Sunday, April 29, 2007

What bathroom cleaning products teach us about following God’s plan

(By Erik)

I preached the Sunday evening sermon at the church in Hennessey, Okla., tonight. If you're interested, here are some of my sermon notes:

Proverbs 3:3-8:

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. 8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.

One of the joys of home ownership is the privilege of keeping the bathrooms clean. (You usually have to do this if you rent, too, but you don’t usually care as much — at least if you’re a guy.)

The house that we’ve lived in for nearly two years now has some 1970s-style tiling in the shower — lots of medium-size squares. As you know, this attracts mildew, and our master bathroom was accumulating quite a lot of it.

I tackled the mildew the same way I’ve tackled every bathroom-cleaning situation since college — with Comet, a sponge and lots of elbow grease. That’s what my dad used on our bathroom when I was a kid, so it was good enough for me. But I just wasn’t reaching the nooks and crannies between the tiles.

My wife is a big fan of Scrubbing Bubbles, so I gave them a try. Evidently, they work hard so I don’t have to. And they did get the shower clean, but the little black lines of mildew remained.

I figured it was time for some heavy artillery, so I went to the store and bought something called Kaboom Ultra Scrub (After all, any product that makes use of onomatopoeia has to work, right? “Kaboom!”) Like the label promised, Kaboom got rid of the hard water stains, soap scum, rust and grease. But the mildew remained.

For several months I tried all three of these products in concert — plus tears, sweat and, occasionally, blood — but at best it was a holding action between me and mildew.

Finally, I took the time to actually read the labels of the cleaners and realized that none of them mentioned anything about getting rid of mildew.

Incidentally, I did recently consult the Scriptures about the problem of mildew, and, believe it or not, there’s an extensive discussion of it in Leviticus 14:33-53. Basically, if you have mildew in your house a priest has to come over, seal off the whole house, remove the part of the wall with the mildew, and replace the stones. Then, if it comes back, the whole house has to be torn down. I thought I’d try one more trip to the grocery store before I called in the Rev. Bob Vila.

With that in mind, I returned to the store and looked for something that included a mildew remover. After reading the fine print on several cans and bottles, Jeanie suggested I try the one that said (in bold letters) “Lysol MILDEW Remover.”

With my new weapon in hand, I returned to the bathroom, ready to roll up my sleeves and do battle again with my fungal foe. The instructions said to spray the Lysol on the surface of the tile, wait five minutes, and clean it with a sponge. That’s what I did.

But when the time had passed and the fumes (which are a bit strong, I might add) subsided, I couldn’t even remember exactly where I had sprayed. The mildew was gone. It surrendered without a fight. To my unbelieving eyes it was nothing short of miraculous. Our master bath now looks like it did when we moved in.

In a way I was almost disappointed. After months of struggling with this unclean shower, the solution involved spraying, waiting, and rinsing. I was ready to scrub, ready to sweat, but I didn’t need to.

Of course, I saw the spiritual implications of this almost immediately. There are many lessons I could point to — hearing God’s voice, having patience, the singular nature of the Gospel, studying to show myself approved (and competent in the use of household cleaners).

The real point that got to me from this object lesson is my own inability to follow God’s instructions. So often I’m so focused on the way I think things should be done that I fail to follow even the simplest directions — and as a result I make my life much more complicated than it needs to be.

At Memorial Road this quarter we’re studying the life of Moses, and we’re to the point where the children of Israel are spending 40 years in the wilderness. Of course, the biggest thing that sticks out about these years of wandering is the general whininess of the people. Just when God provides for them — bringing them through the Red Sea — they almost immediately start complaining about the lack of food and water.

He always meets their needs with something that sounds silly. “Throw this piece of wood in the water and it won’t be bitter anymore.” “Hungry? OK, here’s a bunch of quail and bread that literally comes out of nowhere.” “Thirsty again? OK, smack this rock with your staff and you’ve got more water.”

God’s solutions to our needs always seem to be less than grandiose. Just ask Naaman.

2 Kings 5:1

1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

In this day and age, nothing will kill a career like leprosy. That passage seems to just tack it on like it’s a skin rash, not the debilitating condition that causes body parts to fall off! Of course, the Bible uses the term “leprosy” to describe a lot of skin ailments, not just the condition known today as Hansen’s disease. Whatever Naaman had, it was serious.

2 Kings 5:2-3

2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. 3 She said to her mistress, "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy."

Naaman gets permission from his boss to go and see this prophet, so they arrange the meeting through diplomatic channels. At first the king of Israel thinks it’s a trick. Naaman comes seeking a cure, but there is no cure, so Aram has an excuse to declare war on Israel. But the prophet, Elisha, steps in and basically informs the king that this matter has nothing to do with him. We’re about to find out that God really does care for Naaman — despite the fact that he’s not a Jew.

