Faith Like French Fries

French FriesAt the end of a challenging day, my mind can sometimes play strange tricks on me while I’m preparing dinner.  The other night while I was cooking steaks, I was suddenly visited by Marlin Perkins, the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, a show I used to watch during the 70s.  Sprawled out on our orange-plaid shag rug, a tribute to the only decade that could proudly spit in the face of good taste, my siblings and I would wait with breathless anticipation for the weekly episode.  Actually, we probably didn’t really have anything better to do, but I like to romanticize my memories.

Marlin Perkins was always a bit stiff in his presentation, the way a small child is a “bit stiff” when he suddenly develops rigor mortis while throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of a parking lot.  Perkins’s stiffness was the perfect contrast to the excitement of the wild animals displayed on the show.  There was nothing quite like watching a pack of cheetahs hunting down their prey on the Serengeti and hearing it narrated off cue cards with the dispassionate voice of a golf commentator.

This same voice emerged through the steam as I prepared dinner and sensed the arrival of my pack of three young cubs.

A pack of big cats smells its prey downwind and creeps stealthily through the Serengeti.  Keeping them fed can be extremely dangerous, and they need an awful lot of food. Circling their victim, the predators lick their chops, waiting for the kill.  In split-second timing, they pounce.  No longer concerned with stealth, they open their mouths and shriek…

“WHEN is dinner going to be ready?”

“Fifteen minutes,” I answer.

“WHAAAAAT?  Fifteen minutes?  Aaaaagh!!!!!!!”  And the cats scattered back to the hills.

I shouted after them to “be patient,”  and then I remembered Voting Day.

This year I dragged my kids along with me to vote.  I thought it would be a good idea for them to experience the thrill of fulfilling one’s patriotic duty.  I thought it would fill them with a sense of good citizenship.  I thought I was an intelligent person, up until that moment.

Standing in line for two hours is hard enough without children.  But if you have them with you, and the end of the line is not something worthwhile like a ride at Disneyland, be warned.

The voting station was set up like a cruel mirage, making you think that if you only could just get to the next corner, the wait would be over.  We shuffled along like old men in slippers, but the line snaked on and on with no end in sight.  It didn’t help that the people who had finally voted had to pass by us on the way out, and they all looked like they had spent a month in a concentration camp.  How could I blame my kids for whining and complaining, when I couldn’t even feel my own legs anymore?  I guess adults are not much different from children when it comes to impatience.

Fifteen minutes seemed like an eternity for my kids to wait for a meal, and at first I was annoyed by their impatience. Ironically, I was impatient with their impatience. But while the rest of dinner was simmering, I took them on my lap and snuggled.  When you are waiting for something, you should make the most of the opportunity.

No one likes to hear that “patience is a virtue,” especially not kids waiting for their dinner.  Or adults waiting for their prayers to be answered.

Psalm 40:1

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.

Sometimes a prayer can take months or years to be answered.  This kind of patience is a hard pill to swallow in our fast-food society.  We expect prayers to be answered quickly, if not immediately.  Sometimes we treat God as though He is a vending machine.  We offer up a prayer and expect a bag of blessings to come falling out of a chute.  When the dollar bill keeps being rejected, we angrily shove it back in and demand our food immediately, sometimes kicking and screaming.  And God help us if we request Oreos but end up with pretzels instead.

God is not into fast-food prayers.

The older I get, the more time and effort that I put into my meals.  A good soup takes a long time.  Traditional soup is simmered for an entire day, but the hot, delicious soup is worth the wait. Canned soup can be opened in a second, but it contains miniscule chunks of mystery meat, which taste something like the can, but not quite as good.

When it comes to receiving an answer from God, we need to let the soup simmer.  Does God have the ability to answer a prayer as quickly as you can open a can of soup?  Of course.  But if we could receive everything  as soon as we asked for it, where would our believing be?  How would we ever develop our patience, strength, and faith?  And sometimes there is a battle going on behind the scenes that we can neither see nor understand.  When we are waiting for an answer, we need to keep praying and trusting that God is working on our behalf.

Romans 12:28

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…

God is not a drive-thru window.   Racing through life with faith like French fries will only result in heartburn.  And while we’re waiting for the delicious end result, we may as well curl up on His lap and snuggle for a while.

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The Real Negotiators

The young boy slumped at the table, sullenly bulldozing his broccoli around the plate with a fork. He couldn’t believe any human being could be expected to eat this stuff.  It was mushy and green and disgusting.  Other children were probably eating cheeseburgers this very minute, and here he was forced to eat trees.  His mom had added condiments, but if you put butter and salt on a dogwood would it taste any different?

