Did you know that crows often bicker like married couples? (I admit my propensity to spend too much time observing the antics of crows is rather odd, but we all have hobbies.) Yep, just drop a half-eaten bag of French fries in a vacant city parking lot and watch the fun begin. One crow will swoop down and go to town on the fries. Soon another crow will appear, then another, then another. Before the French fries appeared, the crows were all buddies hanging out in the trees. But now they are bitter rivals. They flap their open wings at each other while lunging in and out to grab French fries. And their language is obscene. Still, I suspect that if there were no crows we’d be up to our necks in discarded French fries and other fast-food refuse. Makes you appreciate these black-feathered janitors of the skies, don’t it?
I sometimes wonder if crows mate for life (or if they are promiscuous). And where do crows raise their young? You see thousands of adult crows in my part of the country, but you rarely see where they nest. Given the ill-tempered nature of crows, I am certain married crows argue a lot.
Humans are a bit like crows. For instance, I saw an article recently that listed the most common things that rankled married couples. Here is a sample:
He leaves the toilet seat up.
He won’t look for food in the back of the refrigerator.
He puts dirty dishes in the sink instead of in the dishwasher.
After showering, he leaves the damp towel on the floor or on the bed.
He leaves dirty clothes next to the laundry hamper instead of putting them in the hamper.
He puts the garbage on the kitchen counter right next to the garbage can.
She leaves kitchen drawers open.
It takes her weeks to unpack from a business trip.
She doesn’t hang the towel back where it belongs after showering. (Perhaps that is why he leaves his damp towel on the bed.)
She takes too long in the shower.
She worries too much.
She has poor communication skills.
She constantly loses her car keys. (My personal favorite.)
Many years ago, an older pastor looked me in the eye and said he never argued with his wife. (And here I thought lying was frowned on in the pastorate.) Even if a tiny fraction of married folks don’t bicker, I wonder if something is amiss in those bickerless relationships. The Bible says that a man and woman who marry will become one flesh. That process of becoming one flesh can be uncomfortable. A man I recently met said he occasionally argued with his wife over trivial stuff because it somehow helped him feel like HE was still there. In other words, husbands and wives can, at times, feel like they are losing their individual self within marriage. But committed couples learn to compromise and adjust. And a funny, almost counterintuitive, thing happens as the years pass: we become one flesh with each other while at the same time our individual self matures. That’s cool! And maybe it’s akin to what Jesus meant when he said if we lose our life for his sake we will find our life.
Crows can bicker all day over French fries and it won’t help them become better crows. Human couples can bicker and become better people or bitter people. It’s a choice.
I’ve been to a few men’s retreats in my life. (The ladies are so intolerant when I try to sign up for theirs.) I recall one men’s retreat in particular. We were well into the retreat when a contingent of men shared their disappointment about the theme and lessons presented by the speakers. The theme was fairly mainstream for a group of Christian men, so I was a bit surprised by their discontent. Granted, the speakers encouraged men to confront some of their deepest emotional injuries and disappointments in order for the Lord to bring healing (an endeavor akin to asking ladies at a women’s retreat to participate in bare-skin paintball battles).
After decades in the church ecosystem, I have learned many things. Here is one definitely worth sharing: not every sermon, men’s retreat theme, conference speaker, Bible study lesson, worship song or worship team will move me spiritually, speak to me in a profound way, or have anything to do with me. It is OK to feel a little disappointed when this happens. But simply put, sometimes the message is from God to others and our role is that of a witness to support and affirm what God is doing in the lives of the people for whom the message is meant. When we are able to do this, I believe it is a milestone in our journey of maturity in the faith. Oddly enough, I receive a blessing when I accept that the message is not for me and I pray for and encourage those to whom God is speaking.
My wife and I visited a new church in our neighborhood on a recent Sunday morning. I felt anxious as we strolled up to the front door. It was the type of anxiety I always feel when about to meet new people. Will I be on my best behavior? Will they like me? Will I like them? Will they see through my facade to the real me? Well, they did see through my facade.
After exchanging pleasantries with the greeter at the door, I scooted into the safety of a back row seat. While waiting for the service to begin, I started reading the handout the greeter gave me at the door. I never got past the first paragraph. Here is what it said:
“Inside these doors you’ll discover people who struggle with lying, cheating, envy, greed, sexual impurity, gossiping, back-biting, bickering, anger, swaggering, bullying, cruelness, arrogance, meanness, stupidity, impatience, hate, judgment, pride, and even more.”
