Dealing With Your Dirty Laundry

Did you know that when you wash a load of whites you need to make sure the load only has whites? (Why are you laughing already?) I was a young husband and father of two toddlers. Karen was out with the boys and I thought I’d surprise her by getting a load of laundry done before she came home.

I set the temperature to hot. I thought “I’ll get these things whiter than they’ve ever been.” I picked up the pile of clothes in one strong swoop, stuffed it in the machine, and closed the lid before anything could pop back out.

When the cycle was finished I grabbed the load in one strong swoop, pushed it into the dryer, closed the lid before anything could pop back out, and turned it on. I thought “If women could only learn to wash and dry like this they’d save so much time.”

When I returned to fold the dry laundry I had another thought. “She’s going to kill me.” For some reason all the whites I pulled out in one strong swoop were pink. I started pulling them out one by one to fold them. As I reached the center of the pile I found it. My orange Denver Bronco shirt. Apparently it had enlisted the whites to Bronco-mania. The best I could tell orange and white make a pinkish color.

In the pile of laundry was Karen’s new white blouse she was proud of.  Just then I heard the door open upstairs.

Karen: “We’re home! Where are you?”

Me: “In the basement.”

Karen: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Folding the laundry.”

Karen: “You’re folding the laundry? What a great husband you are!”

Me: “You might want to hold onto that thought real hard.”

Karen, now joining me in the laundry room: “Why is everything pink?”

Me: “I’m a great husband, remember?”

Karen: I can’t repeat what she said.

Not really. She was disappointed but she forgave me. And then we went shopping to replace all the whites. You know how much it costs to replace a load of whites?

There is a lot life can teach you about forgiveness. We need it. And we need to give it. Jesus teaches us to pray this line: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

The order is important. Before we can even think about talking to our Father about what is owed us we must first remember what we owed. Jesus reminds us of our own need of forgiveness. The truth is we are all in debt to God. “There is no one righteous, not even one.” “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

We are first reminded of our need for forgiveness because we can forget that the forgiveness we have received is forgiveness we are to give. And we need to forgive others. The Bible says we pay a price when we harbor the debts owed us. “You who tear yourself in anger.” “For anger kills a fool.” Does your experience validate these verses? All torn up inside because of the debts owed you? Feel like you’re dying because you can’t let it go? It’s a prison and you are the prisoner.

When we forgive others we are freed from the prison of our own making. We remember our forgiveness so we can forgive others. Not long after my deed that stained my washing experience, Karen accidently put a favorite sweater of mine in the dryer that I normally hung to dry so it would not shrink. (She says it was an accident. I have to believe her.)

What did I do? I yelled at her? I belittled her? Of course not. And you’d run me out of town if I had. She had forgiven me for presenting her with a pink blouse so I forgave her for presenting me with a toddler sized sweater.

Forgiveness may be the only gift intentionally designed to be re-gifted. Why don’t we do just that? Let’s ask God for the forgiveness we need each day. We’ll find ourselves more patient with the people in our lives and pass on forgiveness to them.

It’s the only way his children can behave. We need a clean start. Our debtors need one too. Might as well get used to it. In heaven everyone will be wearing white: “… the one who conquers will be dressed in white clothes…”

Question: What do you need to be forgiven of? Who do you need to forgive?

 

 

 

 

When You Have a Need…Ask

It’s the only piazza in Rome without a single church. And yet congregants gather in this square every day except on Sunday mornings.  They gather to purchase their daily needs of fresh produce such as vegetables, cheese, spices, fish, meat and flowers. Other products are for sale too, many of which are touristy and not needed by anyone.

A trip to Campo de’ Fiori for modern day food shoppers is like a trip back in time. It is basically the only open air market you can find in the center of Rome. There you can see remnants of a rhythm long lost to our modern way of life. There was a day when people could not store up their food as we do. A daily trip to the market to buy what was needed for the day was routine.

This was true in first century Israel, especially when talking about bread. Bread was so basic a food that it became synonymous with life itself. “Eating bread” came to mean, “eating a meal.”  Bread was made daily in the home or people would buy it daily at the local market.  This was a daily task because it was not possible to keep food for more than a day in the hot climate.  The people of the first century were dependent on God to take care of their daily needs.

Not so much us. Our pantries and refrigerators are full enough to last days if not weeks. And so what makes sense to those first century listeners makes little to us when Jesus instructed us to pray “Give us today our daily bread.” “Why ask for that?” we wonder.

