"Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony?" (Job 28:29)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Stable Guidance

MADE BEFORE the years when this nation endured the strife of World War II, the car pictured here had been driven many miles. However, now restored, a close inspection of the actual vehicle could not betray that it had ever traveled a far distance. The restorative bodywork was magnificent. Clear coat paint was laid upon a royal black base. Metal flake glimmered in both depth and hues. Deep, plentiful rainbow flakes reflected green, red, gold and blues… giving the black coupe a prismatic tone. The effect was that the light seemed to traverse through all colors in the spectrum, seen if anyone was wise enough to walk around the car’s perimeter.
 From my past days as an automotive teacher, when I looked at the car sitting in the sun, I thought immediately that the coating was likely a water-based, three-stage clear coat. However, in that technological scheme, even though the job is still considered complex by an amateur… the car displayed a simple message. You see, much like the reading of certain scenes in biblical scripture, the surface was beautifully kept simple. The car did not containing any distracting scallops and sculpting.
 I’d come across the pictures of the car recently, when leafing through the pages of my albums. As I saw the pictures and thought of its three=stage paint, I recalled sparkling Christmas lights and further captured the image of three Wise Men. Certain parallels seemed to fit between the sparkle of this car and the biblical story. To understand what I say, just for these few moments consider the fantastic biblical record that was told about Jesus. Remember especially the story of his birth. Now let us peruse the later arrival of the so-called “Three Kings of the Orient.”

Not Grotto, But Great
 First, we know from history that these men were called “magi”, which in the ancient language means “wise men”. This word befits the character of the travelers because in career they were thought of as highly educated for their day. Being learned, they dabbled in astrology and practiced other magical concerns. As the scriptures related to us from the Gospel According to Matthew…
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”
                                                                       (Matthew 2:1-2)

 Therefore like the sparkling particles suspended in the paint job on that car that I saw, the three magi rode majestically through a desert of blackness. They sought what they had translated to be a special occurrence from readings in sky and scripture.

 In those days, you see, the darkness at night was so deep that it was likely akin to the black basecoat of this beautiful car. Our gospel writer emphasized that they traveled by night so they could navigate by the stunning glimmer of stars. They followed the light of one particular, very bright star which had mysteriously appeared. While we even yet do not know what star it was on the heavenly charts that they saw, the three men had apparently agreed that its appearance was boldly prophetic. They were, so to speak… star struck! Consequently, in their dependence on astrology they were guided to Judah, a nation that lay far from their homeland.
 Notice how briefly they were presented in scripture. We actually know very little about them as individuals. They were just cast mysteriously as wise men, and they came to Judah from the east. We cannot be exactly sure when they arrived. This indicates that they most likely came from Persia. Being then students of Persian science, medicine and other pursuits of knowledge, the men were considered as among some of the smartest people that the land had to offer. Being bound together in a quest for knowledge, the men traveled together in shared interest. They traveled as such for security reasons. Nestled safely in a camel caravan much like a custom car that is secured snugly in a trailer for a weekend show… the Magi plodded through the darkness toward the realm of King Herod.
 We must note here that their scriptural introduction does not give their personal identities… nor say how many traveled. Oral tradition, and not scripture… eventually filled in some of these blanks. History now calls them eastern kings who possessed the names Melchior, Gaspar and Belshazzar.
 Sitting up high like triple, two-barrel carburetors poised on a hotrod engine, the three kings rode camels at night. Each sought to find the person spoken of in ancient Hebrew prophecy...

I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not nigh:
a star shall come forth out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise
 out of Israel…
                                                                                        (Numbers 24:17)

 The wise men went first in courtesy to see King Herod. They asked him about the child being born, and inquired about where to find the new king. The question they posed obviously rubbed the nape of Herod like a piece of rough grit No. 100 dry sandpaper. He quickly gathered his rabbinical crew together to find out what had been predicted about the birth. I believe he feared whether the prophet’s plot written was so very thick that his throne might crack or craze like the surface on a poor lacquer paint job.
 So they checked the prophecy. Herod found the the text to be meaningful, and thus sent the three Magi away to find the new king. He said that he also wanted to pay him homage. They were told to come back and let him know what they found.
 Now, these instructions are somewhat like a company paint wizard who asks a hot rodder to spy for the new formula of an automotive color. However, the wise men caught onto the selfish motives. This fact becomes quite clear as we hear more about them from scripture.
 Arriving in Bethlehem in short order, guided by the star above, they found the child Jesus in a stable… and bowed before him…

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child (Jesus) with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
                                                                             (Matthew 2:10-11)

