Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Scary Cousin

I have a pet peeve about Halloween: spooky decorations in hospitals and nursing homes. Most of the people there are already suffering from the side effects of their medications—and so are their patients. Why fill the nursing stations, doors and lobbies with skeletons, witches, spiders and creepy-faced pumpkins? Do people really want to be visually reminded of their mortality when many are already wrestling with end-of-life issues? I know that some decorations have been changed to promote cuteness, but still Halloween is the scary cousin of Mardi Gras.

It was superstitiously designed to be a time to ward off the ghosts of the dead in preparation for the day to honor the dead. It has many roots including Christian, Celtic paganism and harvest festivals. We have expanded Halloween today to include all things horror-filled, both imagined and real. Vampires, werewolves, zombies and other ghoulies are recent additions. Some church groups create haunted houses filled with car wrecks, drug overdoses, gang violence and suicides as a sort of walk through Hell. The religious goal is to scare a person to salvation. I tend to worry about those who pray a quick “sinner’s prayer” in order to secure a form of hell-fire insurance. In that process, most seem to miss the point of believing: commitment to Jesus as Lord and discipleship to Jesus as Master every single day of their life, to eternity.

I enjoy the playfulness of Halloween, so don’t get me wrong. We need a way to laugh at death and all things fearful and frightening. That is part of the un-comfortableness of the Halloween season. Death is the scary cousin of life. We know death is all too real and comes too soon for any of us. Yet believers have a confidence about life; we live even if we die.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Scare death by believing. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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He was a quiet, hardworking and contented man. He was born to immigrant parents who only spoke German until they realized their son was not able to understand his school teachers. Before he was born, his parents joined a German Baptist church where his mother reorganized the Women’s Missions Society. His name was listed on the church cradle roll soon after he was born. He always went to church, that very church for his whole life. He told me he liked every pastor the church ever had. He was baptized as a boy in that church, but never said a public prayer his whole life. He and his bride were married one night in the home of a pastor who was a close family friend. They were married 68 years. He worked different jobs and settled on being a craftsman working with wood. He built church furniture, hand-tooling pulpits, pews and altar tables. When the church decided to relocate to the suburbs, he bought two corner lots, drew his own plans and had a house built across the street from it. His wife never learned to drive, but now she could always make it to the church’s weekday activities.

He never completed school; the times were too hard. He raised two children on a very careful budget. His backyard was filled with fruit trees, vegetable gardens and a hen house. Their children both graduated from a major Baptist university. Their son, who became a minister, later completed his doctor of philosophy degree in religion. Their daughter graduated from that same university with honors and became an executive secretary and minister’s wife. Along the way, they saw to it that their daughter learned to play the piano. She became piano accompanist and organist for his home church (Central Baptist Church, Waco) during high school and college. He was quietly proud of his children.

G. Albert Niederer was my father-in-law. He would have been 100 years old on October 23, 2010. He died in January 2006, mostly of a broken heart over the loss of his wife, Freda, the previous September. He demonstrated a lifetime of caring, self-sacrifice and faithfulness to God. He understood the deep meaning of the word contentment.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Discover the meaning of contentment. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.


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I am Not a Witch

I am not a witch. I am not a warlock. But I know how to walk through solid walls. I do it very often. I have an extensive library on the magical arts, including a seven-volume set of Harlan Tarbell’s Course in Magic. I have studied the master magicians of the past and learned many of their secrets. I am a member of The Fellowship of Christian Magicians for over 25 years now. But I am not magic.

It all started with an object lesson for Children’s Church. After quite a few embarrassing attempts with the lessons, I decided that I needed to understand three things about an object lesson for young children: how preschoolers and kindergartners learn; how to present a lesson well; and the integrity of the teaching experience.

The stage magician has to learn not only the “secret” of the illusion, but also the psychology of audience participation. The audience is drawn into the presentation whether they think so or not. The technique or skill of the presentation is only gained by much practice and rehearsal. Simple illusions tend to be the most powerful. Notice that I use the word illusion, rather than trick. For me the point is not to “trick” people. No one likes to be tricked or made out to be a fool. The point is to provide a memorable experience that teaches a biblical truth. Hopefully as they think about the puzzle of the presentation they begin to connect with the truth of the illustration.

By the way, anyone can walk through a solid wall if you know where to find the door. Houdini also taught that any lock can be opened – he just made the key with what he had.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Step through a solid wall. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Present Memories

I can still remember a time when I could walk into another room and remember why. Things start slipping and sagging after a while. I think it either has to do with gravity or global warming. I’m still confused on that. A mind is a terrible thing to lose. I am told that it is normal for a person of my age to experience these little “senior moments.” Seriously, memory loss is an alarming prospect for any of us or our loved ones. Senility, dementia and Alzheimer’s are frightening words to hear and probably even more frightening to experience.

Through the years I have come to rely on a Scripture passage that gives me strength and courage. It is Psalm 139, especially verses 7–12. This tells me that no matter where I might go, God is there with me. For someone whose loved one is deep in Alzheimer’s, for instance, this assures me that God Himself is with that loved one no matter how deep into the darkness or distance they may go. It is painful to lose a loved one twice; first when they may no longer recognize or remember you, and later when they may die. But also know that our physical presence with that loved one communicates to them on a deep spiritual level that transcends words.

Sometimes I liken it to coming upon a house where the doors are closed but windows are open. The man or woman of the house is deep inside not noticing the knock at their door. Sometimes when a certain voice is heard, or a familiar song played, they may stand at the window and look out, or smile, or shed a tear. But soon they turn and go back deep inside where God is sitting with them and holding them close. As the Psalmist says: “Even the darkness will not be dark to You.”

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Remember His presence. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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