Saturday, October 30, 2010


When I was a young boy, growing up in the church, I was introduced to the Filthy Five:

Thou shalt not drink
Thou shalt not smoke
Thou shalt not play cards
Thou shalt not dance
Thou shalt not go to movies

There was a sixth, making a Dirty Half-Dozen:  Thou shalt not engage in mixed bathing. At first I was unsure with what I was not to be mixed. Then I learned it was girls: At a summer camp I attended, girls and boys swam at different times. (Of course, we boys stood around the perimeter of the pool outside the fence and ogled the girls.)

There was security in these easy certainties; you knew exactly where you stood. Yet, even as a young boy, I saw the irony in these prohibitions. I could refrain from all of them and miss the point of authentic goodness. Goodness, like God, is very subtle.

George MacDonald, in his novel Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood makes the case far better than I. He writes of a young cleric who went out to acquaint himself with a parishioner, an elderly Scot named Rogers. He had seen the old man walking through the village, clouds of smoke billowing from his briar pipe, and so purchased a tin of tobacco for him and offered it to him as a gambit:

“You smoke, don’t you, Rogers?” I said
“Well, sir, I can’t deny it. It’s not much I spend on baccay, anyhow. Is it, dame?”
“No, that it bean’t,” answered his wife.
“You don’t think there’s any harm in smoking a pipe, sir?”
“Not the least,” I answered, with emphasis.
“You see, sir,” he went on, not giving me time to prove how far I was from thinking there was any harm in it, “you see, sir, sailors learns many ways they might be better without. I used to take my pan o’grog with the rest of them; but I give that up quite, ‘cause as how I don’t want it now.”
“Cause as how,” interrupted his wife, “you spend the money on tea for me, instead. You wicked old man to tell stories!”
“Well, I takes my share of the tea, old woman, and I’m sure it’s a deal better for me. But, to tell the truth, sir, I was a little troubled in my mind about the baccay, not knowing whether I ought to have it or not. For you see, the parson that’s gone didn’t like it, as I could tell when he came in at the door and me a-smokin.’ Not as he said anything; for, ye see, I was an old man, and I daresay that kep him quiet. But I did hear him blow up a young chap i’ the village he came upon with a pipe in his mouth. He did give him a thunderin’ broadside, to be sure! So I was in two minds whether I ought to be on with my pipe or not.”
“And how did you settle the question, Rogers?”
“Why, I followed my own old chart, sir.”
“Quite right. One mustn’t mind too much what other people think.”
“That’s not exactly what I mean, sir.”
“What do you mean then? I should like to know.”
“Well, sir, I mean that I said to myself, ‘Now, Old Rogers, what do you think the Lord would say about this here baccay business?’“
“And what did you think He would say?”
“Why, sir, I thought He would say, ‘Old Rogers, have yer baccay; only mind ye don’t grumble when you ‘ain’t got none.’”

“And this is the man I thought I would be able to teach!” The young minister mused. 


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Willingness to Yield

“The wisdom that is from above is…willing to yield.” —James 3:17
A number of years ago, two friends and I meandered and fished our way across Magruder Corridor, a primitive, single–track jeep road that follows an old Nez–Perce trail that cuts through the Selway–Bitterroot Wilderness in Northern Idaho.

One afternoon we were eating lunch beside the road when the only vehicle we had seen all day pulled up beside us. It was an ancient, battered, dust–covered pickup containing a couple of bearded, hard–looking, backcountry characters. One of them motioned me to approach.

In my naiveté, I hopped off the tailgate of my jeep where I was sitting and ambled over, hoping to be friendly and helpful. One of my friends shadowed me, aware that these men were looking for trouble.

“Do you know what we call flatlanders up here,” the man in the passenger seat growled. “No,” I replied. So he told me, using a word I’d rather not repeat. Before I could utter another word, my friend, who is a former SWAT commander and one of the toughest men I know, elbowed me aside, leaned on the door and peered into the cab. “Do you know what we call folks who live up here?” he asked quietly.

“No,” the driver snarled and reached for the door handle.

“We call them…Sir,” my friend replied.

Both men laughed, waved and drove on.

Israel’s wise man was right: “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). This is meekness, not weakness. Meekness has prodigious strength!


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Holy Luck

“All luck is holy” —Charles Williams

Carolyn and I were on the first leg of a flight from Frankfurt, Germany to our home in Boise, Idaho. Our first stop was Boston. It had been an exhausting week and I dropped off to sleep as soon as I found my seat, but was soon awakened by a disturbance in the aisle.

The steward and a passenger who had been seated on Carolyn’s left were arguing about the man’s seat assignment. Somehow, he had been separated from his fiancée who was seated several rows behind us. The man grew increasingly angry and argumentative until another passenger, seated by the man’s fiancée, offered to trade places. The swap was made and Carolyn’s new seat–mate settled into his place, drew out a legal pad and began to work on a project.

Unfortunately (for the man), there was a garrulous little French boy seated on his left—a charming child—who wanted to talk. The man, who seemed to be the soul of patience, gave up his work after a few minutes and began to chat amiably with the boy. Carolyn was soon drawn into the conversation.

I heard the man say he was from Los Gatos, California, a town near Los Altos, California where Carolyn and I had lived for eighteen years. He was on the Frankfort to Boston leg of a flight to San Francisco. I heard Carolyn remark on the fact that we had many friends in the Bay Area and went back to sleep.

When I awakened an hour or so later Carolyn was sharing her faith with her new–found friend, scribbling on his pad of paper, drawing diagrams and animating her story. He was listening intently and asking questions. I sat there quietly and prayed for the man and for her.

At one point he said, “My wife believes that stuff.”

Oh?” Carolyn replied. “And how did she become a follower of Christ?”         

“Through Bible Study Fellowship,” he replied.

“How did she find out about Bible Study Fellowship?” Carolyn asked.

“A friend of hers, Nell King, invited her to attend.”

“How interesting!” Carolyn exclaimed. “Nell King was one of my best friends when we lived in the area!”

And then the coin dropped: Some months before we moved to Boise, Nell had asked Carolyn to pray for a woman who had just become a Christian through Bible Study Fellowship and for her husband who was not yet a believer—the man now seated on Carolyn’s left —there “by that power which erring men call chance.”

Serendipity is God’s trademark. Once again, you never know…


[1] Charles Williams

Ferns Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the sh...