Thievery Ran in my Blood

zU6fwmDaSVWZdCXcZfot_IMG_3838I was ten years old when I became a thief. More than 60 years later, I learned that thievery ran in my blood.

My 4th great grandfather, John Pippen, born in England in 1702, was caught stealing, possibly for food to stay alive. As a 16-year-old common thief, the punishment was either to brand him on the brawn of his left thumb, receive a severe whipping, or ship him as a convicted felon to the colonies in America. He was a strong young man, full of potential.

He got the cruise!

Now I had a choice: to steal an orange to satisfy my hunger, just as the young boy in Oliver Twist, or to remain hungry and morally free. I had not memorized the Ten Commandments, but subconsciously, one was written on my heart. “Thou shalt not steal.”

One Friday as I hopped off the bus, I spied the oranges just staring at me, daring me to taste them. I scanned the store inside and outside for customers that might be looking toward the oranges. The grocery clerk was arranging a display of canned corn, so I casually walked over to the crate, grabbed an orange, hid it in my bib overalls, and then split running as fast as I could until I was out of sight of anyone in the store.

When I got home I hid the orange under my clothes. Monday, when I dressed for school, I carefully uncovered my orange, still in the green paper. I wrapped it in my sweater and took off for the bus.

Lunch time came and I slowly unwrapped the orange. I just stared at it. One of the boys sitting by me wanted to have a piece. I couldn’t even pick it up. I told him I wasn’t hungry. I wrapped it up and walked away.

After school, the bus jostled and bounced me the five miles to my stop. I was hungry, yes, but not hungry enough to eat the stolen fruit.

I got off the bus, looked around and walked to the store. The grocery clerk was busy inside stacking boxes of corn flakes, so I quietly slipped the orange, still wrapped in its green paper, into an empty space between two other oranges carefully propped up, looked around, and left. This time I didn’t run; I just walked slowly with my head held high. My stomach was empty, but my heart was full. I even tried to whistle as I skipped home.

I hadn’t gotten caught, but my conscience had “caught” me. I determined never to steal again.

Stealing is not just taking what belongs to someone else, the orange that belonged to the grocer. It is also taking what belongs to the Lord and consuming it on ourselves. In Malachi 3:8 and 9, God asked Israel, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me.”

“How have we robbed you?”

“In tithes and offerings.”

They had withheld the required 10 % of their fields and flocks, stored in the Temple Treasury, for maintenance of the Temple and to pay the priests. If the tithe was not paid, the priests did not eat. So in a larger sense, Israel was stealing “oranges” from the priests.

Just as the Israelites may have justified their thievery because their crops yielded poorly that year and fewer lambs were born, I may have blamed thievery in my blood for having taken the orange, but our stealing is not caused by bad blood but by bad hearts.

Excerpted from my childhood Memoir Naked With Clothes On

This Is My Son

Then a cloud appeared, (Shekinah, the glory cloud, throughout the OT symbolic of God’s presence, Exodus 13:21), and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud (Mark 9:7)

“This is my Son.”

Not the carpenter’s son who helped sand a wooden table Joseph had just assembled; Not Mary’s son although she willingly gave birth to Jesus, God’s Son; No, the Shekinah voice declared, “This is MY (emphasis added) Son.”

“Whom I love”

What is it that God loves the most? His holiness, his sovereignty, his omniscience? No, His Son. And if God loves him the most, then we better align our love where God’s love is. When’s the last time you told God you love his Son? When’s the last time you told someone else that you love Jesus.?

In one of John Piper’s meditations he said, “I’m man enough to say, I love Jesus.” Dr David Jeremiah said recently in a sermon, “I want everyone to know, I love Jesus.”

“Listen to Him.”

But to listen presupposes that you hear his voice. The sheep listen to the voice of the shepherd “He calls his own by name and he leads them” (John 10:3) and “I know my sheep and my sheep know me “(John 10:14).

Why is it important to hear His voice? Simon Peter gives us the answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67, 68).

These are the conditions from which you “listen.” You know him and he knows you. You recognize his voice and you follow him.” So we listen to his voice and shut out any distracting voices from our ears.

Like Jesus on that mountain praying when the Glory cloud settled on him, does it settle on us when we’re alone talking with Jesus?

