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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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.

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.

The Perfect Murder

25 03 2008

I’m a bit of a fan of those true crime shows like Forensic Files and The Investigators. The 48 Hours Mystery and Dateline’s stories are also a hit at our house.

So here’s the thing I can’t figure out. Ever notice how a suspects’ computer is full of searches relevant to the crime they committed? “How to shoot yourself and live”. “How to leave no evidence”. “How to poison someone”. They’re all there hidden in places and far reaches of the computer that can’t be erased. Haven’t we all learned by now that you can’t committhe perfect murder the perfect murder if you use your computer to find out how to do it? Then again, I suppose if criminals were all that smart, they wouldn’t be into crime in the first place, huh?

It all gets me to thinking that I’m sure glad they can’t somehow plug into my brain to find out all my deep dark hidden secrets. Or, can you imagine having a TV in the back of your head where people could actually see what you’re thinking about? Yee-gadz. I would’a gotten whooped a lot more growing up if that had been the case. My secret crushes wouldn’t have stayed so secret. And everyone would know my huge mistake in college that almost got me into hot water. Thank goodness they can’t call in the FBI to search our synapses for evidence.

Somehow, though, we retain these things. It’s so easy to stay locked up in the cage of guilt or remorse that remains steadfast in our noggins. I suspect that says a great deal about why our faith in forgiveness stays so week. We are constantly watching the rerun of what can’t be undone and we are quite unmerciful to ourselves.

We must understand that righteousness and holiness is not about guilt. If we’re constantly beating ourselves up at an altar because we feel like we can’t measure up, it’s because we’re measuring ourselves my our own broken yardsticks. Christ calls us into relationship with Him, and it follows that we become more and more like the people we hang around. If we allow ourselves to become spiritually formed followers of Jesus, we will find that we are shedding the old skin cells a little at a time. We are becoming new creatures. Perfection shouldn’t even be in the picture; this is about finding more and more peace and joy in life via a daily walk with Christ that enriches and restores us.

So what do we do with the remnants of our life’s perfect murders that echo through our cranial corridors? Rather than entering into the hopelessness of trying to forget, we can instead learn to re-categorize. Shove those unpleasurable guilties into your mind’s “forgiven” file, and use them as reason to praise and honor Christ for His restorative grace.

Oh… and keep in mind that grace is not one-dimensional. It is not just God’s way of making us right through justification, grace is also a way of restoring us in relationship to this messed up world. Grace received must by nature become grace given. A life covered by grace can only be a life that becomes grace itself. This changes our relationships, attitudes and reactions. Grace doesn’t make us perfect (until Heaven), but it most certainly changes the flavor of our lives.


12 03 2008

It seems like I’ve been seeing Gene Simmons everywhere these days.

The erstwhile lead “singer” of the clown rock band, KISS, seems to have found a good agent. His aged, once painted face shrouded with long, black dyed hair has been popping up all over the tube. I see his name littered all over the TV listings. He’s on talk shows, reality shows, news mags and more.

His renewed celeb reminds me of my junior high years when KISS was the reigning rock phenom. I never cared for them, although I do look back with mild amusement at their notoriety. Made up as much for controversy as music, their’s was a Gene Simmons KISSlegacy of pot smoke filled concerts and wild romps with the young ladies. Religious leaders denounced them, saying that KISS was an anagram for “Kings in satan’s service”. More like Kooks in silly suits, if you ask me.

With time, as happens to all things, their infamous antics fizzled into kitsch. Much of their fan base now has respectable hair-dos, khakis and koulats, polo shirts and pant suits.

But Gene Simmons… what drug this guy out of the dust pile of rock hucksterdom?

It’s interesting how the stuff that gets certain “Christians” so up in arms will eventually fade away to minimal fanfare and effect. And on we go to the next big threat to our Judeo-Christian ethic.

Not to mock efforts for morality, mind you. I’m all for watching out for our kid’s minds and keeping the trash at the curb where it belongs. But it seems that we can all learn a lesson as to what really impacts society.

Picketing may make us feel good, but it’s relationship building and constant care and concern that really rocks our world. Too often we opt for the easy way out – slash and burn condemnation – rather then taking the time to toil over showing true love and concern for the individual. Anyone can print a sign or rail against corrupting forces. But it takes a true man or woman of God to get down to the real work of building a time-consuming repartee with those being swallowed up by evil’s lurking lure.

True change, the kind that is meaningful and transforming to society, takes place in one on one relationships. It’s slow to come, but rewarding nonetheless. It happens when we dare to love those hard to love, when we pay attention to what they’re saying, and when we show that we’re more than just a force of constant scorn.