One answer is that there is something formative about asking for bread. Those of us who live in America feel little need to ask for bread. We have a loaf in our pantry and a couple in the freezer.  And if those run out, we can run out to the convenience store and stock up again. We can take care of a bread shortage on our own.

And that’s our problem with this phrase.  It is a request, and a request implies the need for help. We sense that we are self-sufficient.  We’re one step away from seeing ourselves as the providers of our own bread. By kneading the line “give us this day our daily bread” into our prayers, Jesus reminds us that God will take care of us. The request forms the one requesting.

Another answer is that we ask for daily bread because we need bread daily to live. In the wilderness God gave his people manna on a day to day basis. Physical needs are not to be ignored. It is perfectly fine to ask for needs. And God would want us to ask for specific needs. He is well aware of what we need and will give us what we need. We may not receive all we want. Our clothes might come from Marshalls instead of Macy’s. Our food from eating in instead of dining out. You might drive a ’99 Miata instead of a 2017 version. But he’ll give us what we need.

But there is another bread for which we should ask. When Karen and I first married I thought there were only a couple of options. At our house growing up it was either Mrs. Baird’s or Holsum. Then I married into a family of bread freaks. A whole world of bread opened up before my eyes. French. Sourdough. Bagels and Baguettes. Pita and Pumpernickel. I didn’t know what I had been missing.

And neither did the disciples. One day they left Jesus by a well in Samaria to find food in town. While they were gone he had a lively conversation with a woman at the well. When the disciples returned they urged Jesus to eat some of the food they brought back and he said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” Like me not knowing about other bread the disciples didn’t know there was another kind of sustenance. They said to each other, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus explained, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

There is the food that nourishes our bodies. And there is the food that nourishes our souls. Later Jesus would explain that he is the “manna” that has come down from heaven.” When we are nourished by him we find life, even eternal life. The people were focused on bread of heaven that comes in a loaf.  Jesus moved their focus to himself, bread of heaven that comes in his life.     

We live in an America full of overeaters who are underfed.  Ask for bread daily. Ask: you will be reminded that the Father cares about you. Ask for bread: both physical and spiritual. Ask daily: you can’t store up on manna. It comes daily.

You may not go to an open air market for your daily bread. But you can go to your Father. When you do he’ll give you all you need for today.

Question: What do you need for today?

 

How to Pray When Things Aren’t as They Should Be

If you’re a human being, you’ve asked the question. Maybe you’ve looked in the mirror at the end of the day and seen past your face into your soul.  You’ve wondered how you could have done or thought what you did that day.  You are starkly aware that things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.

Maybe you’ve watched your friends or coworkers.  You’ve listened to their struggles and wonder why their lives have to be so hard.  For some, you wonder why they have to make it so hard.  But you know the answer.  Things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.

Or maybe you just read the newspaper.  Whether it’s another concert bombing on the other side of the world or a shooting at another school, you’ve asked the question.  Deep inside you know.  Things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.

That’s why Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How do we pray “…your kingdom come?” We begin by praying that God’s kingdom come in our own lives.  We pray about our own desire to set up our own kingdoms that we rule instead of letting God rule.  We pray for our marriages, that God may rule there.  We pray for our children, that they learn to seek first the kingdom of God.

We pray about places where God’s kingdom is not.  Do you know any marriages where if God’s reign came, things would be better?  Then pray for marriages.  Do you know any people in your neighborhood whose lives would change for the better if God’s reign came to them?  Then pray for your neighbors. Once you begin to see with kingdom eyes and pray with a kingdom heart, you will have an endless prayer list of where God would want his kingdom to come.

Do you see hunger? Injustice? Slavery? These are places where his kingdom has not come fully. And once he starts to show you where things here are not as they are in heaven, pray that God bring heaven here. One way he will answer that prayer will be by moving you and me to act on this earth as people in whom his heavenly kingdom reigns.

The Christian monk Telemachus did. Telemachus had lived a life of service to God when he found himself finally making a visit to the great capitol city of Rome. He heard cheers and followed them to the Coliseum where he sat down to watch what was happening there. What he saw shocked him. Out on the floor of the Coliseum he saw gigantic gladiators torturing and slaughtering defenseless slaves by the score.

The crowd watched and cheered. But Telemachus did not. He stood up from his seat and cried out, “No! Stop!” The people around him were taken aback by his actions. One pulled him back down to his seat. The games on the floor of the Coliseum continued and so did Telemachus. He stood up again and shouted, “No! This is wrong!” This time the crowd ridiculed him, yelling at him to sit down.

