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Oh Boredom, Wherefore Art Thou?

o-brother-where-art-thou1Ask 1,000 randomly selected people to give you the first word that comes to mind when you say, “Bible,” and what do you think the most popular answers will be?  I suppose “God” would be number one and “Jesus” would be number two.  Then, if your random folks are honest, “boring” would come in at a strong number three.  Hey, don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger.

Let’s get real.  Most people think the Bible is boring.  Heck, as much as I love the Bible (and I really do love it, even if sometimes it doesn’t show), there are times when I lose the desire to read it.  A day turns into two, then two days become a week, and all of a sudden it’s been an age since I’ve spent any quality time with the Bible.

You probably have similar feelings.  After all, “no temptation has seized you except what is common to mankind.” If so, you’ve come to the right place, because today I’m sharing Tips on How to Enjoy the Bible.

Where did I come up with these tips?  In my own battle to keep things fresh.  These pointers have been bought and paid for at the School of Boredom.  They’ve worked for me and they’ll work for you.  And away we go!

  1. Red-letter Reduction.  A red-letter Bible means the words of Jesus are printed in red ink; it’s been boiled down with the very best stuff separated from all the other stuff.  If you don’t have such a Bible, invest in one and spend a few days reading nothing but what comes from the mouth of Jesus.
  2. Gripe Check.  It’s not what you think.  You think I’m going to tell you to be content.  No, I’m going to suggest that you read the first line or two of a bunch of Psalms and note how many of them start off with griping or complaining or fear.  These are spiritual giants griping and complaining and worrying about the sky falling.  It’s fun to see that you’re not the only one.
  3. Gripe Checkmate.  Now go through some of those same, whiney Psalms and note how many end with griping and fear.  The answer is “next to none,” but don’t take my word for it.  Poke around in the Psalms for example after example of how to do an attitude adjustment.
  4. The So-What Flush.  Pick any story in the New Testament.  They’re only a couple of paragraphs and it’ll take only a minute or two to read the one you choose.  Then ask yourself, “So what?  Why did God include this story in the Bible?”  The So-What Flush flushes out benefits and good news, and benefits are fun.
  5. Goodness or Grievance.  Pick any story in the Old Testament.  Not any book, just any story within a book, like Exodus f’rinstance.  After reading the story, ask yourself, “Is this story an example of God’s goodness or God’s grievance?  If it’s about God’s goodness, that goodness remains to this day and forever.  If it’s about God’s grievance, that grievance has been resolved by the finished work of Jesus, so there’s your good news no matter how scary the story may be.
  6. QuickBooks.  There are 27 books in the New Testament and 17 of them can be read from beginning to end in about 10 minutes or less.  You may never slog your way through the Bible from cover to cover, but you can read all the QuickBooks in one weekend with time to spare.
  7. 5-minute Expert.  Choose any “QuickBook” and become an expert on that book.  For example, if you were to invest 30 minutes per day for one month in Ephesians, you’d know more about Ephesians than anybody in town.  It’s fun to be an expert.  I know because I am an expert on where to find every free cup of coffee in town. Continue reading

Curly’s Finger

Curly's Finger 1It’s Master’s Week.  That means I may skip work this Wednesday, drive the 90 miles or so to Augusta, buy a $45 face-value ticket for $300 from one of the world’s most courteous scalpers and spend the rest of my day rubbing elbows with 40,000 of the world’s most courteous sports fans, fans so well-behaved that they have their own name: they’re called “patrons.”

For me, the day won’t be about golf.  It’ll be about Curly’s Finger.

Curly’s Finger was introduced in the movie, “City Slickers,” starring Billy Crystal.  In that movie, three late-thirtyish childhood chums from New York City take a trip each year to break up life’s monotony and refuel on inspiration.

The year before, the boys had taken part in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, and our hero, Mitch (Crystal) had been gored in the gluteus maximus for his trouble.  This year their destination is a dude ranch in New Mexico.  From there they plan to drive a herd of cattle through “some of the prettiest country on God’s green earth” all the way up to Colorado.

The boys really need a getaway this year.  One of them has committed adultery and lost his family, his job and his bearings in life.  Another is dealing with cold feet as he prepares to abandon his womanizing ways, get married and “just eat the same thing every night for the rest of my life.”  The third cowboy wannabe, Mitch, has been repeatedly humiliated at his job, is losing touch with his teenage kids and no longer burns with passion for his adoring wife.  Alarmed by the sober realization that peddling radio advertising amounts to little more than “selling air,” he’s up against a monster of a midlife crisis and knows it.