Who influenced you the most? I suspect not the bands you listened to or the shows you watched. I’ll bet that when all is considered, it was those who took the time to know you and care about you that most changed you for the good.

These are the things that are truly kissed by grace and mercy. This takes grace out of the one dimensional grip that many hold it in and applies it to our lives and actions.

Could The Pillsbury Doughboy Rise Again?

11 03 2008

Let’s just get real serious for a moment. What would happen to the Pillsbury Doughboy if he were to be baked? Does he need to be refrigerated when not performing in commercials? How does he stay so clean and white? I mean, if I were to walk a lump of dough around the kitchen, it would pick up all sorts of nasty little crumbly things and maybe even a hair or two. And furthermore, why is he white? Isn’t that ethnocentric? Shouldn’t he be more yellowish Pillsbury Doughboylike real dough? And finally, if Bisquick had a doughboy, would he be more of the complete package than the Pillsbury dude? Would he age faster? If you poked his belly, would he laugh or merely belch a little?

These are important philosophical quandaries, my friend.

As much fun as it is to ponder the little yeasty fella, we all realize that he’s not real. You do realize that, don’t you? And his cousins, the Staypuft Marshmallow Man and the more macho Michelin Man are also stuff of make-believe land.

In fact, each and every person of normal intellect can tell the difference between the made-up and the real. After a certain age, we no longer pine for Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Even as a child, I knew that I was not biting the head off of anything real when I munched my chocolate bunny. My biggest concern was whether it was going to be hollow or solid. Oh, and I suppose there was also the curiosity as to how long you could leave a marshmallow peep on your dresser shelf to dry before rendering it completely inedible.

But there is one reality that permeates all open minds and weaves into the fabric of our lives in such a manner that anyone from the least educated to the highest Ph’d’ed can understand its truth. It’s the answer that comes before all questions, and the dimension that provides depth to all of life. It’s so real and vivid that even the simplest soul can touch it. But it’s also so complex and complete that it provides no end to challenges so loved by the philosophical and explorative mind.

And I sit here today completely overwhelmed by a God who allows me to both think deep thoughts and yet meditate in the peace of His presence. As we approach the coming “Holy Week”, as we prepare to celebrate history’s greatest reality – one that refuses to be quenched by even the most hardened skeptic – we can be assured that our faith has hope. Faith is not invested in something that we know will let us fall. We have no faith in the Pillsbury Doughboy. He’s a fun fantasy, but very unsatisfying beyond that. No, we celebrate a faith that is proved and real once entered into.

In our church, we will sometimes end a prayer in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We know that He is one God, but the Name of the Father reminds us of the why, the Name of the Son reminds us of the how, and the Name of the Holy Spirit reminds us of the source of our strength. May the one true God shine real in your heart today.

The Dog That Watched TV

7 03 2008

I’ve mentioned before that our dog Max watches TV from time to time.  No, he doesn’t turn it on himself…  but he does stare at the screen as if interested.  His favorite show seems to be Cops.  We speculate that he likes the police dogs.

A couple of nights ago, his TV watching went from being mildly amusing to wildly hilarious.  The news carried a tragic story that had no humor to it whatsoever.  But as soon as the announcer said the words “animal slaughter”, Max let out a big cry, got up and left the room.  We laughed til we cried.Maximus Decimus Meridius - Max

This is a good example of a story that represented someone’s worst day becoming a trigger for laughter.  It wasn’t the story, but Max’s actions that made us lose all sense of propriety.  Ever been in a funeral where something happens and you can barely contain your laughter?  Sorta like the famous Mary Tyler-Moore clown funeral episode?  Ever been in church and found it hard to control laughter to the point that people began to notice?

Before answering the call to ministry work, I spent almost 15 years in professional radio.  I always tried to keep my afternoon show upbeat and lively.  One important thing I learned was that every day I was speaking to someone who might be having the worst day of their life.  You or I could be enjoying good times with good friends in good weather while it’s raining at your neighbor’s house.  Just look in the newspaper.  There’s a funeral every day.

It’s difficult for us to understand people’s actions and reactions because we have no idea what kind of day they’re having.  We could make the difference for someone – perhaps keeping them on this side of “the edge”.  This is a wonderful thing about Christ’s calling to His followers.  The way of Jesus is the way of compassion and mercy.  Not humorlessness, if there is such a word, but good humor seasoned with compassion.  It’s this bold and brazen concern for the hurts of others that makes us a bit more holy.  This sensitivity to those who are crying today sets us apart from so many others.  I don’t see many people who do well at this, but those who love this way are people who make a difference.