For the Love of Food

Human beings share a common love: food. I’m not referring to our common need of food, but of our common love for food. We relate certain foods to events, traditions and people. When I think of Destin, Florida, I think of Fish Tacos. When I think of Crowder, Mississippi, I think of chicken and dressing. When I recall a trip to Zimbabwe, I think of grilled wart hog, a trip to Peru with cow heart and french fries, New York City with homemade mozzarella sticks, and Yemen with grilled lamb and flat bread. When I think of Tate County, (the community I was raised in), I think of spaghetti, Saturday morning breakfast, chicken parmesan, chili, potato salad, fried turkey and Christmas dinner. Most people have a soundtrack for their lives. I have a menu for mine.

We all love food because of its involvement in nearly every part of our lives. We celebrate by eating, we welcome people into our lives by inviting them to share a meal with us. We begin new relationships often over meals and drinks. When grieving and mourning, friends will bring you meals to express their love and compassion. People display love and care by giving their friends and family the best they have of their food and inviting you to participate. What would offend you more: for someone to be critical of the dinner you made, or for them to not like the movie you invited them to come over and watch? It is not by accident that Jesus said to eat what is set before you when you come to a new place.

When we have been away from home for a long time, what do we want to do when finally arrive back home? We want to go to certain places to eat and drink. It doesn’t feel like home until you have had that one certain meal. For me, its Coleman’s BBQ in Senatobia, MS., my hometown. Before we moved back home, I attempted to eat at Coleman’s on each visit. In our homes, where are the places we often gather the most and remain the longest to talk to others? Often, its the kitchen and the dining room. When we have guests over for a meal, we end up sitting most of the time at our kitchen table, even though our much more comfortable couches and chairs are 7 feet away. We do this because the kitchen table is more than a place to eat, but a place of fellowship.

Food and the need for food is one of the LORD’s great acts of wisdom and gifts of grace. How kind of God to not only give us food to eat that will satisfy our hunger, but to give us food that is enjoyable and satisfying to taste? The LORD could have given us corn flakes for all of our meals, and that would have been gracious enough. But He provides much more. Why does He do this? Because taste conveys the grand enjoyment and satisfaction that is found in the LORD seemingly more than any of the other senses He has given us. This is why the Psalmist writes that we are to “taste and see that the Lord is good” and that His Word is “sweeter than honey.” Food and eating are more than fuel for living, but designed to be a daily reminder of God’s love for us, and His invitation to sit at His table as His beloved children. It is right then to say that in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, God has invited us to eat with Him, and also to feast with Him. Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ gave up His seat at the table of continual feasting and fellowship with the Father so that we would have a place at His Father’s table, and gloriously rose again three days later to receive His rightful place at the head of the table. This is no mere meal. It is a feast and bounty of grace and glory, yet one that will not compare to the glory of sitting with Him and all of God’s people for the Supper of the Lamb.

So until then, let us not forget to eat. Gather with other brothers and sisters in Christ to eat with Jesus at His table each week.  Let the realities of the Lord’s Supper set the tone for all the meals and conversations around your table.Gather with your family around the kitchen table, and may it be a time of rest and joy. Have a thankful heart for what is before you and remember that all our meals are a gift of grace from a loving Father. Invite some friends over at times and bless them with some of your blessings. Serve your family and guests with love and care as the Host of the Lord’s Supper would serve, love and care for you.

Grace and peace to you and to all at your table.

1-16-17 AD

3 Bible Texts On Discerning False Teachers

Note: This article originally was published in Highlands Ministries magazine "Every Thought Captive" October 2016 edition.

False Teachers are purveyors of falsehood that harm the lives of all who embrace it. Recognition of a false teacher requires more than a biblical check list. It requires discernment and sensitivity from the Holy Spirit. What then are we to look for in a false teacher? From the Word of God, I offer three texts to help:

First, Romans 16:17-18 reveals that false teachers create divisions to doctrinal unity
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.

