maybe that's just me. I feel much more honest when I sing, "Jesus, what a strength in weakness! Let me hide myself in Him; tempted, tried and sometimes failing, He, my strength, my victory wins." (Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners).

These thoughts were triggered in my head because of one of the hymns sung last Sunday. "We Have Not Known Thee As We Ought". The fourth verse confesses, "We have not served thee as we ought; alas! the duties left undone, the work with little fervor wrought, the battles lost, or scarcely won! Lord, give the zeal, and give the might, for thee to toil, for thee to fight." That is what I need to sing more often than I care to admit.

My pastor, years ago, pointed out to me the most insidious hymnal editing I have ever heard of in my entire life. It is a great example of why there is an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The original Presbyterian hymnal included the children's hymn, "Around the Throne of God in Heaven". It flows so simply and beautifully from a description of the blessedness of children around God's throne in heaven into the question, "What brought them to that world came those children there?" And the gospel answer is "Because the Saviour shed His blood to wash away their sin... The final verse celebrates their sanctification by telling us, "On earth they sought the Saviour's grace, On earth they loved his Name; so now they see his blessed face, and stand before the Lamb, Singing, 'Glory, glory, glory be to God on high.'" But when the hymnal was revised, after the church turned sour, they simply excluded the next to last verse. Then the answer to the question as to how those children got to heaven becomes, "On earth they sought the Saviour's grace... "  Suddenly the way of salvation is works, rather than grace. It is what those children did for Jesus, not what He did for them.

Do you see why it is so important to think about what words you are singing?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Angels in disguise

The bible encourages us to bring guests into our homes by saying, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2)

My family would tell me that we have never done that, not because we have never entertained guests, but because no angel would take the kind of disguises we have seen. In fact it may have required guardian angels to protect my family from some of the "guests" we have shown hospitality.

There was the guy who came for dinner and needed Maalox. You need to know that we made it a policy not to give money to transients. If they claimed to be hungry we invited them to dine with us. Raising 6 kids made it seem that one or two more at the table was not a big deal. Anyway, this guy needed Maalox before dinner (it wasn't because of our cooking). Barbara found a bottle in the cabinet and handed him the bottle while I got a spoon. But before anyone handed him the spoon, he put the bottle to him mouth, took a swig, and handed it back. "No, you go ahead and keep it. You might need some later."

Of course there was Kevin Johnson, a young black who was fresh out of prison and needed a temporary residence. He was so charming and lovable that our whole family enjoyed him. We even finagled a job for him, policing the traffic in a roller skating rink. He shocked the socks off us when he answered the phone, "Hello, Keller residence. House nigger speaking." He thought that was so funny that he made a routine of it, until we forbade him to answer the phone. Some time after he moved on, we heard that he fell to his addiction of car theft once again.

One guy pressured me for money so he could get a coat since he was going to be on the street. I gave him my heavy eastern overcoat, and we never heard from him again. We had recently moved to Modesto from Wilmington, Delaware, and I was rather certain I would never need that coat again.

Then there was the family who sent their barefoot kids into the church just after the benediction to ask money for groceries. I went to talk to the father out in the car, and found him watching TV which had been installed so he could watch from the driver seat! We didn't give him money, and he didn't want our hospitality.

Then there was the Cambodian refugee who was so grateful for our sponsorship that he pulled all the weeds from the yard. He left the dandelions, thinking they were flowers or food, I suppose. Needless to say our kids thought this was great. At the dining table he would stop me and insisted on serving everyone before he took any for himself. Maybe he was the angel.