Let’s practice hearing his voice and listening to it.

 

My memoir Naked With Clothes On will be published the end of September.

The Maze

Have you ever found yourself in a maze, a confusing, intricate network of winding pathways, with no way out?

Samson, in a sense, experienced a biblical maze. Blinded, chained, and made to grind grain after his capture, he saw no way out of his blind maze but to pray to God to let him avenge the Philistines for his eyes. The Lord empowered him once more. He pulled down the temple pillars and killed himself along with thousands of Philistines. He found a way out of his dark maze.

One time I was lost in a hay maze. A school friend invited me to sleep over. When we got to his house, a neighbor friend joined us and we decided to build a hay maze in the large barn loft that was piled high with hay bales. We climbed to the loft and jumped right in. They started building in one direction and told me to build toward the other. When the maze was finished, we crawled in. They went to the left and pointed for me to go to the right.

Every tunnel I crawled through was a dead end. After many attempts to find an exit I knew I was utterly lost. I had never been so scared in my life. I was crying and panicking. My only way out was to push the bales away. I prayed for God to strengthen me. “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help” (Psalm 18:6b). I heaved, grunted, pushed up with my back and hands. When I tumbled down 3 or 4 bales and hit the loft floor, there were my co-builders sitting on a bale, laughing “What took you so long?” they asked. They told me it wasn’t meant to be malicious, but rather just a prank. I learned that day that I could depend on God in tough times.

When we find ourselves in a situation, like a maze, and can’t see a way out, God promises us, “He will call upon me , and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him” (Psalm 91:15). And when we take Him at His word, He rescues us.

Satan’s Cowboys

Satan throws his diabolical missiles at us to entangle our spiritual legs so that we trip over things, like losing our temper with a fellow believer or criticizing our wives for the very same weakness evident in our behavior. I’d like to think of those missiles as bolas, sets of cords with heavy balls at the end, used by cowboys to entangle the legs of cattle. Satan’s strategy is to concentrate on our weaknesses. He is not omnipresent, (Remember, he can’t be everywhere at one time) so he recruits his “cowboys” to attack our unguarded moments.

Remember Peter when he was accused by the girl of being a follower of the Christ. He denied knowing him three times, and, in an unguarded moment, he cursed to reinforce his denial. Satan’s cowboy caught him at a weak moment, his fear of being arrested; and the bola tripped Peter’s faithful balance into a vehement denial of his Messiah.

I’m reminded of a time I agreed to direct a musical for a community theater, which had hired a new director each year for the last eight years. The board’s president asked me to find another orchestra director because he felt the present one was not as competent as he wanted. I recruited one immediately; the board was pleased, but the cast was not. Satan’s cowboy used his bola to trip me when I, in an unguarded moment, was manipulated to axe their long-time friend.

Our constant prayer should echo the psalmist’s prayer: “Keep me, O Lord, from the [bolas] of the wicked; protect me from men of violence who plan to trip my feet.” Those men of violence are Satan’s cowboys, who hurl their bolas toward us in our vulnerable times: failing to hold constant conversations with God, neglecting to feed our minds from God’s Word, and ignoring his promise, “Call on me in trouble, and I will rescue you.” Satan is smarter than we are. When are we going to believe that?

So when we hear those swinging bolas chasing us, let’s cry out with the psalmist: “Protect me, O Lord, from [Satan’s cowboys] who plan to trip my feet.”

How convinced are we that Satan and his cowboys are always seeking our defeat?

 

The First Bite Did Us In

We shouldn’t have taken the first bite. My brother and I had just finished picking a quart of mulberries for our mother for a pie that night for supper. “Let’s get out of here before the mosquitoes have us for supper.”

The berries looked so good to my brother and me facing temptation in the insect-infested woods in Missouri where we spent our childhood but while we were picking them I hadn’t eaten even one berry.

“We shouldn’t eat any, should we?” Dick asked.

“No, I guess not, but my stomach’s growling. I guess we could snitch just one or two.” As I said that, I almost stumbled over a branch and nearly spilled the berries.

