Monday, May 31, 2010

When I pulled up to drop something off at the Hock's house the other night, Chris asked me, "So, why are you driving that thing?"

"That thing" that he was referring to was a 1994 F150. It had a post hole digger, a shovel, a dog bowl, and a few feet of rope in the bed. In the cab with me were a few empty water bottles, a dirty paper plate, a drop cloth, and a pair of old tennis shoes. This beast is affectionately referred to as "the Farm Truck."

And why was I driving it? Well, because it is a stick shift and I don't want to get any older not knowing how to drive a standard.

Up until Thursday evening, my entire experience with a stick shift was a sad attempt at a driving lesson around the neighborhood with my friend Melissa about 4 years ago, a few country roads with my friend Anita about a year ago, and one load of junk from the house to the dumpster with Curtis and Steven. Poor Big Red.

So I pulled up after having been given due permission to drive Big Red for a week. Climbed in and started it up just fine. Then I surveyed my dilemma. The marks have long since worn off the gear selector and I couldn't remember how to put it in reverse. To make matters worse, the truck was parked right in front of a pole. I only had about four inches of trial and error. Not a great start to this adventure.

So, I did the logical thing. I called my dad and asked him how to reverse. He tried to give me instructions to drive a truck he'd never seen before while I tried to talk on the phone and try them out at the same time. Like I said, the truck started just fine. I know because I started it about ten times in a row. Yeah, in a row. I couldn't get the truck to move. Not forward or backward. It just kept dying. I finally hung up the phone so I could focus. But it wasn't until I finally figured out the parking break that I actually went anywhere.

Well, things went okay as I pulled out of the driveway and onto the country roads, but I had forgotten a very important detail. I was going to have to pull out from a stop sign and make a left into heavy, highway speed traffic. Well, here we go.

Well, here we didn't go. I tried to go. I tried to go several times. But I kept going backwards. I kept hitting the gas and the truck would roll backward. What in the world? I didn't have it in reverse. I wasn't on a hill. The people behind me started to back up. I tried a few more times. By now, I wasn't scared of getting killed pulling out into traffic, I was scared of Big Red reversing his way all the way home.

The vehicle behind me pulled up next to me. Not working? It was two guys from...another country. They were laughing and it was probably a good thing I couldn't understand much of what they said. They pushed me and Big Red over onto the side of the road. It's leaking. They informed me. That must be the problem. It's leaking.

Another guy pulled up in front of me and popped the hood. That's your radiator. He said. That's your...he proceeded to point at all of the different truck guts and tell me their names. Very helpful. Finally he said, it's not leaking anything. That's just the air conditioner. Here let me try this. He hopped in and had it working just fine. He threw me a softball, "Sometimes the clutch just needs to be pumped a few times." Then he gave me his phone number and told me to call him if I had any other problems. Yeah, right.

So, it was me and Big Red again. Somehow, we made it all the way back to the office. Do you know that Fords kinda jump around? It's the weirdest thing. I just prayed no one I knew saw me hopping, crawling, dying, and just generally surviving my way into town.

When I pulled into the parking lot and shut the thing off, I couldn't for the life of me get the keys out of the ignition. Finally, I gave up and just left it. Surely no one would steal Big Red. He wouldn't even let me drive him and I had permission. Then I had a stroke of genius and I hung one of the old tennis shoes over the keys--so no one would notice.

Big Red and I got along pretty well that night and the next morning as I was on my way to work I started thinking I was starting to get the hang of driving with a stick shift. I pulled up at the final stop sign across from the office and let out a sign of relief. But it wasn't over. Big Red threw the biggest fit of his life. As I hopped my way into the parking lot--my pastor drove by. Excellent timing. Just smile and wave.

That brings us to Saturday. Saturday I was supposed to go kayaking with a group from church. Jonathan asked if we could take Big Red since it would be easy to hitch up a trailer to him. I said that would be fine as long as he drove it. I didn't want to put anyone through me driving a stick shift--with a trailer--on unfamiliar roads--with other people following me. That would be a recipe for disaster.

Jonathan had no trouble at all taking the keys out of the ignition when he stopped. So not fair. We were parked at a boat landing generally in the middle of nowhere, so we threw all of our valuables inside and locked the door. That was 9:30 am.

