Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Did Jesus fail to bring peace on earth?

The angel announcement was "and on earth peace, good will toward men".  At least that is the King James translation.  Modern translations get it right, "peace among men with whom He is pleased."  But even this needs a little explanation.

So many of our Christmas Carols were written when musicians had only the King James version to guide them, and so we are overwhelmed with the wrong message this time each year.  It seems as though the birth of the Messiah was supposed to begin a universal reign of peace.  In fact that is true, but not the way most people suppose.  The Jewish conservative commentator, Dennis Prager, claims that is the biggest reason why he cannot consider Jesus to be the Messiah.  After his birth there has not been an advent of world peace.

The word translated "good will" in the KJV is used elsewhere in the New Testament, and it always seems to refer to God's sovereign good pleasure.  He is called the one who works all things after the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11).

For example, the word occurs in Matthew 11:26, "Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will." (ESV)  In context Jesus is referring to God's hiding certain ideas from some people and revealing them to others.  This was according to the sovereign good pleasure of God.  In Luke 12:32 Jesus says to His disciples, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

Galatians 1:15 is another instance of the use of this word.  Here too it is all of God's good pleasure, and not of Paul's choosing that he was called to be an apostle.  Again it refers to the sovereign, unconditioned determination of God.

You see what the angels were saying (singing?) to the shepherds that night was that God was giving peace to many people, namely all those who were beneficiaries of His sovereign good pleasure.  Why this is not grasped by many is simply the fact that this pleasure is a subset of election.  And those who assume that God's grace must be egalitarian despise the doctrine of election.  Never mind that it is clearly taught in the Bible, it's not politically correct to favor one over another, and therefore it must mean something else.

I wonder what kind of a problem these same people may have with the fact that it is God who allows one soul to be born to an atheist family in the Czech Republic, and another soul to be born to a wholesome Christian family in the United States.  While it may be true that your birth family does not determine your salvation, no one can doubt that there is enormous spiritual advantage for the one over against the other.  This is only one obvious form of election.  Continue to check the context of Matthew 11 and you will see that Jesus is thanking His Father for election.  "I thank you, Father, for hiding these things from the wise and prudent."  Ponder that a moment.  God has hidden insight from cocky know-it-alls.  "And for revealing them to babes."  That is, for revealing these same things to those who are beginners in the Christian life.  That's simply election at work.

In God's sovereign disposition he has given this earth shattering news of Messiah's birth to lowly pungent savored shepherds.  They will derive the peace of God that lasts forever from this announcement.  Glory to God in the highest!  Indeed we must do that still.  That is our purpose when we gather for public worship.  To God alone be the glory.  And peace--His peace--rests upon all those who put their faith in the Son He gave to be our Savior.  It's not universal world peace.  But that will come when Jesus returns.  Be patient.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Authentic" Lord's Supper?

A few years ago I posted this.  Since it still gets a lot of hits, and because I think the story is rather fun, I post it again below.

It must have been in the late 70s while I was yet ministering in Modesto. Dan Morse was trying to plant an OPC work in the city of Sacramento, and for some reason I was available to supply for him when he was out of town. I think I had a minister in our congregation in Modesto by the name of Bill Fredericks. He probably supplied the pulpit in Modesto so I could minister to the new chapel in Sacramento.

Anyway, Pastor Morse had his congregation trained to expect the Lord's Supper every week. He sought to give more people ownership of the worship service by having them rotate the responsibility of bringing a bottle of wine for the Lord's Supper. They even used a common cup and tore the bread by hand. It was very interesting and quaint as an attempt at feeling like the original disciples. The cup was an ornate chalice which I was taught to rotate slightly after each communicant took a sip. As I rotated the brim of the cup I would wipe it with a clean napkin which I carried along the aisle for the purpose. Of course when you study the matter you would realize that it doesn't take that many communicants to cover the circumference of the chalice and begin to repeat using the same surface someone before had touched with his lips. But we used wine, so the theory is that the alcohol would kill the germs. If you are tempted to feel creepy in spite of these safeguards, then you must fall back on your trust in the ability of a sovereign God to protect you from whatever bacilli were remaining on the brim of that cup. Actually the service went rather smoothly, and I thought it was a more intimate communion when it was done like this.

The second time I filled in for Pastor Morse we were a trifle nervous because the lady who was scheduled to bring the wine had not yet appeared, and it was less than 10 minutes before the service was to begin. Bur relief broke out when she came in the door and handed me a bottle shaped brown bag. I took it to the chalice, pulled out the wine, and stopped motionless for a brief moment. She had brought apricot wine! Here we were eating torn pieces of bread and drinking from a common cup because it seemed so authentic--but then the whole mood was ruined because we were not using "the fruit of the vine". Of course the only thing to do (at that hour) was to pour the apricot wine into the chalice and proceed with the service as though nothing was amiss. I'm sure the service was only ruined for me. I've been told of hippies who used coke and french fries. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart, and I know this lady meant no disrespect by substituting apricot wine for the more bloody fruit.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A normative text

The other day I saw a letter to the editor of the local paper, railing against "biblical" marriage.  She asked what that is supposed to mean.  Does it mean polygamy, since David was given multiple wives?  Does it mean levirate marriage when a man is required to marry his brother's widow?

It occurred to me once again this proves a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  In fact it was hard not to believe this was a case of being willingly ignorant.  It turned out to be a tirade against those opposed to  same sex "marriage" on biblical grounds.  This spitting polemic was intended to make it sound as though the bible is very arbitrary and contradictory, and couldn't be trusted.

I was reminded of a marital question raised by the Sadducees of Jesus' day.  In fact it was about levirate marriage.  The scenario proposed that a woman was widowed by no less than seven brothers before she finally died.  The Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection, so the question "Who's wife will she be?" was intended to ridicule the doctrine of the resurrection.

Jesus' answer to the Sadducees was so profound and relevant for the author of this letter to the editor as well as many other sneering questioners.  He said, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God." (Matthew 22:29)  Wow!  I feel the brunt of that answer.  So often my problem with a bible concept is exactly that.  I don't know the bible well enough, and I am selling short the power of God.

It is true that David had more than one wife.  It's recorded because it is the truth, not because it is a guideline for pleasing God.  The text about David is simply sober history.  It happened this way, and so God tells it this way.  That does not mean that God approved of what David did, nor does it give us leave to follow his example.  Even though David was guilty of murder as well as adultery, when he repented, he was the man after God's own heart.  And a man with multiple wives cannot throw some away after he repents.  He must keep his responsibilities toward each of them.

The bigger question is "Is this a normative text?"  That is to say, is this supposed to be an example for all believers to adopt as a rule for their behavior?  Any who deal with ancient documents must learn to ask himself, "What did the author intend by these words?"  Nine times out of ten the task is not that daunting.  Even modern documents, like the morning newspaper, require some interpretation.  And if you really want to know the author's intent, it is not that difficult to figure out.

Armed with a genuine interest in the bible's teaching about marriage, you will discover Jesus' words, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."  These words are not simply reciting history.  Any amateur interpreter gets the point that this is intended to be a guiding principle, an authoritative definition of marriage.  This text is normative.  It is designed to give us guidance for our lives.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Big Nothing

Yeah, yeah, today is my 79th birthday.  But I tell you it's a big nothing.

