Monday, March 31, 2008

Apparent Realities

I know Easter was two Sundays ago, but I'm still dwelling on it (which isn't a bad thing, by the way!). I've been pondering a question from a Michael Card devotional about the resurrected Christ regarding "apparent realities."

Michael's question stemmed from John 20:24-29. Thomas hasn't seen the resurrected Lord, and for him, the reality is that Jesus is dead. The ride they've been on has stopped, and the park has closed, so to speak!

But, Thomas' reality is a false one. He doesn't think Jesus is alive, even though the remaining disciples assure him he is. Thomas finds his reality to be the foundation for what he believes.

We all do that; it's human nature. We base our thoughts and feelings around what we perceive to be the truth. Sometimes, though, we're just plain wrong, and Jesus has to step in and defy our own lies with his truth. But, just because Jesus stands in front of him doesn't mean that Thomas will believe - it might be Jesus' ghost, after all. So Jesus offers him better proof than that; he lets him touch his hands and side to stroke the bruised and tender flesh, to feel the scabs and scars, to sense the warmth of the blood pulsing through his veins. This was the Jesus he'd known and followed. A little worse for the wear, but the same, nonetheless.

Suddenly, Thomas' false reality crumbles, and the new, truthful reality explodes his heart into a powerful statement of worship: "My Lord and my God!" Sometimes, that's all we can say. A simple, yet profound acknowledgment of Jesus' mastery of us and his power over creation's natural laws.

Why is this significant? Because if Jesus is truly our Lord and God, then he can master the circumstances of our lives and even hold sway over the natural laws of creation itself. So, what we perceive to be our reality, may in fact be a day or two (or three!) behind, because he has begun another work to be completed.

For Thomas, the apparent reality was that Jesus was dead; the truth was that he had risen. Jesus asked him and calls us to look beyond what seems to be the reality of the situation to a new dimension of faith. The disciples [saw] the embodiment of this new reality. In resurrected flesh and bone and blood, Jesus [stood] before them. He even [ate] a piece of fish for them, almost like a parlor trick, to show them that this - that he - is real (see Luke 24:42-43). And because he is alive and real, everything [else] he has promised them can be seen now to be true.

What's even more amazing to me is John 20:29. Jesus says that you and I receive a blessing that those who physically witnessed his resurrection can't have: "Blessed are they who did not see and yet believed." So, even when we can't see his hand at work, we can trust his power and loving heart. He's not idle. Assuming your sin account with him is cleared, the rut you may feel you're in is likely a false reality.

Take courage that Christ is alive and is with you
. Today. Now. It's a reality.

*All italics from Michael Card, "New Dimension of Faith," March, 2008

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nothing to Hide

My freshman year of college, I lived in a room at the end of the hall on the third floor of the dorm. I loved our little suite with its own bathroom. My three roommates and I had some great times getting to know one another and hanging out with friends (oh, and studying, of course).

One Sunday morning, well into our second semester, I was leaving my room to head to church, and found myself face-to-face with a young woman I didn't know. She was coming from the room across the hall and greeted me with, "Good morning, Julie." I politely smiled and wished her a good morning, wondering who in the world she was. We were allowed to have overnight guests, so it wasn't uncommon to see an unfamiliar face in the building, but I had no idea how she knew my name.

I walked to the stairwell, descended to the ground floor and was out the front door when I finally realized who it was - the girl who had lived in that room since we'd moved in back in August! She wasn't wearing any make-up, so I hadn't recognized her. Clearly, she regularly allowed her make-up to cover her face in such a way that it was hiding or disguising her natural features.

I've never forgotten that morning, and I've often wondered if that's not how we live our lives as believers in the body of Christ. Sometimes we wear so much "make-up" on our emotions and spiritual conditions that no one would recognize us if we showed the natural truth of ourselves in raw simplicity.

Now, this may seem contradictory to what I wrote a couple of days ago about not letting people see more than they need, too, but there must be a balance between what we "expose" and what we don't.