 Indeed they gave him precious gifts. These were presents which ranked as very wealthy, meant for someone highly-born... but were given to a child descended from lowly persons living in a cave. The pictures we see of this occasion clearly speak of the irony. I often think that for the Wise Men, this time must have been like finding an old Audi once driven by famed race driver and champion Tazio Nuvolari (1892-1953) nested snugly in some old tilting country barn.
 However, likely unbeknownst to the wise men, the gifts they gave were much more than meaningful. They were like colorful flakes amid a sparkling and gorgeous black paint job. Seeking beauty, your eye often sees just the sparkle which dispels darkness.  Indeed, the gift of gold to Jesus spoke volumes concerning the child’s royal richness, even though he was born in a barn and lay in a feeding manger. The gifts of incense and myrrh predicted his adult life… of his being prepared for burial like the warriors of the ancient battlefield. The infant of divine birth, would surely grow... and like Greek and Persian warriors he would be anointed and prepared as a man to face evil in battle. His task, the one given by his heavenly Father, would be to ward off death for those in his kingdom… even to the giving of his own life.
 Certainly it is that we see these gifts speak to us of prophetic meanings. The child sleeping in the manger, Jesus… the Christ of God, would do as described. He would be the One who would set them free from their punishment for sin. Jesus, the Christ… was the Sent One. He did battle with evil to save us. Though crucified, that same Jesus has Risen. He was, and yet is the Word of God, and his Word speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. The Word became a two-edge sword tempered by sin-condemning Law and the clarion of the saving Gospel. Today as I write this article I am more than deeply impressed by the correlation between that car and our holiday season. The relationship glares out to me like the speckles in that paint job.
 First, consider that the word “epiphany” comes from the Greek language. It means “appearance”. You see, we in western Christianity observe the festival of Epiphany after Christmas, scheduled on the sixth day of January. It is a date and time in dark winter wherein we take special note of the manifestation… that a once for all time eternity event and certain revelation of the Christ child did occur. When born, Jesus was made known to the nations through that coming of the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem.
 Of second importance is that this scripture I’ve read many times in church makes the scene quite clear. The stable appears more clear than the topcoat found on that old car. You see, the story continued, in that the Magi knew that Herod held secret jealousies. They knew that in his ambitions, he wanted to destroy the child. Therefore driven by nightmares of what could happen, the magi warned his parents. Afterward the three men wheeled out of the country through the back gate. They left Bethlehem like a car show nut breezing quickly past the hot sausage vendor… in order to save room for the sweet bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist served at church.
 Now some atheistic or agnostic-minded critics reading this may think that I’ve reached way too far in my automobile analogy, If so, let me further argue the point. You see, as said in scripture... both heaven and earth declare God’s glory. Jesus was revealed by a heavenly star through the observances of the Magi. He became known both in his homeland and to nations far away. I ask you then, "Is it not possible then that God may even use automobiles to give us directions toward the light of the scriptures?" Surely you must agree that God’s infinite province has no boundaries. To a believer, proof is all around us! All we need do is look at the paint he laid out.
 As example, on the way home after our worship of God in church durng a past Christmas Eve, I saw a magnificent sight shining in this dismal world. Brightly poised in the sky above both old and new cars that sat in the church parking lot... was a very bright and full moon. The sight lit up the entire country landscape more so than warm flames from a biblical shepherd’s campfire. At that time, across from that moon… situated to the northwest… was a very, very bright star. So impressed was I that my prayer remains now that others saw it... and now we all consider the holiday meaning.

Lackawanna Crossings

 Does that thought make me a wise man or a foolish one? Am I a dreamer or fool? Or is it just that any person saved by the grace of Christian baptism is rightfully called to see all things as the unfolding of God’s  love? We often view disasters in this same this way! I myself know that any knowledge given to me through the Holy Spirit provides for me a meaning hidden gently behind such events as the journey of the Magi.
 You easily see, given this perspective I have come to believe that Jesus Christ was born long ago in Bethlehem, and he is yet Lord of lords and King of kings. Hearing the story, and believing the Truth of its revelation... is why I think that reading Holy Scripture has made me just a bit wiser than many of my peers in this modern, fast-propelled world. I now pray simply that it may also be so with others. In this task of prayer, please feel free to join me. Ask God if you can consider it so… then please look toward the stars and say... “Thanks be to God.”

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 May You Follow the Footsteps of the Wise

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Katy's Chism!

AN EIGHTY mile early morning Saturday trip led a very special used parts source. Katy’s place… known as a Ford parts heaven, was once a small farm that had been recently encircled by suburban sprawl. Being so hemmed in, it is not allowed to get any bigger, but still holds a treasure trove of old Ford parts. Her now deceased husband had previously listed everything resting there. He’d told her that one day the parts would be worth quite a bit. He was a smart farmer indeed.

