Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Jehovah and the Jitney

As a young pastor I fancied myself as a pastor for the youth group.  Whenever there was an activity I was driving a carload of kids to attend.  We went to snow camp.  We went to youth rallies.  Sometimes our weekly meeting required some transportation by me.

I found my joy in being accepted by high schoolers as not only the leader, but part of the group.  It's my opinion that kids take me more seriously if they see that I like to play and have a more balanced personality than they may have originally thought.

In my first church I couldn't seem to get the group started on the right foot until one of the girls in the church determined that she was going to make it work.  She had a strong character and a commanding manor.  I think she may have threatened some of her school friends, I don't really know this, but she showed me how important it was for the young people themselves to take ownership of the project.

Anyway, Bonnie's brow-beating invitations brought together 20 or more kids to the first meeting at her house.  A couple of the boys took turns leading the Bible study portion of our meetings.  Then we had refreshments and played some special games and just hung out (before that term was actually invented).  What was so remarkable was that this meeting took place on Friday nights, competing with the local basketball games.  And the kids kept coming back.  Only when I thought there was needed supplementation or that we were straying from the meat of the text did I offer my comments.  The Lord was with us.  These kids even talked about spiritual matters during the "hanging out" part of the meeting.

One of the neighbor kids who had visited the group came knocking on my door one night, asking me to tell her what made them tick.  She said she could see these kids had something she did not have, and she wanted to know what it was.  Talk about a straight line!  We talked about Jesus as I explained the gospel and she asked Christ to come into her life.

One year, coming home from a winter camp, my Rambler American stuffed with kids, we were delayed by freezing rain and snow.  This wasn't the fluffy stuff that blows and drifts like baby powder before a fan.  This was crunchy stuff that hit and stuck and froze up my windshield wipers more than once during our treacherous journey.  I stopped and relieved the wiper blades of ice formations more than once.  Here I was leaning over this slushy car, whacking the nascent glaciers off as the traffic squished by, throwing dirty slushy snow at my feet.

All I could think about is how the parents of these young people must be worried about them, and how I could get them home sooner.  Oh yeah, this was long before the day when everyone owned a cell phone.  In fact they had not yet been invented.

The final stop before heading home was to drop off the daughter of an important business man in Westfield, NJ.  My home was still 40 miles south and it was dinner time and I wanted to get home.  It seems that this family was holding a formal dinner with friends, and they invited me to stay and eat with them.  I squirmed at the invitation because although I was hungry, I could hardly be more inappropriately dressed with my dirty, wet blue jeans and sweat shirt.  The girl's father was so genuine and disarming that I did stay and sit amid these suits and ties and gowns.  He said he could always trust me to take good care of the kids, and that he really wanted me to dine with them.

We don't deserve to sit with Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb either.  It is only at His gracious invitation that we dare to come.  But when Jesus calls you just can't say "No".  In that case He actually takes away our filthy garments and clothes us with spotless clothing, reflective of the holiness that He drapes over every believer who heeds His call.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

9 out of 10

Nine out of 10 readers of this blog are of Mensa intelligence.  Since you are now reading this blog, you want to believe this statistic, and are willing to accept it.  Of course, I made it up out of my own fertile imagination.  It is possible that I have taken a scientific survey.  I tested 10 of my friends and found 9 of them to be so intelligent.  But, alas, I didn't even do that.  I just flat out lied.  We all know that old hack, figures don't lie, but liars can figure.

If I told you that 9 out of 10 statistics are drawn out of thin air, you might be willing to accept that because of your own experience with alleged and suspicious published statistics.  But that would simply be praying on your unfortunate anecdotal evidence.  But anecdotal is no more scientific than my fertile imagination or polemical guesswork.

I remember reading that coliform bacterium can travel through 12 sheets of toilet paper in 4 seconds.  I suspect that this is one of those phony statistics, but it's graphic image has improved my sanitary habits by a large degree.

I guess it all goes back to the truism that we tend to believe what we want to believe.  Isn't there any source of statistics that we can trust?

Even scientific statistics are subject to our skeptical scrutiny.  We were told of the danger of eating butter with all the fat content.  Now they are saying that margarine is worse for us than the butter.  We learned that artificial sweeteners are a must because of the dangers of too much sugar.  Then a study came out to show us that artificial sweeteners create formaldehyde on the brain.  We get the idea that these scientific studies draw conclusions most complimentary to the interests that are funding the study.

We seem to do best by listening to someone who really knows, and taking it on his authority.  It's good to have a PhD chemist or engineer as a friend.  He may have read both studies and can explain how there is partial truth in each camp.  He may be able to read between the lines of esoteric phraseology and tell you what the study report really means.  It's nice to hear from someone who really knows.

When you find yourself stuck in the middle of a mine field, it would be a good thing to know who drew up the map you decide to use.

