Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Simple Marriage Compromises: Honey Where Are The Bowls Kept?

As a consistent customer, he paid for his coffee everyday with exact change. For months and months, day after day, he always paid with exact change. Then suddenly he began paying only with bills. Today he explained that he had kept all his change in a jar on a shelf which he passed by everyday on his way out the door. One day his wife moved the jar to ‘a better location.’ Now he doesn’t pass the jar en route to the door so---out of sight, out of mind---he brings no change with him.

The same man was painting a room the other day. To paint the wall he had to remove two hooks. He took the hooks down from the wall and placed them on a shelf. When the paint was dry and it was time to put the hooks back in place he went to the spot on the shelf where he had neatly put them. They weren’t there. His wife had taped them together and put them inside a drawer in the kitchen.

These stories illustrate well what most bachelors encounter when they marry a woman. Once my wife moved into what was previously only my dwelling, the whole house was reorganized. Certainly she is talented and logical in this regard. She made more space for our stuff and logically moved plates, pots and pans to cabinets where they fit better. We’ve been married two years now and I still don’t know where some of the stuff lives. My brother-in-law told me recently that my sister moves stuff so often that he finds it easier to consistently ask, “Where does the (whatever) go?” rather than to have to hunt down it’s newest place of residence.

In our house currently there are places for everything and most everything has a place. There are even places for all the hairbrushes. Can someone explain to me why you need more than one? Certainly between the two of us I am the messier one. In part the reason also explains the way the house was previously organized before my lovely wife moved in with me. As a bachelor it was easier to just leave everything out where you could most easily find it. Just saying.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

At What Point Is Rebellion A Reasonable Response?

Is there a point where rebellion is a reasonable response? The founders of this country felt that independence must be declared as the King of Britain was breaking common laws and that:

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent…
Some would say that imposing taxes on us without our consent occurs today and that this is a reason to rebel. Christians are bound by Biblical authority to be in subjection to the governing authorities in this regard. Still some would say that if the basics of the U.S. Constitution are broken then it is time to take a stand.

For the Christ follower the clearest example is that of Peter in Acts chapter 5 wherein he is given orders not to teach in Christ’s name.  He replies that, “We are to obey God rather than men.”

We are living in a time where the present government is considering revoking tax exempt status for churches.  Persons of all faiths that home school their children are under attack as well.  Furthermore the recent Supreme Court ruling on DOMA paves the way for governmental accusation and attacks on pastors that preach that homosexuality is a sin; and who refuse to marry same sex couples in their churches.  Is that the point at which we are to rebel?  Stand our ground we must but rebelling isn’t our call.

I have no simplistic answer.  It only seems to me that men of character must choose to stand for principles that they know to be true despite significant political and personal pressure to relent and cave to popular opinion.  This has always been the path of the few; and eventually a called remnant will awake and follow the example. 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Monday, July 29, 2013

Warren Buffet And The Golden Ticket

Ah, to find the Golden Ticket. That would be more realistic. Warren Buffet is auctioning off a private tour of the Sees Candy factory in Los Angeles. As of this writing the bidding has exceeded $35,000.00. One can dream. One can imagine as well; and must; it’s easier to picture Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka than it is to picture Warren Buffet leading a band of Oompa Loompas through Union Station and into Olvera Street.

You are Augustus Gloop, Mike Teavee, Violet Beauregarde or Veruca Salt. What Sees candy is worth falling into a chocolate river for? I’d have to say California Brittle. If I couldn’t, I’d scream “Daddy, I want it now,” for a Dark Walnut or Milk Peanut Bud. What would you choose?

I usually go for the box of Nuts and Dark Chocolate. I’m sure there are folks that choose the lighter fare though I know not why. Nor do I understand Truffles. I know a woman that would put her fingernail into the bottom of a Sees Candy to discern what type it was. This seemed both charlatan and amateurish to me---one should be able to identify each Sees by it’s shape and color.

Here’s the million dollar question. Is there a Slugworth out there so that we can get a spy on the inside? Is there some way to crash this Buffet bonanza? I’ll settle for just one Everlasting Gobstopper.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Self Storage Units and Freedom

Bob found a box of watches in his closet. Why they were there even he couldn’t remember. Perhaps he was living out the Jim Croce song, “If I could save time in a shoebox.” According to Bob the box was full of Timex and other brand watches.  He thinks some may even be worth some significant dollars.  He's now moved them out of the closet and has to find something to do with them.