Nobody is ever 79 years old.  It's nearly the big 80, but it isn't 80.

When  a kid is 9 years old, he will want everyone to know he is almost 10.  Kids that age are always "going on" to the next number.  "I'm going on 13."  the kid says.  But he may be 9 years old and just can't wait to be a teen ager.  Any kid on that side may say he's going on 13, and so he is.  Some just have a bigger run at it than others.  But I'm not in a hurry to tell everyone I'm going on 80.  Wouldn't that raise eyebrows?  "Hey, friends, I'm turning 80."  Or how about this, "I've just started my 8th decade."  Baloney!  I'm not turning anything.  I'm not going on anything.  A lot may happen in a year, and like my father in law used to imply, it's getting to the point that buying green bananas is being very optimistic.

When a pretty young lady is 29, she is very sensitive about her age.  She wants you to realize she is still in her 20s and has not passed that dreaded marker of 30.  She may spend a little money erasing wrinkle lines that no one else can see.  Her "laugh lines" display far to much hilarity in her career, so she supposes.  Consequently she is bold to correct anyone who is misled about that and assert that she is 29.  In fact she seems to make that point so many times that one gets the feeling she has been saying this for several years.

Jack Benny was 39 forever.  I think he was still 39 when he died at ninety something.  It makes for good natured joking.  But there is no joke nor is there anything good natured about insisting that everyone knows I am 79.  It's a big nothing I say.

For some there comes the mood to brag about longevity.  An old geezer may well be proud that he still enjoys his stogies and bourbon at the ripe old age of 109.  Everybody expected him to die from lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver before now.  So he is sort of having the last laugh by blowing smoke and announcing his age.  I'll drink to that.

But that doesn't happen at 79.  Nothing happens at 79.  That's not retirement age.  Everyone in the world is giving senior discounts long before you ever reach that non-descript marker of 79.  Newspaper editorials, or letters to the editor, may suggest that I should surrender my driver's license.  Now and again a tragic auto accident involves a septuagenarian, and someone will howl for my license.  Someone hit the accelerator instead of the brake.  It could happen to anyone, but when you're my age, it becomes a class action persecution.  This seventy something year old just plowed through a crowd at a Farmer's Market, therefore all licenses should be revoked at age seventy, or seventy nine.

The age of 70 sounds like a true mile marker.  Seventy five is 3/4 of a century.  But 79 is a big nothing. When kids talk about growing up they sometimes imagine an ideal age.  Was there a time when you wished you were 18?  Or maybe 21 or 25?  Well, when was the last time you wished you were 79?

So I say my seventy ninth birthday is a big nothing.  I didn't ask for it, and if you plan a surprise party for me, I will find a way to shock some sense into you.  Us old geezers have learned a few things in all these years, and I might try one of them.  A seventy nine year old streaker is not a pretty sight.  In the first place, he is definitely not a streaker.  His miserably misshapen body gains no attractiveness by losing its clothes.  And he may more accurately be called a hobbler or a shuffler rather than a streaker.

Okay, the streaker thing is a little too radical for my taste too.  But don't try the surprise party.  You'll be sorry.

I know that I am glad to be alive.  I know that my kind Heavenly Father has my life ordered out for me.  My genetic father died in his early 50s of a massive heart attack.  Now, ever since my heart attack, I waken each morning thanking God for another day.  I do not specifically thank Him for being 79, but I thank Him for His loving providence that allows me one more day to live with my best friend and companion.  All this and heaven too.  That can't be beat.

Okay, this post sounds like I'm bitter, and I really am not.  I still say, however, that a 79th birthday is a big nothing.

Monday, October 14, 2013

La La Land

I live on the left coast, in what some people call "La La Land", in other words, Los Angeles, California.  There is a lot of pretense here.  It was a natural nest for movie productions and fantasy theme parks to emerge.  Walking the streets of Hollywood has always been a hoot.  Maybe more dangerous today, but still one is able to find someone in a clown suit and a red bulbous nose.

It's a nasty place with sordid lowlife hardly hidden beneath the surface of society.  The San Fernando Valley section is known for a plethora of porn studios.

Did you know that there is no such city as "Hollywood"?  It's just a zone number of Los Angeles.  And yet it has an honorary mayor.  Tourists come by the drove to walk the pavement and see names and hand prints from stars past and present.  But there's just nothing exciting about it if we were to call it the "Los Angeles walk of fame."

Did you know that the San Diego freeway does not go to San Diego?  The San Diego freeway is numbered 405, but it ceases to exist just a few miles south of Los Angeles where it dumps traffic onto the Golden State freeway, US 5.  Then about 90 miles south of that you will find San Diego.  And yet you can find countless signs around town identifying the 405 as the "San Diego" freeway.  If truth is a little relative, oh well, this is the left coast.

There is a baseball team down in Anaheim, CA, who are called the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim."  I kid you not.  It's not that the owners love our city, but baseball is a huge business, and Los Angeles represents a lucrative market for fans left over from the Dodgers.  Oh yeah, the Dodgers were swiped from Brooklyn many years ago, but now they have been in LA longer than they were in Brooklyn, so it almost seems legitimate.

The sports joke around town is the fact that LA has no NFL team and hasn't had one since the Raiders picked our pockets several years ago.

For all it's foibles and fantasy, Los Angeles is still my city.  I was born in the Angeles Hospital in downtown Los Angeles.  Here is where I grew up, partly in south central LA and the other part in Eagle Rock (another zone number in Los Angeles).  This is the place my wife said she would never again live (that was before the Lord called me to serve our church in Carson where we lived for more than 20 years.  Oh, by the way, Carson is not a zone of LA.  It has its own city council and mayor.  But three of the past mayors went to jail.

Ah, yes, this is home.  Now we live in another city in the megalopolis of LA, and likely we will only move when chauffeured in a hearse.  My story is just a microcosm of each one of us living in a fallen world, waiting for the Savior to take us home to glory.  I pray, dear God, though I am in the world, please don't let me be part of the world.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

God has a sense of humor

Do you have a spooky experience that made you think twice about the possibility of haunting?

This experience took place in the late 60s, and is absolutely true.

Barbara and I had gone to bed and each of us was reading.  Not often in our lives have we read to each other, but this night we did.  I read her the story from the Saturday Evening Post about a haunted house.  Some Hollywood sound man claimed his house was haunted.  His wife was some pretentious second rate actress, and they lived in a wealthy neighborhood.

After they were in bed, they could clearly hear the scooting of chair legs and the jingle of silverware emanating from their dining room.  Whenever he would creep down stairs to see what was happening, no one was there.  After this happened several times, he rigged a tape recorder and strategically placed a mike near the dining room at the foot of the stairs.  Sure enough one night they heard the sound of a party, complete with silverware, glass clinking and several people lowly murmuring.  He cocked his pistol, crept quietly down the stairs and turned on the light, only to find the room still and quiet as he had in the past.

He couldn't wait to check his tape, and sure enough there were the party sounds.  He even heard the stairs squeak under his feet, the click of the light switch, and his nervous clearing of the throat.  It was a complete mystery.  He checked for the possibility of neighbor dinner parties with the intrusion of sound into their dining room.  There was no known explanation.