And, of course, that brings me to our Lord, Jesus Christ.  He didn't have an engineering degree, but He knows.  And He is the one who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me."  He also said, "Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in Him who sent me has eternal life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death into life." (John 5:24)

You ask me, "What are his credentials?  Why should we believe him?"  That's a fair question.  The short answer is: because he came out of the grave to prove it.  Jesus predicted His death by crucifixion and his resurrection 3 days later.  Then those who were eye witnesses gave us their dossiers.  You find them in the first four books of the New Testament.  Don't scoff until you read them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Let's hear it for cloth diapers!

Progress always leaves a wake of nostalgia.  This post is a ripple in that wake.  Undoubtedly paper diapers are a wonderful invention, I applaud the advantages of this bit of progress.  But there is a whimper of nostalgia I need to raise for the old cloth diapers, lest they be completely forgotten by a culture that fails to appreciate it's history.

Some kind person (or church group) gave us a month's subscription to a diaper service.  Now the invention of paper diapers has destroyed an entire industry.  The delivery driver would pick up our bag of nasty diapers, and leave us with a neat stack of folded, sanitized fresh diapers.  This replaced a disgusting chore that we soon intimately experienced because we couldn't afford to continue the subscription.  Now just think of the several small business entrepreneurs who have been frustrated or bankrupted in the crisis of change.  No self respecting Republican can be proud of that record.

Cloth diapers were soft and cuddly for baby's chubby little buns.  We learned to fold them in effective triangles that covered the vital areas with maximum comfort to junior.  We learned to pin them with one hand in the diaper between the cloth and baby's skin for obvious reasons.  An experienced mom (or dad) could quickly change these diapers without sticking herself (or himself).  Part of that experience was to construe the contour of the installed diaper so as to keep it from falling from these little hips.  Such costume malfunctions were embarrassing at least, and sometimes disastrous.

Oh yes, diaper pins are now antiques I suppose.  I can't remember the last one I saw.  These were safety pins with plastic heads that were about 2 inches long.  Sometimes the heavy cloth resisted easy piercing, so we learned the trick of dragging the pin through our hair to apply just enough grease to run the pin through the diaper most smoothly.  I'll bet there are few, if any, reading this blog who remember that little trick.

A serendipity development was the discovery that cloth diapers make wonderful dust cloths.  They were also wonderful clean up rags for spilled milk and other liquids.  After all isn't that what they were manufactured to do?

In cold climates one can determine that diapers on the clothesline were dry when they freely flapped in the breeze.  Before this they would swing stiffly back and forth like a board in the frosty air.

Of course when junior did his thing in these diapers it would drip on the floor.  You would get wet, your furniture would get wet or your company (who insisted on holding baby) would get wet.  And, of course, this was not just water.  We then invented plastic pants to cover diapers, with elastic waist and leg openings to hold the urine inside.  This gave way to concentrated ammonia and diaper rash which hit us in epidemic proportions.

And so it became necessary to invent paper diapers.  Well, I'm sure this was progress, but it still leaves a little wake of nostalgia ripples.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Big eight oh!

Okay, last year I ragged on why my 79th birthday was a big nothing.  It was no round number.  No one aspires to be 79.  It's never recognized as a remarkable milestone.

But now I'm 80.  That number is round.  It's a milestone: "You have reached 80."


As I thought about this blog my mind could not stop thinking of Moses.  When he reached 80 God was just now ready to use him to deliver the children of Israel out of Egypt.  One big difference "His vigor was not abated" (Deuteronomy 34:7).

Our forebears left us with some quaint expressions.  For example, when one is an old duck, the Presbytery calls him one of the "fathers" of the church.  That doesn't mean that he has begotten a whole congregation.  It means he has become one of the elite wise men of the body.  Now that scares the liver out of me.  The idea that any of these sharp, intelligent young men now in our Presbytery might look to me for wisdom is absolutely terrifying.  Wisdom is not a matter of chronology.  The longer experience I've had only means that I have learned how many blunders can be made in one lifetime.

There are things I can get away with now that I couldn't as a younger man.  I can be crotchety, and people take it in stride.  "Oh don't mind that insult.  The man is 80 years old."

I can opt out of activity because it is nap time.  "I can't possibly go to that committee meeting.  I have a previous engagement."

When someone else is driving, he tends to drop me off at the destination and then find a parking place.  When I'm looking for a parking place I find a blue wheel chair symbol near the front door.  We have a handicap license.

Would you believe that the Presbytery actually sang "Happy Birthday" to me during the recent meeting? I groaned inside and thought we have more important business than this.  But as they started to sing, I realized how much better any song sounds when this group of 40 plus men belt it out.

On the actual day (Oct 21) I was dumbfounded to see my dearest friend in this world (other than my sweet wife) who came 3,000 miles just to be with me on this occasion.

Okay, now the celebration is over (hey, I still have a free meal at Hoff's Hut to redeem!) I can get back to shuffling along to the tune of the loving kindness of my Father in heaven.  Now that is sweet.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Old Cars

I told you about my first car.  It was a "Crosley".  They also make home appliances and stuff like that.  The car they made was quite like a shipping box with a sewing machine engine.  We had many adventures in this tinny machine, but I have reported these in old blogs.

