Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Endure and buy a mac

From the time the OU hat-wearing, probably 19 but looked 12, AT&T guy entered my home to “fix” my non-broken computer until now (in other words, in the last 9 months), my computer has experienced a series of unfortunate events. Here’s the list: the hard drive completely and totally went kapoot (by the way, the good folks at the AT & T have still not compensated me for that loss— I have called and called and called, I believe U-verse really means “Universe,” as in “they must be in another Universe, because they do not contact people living on planet earth.”); the internal wireless thingy went ka-pooey; the built in mouse pad has a rodent mind of its own and will without warning send the curser to places unknown (which has tempted this normally mild-mannered pastor to want to “curser” too); the battery lasts about as long as it takes to my dog Maggie to eat a rebel hot dog that has rolled off the grill (read: no time at all); and this week’s latest computer catastrophe, the internal video card went belly up leaving my screen in total darkness.

Many friends have offered me advice about this situation. I’ve heard everything from “getamac” to “get a gun and shoot it.” I’ve been told that my computer brand name HP actually stands for Hardly Performs. I’ve been tempted to see what my dear sweet mother did with the manual Remington typewriter we used to have (For all of those under twenty reading this: A typewriter was kind of like a computer without a memory and no video screen. One would type letters directly onto a sheet of paper, and if the person typing wanted to have music while he or she worked at this typewriter, then the only options were to hum a happy tune or play music on a thing called an 8 track machine or record player).

The fine tech team at the church has decided enough is enough and it’s time for my computer go to the great computer lab in the sky— or more than likely, because of all the frustration it has caused, it may be traveling to another place. I find it hard to believe that my little anxiety producing machine is going to be taking the elevator up (if you know what I mean). In any event, my trials should soon be over.

Unfortunately, more times than not the sources of our frustrations are not so easily remedied. We can’t just start over. We can’t simply say “out with the old and in with the new”. Instead, we have to do the hard work of working on the relationship, mending the broken fences, apologizing or forgiving. Frequently, all we can do is endure. Endurance is a Christ-like quality that too few of us want to cultivate. But Jesus said, “if we endure to the end we will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). Moreover, the Apostle Paul who knew a thing or two about enduring in difficult situations (he frequently found himself in a rat infested prison for the cause of Jesus Christ) wrote these words, “Endurance produces character and character produces hope” (Romans 5:4).

Our choice is to have some kind of Star Trek-like teleporter remove us from all the frustrations and sticky situations of life, but maybe what’s needed is some God-empowered endurance. Hear this from James: Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life. (James 1:12 The Message) So the lesson learned is endure… and buy a mac!

I scream. You scream. We all Scream for Ice Cream

A mantra that has done me well through the years is this: “I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream!” I love ice cream. My favorite is Blue Bell. Although Karla says we can’t have it unless the price comes down or Hen House puts it on a crazy three-for-one sale. Karla doesn’t know how important good ice cream is. She thinks the no-named ice cream that comes in a clear plastic tub is just as good Blue Bell. For an ice cream connoisseur (she says “ice cream snob.”) like me, I say, “Blaspheme!”

So why did I throw away four cartons of ice cream yesterday morning? (In case you are wondering: three Breyers and one Blue Bell. I think the Blue Bell carton happened to find its way into the cart when Karla sent me to the grocery store for milk or eggs or something. But I digress….). Someone left the freezer door just slightly ajar. I am not a Maytag repair man, nor the son of a Maytag repairman, but I do know this: Freezer doors need to be closed to keep things frozen. When I discovered the slightly opened door, the ice cream was more like a chilled smoothie. I like ice cream, but only when it is frozen. As if I even have to write this, re-frozen ice cream (even when it is Blue Bell) is just plain gross. So, yesterday morning with a tear in my eye I said, “Goodbye mint chocolate chip! So long cookie dough! Adios rocky road! Sayonara Neapolitan. Good bye, my dear friends” as I tossed them into the trash bin and then took it to the curb.

Ice cream that’s not frozen is no good at all.

Jesus said similar things about salt that is not salty (see Matthew 5:13), water that is lukewarm (See Revelation 3:16) and plants that produce no fruit (see John 15).

I think the point in all of this is that we are to fulfill our purpose. Just as ice cream is to be a refreshing frozen treat on a hot summer day, we believers are to be a welcomed refreshing delight to our world. We were created to bring glory to God. We were fashioned to bring praise to His name. We were designed to live holy lives. We were made to ooze the love of Jesus with those we encounter.

So when our blood boils at needless things, when we get hot under the collar about non essentials, when we burn with a little sanctimonious self-righteousness it’s like leaving the freezer door open on a hot day. We become mushy, yucky un-frozen ice cream—what was intended to be a treat is a treat no more.

Let that never be said of us. Our world desperately needs the followers of Jesus to bring refreshment and delight—like a Blue Bell double dipped cookies and cream cone on a hot July day. Yum!

God says, “I hate divorce” and so do I.