When they had occasion to go to Europe for a few weeks, this man asked a detective friend of his to stop by the house a time or two to see that everything was okay.  When he returned from Europe he was told this strange story by his friend.

"I was finished with my errand one night, so I stopped by your place.  As I approached your address I saw your house with every light in the joint fully ablaze.  I pulled into the driveway and ran into the house, but just when I reached your front door, every light in the house suddenly went off.  I checked thoroughly and there was no one there."

The next day when he greeted his next door neighbor he was asked, "Hey, who was that guy you left in charge of your house while you were gone?"  He answered, "My detective friend stopped by a couple of times."  "Naw," the neighbor corrected, "this guy seemed to be living there.  I saw him out by the pool.  He was rather heavy, balding and he sported a big black mustache."

Later when his wife was entertaining guests, someone asked, "Aren't you going to introduce me to your house guest?"  But she corrected, "We have no one else in the house."  Her guest insisted, "But I saw him in the kitchen doorway just now.  He was a large man, balding and he had a black mustache."

There was some other creepy stuff in the article.  It ended with the home burning to the ground.

Barbara and I talked about it for a while before going to sleep.  Is there a possibility of poltergeists?  If there were such things, they would have to be angels or demons.  We know that departed souls go immediately to be with Christ (if they are believers).  Perhaps demon spirits enjoy distracting the attention of people who ought to be thinking of the things of God.  Curious, but we are safely in the hands of our Heavenly Father.

Then about 3 in the morning, our hall light suddenly came on.  You'd better believe we were rather spooked by this.  It had never happened before (nor has it happened since).  We don't give in to ghost explanations, so I examined the light switch.  We had the type of switch that slowly moved to engage or disengage the connection, and the switch was not fully thrown when we went to bed.  So when the temperature and humidity changed during the night, the switch made contact.  Problem solved.

But why was it that particular night that this happened?  The only night in all our married life that I read a ghost story to my wife was also the only night in our entire lives that a light switch mysteriously came on in the middle of the night.  Since we believe in a God of providence, this was not an accident.  I concluded that God indeed has a sense of humor.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Oprah Winfrey disclosed in a sound bite on the news that she had recently come close to a nervous breakdown. She has such a full plate, and every day there was one crucial decision immediately following another. It's very understandable. But in this sound bite she said she used meditation as therapy, among other things.

 But my mind locked on the word "meditation". Now there are many kinds of meditation. Some involve emptying the mind of all thought. Others seek to alter consciousness. There is Transcendental Meditation of the Yogi to detach the mind from anxiety and find self realization.   And there is Buddhist meditation which attains nirvana bliss through mental gymnastics.

 So how does the Christian practice meditation?  Is this commonly known, or do too few of us spend quality time in meditation?

In Psalm 1, we celebrate the happy, or "blessed" man.  He shuns liaisons with scornful sinners.  And on the positive side we learn that he meditates on the law of God, day and night.  The law, or "Torah" of God is not a narrow concept.  He doesn't just think about the 10 commandments all day long.  In the Hebrew context (as Psalms certainly is found in this context), the idea of "Torah" is more like the instruction book of life.  It's a place where we learn about the pitfalls without having to personally fall into each one before we learn.  Law, then, should not be thought of as strict rules that inhibit freedom and stifle all spontaneity.  Instead Torah informs us how life works.

That's the character of the bible.  That is what we need to learn and over learn in order to find pleasant living here and now.  The bible teaches us how to be forgiven by God and how to enjoy the presence of Christ in our daily lives.

So my question is this: How do you go about meditating on this law of God?  What does Christian meditation actually look like?

The Hebrew word translated "meditate" means to mumble or move the lips.  Of course not everyone who moves his lips is meditating, but it gives us a clue.  When we are thinking about a verse or thought from the bible, if we are reciting it to ourselves, our lips may indeed move.  Like misunderstood Hannah, praying in the temple, our lips may often move when we are talking to God, even if little or no sound is coming forth.  The same is so when we are repeating scripture to ourselves.  This is one clue as to what meditation looks like.

When we are reciting the 23rd Psalm to ourselves, we may find blessing by emphasising each word of the first sentence separately.  "The" Lord is my shepherd.  He is not just a tribal deity or local superstition.  This is THE Lord who is with me.  The "Lord" is my shepherd.  He may send angels, He may use the church and Christian friends to help me, but these never supersede his personal presence.  It is the LORD who is my shepherd.  And as we so talk to ourselves, we find we are meditating on the word of God.

Something very interesting is found by comparing the first Psalm with the second.  In the Hebrew text we are told that the godly man meditates on the law of God.  In Psalm 2 we read "why do...the people imagine a vain thing".  The same verb root is found in both places.  It seems that while the content of the believer's meditation is contrasted with that of the unbeliever in a most dramatic way.  In fact much practice of meditation is supposed to be done with an empty mind.

The man who fills his mind with words from the bible, and then mulls over them, chewing them like cud, is the man who learns to think God's thoughts after Him.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Names that have history

As we traveled today we noticed some names of remote places. The one that stuck in my craw was "Horse thief Gulch". There is a sign for the turnoff to reach this infamous spot right along the highway somewhere in Arizona. To scan the horizon is useless. There is no town there. There is no landmark there. In fact, as far as we could tell from the highway, there is absolutely nothing there. But it is a location and it bears this name, and I figure there must be a reason. Was this the gulch in which a wild west bad guy committed his dastardly deed of purloining another man's essential transportation? Maybe he got away and was never caught, and that is why he is just known as a "horse thief". Perhaps before the turn of the 20th century, this gulch was the natural corral for a herd of horses filched by a gang of iniquitous cowboys who later became the forebears of modern day owners of a chain of used car sales lots. Or maybe this was the spot when wild western justice saw a mob of vigilantes string up a local yokel for the unforgivable crime of pilfering a cowboy's most valuable possession. No, no. You know what? The most likely scenario is simply a few old duffers who live in the vicinity made up the name out of thin air. They like to lean their chairs back near the old pot bellied stove at the general store and spin yarns to entertain one another and mystify the children and city slickers who may have stopped by for directions. I sense the evolution of a myth in the over active imaginations of a few crusty cowboys who have long since moseyed over to that great corral in the sky. Yeah, that's gotta be it. At any rate, the sign along the highway does it's work. Just the name itself conjures up the most bizarre thoughts just when a driver is tempted to be bored with a long day's drive. Thank you, Arizona, for all those interesting stories launched by posting this most intriguing name for a local spot on the map.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Trees and My wife

I thought it only fair to publish some of my doggerel from Barbara's point of view, so after my blog on Sequoia I also put this one out.  The experience was uncanny, as we drove down the mountain and into the city of Fresno, I could hear her head clear.

I love to see these giant trees
If only for a day.
They aggravate my allergies
And so I cannot stay.

The storm brought heavy thunder
The rain came steady down.
The clouds of moist congestion
Brought pain and forced a frown.

For though the sun is shining
And skies are clear and blue,
The raging tumult in my head
Drones on without a clue.

Some day the clouds will dissipate.
Some day the rain will stop.
But now my nose precipitates.
My head swears it will pop.

Fresno is so flat and hot!
Who’d ever choose this place?
But wait, my sinuses unstop.
A painless smile now forms my face.

