Monthly Archives: January 2013

1987–Love Turned Upside Down


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I have always considered myself a romantic guy.  Small details are important.  The senses of sight, smell, and sound actually gather my attention quite easily.  Soft blond hair, perfume and sweet nothings really turn me one.  And, it doesn’t take a lot of experience to see that almost any woman is happier if you pay attention to the little details about their likes and dislikes.  The details on a date don’t require perfection, they should show planning and effort.  So, when I was thinking about proposing to my wife, nothing would do but the right lighting, the precise words, and even the unique place for all this to happen with emotional drum rolls.  My wife and I have always been turned on by the music of Neil Diamond.  We appreciate his music when our budget was lean and “Forever in Blue Jeans” was a daily experience.   But our favorite of all his music is “Songs of Life.”  So I planned weeks in advance for a coming full moon and selected a river bank where we could sit in the car, listen to music, cuddle a bit, and catch the moon in stereo as it bounced off the river to the sky where we could see it again.

I had carefully placed Diamond’s cassette in the deck in the car, ready to turn it on at just the right moment.  The thought was that we could listen to “Songs of Life” quietly in the background…as I calmly preluded the not-so-unexpected question.  The evening script was moving just as planned until I turned the radio on.  Suddenly, instead of a soft romantic lead in, Diamond began his also famous song love–“Love on the Rocks!”  The tender moment never returned that evening. If one believed in para-psychic, you had to wonder what the future would hold.

“Come with Me to the Jordan”


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This walk will be memorable. I invite you along. For most of those privileged to make this pilgrimage, it will be a once in a lifetime experience. Seldom can you hop off a bus and know that within five minutes you will be standing at the edge of the Jordan River—the same river where John baptized Jesus.  The Israeli government promotes two sites for pilgrims to use for baptisms and other affirmations of faith. The Office of Tourism opened the Yardenit site in 1981 to replace the original site of Kasser Al Yahud at the southern end of the Jordan, near the city of Jericho and within sight of the Dead Sea. Even though the Yahud site is probably the most likely site for the baptism of Jesus, Yardenit remains the most popular.  Today, we are visiting the Yardenit site just a short walk from where the Sea of Galilee provides the Jordan with its water.
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As we walk the sidewalk to the entry into the dressing rooms, restaurant, shops, and steps down to the river, we see Mark 1:9-11 written on mosaic tiles in multiple languages.  We pause in front of the English mural and read: “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”

It only takes a few second for us to pass through the entry booth.   The Jordan, probably twenty feet below the level where we stand, draws our attention.  The view is breathtaking; the experience is surreal.  Shades of greens, grays, and browns dominate the landscape. Trees and shrubs, such as, apple of Sodom, tamarisk, rhododendron, and angus castus, border the river. Only the sky is light blue and a slight breeze cools the riverside.

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We begin to hear pilgrims singing in more than one language.  Many of the visitors at the river’s edge wear white baptismal robes and form lines to the water waiting for their moment of baptism or reaffirmation.  Despite several ceremonies occurring at different baptismal areas side-by-side along the river, we soon become focused upon our own service.  Today, we will baptize four from our group.

Life is one continuous experience after another.  We hardly pause to distinguish one from the other.  More importantly, I wonder which events actually personally involve God.  When does God choose to enter directly into the life of people?  Is God mostly an observer?  Just how personal is God?  Why would the Creator want to relate to the creature?  Since God is omnipresent and infinitely loving, what would restrict him from always being by our side?

Scripture teaches us that God prefers, but doesn’t demand, to dwell in all parts of our created nature—the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Christians call the presence of God in an individual “the indwelling of the Holy Spirit”. The biblical justification for this is found in its books, but especially rooted in the last chapters of John, particularly in John, chapters 14-17.

Jesus once said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23)

For me, the personal nature of God is often confirmed in God’s unique, sometimes silent, appearance in daily life.  We will see this physical confirmation in a few moments.  Watch carefully or you might miss it; or more likely, you may see the occurrence but miss the message.

Some of us head to dressing rooms to change into our white ankle-length gowns. As we approach the water’s edge, the tall plumed river grass waves in the gentle breeze.  We fortunately come at the end of a day and more and more pilgrims are finalizing their services and leaving the area.

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Mark Hester and I will baptize the others.  Each has chosen immersion.  This mode of baptism is new for Mark and me, so we help one another.  It is still a rather strenuous process and I wonder how 3,000 people could be baptized by immersion in a single day.  But, then my mind shifts from mode to significance.  We have finished the baptisms, and Mark and I stand face to face looking into one another’s eyes; we decide at that moment to reaffirm our baptism by cupping our hands and pouring water upon one another.  It is a special moment, but the experience doesn’t climax with the falling of the water from our head back to its source.  We stand up to our thighs in gently flowing waters as small fish nibbled on our feet and legs.  None of us want to leave this sacred place or walk away from such a precious moment. As we begin to leave the water and climb the underwater steps to the riverbank, quietly a brown dove glides in and lands on a handrail three feet from us.  Someone exclaims, “LOOK AT THAT!”  We stand quietly for a moment and then walk the rest of the way to the bank.

