Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?

20 04 2008

“Hi, I’m Stewart, I’m an Ivy League Scholar and a Nobel prize winner, but I’m not smarter than a fifth grader.”

“Hi, I’m Brenda, I discovered the cure to cancer, but I’m not smarter than a fifth grader.”

are you smarter than a fifth grader jeff foxworthy“Hi, I’m the apostle Paul, I survived shipwreck, near-death beatings, I out witted politicians and explained the real meaning of mysterious philosophies, I once killed Christians but then met Christ and changed, but I’m not smarter than a fifth grader.”

It’s one of our favorite programs these days.  Barbara and I howl and laugh and yell at the TV and adore the kids and muse about the questions on “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?”  We both agree that…

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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.

Why Do Men Cheat?

11 03 2008

That was the title of a segment on the Today Show this morning.

3 panelists pieced, parsed, and picked apart the topic like a Thanksgiving turkey. After the analyzing was done, it was time for a commercial, and all went smiling on their merry way.

We over-think this. Men are programmed, by nature, with a high sex drive. Couple that with a need for validation and you see where it all can lead. I know that women are programmed to look for the emotional solution to this question, but the fact is, there isn’t much of one. Don’t look for too much reason in this. Men are not intrinsically evil – we are all born with sinful desires.

cheating - why do men cheat?I think the question would be better posed as, “Why don’t men cheat?” There are many of us who remain steadfast in our marital relationship. That doesn’t mean we’ve been cured of that pesky tenancy to want to look when a woman shows off more of herself then she ought. And it doesn’t mean that our thought-life stays exactly where it ought 100% of the time. But for the man who remains faithful it does mean that he has decided to give a gift far greater and more wonderful than any diamond ring or other sparkling jewelry. It’s the gift of completeness and oneness in a relationship.

Cheating has nothing to do with love, and everything to do with respect. It’s a lack of respect on four levels: for your wife, the other woman, for self, and ultimately for God.

Being a Christ-follower does not insure fidelity. It would be dishonest to say so – not to mention foolish. However, the Christ-follower is one who seeks the disciplines of the way of Jesus so that it causes all aspects of life to flourish and bless others. It is a means by which we begin to look outside ourselves to the needs of others. When failures occur along the way, it says nothing about Christ and everything about humanity. Without the discipline of a daily embrace of Christ, we can easily begin to embrace our own wayward desires.

I would also point out that an unfaithful man is often used as proof of how man is far inferior to women. Not so. Reality proves that it takes two to tango – there must be a willing partner to proceed with infidelity. Further, my experience as both a pastor and, before that, as a participant in the secular workplace, has taught me that women are also susceptible to the desire to stray. And even if the infidelity never becomes sexual, it can be just as wrong. Being emotionally unfaithful is just as wrong as being physically unfaithful. That doesn’t lessen the onus on men; rather, it proves that it is not a mutually exclusive wrong.

When self becomes a driving force in our lives, it is a recipe for disaster on so many levels. The beauty of the discipline of Christ is that it takes us outside of that stifling box and puts us into the clear air of regard for others. It’s up to us to respond. Remember the old saying, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”? This is why it is such a blessing to all of us that we are called into community with other believers. The Holy Spirit strengthens us through communion with other believers so that we can truly be the body of Christ. None of us can make it on our own. We become so much stronger in community.

Bernard P. Fife – The “P” Stands For “Pastor”

22 01 2008

Well, it is official.  At least as official as these kinds of things can be.  I am about to be sworn in as a chaplain for the Griffith Police Department. 

Mind you, the name of our fair city here in the Hoosier side of Chicago’s shadow often evokes thoughts of our all-time favorite TV show.  The Andy Griffith Show.  And now that I’m about to take on the role of chaplain, my wife has found reason to tease me about the honor.  She wondered if I’d get a bullet to keep in my pocket.  I suggested perhaps they’d give me a whistle with a brand new pea.  Then we wondered if I’d get to give tours of the jail.  We have two rules here at the rock.  Don’t write on the walls.  And, obey all rules.