The Apostle Paul says to “watch out,” for false teachers because they create divisions over the unity of doctrine and confession. They bring into the fold doctrines outside the bounds of orthodoxy, and do so in the name of unity. They slyly demean brothers and sisters who believe the doctrines rightly taught. They nit pick over differences with others, and exploit the brethren where they are weak. While true teachers help the brethren in their weakness, false teachers divide over weaknesses and create harmful and unneeded obstacles, so as to always be seeking unity but never arriving at it. They smooth talk others to believe their divisions are right and proper. Their teaching is meant to protect themselves while simultaneously indicting others. When they feel attacked, they divert attention away from themselves, usually with deceit and flattery that yields to another’s naiveté.  

Secondly, Titus 1:10-11 reveals actions that flow from the character of a false teacher
For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.

According to this text, false teachers are rebellious and resistant towards their authority. They teach with religious tones and with religious words that have no value. They try to coerce others for selfish gain of power and others confidence in them.

Third, 1 Timothy 3b-11b explains the effects of false teaching
"So that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine…”

See finally that false teachers create “speculations” of God’s nature, works and ways, and lead others in “vain discussion” of the speculations that will bring no lasting fruit. This is confirmed through the lives of those reared under their work. These are lives filled with “swerving and wandering” from the faith by unholy and profane lives, filled with violence, lies, disobedience and disrespect. Sadly this happens because of that which links all three passages together. The false teacher is “without understanding” of the words they say, the Scripture they profess to believe, and the God they profess to worship.

October 2016 A.D.

In Search of a Better Christmas Experience

The six week long holiday season that begins Thanksgiving week and ends New Years Day is in full swing. While we all love this time of year, most everyone says they are glad when the season is over. I never understood this as a child, but as an adult I get it. I enjoy this season and many things about it, but I have felt there is added pressure on my family and have heard others express the same about feeling much more pressure on them in the last few years than they ever thought there would be there as adults. 

What is particular interesting are the reasons we feel this pressure. I know our parents felt pressured during Christmas. They wanted us to have a joyful Christmas and to bless us with gifts in ways they couldn’t all year. I didn’t understand that until I had my own children. I used to watch parents when we didn’t have children and had a sense of haughtiness because I would see them overwhelm their children with gifts and continuously tell myself, “My kids will never be this spoiled.” And then I had children, and now I understand. Although we don’t break the bank to buy our children presents, I do want to bless them with gifts. This is the kind of pressure our parents felt. They wanted us to enjoy our gifts because it brings them joy to see their children happy. Right or wrong, this was their belief and their pressure, which brings me to the pressure that our current generation feels about Christmas and our lives in general. We have different pressures during Christmas that may be harder. It’s the pressure of the Christmas experience that is lived out on the internet, specifically social media web sites. Let me explain.

Our culture is still a culture of excess, but today’s craving isn’t so much a craving for possessions but for an experience. We want this Christmas to be the best Christmas season we’ve ever had. Now we make our homes themed for what experience we are going for: old cottage in the woods, urban loft Christmas, Christmas at the beach, all while we are taking lots of pictures to post on all our social media pages to show everyone else how wonderful our home is to be in during the holidays, which is the heart of the problem. We want all the stuff, in the best setting and it cannot be boring or outdated.  We will not settle for an ordinary Christmas Day. We must have a season. We must have an experience. It must be filled will Christmas cookies that we made with our kids help that is followed by Christmas movies and singing Christmas carols. We no longer take our kids to see Christmas lights. We have to have pajama parties in our cars while looking at Christmas lights. My wife told me that some families send their kids a note and say they are being kidnapped to a pajama and Christmas light party. Huh? 

The pressure doesn’t end there. In fact it hasn’t even started. The real pressure begins when you log in and see what everyone else is doing at their home for Christmas and then you ask: Why didn’t we get a real Christmas Tree like them? Why didn’t we hand make our ornaments like them? Why don’t I look like that when I put up my tree? Next year I will. And then we resolve to a have better Christmas experience for ourselves and our kids. 

Christians are equally guilty. Why did we only read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Matthew and not from the Gospel Luke like they did? We only bought clothes for our own kids, so next year lets donate more money to charity like them so our kids will get the experience of giving back at Christmas. I only lit the Advent candles five times this year. They did one every day. I had advent devotions planned, but only did three and none them were written by John Piper! The manger scene we painted wasn’t as biblical as theirs. We sang jingle bells too much. We need to sing more Christian Christmas carols. Next year we will. And then we resolve that next year we will have better Christmas experience for ourselves and our kids. 