Maybe if I swirl it around the plate enough it will disappear. He kicked his foot impatiently against the table leg, until his sister yelped and he realized his foot had gone astray.  Don’t potatoes count as veggies? Why can’t we have carrots like normal people? 

His mother’s voice broke his vegetable reverie. “C’mon, honey.  Finish your broccoli.”

“I am not going to eat this.  It’s gross.” 

“Don’t  you want to grow big and strong?”

“No.”

“You are not leaving this table until you have eaten every piece of broccoli on your plate.”

The boy’s brain went into overdrive calculating his next move.  He could slip the broccoli to the dog or maybe hide it in a napkin.  Flush it down the toilet?  No, the only option was to do what he did best.

With a heavy sigh, he began negotiations with his mother.

BOY:  I will only eat two more pieces.

MOM:  Ten more.

BOY:  Five, but no more broccoli for a month.

MOM:  Six, with broccoli twice a month.

Ten minutes later…

BOY:  One piece, end of story.  No more broccoli.  Ever.

MOM:  (head on table) Deal.

In the end, mom’s exhaustion sealed the deal.  The boy perceived her weak point and pounced.  Just another day on the job.  Not bad for a five year old.

All young children have a side job of Negotiator.  If the police force would take this into consideration, they could have some serious help.  Who has better tenacity and determination than a child?  And besides their obvious negotiating skills, they have something that adults seem to be lacking.  Energy. 

Of course, the negotiating never ends, even in adulthood.  We still find ourselves trying to cut a deal with God.  Eventually the stakes get a little higher than broccoli. 

When God decided to wipe out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham tried a hand at his negotiating skills (Genesis 18). He was a little rusty, since it had been awhile since he had negotiated with his mother to eat fewer leeks.  This time he substituted people for vegetables, and it was essentially the same technique. 

ABRAHAM:  Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?

GOD: If I find fifty righteous people…I will spare the whole place for their sake.

ABRAHAM: What if the number is forty-five?

GOD:  If I find forty-five there, I will not destroy it.

ABRAHAM: Forty?

GOD: For the sake of forty, I will not do it.

ABRAHAM: Thirty?

GOD: I will not do it if I find thirty there.

ABRAHAM: Twenty?

GOD:  For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.

ABRAHAM: Don’t be angry, but what if only ten leeks – er, righteous people, can be found?

GOD:  Deal.

Abraham must have felt pretty good about his negotiating prowess.  He probably stopped dead in his little moonwalk victory dance as he caught the news headline:

Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed

Even during negotiations, God already knew there were not ten morally upright people in the whole place.  But he listened patiently to Abraham, who learned that God always makes the righteous decision.

We can negotiate with God all we want, but ultimately He is the one with the foreknowledge and the power.  He even has the strength to withstand the negotiations of a toddler. So sometimes we need to just suck it up and finish our vegetables.

 

Fish and Visitors

 

According to Ben Franklin, fish and visitors stink after three days.  I think fish pretty much stink all the time.  And we had a recent visitor who reeked the moment he crossed our threshold.   His name was Sickness, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a more rude and unwelcome guest.  The intrepid caller barged in uninvited and put his ugly feet up on my children.  Despite my pleas, he was planning on a long visit, and I didn’t like the way this smelled.

“I have no clean guest towels,” I pleaded graciously.

“No problem,” he answered.  “I’m a slovenly fellow.”

“But I haven’t made the guest bed.”

“Don’t worry.  I’ll bunk with your children.”

I dropped the decorum.

“But you stink.”

“It’s my new scent,” he bragged. “A delicate blend of VapoRub and Hall’s Mentho-lyptus.  Get used to it.”

And get used to it I did, for this guest was with us for most of March.  The visit began innocently enough, with the trifles of a strained relationship. He left dirty tissues all over our floor, and his medicine cups became the centerpiece of our decor. At one point Sickness even left, and I prematurely celebrated.  It turned out he merely went to do some errands, for soon he was back on our doorstep again.  This time he was offended when I tried to slam the door in his face, and he really showed his ugly side. 

Every time Sickness opened his mouth to speak, one of my kids would hack or sneeze or feverishly whimper.  Then I just got angry.   How dare he invade my personal space and hurt my children.  My five-year-old got angry, too, and it showed in his prayers.  First he prayed that God would feed his germs to the sharks.  Then he asked God to feed his germs to evil people on a sandwich.  I was slightly confused by his grammatical structure, but I’m pretty sure the people weren’t supposed to be on the sandwich, just the germs.

