Christian Fortune Telling: Our Revelation Fixation

1 05 2008

The end times are upon us.  All signs point to the end of days.

So say any number of Christian philosophers and authors.  The interesting thing is that this could be said of any point in time starting with the very first Christian church.

Part of our, uh, shall I say, “charm” as Christians has been our fixation on what will be rather than what is now.  That has nothing to do with our hope, and everything to do with our desire to know what is going to happen in our earthly future.  This fixation plays out again in our generation with everything from fiction works to Jerusalem-based doom-sayers.  Chicken little is alive and well and writing books.  Perhaps the biggest, most notable contributor to our end-days craze of late is the Christian world’s equivalent to tarot cards, the “Left Behind” series.

I remember as a child being scared to death…

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The Best Frozen Pizza

24 04 2008

OK, so I am not wont to making consumer recommendations.  That being said, I have a consumer recommendation I want to make.

Frozen pizza is one of those weird food areas where you realize the topping are going to, generally, be of low quality, freshness isn’t even an option, and the ending quality is something ranging between aerosol cheesegino's east pizza spray and Spam.  But then we don’t eat frozen pizza for the pizza of it.  It’s more or less a convenience item that fills the gaps between real pizzas.  That being said, Barbara and I have occasionally happened upon a frozen pizza that’s a tab bit better than the norm.

Living in the arctic circle surrounding Chicago, one would wonder why we’d even bother to buy freezer fried pizza.  After all, with the abundance of some of the best pizza places in the world here, you’d think nothing that ever crossed the gate of the freezer door would cross the gape of our lips.  But that is a philosophical question I’ll leave for the mystics and theologians to sort out.  All I know is, occasionally we heat up one of those stiff discs.

But then we discovered it…

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Where The Fish Have No Name Redux

11 04 2008

Welcome to my first fresh entry on my new location for “Where The Fish Have No Name”.  I started this as a place to simply let off some spiritual steam and creativity.  I never imagined the response it would bring.  Comments have come into me far beyond the blogs comment boards itself including phone calls and emails.  In recent weeks I’ve been blessed to log over a1,000 unique hits a day, which really blew me away.  And then it all crumbled off the side of the mountain.

Read this blog entry in its entirety here.

A Good Reason To Burn All Your Tracts

31 03 2008

It finally happened.  I suppose it was inevitable.  I mean, you give computers to a room full of monkeys and eventually one of them is gonna, well, uh, apply for a job with the IRS.

So it makes sense that the odds finally caught up with me.  After countless tries, after years of toil and turmoil, I finally made a decent pot of chili.  Lots of onion.  A perfect balance of chili powder and other various and sundry seasonings.  Slow simmered in a cast iron dutch oven.  And finally, the perfect chili.  Happily, it happened on the day that we were taking the chili to share at a church function. perfect chili cast iron dutch oven

In the past I’ve made lots of mistakes with good intentions.  I’d throw a bit of this and a bunch of that in thinking that if I added enough stuff, eventually I’d come up with just the right unique touch to please our particular pallets.  I once heard that some chili makers add chocolate to their mix.  I tried it.  Bogus.  Didn’t work for me.

So today, in fear that I’d create some concoction that would create revulsion to the degree only previously experienced in the pie eating contest scene in the movie, “Stand By Me”, I played it cool.  I kept it simple.  As it turns out, simple was the key.  I forgot one of the surest principles of cooking and many other things in life; simplicity is usually the key to excellence.

As a pastor, I’ve heard countless theories on how to properly program and execute the functions of a church.  And then I’ve observed well meaning people throw so many ingredients into the pot until the end product is inedible.  People turn away in revulsion.

Simplicity works where complexity fails.  Our neighbors, co-workers, friends and families don’t need a new version of the plan of salvation or some new flip-chart methodology.  We don’t need tracts with flames vs. clouds, and we don’t need another book with a whole new plan.  What we need is a return to the simple.  We need to give the world what it is hungry for, not what we think they ought to have.  It’s all about being help, hope and healing.  It starts with a relationship, it travels through time fueled by love, patience and kindness (can anyone say, “fruit of the spirit”?), and it manifests itself in help, hope and healing.

So if you’re finding yourself struggling to find your way to relevance in a world of spiritual confusion, get simple.  Reread one of the Gospels tonight.  “Mark” will do.  Spend a few minutes in 1 John.  Get real with some honest and open prayer.  Seek the Spirit and ask for a game plan.  Hey, these are the types of prayers that God loves to answer.  Just keep it simple.

Many great meals begin humbly and simply.

Sand Lot Salvation

30 03 2008

Baseball. Love the game. It’s my only game. I’m not a sports fan at all, but I do love baseball.

I first fell in love with the sport when our church group made its yearly treks to Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati to watch the Reds take it to the visiting team. That was the era of the Big Red Machine… Rose, Bench, Morgan, Griffey (Sr.), Foster… and on the list goes. All was right with the world there in the upper deck with a brat, coke, bag of peanuts and my dad at my side. They said that Riverfront was “cookie cutter”, but I didn’t care. To me, the thrill of walking through the gate and into a bowl of humanity and that big green field below was all I needed to fall in love. It wasn’t a field, it was a stadium. And it brimmed with all the mystique and magic a young boy could contain.riverfront stadium

I met Pete Rose a couple of years ago when I was still in radio. He was signing autographs for a record company – one that wanted to position themselves as having all the “hits” just like Pete. It was well after the big ban, but Charlie Hustle still seemed bigger than life. As my turn came to get a ball-cap signed and a picture snapped with the living legend himself, I couldn’t stand it that my 2 seconds with one of my baseball heroes was gonna boil down to a sign, smile, snap and move on. So I blurted out, “Pete, you’ll be in the hall-of-fame someday”. I’m not sure that my opinion on the matter will sway the upper ups of baseball, but there for a second, I had the hit king’s full attention. He looked up at me and said, “Thanks, Greg!”. Then it was over. I was escorted away while a Polaroid picture was thrust at me. As the moment faded, the picture gained more and more clarity.