But he did not sit. Instead, he made his way down the steps to the edge of the arena. He climbed over the wall and dropped down to the floor of the arena.

Then he ran and placed himself between a fallen slave and a gladiator who was about to finish him off. Telemachus looked up at the gladiator and said, “God says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ I say in the name of Jesus, stop what you are doing!”

He caught the gladiator off guard. For a moment he paused, amazed at this unusual action. And then, urged on by the crowd, he brought his mace down on Telemachus, ending his earthly life.

For a moment the Coliseum was silent. The crowd struggled to comprehend what they had just witnessed. Then, from the top of the stadium, someone stood up and walked out of the arena. From another section a family made their way out of the entryway. Next an entire section. Then the rest. Not long after the Emperor put an end to the games for good.

That is what God can do with one life willing to pray “Let your kingdom come” and act as if it had. If things aren’t as they should be—and they aren’t—this is the prayer that will bring heaven here.

Question: What areas do you see in your life where heaven needs to be brought to earth?

 

Is Your God “Small and Weak” or “Close and Powerful”?

Jesus teaches us to pray to “our Father in heaven.” The phrase “in heaven” guards against us seeing God as our friend, our buddy, our sidekick. Some have allowed themselves to think too small about God.

The idea of the “heavens” in the first century was that area right around us and also all the way out into the expanse of the stars and moon and sun. The Father is close to us. But he is not small.

He is unlike our fathers. He is the one “in heaven.” There is no one like him. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like me” God says through the prophet Isaiah.

We don’t need a small God, do we? We find soon enough that our earthly fathers aren’t as big as we thought they were when we were little. They can’t fix everything. They can’t be with us everywhere. They are limited.

My father stands 5’7” on a good day. As a preteen I remember hoping I’d be as tall as my dad. Around the seventh grade I started hoping I’d keep growing. Our fathers, as much as they may want to be everything for us, can fail us at times.

I did. Kris was in Cub Scouts and it was time for the pinewood derby. He had a willing father but not a woodworking father. We were given our kit that contained a block of wood, four wheels, and four nails. I didn’t have a large set of tools at the time so we borrowed what we needed and I helped guide the creation of the car.

I really did just help. When we got to the Derby it was evident other fathers did more than help. “Took over” would be more accurate. Our crudely crafted car could not stand up against the ones with modified wheels, axles, and blocks. One showed up all blue with the number 43 and I fully expected to see a miniature Richard Petty sitting behind the wheel. Kris needed a father that knew more about how the Derby really operated.

That’s why we need to remember “Our Father in heaven…” We teach preschoolers a song that says, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty there’s nothing my God cannot do.” We put into simple words for a preschooler to sing what the scriptures proclaim:

“The Lord reigns! He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, enveloped in strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken.”

“Our Lord is great, vast in power; his understanding is infinite.”

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

He is not only powerful, he is good. That’s important to remember. Can you imagine someone with bad character being given all power? We’ve seen it in earthly rulers and we’ve seen what corrupt power can do. This Father in the heavens is a good, good father. The Psalmists proclaim: “You are good, Lord.” “The Lord is good and upright.” “You, Lord, are forgiving and good.”

It makes a difference when you know your father is good. During college I spent a summer in Miami, Florida in an internship program. One assignment was to work with some young boys in Little Havana.  Can you picture that?  Several 20-year-old, Caucasian, mostly Texan kids trying to teach some Cuban kids about God?!

We did the best we could.  One day we talked to them about God and how he was a good father.  Before long we could see they weren’t interested.  So I asked them, “why doesn’t this idea of God as father connect with you?”  One of the boys, Carlos, said, “we don’t ever see our fathers.  Some of us don’t even know our fathers.  They go out a lot, sometimes with other women.  They don’t care about our mothers. They don’t really care about us.”

That was this group’s experience. We had to help them get a new idea of God as a good, good Father. You might need that too. Listen to the repeated cadence in Scripture that God is good, kind, and a Father of steadfast love. The word “hesed” is used 246 times in the Old Testament when speaking of God. His love for you never fails. It never ends. He is kind. He is loving. He is a good, good Father.

Do you need a father like that? Jesus wants you to know his Father in the same way he knows him. Close enough that you can intimately call him “Abba.” Powerful enough that he can hold sustain the world.

If he can do that, he can certainly help you through your day. Why not go to him now and tell him about it?

Question: When do you most need a “close” but “powerful” Father?