Then Sickness fought back.  He tried to appease me, to bring me over to his side.  I felt myself getting sucked into the Vortex of Sickness. Quite frankly, I felt like Luke Skywalker holding on for dear life while Darth Vader reached out to him on the catwalk over the abyss. 

Click here to see the Vortex of Sickness.

God was the only one who could save me from falling.  But I had to be faithful in prayer and believing.  I have learned that God is not a vending machine, immediately spitting out the answers as soon as I put a coin into His slot.  We have to be steadfast and patient, not exactly long suits for a culture that freaks out if a pizza is not delivered within ten minutes.

Do we truly believe in God’s mercy and grace?  Do we believe that it is always His will for us to be healed? Jesus always did the will of God, and he always healed people.  Imagine hanging around with someone who would simply not tolerate your sickness. The only downside of being a disciple would have been the inability to call in sick to work.

            Peter:  Lord, I’m afraid I can’t make it in today.  I’m terribly ill.

            Jesus:  You’re healed.

            Peter: (aside)  Rats!

As difficult as it was for me to believe, God wanted my kids to be healed even more than I did. There was only one way to remove that nasty smell from our house.  I had to keep cleaning with the Master’s Hand.  One morning I woke up to discover that our guest had hit the road. He left in the middle of the night without even leaving a note. Good riddance, I say.  That’s one unwelcome guest I hope never to see…or smell, again.

Our Menu Options Have Changed

Psalm 64:1 Hear me O God, as I voice my complaint.

Sometimes I would rather put up with a broken or incorrect product than have to make the dreaded customer service call. In an informal survey, nine out of ten people reported the need for post traumatic stress treatment after a customer service encounter. Besides the waiting, there’s the Top 40 Elevator Hits that you hum along to out of boredom. Brain surgeons have described the difficulties of removing the Muzac version of REO Speedwagon once lodged in the brain during customer service calls.

A customer service representative is trained to be pleasant while delivering bad news.  Unfortunately, we will not refund your money, as you missed the deadline by one tenth of a second.  But don’t worry — just for calling today, we are going to charge an additional 10 percent whining fee to your credit card.  In fact, we’ve nominated you caller of the year.  Have a super-duper day!!  Click.

Of course, this is nothing compared to an automated customer service call, which is the company’s way of saying, “We couldn’t even pay people to listen to your whining.  Please speak to the VOICE, whom we have trained to mess with you until you forget your complaint and hang up in frustration.”

VOICE:  Please state your ten digit phone number or enter the numbers on your key pad, followed by the pound sign.

Paranoid that you will not remember to press pound after ten whole digits, you decide to state your number instead. 

VOICE:  I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.  Please state that again.

You say the numbers again, only this time with a slight edge to your voice. 

VOICE:  I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.  Please state that again.

Her voice starts to sound maniacal.  Your pulse is racing and sweat beads form on your brow.  This time you YELL the numbers in irritation, and you enunciate as though even your pet monkey would be able to decipher the code.

VOICE:  I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.  Please state that again.

Switching tactics, you decide to enter the digits on the key pad.  You pound each number sarcastically, as if to say, “Can. you. hear. me. NOW?”

VOICE:  You did not hit the pound sign.  Please enter your ten digit phone number again, followed by the pound sign.

And that’s when your  cell phone ends up in your neighbor’s swimming pool.                        

While I was recently making such a call, our kids could barely tolerate waiting for such a long  time while I was on the phone. Since their collective patience is shorter than the lifespan of a fruit fly, they seem to enjoy the fact that they can pray to God whenever they feel like it and not be put on hold.   

What’s amazing is that God takes complaints from us without using customer service representatives.  What if when we wanted to talk to God, we had to go through THE VOICE?

Your call is very important to us. Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed…

For whining and complaining, press 1. Due to excessive call volume for this option, your estimated waiting time is one month. 

For personal requests, press 2.  Estimated wait is 2 weeks.

To leave a message of praise and thankfulness, press 3.  No one is on hold; your call will be put through immediately. 

This is how you know God is love. Since the beginning of time, He has only had one menu option.  Whether you have a complaint, a request, or a praise, you simply call Him, and He’ll take your call directly and immediately. He listens patiently and answers lovingly. And yes, your call is very important to Him.