According to an article in the Economist (“Why People are Stupider Than Squirrels”), one family in ten stores stuff in a self-storage unit. According to the same article, “Contracts are often only for a month or so, yet hoarders stash things away for far longer. At Big Yellow, a British firm, 37% of space is filled with stuff that has been there for over three years.” That was once me although my life has recently been downsized.

Simplifying one’s life is a freeing process. For me this was done through the vehicle of my divorce. I was forced to move into a little house with little of my own possessions. The process was initially shocking to my system. I had no stuff. As my hands were pried (interesting Freudian typing slip---I accidentally typed ‘Pride rather than pried) my mind grew more at ease.

Bob and I live in different worlds. Bob lives in a house large enough to store stuff in closets he never looks into. I long for more storage space. The tension we both live in is between living simply or hoarding stuff.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Importance of a Doctrinal Framework for the Christian

My friends Dave and Deb applied to serve with Wycliffe as missionaries. As part of the application process they were required to write out their own personal theology. Even though they knew the bible and what they believed the process forced them to wrestle with doctrine and delineate their belief system. Most Christians would not be able to do this.

Without understanding the truth it is easy to believe a lie. Thus the Enemy has whispered to Christians throughout history that since they err and sin entrance into Heaven is forbidden. Rather than freeing from behaviour that offends God this embroils them in it. Knowing you are dead to sin will free you. Thinking you must be perfect; that God certainly couldn’t forgive you will enslave you deeper in the error of besetting sin.

When I understood, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” I was still wrestling with sexual brokenness and significant selfishness. Knowing this truth allowed me to get back into the fight rather than curling up in a ball and giving up. Finally I was freed enough to work through my issues and see God significantly change my attitudes and actions.

As I move into my fortieth year of following Christ I am ever more convinced that knowing what one believes will bring many a person through difficult circumstances with conscience intact and feet on solid ground. Therefore it is necessary for each of us to know what we believe and have a framework, a bulwark even, to keep us anchored, sober and steadfast.

“…we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us…”Hebrews 6:19

Thursday, July 25, 2013

When Everything Is Shaken

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.---Psalm 46
We heard the jarring news the first morning after returning home from Guatemala. While we were out of the country a friend lost a teenage son. Coupled with that news we heard that our sister in law was now a patient of Hospice. Though the earth should change…

In Santiago we hopped into the bed of a pickup truck along with twenty other locals and headed to the refugee camp. The town of Santiago lies South of Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. On October 4, 2005 hurricane Stan came off the Pacific with winds up to 80 M.P.H. and dropped around twenty inches of rain. In its wake there were 1,500 confirmed dead and 3.000 missing in Guatemala alone. Though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea…

Near Santiago 1,800 of 10,000 were dead and the rest were moved into refugee camps (more on those in another blog post). Government officials and professionals advised the locals that the camps were temporary. Eight years later the refugee camps are still full and significant change has not occurred. Though it’s waters roar and foam…

The psalmist seems to guarantee the earth will sway beneath us. Events will cause us to tremble as we are forced to let go of things closest and dearest to us. When everything is shaken and we’ve nothing left to hold onto---we hold onto God. Therefore we will not fear…

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Beyond Bacon; Expectant and Intentional

When I climb down the mountain, And get back to my life, I won't settle for ordinary things
I'm gonna follow You forever, And for all of my days
I won't rest 'til I see You again---“Show Me Your Glory,” Third Day
There are mountaintop experiences and then there is re-entry into normal day-to-day life. The danger of the experience on the mountain is that it will be short lived or forgotten. This is a typical human experience in a range from religious revivals to great first dates. We make assumptions that the feeling or fervor will last on its own. It doesn’t. The revival and the dinner promises last only if there is forethought and commitment.

My wife and I stared at the ceiling and considered how best to hold onto key elements we gleaned from our short sojourn alongside missionary friends in the country of Guatemala. We landed on the phrase, “Expectant and intentional.”

Expectant because God is not bound by our small imaginations. He says of Himself that nothing is impossible. Yet it is easy to box God up with statements such as, “Revival will not happen. The people are too selfish.” We constrain God with simple concepts as if to say, “It’s not rocket science,” of the one that created gravity.