Charged by his wife to go on the cattle drive and “find your smile,” Mitch pleads, “What if I can’t?”  His good and faithful soulmate responds, “We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it.” Continue reading

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White Men Don’t Rent Cars?

kip and lafawndaNot long ago, the perfect economic storm forced me to travel for the first time in my career.  After 23 years of being home every night I became what USA Today calls a “Super Commuter,” making the trip from Atlanta to St. Louis and back every week.    It just about killed me but you know the saying:  “What doesn’t kill me only makes me really, really tired.”

One thing I learned from my travels is that all rental cars come with radios pre-tuned to hip-hop.  The first time I got into my Hertzmobile the radio was tuned to hip-hop.  Twice, thrice, even four times in a row I could pass off as mere coincidence.  But after renting 20 cars and being greeted by blaring hip-hop each and every time, l was close to the perfectly natural suspicion that white guys don’t rent cars.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking the Hertz detail guy is a double agent, an undercover hip-hop evangelist who pockets a modest Hertz check, then turns around and hauls in a fat stack from a major record label.  In return for messing with all the radios, winning hip-hop converts and driving MeanMugg’s CD sales through the roof, he hauls in a tidy moonlighting supplement.

Wrong!  I know you’re wrong because I suspected the same thing myself.  So I flat-out asked the Hertz detail guy, “Hey, man, are you a double-agent who always resets the radio to hip-hop when you’re cleaning out the car?”

His reply, and I more or less quote: “Whaaaa?  Get the BLEEP outta here, you crazy bleeper-bleeper.  I ain’t got no bleepin’ time for this bleepin’ bleep.”  Then he studied me for a moment with the side-eye and dismissed me with what I thought was a rather condescending, ‘Bleeeeeeeep.”

As a student of humanity, I could tell right away that the guy was as honest as the day is long, and there went my double agent theory.  So what’s the deal? Continue reading

The Griswold Principle

As it is in many Christian-American households this time of year, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is an annual tradition in my home.  Throw my boys and me in a room with nothing but paper and pen and an hour later we’re walking out with the complete script.  As Cousin Eddy might put it, Christmas Vacation is “the gift that keeps on giving the whole year through.”  To which we’d respond, as Clark Griswold does, “That it is, Edward.  That it is.”

My dad used to howl when Clark got trapped in the frigid attic, stepped through the sheetrock and warmed his hands on the air rising through the expensive hole in Rusty’s bedroom ceiling.  My wife relates to Ellen Griswold, the overwhelmed, smiling, cigarette-sneaking hostess who advises her daughter, “It’s Christmas, Honey.  We’re supposed to be miserable.”  My sons love it when Clark gets busted by Rusty for ogling the hot babe at the negligee counter.  And I, being a father, husband and son, can appreciate Clark’s highs and lows, dreams and defeats, fears and frustrations.  For my money, Hollywood’s never scripted a more perfect Christmas verse than Clark’s climactic line, “Hallelujah!  Where’s the Tylenol?”

The surface brilliance of Christmas Vacation is its inclusiveness.  It meets you right where you are, and no matter what you are—grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, cousin, kid, parent, boss, nosy neighbor, curious cat, slobbering Rottweiler or innocent squirrel–it’s got something for you.  The deeper appeal of this flick, the genius that eluded me for years, is that it brokers a truce between two common Christmas Jesuses;  Extravagant Jesus and Simple Jesus. Continue reading

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The Puzzle of Positive Thinking

Yes Man: Positive Thinking Has Its Place And Its Price

Positive Thinking guru Terrence—he’s such a big star he needs only one name—has made a fortune and a reputation by teaching his followers to say, “Yes.” A despondent banker is about to become his latest convert. The movie is Jim Carrey’s “Yes Man,” and it masterfully displays both the power and peril of positive thinking as an exclusive spiritual diet.

For years, Carl (Carrey) has been losing the battle to get past a lost love. He’s burned out. He makes excuses and is enslaved by fear. His life is headed nowhere and he knows it, yet he can barely muster the will to go through the motions of daily life.