I stopped and we each popped two or three berries into our mouths. I must admit, I love any kind of juicy, sweet berries. By the time we reached home, the pail was almost empty and our faces and hands told a story of thievery. Yes, we had stolen from our mother by taking that first berry and had robbed her of that little pleasure.

My head was down and my eyes studied my dirty shoes. I handed her the pail. “Sorry, Mom, we ate the berries.” I felt so ashamed.

Our mother should have sent us to pick another quart. Instead, she just smiled and said, “Well, we can have a mulberry pie another time.”

The apostle John explains to us what happened on that walk home with a pail full of berries. “The cravings of our sinful nature, the lust of our eyes” (1 John 2:17) made us forget about obedience–to pick a quart of berries for a pie–and forget about self-control. We should have covered the pail and not lusted after the fruit. I know now not to take the first bite. When we give in to lust, we can be forgiven, but we can’t always go back and fill the pail again.

Do you remember an experience when you lusted after something and took that first bite?

Excerpted from my memoir Naked With Clothes On soon to be published.

Crying in Your Beer

Barrels

When my brother and I, about 8 and 10 years old, waited in the bar till dad took us home, I often heard the expression “Crying in Your Beer.” A sharecropper would take his troubles to the bar, order a few beers, and, as the liquor loosened his tongue, feeling down in the dumps, he’d unload all his miseries on the bartender.

A poor sharecropper, dependent on rain and God’s favorable weather, had a lot to grumble about. Drought that caused hundreds of acres of corn crops to burn up; a wife confined to bed for a month with a serious pneumonia; a landlord who cheated him out of his fair share percentage of the harvest that year. And it seemed no one cared.

The psalmist in Psalm 88 had his share of woes, too. “For my soul is full of troubles” (v 3); “I am like a man without strength” (v 4); “You have overwhelmed me with all your waves (v 7); and “darkness is my closest friend” (v 18).

Unlike the bartender, who could only listen, the psalmist had hope. He could offer this prayer, “O Lord, the one who saves me, day and night I cry out before you” (v 1). At times the psalmist felt that the Lord had rejected him and hid his face from him, so he cried out to him. The psalmist’s cry was transparent. He acknowledged that God had “put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths” (v 6).

In the last few months I’ve cried out to the Lord as the psalmist did. I felt so overwhelmed I couldn’t see any rescue or help. Besides my cancer, I had one health problem after another.

Thankfully he gently reminds us that he not only hears our terrors and despair, but also dries up our tears as he takes us through the miseries of life. So we pray, “I call to you, O Lord, every day;” (v 8) and “you turn your ear to my cry” (v 2). He’s much superior to any bartender! God not only listens; He answers our cries and delivers us.

An Unsung Mother Theresa

As my wife was struggling for an appropriate title for an essay she had written about her mother on the subject “Gratitude for Someone Who Has Touched Your life,” I suggested “An Unsung Mother Theresa.”

“My mother began making a ‘home away from home’ for mothers’ sons when we lived in the D.C. area. Servicemen sitting alone at the Hot Shoppe restaurant were invited to our home for pie and Swedish coffee. Many made return visits and stayed in touch with my Mom for several years. People down on their luck were given a place to stay until they could afford an apartment. We never had a large home, but there was always room for another “bed” in the living room, on the long enclosed porch, and sometimes in the dining room.

“Mom began to take her three daughters to Walter Reed Army Hospital on Sunday afternoons. We visited with servicemen who had no family in the area. Usually we went to the amputee or the hepatitis wards because most people didn’t want to visit those. We girls sang, talked with them about their families, and wrote letters for them. Emily became their ‘Mother’ away from home, and they called her Ma Person. When they were well enough to have an overnight or weekend pass, they were invited to our home.”

These are just a few examples of her Mother’s benevolent kindness to so many people.

How about if we start using our free time to become a Mother Theresa to someone as my wife’s mother did? Locate children and teenagers needing a foster home, such as in Nana’s House. Care for unwanted babies needing Christian families until adoptive agencies can place them. Serve day workers and the homeless who need bag lunches. Visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities to show them real love as Apostle James suggests in James 1:27, “Look after orphans and widows in their distress.”

When these “good works” become a lifestyle for us, then we’ll be living examples of “Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).

As there were no strangers to my wife’s mother, may there be no strangers to us.