Intentional flows from a challenge we received from Forrest of Servants 4 Him. The challenge is to be intentional in our relationships as we move forward. Let’s say I go get bacon everyday at Stater Bros. a couple times per week. The idea is to talk with the guy that sells me the bacon with the intent of deeper conversation. Conceptually the objective is to go beyond bacon to talk of life, and Heaven and Christ.

We departed the plane Sunday at midnight and walked back into life in California. Easy to lose sight of character growth and the mountain when the work day alarm goes off and one goes back to the day-to-day. Perseverance requires diligent forethought and a solid goal; a concept to hang one’s vision on. So we return to life ‘expectant and intentional.’

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Stomaching Stress

Two things play havoc with my stomach; excitement and good anxiety; stress and bad anxiety. The phone call I had yesterday was of the negative sort. The home loan modification I thought would save us financially did not go through. The underwriting arm of the loan corporation nixed the adjustment. This led to a period of intense anxiety for me.

In response to the anxiety I made the decision to memorize Psalm 46. While trying to calm down I found a list of 10 Bible passages every pastor should memorize cold (H/t Desiring Psalm 46 jumped out at me primarily because it begins; “God is our refuge and our strength…” The psalm cites God’s power in creation and human events. The corollary drawn from that is that we should not fear. God is capable and in control.

I am packing and planning for the trip we are making to Guatemala. I find my stomach churning again. It is stress but it is the good kind. Still there is the tension of setting up bills to be paid (thank goodness for online banking), packing, confirming travel reservations and following up with care agents.

In the midst of all of this I’m wondering if there’s not some universal law that states, “Everything that can blow up will blow up before a vacation.” Today I wanted to leave work early so I asked my boss if I could. At that exact moment he realized that my performance review was overdue and would be more overdue if he waited until I returned from time away. I clocked out at my usual time. I’ve already mentioned the home loan situation. On top of that none of my orders for milk products and muffins came in to the store from the warehouse. I have no way of knowing if they will arrive or if we will run out of product. The best laid plans….

Nothing soothes the stomach like being well rested and well fed. That is the blessing of vacations and time away with loved ones. The problems will still be here when I return. Rest and adventure guarantee that on returning one has the stomach and the guts to deal with major and minor stressors.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Travel, Customs and Border Stops

We received an email on the proper procedures to observe clearing customs in Guatemala. The email said in essence, “Do not say anything. Hand them your documents then wait for them to be handed back.” As I pictured the military police in uniform I first flashed to Sargent Shulz saying to Colonel Klink, “I know nothing,” in that German accent. That image propelled me to other memories of border stops.

Traveling through Europe before it was the European Union meant many border stops. Entering and leaving each country meant a stop. Stereotypes were confirmed and made at the entrance to each country. The Germans were the worst. At a number of German checkpoints the speech went like this, “Your-passport-please.” Staccato and terse it was as if somebody forgot to tell them they were no longer at war.

Not at war but still behind the Iron Curtain I travelled to Latvia in 1978. Paranoia was the air you breathed. It was believed that the Soviets monitored everything; spies were everyplace and everyone was spied on. I was with a large tour group at the time. Upon leaving customs we all were escorted through with no difficulty except for the outspoken U.S. Citizen and Latvian independence sympathizer. They tore through his suitcases taking delight in creating chaos with his clothes and personal items. Even the clothes on his back were searched and pockets emptied.

Great adventures often begin and end going through customs at the airport. It gives you a little window into the people and regimes of those countries you are entering. One is reminded that much hinges on the mood of the guards and that little piece of paper you hand them as you state, “I am visiting friends,” and they wave you on through.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Echoes Of Darkness

Nothing makes me feel so alone and so vulnerable. There are moments, though they last much longer than a moment, when all the mistakes I’ve made in my life flash on the screen in my brain. It’s a vibrant film with pictures rolling in black and white and color. The soundtrack accompanying these images would never garner an award. It’s only two words, “What if?”

I wonder during these periods if it’s only those of us that are prone to deeper, darker perversions that feel so very cursed and broken. The rest of humanity, I’m certain, only deals with simple sins like pride and lying. Their films could still be shown in the local movie house.