Little did I know, the ignition key that I so carefully put in my pocket before locking up was just that--an ignition key. It was not going to open the truck. Not ever. Not with any amount of convincing. A coat hanger wasn't going to do anything for us either. When you lock up a 1994 Ford truck, you're done. That's it.

It was 4:30 pm before Big Red and I were happily on the way home again. I was tired and he was hungry. But overall, it had been a good day.

Sunday morning, I opted not to take Big Red to church. I was going to meet my cousin and his wife whom I hadn't seen in years. Just for...good measure...I would take my Chevy Silverado.

That was probably a good decision. When Nathanial saw my wheels he said something like, "a truck? I didn't figure you to be such a redneck." Good thing I didn't bring Big Red. Nathanial would have bought me a pair of overalls and started calling me Bubba.

Well, I'm not discouraged by the fact that I can't open Big Red, can't move him, and end up going backwards when I want to go forward. Honestly, that's not the problem. The problem is that he goes through gas like he owns BP. Big Red has two tanks and we've been through both of them. I guess that is his way to get even with me and it might be working. I wish I could tell you how many miles we've traveled together, but the odometer is broken. Along with the speedometer. I guess that's kind of part of what makes him. And now that we've mostly worked out our differences, I may just let him return to his comfortable life as a farm truck. I thought about giving him a good scrubbing before I return him, but a farm truck without mud on his sides is kind of like a guy with shaved legs. He is probably happier with the mud.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

“And out of the hand of Saul”

Pastor Joel preached on David’s song of deliverance from his enemies in 2 Samuel 22 / Psalm 18 Sunday. Good Stuff.

From the time we were two, we sang about “only a boy named David” and the giant who “came tumbling down.” A lot of sermons have been preached on David and Goliath and rightfully so.

It’s a pretty cool story…a teenager defeating a nation’s greatest enemy with a slingshot. He faced his giant with the most primitive of weapons, an awesome God, and tremendous courage that let him do what no other man in his nation would do. A lowly shepherd boy became a national celebrity overnight. Clearly, God was working to defeat the Philistines; but it was also good PR for David— to help him gain the respect of a nation that he would one day rule as king.

But while fame can be acquired in a day, character cannot. Not in a day, a month, or a year. Perhaps that is why David’s greatest victory became a thorn in his flesh when a jealous Saul forced him into a life of running and hiding. One thing I did not know until this recent sermon series on David is that the running and hiding act of David’s life lasted approximately ten years. That’s a long time.

The day David faced Goliath may have been one of his fondest memories, but I doubt it was his most difficult. And even if it was, a day is just…well…a day.

I remember when I was seventeen—I was coaching debate teams, teaching piano lessons, and starting law school. I thought I could do anything. And the more likely I was to fail, the more determined I was to succeed. I wanted to be against the odds. I wanted to do what no one else had ever done before or would ever do again. It is a good thing I was not dared to fight Goliath because I would have done it. And considering my sling shot skills, I would have died trying. And I probably would have been glad that I died a remarkable death instead of an ordinary one.

Not to undermine acts of courage, but they can sometimes be accomplished without a whole lot of character. If you don’t believe me, go to Niagara Falls and look at the museum of people who have gone over the falls in a barrel. On purpose.

But ten years in the wilderness, that’s another story. Ten years of running, hiding, waiting. Three things men—especially the type of men that fight Goliaths—hate. Surely David would rather have had one big fight than ten years of running. Doubtless David would have preferred just to face Saul and duke it out—at least it would be over with once and for all. I would rather face the meanest, ugliest, biggest, baddest giant that I can fight and be done with than struggle with a situation that I have no control over and that just drags on and on. Wouldn’t you?

One thing that struck me in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 was the heading. “David spake unto the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul.”

I found it interesting that David distinguished Saul from his enemies. Most of us would consider someone that chased us for ten years, threw spears at us, tried to kill us in our beds, and forced us to live like an animal in the wilderness for ten years-- as an enemy. Shoot, even Goliath didn’t try to kill David in his bed. Yet despite all the dirty tricks, Saul was God’s anointed and the sling shot was off limits. This was a giant David could not kill; David would have to wait for him to kill himself. Not nearly as climactic. And it would take ten long, long years.

But the fact that David did not even label Saul as his enemy—that is remarkable. Despite the frustration of ten years of waiting, being falsely accused and distrusted, David looks back over his life and has the maturity to see Saul as something different than an enemy. Saul was an instrument of God to build character in David that Goliath could never have built.

