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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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.

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.

The Make-Shift Christian

25 03 2008

We’ve lived in the shadow of Chicago for about 5 years now. Let me just say that this is one kerwhaloping of a windy area. They say that Lake Michigan has a lot to do with this. All I know is that on rare days when it isn’t windy, it feels like the whole world is standing still.

Today is an especially windy day. Walking across the open lot between my church and my house, I was nearly blown over. If I were wearing a wig, it would be plastered to a wall somewhere in Ohio by now. You might say, “Well Greg, that’s why they call it the windy city.” But actually, it’s not.

There are other major cities that are windier than Chicago. But this frozen tundra of a city became know as windy thanks to the extreme statements being made to woo the world’s fair here over a century ago. Perhaps much as is happening today with attempts to lure the Olympics, the spinners were in high gear telling great tales of how spectacular things were. We chicago world's fair ferris wheelnormally just attribute illusions of grandeur to Texans, but Chicagoans competed in their own right to win the great exposition. In fact, the stories were so massive, it was said that the tellers were quite windy. Hence, Chicago became known as the windy city.

The problem with weaving great tales is that you eventually have to lie down in the blanket you’ve created. And sometimes it’s itchy and scratchy.

So it is with so many “Christians”. Our outer confidence belies our inner pain. In trying to build ourselves up, we create make-shift structures that are extremely susceptible to the winds of life. Make-shift Christians aren’t much removed from non-believers who build their lives, as Christ once alluded, on sand. The only sure mooring for any of us is in a life built slowly, surely and steadily in fellowship with Jesus. Prayer and scripture reading aren’t just good ideas. They’re tools that create structures that are firm.

Our inclination is to build up and build high. Just look at our big cities. Just look at our monuments. It occurs to me that we are still building the Tower of Babel. Unlike the great sky-scrapers we build, we forget that height is also about depth.

A Christ-follower, on the other hand, digs deep down. We find our footing, good grounding, and build from there. Some will build high, some will simply be ranch-style structures. But these slowly, intentionally laid blocks are made to last for an eternity. Make-shift Christians may look impressive, but they’re quick to fall. Those who go deep into the Word, deep into a life of prayer, deep into worship and deep into the many other facets of spiritual formation find that our shingles may tear away, but the house stands firm.

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.

The Face of Jesus

23 03 2008

I have often heard the criticism that Jesus is wrongly portrayed as blond haired and blue eyed. I have a problem with that; I have never seen such a picture. In all my studies, in all the churches I’ve been in, of all the portrayals in art I’ve been witness to, I have never beheld such a sight. And it points us to a larger truth.

Despite nattering to the contrary, Christian imagery of Jesus is understood to be art and not photographic evidence. Just as we realize that Charlie Brown, Homer Simpson and Regis Philbin are a cartoon characters drawn with artistic license, we also understand the concept of art as imagination.

Around this time of year, that documentary always seems to resurface about what Jesus truly looked like. I’ve included a picture of a man’s face derived from the common traits of the times and region of Christ. I find it wonderfully interesting tothe face of jesus? view this molded visage and imagine all the what-ifs that go along with such a work. Of course we’re also all grown up enough to know that this scientist never suggests that this is exactly what Jesus looked like. It’s merely an archetype.

Some have suggested that Jesus was black. Some say that there is good reason why we don’t know what he looked like (so we wouldn’t worship an icon – good reasoning, no doubt). Some have suggested that Jesus looks like whatever we want Him to look like (rather post-modern in its absurdity).

Since you’ve stuck with me this far, I’ll tell you what I think. I don’t care. I really don’t. I never have needed an image of Christ to help me worship. I find the crucifix to be a penetrating icon that confronts my pride from time to time, but overall I prefer the protestant empty cross signifying resurrection. Both are just fine, mind you. I simply go with what I know.

Which reminds me of the story (I have no idea of its veracity) of the woman looking at jewelry. She mentioned to the young lady helping her that she was looking for a cross. The erudite clerk asked, “Do you want a regular cross, or one with a little man on it?”

What Jesus looked like really doesn’t concern me as much as what He looks like. Make sense? I want to know what He looks like today. We are His ambassadors, we are His living legacy. Christ-followers are the ones who portray Jesus to the world for good or bad. Too often the latter. Has anyone in your neighborhood seen Jesus today? Has anyone at your place of business or school? How ’bout your own family? Your dog is pretty astute at measuring character… has the pooch seen Christ lately? Those who say they follow are those who are given the task of showing Christ to the world. Has anyone in your world seen Him lately?