That world is worth a photograph
A periodic visit to revel,
But I was made to live and laugh
In cities at sea level.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Infant Baptism?

I was fairly new to the reformed church scene when I went off to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, presumably to become a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  During my middler year, something wonderful and dramatic happened.  My wife gave birth to my firstborn son.  I couldn't stop grinning.  I was a daddy, and I thought that was so amazing.

I told Professor Clowney that I needed to delay my hermeneutics sermon because I was not able to study due to the birth of my son.  I thought he would understand (after all, he was a family man), but he didn't.  "Oh no, you're scheduled to preach, and you will preach."  I preached, and it wasn't what I would call eloquent.  Fact is, the 3 he gave me was a gracious gift.

But the story I wanted to share with you is how I was faced with an important decision while my wife was in labor.  Barbara was in labor for 24 hours with our firstborn, Philip.  In the old days dad was relegated to the fathers' waiting room, far away from the action.  It wasn't 'til my fourth child was born that I became part of the team in the delivery room.  But that's another story.  I realized that the question of infant baptism was no longer academic.  Was I going to seek baptism for my new baby, or would my reluctance carry the day?  So I read John Murray's book, "Baptism".

When a man is awaiting the arrival of his first child, it is rather near impossible for him to think straight or deep.  And John Murray is not an easy writer to read.  There were times I read the same sentence a second and even a third time.  Needless to say, I was forced to read it again following Philip's birth.

I was fully convinced that the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 was fulfilled in the church (Hebrews 8).  I knew that the sacraments of the old covenant were paralleled in the New Testament with non-bloody sacraments, namely baptism and the Lord's Supper, replacing circumcision and Passover.  So far, so good.  But what gave me deep reservations was the fact that baptism very clearly is designed for believers.  After disciples confessed their faith they were "initiated" into the church with the sign of baptism.  My little baby was incapable of doing that, and so shouldn't he be ineligible for baptism?  Weren't the Baptists right in declaring "believers baptism"?

It was while pondering this question that the apostle Paul knocked the pins out from under me.  I was rendered speechless by the clear implications of Romans 4:11.  This verse refers to circumcision as both a sign and a seal.  This is true of all sacraments.  Of what was it a seal?  Paul teaches us that it is a seal of the righteousness which Abraham had by faith.  First he believed, then righteousness was imputed to him, and then he was circumcised as the seal of this saving faith.  That is not just parallel to baptism, that is exactly what baptism is.  First we believe, then we are accounted as righteous, and then we receive the sign and seal of baptism.

This sounds like an argument for the baptist position.  But wait a minute.  Even though circumcision was specifically designed as a sacrament for believers, God specifically commanded Abraham to circumcise his children when they were eight days old (Genesis 17).  The sign of the covenant was a sign for believers--AND their children.  The New covenant replacement for circumcision was baptism, and though it too is a sign for believers, it too includes the children of believers.  There are a few household baptisms recorded in scripture to confirm this (I Cor. 1:16; Acts 16:15, 33).  No one can argue against baptizing babies on the basis of the fact that they aren't able to believe unless he can also explain why God commanded Abraham to circumcise his babies.

So as soon as mother and son came home from the hospital, we scheduled him for baptism.  I hope this may help someone wrestling with the same reservations.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

From the other side of the pulpit

When you sit in the average congregation (especially if the church has more than 100 people) you might feel hidden in the crowd.  But let me assure you that this is a false assumption.  In most church auditoriums (auditoria?) each individual member can be clearly seen by whoever is occupying the pulpit.  So if you're a nose picker or a head nodder or an addicted whisperer, your pastor knows all about it.

There are exceptions, of course.  Our auditorium here in Long Beach arranges its lighting as though interrogating a suspect behind the pulpit.  Congregation members are in the shadow land and the preacher is in the spotlight.  In this case I can vouch for the fact that this does not mean our church has adopted the unfortunate posture of audience and performer.  We know that God is the only "audience" and all of us are participating in worship.

I recently filled the pulpit in Westminster OPC, Westminster, California.  I enjoy ministering in this congregation because they are very receptive.  While I am speaking I can see each member sitting very still and giving me complete attention.  The body language is quite clear.  I attribute this to the fact that they are used to listening to a very good preacher, and they have become "eloquent" listeners.

Now I realize that there are those who are well practiced at appearing to be paying attention although their minds are far from the present scene.  But he is an exception, and body language sometimes even gives this away.  If some bit of unintended humor comes across the pulpit and the congregation chuckles with me, the zombie dude is still staring into space.

In the Carson Church we had an old duffer (hey! I resemble that remark.) who routinely fell asleep sometime during my sermon.  If I didn't finish before noon, his watch alarm would rhythmically beep until someone shook him (never happened) or the technology simply fatigued.

I've seen mothers pace the rear of the auditorium with a whimpering baby on the shoulder, just because she was a faithful saint who wanted to hear something edifying.  Then there are the preteen boys who are looking through the Bible for funny stuff.  Actually I think that went out when our churches began using versions other than the King James.

I'll never forget the experience I had in the pulpit of our Wilmington, Delaware, church.  I had the joy of an enthusiastic German listener (somehow he never actually became a member) who might be expected to cry out "Amen!" on any given Sunday.  Rudolph would get antsy on the edge of his pew, and when a crescendo of the message was delivered, he would respond with a lusty "Amen."  But on the particular Sunday I have in mind, Rudolph was mounting a peak of excitement when I happened to glance to the other side of the auditorium.  There I saw one of our cooler members, leaning on the side of his pew, checking his watch.  It was at the same high point of the message!  Right then and there I learned that although there certainly are some preachers more eloquent than others, there are also some listeners who are more eloquent than others.

By the way, if you think your preacher needs to learn more eloquence, why don't you pray for him.  Ask God to make him so excited about what he has found in the text that all of that joy and excitement will come across the pulpit next week.

And start practicing eloquent listening.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

About being an old duck

I can remember when I first took a 10% discount because I was 55.  I was reticent at first, as though I was cheating.  Some restaurants issue a card for seniors, but even then I had the feeling that I was stealing.  I feel fine.  Why should I pay less than others for this meal?

A few more places joined the benevolent policy when I turned 60.  Then it was 62 or 65 or I don't know.  Those increments are all so irrelevant now.  And I no longer feel a qualm.  There are too many other reasons to lose sleep now.  I'll take all the courtesies merchants will offer, thank you.  They don't really compensate for the pains of aging.  Getting old is a bummer!  But as they say, it's a lot better than the alternative.  Yet even that is not true for the Christian.  God is still reminding us that to depart and be with Christ is far better.  Hey, all this and heaven too!

I can remember the first time a little teen age girl, a bagger at the supermarket, offered to help me out to the car with my groceries.  Are you kidding, Missie?  I could carry you and the groceries myself.  That was then.  Now I am frequently tempted to take the offer.  Walking the full circuit of the market, toting my stuff home and putting it away is now a day's work.

It was much later in my life than it should have been when I first realized I would never play professional baseball.  I did have a few memorable highlights in the church softball league.  The day I made "the catch" for example.  Or the night I hit home runs in two consecutive times at bat.  Evidently my son, Bobby, remembered my prowess and yet discounted what all the intervening years (and several "Outback" meals) had done to my constitution.  When we visited him on a night when his team from work was playing, he asked me to be the ringer for a missing player.  I asked to play catcher so that I wouldn't be required to run.  But he wrote me into the batting order in clean up position.  Traditionally the fourth hitter was the heaviest hitter so he could bring in the men who had reached base before him.  Well I was the heaviest hitter, alright, but only when you can appreciate the double entendre.