I learned to drive on my dad's '39 Mercury.  It was a black 4 door sedan.  In those days we had windows you rolled down with a hand crank.  In fact that was how you could turn on the air conditioning.  It was crude, but effective.  There were obvious disadvantages noticed when driving past a stock yard or through a dust storm.  But we were young and rugged in those days.

May Company was closed on Sundays back then, and that made for a great student driver venue in the parking lot.  One day I froze with my foot on the accelerator instead of the brake.  My dad grabbed the wheel and thus we avoided wiping out a stop sign (yes they had several of these strategically placed around the parking lot).  Following that traumatic crisis, dad thought we had spent enough time for the day.  In spite of all this grief, dad was a skillful and patient teacher, and I eventually passed my exam and received a "Junior Driver's License" when I was just 14.

Actually, I'm screwing up the story, dad's preparation was for my real driver's license.  The Junior model was for my doodle bug motor scooter two years before this.  Well that's another story.

The 39 Merc had four on the floor, you know, a long handled gear shift poking up from the floor board with a shiny black round handle on top.  I had to learn the "H" pattern for selecting the gears, and there was the clutch with which to reckon.  Fewer and fewer cars come with a clutch these days, and that is an experience too many modern drivers have missed.

The clutch disengaged spinning gears beneath the floor board and thus enabled me to shove the stick into position for first gear.  This being the gear with the highest disparity of spinning ratio between the gear coming from the engine and gear sending torque to the wheels.  When the clutch was pressed, and gears at rest, engaging the gears was a smooth operation.  If one forgot to depress the clutch and yet attempted to engage the gears, a hideous grinding racket would emerge from the gear box.  "Hey, why don't you grind me a pound!" was a frequent sarcastic quip that has now disappeared from our vocabulary.

The front seat was like a wide, padded bench.  Sorta like the back seat in most cars today.  Of course we hadn't thought of seat belts yet, and that made for some cool dating.  We were never distracted by some cell phone or other electronic device.  But there was a considerable distraction from driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other arm around my girl friend who was cuddling up next to me.  Only race cars, or very expensive sports cars, had bucket seats.  And dating teenagers really didn't want that kind of seating arrangement.  Couples learned team driving with the girl shifting the gears while the guy drove with one hand (often on a knicker nob mounted on the steering wheel to enable strong turns by easily spinning the wheel).

And there actually were some things you could do for maintenance that are out of the question today.  That's because modern cars are half computer and half car.  So in the old days most of us learned to be amateur auto mechanics simply by necessity.  I remember replacing second gear in my old Rambler American.  I was clearly in over my head, and when I had to replace second gear again the next month, we decided to save money and buy a new car.

But changing the oil and cleaning the carburetor and replacing the points were all things one could do to tune up his own car.  They don't even have points any more.

One summer we packed up the whole tribe and headed out to visit the grandparents.  Barbara's parents lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, and mine were in Los Angeles.  When we got to the border of Nebraska, a frightening, rhythmic knock developed in the engine.  But that station wagon was an eight cylinder auto, and it still maintained highway speed without over heating.  So we kept going another 40 or so miles to the Piper house.  One of dad Piper's parishioners had recently retired from the maintenance yard for a major utility company.  I paid him a mere $20 to look over my shoulder while I opened the engine.  It was a simple case of a broken valve lifter.  He even knew where to buy the part at dirt cheap prices.  When we closed the engine again and it purred, I said, "Doesn't it make you feel good to know you fixed it?"  I was feeling quite elated, I know.  But after 25 years on the job he was ready to retire so he said, "No."

I began thinking how the internal combustion engine is similar to the human body.  We can have a lot of things wrong with us and still be able to operate.  And even though the soul is cut off from God and spiritually dead, a man can appreciate life and be thankful.  He just doesn't know who to thank.  But when he realizes that his life is messy and he will be judged by the Creator for every irresponsibility, he needs to cry out to someone to help him get repaired by the original Manufacturer.  That's when I need to be there to point him to Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Some like it hot

I never appreciated the common metaphorical reference to a beautiful young woman as "hot".  She may be outrageous.  She may be flirtatious.  She may be very attractive.  But "hot" is not my choice of epithet with which to label feminine eye candy.  I'd rather use "cool" or "sweet".

And when it comes to climate, I also shun the hot.  I guess that's why we ended up back here in Southern California.

My daughter and her husband, however, like it hot.  It was a carefully planned move that took them to Havasu City, Arizona.  Why someone would deliberately choose to live there is beyond my comprehension.

"But it's a dry heat." Jim keeps telling me.  And my response is always: "Yeah, and so is my oven."

Barbara warned them that we would not be visiting any time during the blast-furnace summer.  But love for great grandchildren (who have subsequently moved there with their mother) has compelled us to relent.

"We'll come if you turn down the thermostat below 80 degrees, but we can't stay more than a few days."  Barbara finally agreed.