Seriously, though, I don’t think of this police force in terms of Mayberry at all.  They have a difficult job in a sometimes difficult area. 

The show “Cops” is a guilty pleasure of mine, and I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be issued so much as a Taser.  They don’t even use them here.  I just thought that if someone is misbehaving in church…  zappooey!

It is true that there are problems with police throughout our country.  It’s also true that many officers can enjoy the power and control they have a bit too much.  Still, it seems to me that the vast majority of our police force don’t get the recognition and respect they deserve.  I often wonder if Christ-followers truly live up to their stripes by respecting officers of the law.  I alluded to this in my last entry, but it’s worth further consideration.  When we’ve broken the law by speeding, are we guilty of being disrespectful to the officer who’s doing his job?  Do we lie to him in hopes of getting out of a ticket? 

The calling of the Christ-follower extends into every reach of society.  Our badge is the Word of God, our swearing-in is our confession of faith, and we are empowered for duty by none other than the Holy Spirit of God.  Do we represent our uniform of righteousness (Ephesians 6) with integrity?  I have to ask myself that question every day, and I suspect it’s a good one for us all to ponder regularly.  Walking with Christ has never been about a one-time conversion experience, it’s a lifetime of obedience that leads to joy.  Anything less is unworthy of our commission.

If you find you’re given to anything less…  nip it.  Nip it in the bud.

Drinking, Smoking, Cussing, And the Worst Sin of All…

16 01 2008


And thus I have summarized what my understanding of Christianity was for the first 18 or so years of my life.  Now I very well realize that dealing with any of these topics opens a can of monkeys.  If you want to get a lively discussion going amongst my congregation, skip church growth, evangelism, spiritual formation and other such issues and head straight for my titular topics.  I choose to avoid the fray on these except to say that if you’re a member of a church that eschews these things, and yet you continue to include them in your lifestyle, then that is quite carnal.  There may be argument over what things are equal to blasphemy in the eyes of the Lord, he writes tongue-in-cheek. There may be argument over which translations of the Bible will send you straight to the burning coals of hell in a heartbeat, or even if hell burns at all, he writes at risk of stirring up great disdain and displeasure.  But if you agree to the yoke, or discipline, of the church by entering into membership, you should abide by it.  If your church prohibits planting begonias, and yet you do so, you are in sin because you have renigged on your membership covenant.  You see, covenants are in place to help us, as items of spiritual formation, to DISCIPLINE our unruly selves to the things of Christ, he writes knowing few people like to be disciplined.  But alas, there is something even greater at foot that I wish to boot around.

It occurs to me that if you posted a giant picture of Bugs Bunny at the front of the church some Sunday, people would get more frothy and disturbed by that than they do about the hurts of the person sitting next to them.  We get up in arms about issues of discipline, while we forsake issues of true soul health.  Every potential “sin” has merit as a point of discussion and conclusion.  But if we have no passion for those who are without Christ, then we’ve forsaken Jesus’ prime directive.  Christ taught a ministry work that reaches out, seeks the hurting, helps the needy, and gives hope to those without hope.  He ministered with healing hands, not slapping hands.  (Yes, He did clear the temple…  but that happened just once…  this shows that there is a time and place for everything.)

There is a good reason why Scripture does not lay out specific answers to specific questions.  For one thing, the Bible would weigh 17 tons if it did.  Serious study of the Word of God (and I’m not talking about reading the verse of the day from “Daily Bread”) leads us to understand that the Bible deals with transformational thinking.  Renewal.  Restoration.  Revival.  These are themes that appear consistently in the Word.  It would be right to understand that the Bible doesn’t address many specific issues at all, rather, we receive the invitation to be renewed of mind and instructions on how that happens.  Spiritual formation teachings help us to grow this way. 

God seems to love to answer prayers for wisdom.  The problem is that we think we’ll instantly become an Encyclopedia Brown.  A human Wiki.  Instead, wisdom must be learned and used.  If we pray for wisdom, we receive the opportunities to grow wiser.  If we rebuff them, or fail to use what we learn, then we are forsaking the very wisdom we prayed for.  Once, in college, I prayed for wisdom hoping it would get me through a biology test.  Today, I pray that God will give me the mind to take in the vast riches of learning that is available for me, and that I will have the wisdom to know how to be wise!