Social gatherings find women discussing recipes and the men talking about exploits and skirmishes from their places of employment.  But when we become seniors, we talk about other things.  My lengthy hospital stay with pneumonia for example, or my heart attack or my hip replacement surgery.  Someone has cleverly dubbed this "the organ recital".

I remember when I felt sorry for the old duffer who was struggling to cross the street.  Now I AM that old duffer.  I used to rise to the challenge of little things that broke and fix them, feeling so smug about saving repair bills.  Now I'm planning to hire some strapping young man to dig up a pernicious plant that is gradually invading our flower bed.  It takes enough of my fleeting energy just to prune the roses, pick tomatoes and zucchini and water the crops.

God has his own way of encouraging us to long for heaven, and not all of my motives are noble and pious.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Old Rugged Cross

It's been a favorite of Christians for so many years.  I cringe to say this, but I do not like to sing this song.  For many years I conducted a hymn sing/devotional time at the local retirement home.  They frequently asked that we sing this old gospel hymn, and we usually had no pianist, so I had to lead out loud and strong to get them to sing.  I wasn't comfortable doing this, and once in a while I would make a few comments as to why.

Many wonderful truths are celebrated when we sing this song.  "In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see; for 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died to pardon and sanctify me."  This references the blood of Christ as "divine".  Strictly speaking, God has no blood.  But on the basis of Acts 20:28 we appreciate that it was with His own blood that God purchased His church.

The real meaning and beauty of that cross is found in the work of Christ that accomplished our justification and our sanctification.  "Jesus suffered and died to pardon and sanctify me."  Every Christian wants to sing this in one form or another.  It is the joy that carries us through this broken world into glory.  It is the only hope for sinners to gain the eternal city who's builder and maker is God. It is the substitutionary atonement that opens the door for grace to flood and govern our lives forever.

So why do I find any discomfort when I sing this gospel song?

Well, I want to know why George Bennard planned to exchange that cross for a crown.  If we are singing about the cross of pain and persecution we might bear in life, yes, I will exchange that for a crown.  But in the words of this hymn it is that old rugged cross--the one on which my Savior died for me--it is THAT cross that gets exchanged for a crown.  

No, no, Georgie boy, we will never exchange that cross for anything here or in eternity to come.  In glory it will be the cross that brought us there that we celebrate.  More accurately, of course, it will be the Savior who died on that cross who will be the focus of our devotion.  As surely as the resurrected Jesus bore the print of the nails and spear for Thomas to examine, he will show us that same, marked, resurrected body in heaven.  No crown that He is pleased to give any of us in glory will ever be an exchange for the old rugged cross.  If I receive a crown in glory, I know I will follow the example of the 24 elders who throw their crowns at Jesus' feet and say, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God..."

There's the exchange.  Crowns for the Cross-bearer.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Unforgettable "Red" Gage

When he thought he was having a heart attack he drove himself to the hospital.
"Red, why didn't you call.  I would have been glad to take you there."
"No need.  I know how to get there, and it was faster than calling anyone."

If there was an appliance or gimmick that you needed to acquire, it was wise to ask Red if he knew where you could get it before shelling out the money for a new one.  If it wasn't in his remarkably stuffed garage, he probably knew someone who knew someone else, etc.  We once visited a naval cadet.  She must have visited the church in order for me to have contact with her, I don't remember just now.  But she was this cute young girl who had a baby and was divorced and short of cash.  In conversation she revealed her need of a washer and dryer in her new quarters at the local base.  It was Red who located the machines which we delivered to her home.  She was delighted, and I thought we were making points to be cashed in by getting her to church again (and perhaps getting her to come to Christ, Who was the real source of this blessing).  But we never saw her again.  When I called again two weeks later, I found she had taken off with a suitor.

When I knew Red, he was no longer red haired, but rather grey, including his scruffy facial hair.  He could have passed for one of the homeless people he was forever helping.  I'm not quite sure with which agency he was once employed, but I know he talked about when he used to carry a 45 to enforce the law.  We became fast friends, and often found a lunch counter or diner to hang out together.  Most places seemed to know Red, and were glad to see him.  I think he had more friends in town than I ever did.

Red made a deal with the manager at a local supermarket and loaded day old bread and other goods in the back of his pickup which he distributed to homeless folks.  He seemed to know where to find them all.  At certain addresses of people who were scraping to get by, and in back alleys he knew how to give away all these leftover donuts, cakes, breads and other stuff.  Red never considered himself an evangelist, but he made sure the recipients of his generosity were aware that these provisions came as the compliments of the "good Lord Jesus."  He paid a little to obtain the supply, but he very seldom asked the church to reimburse him.  Red always had his resources.  He was a deacon long before the church finally ordained him a deacon.

I used to ride along with sheriff deputies.  That's an interesting story all its own.  But I remember one night we needed Red.  We had a call that said there was a homeless man sleeping by a certain dentist office, scaring away the patients.  Soccer moms who finally dragged their little ones to the dentist would park the car and had to walk by this scruffy, snoring dirt bag to get to the office.  He had been chased out of there before, but just brought his shopping carts and vermin-infested mattress back in a few hours.

Neither the deputy nor I could form a plan that might disenchant this vagrant of his favorite sleeping accommodation.  I recommended my street-wise deacon friend to this deputy, and we called Red out to help us.  He took the lead like a drill sergeant, barking orders to this mumbling urchin.  He told him to throw half his stuff in the trash bin at the grocery, and keep all his stuff in only one shopping cart.  After hassling him, he was intimidated enough to stay away from the dentist's office.

Melford "Red" Gage was never confused as a Rhodes Scholar, but he was really a loving man who was interesting to engage in conversation and had street smarts, learned from his manifold experiences.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Driving smug

I must confess that when I see the blond chick, in her red sports car, getting ticketed at the side of the road, I drive by with a very smug smile on my face.  The "girls just wanna have fun" crowd just got nailed.  It doesn't take long on the gendarme force to learn the phoniness of that flirty wink and silly grin with which ditsy girls hope to avoid the traffic citation.  I used to ride along with the sheriff, and believe me that approach only fires the constabulary ire.

The driver who whips his car out from behind me and maneuvers right in front of me, only to jam on his brakes for the stoplight, stirs primal emotions from my gut.  I am mature enough not to lash out with road rage.  I don't even carry a gun.  But I confess to another moment of that smug smile when I see that same car caught in a slow pocket of traffic when I make the next signal and he doesn't.  Okay, shame on me.  It has to be another disguise of sinful pride, but it feels so good.  Yes, I know, there are many sins that "feel" so good for the moment.

The broadest smile of smugness crosses my face when I see miles of parking lot traffic on the freeway headed in the opposite direction.  There are times and days that everyone must know when there are too many cars and not enough road.  When one has employment that requires his presence at certain hours, and his home is remove from that locale by several miles, there is nothing he can do about this flow (or rather lack thereof) of traffic.  It's naughty of me, I know, but I feel smug as I speed along on the opposite side.