 Know this! An error can make you do a parts runs for many miles. In converting an engine to run in front of a Cruise-O-Matic transmission, I’d made a mistake. I had gotten the wrong flywheel. Anyone who has ever transplanted an engine to update an older car, or increase cubic-inch displacement in a vehicle, can attest to this difficulty. You want one particular thing and often get another. These snags are known by veteran car builders. They are often avoided by many car restoration people if the vehicle on which they’re working is a popular model. However, in this case… finding just the right item was a learning experience. I’d missed an important detail.
 You see the old car came with a crunched engine. The condition was almost a necessity, considering a modest income. Many cars have been bought before the shed alongside could fall over on them. Fairlane models are not widely popular for restorations, as with the smaller Mustang.

 When wanting to take the old, worn 302 c.i.d. V-8 out of the car, an opportunity to upgrade the ride to a 351W appeared. The 351 would fit nicely into the rather tight engine bay. However, the 351W Ford shared displacement size with another engine. I found out the hard way that there was more than one type of 351 CID V-8 engine made by Ford. One engine line was known by the “W” designation. They were produced by an engine plant located in the city of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. The other, the 351C V-8, was made in Cleveland, Ohio. The two are not twins from a different mother!
 Aside from their different source, in spite of shared displacement size the two are very different. Many magazine article pages had been written concerning the two cousins. Most high performance pages concerned how the “351C” had the higher performance potential of the two, simply in that it had a better volumetric breathing efficiency right out of the factory. Meaningful for me however, was that one engine is balanced internally. This means that each rotating component was balanced individually before being assembled. The other engine contained a crankshaft that was balanced externally by using the additions of an offset-weighted flywheel flex plate and similarly weighted front balancer. The upshot was that my engine upgrade used the weighted flywheel. The transmission flex plate flywheel I had to mate the bigger engine to the automatic transmission did not have that weight. I hadn’t noticed the missing weight, but saw only that one bolt hole of the new flex plate did not line up with the holes in the crankshaft. You see, that was the way the engine makers indexed the weighted flywheel to the crankshaft, so it could only be installed in one rotational position. That’s when I found out the sinful truth. Needing the weighted flex plate because I already had a weighted damper pulley, I plotted a early morning road trip.

 The trip was not burdensome. The trek gave me visions of coffee-to-go, egg and sausage croissants and donuts that my diet said I was not to eat. Arriving about noon. I found that Katie’s son already had the flex plate I needed set out. I paid for it and then asked how his elderly mother had been doing. He said, “Katy’s out in the chapel.” As he did so, he pointed out the window toward a double-wide trailer that was located off to the side of the entrance lane.
 He said, “She’s just straightening up out there. Stop in and see her.”
 I climbed into my car and wheeled out to the double-wide. Above the building entry was a sign which read, “Katy’s Chasm” As I entered, an old “Ooogah” horn sounded. Katy had been arranging chairs into neat rows. She placed a hymn book on each seat. She turned and waved me back out. She said, “You’re a day early.., come back tomorrow.”
  I chuckled for she was fondly known. Since her husband’s last name was Combs, she’d endured many a ribbing about being a grave, downcast personality. At church her name became “Katy Combs”.

 The double-wide chapel was originally planned to be a church, but the land was not zoned for such. The intolerance for early Sunday morning suburban singing was so strong that Katy could not use the place for that purpose. Instead, much to the initial chagrin of neighbors, she called it a clubhouse. It became a meeting place for wayward car nuts. They just happened to become Christian car nuts. They also happened to bring their own Bibles. Most importantly, they managed to bring others to the meetings as auxiliary members. That was how the group got started.
 Interesting, however, was that to be accepted into the club a person needed to first memorize “Katy’s Chism”. In keeping with her husband’s wishes, her adopted family of Christian fellowship first had to study. They had to memorize Martin Luther’s “Small Catechism”. The practice was in keeping with her husband’s Lutheran heritage. This drove some of the fledgling adoptee candidates to call the place the “Chasm”, because once anyone dove in they were to come out of the graves of sin and evil. They would rise up from the depths, be baptized… and take their place as her family.

We would that a group fills the double-wide regularly. That which was imbalanced becomes balanced. Those who are sinful become saved. And praises voiced from the depths of the catacombs can be heard above the realm of the Satanic. Many car nut neighbors who formerly complained now attend meetings. The local authorities don’t complain because young folks learn values rather than computer games. Best of all, the occasion of God being present in an automobile “graveyard” can give eternal life to 
far more than old car parts.

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May your road be smooth, and rest come through Christ our Lord.