Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Wife Kicks Like Chuck Norris

Relationships are a very odd thing when you stop and consider them. We all have these relationships. We need them, depend on them, sometimes use them, but all of us are driven crazy by some or all of them.

I think that, though she loves me, I am that crazy relationship for my wife. Consider a ‘normal’ conversation between us.

Me: I need your help getting the kids bathed and put down for bed.
Her: I’m coming, just give me a second.
Me: I won’t be able to do this on my own.
Her: I know. I’m finishing the dishes, massa.
Me: Can you pleeeeease help me?
Her: Do you hear me when I’m talking?

Then, in one swift motion, she somehow un-twirls a kid from their bath towel straight into their pajamas, managing to send them spinning directly towards their bed. With her other arm she grabs another kid by his ankles, shaking the clothes off of him and dropping him in the bathtub. With her left foot she pins another kid in a corner so she can wait her turn. With her free leg, she roundhouse kicks me out of the way.

I think this is how God may have felt, at times, about Moses. I know, I know, Moses is a friend of God, but if you recall the burning bush episode, Mo-Mo had a lot of questions for God. Then in Exodus 33, we see God and Moses having a convo like a husband and wife. Moses, the wife, asking repeatedly exhausting questions, 'Are you going to go with us?' I don't want to go if you're not going to go with us?’ and God reminding Moses how He has been there all along.

We may have relationships that cause us to stop and question. But our relationship with God should not be one of them. After all, He has promised to always be with us. He has given us a clear direction and The Cause to fight for.

Maybe we need to stop asking questions, stop asking for signs, just stop talking and asking and GO! Before long, God may just roundhouse kick us to the head.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Choosing Better Makes Sense

Philistines were seriously delayed in their thinking. I don't know any better way to say it. There is this story in 1 Samuel 5 about the Philistines capturing the Ark of God. The Ark was a special thing for the Israelites as it was a physical way for them to see that God was with them. Of course, God never said that the Ark had special powers. The power still rested with God and His blessing came with their continued obedience. Since the Israelites weren't so great at keeping up their part of the bargain, God allowed the Ark to be captured.

So now the Philistines have this Ark of God. The only problem is that whenever they put it near the idol of their own god, their god keeps falling over. That can be very embarrassing for a god. Add to that the fact that God, the true God, was afflicting the Philistines with tumors and you can see why the townsfolk wanted to get rid of the Ark.

They start moving the Ark from town to town, causing great panic whenever people see it. That is understandable. If I saw an object that had killed everyone in the last town it was in being brought to my town, I might freak out too.

Here's my problem. 1 Samuel 6 tells us how the Philistines sent the Ark back to the Israelites. They sent it back because, clearly, God was more powerful than their idols. They sent it back because no one likes to die, right? But they sent the Ark away because somehow that made more sense than turning from their worship of idols and following the one true God.

As I consider this, I think we do the same thing. We walk through this life, suffering from one thing or another, mostly due to the consequences of our own choices. But rather than give up what we know to be bad for us, we hold on. If and when we consider that God is more than anything else in life, we justify ourselves and hope God doesn't notice. Like the Philistines, we attempt to compartmentalize our life. If God doesn't appear to be around, then we can do what we want, right?

Maybe the Philistines aren't the only ones that are delayed in their thinking.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Things I Learn From Samson

I just read the story of Samson again. It's not my favorite story from the book of Judges, but it's got some good stuff. Here's what I get out of it;

1. Tying the tails of foxes together is probably tricky, but pays off when you light them on fire (Judges 15:3-5).

2. Parents can only suggest things to their children. They'll marry whomever they want (Judges 14:1-3).

3. I never should have let a razor touch my head (Judges 13:5).

4. Riddles just make people angry when they can't solve them (Judges 14:12-20).

5. Women shouldn't be trusted, period (Judges 16).

6. Strength does not equal smarts. After all, if Samson had read #5, he would have stopped giving Delilah ideas.

7. Philistines were kind of stupid (Judges 16:22). This is like taking the kryptonite away from Superman just to see if he gets strong again.

Samson was strong, had great hair for awhile, and liked to take chances. But if God can use a muscle-head like him, then I guess there's hope for me as well.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Oops, She Did It Again

"Oops." That's what she said. Oops. My wife. Oops.