The reason we have more pressure than our parents did is because the whole world is watching. If you wanted to, you could have your entire life documented in film, photo and word. You can take videos, post pictures, an give frequent short updates about your Christmas on Facebook, Twitter or longer versions on your blog. There isn’t a problem inherently with posting pictures and giving updates through the internet. What sits uneasy with me is the way these outlets are used for self promotion. Why do we do the things we do with the tools we have? In other words, why do we use the ability the internet gives us for information and communication for self promotion? It’s not that we are more selfish than other cultures and time periods. If they had Instagram, they would do the same thing and likely did within the context of their time and tools. We do this because within us there is a void that longs for greatness and because we are modern and postmodern, we believe that greatness is to be found within ourselves and this world. We believe that we are great and we need a great experience to make our greatness even better, so we use the internet to show the world how great we are and how great we do things. No need for the heavens to declare the glory of God, we have an iPhone with our camera and social media sites just waiting on us to upload and declare our own glory. See if there is no God, then there is nothing for the heavens to declare the glory of. Its just open space. But glory needs to be declared and if I am the greatness in this world, then I and others need to declare my glory and there is no better time than now to declare to all of the human race your glory. It’s just one click away. Any wonder then why we feel exhausted after Christmas?

What we need is this void to be filled. We need to renounce our belief that greatness is within us. We have to renounce our desires to declare our own greatness. Ultimately, we have to renounce our belief in our own deity. There is only One who is deity in human flesh. The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. Look to the heavens and see them declare His glory. See union with Christ the Lord as the greatest experience that anyone can know, an experience that never ends and is only getting better. Come to His church and participate in the greatest experience that happens on this side of eternity until Christ returns. Come see the body of Christ. Come and be a part of the body of Christ. Come and sing to Him. Come and praise Him. Come confess your sins to Him. Come and confess your faith in Him, which is your rejection of modernism, post modernism and self worship. Come and make your union with Him known to the world by passing through His water of baptism. Come and share a meal with Him, His Father and His brothers and sisters, who will be your Father and your brothers and sisters. And leave with His blessing over you as we go to different places of life until we meet again. The longings for a new and different experience doesn’t fit with Christianity, because we have been doing the same thing for thousands of years. But this gathering and this union never ages, grows outdated and only gets better with time. 

I don’t want a new experience. I want the same one over and over. I want Christ and more of Him. I don’t want a new worship experience each week. I want to worship Christ the Lord, the same yesterday, today and forever. I don’t need a better Christmas experience. I have union with Christ, the Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. This is the experience not of a season, not of a lifetime, but of eternity. It’s an experience that refreshes instead of drains. Our burdens are heavy, but His shoulders can hold all our burdens and exhaustion. So cast them on Him, for He cares for you. 

Advent 2016 A.D.

A Better Story Than Santa

Once you have children, Christmas becomes a much more enjoyable experience. The joy of giving to your children is a better blessing than receiving a gift. I enjoy their joy immensely. The blessing of Christmas extends beyond the actual day of Christmas. It starts at the beginning of the Christmas season, with the decorations, the change of weather, the parties, the rotation of Christmas books, the singing of seasonal songs and many other things. It is the most wonderful time of year in our culture and it should be for Christians. The anticipation of Christ’s advent to earth to dwell among us is an event so wonderful that we have dated history and centered our Church calendars around it. It is a great story that needs to be told annually. 

American Christians are in a unique place with the story of Christmas because we simultaneously have a cultural holiday and a religious holiday mixed into one. In other words, you have two stories either being told separately or being twisted together into one where you end up with manger scenes that have either Santa Clause flying overhead or Santa bowing down at the manger in worship of the Christ. Certainly if the historical Saint Nicholas had been present at the birth of Christ he would bowed before Him. But Santa Clause bowing down to Christ seems rather strange.

What I find strange about mixing the two holidays isn’t that they create a tension for people to choose between Jesus and Santa Clause, but that they are two completely different stories and one of them is obviously superior to the other. The story of Jesus Christ coming to earth, is a much better story than that of Santa Clause. That statement isn’t to condemn the cultural story of Santa Clause, but to point out the superiority of the Christian story, which is why it is strange to mix the two together: they aren’t very similar. God becoming a man is a much better read than a man flying all over the earth and leaving presents for children. 

