Friday, May 04, 2007

Death From Above!

I tell ya, we coulda DIED! And all for the love of biscuits and gravy. (mmmmmmm!) One of my favorite "you're-dead-if-you-eat-too-many-of-these-meals" is found "down on the farm." Yup. Bob Evans biscuits and gravy. I eat this meal fully aware of the risks. Heart disease. Coronary artery disease. Choking on the huge chunks of sausage floating in the oh so lovely white gravy. It could happen. Probably will someday.

But never in a garzillion years would I have guessed that my insatiable craving for this southern delicacy could cause the demise of my wife and I like ... death from above. I am so naive.

I had downed my last biscuit. Sucked the last of the gravy from the bowl with a straw. Made friends and actually shared my faith in Jesus Christ with the husband of the couple sitting across the aisle from us. (Hey, if I'm going out I'm going to be on extraordinary terms with God when it happens.) We had watched the rain falling as we sat at our window-side seat. It had subsided when we paid the check and left the parking lot in "Emma" the Mustang. A couple of quick turns got us northbound on I-255. It is a short fifteen miles or so between the restaurant and our home. About half way through our trip we came across two Illinois State Police cars in the median strip with a wrecked black Mustang between them.

Odd. The road was dry. No other vehicles were even nearby. Why did this guy drive off into the ditch?

Within the next two or three miles we counted over twenty cars, trucks, and even a motor home stopped along the side of the expressway in both directions. A helicopter flew directly overhead. Other traffic flowed along with us, their drivers probably wondering what we were wondering. "What the ....????" We looked in every direction and saw nothing. It was cloudy. Ugly cloudy. Steam was rising from the refinery in Wood River but that's not exactly a traffic stopper. It occurred to me that the only time I had ever seen cars stopped randomly like this was years earlier when I was bringing a youth group home from a mission trip in Marshfield, Wisconsin. We drove through a really bad rainstorm. As we emerged from the other side there were cars on the entrance ramps and alongside the expressway. Many of them had cameras out taking pictures of the storm we had just driven through. I started playing with the electric mirrors outside the van and spotted a tornado tearing through the fields behind us. I quickly radioed my drivers in the other vans and they watched it with me. Most of the teens were asleep and never knew of their near brush with flying cows or houses heading off to Kansas. But today we looked and didn't see anything.

So, we made a few stops on the way home. When we got there I walked into the living room and picked up Tess the laptop to check my email. I clicked on a bookmark for KSDK, one of the television stations in St. Louis and, well, here is what I saw ...

As it turns out there were three tornadoes. One was in front of us. One was behind us. One was to the right of us. Nobody got hurt. Only farmers fields got torn up. Debbie and I both looked in every direction. Neither of us saw anything. Nuttin. The whole county was taking pictures. "News Chopper 5" was flying over us (in between the storm cells) and showing the twisters live on St. Louis television. And we ... we were oblivious.

Ok, so. Lessons learned.

1. God is good. Everybody was safe.
2. Debbie and I are effectively blind when it comes to seeing objects of imminent danger to our mortal bodies.
3. People in black Mustangs are obviously bigger weenies than other drivers who somehow managed not to wet themselves or drive off the road when surrounded by tornadoes.
4. If the biscuits and gravy don't kill you ... the trip to get them might.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

I is smarter than I new I was

Teaching in the public school system is something I never ever thought I would do. Come to think of it, teaching in the public school system is something I never ever WANTED to do. School gives me a rash. I break out in bad grades. But, being the mercenary that I am, I am giving it a spin. Poor me. Poor kids. I am not sure whom I feel the most sorry for.

When I was a mere lad myself I was quite the student. Well, actually my grades stunk. I was one of those kids who consistently did not "live up to his potential." I would like to tell you that, like Albert Einstein, I was just bored with my classes because I was too smart to be bothered with the trivial lessons the were throwing at me. But nope. I was just lazy and relatively stupid. Some things never change, huh? On the plus side I never got a "pink slip" (Lincoln-Way High Schools way of saying you are late for class,) a "green sheet" (Lincoln-Way's dreaded detention,) or anything even close to suspension. Room 109 was the detention room and I never even saw the inside of it. Rumor has it there were chains on the walls and big bald guards with whips in each corner. My brother told me so.

You know what I am learning when I teach these days? EVERYTHING. Seriously. I am. On Monday I taught art. ART! Do you realize what that does to my comfort zone? It violates it in every possible fashion! I can barely draw a breath much less a picture. But my assignment was to teach the kids about "pointillism." You don't know what that is, do you? Well, neither did I. So I picked up the teachers book and found out that it is a style of painting in which small distinct points of primary colors create the impression of a wide selection of secondary colors. Wanna see a picture? Ok!