Isn't it amazing how such little people can mean so very much to one's life?  We need to get a hug from these tiny humans every now and again.  So we packed and drove 300 miles just to see them (yes, and their mom and grand parents too).  Let's see now, where is my bathing suit.  I know we will spend some time in their swimming pool.  I'd better take two swim suits.

It is very difficult for me to admit this, but the dry heat is quite a bit easier to bear than 90 degrees with humid air around here.  I hope we didn't break the bank on their electric bill, but the AC made it just possible for us to enjoy our stay.  And the pool was not a disappointment.  After dinner the second night, we ventured into the pool after dark.  The thermometer read 100 degrees.  The water (still warm from the sun) felt so good that we stayed and chatted for an hour or so.  But the strangest sensation occurred when I stepped out of the pool.  I actually got chilled in the 100 degree air when I climbed out of the pool.  It was uncanny.  I thought I was going to be sick or some of my organs would shut down.  I mean it was eerie.  I toweled off and headed straight for the bedroom where I climbed under the covers and laid still until my aged body adjusted.  There is something spooky about hot places.

Forty years ago, when we moved to Modesto, I asked the daughter of the former pastor what the city was like.  She gave me a one syllable answer: "Hot!"  She was so right.  Every year there seemed to be at least one week in which the temperature topped the century mark every day.  I don't care where you live, I call that hot.  In Havasu, however, it's hot like that for the entire summer.

Trying to be friendly in my new city, I struck up a conversation with the lady who lived next door to the church.  She was complaining about how humid it was.  My image was more like a dry dusty desert.  I asked where she lived before coming to Modesto, and she said, "Mojave".  Okay, now she made sense.  Irrigation canals laced the region around Modesto, and she felt it in the air.  Being new to the area, I just thought it was hot.  That was just one lesson among many that things are perceived differently by different people, depending on their life experience.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Children learning to walk

No, actually they are not my children, but I have a claim on their lives.  As a retired minister I can understand the apostle John's feelings when he wrote, "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth." (III John 4)  John is not talking about genetic relationships.  During his long ministry in Ephesus, John had to see children, raised in the church and latching on to Jesus Christ with the same faith their parents exercised years ahead of them.

Perhaps he had in mind those who as adults first came to know our Savior under his ministry.  Trials had confused many and injured the faith that many had confessed.  In the early days of the church it was illegal to be a Christian.  Some had moved away and John had lost track of them.  John himself had been sent to exile on the island of Patmos.  And what goes through the mind of a pastor who has learned to love his people so?  He wonders how it is with their souls.

What a joy, then, when someone brings a good report about one of these "children" of the apostle.  His circumstances were transformed by the news that one of his children was still walking with the Lord.  He is walking in the truth.  In spite of the bombardment of propaganda about the divinity of Caesar (not to mention the threat against those who denied it) John heard that his children were walking in the truth.  This is what brought greater joy to the heart of this aged apostle than anything else.

That is the joy I recently experienced, seeing dear ones to whom I had the awesome privilege of ministering the gospel in years past.  This young lady who has now finished two years of college was a precocious two year old when I first loved her.  She shows every evidence that she sincerely loves Jesus, and is doing her best to walk with Him in her daily life.  She has done short-term missionary service and she chooses godly Christian friends.  She still delights her parents without a hint of rebellion.

Her adorable sister used to dance across the floor more often than walk.  I knew her, and spoke to her even before she was born.  She is making the same good friends and walking the same path with the same Lord Jesus.  The brothers seem to be headed the right direction also.  It brings me great joy to hear and see these things.

Her inseparable friend is another case in point.  Geography finally did separate these two, but in kindred spirits they have maintained their mutually edifying friendship.  This second girl's mother is another whom I would like to claim as one of my children in the Lord.  Though I did not bring her to initial faith in Christ, I had the privilege of encouraging her through some hard places, and the evidence of her love for Jesus has never been more obvious in any one's life.  It makes her one of the most beautiful women I have ever known.  She and her daughter are walking in the truth, and I find it an emotional and spiritual high to see them again, knowing they love the same Savior.

Of course I am pleased to hear that these friends are well.  It is a joy to know they are happy.  But you need to know that I have no greater joy than to hear that these "children" are walking in the truth.  They love Jesus, and I anticipate hearing even greater things from them and abut them.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Resurrection epistemology

How is it that you know you are not just a butterfly having a dream?

How do you know the sun will come up tomorrow?

How do you know you are going to heaven?

The answer to these--and so many more questions--is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead three days after His crucifixion.

You might say that you are going to heaven because Christ died for your sins.  This is not a wrong answer, but it is not complete.  Jesus died for your sins--and rose again the third day!

Thousands of criminals were executed by Roman crucifixion over the years of the empire.  Enthusiastic friends of any one of them might make the same claim.  "Hey, Simeon said he would die for my sins, and I believe him."  What's to prove him wrong...or right?  He may have died right enough, but what evidence is there that Simeon's death, or Christ's death, had any significance for you?