Forced by professional underachievement to eat the sack lunch he can afford rather than the power lunch he craves, Carl sits alone outside the modest bank where he works as a lowly loan officer. While absently picking at a bland sandwich, he’s spotted by an old friend.

The friend is bursting with energy and optimism. From the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks, though the listless Carl does little to encourage the chatter. His friend’s been around the world and now he’s on top of the world. He’s living for today and can hardly wait for tomorrow.

His secret? He’s a disciple of Terrence. He’s become a Yes Man, and saying “yes” to every opportunity has turbocharged his life.

Displaying the hardness of head and thickness of skin common to proselytes, the friend forces a Yes Seminar brochure into poor Carl’s clammy hands. Unfazed by Carl’s indifference, the friend assures Carl that if he comes to the seminar it will be the best decision he’s ever made.

On the evening of the big event, Carl finds himself seated in a huge crowd of excited Yes people. Terrence, sensing Carl’s resistance, picks him out of the crowd and sprints down the aisle, barefoot and guru-esque, to confront him.

No match for the great man’s conviction and charisma, Carl surrenders to the possibilities of Yes and makes a public profession of Yestianity. At the insistence of Terrence and the crowd, he enters into a covenant with himself: From now on, he will say yes to every opportunity, no matter how small.

Satisfied that his new protege is securely on board, Terrence leaves Carl with a menacing, maniacal warning: “If you break the covenant you’ll be breaking a promise to yourself, and when you break a promise to yourself, things can get a little….dicey.”

Sure enough, Carl soon discovers that when he says yes, amazing things happen. And when he says no, things indeed get dicey.

His positive thinking leads to new adventures, exciting opportunities and a wonderful romance. It also leads to disappointment and high anxiety. In the end, “Yes” proves to be just a little too good to be true.

The problem with positive thinking is that it’s fast-acting but it’s also fast-wearing off. There’s power in positive thinking but there’s also a puzzle, and the puzzle is, “Why do I always seem to aim high and hit low?”

Take it from a friend who’s tried and failed many times over many years. If you think positive thinking alone is your ticket to ride, you’ll find yourself riding the wave as an exception and paddling in the pool as a rule. And as long as you’re paddling, you’re just one dropped stroke from becoming a sitting duck.

Enter Jesus. There’s a place in the Bible where Jesus says, “If you don’t get this, you won’t get much of anything I have to say.”

Do you know where that place is, and do you know what it is you’re supposed to get? I won’t keep you in suspense for long, but before we crack open this true fortune cookie, sermonsibility demands that I set you up to win.

After all, I’m here to help you win, and that means rolling up my sleeves with you. There’s more to this liberation thing than dosing out positivity from a safe distance.

So please, don’t miss the importance of what you’re about to read. This comes from Jesus, the man who promised—promised—that you can do almost anything with him and virtually nothing without him (Lk. 18:27, Jn 15:5). This comes from a man who’s not only able but willing to bless you in a big way (Mt. 8:3). And honestly, of all the people who are capable of blessing you today, of how many can you be sure that they’re also willing? Continue reading

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I Just See God

To See Or Not To See: Roman And Chet Tackle The Question

Roman Craig is a mover and a shaker. He’s got a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade. He drives a big, long Mercedes. He wears yellow leisure suits. Roman has lots of answers and one question.

It’s a question that’s echoed through the ages. It’s a question so deep that it haunts him even as he tweezes his nose hair, a question so urgent that he must pose it to his wife (Annette Bening) as she’s lathering up in the shower.

“Honey,” moans the tormented Roman, “why do Chet’s kids look at him like he’s Zeus, and mine look at me like I’m a rack of yard tools at Sears?”

The dreaded answer comes from a cloud of steam behind the shower curtain: “Maybe if you’d spend less time at work and more time with us, things would be different.”

Oblivious to his wife’s insight, Roman uses one hand to brace a pre-historic cell phone against his ear and the other to stifle his wife. “Put a cork in it, Honey, I’m talkin’ business here.”

This exchange installs the ring in our noses, and for the next hour or so “The Great Outdoors” leads us on a laugh-a-minute romp to the inevitable and cliché conclusion that scrambling for wealth and power is vanity, while the real keys to large living are simplicity and contentment.

If that’s all there is to it, then Hollywood has blown its role as Dreamer and we, sadly, are out of our jobs as Interpreters. There’s got to be more to The Great Outdoors than this, and indeed there is.  Continue reading

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