My experiment with not thinking (do men really have a Nothing Box)…

I have often wondered if it is true that men have a Nothing Box– a place in their brains which contains absolutely no thoughts. How many times has my wife asked “what are you thinking”? and my reply has been “oh, nothing.” Obviously, women do not have such a box and I can prove it. Not once in almost 44 years of marriage has my wife failed to to tell me what was on her mind when I asked; and many times, even when I didn’t ask. So this was my chance to pull off this groundbreaking experiment since I had the time.

I was at my son’s house and he and my grandson were taking a nap and no one else was home. I sat back in the recliner, put my feet up, closed my eyes and I began not to think.  “ZZZZZ- c’mon Dave, don’t fall sleep, just don’t think.” My stomach rumbled, “I must be hungry. I need to remind myself to get a muffin after this experiment is over. Oh, today is Gloria’s birthday. Concentrate now- why did I just think of orange juice? Stop thinking!”

Things proceeded like this for awhile until I reached the state of non-thought; well, not exactly. I began to think in images… strands of spaghetti, deflated footballs, beautifully crafted sermons floated by my mind’s eye. Suddenly I realized something- I am always thinking, just not very profoundly. Thus the conclusion of my scientifically conducted experiment is (drum roll) that men do not have a Nothing Box because they are obviously always thinking. Instead they have a box for Unprofound Thought and when asked what they are thinking and they respond “oh nothing,” they really mean “oh nothing you would be interested in because it is not very profound.”

I hope this is helpful to women everywhere who probably would argue against my conclusion that men actually have profound thoughts. I would find such sentiment callous and unfeeling because ah…er…I’m not actually sure why… Anyway, if you (women) really desire to understand the men in your life, like Jezebel tried to understand Ahab and Elijah, then you need to accept the theory of unprofound thought instead of no-thought. Thank you very much.

I would be willing to entertain your input on this subject just as long as you agree with me. If you don’t, then I will put your comment in a specially created Nothing Box.

Addicted to Love…

Im-Addicted-To-You                                                                                                                                     

Your lights are on, but you’re not home
Your mind is not your own
Your heart sweats, your body shakes
Another kiss is what it takes
You can’t sleep, you can’t eat
There’s no doubt, you’re in deep
Your throat is tight, you can’t breathe
Another kiss is all you need
Ohh oohh…
(“Addicted to Love,” words by Robert Palmer)

It may seem sacrilegious to say, but not all love is healthy– some of it may be downright addictive. I am not talking about romantic love which seems to be at the beginning of most relationships and often leaves us moon struck and imbecilic. Addictive love also begins innocently enough with a good feeling that ends in a euphoric experience. The lovers cannot maintain such a level of ecstasy, so there is a separation and a sense of depression followed by another round of intimacy which takes the experience to new levels; and then the chemistry wears off. Soon one person becomes aware that passion does not a relationship make and pulls away leaving the other to fall into utter despondency. This addictive love most often characterizes “affairs” which take place outside of marriage.

Here is part of a letter written by such a despondent lover still recovering from an addictive relationship: To say I miss you only trivializes the matter for me. I miss the “me” I become when there was “we.” Now that there is no more “we,” I am not “I” but a shadow of my former self that became a self in you. Do you see how self-centeredly dependent this “love” is? This letter gets worse and it ends up sounding like a recovering alcoholic fantasizing about the day when he can be reunited with his drug of choice. He only remembers the good times and not the painful part of the relationship.

And so we see that addictive love is characterized by the rush and thrill of a new experience; where the “me” reigns supreme and yet where one’s identity is lost in the “us” of the relationship. And when the relationship is over there is not just sadness and grief, but anger and confusion and “lostness.”

Not all love is addictive, but neither is all love healthy. Perhaps I am more aware of this right now working on a college campus where love is often misunderstood and unhealthy. So here are some questions that should be asked to test for the qualities of a healthy love that can form the basis of a solid relationship: Could you live without the other person? Are we friends as well as lovers? Are we able to maintain appropriate relationships outside of ours? Do we celebrate each others victories and personal growth or do they make us jealous? Can I stand with you in your sorrows or triumphs without being swallowed up by them? Does our relationship promote or hinder our personal and spiritual growth? Do we give to each other because we love to give or because we want to get? Is there space in our togetherness? (William Lenters, The Freedom We Crave)

This notion of addictive love should not be dismissed out of hand by those of us who have good marriages. Usually affairs don’t begin in the bedroom, but with a hungry heart. Pastors are very susceptible to temptation because they are caring people who deal with needy people. They also are not typically rewarded by monetary gain or promotion, but by a sense of satisfaction when they do help someone. They feel good when they are useful and are fulfilling their calling. It is this powerful influence of “feeling good” that can subtlety hook a pastor and draw him (or her) to someone whose encouragement and affirmation may jump start an unhealthy addictive relationship, and so on…

I am not inferring that feeling good about ministry is wrong, but there are those who while they would never be hooked on drugs of booze get addicted to self-affirming relationships that lead to disaster. Don’t play around with this phenomenon. You won’t survive. “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? (Prov. 6:27) NO!

“Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Prov. 15:32).

Somebody, Dim the Lights!

This morning I am thinking about the Ferguson situation as we await the decision of the Grand Jury whether or not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for shooting a black teenager, Michael Brown; a decision that will be explosive either way because of the racial divide that still exists in this country. I am also thinking about the killing of 4 Rabbis (and a police officer) in an East Jerusalem synagogue by Palestinians; the attackers were killed and families were evicted while their homes destroyed by the Israeli authorities in retribution. I am also thinking of the car bomb that went off in Irbil, N. Iraq where my son is working, killing 5 and injuring dozens; an act which continues the sad and violent generational conflict between Sunni and Shia.

In the face of these and the grudge matches we carry out in our own lives, we read these very arresting words flowing from the lips of our Lord and Master: “Ye have heard that it has been said, ‘Thou shall love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45).

I would like to share with you some great insights on the subject of revenge from a sermon preached by Martin Luther King at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on 17 November, 1957.The title of the message was Love Your Enemies:

“It’s not only necessary to know how to go about loving your enemies, but also to go down into the question of why we should love our enemies. I think the first reason that we should love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus’ thinking, is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. [tapping on pulpit] It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn’t cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.

I think I mentioned before that sometime ago my brother and I were driving one evening to Chattanooga, Tennessee, from Atlanta. He was driving the car. And for some reason the drivers were very discourteous that night. They didn’t dim their lights; hardly any driver that passed by dimmed his lights. And I remember very vividly, my brother A. D. looked over and in a tone of anger said: ‘I know what I’m going to do. The next car that comes along here and refuses to dim the lights, I’m going to fail to dim mine and pour them on in all of their power.’ And I looked at him right quick and said: ‘Oh no, don’t do that. There’d be too much light on this highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody got to have some sense on this highway.’

Somebody must have sense enough to dim the lights, and that is the trouble, isn’t it? That as all of the civilizations of the world move up the highway of history, so many civilizations, having looked at other civilizations that refused to dim the lights, and they decided to refuse to dim theirs…. And if somebody doesn’t have sense enough to turn on the dim and beautiful and powerful lights of love in this world, the whole of our civilization will be plunged into the abyss of destruction. And we will all end up destroyed because nobody had any sense on the highway of history. Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, and toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.”

MLK concluded with the thought that gives me the greatest hope because the power of God is unleashed by our loving our enemies. “I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies’ [because] that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals…. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you. Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

Amen.

43 Things I Love About My Wife Gloria

USYesterday, was our 43rd wedding anniversary. Some of you were there (Lancaster, PA; June 26, 1971) and are still alive! As a tribute to my wife, Gloria, I wrote this and want to share it with you.

G od-lover, great (wonderful) grandma, giver, glad to help others, grateful when people help her, good cook, genuine servant, gold and diamonds are not important, glued to her marriage until death do us part.

L oves her husband and kids and is loved by them, longs for meaningful conversation, loves to take back roads and explore, loses things but they usually turn up, likes to stay up late but not get up early, lavish prayers said daily on behalf of her kids and grandkids, laughs at her husband’s jokes (most of them).

O utdoor girl, overseas in Africa is where she has wanted to serve, overlooks her husband’s faults, opens her home to the stranger and refugee, open-handed to those in need, oppressed by the computer.

R ank means nothing, raspberry lover (especially black raspberry pie), reads good books (especially about missions), redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, regularly reflects on God’s Word, rather not do housework, really rather be hiking or kayaking, regrets living so far away from her dad.

I nterested in just about everything having to do with her kids and grandkids, intelligent, ibuprofen-free, incurious about sports (except baseball), inflexible in her convictions.

A lways faithful, asks a few questions, an accomplished pianist and marimbist, appreciates working together on anything, always likes apple butter, an amazing ESL teacher, age has enhanced her beauty, a woman who fears the Lord.

Happy 43rd my dear. May our sacred journey continue; may God continue to make our marriage a blessing to others and our love for each other more a refection of His love.

