Calling Phillip Part II – Finding Hope

29 04 2008

In my former career in radio, I was fortunate to rub shoulders with most of the artists who inhabited the burgeoning country music scene of the 90s.  Some were friendly and common as a dollar bill.  Others were stand-offish and uptight.  A couple were dumb as a bag of hammers.  There were those who lived in a bottle, and others who’d been on Willie’s bus, so to speak.  There were many who’d fit in just fine at any of our family events; these were the ones who disdained adulation and preferred slap-on-the-back friendliness.  Then there was that annoying little nasal toned twerp (who has since won at least one entertainer of the year award) who would only give you the time of day if you were an attractive female.

One truism I learned was…

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Calling Philip

25 04 2008

For those of you who are already immersed into church ministry of some sort, you’ve no doubt noticed that there are a mind boggling number of evangelism programs out there.  Books, seminars, flip charts, tracts…  my eyes glaze over just trying to take it all in.  It seems right to me that we don’t need another program.  We need something that those in the world of diet crazes have started to figure out.

The new mantra among diet gurus is that we don’t need a new diet plan, we need a new life plan.  Addressing the harmful and destructive things we do to our own bodies via food intake must be addressed at the lifestyle level.  And that makes sense to me.

To read this article and find out what in the world Philip has to do with this, click here and visit my blog,  www.wherethefishhavenoname.

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.

Still Wiggling In My Heart

5 03 2008

Camp song file #214.  Boys sing, “Bu, bu, bu, bubbling.  Bu, bu, bu, bubbling.”  Repeat ad nauseum.  Make that, ad nauseous.

Girls sing, “Jesus’ love is a’ bubbling over, Jesus love is a’ bubbling over.”

All together now…

And that little tidbit still wrests a place in my mind as I think back over my 40 some odd years. 

One day, Mike and I were at the Old Country Buffet having lunch when I saw a rather tall and quite elderly gentleman approach the cashier on his way out.  With his chapeau in one hand and a cane in the other, he begins to speak with such low mellifluous tones his voice carried easily to many patrons.  To the young lady at the counter he asks, “Do you have Jeeeeeeeeesus in your heart?”  And yes, he really did draw out the Name of Christ in such manner.

The pretty young Latino girl nervously smiled and said, “Uh, yes.”bubbles

The old fella placed his hat on his head, turned and left.

After he was gone, I heard the girl turn to another worker and say, “I didn’t know what to say!”

I still ponder this scene, and I’m still not sure what to make of it.

We Christ-followers can, at times, be an odd lot.  I wonder if we truly realize how we come off to those who observe us.  Then I remember that old camp song.  Bu, bu, bu, bubbling.  Jesus love is a bubbling over.  Back then it was a quirky, catchy tune.  It has taken a few decades for me to finally get it.  What the world needs is not another “Bible thumper” (whatever that means…  I picture a guy in a suit thumb-thumping a black leather Bible…).  What it needs is people of genuine love who have the character of Christ overflowing from their life.  Our commission to tell the world is the twin sister to our command to love.  One without the other is void.  Placing well intentioned tracts won’t do it.  Scribbling “John 3:16” is only ponderous.  “Choose Heaven or Hell” billboards only fuel the idea that we are confrontational, condemning, self-righteous freaks.  Rather, the Gospel is only served by those who love first.  Those who exhibit authentic signs of the authentic change Christ offers.  Those whose joy touches others. 

What’s bubbling out of you today?

The Day That Starbucks Spilled Their Coffee

26 01 2008

I’m not a big coffee drinker.  I can tell you a bad cup of coffee when I have one, but beyond that, I have no clue what makes some people think one coffee is better than another.  I have never stepped foot into a Starbucks, but it’s just because I’ve never had a desire to go somewhere just for coffee.  So there is my disclaimer.

The news this week has it that McDonalds has made Starbucks flinch.  The word is that Starbucks is test marketing a one dollar cup of coffee to compete with McDonald’s attempt to enter into the high end coffee business.  My son-in-law works at Starbucks as he makes his way through his post-graduate work.  He bristles at any suggestion that McDonalds could come close to competing with Starbucks. 