I read a letter recently written from a person to their ex-spouse. The letter contained harsh accusatory language. There was selfishness and brokenness oozing from each word. I am not exactly sure why the letter was sent. I know it caused more pain and more hurt. It showed again the ugly side of divorce (is there ever a “pretty side” in divorce?) that seems to happen all too often when a marital relationship ends and children are left hanging in the balance. It made me sad reading the letter.

Not too long ago, I met with a person who informed me that this person had never (never ever) loved his/her spouse. The marriage was a mistake from the beginning, I was told, and divorce was the only option. I left that conversation feeling the same way as I did when I was done reading the letter. Sad. Very Sad.

Last night I met with two couples preparing to get married. I asked them the simple question that I ask every couple I meet with before they get married. “Do you love one another?” (Seems like a downright silly question to ask a couple a few months before their wedding day, doesn’t it?)

Both couples convinced me. They told me that they really love one another. They looked in each other’s eyes. They smiled and held hands. They told me how when separated they can’t wait to see one other and how they look forward to talking to the other person. They told me how they care for one another, how they love to surprise the other one, and how they enjoy being together. I believed them—I think they love each other.

My guess is that if I had met with the couples from paragraphs #1 and #2 before they got married and asked them that same simple question, “Do you love each other?” I think their answers would have been just like last night. Holding hands, looking happy, “Yes!” they would have said. “We love each other and want to spend the rest of our lives together.” I think they would have convinced me too.

I know the person in paragraph #2 said that there was no love between husband and the wife and never had been. Quite frankly I didn’t believe it. Nor have I believed it the bazillion other times when someone trying to justify his or her reasons for getting a divorce have looked me straight in the eye and said, “Pastor we have never loved each other.”

Contrary to those statements, I think most people are in love when they get married. Remember I get the best “seat” in the house at most of the weddings I attend. I am standing right in front of the groom as he gets that first glimpse of his bride walking down the aisle. I see the look in his eye as he sees her holding onto her daddy’s arm. I am just a couple of feet away when they stand face to face, holding hands and stating those most important promises: I will ALWAYS be there… for better or worse, for richer or poorer… til death do us part.” I believe they mean it.

Oh, I know it happens occasionally (that two people not in love get married)— and maybe if I was one of those mail order preachers that operated an Always-open Wedding Chapel in Vegas I would have a different opinion. But for the weddings I officiate in Kansas, I think most of the couples do love each other. I think most couples mean it when they say, “Whether we are rich or not, healthy or not, whatever may happen-- you can count on me.”

So what happens in between those lofty promises and looking all lovey dovey into each other’s eyes and those who abruptly announce, “I wanna divorce”?

My answer is pretty simplistic. Too simplistic some would say. But take this from a guy that has counseled hundreds of couples down through the years and have witnessed a reoccurring theme when it comes to divorce—it’s selfishness. One way or another, selfishness is involved. Either from the selfish one who is “looking out for #1” and ready to move on to something (or someone) “better” or from the one who is fed up living with a self-centered one. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard one or all of the following: “I want my way. I don’t care about the line “for better or worse.” I’ve had it. I’m out. I don’t care about my spouse. I don’t care about my kids.” (By the way in last week’s Time Magazine there is an article making the case that children of divorced people are always negatively affected by the divorce). “I am done!” They say in one form or another.

Moreover, as far as I know—there is still only one sure fire remedy for self-centeredness. It’s Jesus Christ. If one or both in the relationship are displaying self-centered tendencies—what is needed is not a self-help class or two hours of watching Dr. Phil episodes. Jesus Christ is needed. Jesus needs to fill the husband or wife or both with a healthy dose of the Fruit of the Spirit. What marriage could not use more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:21-22)? We used to believe that God provided that fruit to those who sought them—I still think He does. And I think if every marital partner displayed the fruit of the spirit in their homes—there would be far less divorces.

I told you it is simplistic: Our homes need more of Jesus and more of the fruit of the Spirit that only He gives. Simple.

Listen, I’ve been at this pastoring gig for a long enough time to know that sometimes some really wonderful people endure divorce. Sometimes, some fantastic people experience the reason why the Bible says, “God hates divorce.” It’s because divorce is painful and it hurts. (By the way, the Bible says “God hates divorce” it does not say, “God hates divorced people.” God loves everybody—even the most self centered of us. Always has. Always will). Still, there have been plenty of times I have wished there were a magic wand that I could wave that would take the pain and the heartache from the mostly innocent victims in divorce. But I there is no such invention.

I know that there are some reading this that have been victims of divorce and others reading this who have a selfish past that led to a divorce and that has since been gloriously forgiven-- please know, this letter is not meant to heap any needless guilt on anyone—it is simply to say from the perspective of one pastor in Kansas: I am tired of divorce. I am tired of the pain it causes. I am tired of Satan rearing his ugly head in our homes. I am tired of kids suffering; extended families grieving; all the while two hurting individuals with broken hearts and broken dreams saying “we’re through.” God says, “I hate divorce” and so do I.