The Wilderness seems to be the Ivy League of God’s training grounds. God turned a lot of boys into men in the wilderness. Some got ten years, some got forty. God taught forgiveness, endurance, patience, joy, and humility. God took absolutely everything of value away from some of his most beloved servants and taught them to rely solely on Him (See 1 Samuel 30, especially verse 6).

The times that David bypassed the opportunities to kill Saul, both in the cave and in the camp may have been David’s true greatest moments. The days the giant did not come tumbling down. The days that a giant-killer recognized that discomfort and distain is not necessarily an enemy—and waits patiently for the same God that delivered David from Goliath to deliver him out of the hand of Saul.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Passion For Christ

I've read a lot of books on it. A lot of good books on a Passion for Christ and the Cross. And it something I care about and want to develop.

But being an adult in America is it's own animal. So much of our lives are making ends meet. Working, cooking, cleaning (okay, so not cooking). But doing the things that would make us responsible parents, citizens, homeowners, employees, and neighbors.

I know everyone's calling will be somewhat different, but generally, what does Passion for Christ look like in 2010? Does Passion for Christ mean spending all my time in the Word of God, or would it take an hour every day to exercise? Does Passion for Christ eat out twice a week? once a week? or does it live on beans and rice and give the rest to missions? Would it go door-to-door on Sunday afternoons or would it lay its weary head on a pillow and close its eyes? Would it shop at Dillards, Goodwill, or wear the same thing every day? Does it eat carrots, brownies, or nothing at all?

These are perhaps dumb questions, but my point is, what do I do practically and consistently to show that Christ is the center and the motivating drive of my life? How is and should my life be different than a nice person who doesn't care about God at all... Because there are already plenty of those in this world and I'm afraid I blend in sometimes.

Recently, something happened that made me angry. Very angry. And it reminded me of a lot of other things that have made me very angry. And the person who in my mind was responsible wasn't sorry at all. I was hurt and miserable and they went their way whistling, convinced that they did a noble thing, when really (permit me to be a bit of a drama queen here) they had absolutely devastated me. There is nothing in all of the world like the feeling that you worked your heart out for something and you got the exact opposite.

So, anyway, I was hurt. And I was angry. And I just kind of let it fester. And every time I took some baby steps toward trying to reconcile, it seems like I would be given even more reason to be angry.

I did something I shouldn't have done, and I went to bed angry. Actually, I wasn't really angry, I was just hurt and I wanted to make sure they understood that. Of course, they didn't care and that made me want to be angry, but I wasn't angry.

The next morning, I spent some serious time with my Bible and got convicted that I needed to forgive and move on. And I knew I would, but first I wanted that person to understand how wrong they were and how bad it hurt. And the more I thought about it, I also wanted them to know that this was all their fault because I was pretty sure that they thought it was mine, but it wasn't.

I went back and forth between my Bible and letting the situation stew in my head. This person surely did not deserve forgiveness. They didn't think they had done anything wrong. They had done it before and will do it again. Maybe I should just move to Australia.

Passion for Christ forgives. For some reason, that statement jumped into my head right in the middle of my debate, kind of like a whistle ending the play that you thought was going to be a score. I may not know what Passion for Christ eats, wears, or shops, but I know that it forgives.

Oh really? Well, obviously, this situation is different. This person just blames me for everything. I'm always misunderstood. And this time, I just wish they would understand for once. I just wish they would act like they care. I just want to explain to them first why what they said hurt.

Passion for Christ forgives.

Well, it isn't really something I need to forgive for. They obviously don't think so. They think they did everything perfectly right and that I'm the dirty rotten sinner...yeah, I know...but they're wrong. They're just wrong.

Well, if they're wrong, then you need to forgive. Passion for Christ forgives.

It slowly sunk in to my dense brain, it really wasn't about what the other person thought or if they thought about it at all. The point is that as a child of God, I'm not permitted to carry grudges. End of story. Passion for Christ says, "Yes, Lord." And it obeys completely.

Forgiveness meant I couldn't dwell on it anymore. I couldn't keep blaming them. I couldn't try to make them be sorry. I had to let the feeling that they didn't deserve to be forgiven go. It really had nothing to do with them. This was between the Lord and me and I just needed to do what He said.

I apologized for my attitude and not to my surprise, the other person said a few things to make sure I knew it was my fault and that I was unreasonable. Maybe they're right, but either way, they are forgiven.