If you read The Bathroom Incident (03/11/10) then you already know that what follows won't be good. For those that refuse to be subjected to more than one post of mine at a time, a few weeks ago my wife called me at work to let me know I would not be happy with the current state of our bathroom wall, which had been painted over wallpaper, but was then half torn and looking like a war-ravaged bathroom. We resolved that nicely, while discussing how later home renovations would be done with less impulse and more planning.

Enter oops. It all started reasonably. My wife was cleaning the kitchen counter. Apparently there was a ripple in the contact paper. My wife, with her Schwarzenegger-like arms, decided to scrub real hard, leaving a hole in the middle of the counter top. Like all reasonable people, she knew that wouldn't go unnoticed, so she decided to tear the rest of the contact paper off. What she found underneath was terrifying. Bare wood painted pink!

I haven't seen your kitchen, so don't take offense if your bare wood is painted....PINK! Seriously!?! But that's not all. Apparently the pink paint was a bit old, because not all the contact paper came off well, leaving some bare brown ugly wood exposed next to the pink wood. Yellow and Blue make Green. Red and Blue make Purple. Brown and Pink make for one ugly counter top.

As I made a list of what else in the house my wife could possibly catapult into 'Ok, let's repair that THIS weekend', I thought about the odds of this happening in the span of 30 days. After all, my wife is a busy enough person with a paying job, volunteer jobs, and those pesky little midgets that always need one more drink.

So when we're not searching for new counter-top, or a matching pink paint, we search for whatever it is that God is teaching us right now. It could be more of that love-is-patient stuff, but honestly I'd like to see something on a grander scale. Perhaps enough improvements like these and I could write a book.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

God vs the Iron Chariot

It's just sad. Here I thought God could do anything and yet, if I read Judges 1:19 correctly, it sounds like an iron chariot is more powerful. The verse clearly says that the Lord was with the Israelites, but they were unable to take out people living in the plains.

It gets worse. Some of the saddest scripture, for me, is found in Judges 1:27-36. Let's put it in context. The entire book of Joshua appears to be one big coming out party for Israel's fighting men. They conquer city after city and plunder kingdom after kingdom. It's just as God said it would be. And God should get the credit as all the Israelites had to do was go where God pointed and at times, just shout victory.

Then Joshua dies and the book of Judges begins. All the conquests suddenly stop. We read about each tribe and how they suddenly became ineffective in kicking butt. So they settle. In their promised land. With other people still living there. This might not have been a big deal except that God had commanded them to completely destroy and remove the nations that had lived there before their arrival. (Exodus 23:32-33)

God said the foreigners would entice them to sin and it happened. All because God couldn't overpower iron chariots?

Since you've read this far, I'm guessing you want to know what I think. I think the Israelites saw that they finally had land and a place to throw their hat. I think that they became weary in carrying out God's commands. I think that they became skeptical about how much damage cohabitation could have. I think they chose the easy, though not the best, path.

I also believe we do the same. I believe we often bemoan our circumstances, never considering the choices we made that contributed to said circumstances. The writer of Hebrews talks about this when he tells us to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:1-3).

So, is your God stronger than an iron chariot?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Start Here

For everyone who wonders what to do with themselves. For anyone who wonders what they are accomplishing. For those that believe they could be doing more. This book by Alex and Brett Harris is for them.

I read Do Hard Things when it came out and this book is the natural, and perfect, follow-up to that. Written for teens by teens, this book was a simple and fast read, complete with chapter discussion questions and a whole section of hard things to get people's creativity started.

My favorite part of their style is that they keep the focus on God and what He is doing. And they highlight success and failure, noting that not all hard things are meant to be done when we first conceive them. This guidebook, for that is what it is, will give teens, and others, a very realistic view of what doing hard things will take.

It just may be my hard thing to convince my youth group to undertake reading this book and acting on it.

"Doing hard things for Christ is one of the primary ways we can glorify Him. Why is that? Because if we restrict ourselves to what comes easily, avoid sacrifices, and limit our relationship with God to Sunday mornings, we're showing the world how little we value Him. When we're willing to take risks, pursue excellence, dream big, be faithful, and do what's right no matter the cost, our actions shout that Christ is worth serving above all others."

It is my hope that as this generation takes on this goal, all of the other generations, younger and older, will do the same. That would be a hard thing worth seeing done.

You may purchase this book here.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Bathroom Incident

My wife called me at work. She called me to warn me. See, we recently moved into a new home. We did some painting, but we're well aware that more work is needed in time. Time being the key word.