The Power of Benediction…

tame the tongueA benediction is a pronouncement of divine blessing and encouragement. It is a short, concise statement which gives assurance or promise. It is from the Latin bene (good) dicere (to say). Every time I say a benediction over my congregation, I am not leading them in prayer, but blessing them with a good word for their spiritual encouragement.

One of the most famous benedictions in the Bible is one that God gave to Moses to tell Aaron to speak to Israel (follow that?). It was given to be a general encouragement to the nation as the Law of God was being explained and the Tabernacle of the Lord was being dedicated: “The Lord bless you, and keep you: The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

My personal favorite biblical benediction is found at the end of Jude and spoken to people who were being called to persevere in their faith: “Now unto him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24, 25).

I have heard some use Genesis 31:49 as a benediction; “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are parted from each other.” However, if you check the context, you will find that this was a covenant warning made between Laban and Jacob who did not trust each other; calling for God to be a witness so that they would not continue to harm each other. Therefore, don’t use that one, but check out and meditate on some of these: 2 Corinthians 13:14; Hebrews 13:20, 21; 2 Peter 1:2, 3; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, 5:23; Romans 15:5, 6, and 13.

There is one more use of benediction we don’t often hear about because it is mostly spoken outside a church service. It is a benediction used in our personal relationships. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Proverbs 12:25). We know the power of hurtful words. “Rash words are like sword thrusts” (Prov. 12:18) and yet a good word has healing power. “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov. 16:24). Many of us were raised with hurtful words, which have wounded us and made our words hurtful to others. Many of us have experienced being the target of cutting and spiteful words, which have weighed us down and discouraged us beyond measure. O for just one good word spoken in truth! “To make and appropriate answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:23)

This week someone hurt me with their words, but on the same day someone else spoke an appropriate word that brought great encouragement to me. We all need to experience the power of benediction; a good word that is truthful, sincere, and with no ulterior motive other than to encourage. What a great ministry! Try it, and start in your own household.

It’s Not Too Late to Get a Gift for Your Valentine…

valentinesMany of you, unlike me, are totally unprepared for Valentine’s Day. So I am posting my blog early to give you some ideas of what you can get your sweetheart before they even know you forgot. You folks in Australia are on your own because Valentine’s Day is just about over. Anyway, I have organized my gift ideas according to the stage of relationship you happen to be in with your sweetie. Here goes- you may want to print this out as a valuable resource to be passed on to your children and grandchildren:

Pursuing a crush: Maybe there is someone at work, school, or at church whom you like and want them to know that you think they are special. Why don’t you gift wrap a slightly roasted marshmallow (one of those big ones; white for a guy, pink for a girl). Include with the gift an invitation to a campfire meal finished off by making s’mores. Girls, a guy will be so impressed that you know how to make a campfire; and guys, a girl will be so impressed you know how to make something complex like a s’more. (Hint: wait till the weather gets above zero before the date.)

You are dating but have not yet DTR: Perhaps you have not yet “defined the relationship” and so you want to keep the gifts casual, but useful. For a guy, get him a sock. Yep, a sock. He’ll love it and will no doubt already have a match for it as he scrounges around in his sock-drawer. He will see all those single socks and will suddenly be struck by the fact that he is single and he may have found his match right there in his hand. Trust me, it works all the time. For a girl, get her a DIY cupcake paper planter kit from uncommongoods.com. It’s only $15 and it is actually made of concrete so it is easy to carry in her purse. It also comes with potting soil and sunflower seeds. She will love it and it is guaranteed to define the relationship.

You are a couple now: It is public and all over social media that you two are an item, so now you are ready for more specifically romantic gifting. Every guy loves music, even if he can’t sing, so buy him a capo (short for capotasto); that’s the thingy which goes on the neck of a guitar in order shorten the playable length of the strings and therefore raise the pitch. Ask our worship pastor Bill about capos; he’s really good at using them. However, it doesn’t matter whether your guy plays the guitar or not; every guy needs a capo. Besides, you can subtly start your attempt to change him into a more cultured person. Guys, every girl loves jewelry (except my wife), so get her a shark-tooth necklace. These are so cool. You can get one from jawsandpaws.net for only $39 and it comes with a little lip balm container attached (clam flavor) so her lips will always be kissably soft.