I am so glad that Sally and Mark were right there to share this appearance of a dove on the bank of the Jordan.  Granted it didn’t land on one of our shoulders and there was no audible voice affirming God’s presence.  But, I choose to believe that God wanted us to know that he was there to bless this significant moment in our lives.

1976—The Day Jaime Decided to Become a Missionary


Coping with drunks in worship services in a middle-class suburban church in North America infrequently becomes a problem, but in Colombian churches it often occurs.  Our churches are commonly on the same street or around the corner from bars, night clubs, and houses of prostitution.  Odds are high that sooner or later some drunk will stumble into the open door of the church for a look.   A drunk is somewhat like a cat; their curiosity drives them where they would not normally go. Sometimes, they will fall in love with the quiet accepting atmosphere and decide to return with frequency.

I always felt tense when some “unknown” character swayed down the aisle.  It was perplexing to await their problematic response to something holy and sacred.  Sometimes, they tried to contradict my sermon or criticize some Protestant practice.  Other times, they were a harmless, humorous distraction as they mimicked a church clown and then disappeared as quickly as they had come.  The most pathetic cases were the winos that would attend and participate with their stunned senses and uninhibited behavior. I tended to proceed as normal as practically possible, ignoring them and praying for their quick exit.

Evangelical Christians are very respectful of the sanctity of the sanctuary—no running, no eating or drinking, and no outbursts of noise.  They demand reverence from their children and all others in the temple of God.  The Armenia Church was a large Gothic structure that would seat close to three hundred people, including the balcony, so one drunk could wobble in without a lot of notice as long as they were quiet.  But when an intoxicated person threatened the solemnity of a service, the church leadership was quite likely to respond promptly and with force.

Mr. Jaime was our most frequent visitor to the Armenia Church.  He appeared at least once a month and most of the time he just took his place in the first pew and sat quietly as if he had no idea of where he was or why he was there.  I am convinced that he didn’t.  He was blitzed beyond sensibility. He was a shriveled raisin of a man that didn’t weigh more than 130 pounds.  He probably survived on the calories he imbibed.  He was really a pathetic creature, obviously demented from his years of alcoholism.  The smashed fellow, with his dilapidated shoebox, would stumble down a side aisle into the first pew and find a place among the young people of the church that also congregated in that section to assist with the music.  It was quite a site to see the old fellow integrate himself into the smallest of a gap among the amused and defenseless youth.

This is not Jaime, but he is remarkably similar.

This is not Jaime, but he is remarkably similar.

All the people within six feet were aware of Jaime even if he entered during a prayer.  There was the shuffling and flopping of his soles that had come loose from the rest of the shoes and the stifling body odor that saturated his clothes.  His own odor was so penetrating that it masked the smell of the alcohol on his breath.  His situation was so vile that it caused nausea for many that were seated nearby.

Poor Jaime never seemed to fully understand what was going on and we were never able to get him sober enough to know the real person that was behind the smell.  (Even today as I write I can still sense the horrible odor.)  His shoebox only contained one item—a copy of the Jehovah Witness “Watchtower” magazine.  It always unnerved me a bit as I began to preach to see him pull out his “Watchtower” and concentrate his attention on it.

Two vivid incidents stand out in my mind in relation to Jaime: the day he attempted to replace the elders of the church and the morning he came to the altar with a personal decision.

In the Armenia church the custom for serving Holy Communion was for the pastor to hand the bread and wine to four elders who then served the rest of the believers.  On one particular Sunday, I called for the elders to come forward to prepare the Lord’s Table. I was startled to see Obdullio, Primitivo, Carlos, William and Jaime!  I instructed the four to go ahead and serve; I asked Jaime to stand to one side.  My hope was to avoid a spectacle.  But, Jaime had other plans, he loudly insisted with his normal slur he had come forward to serve.  “Yo vooy a serviirr laa santaa ceena.”

That did it!  Obdullio and Primitive moved quickly to bodily remove him from the premises.  Again, Jaime decided that he would not be moved without a fight—a skirmish quickly developed.  His cursing was much clearer than his normal conversation.  The more the elders fought to move him the more he squirmed and twisted and swung his arms.  I finally convinced Obdullio and Primitivo to free him.  From there I was able to persuade him to take a seat in a pew with the insinuation that he could help me more from the pew.  But, obviously, the dignity and spirit of the celebration of the love and sacrifice of Jesus had been lost.  People didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Everyone was perplexed and mystified over how we should minister to this poor child of God.  Despite that huge fracas, Jaime still made an occasional Sunday visit.

Several months later in March of 1977, we were making a presbyterial effort to recruit two young single men to leave their homes and serve as workers among the Cholo Indians in the jungles along the San Juan River.  I was preaching on the missionary call at the Armenia Church and could sense that God’s spirit was moving during the service.  Attention was intense and I discerned a spiritual conviction in the eyes of several.  As I preached, I was certain that we would see fruit during the invitation.