She called me to warn me that the bathroom may not look like it did when I had last seen it. Now, we have three children, so there are any number of scenarios which could cause this to happen. They're all mostly potty-trained, but you never know, right?

But this mess would not be blamed on the children. This one was all wife. Which is why she called. Apparently the ripple in the wallpaper was calling out to her, 'Pull on me! I bug you!" So she did, revealing plain ugly wood.

That was on a Tuesday. We did not discuss the wall until Friday, which actually ended up being a good thing. No, actually, a great thing. As we scraped at the remainder of the wallpaper and whatever gunk lie beneath it, we laughed with each other and discussed what else we could have been doing with that weekend had we not been re-re-painting our bathroom. The bathroom ended up looking good again. The weekend was not all lost. But more importantly than both of those, after 13 and a half years, my marriage continues to grow stronger.

Who knew that love being patient and kind was actually a good thing? And who would have guessed that not being easily angered would help resolve conflict? I guess Paul was on to something when he said that love always hopes, always trusts and always perseveres. This was all in 1 Corinthians 13 all along, but I still have some work to do, because love keeps no record of wrongs. But this one belongs to my wife.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Swiss Cake Roll God

This past Sunday I was talking with children about what we put into our bodies. I gave them a choice between a Swiss cake roll and an apple. I compared this to what we put into our hearts and minds. I overstated my case so there would be a Swiss cake roll left for me.

The choice between a Swiss cake roll and an apple seems obvious when we read the ingredients. If we care for our bodies at all (and I'm speaking about a regular basis kind of thing here) we will choose the apple.

But shouldn't it be the same in a spiritual sense? If we look at what we put into our hearts and minds and see the affect it has in us, our decisions would be made much easier. That is, if we could see God face to face, and see what sin looked like in His eyes, it should make enough of an impact on us that we would choose not to sin.

In my recent daily Bible readings, I'm getting to the end of the giving of the Law. As long as some parts are, there have been sections that have really made me think. There are pages of curses spelled out of what will happen when they reject God and serve idols. But somehow it still happened. They rejected God for the equivalent of a Swiss cake roll.

Moses made it abundantly clear what the consequences of sin would be. How did they still choose against God? How do we?

It's funny in that not-funny kind of way how things happen in our spiritual lives that we wouldn't allow in other areas of our lives. We know 2+2=4 and we wouldn't give the wrong answer just to see if we'll get caught. But moral choices come along, with math just as simple, and we give all sorts of wrong answers.

This has to change because we do not serve a Swiss Cake Roll God, one who is ambiguous about our choices and their consequences. Follow God's plan and He "will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands" (Deuteronomy 28:12).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Going to Jail for Good

So the phone call came and I said yes. I'm going to jail to help support the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Actually, I'm attempting to raise $1600 bail money to support the MDA. That's where you come in. You can click here and help this cause. So far I only have $50, so any support you add would be greatly appreciated.

I remember watching Jerry Lewis every year as a kid, raising money for MDA. the need has not gone away, but we can continue to help. I have included a letter I received about one type of muscular dystrophy. Check it out and please donate.

Rick Nier Woo!