I think James 5:13-16 offers the most practical wisdom for striking this balance. He says to share our troubles, joys, sicknesses (not literally, of course!) and sins with one another, for the purpose of prayer, and that to do so is powerfully effective. But he never says that a venting tirade should reasonably accompany those things we share. In fact, Paul wrote that we are to "do what leads to ... mutual edification" (Romans 14:19). We are instructed in Ephesians 4:19 to be sure that what we say, truthful as it may be, is spoken in love. Usually this passage is used in the context of correcting a fellow believer, but it can also apply to how we talk about the things that frustrate, disappoint or anger us. 

This is a two-fold situation, though. Sharing in transparency and honesty must be received in a spirit of love and acceptance, not shocked disapproval. Romans 5:17 says that we are to "accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted [us]" (in imperfect, sinful states, according to Romans 5:8). Too often, those of us who have walked with Christ for a long period of time develop the "holier than thou" syndrome that drives away hurting, struggling and wounded believers. Not because we intentionally bash their open honesty or confession, but because we make it clear that we'd never "make choices like those" or "struggle with a lack of faith like that".

Yet, when we do find ourselves in those periods of difficulty, we usually keep them hidden as best we can. But when we keep them hidden, we deny someone else the privilege of blessing us. Even more grievous is the possibility that someone with the spiritual gift of encouragement is denied the opportunity to exercise it! 

By sharing and receiving in honesty and love, we take steps toward building up the body of Christ, and as I mentioned the other day, his Kingdom is what we should be seeking first anyway.

Friday, March 28, 2008


I polished our furniture today. I've never done it before. Old English is not remunerating me for this advertisement, unfortunately.

I remember reading once that wood furniture needs the moisture of polishing because, unlike a tree planted in soil, it can no longer obtain nourishment and vitality on its own. It needs an outside source to come and provide it with those things. Just like the heat and cold, dryness and moisture of the outdoors affects the strength and beauty of trees, even in a controlled environment that maintains a relatively average temperature, wood needs "umph" (that's the technical term) that a little polishing can bring.

We've had our dining room furniture since we married, so it's had about eight years worth of neglect in this department. But, my hope chest, which was a gift from a precious lady in my church, I've had since I was at least 17. So, for more than 16 years, the trunk has survived countless moves, numerous bumps, dents and scratches, the torture of storage, being a seat for weary bodies, and stuffed with all manner of things. Today's polishing was the first it's ever received, to the best of my knowledge. It soaked up the polish with a craving that can only be compared to the thirst we feel in the July Texas sun. I was amazed at the luster and beauty that shown through the wood when those healing properties were poured out and rubbed into it. It seemed to be smiling and saying, "Thank you!"

Are we like that thirsty chest, desperate for the touch of God in our lives to heal and draw out our beauty? It doesn't mean we have to have endured 16 years of neglect to be that thirsty, but do we even desire it? Are we content to be a functional piece, not a cared for and protected one? Unlike me, God anxiously waits to lavish his attention on those who belong to him (see 1 John 3:1). The Psalmist describes it this way: 

Blessed is the one whose delight is in the Lord. That one is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields fruit at the right time and doesn't wither (Psalm 1:2-3).

That tree is never thirsty, because it's so near the source of life and sustenance. While it will probably be another 10 years (at least) before I remember to polish my furniture, God wants to polish us and nurture us in his care to become conformed to the image of his Son. And that's an amazing finish.

I must say, I do have one problem with this polishing thing, though. My hand looks like I did a rotten job of giving myself a sunless tan.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Results Are In . . .

One of the girls that I tutor was retained last year, having failed the TAKS reading test and performed poorly in her schoolwork. We learned this week that she passed the TAKS reading portion this time! YIPEE! We're so proud of her, and I'm so thankful that perhaps something I did, however small, made a difference. I've also learned that of my remaining 15 students, all but three passed. Like most educators, I'm not sure that standardized testing is the ideal for proving competence or academic skill and knowledge, but it's the best we have for now, so it's nice to see success by the students in which I've invested. 

Thanks, Lord! You've certainly answered our prayers!