As I concluded, I emphasized:  “God needs two young men willing to leave their families to serve as His servants and evangelists among the Cholo Indians.”  Immediately, three of our finest youth came forward, and then as I spoke with them I saw another person start forward.  I cried to myself, “Oh God, don’t let this ruin this service.”  I quietly approached Jaime and asked him, “Jaime, what is it that you want?”  To which he whispered, “I am ready to go to the Cholos as a missionary.”  My mind went into high gear.  How was I to moderate this potential disaster. Instead of trying to dissuade him, I said, “Very good, Jaime.  God bless you.”  As I looked to the crowd and called them to prayer, I could see that slight grin on the mouths of those that had heard our conversation.  I closed the service thankful that most people had no idea of the content of our conversation.

Jaime never made it to the Choco, but he did continue to return to one of his favorite pews to read the Watchtower.

A Christmas Taradiddle


I have always been fascinated with trees.  The older I become the more I hate to see one cut.  For some reason, this extends even to Christmas trees.

 

Christmas trees must come down…and every family has their unique time and tradition for the annual “falling” of the tree—sometimes they are boxed and others towed to the street for the next garbage truck.  Personally, I prefer a live tree that has the chance to live to see another Christmas. Regardless, I get melancholy when the time inevitably arrives.  This year the “falling” of a tree caught me unaware.

 

Some of our dearest friends, Mary and Martha (the names have been changed), asked me to stop by their home on December 30th to assist them with a tech issue; Mary wanted me to integrate her Yahoo and G-mail accounts into a mac mail account I was commissioned to establish.  I figured it would be a piece of cake until I discovered that Mary had 9,995 e-mail messages on the Yahoo account alone.  So, I began the tedious process of entering the data needed for the new account, knowing it would take hours for the thousands of messages to move through cyberspace.

 

The small zoo administered by Martha and Mary distracted me.  Their two parrots kept repeating the questions I asked Mary.  I ask, “What is your password for the Yahoo account?  The parrot—“What is your password?”  “Good morning…Mary!”  Since the parrots learned to talk from Mary, I have a hard time distinguishing the birds from my friend.

 

Then, all of a sudden their Great Dane (I call him Giraffe) and their chubby snorting Bulldog (I call him Bulldozer) decide to play a game of chase around the table where I am struggling to concentrate.  There is barely enough room for the youngsters to pass between my chair and the Christmas tree that has been artistically decorated.  Mary will host her family later in the day for their family Christmas.  As the dogs bark and take their laps, Martha urges Mary, “Get those dogs caged so Bob can work.

 

“They will quit in a few more laps.  Just let them play.”

 

I am thinking, “Unbelievable! Give me grandchildren any day.”

 

The next few moments are a blur and I can only surmise what happened.  Giraffe was hot on the tail of Bulldozer.  Their laps are precise.  Suddenly, Giraffe bites Bulldozer in the butt and Bulldozer exits the usual route to seek refuge under the Christmas tree.  It is a tight fit, but he disappears. Giraffe continues the intended route until his lethargic brain captures the reality that his prey isn’t in sight.  So the Great Dane makes a quick 180-degree turn and rushes to find his friend.  He spots the pup and leaps full speed into the side of the tree in hopes of landing on top of the bulldog.  Chaos ensues and the tree careens off the plate glass window and falls on me, wedging me between the table and the tree.   The women come quickly to the rescue and miraculously the majority of the bulbs have remained in place and unbroken.  They show no concern about the “techy.”

 

A divided opinion between my hosts ensues.  Martha says, “The tree might as well come down.”  Mary insists, “No, don’t you remember my family is coming for Christmas tonight?”  Mary fights few battles, but usually wins when the stakes are high.  So, Martha and I take our places on our bellies on opposite sides of the tree trying to loosen the screws of the tree stand.  Strangely, the dogs have disappeared into some distant retreat.  The convergence of beast and tree has bent the screws of the stand and the base of the tree.  Mary insists that we try another stand that it takes her ten minutes to find, God knows where.  She returns with a tree stand that must have been designed by the Norwegians before the Mayflower’s first journey.  It is nothing more than a concave tub with four ropes attached to the four sides of the tub.  Those ropes have leather straps intended for strategic attachment to the trunk of the tree.  I can only laugh uncontrollably when I try to figure how to make such an attachment on a fully decorated tree.  Martha and I veto plan B, and Mary looks scornful and disappointed as her mind whirls for another solution to save the tree.

 

“Hold on…I will get some wire and pliers and we can steady the tree with guidelines to the closest walls or curtain rods.”  Mary proposes.

 

“No way!” Martha screams.  “You will pull down the curtains and then we will have a mess.”  Again, Mary prevails.  Ten minutes later we have the tree balanced precariously on an unstable foundation.

 

I return to the table and find their cat is standing on the keyboard of my computer.  It is the first time I have seen the devious creature in nearly six months, but her brief visit was definitely with an evil intention.   As I brush her off the table and look at my screen, the vicious feline has somehow done the “hooky-pokey” or deep knee bends on my keyboard and totally deleted all the account information I had previously entered.

 

I am ticked…I know, but don’t voice; this would never have happened had they bought a LIVE tree.  I re-enter the necessary data, start the transfers, and dismiss myself to find my family nurse and a valium.