Our home isn’t interested in mixing the two stories. However, we love and appreciate the unique American heritage we have and its Christmas stories that are told. As Christians, we aren’t to hate all things that our culture does, but we can receive the things that are good from our cultural celebration of Christmas and can celebrate them with others who may not be Christians. I have no problem with those who aren’t Christians who want to celebrate Christmas and even if they want to remember the origins of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. The angels did declare that the birth was for all men. We shouldn’t object to anyone remembering the birth of Jesus Christ, or object to a non-Christian who celebrates the distinctly American/Western part of Christmas history. I desire that they come to worship the Christ who came to earth to bring peace and am saddened that they choose the lesser story and not the great one, but pertaining to this holiday, I have no objections to their choosing to celebrate this day as non-Christian.

What is disappointing about these stories is when Christians do not see the superiority of the Christian story to the Santa story, particularity those with small children. These are Christians who love the Lord Jesus, love their families and desire to keep the birth of Christ at the center of what they are celebrating and to this I say Amen. The disappointment surrounds what story is being told and why its told in this particular way. These families are rightly turned off by the swaths of money spent on presents and novelties, the lack of Christmas worship services, and the declining number of families and churches that devote time reading and mediating upon the Christmas story. These are legitimate concerns that lead to levels of avoidance. 

Christians are right in our desire to avoid falling prey to banality, gluttony, greed, vainglory, and envy. But is fear and avoidance enough to fight against greed, mass consumption, reckless spending and omnipresent eyes from the North Pole? No. We must believe our story is superior and then teach and celebrate it in our churches and homes. Avoiding cultural sins isn’t enough to keep Christ in Christmas. Until we come to believe that Christ’s putting on flesh and dwelling among us is a superior story than Santa Clause, our progress will be small and potentially null. We will be fighting from behind and become angry that we are losing. 

I’m using the word believe intentionally because I fear our lack of belief that our story is superior is contributing to our frustration. I know we believe our story is true and that the Santa Clause story isn’t true. What I’m suggesting is that we either don’t believe our story is superior as a story or that we aren’t telling our kids and churches of its superiority. If we believe that the story of Jesus is actually true, real, good and beautiful then we must make that a joyful and intense focus of our Christmas season. We can’t expect our kids to believe this story if all we hold out to them is that Jesus is the reason for the season and we aren’t going to give you presents because we fear you may focus too much on the presents and forget Jesus. If this is what they hear, then sadly we are telling them that the Santa Clause story is a superior story to ours, but you aren’t to participate in that story because its not good for you. What can then happen is that the exact opposite of our intentions can take root: even though we sought to avoid Santa and focus on Jesus, we end up with kids who want to know more of the Santa story and can become bored with the Christian story. 

What we are to hold out to our children is the story of Jesus and our place in it. Jesus came to earth, the place where we live. Jesus is eternally God and He left heaven and came to us, even though we have sinned greatly against Him. Jesus was born to a teenage peasant girl because God loves to exalt the humble and humble the proud. God sent his message first to some of the outcasts of society because they were the ones who needed the good news. They needed peace from God and peace with God. The healthy and the righteous don’t need peace from Heaven because they have made their own. For those of us who need God’s message of peace, He came to people who are just like us: the Shepherds. 

Jesus, by taking a human body to himself remained in one person fully God and fully man. By doing this he could save us and empathize with us and our broken, sinful condition. He can bear our sins and pay for our sins. He understands us and makes the truth known to us. He doesn’t just understand us, but He saves us. He felt what sin has done to the world. He didn’t come near us and sit at a distance. He came near. He got his hands in the dirt. He became flesh and dwelt among us.

The Christian story is much superior to the world’s story. Once we believe this, we aren’t to fully reject the culture’s Christmas story. We can learn to appreciate it and empathize with it. We can celebrate with all and be a part of what is good here. We can read stories of Santa Clause to our kids for fun because our kids are used to reading make believe stories. Christian kids can hear about Santa Clause and think it’s a fun story that they can hear about and laugh at, no different than Jack and the beanstalk. Once that has settled into our hearts, Santa and Christmas cease to be the enemy, but just another part of a culture that is searching for someone outside of themselves to care for them and love them, but unfortunately Santa’s love for them is still dependent on their inherent goodness. Not so in Christianity. Someone outside of us does in fact love us and care for us, based on His goodness and not ours. He saw our inherent weakness and sinfulness and it moved Him to become one of us, to save us and bring us back to the only one who is truly omnipresent, our Father in Heaven. He gives us good gifts in this life to enjoy and good gifts that are eternal, the greatest of which is adoption into His family through His Son Jesus Christ. 