If I were truly spiritually mature, I would pray for their growth in patience.  I might pray that they will have a nice dinner date with their significant other.  But all I can think is how glad I am that I'm not caught in that traffic horror.  I'm thinking that we may be at our most vulnerable show of spiritual immaturity when we are driving.  Or am I only embarrassing myself?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Biblical marriage

I recently used that phrase on FaceBook, and was disappointed at the response it evoked.  Advocates for redefining "marriage" to include homosexual relationships don't react well to the phrase "biblical marriage".  In fact it quickly becomes apparent that there is an angry rebellion against anything "biblical".

But the interesting response I am thinking about just now is the one that makes snide references to David and Solomon et al. who had multiple wives.  David is even spoken of by God as the man "after my own heart."  This is supposed to prove that biblical marriage can be bigamy and have God's blessing.  So what's so problematic about gay marriage?

Such reasoning, of course, comes from a source that is not the least interested in what the bible teaches, unless (of course) that teaching can be shown to be silly or embarrassing.  It comes under the category of a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Now it doesn't require a Masters degree in logic to understand the point I am about to make.  Any fair minded approach to the bible (or any didactic literature) must ask the question, "What is this document trying to say?"  That there are examples of multiple wives taken by those who are even heroes of the faith does not prove that this is biblical marriage.  It only proves that the bible is honest about the sinful lives of even the best of men.  It records such as historical fact.

Rather the question is "What is the kind of marriage that the bible prescribes as ideal and proper."  Does the bible say that men should have many wives?  When Jesus was accosted by bible teachers who wished to justify divorce, Jesus went back to basics.  He said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.'?" (Mat. 19:4-5)

Whatever one reads in the bible, he should ask himself, "Is this a normative text?"  That is to say, is this what the bible is telling me how I should conduct my life?  Or is it another instance of recording the hard truth about people?

In any case, dear reader, you must realize that the bible is at heart a message of the love and grace of God.  It tells us how God is very holy, and we are not.  If we are desirous of living in God's presence in heaven, our sinful record needs to be erased and our sinful hearts need to be changed.  Jesus, God's one and only Son, can make those changes, but he will only do it for those who recognize their sin and ask Him for salvation.

Please don't ever make the mistake of thinking the bible presents us with some sort of moralistic ladder by which we climb our way to heaven.  There are high moral standards presented for sure.  These are intended to make us realize we are sinful and cannot save ourselves.  These moral teachings are also there to help those who already have been forgiven and changed to understand what kind of living pleases God.  One of the sure signs that one's heart has been changed is that he now wants to keep God's commandments, especially to love God and others.

And only one of those moral standards is that marriage is a lifetime relationship between one man and one woman.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

When half of you is in pain

I was dramatically reminded that I am only half a person without my sweet wife.  She fell and broke her hip April 3.  She is repairing in rehab now, but I know what guys mean when they refer to the wife as "my better half".  It's not really surprising.  Scripture clearly teaches that the man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and the two become one flesh.  When that half is in pain, you are also in pain.  That pain is not as sharp, that's true, but it is severe discomfort nevertheless.

We were coming out of the nail salon following our pedicures.  Since I refuse to have my toenails painted, I am always the first one finished.  I waited in the car.  When she emerged from the shop she suddenly tripped over something and fell to the pavement.  I jumped out of the car and offered her my hand to get her to her feet, but she begged off, saying she wanted to wait until the pain subsided.  It didn't.  I offered again, and when she declined again I began to entertain the idea of a broken hip.  I tried to push it out of my mind, but there it was.

Many times when I was still a kid I remember hearing of some old geezer who broke her/his hip.  It wasn't much later that I heard of the passing of this geezer.  A broken hip seemed like a death sentence for anyone who qualifies as an old geezer.  But things in the medical field have improved a great deal since I was a kid.  Cruelly as it seems to be, they get you out of bed and walking right away.  The pain, though more than unpleasant, is not fatal.  Inactivity, however, is fatal.  Bed sores, pneumonia, locked joints, shut down organs et al. settle into your body and it's all over.

All this to say Barbara is my heroine for gritting her teeth and walking what looked to me like home plate to first base (90 feet).  She hopes to be home by Saturday.

When all the nail salon people came rushing outside, someone said they would call for 911.  But Barbara cried out, "No, no, no...they will only charge us a lot of money and they won't take me where I want to go."  So here she was, lying on the cement with a crowd around her, and no one quite knowing what to do.  So the girl who had just finished working on Barbara ran back inside and came out with the bottle of polish and began to repair her sullied toenails.  Get the picture?  Here is this lady, lying on the sidewalk, probably with a broken hip, and the girl was busy touching up her nails.  It seemed like a rather ludicrous option of priorities.

Next to arrive were two girls who worked at the Subway shop two doors down from the salon.  They were sweet and solicitous, expressing great concern.  Well it turns out that they were as strong as they were sweet.  Someone brought out of the salon one of the chairs with wheels.  These two girls lifted Barbara right up off the pavement and into the chair.  They wheeled the chair to the car, and then lifted Barbara out of the chair and into the car.  From there I knew what to do.   Barbara wants to find those girls as soon as she is able, and shower them with all the Avon they want (and more) as a "thank you" for their efforts and their sweet concern.

I drove to Kaiser's Emergency Room, went inside and told them that my wife may have a broken hip and I can't get her out of the car.  I let them take it from there.  They did seem a bit puzzled as to how she got into the car in her condition, but no one pressed the issue.

Monday, March 4, 2013

James E. Moore


There are several turning points in everyone's life.  Some you recognize right away, but most you appreciate more as time gives a better perspective.  One of those turning points in my life was found in the person of the Rev. James Erskine Moore.  He became my pastor shortly after I became a Christian, and he taught me the distinctives of the Reformed faith, right from the Bible.

In the providence of God I met this man at the funeral of my beloved uncle Walter Saumert.  I vividly remember Mr. Moore reciting from memory I Thessalonians 4:13-18 as though God was speaking to me directly.  The episode was dramatically enhanced by the fact that, as a new Christian, I had not yet read much of the Bible.  The fact that this was the first time death had struck down someone I loved also increased the impact of the moment.  God was working.  Anyone who knew Jim Moore will also understand that he had a flair of unaffected drama in his preaching and recitations.

Again I must attribute to divine providence the fact that my father decided the family needed to move about that time, and our move put us in the same area as the Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church and its pastor, the Rev. James E. Moore.  My mother and I began to attend the church, and that is when I first joined the O. P. C.

It was at this church that I came--albeit kicking and screaming--to be convinced of predestination.  Here also I was to meet the spunky girl who became my dear wife.  Barbara had been taught much of this good stuff, growing up in the home of an OPC minister, but in God's timing we were both prepared to grow under the ministry of Jim Moore in our understanding of Christ and his church.  Barbara and I both were impressed with Mr. Moore's preaching, but his manner required some acclimation.  He had an engaging, conversational style, and his voice was pleasant.  His vocabulary and syntax invited our thoughts to follow him easily.  But he flexed his jaw with certain words that made it appear he was trying to hold his teeth in his mouth.  This was most memorable when he pronounced the word "chuch" (or at least it sounded like that to me).  It took at least one full sermon, more for others, before one could actually hear the message without distraction.  Once acclimated, however, we were strongly edified by this dear man's preaching.