That is a little number from Seurat's "La Parade" done in 1889. See? Stick with me and you will learn things.

Last week I was teaching 5th grade math. Man, I am almost too embarrassed to tell you this. I gave the kids a work sheet and they started raising their hands to ask for help with problems. Uh-oh. But I sat down with them and you know what? I FIGURED IT OUT! I did it! I actually understand 5th grade math!!!! This is so ginormous that it makes my head hurt. The same thing happened later in the day when I taught English. Did you know that an "adverb" is a word or a phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb? I should probably have known that. And I probably did once upon a time. I use adverbs every day without even realizing it. Come to think of it, now that I know I'm using them it probably won't change a thing. Still, it's kind of cool.

I've taught language arts, computer science, physical education, math, English, reading, and science. And I've learned something in every class. Amazingly enough, my favorite class is still recess. I hope that you will treat me with a new found respect and reverence the next time you see me. No need to bow. We can keep this on the down-low. Just between you and me. I don't need the blowing trumpets or the billowing banners. But if I should correct something you say ... don't argue with me. I know these things. And I would hate to make you stay after class.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Wanted: Busted up and broken believers ... apply through prayer

The first time I bought my own used car I wrecked it on night one. That is correct. Yes, I collaborated with my dad (he paid for the car and I paid him back.) We lived in Tinley Park, Illinois on beautiful 177th St. The car was a 1970 Ford Galaxy. It was a lovely turd brown. It was an ugly Monday night and I got in it to go to the store and then drive to a youth group bible study at my church. That's right. My first trip in my first personally owned car was to church. And I wrecked the car before I could even get there. It was raining and I was not used to the brakes so when a pick-up truck stopped in front of me I slid into his tailgate. It cost my dad $200 to buy him a new one. Me? I was left to pay monthly payments for several years on a car that I never got fixed because my insurance deductable was too high. And do you know what the worst part was? The accident slid the left front quarter panel (the sheet metal part in front of the drivers door that goes all the way to the front of the car) backward about half an inch. That was just enough to make the door and the quarter panel overlap so that everytime I would open my door it sounded as if a shot gun was going off. Everytime I opened the door to get in or out ... I remembered the accident. The mistake. The wreck. I never escaped it until I finally sold the car several years later to a police woman. (Two weeks later the transmission fell out. I drove very carefully when she was on duty.)

Busted stuff has a way of teaching important but painful lessons. I have come to believe that it is supposed to be that way.

It has come to my attention that God gets great delight in allowing that same lesson to be learned by His children. This is going to sound crazy but trust me, it is true. God loves to use busted up and broken people. Actually, He seems to be able to use them much more effectively than He can use trophy Christians who give shining testimonies before large audiences that listen in wonderous awe. I don't have anything against Christian athletes or Christian movie stars or Christian singers or any Christian that has had their years easy and never gotten knocked around by life for insisting on turning the light on in the darkness. I just think they have a handicap. They are all spiffy and shiny. Trophy Christian's are my brothers and sisters. They are (in theory) squeaky clean and great examples of what God can do through a yielded soul. There is just one problem.

I do not trust them.

When the heat gets turned up they just may turn back on you and double cross you. They may shoot at you and say that they are doing it "in Jesus name." You know what I say to that? I'll water my terminology down for family consumption. I say poppycock. Believers in Jesus Christ do not shoot at believers in Jesus Christ. Ever. E-V-E-R. They take the bullet themselves. Who was it that said, "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." Answer? Jesus. The Son of God said that. So let me just tell you a little secret. If you have drawn a target on a brother or sister in Christ ... shame on you. I do not give a rip what your reasons are. Your are wrong, wrong, wrong. Children of God do what Jesus did. They take the hit themselves and they do not complain about it.

Give me a busted up and broken believer anyday. One who has walked the miles and has the blisters on his feet to prove it. One who has been attacked by the world, ambushed by his "friends," whooped-up on by Satan and come out the other side bloodied, broken and bruised with the scars that tell stories of the battles fought. These are the believers you can count on. They know the sound of the enemies drum beat. They have seen the pointed end of his fiery darts blazing in their direction. They are my sisters and my brothers that have stood in the face of the heat without melting. They are my sisters and my brothers who have invaded the enemy camp in the dead of night just when the enemy was about to claim victory. And when they got to the camp ... they danced. Oh, they danced in pain but the most assuredly did dance. It was a victory dance. And the enemy looked foolish. Because, you see, you cannot stop a busted up and broken believer. He has laid it all on the line before and he is willing to do it again. He has already learned to consider himself "dead" to the goodies of the world. And you just cannot kill a dead man.

