Thursday, April 22, 2010

Jesus is not a Condiment

Major League baseball games are fun for a lot more than the baseball being played on the field these days. (Insert your own joke here about the team that “plays baseball” at Kaufman Stadium). If you have been out to the “K” lately then you know what I’m talking about. There are plenty of games and activities to enjoy (read: to take you mind off) Abner Doubleday’s game. There are fine eateries, a carrousel, a playground, and between innings there are fun things on the mammoth Jumbotron to occupy your attention. Some of my favorite between inning fun times are: “The Kiss Cam” (where the camera randomly finds couples and they smooch for all to see on the big screen); Slugger shooting out hotdogs from a “hot dog launcher” (As the Royals have discovered – only occasionally-- like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”-- does Slugger shoot someone’s eye out); and of course, in between the seventh inning there is the traditional singing of “Take me out to the Ballgame.”

My favorite non-baseball activity is the Condiment Race that takes place on the massive screen. In this event, cartoon hot dogs featuring ketchup, relish or mustard race around the bases. There is as much drama as one can stand as the animated rolled bologna in a bun turns me into a hollering fool as I cheer for Mustard. I always cheer for Mustard. I relish the opportunity to cheer for Mustard hoping he will “ketchup” to the others (please accept my apology for that last sentence—even by my extremely low standards that pun was very poor).

What makes my love for the Condiment race even more curious is that I am not particularly a condiment person. Are you? Do you have to eat ketchup with your French fries? Is your hot dog not quite right without mustard? Is your taco naked without salsa? At Arby’s do you get the Horsy Sauce? At the Outback Steakhouse do you ask for A-1? Is your refrigerator filled with Soy, Tabasco, and/or Worcestershire Sauce? (I’ve long past the age limits for the National Spelling Bee Contest, but I must admit to you that I would never win anyway…it just took me about 37 tries to correctly spell “Worcestershire”… yickes!)

In admitting that I am not a condiment guy, please know that I am not opposed to condiments. I will not be attending an anti-condiment rally anytime soon. I certainly don’t look down upon those who indulge in condiments. Some of my best friends eat ketchup with their fries. I even know a person who has taken the little packets of mustard and relish and have consumed the contents on their own like they’re a tasty treat. I’ve got no problem with that. Still, simply put, I do not go out of my way for a condiment. I may eat ketchup or mustard if it happens to be on my burger, but just as easily I might eat my Oscar Mayer dog plain. Weird but true.

Who cares?

I was thinking about condiments and Jesus (it’s an occupational hazard… do I relate everything to Jesus? A lot of the time I do). Anyway, let me just write it: Jesus is not a condiment. Unfortunately, that’s how I’ve seen a lot of people approach our Lord. They might not say it, but through their life choices and their actions they convey the notion: “If I just add a little Jesus to my life-- it will make it better.” That almost sounds right too. Almost.

The problem is—rather than being consumed by Jesus, immersed in Jesus, having Jesus as their “all in all” what these “Jesus as a Condiment” people are really after is just a “squirt of Jesus” or a “teaspoon of Jesus.” They want a dash of Jesus to help them when life gets hard. They want a splash of Jesus to get them through a bad day or they really want a good dose of Jesus to help Aunt Millie’s cancer. So they call on Him to make life better, easier, and more manageable. They are not after a transformation, just a pinch of Jesus will do.

It seems to me that is not what Jesus is after in my life. He wants me--all of me. He does not want to be an add-on to simply give my life a little extra flavor—he wants to be my life. Jesus once said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Shortly after saying those words, Jesus was calling people to follow him and all the people have great excuses why they could not follow him at that time: one was worried about the living conditions, another had a funeral to attend, and the last guy had other family issues. They didn’t out-right reject Christ (few people do)—they just wanted Jesus to fit into their schedule. Just a dash of Jesus is what they were after.

But Jesus wants more. Being a Christ follower is saying: I will follow Him when it is inconvenient; I will follow Him when all is well; I will follow Him when all is lousy; I will not be deterred by money, things, or other opportunities. I want Jesus’ agenda to be my agenda. I want His will to be my will. I want His goals, hopes and dreams to be my goals, hopes and dreams. It’s saying, “I do not follow Him simply so that He will make my life a little better here and there, I follow Him because Jesus is my life!”

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Karla and the RipCord

Tomorrow is Nazarene Night at Worlds of Fun and Karla has informed me that she would like to ride on the RipCord. If you are unfamiliar with this ride according to the Worlds of Fun website, the RipCord is “a Skycoaster attraction.” A “Skycoaster attraction” sounds like the patron is gently riding in one of those nice little high-in-the-sky, four-seater carts that travels from the near side of the amusement park to the far side, all the while the rider is enjoying a scenic view of the park and sipping on a slushy. That is NOT the RipCord. The website goes on to say the RipCord “features a 180-foot tethered free-fall. Guests wear a full body harness that supports the flyer in a prone position. The scale of flight is so dramatic that flyers accelerate to 60 - 80 miles per hour and achieve the sensation of hang gliding.” Allow me to translate: the RipCord is a death trap. It dangles you and a friend or two high above the earth, a bell sounds and the individuals are dropped like a sack of potatoes, because of this little thing called gravity (thank you Mr. Isaac Newton) the individuals fall toward Planet Earth at a speed of 9.81 meters per second squared (Thank you Mr. Mike Copeland, my 12th grade physics teacher) with the only thing keeping the thrill seekers from going splat like a bug against a windshield is a thread-- a tiny thread of bungee cord like materials. Has anyone ever had a rubber band break in their hands? I rest my case. And Karla wants to do this? Apparently so.