There are echoes of classic films in my life movie. Think back to Gatsby or A Streetcar Named Desire; I could have been somebody. It’s only part about what I could have been but also about all the people I’ve hurt along the way. Perhaps the names would show in the credits; Special effects, Gaffer, Insensitive words and actions. In theatres people usually walk out before the credits. In my life they made the mistake of sticking around.

It would be easy to get lost in full IMAX sensaround. Clinical depression isn’t a place I want to visit to I force myself to think rationally. I do a lot of talking to Jesus; I still feel like scum but I start talking. I wrestle with truth; I quote, often loud-nearly screaming, bible verses such as Romans Chapter eight; “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

I manage during most of these episodes to move on and keep the monster away. I walk out of the movie house into bright light. I get involved with my family and I interact with people. The darkness diminishes.

The thoughts will come again. The reality is that I’ve made some bad choices. I suspect that in reality I am not alone. Sanity and sobriety come through Christ’s affirming love for me. Specifically that I am accepted apart form the good I do or the evil I’ve done. I am fully accepted because the blood of Christ has bought my pardon. Christ paid for my ticket. That movie will be great on the big screen.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Affirming the Human Heart

At many times I am confounded by my fellow human beings and their behaviour. Being in customer service the things they do don’t always leave me feeling loving and positive. Today I was encouraged positively via connections with other people and the heart to heart type of behaviour that is humanity at its best.

We are heading out to Guatemala soon to walk alongside some missionaries. Our church supports them as do many other people and churches. There has been a great outpouring of things to bring; from Chex cereal to soaps to crafts for children. Along the way our fellow believers have loaned us suitcases and have given us money for travel expenses and ice cream! The gifts have been surprising in their generosity and love. We have been truly touched.

At work today a customer shared that this year has been a mixed year for him and his family. Though his immediate family is doing well his wife and he have lost parents and family through unique and unexpected circumstances. I reiterated the loss of my parents and the trying situation with my sister-in-law who is succumbing to cancer. There over iced-tea and a Caramel Ice-Blended we shared heart to heart and human to human. It was a very human moment in the midst of a normal harried work day.

I was reminded of the importance of connection and the depth of sharing and caring that we are capable of as human beings. It was an affirming day and a powerful affirmation of love in action.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Perfect Purpose For Travel and Vacation Getaways

“So you can run to the end of the highway, And not find what you're looking for No, it won't make your troubles disappear;  And you can search to the end of the highway, And come back no better than before, To find yourself you've got to start right here…”---Keith Green

Travel to escape and rejuvenate is a good thing. Travel just to escape shows lack of character and wisdom. The key problem with escaping for escapings’ sake is that you have to take yourself with you. Of course folks try to get around that by becoming somebody else via sex, alcohol or drugs but self comes back with a vengeance the next morning.

A vacation should be restorative. It’s the idea of Sabbath expanded to weeks or months. Sightseeing is fun and exhilarating but if it leaves you more tired than when you left your ‘real’ life you were running not recharging. The goal should be to return from an adventure fresh and ready to run the race. Physically you should be rested. Mentally you should be awake and agile.

Catching up with old friends or making new ones is helpful. Friends have a way of seeing and laughing that refreshes perspective and provokes thought. A good friend will drive you toward fullness in your goals, target and trajectory. Talking to God will do these as well. Getting away from home and into nature can accomplish some of this as well. It gives you a perspective of God and your fit in the world. Huge lakes and torrential rivers or great expanse of ocean let you know that God is huge and you are very small in the scheme of things.

Travel and getting away should integrate you into all of your life. It can be apart from who you are and what you do but it’s better if it is a piece of the whole. Society is full of men living shattered and separated from reality. Those few that live with purpose and fullness will draw from times of travel and trip. Like the sheep in Psalm 23 they will find their souls restored and their paths straight.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Fireworks and the Magic of Childhood

At every loud noise and every neighborhood firework the little girls shouted, “It’s starting, it’s starting.” The twin girls skipped and leapt about waiting for the fireworks to begin. All the while their mom kept a running dialogue; “That’s the neighbors making noise; Don’t jump over people’s legs; They’ll start in about ten minutes; Look over where those big lights are.”

