Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Okay, I cheated.  The following post was written a couple years ago, but I'm too occupied with other stuff to take the time to write another Christmas post right now.  So this will have to do.  I hope you will forgive me.

I enjoy hearing of family traditions for the holidays.  Thanksgiving is still relatively free of commercialism, so they are infringing on it with Black Friday's now.  But most folk still like to get family together for turkey and all the trimmings.  If you like turkey sandwiches, it is best to be sure you host this meal.  After picking and burping, the men retire to the couch to watch football, the kids play outside, and the ladies clean up.  No, it's not fair, but that is the tradition. 

Then there are myriads of differing Christmas traditions.  Some make certain to find a church that has a Christmas Day worship service.  Others may read the Christmas story as recorded in the gospel of Luke.  In our home we actually memorized this portion of scripture and recited it together.  In most of our homes, however, Jesus got little more than a tip of the hat.  We piously proclaimed that we were celebrating His birth (and we actually convinced ourselves this was true), but the main event always comes down to the fun of opening presents on Christmas morning. 

Some homes allow for one curious present to be opened Christmas eve, as the remainder wait for the morning.  I've heard of some homes where the presents are opened Christmas eve.  I forgot to ask them what they did in the morning.  Slept in, I suppose.  It is so difficult for a kid to wait past 6 o'clock to get out of bed and begin the arduous task of ripping open all those pretty packages.  If dad was up the night before, assembling a complicated toy until the wee hours of the morning, 6 o'clock is mighty early.  But that was part of the tradition when I grew up.

I don't know when I began to realize that it really was more fun to give than to receive, but parents get even more fun than their spoiled little ones, seeing the twinkle in their excited little eyes.  We teach them so easily about greed and indulgence.  Then, as they grow, we hope to teach them that a man's life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.

Since my Barbara's birthday is December 24, and since we got married on December 26, you might think we developed unique traditions.  It might have been nice to have a routine that would give proper emphasis on each of these significant calendar events.  But we never found a way to do that.  When we tried to go to a fancy restaurant on our anniversary, we were still so full of Christmas goodies that we couldn't enjoy a meal as we might on a different night.  So I suppose you might say our tradition began to be to celebrate our anniversary on any night, but not Dec. 26.  That works much better.  On our first anniversary, we were in Philadelphia to attend Westminster Seminary.  We did go to Old Bookbinders restaurant, and I learned to eat a whole Maine lobster.  I told the waiter I would order it on the provision that he taught me how to eat it.  He came with a complete bib, a nutcracker and a tiny fork and showed me the finesse of dismantling one of these delicious beasts.

Then, because we usually had a Christmas eve service, Barbara constantly had her special day trampled with other plans.  Seldom did she get her chocolate cake (unless she herself broke down and bought one).  What does a family do with a chocolate cake when the house if already full of candy canes, pfeffernusse cookies, fruitcake, hard candies, fudge, etc.? 

She was frequently short-changed, even when growing up because her father too was a minister.  Yet it was my dear wife who supported and encouraged us to have Christmas eve services where ever we were.  And, of course, she played the piano for the service.

We do share fond memories of one special Christmas eve service in our fledgling chapel in Neptune, NJ. when the first snow of the season arrived in the form of a blizzard that night.  Our neighborhood came out for the service in unusual numbers.  Ushers had a snow shovel by the door with which they periodically cleared the porch.  And when we lit candles and sang "Silent Night" to conclude the service, we had a tradition that almost everyone there cherished.  It was necessary to dig cars out of the parking lot, and at least one of them needed a passing cowboy with a rope to pull him out of the slippery stuff.

We had taken an enjoyable Christmas Carol and scripture reading service, with a pointed sermon for the holiday visitor, and made it a time to point to Jesus, the author of all of our good times.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Controlling Power

I discovered that braking on black ice is like riding a bobsled.  This southern California boy moved east to attend Seminary in Philadelphia.  On my way to school one chilly morning I jammed the brake to prevent hitting the car that had incomprehensibly stopped in the middle of the intersection.  What I learned later was that the train tressel just above had been dripping water on the roadway below all night long.  And that roadway was freezing that water into a large, invisible lake of ice ("black ice").  I swear the car accelerated, and I ran into the car ahead.  Had to total it out and shop for another car, but that's another story.

My point is simply this: that scary moment when I realized I was not in control of this car.  There are moments in our lives when we must admit that awkward or dangerous truth: I can't stop this immanent calamity.

Fast forward 10 years or so.  A special musical group was singing at our church.  We had invited the community.  I met a young man who told me how he had become a Christian.  It seems that the lead female singer in this group had been a long time friend of this guy.  After a few years during which their paths went different directions, they met again.  Only everything was different.  She was now singing for the Lord, but he was still doing drugs.  He told me that he decided to give up the drug scene and straighten out his life, but terror struck when he found he couldn't do it.  All along he thought he was taking drugs and alcohol as a matter of choice which he could quit whenever he chose.  It really spooked him that he was not really in control.  He asked his long time friend how she dumped the drug scene, and she simply told him that Jesus turned her around.

Just one of many accounts of the terrifying power of sin in our lives.  The girl who develops an obsession with her figure.  She wants to be slim, and so refuses to eat.  It becomes a fixation which is out of her control.  We call it anorexia, but it has the power to kill.  It begins with a prideful obsession with her appearance.  Okay, you may want to argue the point, but it is still an illustration of how we lose control.

One who is managing money for others and finds himself in serious financial need may cross the line and "borrow" some of that money which will never be missed.  But as the conscience grows a callous, he finds the second and third time a little easier until he is overwhelmed and finally uncovered as a thief.

The managing of the half truth is an art with many people.  Instead of having a concern for the truth, this person finds verbal spin to work for social advantage.  It gains friends and influences people.  He doesn't see himself as the inveterate liar he has become.

It is so easy to view or read porn with just a little search.  No one needs to know, so why not a little indulgence.  No harm, no foul.  But we hear of those who wake up to realize this is an addiction which they are powerless to control.  "Having eyes full off adultery and that cannot cease from sin" (II Peter 2:14).

There is a point when we decide to play with sin, but it is like opening the door for a malicious giant who pins you to the floor.  At this point, try as we might, we cannot get up.  To use another analogy, sin is like a virus within us.  I keep seeing the commercial encouraging me to get my shingles shot.  They remind me that if I have had chicken pox, I already have the virus in me.  Even so when sin is triggered by a little "indulgence" we set off powers that overwhelm us, and the virus of sin is fatal.

The fallen condition of human nature is no joke.  Scripture tells us that Joseph's brothers were not able to speak kindly to him.  They had become controlled by jealousy and hatred that it was not possible for them to break the cycle.

The good news about Jesus is that He died to deliver us from sin.  He paid the penalty, yes, but He also rose again to break the power of sin.  He is the only real "higher power" that can deliver the 12 step alcoholic.  He can throw that giant that has you pinned.  He is the great physician who can cure that virus.

Oh dear reader, come to Christ today!

"But now being made free from sin, and become servants of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." (Romans 6:22)