Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy 25 Anniversary to my best friend!

Photo: For those who have given up on the idea that one man and one woman can love each other for a lifetime, that marriage is merely an antiquated notion of a bygone era, or that people can't be expected to learn how to compromise and be a team rather than be lead by the "what's in it for me?" mentality, I submit to you my best friend, Lisa Taylor. 

If this otherwise sane woman can put up with my quirks, failures, selfishness, temper, general childishness, emotional/psychological need to live as a writer, fandoms, fascination with flirting, apparent inability to keep food on the table, and ego (in spite of all that), then I believe there is hope for ANY couple. 

If I could have a New Year's wish for all those reading it would be simply this: I wish for you the same kind of self-sacrificing, enduring, patient, determined love with your loved one that I have found with this absolutely astounding woman. 

But, that said, you can't have this one. She's mine.

For those who have given up on the idea that one man and one woman can love each other for a lifetime, that marriage is merely an antiquated notion of a bygone era, or that people can't be expected to learn how to compromise and be a team rather than be lead by the "what's in it for me?" mentality, I submit to you my best friend, Lisa Taylor.

If this otherwise sane woman can put up with my quirks, failures, selfishness, temper, general childishness, emotional/psychological need to live as a writer, fandoms, fascination with flirting, apparent inability to keep food on the table, and ego (in spite of all that), then I believe there is hope for ANY couple.

If I could have a New Year's wish for all those reading it would be simply this: I wish for you the same kind of self-sacrificing, enduring, patient, determined love with your loved one that I have found with this absolutely astounding woman.

But, that said, you can't have this one. She's mine.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Questions and Answers (A Reversal)

I think one of the biggest problems with our contemporary approach to faith and religious thought is that we spend far too much time looking for answers to mysteries and questions and far too little time exploring the mysteries and questions themselves for what they can teach us.

I think mostly of a generation that grew up with the song (and the concept of) "Jesus Is the Answer." To the generation that wrote that song, it meant something because they lived in a world where everything was in a topsy-turvy whirlwind of change, and where everyone was full of questions about what made life matter. But for each generation since, they grow up not having a clue what the actual questions are, just a vague platitude that hey, Jesus is the answer, so stop looking around already.

Another example, too often finding AN answer is seen as finding THE answer. When people ask, "Where is God when I'm hurting, or when I'm suffering?" it's too easy to simply to give a pat answer of "he's right there with you" without ever exploring what it means, and what suffering can teach us, or why pain can be both a helpful and a hurtful thing. When we think about the questions, we often find them leading to more questions, not mere answers than can be recorded and stored away in a filing cabinet somewhere in our brain.

When we find AN answer, it gives us a reason (although a wrong one) to stop exploring the question. It gives us a reason to move a step away from one group (searchers) to another, "better" group (knowers). It is the first step in our moving from people who need Jesus to people who need answers. And answers ultimately do not satisfy our souls.

Our contemporary quest is for knowledge, an intellectual experience of knowing answers and data and "stuff" -- not a quest for Christ himself. Questions should lead us to the who has the answers and ultimately IS the answer, not to a list of answers we can rattle off and publish about or build religions around.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

John Fischer on Little Brown Birds and the Kingdom of Heaven

"According to Bill, who wrote us about the birds at his backyard feeder: Heaven is going to be full of little brown birds. 'I am avid about backyard birds,' he wrote, 'and have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to feed the cardinals and blue jays, without attracting all the house finches and sparrows.  One day I realized that I am one of the little brown birds in God’s human flock and that changed my attitude.  I now thoroughly enjoy feeding all of the birds that show up in my yard.'

"This is a great metaphor for what we so often get wrong about the gospel. We say the gospel is for everybody, but we don’t necessarily mean it. We like to associate with pretty people, upwardly mobile people – attractive types who give a good face on what we believe. We also like to associate with people who are like us — people of the same race, same economic status, same political beliefs, who send their kids to the same schools. We gravitate towards sameness and find comfort in the familiar.

"But the gospel of Jesus Christ is big and wide and messy. It is for everyone, even people we don’t like. It is for those on both sides of the tracks — those we admire and those we would rather not associate with."

-- John Fischer (http://catchjohnfischer.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/little-brown-birds/)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy birthday, U.S.A.!