The girls, with slight speech impediments which made them cuter, bantered, cheered, oohed and awed during the show, “Green and pink are my favorite!, It looks like a heart (to which another kid said it looked like a kidney bean).” It added a wonder and joy to the evening that I had not anticipated.

The children reminded me to revel in wonder. Fireworks are still a mystery to me. I’ve no idea how they get up there and explode in prearranged shapes. I don’t know how they pack all that color into the sky. The girls reminded me of all that. I can remember even recently the feeling that the magic of the display will envelop you. I remember sitting with my back to a high school wall-of-lockers and how the fireworks reverberated when they exploded; especially the big white ones. They are magical.

A lady behind me used to live close to Disneyland so that she could watch the firework show nightly at nine pm. She recounted that after a while she stopped watching them as they faded into the background. That is how we are wired. We have to be vigilant to maintain magic.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Provoking One Another To Good Story

Nothing seems to confound the common man more than telling them you are visiting a foreign land in a foreign way. If I were to vacation to Las Vegas none of my peers would bat an eye. Telling them I am going to Guatemala to shadow missionaries for a week gets me a blank stare. I think I would get the same reaction if I were to visit Nepal to work with schools there or if I were visiting South Korea to learn about their culture. It is difficult for people to think in terms that don’t fit their worldview; harder still for them to think in terms of great adventure.

Death is one of those inescapable facts of life. As I mentioned yesterday my sister in law is facing death by cancer. I assimilated death into my thinking early on. We don’t know when it will come only that it will. For me that is why I will spend the extra money on a summer vacation. That is why I want great adventure. It is why I want to live a great story.

I want my life to confound. Not so much to be obnoxious but to give others a glimpse of what they can have. So this week we start packing and planning for Guatemala. I plan on talking about it a lot. Perhaps somebody will be provoked---their box broken so that they can think outside of it.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

As Though God Needed Defending

It’s awkward. More than likely my sister in law Karen will be dead in two months. We prayed to God for healing and He didn’t. It certainly seems the prayers of many have fallen on the ears of a deaf God.

I’ve prayed for others that were sick and were not healed. I’ve a cousin that died in his twenties as well as two close friends of mine which died in the same period. Certainly though I thought our prayer for Karen would be answered as expected since there was so much prayer; so much fervor and fasting.

God speaks out of the whirlwind with the same words He spoke to Job, “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning and caused the dawn to know its place…Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And darkness, where is its place that you may take it to its territory?”

Understanding God’s ways in giving life and taking it away are beyond me. “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?” There are many arguments I can speak to myself in consolation. There are ripples that will flow from this; positive and negative. Those left behind may lose ease and gain depth. In my mortality I see only fragments of how it all fits together.

I choose to find solace in the Infinite and Eternal. I don’t understand this situation. I lean on the character of God. “I am insignificant; what can I say? I place my hand on my mouth.”

Monday, July 01, 2013

Would You Rather...?

Would you give up twenty IQ points so that you could eat all the chocolate you wanted for the rest of your life with no chocolate penalty (like calories or diabetes)? That is the question Brant of Air 1 asked on his show today. My first response was yes---for two reasons. One is that my intelligence sometimes is frustrating because I see things other people don’t---as Monk is prone to say, “It’s a blessing and a curse.” The second reason is self explanatory; chocolate, duh! The down side is that much of what I enjoy; good books, good music, sarcasm and logic are all appreciated because of my astute brilliance.

What would I be willing to trade? I’ve wondered (mostly in my single days) what it would be like for a week to be tall and handsome. What would it feel like to have the lungs and heart (physically, he may not have one morally) of Lance Armstrong. What about fame and fortune? Would I trade some aspect of who I am for those things? Fully it comes down to the question of being comfortable in my own skin.

My daughter plays this game wherever we go where she asks questions such as, “Would you rather be stuck in this elevator for a day or the desert for a week?” The questions are fun not merely because they randomly call into play the local scenery but rather because they elicit a response that flows from how a person is wired. I chose the desert for a week because there’s nowhere to go to the bathroom in an elevator.

Would you give up twenty IQ points for anything? What about you would you give up? What about you would you keep no matter what? Would you rather lose IQ points or taste in your tongue? Yogurt or Ice Cream? You can see the direction this post is heading. As for me I’m heading to the local Rite Aid; I hear a double scoop of Rocky Road callin out my name.