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Acquired Taste

I was eating a bag of “Sweetly Hot BBQ” chips the other day.  When purchased, we thought they were just “sweet”.  Post crunch we reexamined the bag title. The chips were not proportionally hot by any means.  Some where tame and then I would find my tongue and throat abandoning their post and seeking asylum in my nasal cavities.  Sydney, who is like a CIA operative when it comes to finding intel on where snacks are located, discovers the chips and desperately wants one.  Mommy tells her that they are too hot and spicy for her.  Sydney finally gave up on her mission and I was left with the thought of how some tastes need acquiring.

You’ve heard this before, “it’s an acquired taste”.  It is usually said by someone who likes something that the majority of people think is disgusting.  Have you ever thought this through?  What this means is that the first time you taste it you will find it revolting.  So, logically, you try it again and only find it disgusting, then mildly putrid, then tolerably bad, questionably ok, slightly interesting, possibly adequate, maybe good, awesome, to “you’ve got to try this, it’s an acquired taste”.  It’s like watching a fireman light up a cigarette after pulling someone out of a burning building, all the while placing an oxegen mask on the victim and telling them, “Look, we need to put this on you, (puff, puff, inhale) you swallowed a bunch of smoke (exhale) and we don’t won’t you to get sick (big puff hold aaaaand release).”

We have an obsession with image and what we think is “good” for us.  We torture ourselves to please others.  You doubt me?  Skinny Jeans, Waxing, Fraternities.  We abuse our bank accounts in order to buy clothes that we need to abuse our bodies to fit into because we abused our mouths to eat stuff we didn’t originally like.

Then God comes along and says, “try this.”

What is it?

It’s bread and wine.

Will it make me puke?

No. It gives opportunity to live.

Is it an acquired taste?

No. There is nothing to acquire, only taste and see that it is good.

You see, we get to a point in our life that everything that we think is good was acquired through something we initially thought was bad.  Then we thought it was good.  Then we wondered why it didn’t fulfill.  God offers us something good and we become suspicious.  We are told we must surrender and take up our cross and then we say, “aha! I knew there was a catch!”  But the reality is that surrendering isn’t a condition for God to give to us, but a condition for us to receive. If you are holding a porcupine and I want to give you a bandaid, you have to put the rodent down.

With Christ, he simply is offering you life, abundant life, a fulfilled life.  It is not something we have to acquire.  It is something good from the first taste.

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Too Bright

One of the great advantages of being a pastor is the over abundance of junk mail.  It is amazing how much advertising is done in the name of Jesus… or in the name of church growth.  I should also say it is amazing how much bad advertising is done in the name of Jesus.  I don’t know if we are trying to advertise Jesus or legitimize our junky product.  Did you know that there is a dance class in Texas called “Pole Dancing for Jesus”… seriously, it’s an exercise class. But as my relatives in Jersey say, “Whaddaya gonna do?”

Most of the junk I receive goes in the trash or I slip it into my youth ministers inbox. But, a few times a year I get the coveted free pen.  Usually they are junk, but once in awhile there is a nice balanced shiny writing pen.  Today did not disappoint.  Today’s pen had a flashlight imbedded in its end.  Yes, I am a sucker for free flashlight pens.

I noticed something though.  If the light is on it shines in your eye when you are writing.  The pen cannot simultaneously work effectively as a writing utensil and an object of illumination… some might argue that is the problem with most writings in our world.  I thought wouldn’t it be great if the light shined the other way so I could write in the dark.  Light actually revealing what I am doing instead of hindering what I am doing.

I wondered at the numerous illustrations of the goodness of light in our life.  We are told to “go to the light”.  Let the “light of Christ” reveal your path.  The “lights” came on and I could see clearly.  The list can go on.  But how many times are we “blinded by the light”?  How often do we come out of that dark restaurant (Mojo’s BBQ) and are hit with a hint of sunlight and feel like Paul getting knocked off his horse  with blindness cowering to the ground yelling “my world, my world”… what, only me?  How many times does light seem to work against us?