It’s not that any one issue isn’t important.  But when we become Christians made up of issues, rather than Christ-followers who seek to do the work of Christ, we’ve really missed the focus of the Gospel.  Legalities and liberalism are both dangerous extremes.  Let God be God, and let us be about His work, not ours.

The Great Amen?

4 12 2007

How many contracts have you signed without reading every single word?  While a few are diligent fine print scanners, most of us willingly say a blind yes to lengthy agreements.  If we knew all the things we were saying yes to in our car loan papers, we’d be scared to death!  I find it hard to fathom that very many read every jot and tittle of a mortgage contract. 

Wouldn’t it be great if, upon signing our car loan agreement at the bank, a representative was sent home with us to help us understand what we just signed.  Not only that – but this person would also help us pay the loan!  The great thing about our yes to God is that we are provided just such an agent.

Paul tells us that when we say yes to God, we stand in agreement with Jesus who says a wholehearted yes to everything of the Father.  Our yes and God’s yes is the Great Amen.  Amen means “so be it”, or to quote the famous philosophers Lennon and McCartney, “let it be”.  Our yes to God is our declaration of affirmation; our yea vote.  But there is a problem.  Even though we’ve said yes to God, we have no idea of all the things we’ve said yes to.  Further, it is impossible to stand firm on our yes on our own power.  Christmastime reminds us that Christ came as the fulfillment to all God promised His people.  But it should also remind us that God sends His Holy Spirit as well; not just as a one time event, but as an on-going helper and counselor.

We actually do have an agent from the bank to help us understand our agreement and pay the loan! 

Our acceptance of the Holy Spirit is not about money or contracts, though.  It is about accepting the helper who comes to help us stand firm.  Saying yes when we accept Christ is our first stand of agreement.  But then we have the offer of the Holy Spirit to help us stand firm.  This is not a one time event, but a progressive, life-long relationship.  It’s not about receiving a “gift”, it’s about receiving God’s counsel into our lives to help us as we follow His path on shaky legs.

The great Amen is more than just a sonic boom event that happens once, makes a lot of noise, then becomes irrelevant.  It is the beginning of a great life of hope and peace and service to those who have need.

Dancing With The Stars

29 11 2007

I never have been a dancer nor can I claim any special insight on the topic.  Well, I do know that Molly Spotted Elk was a famous native American dancer…  don’t ask.  But I am particularly perplexed at the popularity of the TV show “Dancing With The Stars”.  Perhaps if I had one time been a fan of American Bandstand, I might well have segued into current day twist-n-tango TV.  Then again, if people are willing to watch others fish or cook on TV, perhaps this dance thing shouldn’t stand out.

The only reason Dancing With The Stars came to my attention is that it is in the headline of story after story listed on my internet home page.  I also know that Marie Osmond passed out on the show, but I’m equally perplexed why that is news.  And I did see the show promos last night while watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

American culture and its fixations are an interesting and at times depressing things.  Most of us are perfectly pleased to stay hidden from the gaze of reality TV junkies.  While many may long for anonymity, most people also long for relevance.  That’s why, for the Christ-follower in the world today, it is crucial that we recognize our faith in the heavenly should be more than just a future driven commodity.  Rather, a life given to the beauty of spiritual discipline and the heart-joy of an easy yoke is one that dances with the stars.  It is one that people watch, comment on, and discuss with others.  There is no privilege given in scripture to simply have faith, be saved, and do the best you can.  Rather, the call is to live a life of mercy, grace, justice and generosity – loving all, forgiving all.  This is an active thing, not a future based thing.  Simply becoming a Christian to avoid Hell is terribly short-sighted.  Our calling is to dance with the stars; to go to all the world, to be salt and light, to display the true Christ in a world that is hungry, hurting and helpless.  Thanks to our Father in Heaven, we are given help with that task – the Holy Spirit.  He is the counselor who comes on behalf of the star of Bethlehem.  And this Christmas, I would love to be seen dancing with the star.