So what do Christians do with this? Many different things, all of which are to celebrate and tell this great story. We eat and drink and are merry because it’s Christmas. We gather with others because the coming of Christ gives glory to God in the highest and brings peace on earth. It brings goodwill towards all men and because thus we often give gifts to bless those we love to express our love for them and to celebrate with them. Some Christian families choose to not give gifts to each other and to express their joy and gratitude to God by blessing others with gifts. As Christians we say amen and take delight in all of this because He was promised and He came. He was with us and is with us, forevermore. Best of all, He’s coming again and that will be the ultimate celebration with good food, good drinks and good fellowship abounding for days on end. So come, thou long expected Jesus. Come quickly. And Merry Christmas to all.

Advent 2016 A.D.

On Becoming the Person I Didn't Want to Be

I like to ponder from time to time about things that I didn’t think I would ever do that I catch myself doing. It’s a sobering thought really. You have such a perfect view and understanding of normal that only a teenager, just out of college, recently engaged, or recently married person could discern. Wisdom is ancient. Being teenage and young is fleeting. I do things I didn’t think I would ever do. I’ve become that person. 

I want to be comfortable in my clothes much more than I want to be fashionable.  

I’m almost completely out of touch with pop culture, and my reasoning for being out of touch would give my younger self a grand opportunity to boast: I just don’t understand what is going on. 

I don’t like volume really loud. In fact, my understanding of loud volume is totally different than it was 15 years ago. 

I don’t go to many concerts, but when I do I prefer one that starts on time, ends early and require very little standing. 

I talk to my kids in a really excited tone when they wake up and I’m almost certain they hate it as much as I used to. What I didn’t understand, nor do they, is that like me towards them, my mom really enjoyed my company and was delighted when I came in a room. Only some age and experience will explain this. 

I take delight in having no plans on weekend evenings, which was a living nightmare to me when I was 17 

I love to wake up early. 

I love to go to bed early. 

I love to sit in a quiet room. 

I value being educated formally much less than I ever thought I would. It is certainly important, but I value having a trade, wisdom and experience much more. 

I’m more concerned with what people become, than what they intellectually adhere to. 

Going on a road trip, or to a conference isn’t that appealing to me. But when I go, I enjoy the drive and talks in the car, meals and the time in between sessions of a conference much more than the actual conference. 

Traveling the world, seeing different places and experiencing different cultures was a tremendous experience, but they can’t even come close to the experience of having a family. 

I get bored with watching sports rather quickly. 

I enjoy talking about the past, reliving old memories, and hearing others do the same. 

Yes, I’ve become that person I didn’t want to be in many ways, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Ironically, I still have many of the same interests, but my affection and approach towards them is what has changed. I enjoy watching a game, but I’m not emotionally invested. Where my emotions and affections are spent are doubly rewarding in satisfaction and delight, and yet costly in heartache and pain.  

Matured delight and heartache has taught me this above all: I am finite and limited. What I do with my time and what I give myself to is also limited and finite. This leaves me with little time, and little interest in some of the things I previously highly valued. I’m more interested in my friends’ job than I am the economy. I get more excited watching my son, niece and other friends children playing soccer than I do about any professional sport. I enjoy playing baseball with my kids much more than watching the Yankees. Baseball is more of game to me than its ever been. What I'm learning that I didn’t I understand when I was a teenager, or in my early twenties was how the proper value of things. Music, television, sports, and traveling are becoming to me what they should have always been: recreation, accessories, an added bonus. They don’t make a life, they only add flavoring and color in high spots. 

What I thought about myself 15 years ago is what I am today, and what I wasn’t then. I’m more seasoned, more experienced. I haven’t arrived, but that’s part of the experience, learning you’ve got a long way to go. Which means this: I’m going to become that person again one day: the person mid-thirty year olds don’t want to be. 

June 2016 A.D.