Opening day is at hand, and life will resume. And this might be the year, it just might be.

There is nothing significantly theological about this, but I can’t help thinking that God gave me baseball as a special gift. I can’t throw a ball two feet, I rarely can put wood to leather when swinging, and if I should catch a line drive I’m likely as not to grimace from the pain. But I can play the radio (or listen online) just fine, thank-you. I might at times get caught in the fantasy and see myself on the field, but I also know that the day will come when I can play with the best and take on any comer. Baseball is a gift because it melds the sweltering days of summer with the yet-to-be sweet summers of Heaven and reminds me that even though I live in mortal flesh, I can also taste eternity. Heaven isn’t a far off thing – God lets us sample from the box every now and then. And it’s called baseball.

Jesus Had A Dog

22 03 2008

My wife and I love dogs. We like the big dogs, but occasionally a beagle works its way into our hearts. Our dog Max has been a source of comfort, love and protection. We have learned countless lessons about life and love from our lab/boarder collie mix. And we’ve often mused that the best Christian we’ve ever met is a dog.

Please don’t think I’m adding some new dogma to religious thought. It’s just that the dogs we’ve welcomed into our home have been forgiving to a fault, loving to the nth degree, and completely giving of themselves for the good of others. That’s more than most of us manage to muster in our walk of faith.

We also find ourselves often conjecturing what Max is thinking. I’ve mused here before about his perfectly appropriate andthe kids and max human-like responses. Just last night, Barbara made a comment about Max that drew a deep sigh from him. We just laughed.

Don’t get me wrong, a dog is a dog. But that’s a great thing. If a dog were human, it would surely render it full of faults and flaws.

With the dearth of Jesus related specials on TV here in the Easter season, we’ve been presented with both fact and fiction in regards to the analysis of the Messiah. We like to speculate about all the details of His life. I merely have one to offer. I believe Jesus owned a dog. I have no proof, no Biblical or extra-Biblical texts to bolster this K9 kerygma. I just see it as being a fine thing to contemplate. Great men and good dogs seem to go together well in my mind.

Why even bother to mention these odd observations? Merely out of fancy and frivolity I suppose. But if there is something here that can be taken away, it’s the reminder of the awesome lessons of God we can learn from his so-called lesser creatures. Certainly there is nothing lesser about a dog. Their examples of pure, undiluted, unshakable love and devotion causes us to see that such devotion does not have to take place blindly or foolishly. A dog is devoted because that’s his nature; his desire to to fit within his pack. We too have longings for relevance and belonging. Yet we so often pursue that through self-promotion and self-adulation. Not a dog. Without giving up a whit of doghood, our precious four legged friends give themselves to us without regard for their own well-being. Ignore a dog for days, give him no food or water, smack him around like a rag doll, and he’ll still love you. I pray, though, that you never experiment with that proposition!

It really doesn’t matter if Jesus had a dog. Such talk is silliness. What does matter is knowing that intelligence and faith, devotion and well-being do go hand in hand. We learn this from one of God’s greatest gifts… our dogs.

On Toe Jam and Sacraments

20 03 2008

Growing up in my particular protestant tradition, I never really understood Maundy Thursday.  As you might do as well, we would jokingly refer to it as “Monday Thursday” out of ignorance of what it really meant.

For the first year in my pastoral ministry, I’m preparing a special service.  Maundy Thursday commemorates the giving of the Lord’s Supper, and is often celebrated with foot washings in memory of Jesus’ act of servanthood towards the disciples.

lord’s supper communion maundy thursdayI’m not given to believe that foot washing is a sacrament; there is no suggestion or command to commemorate it.  I, for one, do not participate in such events simply because I have a great aversion to feet!  Everyone has something that is hard to stomach, and for me, anything podiatrically related does my digestive system in.

I suspect that we miss the true meaning of the foot washing event.  Today it has far less significance in that, with the exception of the hygienically impaired, people’s feet are not as filthy as they were in sandal wearing days.  Even exposed piggies do not receive near the exposure to filth of varying degrees they once did.   So, the foot washings of today lack the relevance of the original act of service that Christ extended to His disciples.

I really like the idea that on Maundy Thursday, the monarchs of England give coins to the needy.  Herein lies the recipe for true service that this day calls us towards.  Christ commanded us to love, and to remember His sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.  One of the many facets of this sacrifice involves setting the example for our lives.  The greatest rewards in this life come when we live sacrificially for others.  Therefore, beyond commemoration of the giving of the Lord’s Supper, Maundy Thursday stands as a reminder that sacrifice brings new life and great joy.

Should we do foot washings?  I would never dismiss such a ritual if it truly has meaning for you.  But like all things, if its significance has worn thin, then its time to move on.  It is not a sacrament.  On the other hand, we must find ways to express servanthood to each other through our giving of ourselves and our resources.   This is the heart of the Maundy Thursday message, and it’s where my heart is today.  May God richly bless you.