2 Kings 5:9-12

9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed."

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?" So he turned and went off in a rage.

I’ve been there. Surely what Naaman has is so serious that a simple dip in the river isn’t going to cure it. The least Elisha could have done is told Naaman in person that there’s no cure.

Elisha’s recommendation just wasn’t grandiose enough. Notice how Naaman even came up with some alternate scenarios that he found more appealing. I can find waters a lot cleaner than the Jordan if all I’m going to do is take a bath.

I think we do this all the time when God presents us with a solution to our troubles. We crave mountaintop experiences when all he wants is a simple act of submission. I see a lot in common between the way we view baptism by immersion and the way Naaman viewed his own watery cure. It just didn’t seem big enough to fix what was wrong with him. And, quite frankly, the whole thing seemed distasteful for an important army official — not to mention humiliating.

2 Kings 5:13-15

13 Naaman's servants went to him and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, 'Wash and be cleansed'!" 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant."

Jesus references this healing in Luke 4:27. He’s trying to explain to the people that God’s healing extends beyond his chosen people.

Luke 4:27

27And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian."

Obeying God’s simple instructions pays dividends. It made a believer out of Naaman, but first he had to be willing to humble himself to the will of God. He had to be willing to do something that didn’t make a lot of sense. He had to swallow his pride and just do what God asked. And it worked.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Dirty Dancing with the stars, but not really, because I never saw that film all the way through

(By Erik)

I thought one or two of you might enjoy my latest movie review for Netflix. The film: The 1984 classic Red Dawn starring a young Patrick Swayze, an equally young Charlie Sheen, an incredibly young Jennifer Grey and a C. Thomas Howell so young that he actually hadn’t been born yet.

Here’s the Netflix synopsis:

A group of high schoolers witnesses Soviet and Cuban paratroopers descending on their small Colorado town, setting off World War III. The teens -- led by Jed Eckert (Swayze) -- take food and whatever weapons they can find and hightail it into the hills to wait things out. But with the communist invaders on their trail, Jed and his young compatriots decide to launch a guerilla campaign and strike back.

And here’s my review:

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey — together again for the first time. Yes indeed, these two star-crossed lovers are in for some “Havana Nights” as a ruthless group of Cubans and Russians invades the mainland U.S.A.!

They planned every detail — left nothing to chance. But they didn’t count on the high school football team! Go Wolverines! Fight the Red Army! Destroy communism! Beat Westside! Win state!

THIS is the film that “Dirty Dancing” should have been. Big drama, big romance, and big explosions! Just imagine Johnny Castle saying, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” then whipping out his Uzi and exchanging gunfire with an enraged Jerry Orbach.

And then Sam Waterston runs in and prosecutes everybody, yelling, “And why don’t we throw out the entire Constitution, Arthur!”

(It goes on like that for several more paragraphs, but I’ll spare you. It all ends about the time that Whoopi Goldburg walks in and says “You in danger, girl!”)

Monday, April 16, 2007

'I will destroy the Lords of Dogtown!'

(By Erik)

It has long been my conviction that the movies are today are sorely lacking in truly great villains — the really fun-to-watch kind that make elaborate-yet-obvious plans for world domination and get righteously mad at the noble protagonist (or protagonists) for no apparent reason.

I firmly believe that most movies would be improved with the addition of a super-villain who, at one point in the film, shakes his fist in the air and yells “I will destroy the (insert name of film here).”

Here’s a list of films that I feel would be improved by the addition of such a character. To demonstrate, just hold your fist in the air, snarl, grit your teeth and proclaim:

"I will destroy The Usual Suspects!"

"I will destroy 12 Angry Men!"

"I will destroy the Honeymoon in Vegas!"

"I will destroy Citzen Kane!"

"I will destroy the Goodfellas!"

"I will destroy the National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation!"

"I will destroy the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!" (Wait, I think that line actually was in the movie.)

"I will destroy the Three Men and a Baby!"

"I will destroy the Three Men and a Little Lady!" (sequel)

"I will destroy The Neverending Story!"

"I will destroy the Taxi Driver!"

"I will destroy the Baby Geniuses!"

"I will destroy The Color Purple!"

"I will destroy the Sling Blade!"

"I will destroy the Sleepless in Seattle!"

"I will destroy the Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo!" (Doesn't really work, but couldn't resist typing "Boogaloo.")

"I will destroy the Pretty Woman!"

"I will destroy the 10 Things I Hate About You!"

"I will destroy The Wedding Singer!"

"I will destroy the Being John Malkovich!"

"I will destroy The Importance of Being Earnest!"

"I will destroy The Bridges of Madison County!" (Wait, I think the line was in that movie, too)

Feel free to post a comment and add to the list — if you dare! Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

("Wow, he actually wrote out his villain laugh." — Arthur, from the cartoon series The Tick.)