During this period of fasting, I have found myself too often faced with the blinding light of God.  At first I am like my daughter who says “it’s too bright for me daddy” and the little gremlin that I am wants to shy away.  They say there is no insult like the truth.  Is that how I take God’s light?  Is it an insult?  How arrogant and self centered I am to think that anything contrary to me is insulting or harmful.  I have Dennis Hopper yelling “Perspective, Man!” in my ear.

Coming face to face with the light of Christ, the revealing nature of God’s love, is not his condemnation.  He is not even insulting me.  God is in the business of revelation, truth, and love.  His light isn’t to blind me at all.  It is revealing a better way.

There are a couple of ways in which to protect your eyes from a blinding light.  You can cover your eyes and keep walking, in which case you are still blind and stumbling.  You can endure the pain and eventually be permanently blind.  You can turn around with your back to the light and have the light wash over you and reveal a shadowy path ahead of you.  In which case you will see shadows of yourself blocking a clear path. Or, you can get next to the one holding the light and see what they see and step where they step.

His blinding love is not an insult, but an invitation.  If I want to see clearly, I have to start walking with the one who has the light.

Fasting.  Why do we participate in such an odd thing?  We work all our life to obtain, and here we are declaring our fast from those things we thought we were looking for.  Our very act of fast seems to denounce the hard work we have put in to the consumption we were previously engaged in and will soon take up again. No matter what your reason for fasting, frankly, it’s weird.

However, maybe it is not our fast that is weird, but our own behavior.  We fast for 40 days during lent for various reasons.  Some have discovered that they are addicted to certain things, so in order to move away from those things they refrain from consuming said things. At least for 40 days.  Why is that weird? Because we admit that these are things not healthy for us, yet we go back to them after 40 days.  We spend our fast longing for that which is unhealthy.  Honestly, it is like a spiritual bathing suit diet.  I don’t really want to be healthy, but I’d like to at least look good once in awhile.

But the Biblical fast was less about abstaining from and more about focusing on.  Fasts were called for in order to focus and pray intently on a serious matter, to prepare for different tasks.  Biblical fasts generally were about moving toward God to hear his voice, to see his face.   The most famous fast we have is Jesus’ fast.  He wasn’t fasting to abstain from sins in his life, but in preparation to follow and depend upon every movement of the Father.

The other thing about Biblical fasting is that it always involved food.  I doubt Jesus was a glutton.  (Judging by all the paintings, he was either a competitive swimmer or a troubadour singer from the 60’s.) What Jesus was doing was living by the real essence of fundamental living; the truth of God. Even before shelter, food, and clothing, we need the presence of God in our life and to feed on that presence.

I don’t know about you, but that is a reality I need to revisit often and put to the test.  This lenten season I have decided to fast from lunches everyday and a full fast once a week.  I have learned several things about myself.  1. I snack a lot.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have slapped my hand as I have mindlessly reached for a cookie or cracker or my daughters PB&J.  2. I can justify about anything.  My first full fast was very tough in the beginning.  Missing dinner while making dinner for Sydney was a true test.  I kept coming back to the prayer of “let me feed on your presence in my life, Lord”.  I almost caved several times.  3. God is faithful.  In those moments of weakness, I was able to look to the Lord and find strength and even joy.

I had to let go of one frame of mind and grab on to another.  I had to let go of one dependence and find another.  When I looked at this fast as a task, as something to simply complete, I would think, “I need to eat a big meal so I can make it through missing my next meal”.  Then, when the Lord kindly reminded me why I was doing this I changed and thought, “He has food for me that will satisfy the depth of my being”.