The church was very small, and the youth group was accordingly small.  The Moore's son, David, his sister Gwladys Ann, John Molloy, Dorris Stegemeier, Barbara and I were the regulars.  In addition there were some occasional visitors.  Younger kids included Katie Moore (now Mrs. Yaegashi, a missionary in Japan).  David Moore served many years as a missionary in Japan also, and now uses his Japanese language proficiency to serve as a translator for emergency calls with the phone company.

Jim Moore made his home a friendly and inviting place for us all.  His beloved wife, Maglona, was no small part of this pleasant environment.  They always had ice cream to dispense, and we habitually played "up Jinx" (a team game which included slapping a quarter on the table in stealth so as to keep the opposing team from guessing which hand lay upon the quarter).

Sometimes we sang hymns in this home, sometimes we had prayer.  It was in the Moore home that I first met Professor John Murray.  Mr. Murray was in the area to deliver a series of lectures to Fuller Seminary on the subject of Christian ethics.  Those lectures were later published as "Principles of Christian Conduct".

Mr. Moore taught us to be careful Sabbitarians.  He had definite convictions about the church and that the bible only knows of two perpetuating offices.  As a brash new Calvinist I once made comment about a minor baseball injury, being glad that was over, but Mr. Moore chided me not to make light of providence.  He was indeed a man of propriety and integrity, and a man of firm convictions.  Unfortunately it was his conviction that it was sin for me to get married before I attended seminary that drove a wedge between us.  We never experienced as close a relationship after that.  But we respected each other to his dying day.

He was brought into my life at an important time, and God used the Rev. James E. Moore to bless my life immeasurably when I needed him.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Van Til and Me

Cornelius Van Til was at least one of the most important thinkers in the field of Christian apologetics of the twentieth century.  He was part of the original faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.  And I had the privilege, in God's providence, of sitting at his feet from 1959-1961.  In those days I was somewhat aware of the historic blessing that was mine, but only years since then have I fully realized just how blessed I am.  There were other great names among these men, but this post is about Dr. Van Til.

I was overwhelmingly intimidated by the prospect of attending Westminster in the first place.  I, the kid who was told in the ninth grade that he wasn't college material, was actually entering my first year of seminary work.  I had flunked my English entrance exam in college.  I was reminded by my pastor, and even professors at college, just how demanding the work would be at Westminster.

When we drove old route 66 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike into Philadelphia back in September of '59 I was certain I would flunk out of Seminary if I didn't experience a miracle.  What was I thinking?

The day before classes began I drove to the campus to look around, and behind Machen Hall many trees had been felled in preparation for the installation of a major highway, so I was to learn.  As I strolled around I spotted a tall, greying and distinguished gentleman, his long coat flapping in the breeze, just standing there contemplating the fallen grove.  When we were near enough to speak Dr. Van Til remarked, "Isn't it a shame that all these beautiful trees had to go?"  We exchanged names, although I think the faculty was already familiar with the names of all the entering class before now.  I was sufficiently in awe of my professor that we only exchanged small talk pleasantries.  But I was to discover that this brilliant mind belonged to a Dutch farm boy whom the Lord called and gifted to be here.  The comfortable presence of the farm boy was inviting.

Dr. Van Til had friends in California, and he often referred to Ripon in his homey illustrations.  When he would stop me in the hallway to make a comment about this California boy, wearing brick red trousers, it was always with playful appreciation.

During my middle year, actually the day after finals, I underwent an emergency appendectomy, and became a ward patient in the local hospital.  Two professors came to visit me in bed there, and one of them was Dr. Van Til.  Later I was to learn that it was customary for him to visit patients at any one of the nearby hospitals.  He would approach the bedside of a patient and say, "Hello, I'm a Christian clergyman, and if I may, I would like to read a little scripture for you."

I heard Dr. Van Til lecture on the foibles of secular philosophy, leaving my head spinning.  And I heard him preach the gospel simply and clearly.  Since his apologetic was legendary and academically challenging, I read his book, "Defence of the Faith" before I got to Westminster.  I thought I got it, but there was always something big that seemed distant.  I mostly got "2"s from him (corresponding to "B" in most grading systems).  I was quite content with that.

When we were invited to the Van Tils for dinner one time, the first thing I noticed was a set of Karl Barth's "Kirchliche Dogmatik" (Church Dogmatics) in the original German, with worn and dog-eared pages, prominently displayed on an end table.  His lovely wife was wonderfully hospitable, and this night he had invited a contingent of California boys and their wives.

During lectures Dr. Van Til was likely to pick up his podium, still building profound sentences, then pump the podium up and down above his head as though he were doing push ups.  While fielding questions, he might lie on the table and listen with rapt attention, encouraging the distracted questioner to "go on."  More than once we saw him toss small pieces of chalk over his shoulder randomly as others might handle what they wanted to call "brute facts".

Voluminous papers earned higher grades so regularly that urban myth claimed that he threw the papers down the stairs, assigning the higher grades to the ones that drifted farthest down.  Confirmation of this myth was claimed when he returned all the papers in such a short time.  Some of the boys tested him.  They might staple two pages together to see if Van Til pulled them apart in order to read them.  Of course when the paper came back the staple was still intact.  One boy wrote in a bracketed sentence, "Dr. Van Til, if you are reading this, I owe you a coke."  He would never mention the offer.  The surprise came when he quoted some of the papers during his lectures.  "As Albert said in his paper...."

A long standing yearning of Dr. Van Til's was realized when Bill Krispin set up an academy opportunity for Westminster faculty members to teach inner city pastors with whom Bill was working in south Philadelphia.

His zeal for evangelism was also seen in the photo of him with Jack Miller preaching the gospel in the heart of Wall Street in New York City.

Here was a brilliant man whose presuppositionalism still challenges those who try to explain it.  He simply refused to give up any biblical truth for the sake of making a point of contact with an unbeliever.  He knew the unbeliever already knows God is there, but he is denying the truth to sidetrack his responsibility to believe the gospel.  Epistemology is actually that simple.

For all the erudite argumentation Van Til generated, he was at heart a sweet farmer's boy who intensely loved Jesus.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Music Appreciation

If you're old enough to remember listening to the Lone Ranger on the radio, I have a question for you.  Yes, there was a time when we sat, or laid on the floor, in front of a large radio, staring into the speaker as intently as kids stare at their TV programs today.  Even though we didn't see anything but this curve-topped Philco radio, we stared at it like it was going to move any second.

If you were especially good at observation, you might notice the decorative sheet of cloth which covered the speaker vibrate ever so slightly.  It may have been especially noticeable when the music was climactic and fortissimo.  But other than that tiny vibration, the radio didn't move.  There was a lot of action, but it was flashed onto the screen of your mind by the drama in the words spoken, rather than the actual sight of figures moving on a screen before you.  Those of us who had the most vivid imaginations saw the most action.

Citizens who were rescued by this hero were often heard to ask at the end of the episode, "Who was that masked man?"  He may have been given a silver bullet as a calling card, and likely a more informed citizen standing near him would identify "the Lone Ranger!"  But our shy hero was already on his way, urging speed to his mount by calling out, "Hi ho Silver...away!"