Letter of Hope from Casey Van Houten, mother of Blake Van Houten, 2010 Northeast Indiana Goodwill Ambassador
Dear Jailbird,
December 21, 2000 was one of the greatest days of our lives. We welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world and named him Blake Thomas Van Houten. He sat up, crawled and walked when he should have; he was a perfectly healthy boy. It wasn't until school that the teachers started to notice his physical ability declining. He was not keeping up with the other children and they suggested we take him to be evaluated. We made the appointment and the day after the doctor called requesting us for a meeting. At the meeting he told us Blake has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The doctor also informed us that our younger son Cole, who was three at the time, has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy too.
Duchenne is one of nine types of muscular dystrophy, a group of genetic, degenerative diseases primarily affecting voluntary muscles. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy weakens the muscles and can have the child in a wheelchair by the age of twelve. It is passed from a mother to her son. We didn 't know we were carriers until it was too late. When we heard the diagnosis we were devastated that something was wrong with our child. The worst part about Duchenne is that there is no cure...yet. This is the hardest part as a parent, since you know you can't do anything to make it better for your child.
The doctors told us about the local MDA and their efforts to help find treatments and cures for Duchenne. Once we registered with the local MDA office, and started going to the free MDA clinic we were grateful for the help and support. We hadn't realized how many sponsors, firefighters, and community people volunteer their time to help support the MDA and ultimately our family. It's because of you going out of your way to help make a difference in the lives of all children with neuromuscular disease.
One of the greatest parts about MDA is the annual week long Summer Camp at Camp Potawotami in South Milford. Blake thinks camp is the greatest thing on earth. The week is focused on fun for my Blake and others just like him. The campers get to just be kids and forget about their worries of having a debilitating disease. Blake may have this disease but it does not have him. He is as active as he can be and he loves to play with his friends. He is social, loves to talk and he tries as hard as he can to be "normal". We thank you for helping MDA as they support us through this difficult journey.
Your help is our hope.
Casey and Brian Van Houten
p.s.: Research Update for Duchenne MD - Thirty-two boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, who have specific genetic mutations that may be helped by a new approach called "exon skipping" will enter a promising new study. The boys will participate in the study at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus Ohio, with plans to begin in March of 2010. Applicants will undergo genetic testing to determine if they are eligible for the trial. The trial is under the direction of neurologist Jerry Mendell, MD, longtime MDA research grantee and director of the MDA clinic at Nationwide.
For additional information and promising research developments about Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy go to www. mda. org.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cities of Refuge

9 Then the LORD said to Moses: 10 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 11 select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. 12 They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that a person accused of murder may not die before he stands trial before the assembly. (Numbers 35:9-12)

This is an interesting addition to the Law, don't you think? It seems to me that if someone accidentally killed someone else, all they should have to say is 'oops' and that would settle it. Or, as happens in my house, when one child reigns blows upon the other, I make them sound really apologetic as they mumble 'sorry'.

But I'm not God, so if this system sounds good, then we'll go with Cities of Refuge. Can you imagine what these cities were like? These designated cities were some of the cities given to the Levites, so it sounds to me like after enough accidents, you'd have a good mix of pastors and killers. This could be a good thing, or it could turn disastrous. Or it could make for the perfect scene for the filming of Footloose, where everyone was just a bit too tense and all they needed was a dance.

Since these were cities where people lived pre-accidents, it seems like the original residents would have to be very understanding of all the people who 'accidentally' killed someone. What would this have been like? Did they go around saying "I didn't accidentally kill someone"? Was there some sort of system to differentiate between those who did not accidentally kill someone and those who did?

The Law gives room to extradite those who were actually guilty, but imagine the need of those who had deep regrets and were suddenly thrust into new living situations. It seems to me that Cities of Refuge sound an awful lot like what the Church should be doing. Whether people are guilty or not when they come to us is secondary to the fact that they have come. Since we're all guilty, the Church should be the place where all can seek refuge from their past, from this world, from their hurts.

We, the people that make up the Church, need to be that sanctuary for others. After all, grace has come to us all and there is no difference (Romans 3:22-23).

Memory Tester

I'm not sure why I forget. But enough time passes and I do. See, what I think I want is a day without responsibilities. I guess I should have been more specific. A couple of weeks ago I got a sick day. Sick days sound like a really good time when you're healthy. After all, what better way to catch up on reading, perhaps do some deep thinking (read: nap), and maybe even catch up on some banking.

Into my seventh hour of ESPN's Sportscenter I realized that the only thought that had gone through my mind all day was a repeated prayer; 'Why God is this happening to me?' I felt horrible, despite hearing the latest in basketball trade rumors and seeing justice served in Court TV.

I recently read a book called Love and War, by John and Stasi Eldredge, on the topic of marriage. In it they hammer home the point that marriage is a gift from God that helps us to grow. In this wonderful gift of marriage we are given a mate who sometimes causes us to ask God why he (or she) is happening to us. The answer is to that question is that God has growth planned for us through marriage, perhaps only surpassed by the lessons we learn from having children.

Now, I have neither space nor inclination to answer the deeper philosophical questions about why bad things happen to good-looking people such as myself. But perhaps I can offer one small encouragement.

Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. Maybe what God really wants is for us to ask what we can learn from our experiences, our relationships, and certainly our mistakes. If our goal is to be more like Christ, then shouldn't we be looking for every chance to accomplish this? My relationships are avenues for continued growth. I'm not sure daytime television has any benefit at all, but perhaps surviving my sick day has something to teach me after all. I know the next time I want a free day, I'll be sure to clarify that request with God.