The only One who can forgive sins is God.  And the only One who can raise the dead is also God.  Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection. (Rom. 1:4)  "Christ died for our sins, and he was buried and he was raised again on the third day, according to the Scriptures." (I Cor. 15:3, 4)

Without the resurrection of Christ, we would be left to blind faith--the kind of faith unbelievers smirkingly think we Christians exercise.  Faith is not just wanting something to be true.  Christian faith is based on evidence that we consider trustworthy.  That's the way human beings think.  Christian faith is not blind faith.  It is faith in facts.  Not much different than faith that the sun will rise tomorrow that is based on facts about our universe and about earth's rotation.

But Christian facts include those that are revealed in the Bible.  Unbelievers are denied access to all this data by choice.  They think it is no loss, because they suppose the Bible is made up of fairy tales and other stuff that requires blind faith.

Christians believe the Bible because Jesus said it was true.  He said the Scriptures cannot be broken.  He said in that book we have eternal life.  And He also said that the Scriptures speak of Him.  The thing is, Jesus predicted His death by crucifixion and His resurrection three days later.  He taught it over and over again.  Then these same disciples whom He taught were caught by surprise and were discouraged and confused by His death.  Moreover they were shocked out of their proverbial socks to see and touch the risen Christ.  When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in about 55 AD, he mentioned an occasion on which more than 500 people saw the resurrected Christ at the same time.  This was but 20 some years after the event, but no one came forth to challenge that claim.  The tomb was empty.  The body was nowhere to be found by His enemies.

There are many who began to read the Bible just to discount the Christian faith who had their head (and heart) turned by the power of the Holy Spirit as they read the Scriptures.  Please don't mock until you have read it for yourself.  Honesty will then require you to at least admit that the accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection were written by sober men who themselves believed the resurrection to be fact.

Of course we know that it is impossible for dead people to come alive again.  Brain tissue begins to deteriorate within minutes, and the rest is not far behind.  Every Christian also knows this.  The only possible exception to this scientific fact must be accomplished by God, who created human flesh in the first place.  It had to be impossible in order for God to make His point.  Christ is risen, and therefore He is right.  No one else in the history of the world can make that claim.  It's not that we Christians are light minded dolts who swallow every story told them.  The difference between being a Christian and not being one, is not a matter of intelligence.  It comes down to a different source of data with which to make informed decisions.

If you're not a Christian, and you are reading this (of course you are), my plea is simply that you would read through the Gospel of John, and see if God is speaking to you in these words.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dodger Reject

I can remember the day I woke up to the reality that I would never play professional baseball.  Admittedly it came rather late in life, but it was a definite point in my personal history.  Many years before that realization I had already turned in my uniform to attend church instead.  Nevertheless, that thought enjoyed lingering in the back of my mind for much too long.

But that's not when the Dodgers rejected me.  No, that was a rejection by the Southern Pacific Railroad municipal league team.  In fact the Dodgers couldn't care less about my baseball skills.  That doesn't break my heart.

What does break my heart is that the Dodgers couldn't care less about my prowess as a Dodger fan.  It is as a devoted, 60 year commitment, blue blooded rooter that I have been rejected by the Dodgers.  I learned to listen to Dodger games

In order to pay obscene salaries to their stars, the Dodgers have contracted with filthy lucre for 4 billion (yes, with a "B") dollars to own their own TV channel, which is exclusively available through Time Warner Cable.  Since I have DirecTV, this is not an option for me.  I found out that about 70% of Southern California has also been cut off from TV access.  If my provider will not contract for exorbitant fees, I'm left out in the cold.

The Dodgers advertise that I should write my provider, asking them to pay the extortion to give me this access.  Even Clayton Kershaw, a beloved Christian brother, has been contracted to be a barker for this sideshow flimflam, beseeching fans to lobby for this service by paying the extraordinary extortion.

When the O'Mally family owned the Dodgers, we were proud of this baseball club.  They developed their own players in a well-developed farm team system.  While other teams were shamelessly out to buy winning teams, we used to take comfort that our Dodgers were still a traditional baseball organization rather than just another multi-million dollar business.  We thought they were a "class act", but now we are forced to admit that they are just another "crass act", trying to buy a World Series trophy.  Did I hear that they are in fact the highest salaried team in baseball?

To see a game fleeces me of $15 to park, $35 for a seat and $5 for a hot dog.  I guess I am able to afford this once or twice a season, but I'm not sure I want to any more.  I feel like a Dodger reject.  They don't want me to follow the progress of the team during the season.  They don't want me to be able to see them play on TV.  So why should I care whether they win or lose?

Loyalty dies hard.  I still care too much how Kershaw pitches this year.  I am pulling for Dee Gordon to hit so well that they dare not send him down.  I desperately want to see Puig learn from his foolish mistakes and childish attitude.  I guess I am doomed to remain a Dodger fan for this year at least, but I am going to try my best to break the habit.

"Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction."  (I Timothy 6:9)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

On being grace-minded

No matter how long you've walked with God, there is that remnant nub of works-righteousness hiding in our reborn hearts.

"How can I expect God to bless my day when I so recently sinned against Him?"  

"I need to read a lot of scripture and bring dinner to a needy family before I will feel confident to ask God for anything."

Imagine how David must have felt when he had to flee Jerusalem and the palace because of reports that his rebel son, Absolom, was closing in upon him, stealing the hearts of Israel and seizing the palace.

Samuel records him trudging up Mt. Olivet with his head slumped and tears forcing their way down his rugged cheeks.  How dreadfully he had sinned with Bathsheba, and how miserably he multiplied his guilt by planning the death of her husband.  Though David repented, and though Nathan, the prophet of God, told him his sin was forgiven, there were consequences with which David would be haunted.  One of those consequences was trouble in his own household.  Now it was coming in more dramatic form than David could have guessed.

Shimei threw gravel at David and cursed him from the hill top as David was making his way out of town.  David restrained his faithful companion from wreaking vengeance, saying, "Let him alone, and let him curse for the Lord has told him."  

But David was grace-minded.  He knew God as few people do.  Later God calls him the man after "my own heart".  When God forgives sin, He actually puts it from us as far as the east is from the west.  A forgiven sinner is always a recipient of God's blessings.  He always enjoys direct communication to God.

Fast forward to Psalm 3.  This Psalm specifically identifies itself as being composed on the occasion of David's flight from Absolom.  He bemoans the fact that his enemies are multiplying, and they are saying that God will not help him.  It was tempting to believe those taunts because David was forever aware of his sin.

But David knows that God is a friend for forgiven sinners, and He is never a fickle friend.  He says, "But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the One who lifts my head."  Leaving Zion, David's head was bowed, but God lifted that dear head in due time.

"Salvation belongs to the Lord" David shouts at the crescendo of the Psalm.  Only one who is grace-minded can do that in such circumstances.  Sin disqualifies us from the favor of God.  Our shame would take us to the mat and hold us there except for one thing: Salvation belongs to the Lord.  Once He has declared His love for you, there is no way He will change His mind.  After all, He knows the end from the beginning so what could possibly make Him change His mind?  Since salvation is dependent upon what God has done, rather than upon anything you have done, it is secure for now and for eternity.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Running Boards

Just when I thought this term was obsolete I see an advertisement for truck running boards.  It seems to be the latest and coolest accessory for your chic truck.   A running board is a fancy step just under the door of your truck to help you climb into your monster.  Baloney!  I remember when all cars (and trucks) had a running board.  Ecclesiastes is right: there is nothing new under the sun.

I fondly remember my Aunt Rose's model A Ford.  It had a rumble seat (go grab your dictionary for that one), and it had running boards.  It was so cool to stand on her running board and cling to the window frame as she drove slowly down our street.  For a nine year old boy this was such daring fun.  But in  my youthful judgement the ground was not going past me all that fast.  Before my Aunt could stop me I jumped from the running board to the pavement and said, "Bye!" only to discover my running gait was not as quick as I had calculated.  I hit the pavement with a resounding "splat".  Of course Aunt Rose immediately stopped the car to see if I was injured.  When she discovered that it was only my pride that was damaged, she breathed a sigh of relief.  And from that day forward she loved to tell the story, with great dramatic flair, especially with the onomatopoetic "splat" to finish the account.  I was (and I guess I still am) sensitive to the "dissing" of embarrassing stories about me.

Then there was LeRoy Rafner's running board.  He was a high school buddy of mine.  When the "gang" wanted to go to the movies or play a little over-the-line, it was not uncommon for us to help LeRoy deliver papers on his route so we could get going sooner.  He must have had an old Chevy sedan circa 1938, with running boards from which we would toss the papers at his direction.  One of the guys handed a paper out the window to one of us on the running board on either side of the car, depending on which side of the street was the next target house.  To tell the truth I'm not sure we saved all that much time, but we did it because it was fun.

Looking back on these intimate experiences with running boards, I'm wondering how long it will take our nanny government to pass laws against the stuff we did as kids with these new fangled things called "running boards".

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dental Records

Okay, so I watch too many crime dramas.  One of the educational benefits is how to identify bodies burned beyond recognition.  Now we don't have to deal with this issue on a day to day basis, but it is interesting that such identities are usually made by comparing dental records.

The older a person gets he realizes just how unique each person's set of teeth and assisting faux implements might be.

This came to my mind simply because I have recently been rendered in need of repair to these faux implements.  I was innocently chewing on a dried peach when I heard a dreadful "crunch".  At first I feared that I had found a seed in the peach.  But I soon learned that the problem was a broken front bridge when three connected front teeth fell into my lap.

I saved them in a discarded medicine bottle.  But the immediate problem was this was Saturday night, and the next day I was scheduled to minister the Lord's Supper and teach adult class in Sunday School at our church in Costa Mesa.  The thought briefly occurred to me that a little Krazy Glue might create another cute little endorsement story, but I chickened out.