I won’t lie, I am very hungry right now, but giving this hunger to God I find that he fills me with a comfort and strength no steak every could.  I’m not fasting in order to appreciate more what I have an abundance of, to abstain from unhealthy behaviors, to prove my strength of will, or even to obtain some mystical experience.  I fast so that I might focus more clearly upon the presence and reality of God and to take him on his word that he sustains all my needs and that they begin with him.  I fast, not to be deprived, but to feast. The absence of food in my life doesn’t make me miss food because fasting is not about the absence of a basic need, but about the presence of the primary need;  God in my life.

Lenten Foundations

Lent is traditionally a time for self-reflection with an emphasis on the distance we put between us and God through our sin.  Fasting is one discipline we use to help us receive God’s reconciling grace in order to close that gap.  I have been thinking about that hymn, Solid Rock  “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less”…”  and wondering where my hope rests, wondering what are the foundations that widen the distance between me and my God.  Here is a video introduction to my sermon series exploring this question.

To hear this weeks sermon click here. This weeks sermon is titled, How Firm a Foundation.

Tombstone Trophies

The clutter of life piles in pillars.  Monuments to my insatiable appetite. They are prophets of emptiness.  These pillars, these statues, these tombstone trophies of perishing reminders that I have not found what I seek. Yet I still listen to their comforting whispers and warning shouts.  Despite the collection of dust that rests on their muzzle, I hear their words as wisdom.  Why else would I spend vast amounts of life being consumed by my consumption?  Why else would I listen to these false prophets; these dogs of desire?

The creeks, cries, and calls of my life no longer sound dissonant.  Their familiarity breeds content.  I rest in denial though I’ve been denied nothing.

Fast. Fasting. Cross. Cross Bearing. Die. Dying.

These are the dissonant words I hear.  An ill struck chord that shakes my teeth. A sound I mistake as out-of-place.  Discovery is disconcerting.  Truth unwavering.  Moving past the rattling in my mouth I hear my weariness.  I hear my weakness.  I hear my salvation.  These new words, these monumental words, these trying words are not dissonant.  They are not new.  An echo through time of symphonic bliss. A river of truth, inviting winds of change, reveal that what I had called comforting whispers before was but a crying baby in a symphony hall.

Fast. Fasting. Cross. Cross Bearing. Die. Dying.

These are not elements of a bleak life.  These are not elements of a suffocating religion.

These are the means of grace in which I am purged of my addictions.                                                                                                                                                              These are the means of grace in which I am cleansed of my consumption.                                                                                                                                                     These are the means of grace in which I find what I am looking for.

It is not death to die, but to Live is Christ.

To Live Is Christ.

to LIVE is CHRIST!

I once denied nothing, yet had nothing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I now deny all, and find what I seek

Life. Overflowing life. Abundant life.

A Life Saved

There is a show I like to watch from time to time called, “I Shouldn’t Have Survived”.  The show interviews and reenacts dramatic tales of survival.  There are stories of people surviving Bear attacks, mountain climbing tragedies, and open ocean disasters, to name just a few.  They are amazing stories.

This morning I was reading Exodus and the story of Moses and his ride in a basket down the nile, his grown up murder of an Egyptian, and his subsequent flee for his life out of Egypt.  It seemed like the story of Moses has a lot of “I shouldn’t have survived” moments.  I was only in chapter 2.

The stories on that television show are quite extraordinary.  After reading Exodus, I noticed something else.  More than likely the most extraordinary thing that will happen to most of these people is a seriously bad vacation.  Rescue.  Their life rescued has become the narrative of their life.  Rescue is not a bad narrative.  These are tremendous stories, indeed.  But, what happens after?

Only two chapters in and Moses has been rescued twice.  He settled into comfort afterward.  Who could blame him.  Newly married, a fun father-in-law, and a decent job, he’s living the Hebrew dream.  Moses, however, is not defined by rescue, but by mission.  His salvation does not rest with him alone and does not end in complacent rest.  As soon as God delivers him from the frying pan, he sends him to the kettle.