Passion for Christ. I guess the questions I should have been asking were am I listening to my Lord or do I have to be hit over the head with direction from God? Am I obedient or do I go down kicking and screaming? Do I obey immediately or do I have to have my say first?

Passion for Christ is so practical. It has everything to do with how I live now. But perhaps it is not as visible as I thought it would be. Most people have no idea how strong-willed I was naturally. And as I--hopefully--become more obedient to the Lord's will, most people will have no idea of the battles that were fought along the way. But whether or not it is recognized or even misunderstood, our job is to continue to be obedient to Christ. And perhaps as we become invisible, He will become more visible to those around us.

When I was in elementary school, we went to Focus on the Family headquarters one day on a field trip. Headquarters were in California at the time…this was back before they developed all of the cool stuff, three story slides and ice cream shops…but it was still a very welcome break from pages of math problems and underlining subjects and double-underlining verbs.

I remember seeing Dr. Dobson in the recording studio through a glass. If I remember though, they were doing some kind of a broadcast in Spanish.

About the only other thing I remember about the tour was something the guide showed us about the printing process. She took one of the magazine covers and demonstrated to us the way it was actually printed. She had a transparency that showed each of the colors—black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. When you laid them all on top of each other, it made an impressive cover for a Brio magazine. But if you took them off, layer by layer, the picture lost its depth, its balance, its shape, and its attractiveness. And if you looked at each transparency separately—you saw no picture at all. Only red, blue, or yellow blobs of color randomly spread around on a page like something a two-year old might do with a can of paint.

For some reason, the Lord brought this image to my mind on an inordinately bad day that came at the end of a difficult week. Each of the layers could represent an aspect of life. The black layer is kind of like the mundane, practical, ordinary side of life. It gives us shape, but no depth. It is taking out the garbage, scrubbing the bathroom floor, buying groceries, and washing dishes. It’s the stuff we do to maintain; the part of ourselves that gets consumed just to keep things running smoothly.

The first layer of color would be the problems, frustrations, difficulties, and just plain bad days. Lost jobs. Annoying family members. Ungrateful people that you’ve helped. Lost keys. Delayed flights. And much, much bigger problems. If you look at this layer by itself, it looks absolutely shapeless. A waste of ink. No attractiveness. No sense. And even laid against the black and white layer, there is little to convince you that there was much of a point.

The next layer, I would say, is the “good stuff” in life. The fun times with friends. The blessings. Vacations. Gifts. It’s clean sheets, and brownies and ice cream, trips to Europe to see bullfights and castles. This would be the layer of color that we look forward to. Walks on the beach. Dove bars. Motorcycle Rides.

True, taken by itself, this layer doesn’t amount to anything either. Although it is fun while it lasts, you can’t just have this layer of life. Your sheets would not be clean and your brownie pans would still be in the kitchen sink. You wouldn’t be able to pay for the trip to Spain, and you would have no one to go with because truly good relationships are built not only in fun times but in the mundane; and they are tested and strengthened in the tough times. But, even so, we are thankful for this layer and hope that the picture we’re making happened to need a lot of that particular color.

We’re going to skip a long description of last layer for now because it really deserves its own little essay and because I want to get to the point.
Someone looking at the finished product will likely have no appreciation for all of the layers of color that went into it. They see a girl skateboarding on the front of a magazine (Okay, so this was twenty some years ago). It has color, it has depth, but the casual observer doesn’t really notice.

But if you took one of those layers out, they would notice. Even the layer of problems and troubles that we would so happily just skip is serving its purpose to turn your character into just the right shade. Take it out and it would be like an old movie with the whole thing tinted blue. Really irritating.

What looks like random blobs of color are actually precisely the right intensity, not too dark to take over the page, not too light so as to prevent the right color from being mixed. They are also precisely shaped – going right up to the lines that they intended to fill, but no farther. It is perfect, exactly the way the artist designed it when he was turning an empty white page into a work of art.

I took the time to write this down because sometimes we need “standing stones” or memorials in our lives that show us God is at work. God had his children set up pillars at specific times so when they looked back, they would be reminded that God was there and He was faithful.

If we look only at the “bad” layer, we can easily produce enough evidence to convince ourselves that life is a random, pointless mess. But if we look at that same layer for what it is, we realize that there is no need to change it, but to let it come and look forward to seeing just what God will do with the finished design.