It means different things to different people, but it had to start somewhere. Happy birthday to this amazing land of immigrants who are still arguing and working together to create something fair and free in the world.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Merely Annoying Gospel

We’re killing the gospel to get people to listen.

What do I mean?

Well, remember how following Christ is supposed to be offensive, divisive, renewing (as in overwriting the old, not just refreshing it), death-to-self inducing and all that other “hard stuff.”

The gospel is designed by God to offend every sense of human strength. It flies in the face of every thought that we can “make it on our own” or “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” or “DIY.” It stands in front of those notions and screams a very loud, “No! I’m sorry, but no. It just ain’t happening.”

Then it says, “But I’ll do it for you. All you have to do is follow.”

And every bone within us free-willed humans shouts, “No thanks, if I can’t do it myself, then I don’t want to do it. I don’t mind the gift, but the terms are too high. You can’t get me to admit that without you, I’m nothing.”

And like the rich young ruler, we often turn away.

But that’s the gospel. Or at least that’s the gospel God designed. The one we’re preaching nowadays has lost all that power. The sharp, dividing edge has been dulled. The offensiveness has been downgraded to mere annoyance.

The gospel is not  practical guidelines for a happy life.
The gospel is not a self-help book.
The gospel is not something you can take part of and ignore the rest.
The gospel is not something you can face without either admitting or ignoring the truth about your own spiritual state.
The gospel is not something that gives you the ability to feel “meh” about—it either offends you deeply and drives you away or it draws you to it deeply and offers you hope for change based on someone else’s ability.

Our modern gospel has been converted from something life-changing to something value-added.

Ironically, in doing so, in our efforts to make the “gospel” more appealing and less offensive to the average “unchurched Harry and Mary,” it is we ourselves, the Christian people who have become offensive. It is our “self-improved,” value-added, holier-than-thou-ness that offends our unbelieving friends and neighbors. We’ve stopped telling people that we’re just like them -- “such a worm as I” -- and we all need the offensive gospel that cuts us off at the kneecaps spiritually, and we’ve somehow started conveying the message that we’ve improved and that they can become more like us if they follow the same practical rules and spiritual guidelines.

We’ve taken the idea of an offensive gospel delivered by the “beautiful feet” of a loving and merciful and forgiving and thoroughly inoffensive people and turned it into an inoffensive (and thoroughly ineffective) gospel delivered by an offensive people. Seems to me we’re missing the point somewhere in all that.

I don’t mind people being offended by what I believe.

I do mind them being offended by me.

And I could be wrong, but isn’t that kind of the point of being salt and light in the world? I mean, isn't salt supposed to taste good?

Monday, April 15, 2013

[Link] Where Is the Kingdom?

We have become much too obvious about identifying what is “Christian” in the world. In fact, we have lost ground trying to gain ground. We have labeled and marketed a subculture and an agenda in the world. Christians have become much too visible. If you can say, “Here it is!” or “It’s over there!” then chances are you’ve got something other than the Kingdom of God. Not sure what it is but it isn’t that. Trying to identify and establish what is Christian in culture can easily work at cross-purposes with what God is already doing in the world.

The Kingdom of God is not something you can buy or sell or purchase a ticket to. You can’t market it or vote it in. You can’t put it in power because it is already in charge. You can’t call it out because God hasn’t called it out. There will come a time when every eye will see it, but this is not that time. To pray “Thy Kingdom come” as Jesus taught us to pray is not to bring it as if it weren’t here. He told us already that it is here. It means to pray that we might be agents of doing His will on earth “as it is in heaven.” -- John Fischer

Read more: http://catchjohnfischer.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/where-is-the-kingdom/

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Playing Judas

"If we can’t embrace our own sin, how can we claim to know anything about our own forgiveness? If we can’t identify with Judas, how can we pretend to identify with Peter, or John, or Matthew, or any of the others who all betrayed Him and denied they knew Him by running away in His time of need? We identify with good old Peter because he got forgiven and reconciled to Christ, but Judas went out and hanged himself. Do we not understand that? Can we not embrace that in our own character? Are we all so bent on being good Christians that we cannot connect with being the bad guy?"
     -- From John Fischer, "Playing Judas" (The Catch)

Read more: http://catchjohnfischer.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/playing-judas/

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Equals/Unequals and Other Human Equations

It seems to me that people from opposite sides of religious, social, political, cultural, etc. issues should be able to disagree about things without being jackasses.