Most people ,when asked what Moses is known for, will say, “delivering the Hebrews from slavery”.  This is true and important, but only a small portion of Exodus deals with the, well, Exodus.  Exodus chronicles the movement of God through Moses leading a people to God, to a promise, to a land, to an identity. Salvation wasn’t the end, it was a means to an end.  Salvation was a pathway to living.  The amazing thing in the history of the Hebrews is not that they were saved from Egypt, but that they became a nation.

What are you becoming?  Is the most significant thing in your life your deliverance or where God is leading you?  Deliverance is crucial, but it is just the beginning.  Don’t be defined by what you were saved from, but live in to what you are saved for; an abundant life of sharing life.

Tat Too?

It is true.  I have entered into the ranks of those who have been inked.  This past weekend I took the plunge and subjected my forearm to the ancient practice of tattooing.  A practice where people go to express their individuality by doing something that millions of others have done.  Tattooing, an act in which you pay someone money to take a needle covered in ink and stab it into your arm over and over and over again.

As we walked into the parlor, (really, it’s called a parlor,  I doubt that when little old ladies create their little parlors with doilies and ribbon candy they had in mind Lidia the tattooed lady serving tea, but here we are.), the walls are framed and decorated with tattoos from bodies past and present.  Each person’s choice etched out from stories of great personal  meaning to a night of drunken dares.  There are dragons and fish, eagles and tigers.  There was even a collage with guns and a cross.

The language was as colorful as the arms, necks, and faces doing the work.  Tattoos, often a sign of toughness, rites of passage, initiations… and in I walk to order my ink of choice.  I slapped my picture down on the counter like a man ordering apple juice at a biker bar.  “Good sir” I say, “I’d like to tattoo my daughters hand print on my arm”.  Yes, I am that burly.

Did it hurt?  Well, if you have read my other blogs, you will know that I have subjected myself to more painful and stupid things, so pain is relative.  Much less painful than the Hot Wing challenge or the last 6 miles of the 1/2 IronMan. It’s like a thousand ant bites without the poison.

Once strapped to the chair, and internally laughing at the site of severally tattooed people sterilizing everything, the artist placed the stencil of Sydney’s hand on my forearm, made sure that was where I wanted it placed and put his needles to work.  As I sat there exchanging small talk I began to think of the significance of the experience.  I have thought for a long time about what kind of tatoo I wanted and when we had Sydney I knew I wanted something to do with her.  It took three years, but I finally figured it out.

One night as I was watching TV, I didn’t realize that Sydney had gotten into her paints.  She is usually pretty good at keeping the paint on paper, but this night… not so much.  She came around the corner and yelled “surprise!” I looked over and thought I saw Mel Gibson in Braveheart, but it was just Sydney covered in green paint.  As I picked her up to wash her off, I soon discovered that the paint was not just on her.  There were little green foot prints on the, thankfully, wooden floor.  That was when I saw her hand print on the floor as well.  I knew then that I wanted Sydney’s print forever etched on me.

Her high energy, strong will, permanent joy, as well as the reminder that she is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh all play a part in it’s meaning.  Plus, I think it looks pretty dang awesome.  It is no secret that I am devoted to my daughter, for I know how fierce and protective I am and how much I love talking about her.  As I sat participating as a piece of canvass, enduring minor pain, I couldn’t help but hear God tell me, “If you think you know fierce love, how much more do you think I love you”.

As much as I have etched a print of Sydney’s hand on my arm, God desires me to be imprinted in Him.  Not just a sketch, by my life.  I don’t see this as selfish on his part, but an act of undying devotion to see me live.  The vibrancy I desire to see in the life of Sydney He wants even more so for me.  The question I ask myself is if I am willing to stop being the canvass and become the ink in which God creates.

As I sit on my back porch I see Sydney play with bugs and the dogs.  I see and hear birds and turtles.  My orange tree is finally ripe.  The works of his creation abound.  Why would I not subject myself to the work of the Divine artist, the true creator, the author of life.  May I be marked proudly on the arms of my God.