Not long ago I was in the tiny storefront of a major donut chain.  Not a big fan of their donuts, but they were convenient at the moment.  This is a chain that has also taken on Starbucks by playing up their coffee.  Fresh brewed coffee, they call it.  Let me tell you what their fresh brewed coffee is.  I couldn’t resist laughing when I noticed the boxes of pre-packaged, pre-prepared coffee that said “fresh brewed” on the side.  In other words, they were merely reheating coffee that had been brewed elsewhere.  I guess they consider it fresh brewed so long as that is what they print on the side of their package.  Hmmmmm.

While I readily admit that I don’t understand this high end coffee phenomenon itself, I do understand some of the principles at work.  And these principles lead me to believe that McDonalds will never truly compete for Starbuck’s core constituency.  There is a sense of community that encompasses the Starbucks story.  Plus, there is the identity with a brand name that has set itself as a standard above the rest.  In our post-modern era where God and church have been eschewed for self-reliance and self-will, there is still an inner desire to be identified with something better.  Even the so-called non-conformists have a need to conform to certain ideals.  So Starbucks succeeds where the church today is failing…  they are filling the need for identity and community. 

It would be easy to wag our fingers at the “church” as a group and cast aspersions upon the crumbling facade of Christendom.  But in doing so we fail to realize just who the church is.  It is you and I.  We are the body.  Christ told us so.  The church is not an institution, it’s a confluence of individuals who are sacredly bound to carry out the calling of Christ.  Our society is crying out for something superior to identify with…  something that creates community and gives reason for pride.  Our culture has proved that for the most part, they have no aversion to paying five dollars for a cup of coffee.  That same ethos would apply to the church if they found the community, pride and identity that spoke to post-modern hearts.  This responsibility falls on you and I.  We MUST resolve to set aside the petty bickering and the inane gossiping that goes on inside the church building so that the church itself might show what Christ is truly about.  We MUST become concerned about the issues of the day because it is within those issues that we find hurting people.  These are the ones Jesus called us to touch in His Name.  Or, we can go about business as usual and wander why we’re losing out. 

This ministry is not in the hands of an organization.  It’s not in the hands of a denomination.  It’s not in the hands of some larger entity that gets paid to care.  It is in the hands and you and I, the individual pieces that make up the church collective.  The question is, do any of us really care?

Why We Should Care About The Death of Heath Ledger

23 01 2008

One area of Christianity that I often look upon with bewilderment is our stated desire to win lost souls combined with our distaste for the people who embody the spirit.  It seems self apparent that we enjoy looking down on celebrities because it makes us feel better about ourselves.  After all, they’re nothing but a bunch of liberal, drug sucking, pill popping, booze swilling, child abusing, bi-sexual miscreants who got lucky in life.  Right?  Wrong.

As we observe the media frenzy surrounding the death of Heath Ledger, the spectre of drug abuse has already arisen.  While there is no early indication that this was a factor in his death, once the media tastes blood, it becomes a full blown attempt to dismember the reputation of another celebrity gone too soon.

I’ll admit that I don’t have a lot of use for celebrities that preach their secular religion, profess concern for the poor and embattled, and scorn politicians as if they held some greater insight to governmental affairs.  These celebrities then prove to be, at the very least, disingenuous or hypocritical.  Very few live a life true to the philosophies they regurgitate.  And therein lies the problem for you and I, the common folk, if you will.  The problem becomes the words “nothing but” in the first paragraph.

It is so easy to disassociate people from their souls when we find them contemptible.  Certainly, there are a fair number of individuals who idolize their favorite stars.  But in general, the church has long been a haven for bitter sentiments directed towards the Hollywood elite.  This is both wrong-headed and dangerous.  When we allow ourselves to forget that EVERY person is someone who God desperately loves and desires, we are forsaking the heart of our calling as Christ-followers.  This does not in the least dismiss the need to respect and love the poor, disenfranchised, and unlovely.  Rather, it is my concern that whenever we dismiss the value of any soul, we’re standing in opposition to the Gospel.  There’s no question that some figures are truly repugnant and hard to abide.  But each one is someone who has whethered their own life hurts and disappointments.  One has to wonder what their life would have portended had someone taken the time to show them real love… the help, hope and healing of Jesus Christ.

We have a lot of work to do.  The reputation of God has been bruised by brusque retorists who have represented a non-Biblical picture of Jehovah God.  May we take this moment to reflect, in the light of the tragic passing of a young man whom God loved, that every soul is precious.  While it may be more difficult for the wealthy to “enter in”, as Christ said, we dare not devalue anyone.  Doing so makes it far too easy to believe that we have the right to discriminate and separate the sheep and goats ourselves.