Moreover for this excitement one has to pay an additional fee (you read that right-- an additional fee!!!) to the normal park entrance fee. If she can find two other dumb friends (I mean, “two other adventurous friends”) to join in on the thrill-- it will cost her $18.02 plus tax. Why $18.02? I think the extra two cents is for people like me that will have given their two cents about the decision to partake in such a ride. As in, “Honey I love you, but I would prefer to not be a widower at this time.” Of course, this fee does not include the additional cost of new clothing that I would have to purchase after (let’s just say) “ruining” the ones I would have been wearing; or the additional cost of a new set of lungs after having screamed my original pair clear out of me. For all of these reasons and a probably a few more, no one will see me joining my bride on the RipCord.

The desire of Karla to ride the RipCord does not surprise me. She has indicated in the past her desire to hang glide over the ocean and parachute out of a perfectly good airplane. Adventure and Karla are like peas and carrots or ice cream and root beer—they just go together well. As for me, when it comes to rides at an amusement park, I’ll stick to the bumper cars and merry-go-rounds. Thank you very much.

Unfortunately, too many people take my non-adventurous amusement park philosophy into the rest of their life. And the result is no excitement; no thrills; no action. They seem to be content for the mundane and the uneventful. I believe God has more in store for us than that.

Faith is stepping out of our comfort zone and trusting God to do adventurous things through us. It’s going to Swaziland on a mission trip; it’s helping to serve the homeless at a rescue mission; it’s taking cookies to a neighbor and striking up a meaningful conversation; it’s sitting with the lonely person in the cafeteria; or befriending the hurting at your workplace. It’s putting ourselves in a position for God to do the extraordinary through us.

You’ve heard the cliché, “Nothing ventured; nothing gained.” It’s not in the Bible but it contains some truth. While I don’t care if that is said about my amusement park ventures, I do care if that is said about my faith ventures. I want to be a follower of Christ who will venture to new places and reach new people. I want to be a follower that says, “If you can use me Lord… Let’s go.” Like the old story about the Lord and a rider on a tandem bike, I want to say, “As long as you are leading and steering the bike, “I’m ready to go down whatever path you choose.”

Like Abraham, I want this said about me: By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he …obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8) I love it. He was called to go—but he didn’t know the place; he had no GPS to give him directions; he never saw the spot on a map; and he didn’t read the AAA Travel guide on the location—still Abraham was called; he “obeyed and went” and what an adventure it was!

Faith is an adventure. I’m ready to experience a God-directed thrill ride—are you?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Easter is different now

Easter is different from when I was a kid. We used to get all dressed up on Easter Sunday—brand new clothes right down to our Superman underoos-- all to celebrate our Risen Lord. I guess nothing said “He’s alive” like brand new skivvies. The girls would wear new dresses, Easter bonnets and white lacy gloves. I haven’t seen an Easter bonnet in a long time.

At the church I attended we would have a sunrise service on Easter Morning-- a service at 6 AM. Which meant getting up at 4:30 AM (or earlier) so that all six in my family could use the one and only restroom in the house, get dressed, ready, and in the car by 5:30 to head to church. It didn’t take 30 minutes to get to our church (maybe five minutes), but my dad was convinced that we had to be the first ones in the church parking lot no matter what time the service started. Usually I was a little groggy singing “Up from the Grave He Arose” at 6 AM in the Sunrise service.

Following the service, we would eat breakfast in the church fellowship hall (Read: basement of the parsonage). I tried to tell Karla we needed to invite the whole church over to our basement for breakfast on Easter, she could make eggs and bacon and I would eat and talk to people—she looked like she was going to punch the Peeps right out of me for making such a suggestion.

Then we went back to church for our regular Sunday School and Easter Service. The church usually had a few more people than normal and we always sang, “He Lives.” But other than that, I don’t remember Easter Sunday worship being much different from any other Sunday Worship service. Unlike at Christmas time, the church didn’t give out boxes of candy and an orange and an apple. We just went home.

Once at the house, we would eat devilled eggs. Sometimes the white part of the devilled egg had some food coloring residue on them from our decorating the night before. I must say I was not a very good egg decorator. My eggs always had the same brownish-grey look to them. I could never do half green half purple eggs like my sisters. It seems I always dropped the whole egg into one of the food colors on accident—thereby creating the brownish-grey egg that no one wanted to eat. My mom would eat them. She was kind-hearted to her artistically challenged youngest cherub.

Mom always made ham on Easter. Never turkey. Never roast beef. We ate ham-- just like Jesus and the disciples (ummm… maybe not). And we ate bunny cake for dessert. I don’t remember my mom making a special cake for any other holiday, but every Easter she would make a white cake that looked like a rabbit. She’d stick paper bunny ears on it and sprinkle it with coconut. She’d place the bunny cake on a cookie sheet and put some dyed green coconut all around the cake on the cookie sheet to give it a grassy look and then she’d place jelly beans all around it. One year I put several black jelly beans near the back of the bunny on the dyed green coconut “grass,” my mom was not amused.

Following dinner, we’d look for our baskets and then head to relatives’ houses. Except for the fact that we couldn’t change into our “play clothes” so that my grandma and Aunt Alice could see our Easter outfits, Easter was always a good day.

Today Easter is different. No Sunrise service. No bonnets. No Bunny cake. My boys won’t be wearing new suits and ties and have shown no interest in decorating eggs. Still, I hope this remains: I pray Easter will be a good day—not because of all of those things mentioned above but because we will rejoice that Jesus is alive. His Resurrection completely changes everything. Sin and Death have been defeated. Life can be ours. Like the women who showed up at the tomb on that first Easter morning I hope we experience the exuberance of the news: "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! (Luke 24:5-6) Maybe we won’t have on a shiny new suit, but we can still proclaim “He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!”