I'm sure that I'm as different from my progressive friends as I am from my conservative ones, from my devotedly religious friends as from my most un-religious ones. I'm sure I probably agree with many of my readers AND disagree with an equal number of my readers on subjects like abortion, gun control, gay marriage, whether Jesus is the son of God or just a fictional character, supporting the poor, affirmative action, euthanasia, stem cell research, etc.

Having different opinions doesn't make me a dick. Nor does it make you a dick.

It's how we treat each about the differences that becomes an issue.

I wish we could realize that just having differing opinions, even about vital, important, crucial, life-changing stuff, doesn't make ANYONE less a person. I'm still proud to have you as a friend no matter how you vote or what church you attend (or don't) -- just as long as you don't become a jerk about it.

I know as many jackass democrats as republicans as independents. I know as many jackass Christians as Wiccans as atheists as agnostics. I know as many jackass straights as gays, and pro-gay as pro-straight. And I've know just as many -- thankfully more -- wonderful human beings who are democrats, republicans, independents, gay, straight, pro-life, pro-choice, Christian, Wiccan, agnostic, atheist, NRA members, pro-gun control folks, etc.

The trouble is that so few of us can beyond our own worldviews to actually listen to anyone else who believes differently or see them as anything but an opponent.

I think for me it gets down to is what setting my filter is adjusted to. Am I walking around looking for the differences or looking for what we have in common? Am I searching for opponents or for fellow humans?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

This Easter Foolishness

"and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless..." -- 1 Corinthians 15:17, NASB

Today's the day we believers celebrate the event that makes us come off like people who have lost our minds, the event that confounds the wisdom of man and welcomes the faith of a child, the event that singularly transforms a grouping of "good advice" ideas into a relationship with the creator of all that is, the event that -- taken at the mere utterance of it -- separates one human from another ideologically and sets "man against man," yet ironically allows us as believers to open up to love everyone because we can finally exercise the ability to love supernaturally, and, as I said at the beginning, the event that even to describe it to someone else can immediately move you from the "pretty smart and normal guy" category to the "what a freakin' looney toon" category even if your friends would never tell you that to your face.

Today's the day we as believers celebrate the event that makes us fools while ultimately changing everything.

So I hope all my fellow believers have a happy, reflective, foolish, freaky, faith-filled, looney toon Easter!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's not the singer, it's the song (with apologies to Survivor)

I put into words today something I've always known about my music listening habits but had never been able fully explain before (I think).

I enjoy music that showcases either the passion of the singer for the song (not his or her own voice), the work/art of the songwriter, the natural ability of the musician, and any combination thereof. What I don't (or perhaps can't) enjoy is music that showcases the vocal gymnastics of the vocalist or the hipness of the producer.

Now, I understand that those can cross sometimes. Hip producers can work with a fantastic and artistic band, and vocally gymnastic divas (of either gender) can fully deliver the breadth of a powerful song.

I also understand that sometimes a bad singer can deliver a powerful song (as my wife would say about Bob Dylan), or a woefully hip producer can ignore the intent of the songwriter and ruin what was an impactful song. 

I also know that my tastes have little to do with genre or style, but more with the passion intrinsic to the song or the performance (as long as said performance is about the song, not to show off the singer or band).

Listening to music has always been for me one of two things: (1) listening technically as a musician to better myself and "learn" the magic behind the song and (2) listening as a spiritual exercise as the song changes me somehow and says something to me. Very rarely do I "use" music as mere background noise, except at work, because that's expected in a retail environment. For me, listening to music is an active endearvor, not a passive one.

So, I guess this is all to say that when Lisa, the kids, and I argue about what station to listen to on the radio, I know know why I prefer to find a classic rock or "mixed-up" station rather than a top-40 one.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The dangerous, painful, agonizing, irritating and irksome side of faith

A good friend I respect posted this today: "I can't fucking stand the self-righteous religious hypocrites."

To which I responded: 

"I feel the same way, and when I do, that's when I have to remind myself that as a believer in grace and mercy, I have to continue to extend it to the same self-righteous asswipes (see, I still have issues with it myself) who make my faith seem so backwards and blind and well, self-righteous. It's a painful, two-edged sword to live.