My wife suggested I might get by as long as I don't smile.  You want me to live a day without smiling? That's not going to happen.  I checked out the mirror, and she was right, so I compromised.  During the Lord's Supper I kept the stiff upper lip, and not a soul noticed my problem.  But these are my friends, so when it came time for Sunday School (in this church SS follows worship hour) I just had a little fun explaining my problem, and then turned to the Psalm for study.

I told them the story of the guy who was scheduled to be an after dinner speaker, but during dinner he broke his teeth.  In frustration he turned to the man seated next to him and explained his dilemma.  To his surprise the man reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a set of teeth.  He thought his problem was temporarily solved until he discovered the teeth were too large for his mouth.  "Great try, but I'm afraid these won't fit.  Thanks for the effort."  But to his utter shock, the man reached into the other coat pocket and produced another set of teeth.  They fit just well enough for him to deliver his brief message and sit down.  "Wow, am I glad that's over.  And what luck was that for me to sit right next to a dentist!"  "What dentist?" the man said, "I'm an undertaker."

That may have been a tactical error, because it was with difficulty I helped the crowd to give serious minded devotion to the text of Psalm 3 (which, ironically, has the line "you have shattered the teeth of the wicked").

Now the dentist says I have an abscess beneath one of those anchor teeth.  I need to get them extracted, let the swelling subside, and then begin molds for the eventual installation of a removable plate.  This stuff happens when you are the local fossil.  I don't need to be concerned about dying in a fiery crash.  My dentist can identify me as one in a million.

All that dental work will take time, of course, and now I am scheduled to preach in Tucson, AZ on March 2, and my mouth will have no aesthetic improvement between now and then.  As God says to Moses who was "slow of speech": "Who made man's mouth?"  I pray His word will be clear and plain even from my crooked mouth.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Carl Sandberg (not the poet)

If you asked me to list the top 10 most unforgettable characters I've met in my life, Carl Sandberg would certainly be among them.

Carl was a student of theology, and a contemporary of mine.  He finished his undergraduate at the same tiny college I attended, but a year before me.  He told me that he had been a Communist in Chicago, as was his father, when his attention got arrested by the preaching of a street team from a charismatic church.  He began attending this church, where he was subsequently converted.

He became a bit uncomfortable with the emotional antics of this church group, and found his way into a very narrow baptist church: the General Association of Regular Baptists.  For those not acquainted with this church, may I say they are as jealous of orthodoxy as the OPC, and sometimes just as cantankerous.  They seem willing to doubt the orthodoxy of every other denomination, with the possible exception of the OPC.  The reason for this exception was the early association two of these professors had with J. Gresham Machen.

Carl told me that at this point in his life he was drifting more and more into reformed thinking as a result of his study of the Bible.  In fact during Greek class at the Baptist school, he was called upon to translate Acts 9:18 and he read: "and he stood up and was baptized".  Against accusations of misinterpretation, Carl said he merely translated it.

Eventually someone at L. A. Baptist said he ought to be an Orthodox Presbyterian instead of a baptist.  He said, "What's that?"  And that is how he was introduced to the OPC.

Carl always had a controversial point of view, and accompanied his views with a controversial attitude.
Someone who knew Carl better than I said, "As far as personality alone is concerned, he should have remained a Communist."

At Westminster Seminary, following a class taught by Meredith Kline, Carl approached the professor, telling him of a book he read in which the author reconciles the Egyptian dating with that of the Bible.  Dr. Kline seemed fascinated with the idea and so he asked how he does this.  Carl said the author proposed that Egyptian dating was off by several years.  In response Dr. Kline threw back his head, laughed, and announced, "He's out of his mind!"  Then he picked up his bulky brief case and stalked out of the room.  Carl was left with his mouth hanging open.

Speechless was not a frequent posture of Carl.  He had a way of interrogating, rather than questioning, when he raised his hand in class.  Van Til and Clowney were frequent beneficiaries of Carl's whetting encounters.  The major exception was his appreciation of Professor John Murray.  In fact he once wrote me a note during class, saying, "Why don't we hear this good stuff in our home churches?"  I don't know where he attended church, but my home church did teach me good theology.  Immediately after I read the note I found the good professor standing next to me with his hand outstretched.  Into that hand I deposited the aforementioned note, being grateful that it was flattering rather than derogatory.

A mutual friend of Carl and another student, Alan Wyat, anticipated with apprehension the sparks that might fly when these two fiery personalities finally met.  The occasion, as best I can recall, was the return of a borrowed hauling trailer.  One of the principles offered an outrageous opinion about a current event.  The other countered with a psychiatric evaluation of the speaker, and suddenly the fat was in the fire.  These were now Christian men, in whom the Holy Spirit had begun, but by no means completed, the work of sanctification.  Therefore there were no fisticuffs.  But there were barrages of verbal exchange that raised concern for all in the room.

