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…

click here to eat this article up in all its delicious entirety at wherethefishhavenoname.com.

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Who Would Jesus Vote For?

12 04 2008

Who would Jesus vote for?

That, or something closely approximating it, is the title of a book I saw on display the other day at a Christian bookstore.  I didn’t pick up the book at the time, but later I recalled the title and couldn’t help but laugh a bit.  I’m assuming the title was tongue-in-cheek.  But it did cause me to dwell upon the question and create my own answer.  And the anwer is this:

Click here to read this blog entry at Where The Fish Have No Name.





It’s a Hurt Called Love

3 04 2008

Ever have to shake something hard to get it to come loose?  Perhaps you have something unwanted on the bottom of your shoe, so you smack it hard against the pavement.   Or, you find that an unwanted sliver of cellophane has lovingly attached itself to your hand, and you shake vigorously to cause it to fall away.

I’ve learned that’s how it can also be with us when we give ourselves over to God’s hands.  We would love to stick with the status-quo, so God has to shake us hard to cause us to move.  Barbara and I had hoped to minister here at our present church for 10-15 years.  But God had other plans for us.  We could have sworn that it was His will that we stay here to see through all the visions and dreams we had for the work.  Sadly, financial calamity in a particularly economically depressed area has changed our reality.  I’m not sure how anyone can afford to live here in the Chicago region.  The winters are hard and the taxes are harder.  As gas prices sky-rocket, our days left to serve here are diminishing.

I’m perfectly sure that in my desire to stay beyond our short five year tenure I could have become quite comfortable.  I expect that we would have seen more and more of God’s blessings as we endeavored to serve faithfully.  After seeing our families systematically destroyed financially, it has fatally damaged our church’s already skin and bones budget.  So, we’ve been shaken.  Hard.  Buddy, I mean to tell you, my ears are ringing.  We have been shaken loose.  If it weren’t for the massive medical bills still hanging over our head, we would have found a way to stay.  But the earth has moved, the windows have rattled, and we’ve been shaken loose.

broken heartIt hurts deeply to have to say goodbye to co-workers in Christ who’ve become family to us.  We moved far from our families and God blessed us with…  family!  Christ calls the church His body.  We feel as though part of our body is being ripped from us.  We were made one with these wonderful people, now we’re forced to move on.

Why does God allow us to hurt so?  It’s because hurt is like a thermometer for something wonderful…  love.  The greater we love, the more it hurts to part.  And there’s never enough time anyway.  I learned that the hard way.  When my mother died of cancer, we had several months of warning.  Still, there was not enough time to say goodbye.  As I’ve counseled with grieving individuals who’ve lost family members suddenly, I’ve often heard them say, “I wish I could have had just one more moment with them.”  But there are never enough one-more-moments.  Love is like that.  It is a thick and warm blanket.  Moving away from those we love is like getting out of a warm bed on a cold night.  It just reminds us how comfortable the bed really is.

In a way it is a blessing to hurt this way.  It reminds us of how blessed we’ve been to be a part of this community of love.  And it makes me even more homesick for Heaven.  What a great homecoming that will be.  Love hurts.  Thankfully, love hurts.





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.






Elvis The Pelvis

27 03 2008

The controversies surrounding the seductive moves of Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan show predate me just a bit. In fact, I was still but a spry young pre-teen when The King kicked the bucket on the throne.

But lurking there in my knowledge of shag carpeted walls, TV screens with bullet holes, and fried ‘nanner and peanut butter sandwiches lies the recollection of a controversy that once threatened to split the nation.elvis the pelvis

For it was back in the day when everything was still in black and white that the snarly lipped one from Memphis created a stir by swayin’ to the music in a manner than many believed would eternally corrupt the souls of anyone who looked on. Elvis the Pelvis, they called him.

It’s hard to believe that “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” were ever controversial fare. I can’t imagine Elvis’ albums slapped with the warning sticker: “PARENTAL ADVISORY: ALBUM MAY CAUSE GYRATING”.

And yet as I look at the Elvis era with a wry smile and plate of biscuits and gravy, I can’t help but wonder what stuff that gets me all up in wads today will be looked upon as mild by generations to come. Frankly, Scarlett, I’ll admit that scares me just a bit. I’m convinced that we don’t take the lowering of the bar seriously enough.

Here’s how I think it works. Teens, by nature, need to shock their parents just a smidge. Or more. They need to establish their identity by doing something that sets the collective teeth of the previous generation on edge. So, they allow some new moral compromise into their midst. Adults are shocked. Teens have rebelled. End of story, right? Wrong. Here comes the next generation… the kids of the no longer teen-aged. In order to establish their rebel creds, they’ve gotta put something new into the face of their once hip parents. So they lower the bar just a bit more. More moral compromise. With fries on the side.

This theory explains how our society has edged into moral decay. European cultures have even taken this farther; they’ve had to dig great wells in order to lower their bar even farther. That’s why we’re considered prudish. But is responsible sexuality truly prudish? Is maintaining a sense of health and faithfulness in relationships truly a thing of the past? What’s the next level of so-called sexual freedom yet to come?

I’d contend that sexual freedom cannot be found in liberality. Sexual freedom has nothing to do with one’s ability to conquer all territory at will. True freedom comes without risk of shame, disease, brokenness or addiction. Freedom is only expressed when one is truly free from all forces negative. That’s why Christ-followers are truly free… it’s not a license to do as one pleases, it’s a sense of regarding yourself and others with true respect so that the outcome will always be on the positive side of the ledger.

I doubt that many will agree with these sentiments. These are not popular words to express these days. But even more shocking should be the fact that I don’t believe we should force such thinking down the throat of anyone. The only way to make a difference is to live the difference. The greatest way to teach is to lead by example. Zip the mouth, and zip the pants. Once Christians begin to get that right, we might have a chance to free one or two souls along the way.