Wow, at first glance that didn’t read like the best marketing plan to attract new people to the church. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. We have an innate human tendency to put our best foot forward, make a good first impression, hide the crazy as long as possible, dazzle people with our best qualities and prevent others from seeing our imperfections. But no matter how hard we try to conceal the flaws, they will betray us when the pressure is on.
Do you know what engineers and technology professionals sometimes call imperfections in new products? Bugs! That’s us. We have bugs in our lives.
My dad always told me you can do anything you set your mind to. It encouraged me to be ambitious. But the reality of life taught me there are some bugs we cannot fix by ourselves. In fact, I’m not certain we can take ultimate responsibility for fixing any of our bugs. I think God does the fixing. Don’t get me wrong. I know we can’t sit idle and expect God to do all the work. We have to choose to fix the bugs and then act. It can take years simply to have that aha realization about a bug that’s causing a lot of problems in our life. That’s where God is indispensible. He’s in the business of revealing bugs and helping us exterminate them.
So the next time some mocking non-believer accuses us Christians of being hypocrites, we can say yes, we are, and so are many of those who accuse us of hypocrisy. The difference is there are Christians among us willing to face the reality of their bugs and, with God’s help, exterminate them, or at least minimize them. This is simply a necessary part of the path to maturity and depth. It’s the people who don’t think they have any serious bugs or need help with the bugs they know about that I worry about.
Yep, the folks at Crosspointe Church in Natomas, California, saw through my façade to the real me. They even listed some of my characteristics in the first paragraph of their bulletin. You might see some of yours in their bulletin, as well.
Something happened when I was about eleven that still makes the hair on my neck stand up when I think about it. My dad kept a couple guns in the house. And he had taught me how to use one of the guns, a small 22 caliber rifle. He never failed to stress the rifle’s potentially lethal reality if handled improperly. He kept the rifle in his bedroom closet.
Like many boys I had a fascination with guns. But my dad had laid down the law that I was not old enough to shoot without adult supervision.
One day, a group of my friends and me were hanging out. There were a couple of new kids in our group and I wanted to impress them. My dad was gone for the day so I snuck in and grabbed the 22 rifle and a box of shells. We rode our bikes to a nearby pond where I demonstrated my gun prowess by shooting at pieces of wood and cans we threw in the water. The other boys were running around and throwing things in the water for me to shoot at. But in the midst of our reckless adventure, the gun jammed. I stepped back from the edge of the water, pointed the gun at the ground, and attempted to clear the jam. While focusing on the jammed bullet I didn’t notice I had raised the barrel of the gun. I also didn’t notice that two of my buddies had run to the edge of the water a few feet in front of me.
I still don’t know how it happened, but while trying to pry out the bullet, the rifle fired. Contrary to what you may have heard, everything did not happen in slow motion. In fact it all happened in hyper-speed. I felt sheer panic, the type of panic that shoots through your entire body and convulses your soul. I jerked my head up to see the tail end of the muzzle blast and the explosion where the bullet struck the surface of the pond. I felt sick as the realization hit home that the bullet had missed one of the boys in front of me by little more than a foot. The boy spun round with eyes wide with shock and fear.
Even at that immature age, I instantly knew that the other boy and I had narrowly averted a life-altering event. Still shaking, I quickly packed up the gun and went home where I stowed it back in my dad’s closet. I never told him about this incident.
In John 14 Jesus tells us at least three times that those who love him obey him.
Obedience is defined in part by yielding and submitting to another. It sounds simple. Yet I wonder if we often love and yield to the idea of Christ instead of Christ the person. I wonder if we live vicariously through the teachings and examples of Christ that feel good to hear, but obeying them . . . not so much.
I don’t have an easy answer. There’s disobedience in my life and I’ve witnessed a lot of disobedience in the lives of countless Christians. But as I sat musing about love and obedience it came to me that when I disobeyed my dad and took the rifle out of his closet, I was thinking and acting like an immature child (I know, duh!). But here’s the point: though I loved my dad I was not connecting the dots between loving him and obeying his rules. If my dad were alive today and told me to stay out of his closet, I would do so out of love and respect. Yes, yes, I know part of the reason for obedience is for our own protection against the hurts of the world. I get that. But perhaps Jesus is asking us in John 14 to grow up and mature so we can express our love in the most meaningful way—obedience.
By the way, I’ve noticed that obedience often entails a choice between something we really want and something we know God wants us to do, or not do. Only a mature love for Christ the person can prevail against our own desires.