It’s been more than a year now and you are waiting for the ring: OK, this is the time for a strategic gift. Remember the sock, girls? Well, buy a really nice pair of leather gloves for your guy, but only give him one and you keep the other one. Guys are very relationally astute and your guy will get the clear message that when you get the ring he gets the other glove. It is not manipulatory at all, it is very symbolic. Guys, if your girl is dragging her feet about getting engaged, my suggestion for a gift will definitely push her over the edge. Give her a Nordstrom cubic zirconia nose ring which can be ordered at Nordstrom.com for only $46. Give it to her in a little ring box. This is where you need to be very observant guys; if she looks disappointed or has that questioning look at all, it is time to go ring shopping. If she likes the gift and looks relieved, dump her. I am speaking from a vast experience of dealing with lots of women; well, actually only one.

You are newlyweds: Get your guy a pocket knife. Every guy needs a pocket knife so he can come to the rescue of people who on a daily basis ask, “does anyone here have a pocket knife”? For him to say, “I do” will gain him more respect. However, it will also remind him daily of his marriage vows and that if he ever forgets them you will use the pocket knife on him. And for your beautiful young bride, think through the things you didn’t get as wedding gifts for the kitchen and buy her something she would love. Perhaps an electric toaster, or a Joroushi electric bread maker, or if she needs a place to sit while she reads gourmet menus you can buy her an electric chair. You can get a refurbished one at prisonwarden.org for only $150; certainly worth the price.

A veteran couple: You are in this for the long haul and you want something special for that incredible person who is willing to sacrifice his/her life to be married to you. You have to give it some thought- especially you guys. A couple of minutes the night before Valentine’s Day doesn’t cut it. It won’t give you the time needed to think creatively and sensitively. You need to start at least two days before and be willing to commit at least a focused span of 5 minutes, which by the way is more than a lifetime of a gnat- or so I’m told. For her, especially for these cold nights, let me suggest a candy-striped flannel night shirt to replace your old football jersey that she’s been wearing since Ron Paul was a first-time candidate for president; only $44.95 at gap.com. And for him; this is an amazing suggestion ladies- get him a pair of cherry red one-piece flannel pajamas with feet. Yep! The kind with a drop-seat- O yeah! And if he gives you any gas about why there’s a flap in the back and nothing in the front, tell him that he is so smart that you know he will be able to figure it out. You can get those at Land’s End (no pun intended) for $22.99.

I hope that my pastoral insights have been helpful to you. Let me know if you need counseling.

For A Generation Yet Unborn…

8-week-unborn-baby_thumbI have been reading through Joshua these last couple of weeks and came to the very end of the book where I saw this verse (24:32): “And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This (the land) became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendents.”

To be buried in the Promised Land had been Joseph’s request recorded four hundred years earlier in Genesis 50:25. That means Israel had been carrying around this guy’s ancient bones for at least forty one years in the desert; one year at Mt Sinai after the Exodus and forty years wandering around before Joshua led them into the Promised Land. In other words, if a generation is defined as a thirty year span, it means Joseph’s request was remembered and acted upon by the thirteenth and fourteenth generation from his death.

What an amazing commitment that one generation had to another! Do a word study on “generation” in the Psalms and meditate on the awesome privilege and responsibility that one generation has for another- especially the older to the younger. “One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4). “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord (Ps.102:18). “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation” (Ps. 71:18).

Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon in 1888 entitled, Holding Fast the Faith, in which he said: “Look you, Sirs, there are ages yet to come. If the Lord does not speedily appear, there will come another generation and another and all these generations will be tainted and injured if we are not faithful to God and to His Truth today. We have come to a turning point in the road. If we turn to the right, maybe our children and our children’s children will go that way. But if we turn to the left, generations yet unborn will curse our names for having been unfaithful to God and to His Word.” (The whole text can be found at www.spurgeongems.org/vols34-36/chs2007.pdf)

Who are the young folks in your life: children, grandchildren, associates, kids at church or in the neigborhood? Are you taking initiatives to build relationships with them or do you fall for the cultural assumption that they don’t want to hang out with you because you’re old? Do you pray for them, encourage them in their faith, and take opportunities to declare to them God’s faithfulness in your life? You may not like their music, but if you love them their music will not be an issue. Have you ever thought of volunteering in the nursery or the youth program at church? Let us commit ourselves to being a blessing to the next generation and not a curse.

By the way, who are the older folks in your life: parents, grandparents, associates, neighbors? Do you realize how much wisdom and experience are rattling around in those old brain, even though the retrieval systems have slowed down? Do you take the time to ask them questions and then take some more time to listen to their stories? You will not have them for much longer. Soon you’ll become the old one and someone will be carrying your bones to their rest.