Neither of these men completed the course of seminary with me.  To the best of my knowledge they both dropped out of Westminster.  Subsequent careers of either man are not known to me.  I read that Carl was a teacher in a Christian school in Virginia, but that exhausts my information.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A singing church

The genius of corporate worship is the reciprocal communication between God and His people.  God speaks to His people and they respond.  When God speaks to us, it is by the reading and preaching of the bible at this point in history.  We have no prophets to give us new revelations of the Spirit.

When the people of God respond corporately it is usually in the singing of a hymn or Psalm or in words we recite together.  That's the idea of it being "corporate" which by definition means: "shared by all the members of a group".

There is the public prayer that should include each worshipper who joins his consent by saying, or thinking "amen".  This is sometimes a written prayer or a memorized prayer (such as the Lord's Prayer) which everyone recites together,  but in corporate worship this is usually done by one leader on behalf of the congregation.

Are you with me?  Okay, today I want to focus attention on the matter of congregational singing.  It is an important way in which worshippers participate in corporate worship.

We emphatically and vociferously deny the entertainment model for public worship.  The pastor or others who may be on the platform are NOT the entertainers, and the congregation is NOT the audience.  As soon as this model is adopted, corporate worship exists no longer.  There might be delightful Christian entertainment.  There might be a fine Christian lecture.  But there is definitely NO corporate worship going on.  This is why no one applauds the choir or other musicians in public worship.

I have an agent who has visited several reformed churches in our area, and he reports that in many of these churches the singing of the congregation is in serious decline.  Special music groups do all the singing.  Or the tunes are new and only the words are printed and no one has learned the tune.

Whatever the reason, more and more reformed worshippers are just standing there as the music is playing.  They have not done anything together.  They have not responded to God for His words to us. They are just standing there until the next item in the order of worship.  This is a dangerous trend.

When a new hymn is introduced to a congregation, it ought to be taught.  Sometimes this is done by adopting a "hymn of the month" which is sung every Sunday for a month.  Sometimes there is another venue (like Sunday School) where it can be introduced and practiced until ready for corporate worship. Sometimes it can be reproduced--with music--and carefully taught during the worship period.

Every congregation member ought to be able to think about the words and join the praise thoughts incorporated in this new hymn, and that just can't be effectively done if he is groping for the note and reading unfamiliar words at the same time.

Whatever the solution, please let us not lose this important element of corporate worship.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A simple errand

Our granddaughter had to fly to South Carolina to pick up her kids who were visiting their father over Christmas vacation.  Stacy figured, "I'll wear flip-flops so they won't make me take off my shoes at security check.  I will just take one extra set of clothes because I want to fly in relative comfort, without having a suitcase to pick up at baggage carousel.  And I should leave my car in short-term parking.  I'm coming right back tomorrow."

Then the storm struck.  A seven hour delay in Huston was bad enough, but on the way home this would be intolerable.  When she arrived in Charlotte, she discovered her return flight was scheduled to stop at O'Hare in Chicago, and nothing was going in or out of O'Hare by this time.

Grandma Christian picked her up to drive her back to her place (2 hours and then some).  Finally negotiations were completed for a return flight that would bring her to Vegas--on Wednesday!  Oh my goodness!  Look at all that snow, and I'm in flip-flops.  We have to stop at Wallmart and get some shoes.

Okay, let's give the kids a bath.  Dad, you take care of little David.  What do you mean he has spots?  He can't have chicken pox, he's had the vaccine.  Oh, you mean there are different types of chicken pox?  By now, of course, both kids are breaking out in full color.  Wait a minute.  These kids are quarantined from public transportation until they are no longer contagious.  That means we can't fly out on Wednesday.

She's crying, and she's laughing.  What next?

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Year's Resolution

Any resolve I might make that has to wait for January first, cannot be a sincere resolution.  If it is something I should do, then I should start doing it the moment it comes to mind.  Resolutions made December 31st must be the real thing.

If it is losing weight that I decide I must do (and really I should do that) then I should wake up this morning and say, "Today is the first day of the rest of my life.  I have to stop sweets and extra helpings NOW."  Then tomorrow morning, after I have pigged out the night before, I have to say the same thing.  The starting line is now for anything seriously in need of change.

It is a daily resolve we undertake to kill a little more sin and learn to walk with Jesus a little better.  That just can't wait for a calendar marker like the first of the year, or month or whatever.

Now after scorning the idea of making New Year's Resolutions, I must admit to resolving to attempt a through the bible read.  The printed chart begins with January 1, and my contemporaries announced it just at this time of the year, so I jumped at the challenge.

I remember as a brand new Christian, resolving to leave the liberal church of which I was already a member.  I was saved watching Billy Graham several weeks (months?) prior.  But when the pastor preached about George Washington on Washington's birthday, I wanted to hear the word of God.  It had become the right time for me to make the resolution, "By the grace of God, this is the last sermon I will hear in this church."  And it was.

I also have made a resolution to write more blogs this year.  No, it wasn't a New Year's resolution, but I thought I would share that with you.