Monday, March 24, 2008

More Than I Ever Needed to See

Reading through an old journal page recently, I laughed as I found an entry concerning a Sunday night trip to Taco Bell after church. Now don't misunderstand, we don't go to Taco Bell because we like the food so well; we go because we like the prices of the food so well. (Although I gotta say, those Gorditas are quite delish.)

Anyway, on this particular trip, we'd just finished our fine dining experience and were simply talking with our friends Misty and Patrick, when behind us a group of four women began making their way toward the exit, laughing and talking. Their voices caught my attention, and when I turned around, I got more than I’d bargained for. Taco Bell suddenly became PG-13. 

The fourth lady, lagging behind her friends, was, well, exposing herself, but not by wearing a skimpy tube top or daisy duke shorts. In fact, she looked like she might have just come from a church service herself. Her dark brown blouse was carefully tucked into a full-length, richly ornamented, peasant skirt . . . . . . . which was tucked into her panty hose on her backside. Yes, I now know more about that woman’s derriere than I ever wanted or needed to know.  

Now, before you begin to think me cruel and uncaring or that I’m mocking this woman’s misfortune, please bear in mind that it would have drawn more attention to her if I’d jumped up from where I was in the middle of the restaurant and run to her aid. By the time I saw her, she was close enough to the door to make a somewhat un-observed escape. The funny thing was, as we watched her walk to the car, she still didn’t notice her predicament. I guess the wind wasn’t blowing hard enough to create a draft. 

While Misty and I giggled at the poor woman’s expense, the question came to my mind that I, too, sometimes walk around like Ms. Skirt-in-the-Pants. I’m exposing my least desirable aspects without realizing it. I’m “letting it all hang out” when, honestly, most people don’t want or need to know that much about me. It might be in my attitude, or a condescending manner, or simply reactions from a "bad mood" that inflict my misery upon them undeservedly. Sometimes, simply treating people as though they are furniture, not human beings made in the image of Holy God, is the least proactive of my offenses, but the most damaging to their souls and spirits. Then, suddenly, while making excuses for myself ("that's just how I am" or "I was so busy"), or completely oblivious to how I appear, a north wind blows over my soul, and the Holy Spirit reminds me that the way I’m acting is a poor representation of the Christ I claim to serve. 

Certainly, we are to be authentic and transparent with others (I'll cover that later this week), but to what degree? I think the answer comes when we consider if by our transparency we are glorifying our flesh and sin nature, or if by our transparency we are glorifying the God who created us as unique individuals. The created vs. the Creator, so to speak. 1 Corinthians 6:1 says that everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial; we should not be mastered by anything. If our "transparency" is not beneficial to the Kingdom of God (which is what we should be seeking first), or we have become mastered by our need or desire to express our emotion or thoughts, then I'd have to suggest that people are seeing more than they ever need to see. 

Not a comforting thought, I know, especially when it takes an extreme amount of self-control to keep from saying things that would make us feel better. But that's where the problem lies. In wanting myself to feel better - selfish pride rearing its ugly head. And that's more than anyone ever needs to see.

The Lord of Life

This weekend's reminders of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ stirred up thoughts about the grief that Jesus' friends and family certainly knew following his crucifixion as well as thoughts about the mortality of humanity in general. That's what makes Easter so amazing. It defeats that mortality; it's other than the norm. That's why we say He is the Lord of Life; He has mastered death.

Truth is, I've never been terribly afraid of death, and I suppose I have my parents to thank for that. Unlike some, they felt it was important for children to understand the reality of death, rather than shelter them from it. Either that, or they couldn’t find babysitters, so we got to go along. Nevertheless, I vividly remember my first experience at a funeral as a 7 or 8 year old, because like many kids, I saw every new event as an adventure. Much to my delight, although we were in central Louisiana, among the attendees was the comedienne Ruth Buzzi. (If you know who she is, you understand my thrill, and if you don’t, you’re young enough to know how to “google” her.) Thus, although I’d met the deceased several times, and was truly saddened for those who grieved, I was eminently more interested in seeing Ruth than the body as we processed in front of the casket, so I carefully peeked around my mother to catch another glimpse of the actress.