It is always nice to have trophy Christian's around. They make great diversions. They give the world and the enemy some body to admire while the scarred warriors slip around their flank and share the good news of freedom behind enemy lines. It is the busted up and broken believers that do damage for (and not TO) the family of God. When God wants to run a major play He doesn't call on the trophies. He calls on the warriors. The trophy Christians get out the book ... no, not "THAT" book ... the book of tradition. It's called the "Programs and Policies To Win The World To Christ" book. "THAT" book ... the bible ... is theory to them. If you take it too literally you will mess up your corporate policy. Your church IS incorporated, isn't it? Good luck winning the world with a corporation strategy. It ain't happening.

So shut up and put your dog tags on. Get in the battle or go polish your trophy stand, crawl up on it and wait for the applause that will surely come. As for me and my house ... get the bandages and first aid kits ready. I'm watching my kids and I'm watching my wife and they are living behind enemy lines. King Jesus has issued some of us orders. It is official that Scott is a permanent "on staff" fixture at Willow Creek now. (He may hang me for writing that here. But dad's have a right to be proud of their kids and I am. Not so much because of where he's serving but simply because he is serving.) Christopher leaves in less than a month for another long and hot summer on staff at Centrifuge. (He is my Mega-Relay hero. And I have reason to believe that kids will get saved through his leadership this summer. His dad ... me ... always dreamed of working at 'Fuge and he is doing it.) Kelli and Joe are both still on the front lines of serving in West County at a large, Christ honoring church. They amaze me with their passion!) I cannot wait to see all of them fight the good fight. All three of my kids are living out my dreams ... doing great damage to the enemies efforts on planet earth. And while that only leaves two of us we will be back in the game soon. Got a few cuts and bruises that are still healing. But it won't be long. I hear the drumbeat in the enemy camp. My blood begins to stir. And I can't wait ... as John Wesley said, "Some people want to live within the sound of chapel bells, but I want to run a mission a yard from the gates of hell."

Been there before. It's familiar territory. Getting ready to go again. You have not fully served until you have gotten close enough to the gates to smell the sulfar ...

Monday, April 30, 2007

"God" is not short for "Google"

Fully half of the kids had their hands up. Some were waving them wildly, hoping to get my attention so that I would call on them. I was teaching a 5th grade math class this afternoon. I was very glad to see those hands go up when I asked for the answer to "number three" because, well, I don't do math. Oh, I had the answer. It was written in red in my teachers book. But I had no idea how to GET the answer. And I had a plethora of students anxious to explain to the others why the answer WAS the answer.

You see, there is a difference between HAVING the answer and knowing how to GET the answer. Sometimes you have the answer but you don't know how you got it. Other times you know how (or where) to get the answer but you don't know what the answer is.

Case in point.

I was driving home from the mall tonight. Actually I was in the front passanger seat. Debbie was driving because we left home before sundown and I had taken my prescription sun glasses with me and had forgotten my regular glasses. I don't drive without being able to see. It just seems like a good policy to me. So tonight I was the passanger.

The top was down on the car. It was a beautiful evening. The sky was clear. The temps were warm. I reclined in my seat because Debbie was on the phone with her mother and I was not engaged in a conversation. I just looked up at the sky. Somewhere up there ... is God's house. I don't know where. But it's there.

I've been wanting to ask God some questions lately. Some personal things that I do not understand have begun to bother me. it is not important to this story for you to understand what those questions are. All that matters is that I have questions and He has answers and I am wondering if He would share them with me.

That is when I remembered today's math class. Sometimes hands would go up when a student wanted to give the answer to a problem. Occasionally a hand would go up when a student had a question that he needed an answer to. I always call on the students with the questions. That is my job. Answer their questions and, in so doing, teach them.


I raised my hand. I felt the wind press against my cupped palm but I held it there as I stared off into the distant heavens. I whispered, "Excuse me, Sir. I have some questions and I was wondering if you would mind if I asked them." Silence. "And would you be willing to answer my questions?" Silence.

That is when the bug smashed into the palm of my hand and died there. It hurt and I jerked my hand down. I brushed the bug off and glanced back toward the sky. I kept my hand in my lap.

"Ok. Maybe later. Thanks anyway."

God speaks when He wants to speak. God says what He wants to say. He is not a cosmic form of "Google" where you punch in your question and the answer comes racing to your screen. He is God. Oh yes, He certainly does love me. He loves you too. But life is lived on His terms. Never on our own.

Yes, I rather wish He had been willing to answer my questions tonight. But it could have been much worse.

Just ask the bug.