Pepsi and Peanuts

When we were sharecroppers in Missouri, Dad would take the wagon of cotton to the cotton gin. When he finished his business, he would drop my brother Dick and me off at the pool hall and head to have a few drinks with his friends. We slipped unnoticed through the door and slid down against the wall to watch.

The men chalked their cues, broke the rack, and called the number of the ball they intended to pocket. Dick and I thought the numbers on the balls were the number of points the men got, so we tried to tally up which player racked up the most points!

One of the players, an old man with a bald head and a full tobacco-stained beard, cupped both hands on his cue, leaned on it, and said,“You little cotton pickers, you ain’t no bother. So what’ll ya say to a cold drink?”

Neither of us looked up. Just sat there with eyes squinched shut.

Finally we heard, “So, don’t ya want ’em? They’re freezing my hands.” I opened my eyes and saw two muddy boots, wrinkled pants, and two sweating Pepsi Colas in his hands. We hopped up, grabbed them, and as we slid down, we both mumbled a weak, “Thank you.”

What a treat! We each had our own bottle. We took small sips to make it last longer. Then one of the men came over with a bowl of nuts. “Take a handful of peanuts to eat with yer Pepsi.”

We each grabbed a handful and emptied them into our shirt pockets. I cupped my hand around the neck of the Pepsi, slid some nuts into it, put my thumb on the bottle opening, shook it hard, jerked away my thumb, and quickly stuck the top into my mouth. The peanuts bulleted the roof of my mouth.

“They sound just like pistol shots,” I told Dick. He did the same.

“Leon, you’re right. Just like the six-shooters in the Lone Ranger matinees!”

And the pool shooters, sucking on their cigarettes, flipping ashes onto the floor, laying down their bets, and swigging their beer, made me giggle and laugh so much I almost choked on the peanuts.

Just then, Dad pushed open the pool hall door. “Hit’s time to go.” We jumped up and ran after him.

Exposed to the pool hall and its entertainment for several years as a youngster, three spiritual truths have formed in my mind.

I’m thankful that the Lord guarded my heart from absorbing the world’s lifestyle. “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without thinking (Romans 12:2, The Message).

As I think back to the days we slid down the walls, the Lord has graciously also shown me how to use the time he has given me. Sure, we all need recreation, but day after day to knock a cue ball around on a table, hoping with each shot to win the “pot.” The Lord has written in my heart Psalm 39:4, “Show me O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days, let me know how fleeting is my life.”

The third spiritual truth is to clarify the purpose of life. Our pool hall players seemed to be self-absorbed in hedonism as 1 Peter 4:3 characterizes; and modern psychology, “Self-indulgent pursuit of pleasure as a way of life.” The opposite to hedonism is the Spirit-indulgent pursuit of holiness. 1 Tim 2:2 describes it as “living life peaceful and quiet in all godliness and holiness.”

*Adapted from my memoir Naked With Clothe.s On

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?