My dad probably didn’t help my increasing comfort level with death by telling amusing stories of working at a funeral home while studying for his Master’s Degree. My favorite that he tells was of the day he and a co-worker were called to pick up the body of a recently deceased, rather obese woman. With some difficulty, he and the fellow managed to get the body to the funeral home, but to get it onto the mortician’s table, a few extra hands were needed. With two men on either end, they strained to lift the woman's body onto the table. As gently as possible, they laid her down only to hear her offer up a deep moaning sigh. There’s still a Daddy-shaped hole in the wall, I think. As it turned out, the woman was indeed dead, but some air had been trapped in her lungs, and with the movement of her body, it escaped out her mouth, vibrating her vocal chords.

Of course, there is a side of death that lacks any amusement. Like learning as I did as a junior in high school that one of my best friends had been killed in a car accident due to the negligence of an on-coming driver, or watching as families tear themselves apart over an inheritance rather than simply dividing that inheritance among themselves. And I’ll never forget the Mother’s Day Darin left our family festivities to bury a woman in a pauper’s grave while her children drove away in automobiles made by Lexus and Cadillac.

But death can be a blessing, an escape for those who have struggled with pain and illness. My great-grandmother’s death was an example. A crippled, but godly woman of 96, she said to my aunt moments before she died, “Straighten out my legs, I want to be able to walk into heaven.” Both my grandmothers were merely shells of who they had been before disease and sickness ravaged their bodies. I also remember the emotion surrounding the death of a 16 year old girl named Julie. Debilitated from Leukemia, she found wholeness in the complete and final healing of her body. Even as a mere child, I knew that with the sadness was a restful blessing; that the striving her body had known for so long was finally over. The fact that I shared her name forever impressed upon me that I, too, would one day experience death – maybe not in the same way, or under the same circumstances, but it would nevertheless come as another note in the song of life.

Despite the power death has over this body, I'm so thankful to know that the Lord of life is Lord over death. He has proven that there is no reason to fear its hold. For he has made the devil (who had the power of death) powerless (Hebrews 2:14), thus "we are free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2)! Praise God!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What a Week!

It's certainly been an exhausting, but thoroughly fulfilling week. We've hosted 3 Navarro College mission trip students and their director (our friend, Cody) here at the house since Monday afternoon. Right before lunch today, they headed home to Corsicana.

It was a great experience hanging out with Cody and a couple of the students we already knew personally, and seeing the Lord use them in the lives of a family connected with our church here in Frankston. 

The guys were truly a joy to have around the house - low maintenance for sure! As long as there were snacks on the counter and an X-Box controller available, they were self-sufficient! What a blessing to have them. I understand why Paul instructed the believers he discipled to offer hospitality; he knew the benefits and joys it would bring for both parties involved. 

This week has made me anxious and ready to be a host home for our DiscipleNow next month, if we're needed. Perhaps I ought to talk to Darin before I commit us, though!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lessons in the WalMart Parking Lot

In a devotional I read several weeks ago, these questions were asked: 
  • When have you been suddenly and unexpectedly aware of the presence of Christ? 
  • What effect did the experience have on you?
I've known the presence of Christ in worship settings, alone with him in nature, with family or friends, and as part of various ministry projects, and such experiences have always humbled me to the core, but I experienced his presence in a way yesterday that reminded me once again of the way we reveal and reflect Christ to others. Yet this time, it wasn't because of something I did, but rather because of ministry and service done for me. 

My shopping cart was loaded down when I turned into the checkout stand at WalMart. And although I had all the purchases in the buggy to begin with, after I checked out, the stuff wouldn't fit back in. Even though the cashier and I rearranged things three times, I had to have an additional cart to get the junk out to the car. (Can you tell I put off going to WalMart until it's absolutely necessary?!)