"I live right in the middle of that world, and trust me, it hasn't apparently gotten any easier for us to see the planks in our own eyes while railing about the toothpicks in others' eyes."

I agree with him wholeheartedly, but that's the dangerous, painful, agonizing, irritating and irksome side of faith in a gracious God -- we're called to be like Him, including that whole quick to forgive thing.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Curtain of Iron -- Wise Words

Some words of wisdom from the great Kerry Livgren...

Kansas from the album Audio Visions  
Words and Music by Kerry Livgren

The streets of the city are barren
All the windows and doors have been closed
As the night draws near
You can feel their fear

Their freedom is just an illusion
And they tell us that love is a lie
Can it all be true
What can one man do

See the pages as they turn
Never will the children learn
Born as a prisoner in a curtain of iron
Never will the pages turn

The City of Gold's in the distance
And they've already forgotten their dream
Visions slowly fade
In this land of shade

See the pages as they turn
Never will the children learn
Born as a prisoner in a curtain of iron
Never will the pages turn

As the power grows, darkness spreading
Hope is still alive, though we're dreading
What the future holds, no more need to
Fear what all men face
Only good can win the race

Rumors speak of war, all the nations
Turmoil in the streets, tribulations
Now it's plain to see
All the prophecies are taking place
Only good can win the race

There are fragments of Truth still remaining
And they bring them the Light of the World
To this hope we cling
Till the bells will ring

See the pages as they turn
In their wisdom we will learn
Our bloody history soon will resolve
See the pages as they turn
In their wisdom we will learn
Free from the prison, a curtain of iron

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

[Link] Lincoln and Speed

by John Fischer

It’s a conversation that allegedly took place between Abraham Lincoln and his life long friend, Joshua Speed. Speed, upon finding Lincoln reading the Bible, laid a hand on his shoulder and remarked, “I am glad to see you profitably engaged.”

“I am profitably engaged,” was the affirming reply.

“Well, if you have recovered from your skepticism, I am sorry to say that I have not.”

“You are wrong, Speed,” said Lincoln, looking up from the pages of his Bible. “Take all of this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will die a happier and better man.”

This story resonates with me for numerous reasons.

1) It’s Abraham Lincoln, an obviously smart and great man who gave God respect, believed the Bible, and relied on Christ for strength to lead America through one of it’s most trying times.

2) It’s a great statement on the cooperation of reason and faith. Christianity is not unreasonable. It does not require blind or stupid faith. It requires a reasonable faith. That would be, as Lincoln described it, a faith that travels along with reason until reason can go no further, at which point faith goes the rest of the way alone. That says that faith is not antagonistic to reason, it’s just that reason alone isn’t enough.

3) Joshua Speed, who is said to have been one of Lincoln’s best friends, did not share Lincoln’s belief. They even disagreed over the slavery issue, yet they remained close throughout Lincoln’s life and presidency. This is a good example for us, because we tend to gravitate, especially with best friends, to people who support the same belief systems we hold. We might have acquaintances that are not believers, but rarely best friends. I’d be curious as to whether Mr. Speed ever came to faith. It’s hard to imagine a long, close friendship with a man like Lincoln that wouldn’t have deeply impacted Joshua Speed about the reality of all that Lincoln believed.

At any rate, it’s a great example of the kind of friendships I believe we as Christians need to cultivate — relationships of mutual respect with those who are different from us. It’s hard to deny the powerful witness of a life of faith over the long haul.

For original link, click here: http://catchjohnfischer.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/lincoln-and-speed/

Monday, February 11, 2013

Creative Corner #9 -- Eternal

words by Brett Allen and Sean Taylor
music by Brett Allen
Recorded by 22FIVE on the CD Paint a Picture

Get out your watercolors
And paint a picture
To show the world
That You're eternal

Sing out a melody
Whistle in the windsong
Sing it through the trees
To say that You're eternal

May You be glorified
Jesus, You are the Lord of our Lives
May You be glorified
Jesus, You are the Lord of our Lives
May You be glorified
Jesus, You are the Lord of our Lives

Bring out the words of power
Make the rocks start shouting
Give us willing ears
To learn that You're eternal

>> Listen online <<
(a new window will open) 



In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. -- John 1:1-5 (KJV)

God is such a big God, with all those "omni" words that describe him (like omniscient, omnipresent, etc.) that he doesn't really need our help to make the world realize he's there. The universe itself is enough to get the point across to those with ears to hear and eyes to see. (That's a theological concept called "natural revelation, for those keeping score at home.)