Now, my question is this: What was the music background for this program?  Of course even those who never actually heard a broadcast of this show can identify, The William Tell Overture.  Okay, but that is not the music to which I refer.  The William Tell Overture was the trademark theme of the Lone Ranger,  but there was another piece of classical music that was used as incidental music in the middle of the program.

I never did identify it until much later in my life when my wife introduced me to a wider repertoire of classical music.  I'm thinking about this now because it has become one of my favorite pieces to hear while riding my stationary bike.  It is Les Preludes by Franz Liszt.  Pull out the CD sometime (or seek it on YouTube) and see if you don't remember it during the narrative portion which followed the commercial in the middle of each episode.

Now I love that piece.  All the musical preparations are strategically leading to the final crescendo of the major theme.  This time that theme is played with all the stops pulled out, so to speak.  The symbols crash and the horns cut the air with a pleasing and effective conclusion.

Then that made me think of the fact that I learned parts of many pieces of classical music in all the cartoons that were shown between double features at the local theater.  Buggs Bunny taught us to appreciate Hungarian Rhapsodies or the Can Can.  Someone must have researched and catalogued the many classics that we heard in cartoon sound tracks.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Don't let me have a gun!  I am afraid of guns.  Let me explain.

When I was a kid, about 9 years old, my uncle gave me a 20 gauge shotgun and took me hunting for rabbits.  He taught me to respect the gun, and how to handle it carefully.  We went hunting several times, and I always handled the gun responsibly.  So how did I get from there to where I am now?

I read the paper and have had about 70 years of experience with people since those days.

When the subject of protection is the context, guns seem so deadly a solution.  So often it is a family argument over something very unimportant that has been settled so permanently by a bullet.  It was the heat of uncontrolled anger that pulled the trigger, but there are no do-overs.  It's too late to say, "Sorry".

We have always had the problem of "road rage" since the invention of the horseless carriage.  But today, if I accidentally cut off a driver, I may well expect a bullet riddled car (or head?) as a result of that rage.

Then there is the joy riding shooter who just thinks its fun.

If I had a gun for self protection, I can imagine several frightening scenarios that reinforce my resolve not to have a gun in my house.  I can imagine me confronting an intruder in the dim light of my living room with my gun.  Since I am reluctant to take the life of another human being (life is a sacred gift from God) I know I will hesitate long enough for the intruder to see my gun, consider me a threat, and shoot me first.  In this scenario the gun has been the cause of my wound or death.  Had I no gun, my intruder might have only bound me and robbed me of mere possessions.

Or (less likely for me) I might learn to "shoot first and ask questions later" and find out the "intruder" was really was my son who needed help but lost his phone.  Probably even more terrifying than the first scenario.

I realize that it is far too late to ban guns.  Everyone knows in that case only criminals would have guns, and indeed they would have them.

I realize that our founding fathers wished to protect themselves from an oppressive government, and were they alive today might argue for state of the art weapons for that purpose.  This would likely be repeating assault rifles with multi-bulleted cartridges.  The very instrument that is at the top of the list for elimination by vocal advocates of gun control.

Many years ago we borrowed my dad's little RV to take a trip.  It was just my wife and I.  As my wife lie in bed, I found my dad's 22 hand gun.  I didn't know this gun, but looked at it and thought it was without ammo.  I wasn't certain, but I was stupid enough to squeeze the trigger.  Barbara was shocked and said, "What was that!"  I was shocked even more than she was when I realized what I had done, and what might have taken place.  Then I began to worry that I might have struck something vital for the operation of the vehicle.  I was relieved to discover the bullet had pierced the pillow of the couch and smashed itself on the metal framework.  I am still embarrassed to tell that story, as you can well imagine.  But I am old enough to realize that this experience cannot be unique.  Accidental shootings appear in the newspaper almost weekly.

So whatever side you find yourself arguing concerning gun control, by all means, don't let me have a gun!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Martin Luther King

I must confess that I am totally captivated by his speach, "I have a dream".  I've been told that he didn't even write this speech.  I guess I can't prove that he did.  I know history likes to raise questions, especially about prominent citizens who are swimming against the flow.  I've heard (and I confess used) derogatory epithets in reference to Doctor King.  I'm ashamed that I did.

It is a fact that with a flair for drama as only black preaching can bring it, Martin Luther King delivered this message on August 28, 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  In point of fact I lived through the sixties, grieving at the hate, violence and rebellion.  I heard King's speech, and I say it was a turning point in American history.  I applaud it even louder today than the day I first heard it.  

The crafting of the words "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." is wordsmith genius.  It tugs at the core of decency that may still reside in the bosom of everyone who is made in the image of God. 

Granted, the USA is rapidly losing its memory of--even working to jettison--any kind of Christian moorings.  But this appeal has to find harmonic vibs in the most jaded cultural cynic.  In a decade that saw little black Sunday School girls blown up by a hateful coward; that saw men and women clubbed and hauled away from all-white lunch counters, it was the right message at the right time.

And the most commendable feature is that this message was delivered with the restraint of non-violence.  King said, "But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."

That works with a people that still has a Christian memory, to use a Francis Schaeffer phrase.  It wouldn't have worked in some other cultures.  As Gandhi counted on the sense of decency in the majority of Brits who read the papers, so King counted on the vast majority of American citizens who read about the abuse he took would also react.  He certainly realized that racial warfare is just plain wrong, and would have accomplished ends that were diametrically opposed to his intention.

I'm glad we have a holiday for Martin Luther King.

But I must confess that I am saddened when I mention Martin Luther, and my hearers think I'm referring to Dr. King.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Growing season

Here it is January and I just noticed there are a few figs left on our tree.  No leaves, but figs.  I remember that during the bountiful summer months, this happy fig tree gave us figs almost every day.  As soon as we had eaten the beautiful fruit, others swelled to delicate peak of perfection.  I can understand those who think they dislike figs because they look icky, or because they yield slimy, seeded fruit.  But real men (and women) get them past the eyes and into the mouth where they cannot be doubted. 

These are black mission figs, and you know they are ripe when they begin to sag, a day or two after their shiny black erection.  The trick is to pick them before the birds find them hidden under a leaf (fig leaves cover very well, just ask Adam and Eve about that).

Oh yes, the other villains who sometimes discover the fructose before we do are the Japanese beetles.  They are huge beasts that look and sound like bumble bees until you are able to analyze them carefully.  The thing is, you don't feel like analyzing when they zoom by your ear with a threatening deep base buzz.  Fortunately, the beetles tend to converge on the same piece of fruit instead of infesting the whole tree.

After the harvest appeared to be over, I did see about 4 or 5 immature efforts on one late branch.  I remember thinking at the time, "I doubt that these figs will ever ripen."  I had forgotten about them until the season (yeah, we have something similar to fall that we call "winter" in California) dispossessed our tree of her leaves.  I must check on them tomorrow.

So while I was washing out a paint brush, way in the back of our estate, I discovered this zucchini still on the plant.  I just thought some of my friends back east might enjoy seeing it.  Okay, yes, I was taunting you with garden bragging rights of those of us who live on the left coast.  If the video of the Rose Parade was not enough to make you wish you were here, then just imagine this little dude in home made ratatouille or just sliced and sauteed with onion in olive oil with a little Parmesan sprinkle.  Yum.