Anyway, as I began to attempt to maneuver two carts out the front of the store (pushing one and pulling the other behind me), a soft voice asked if she could help push one of the carts. Her son, she said, could push their cart, and she could help with one of mine. Every fiber of my being within insisted (like a 3 year old child), "No, I can do it!" But that was when the presence of Christ stepped in. The Holy Spirit gave me a moment to step outside myself and see how ridiculous I looked, and then gently humbled me to acknowledge that I needed and could use the help offered. 

In truth, I sometimes don't ask for or receive help because I'm afraid of inconveniencing others, or I'm afraid that if they help this time, they'll feel taken advantage of and refuse to help when I really need it. But how foolish is it to refuse help when it's offered, initiated by the other party?

For me, Christ's presence saturated the situation, and the experience forced me to reflect on three things. First, in her gracious offer to help. She didn't know where I'd parked; it might have meant a hike to the far edges of the lot. But like Jesus' instruction in Matthew 5, she was willing to go an extra mile. Secondly, I was forced to ask myself, "How often do I let someone else struggle simply because I don't think I have time to help or even worse, don't care to help?" Finally, I recognized the presence of Christ in my own (however reluctant) willingness to humble myself and receive assistance. Philippians 2:8 tells us Jesus "humbled himself." He didn't wait for someone else to do it for him. He chose humilty; I should, too. 

I sincerely didn't want to inconvenience the woman, even though she had offered. As crazy as it sounds, it was a spiritual moment for me when, after we got to my car, she walked to hers directly behind mine. Further evidence that I serve a God who can handle the smallest and greatest logistics of life. 

So, Lord, please bless that lady, whoever she was, for suddenly and unexpectedly helping me experience your humbling presence - even in the WalMart parking lot.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Place of Crushing

I wish I'd written this, but Michael Card blessed me with this devotional on the Garden of Gethsemane. Perhaps it will speak to you, too.
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." Mark 14:35-36
Gethsemane literally means "place of crushing," a place where olives were crushed for their oil. That name took an infinitely deeper meaning when Jesus knelt down there to pray that night in the garden.

A man knelt there, a man of unspeakable courage and obedience. Jesus looked the Father in the face with mature, though anguished honesty and said, "If there is any way for this cup to pass, let it be so!: Yet a child also knelt down there to pray,. "Abba, anything is possible for you!" Jesus' words sound like a child's cry to his father for help, not a theological statement about an all-powerful Universal Being.

Jesus cried out, "Abba." Never let anyone clothe that word in theological sophistication. It is not a sophisticated word. It is baby talk! Papa, Daddy, Abba - they are all the same thing: the first stutterings of an infant, not to be categorized in some theological structure, but to be cried out from the heart of a child, a heart of faith.

PRAY: Bring the deepest cries of your heart to your Abba, your heavenly Father. Do not be ashamed of your feelings before him.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Forty Days and Forty Nights

I thought I'd share some jokes I found recently about Noah and the Ark. I did not make these up, so please, no boos or hisses from the audience.

Q: Which animal on Noah's Ark had the highest level of intelligence?
A: The giraffe.

Q: Why did Noah have to punish the chickens?
A: Because they were using fowl language.

Q: On the Ark, Noah probably got milk from the cows. What did he get from the ducks?
A: Quackers.

Q: What kind of lights were on the Ark?
A: Floodlights.

Q: What animal could Noah not trust?
A: The Cheetah.

Q: Why were the horses aboard the Ark pessimistic?
A: They were always saying neigh.

Q: What did Noah say as he was loading the Ark?
A: Now I herd everything.

Q: Where did Noah keep the bees?
A: In the ark-hives.

Q: Who ran the first canning factory?
A: Noah - he had a boat full of preserved pairs.

Q: Which animal took the most baggage into the Ark?
A: The elephant. He took his trunk.

Q: Which animal took the least with it into the Ark?
A: The rooster. He only brought a comb.

Q: Was Noah the first one out of the Ark?
A: No, he came forth out of the Ark.

Q: When is paper money first mentioned in the Bible?
A: When the dove brought the green back to the Ark.