Even a quick look through his "tool kit" will show that he's got so many ways to draw attention to himself. Scripture not only tell us about the physical creation that he pronounced good, but also points to his power to touch both the lives of people in groups (as with Israel and the covenant he made with his chosen people) and individuals (his sheep know his name, we are told).

As believers, we tend to get bogged down in arguing about God and trying to dissect all the knowledge we can about him and so often fail to just enjoy his presence and love him and -- even more important -- be loved by him. We get wrapped up in the "what we're doing" and "what we know" parts of faith and completely sidestep the basis of that faith -- the very knowable, very experiential, very close and very real person of God.

Our job is simply to acknowledge him, worship him and bring glory to him through our lives. Personally, I rather do the shouting myself and not even give the rocks an opportunity.

Friday, February 8, 2013

More Important Matters

by John Fischer

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness." (Matthew 23:23)

How we love to control what we can control and let go by what we can't. How well I understand this. This is the diversion of religion, and when Christianity becomes just a religion, we get all taken up with things like going to church, reading our Bibles and praying while missing the bigger issues of the heart - things that color all that we do and say. Jesus mentions three of those things here: justice, mercy and faith.

The first one, justice, is sorely missing in conservative Christianity today and has been for some time. I admittedly know little about it and I have been around Christian ministry all my life.

Years ago, in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the church let the world take up the banner of justice and we haven't done much about it since. Yet Jesus mentions it as one of three important things for us not to miss. How many sermons besides those of Martin Luther King, Jr., admonished us as followers of Christ to treat everyone adequately, fairly, and with full appreciation - and that's just one aspect of justice. There are many more.

I think we get confused over this sometimes because justice is often paired with its social counterpart to create social justice - something that has more to do with the laws of the land than with individual responsibility. That may be obliquely related to what Jesus was talking about here, but I think He meant something more attached to the heart, and how each one of us thinks about and treats other people.

We are going to look more into this in the coming days, but I must say that I am not as far along on this journey as many of you probably are, so bear with me. I have much to learn.

How can any follower of Jesus bypass what He has so clearly marked out as being an important matter? So please, teach me about justice. Write to me with some illustrations of what you have experienced as acts of justice or lack of it. Let's do this together. Marti believes that justice is going to play a big role in the next spiritual revolution and I, for one, don't want to miss it this time.

From Fischtank.com

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

[Link] Sterile Christianity

“A Christian should be in the world, but not of the world.”

How many times have you heard, or maybe even said something like this?

This is a mantra of Christianity, the functional approach that many Christians apply to life. It expresses the intent to be fully immersed and engaged in worldly affairs without being compromised by its stink and corrosive effects.

This quasi-biblical command is based passages like John 17, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 5. It’s solid theology.

Unfortunately, the problem is in the execution.

Many Christians really struggle with what it means to live in this world while not being tainted or stained by it. I’ve struggled with it myself for much of my faith life (more about that, later).

Wrongly executing the “In/not Of” ideal often results in an effort to self-quarantine from the world and its effects. People who do this reason that until they die and are in heaven, they are “in” the world. Until then, the best, noblest thing they can do is pursue the life of the ascetic, shunning any engagement with the world (inasmuch as possible).

Author John Fischer calls this “the three monkey approach,” a lifestyle defined by “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” These people feel like the only way to be “untainted” is to be segregated from the world. Unfortunately, this is an Eastern philosophy hearkening back to Confucius, not a Christian philosophy issued by Jesus.

Consequently, an entire sub-culture of Christianity has emerged that, while technically “in the world,” it has little or nothing to actually do with the world. I call these people Sterile Christians. Well, not to their face, because that would be rude. Sterile Christians practice Sterile Christianity.

In this series of blog posts, I intend to bust the myth of Sterile Christianity and offer the better way taught, exemplified, and enabled through Jesus.


Well worth checking out this series from Bryan.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Epiphany Day

I believe I came to a sort of epiphany today. I think if I'm completely honest with myself, I've been far too content to know about Christ and to try to emulate him instead of putting my focus on wanting to know him and be known by him. And I do believe that needs to change.