In thinking about the Ark, though, can you imagine the stench? I'm sure Noah and his family all worked tirelessly to keep the place reasonably sanitary, so they were certainly not idly enjoying a six week cruise on their yacht. And remember, it was only six weeks of rain; it was another 10+ months until they stepped out on dry land! (See Genesis 7:6; 8:13.) Consider also how tired they must have become of one another. All those days cooped up with the same snores, the same complaints, the same annoying habits, the same daily routines, the same old jokes. We're probably fortunate to have seen them all come out alive, and not because of animal attacks!

I can only imagine the thrill that ran through the ship the day the dove brought back the olive leaf. It was so much more than greenery. It represented freshness, new life, renewed hope and something different for the days to come.

I have a new friend who's looking for that very thing. She's felt for the past 10+ years that she's been in a holding pattern of sorts, keeping afloat, with her head above water,but stuck in the mire and muck of the same old thing. I'm so excited for her, because her world may soon broaden and expand with the advent of some new decisions being made. I wish I personally could hold out an olive leaf to assure her of what Noah and his family received the day the dove brought one back for them to see. In this case, God alone can provide that for her, but I hope I get to see the results, and that they are "immeasurably more than all [she] can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20).

All of us have times of life that just plain stink. And sometimes, shoveling the droppings out the window is all we can do to survive! But like Noah, when we come through the storm, genuine worship and celebration are the most appropriate responses. Presumably, according to Genesis 8:20-21, some of the animals were able to reproduce while caged in the big boat, because when Noah and the group finally disembarked, he "built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it." But I love the next sentence most of all: "The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma...." I guess even God gets tired of the stench of life, sometimes!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What Are You Looking For?

People throughout the Bible have been asked this question.
  • Joseph, in Genesis 37:14-16, while wandering around in the fields, was asked this. He was looking for his brothers. Oddly enough, finding them didn't work out so well for him.
  • Micah (not the prophet) in Judges 17:9 asked a man, a Levite, what he was looking for. The man's reply: "I'm looking for a place to stay." Micah quickly hired him to live with his family and serve as their priest unto the Lord, since this was a time when there was disorder in the religious and political landscape.
  • In Samuel 8-10, Saul was out looking for runaway donkeys; he was ordained king instead.
  • Simeon, in Luke 2 was looking for the hope and redemption of Israel, the Messiah. He saw it, in the form of an infant boy brought to the Temple by Mary and Joseph.
  • Matthew 26:59-61 records the chief priests and Sanhedrin for false evidence against Jesus. They found it.
  • The women were looking for a dead Jesus, but found him to be alive (Matthew 28:5-7).
Some of these found exactly what they were looking for, some found more. Some found unexpected results, and some didn't find what they were looking for at all. 

Biblical characters weren't the only "seekers." At one point or another we all look for something; sometimes we find more, sometimes less. Sometimes we look not knowing for what. Whether it be a new job, security in a relationship or simply hope and peace for an uncertain situation, we all find times in our lives where we're looking, maybe even in desperation. The Psalmist expressed this, too: 
  • Psalm 69:3 - I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.
  • Psalm 119:82 - My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, "When will you comfort me?"
  • Psalm 119:123 - My eyes fail, looking for your salvation, looking for your righteous promise.
Twenty-twenty vision only comes with hindsight, but looking in the right direction (for God and His promise) will always bring improved perception.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Into the Ocean of Unknown

I've just learned some exciting news from friends. Patrick, a musician, has long had a dream of being a part of a performing group. This week, he was sworn in to the U.S. Army to be a part of the Army Band as a saxophonist. He'll ship out in June, knowing full well that life will soon be drastically different than what he's known as a school band director over the last 10+ years. The excitement that he and his wife Misty feel about the opportunities and unknown changes for the future is contagious; I'm excited for them!

This change won't come easily, as they certainly know, but the risk toward fulfilling a drea is certainly worth taking. Andre Gride, a French writer, said it this way, "One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." Columbus' first voyage was 71 days of uncertainty and sameness, until that thrilling moment on October 12 when Rodrigo de Triana, a sailor on the Pinta, spotted the lands of the Bahamas.

So many of us choose to sit on the shores of life, wondering what the world looks like on the other side of the oceans of our unknowns. Patrick has worked hard, physically and musically to be prepared for this new challenge, and I think his efforts and courage are biblically sound. In 2 Timothy 1:6-7, Paul tells his friend to fan into flame his God-given gift, and to exercise that calling with a spirit of power, love and self-discipline, not fear. Whatever our gifts/talents/skills/interests may be, taking steps toward using them, though frightening at times, will only bring about a greater strength of character in us and greater faith in the character and nature of God Himself.

Blessings, Patrick and Misty. Through your step of courage and faith, I pray God will reveal more of Himself through the twists and turns of this adventure into the ocean of this exciting new unknown.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Toilet Humor

I guess the fact that I spend a good chunk of time with 4th and 5th grade boys has had an effect on me. Couple that with Darin's "Urban Legends" series, and I can't help but share the following two "toilet humor" stories.

I found this urban legend today:

While babysitting for a new family, a teenage girl went upstairs to use their toilet, not knowing they had recently varnished the toilet seat. When she tried to get up, she couldn't. She tried and tried, and began to panic. Finally, she unattached the seat and pulled her pants over it as best she could. When the family got home, she told them about the incident, and they took her to the emergency room. She was extremely embarrassed about the whole thing, especially since she'd just met this family. What made the night even worse was that the doctor that was treating her was very good looking. Fortunately, he had a sense of humor.

"Please tell me you've seen this type of thing before," the red-faced girl asked him.
"I've seen a lot of these," the doctor replied, "but never framed."

And a second story:

There was a young man who wanted to express his deep love one Valentine's Day to his then-girlfriend. Steve, in an effort to be creatively romantic, boxed up the lid of a toilet seat for Kathryn as a gift. He had rigged it with a working clock on the top cover, and when lifted, framed in the "sit-down" part was an enlarged photo of the two of them together with the caption, "Time with you is never flushed." Now, what girl wouldn't swoon over that?

Unfortunately, this second story is neither an urban legend nor a joke. It really happened. The young man, Steve, was a friend and groomsman in our wedding. What's even more amazing is that Kathryn actually married him later on! But somehow, that toilet seat has disappeared.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Popping Pineapple

So we were simply standing around in the kitchen, enjoying a pleasant conversation with my parents last Saturday night, when an explosion sounded from the south end of the room. Upon further investigation, I noticed a distinctive odor coming from the top shelf of the pantry - pineapple. There in front of me was a sealed can of pineapple slices with drops of moisture on the rim. "Where did this juicy/watery substance come from?" I wondered. Pulling out the can, I could find no evidence of a leak, and there wasn't anything on top of the can, so, washing it off, I was about to place it back on the shelf when I realized the can behind it no longer had a lid! And there were white, chunky pieces floating around in the juice. Did you know that after 3 years, cans of sliced pineapple will go bad?

Checking the date, we realized we'd bought the cans in '04. Why we moved them from Corsicana last summer I don't know. I'm just so thankful I didn't serve that to anyone we know and love!

I'm sure there's a spiritual application here somewhere, but let's just leave the moral of this story at check expiration dates from time to time.

By the way, I checked every other can in the pantry. No more explosions are expected in the near future. So if you come over to eat, you don't have to be afraid.

Me, Myself and I

As a child, I remember hearing my mom and dad use this expression, and thinking it was incredibly funny. As an adult, I find myself using it, too, usually referring to a moment of personal schizophrenia. But sometimes I live out this expression nonverbally. Sometimes, my actions cry out, "Me, Myself and I," far louder than my voice could ever carry.

Our current Ladies Bible Study, "I Saw the Lord," led me to ask some tough questions this afternoon as I was working through this week's pages. One of the first questions was, "Do I make it a disciplined practice to give where and when giving is needed?" This wasn't necessarily referring to money, although that could be included. For me, the question focused most prominently on my time and words or acts of encouragement.

I'm quite selfish with my time. I realize that full well. Especially time with Darin or other family/close friends. But, honestly, I'm even worse when I'm tired. Somehow, I think that being selfish when I'm tired is an excuse for brushing off the loneliness of others or their need to have someone listen.

Jesus certainly got tired and took time away from people to refresh and renew so that he could more effectively minister. That's biblically documented and certainly godly wisdom. But nine times in the gospels it is stated that Jesus "had compassion" on people. My favorite instance is recorded in Mark 6:34. Jesus has been talking and ministering with the disciples so long they've not even had a chance to stop and eat. However, a large crowd (5000+) gathers and in his compassion, he begins teaching them and even feeds them a meal of bread and fish.

I need to have that kind of compassion, especially when I'm tired and hungry! Because I've seen how the focus on "me, myself and I" hurts others. I had a student several years ago whose parents were both incredibly busy and on the road with their careers, and when they did carve out time to spend with him, he never got a vote in what they did. In fact, they usually considered letting him ride with him to their next appointment as "quality time" enough.

Certainly he didn't need to be the center of their universe, but I'll never forget standing in the hallway at school with him one day. The tears formed in my own eyes as he wept, having just learned that his mom had "rescheduled" their afternoon together to include a 2 hour press conference.

The compassion they lacked was the very kind of compassion Jesus demonstrated. Jesus didn't only do those things that caused mutual benefit for himself and others. He willingly placed the needs of others ahead of his own. I don't think it was necessarily because he wanted to, but rather because the compassion that overflowed from his heart dictated self-less actions.

Imagine the impact for the Kingdom if even just once a week, out of compassionate hearts, we said "no" to "me, myself and I" and said "yes" to the needs of someone in our sphere of influence. That's seeking first his kingdom. Let him add "all these things" then, in his way and his time.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Different Set of Rules

Sometimes, I think God is using a different set of rules than I'm using to play by in this life. By this, I mean obedience doesn't always look like I think it should. Even more often, the results of obedience turn out to look very differently than I'd expected or might have hoped.

Although similar, this problem is a little different than the age-old question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" because this problem acknowledges the active and deliberate efforts of obedience to a Supreme and Holy God wherein the results of those acts were disappointing or at least surprisingly unexpected.

For example, my friends Laura and Jeff chose to follow God's calling as missionaries to an African country. Some of their co-workers, also following God's call, have been arrested for their Christian witness. Why then, since they acted in obedience to Jesus' command to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel" should something like this have resulted?

We have some other friends here in the U.S. who, although they have faithfully ministered for nearly two decades, have been laid-off from their role because the place where they live is in decline, and the church can no longer afford to pay them. They've been obedient in serving the Lord, proactive in ministering in his name, so why is termination the result?

Or more personally, Darin and I were both pure at the time of our marriage, so our inability to conceive children seems rather odd to us both. Wouldn't the logical result be that infertility should happen to people who were disobedient to the 7th commandment?

Although I have no answers to explain the mind and workings of our omnipotent, omniscient God, I take comfort in this: We're not alone.

The disciples certainly didn't expect Jesus' obedience to look like it did. Even Jesus asked it to take a different route (Matthew 26:39).

Joseph obediently went in search of his brothers, according to his father's instruction, and yet on the other end they were plotting to kill him (Genesis 37:12-18).

David obeyed his father by taking food to his brothers, only to end up fighting a giant (1 Samuel 17:17-58).

Moses obeyed God by leading the people out of Egypt, yet what he got for it was the same meal in the wilderness for 40 years with a bunch of whining complainers (Exodus 3:10; 16:2-17:4).

Hosea obeyed God by marrying an adulterous woman and lived life with a broken heart (Hosea 1:2).

Even Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, in obeying God, first ended up in the fiery furnace from which they were saved (Daniel 3:16-18).

Too often, we want obedience to be attractive and "rewarding." Jesus promises there will be blessing for obedience and his presence ever-near, but we want to believe in a human-conceived reward/punishment system. He's not restricted to playing by our man-made rules.

So, yes, God is using a different set of rules. But he has proven his faithful and trustworthy character again and again, so whatever rules he's using are safe enough for me to live by, even when the results of my obedience don't look like I think they should.