Thursday, January 22, 2015

Taste Buds

Tastes change as we progress through life. Oftimes that is a good thing-- think leisure suits, wide lapels, wide white belts, and brightly colored shirts with matching socks. Yes, I sadly confess I wore all those in much, much younger days but in my heart I still favored Wranglers and Justins.

Apparently, my taste buds have changed, too. I no longer retch at the thought of tomatoes, although not on my hamburger, please.  I can't imagine salsa and some Mexican dishes without them.  I've grown so fond of broccoli that I include it in my monthly eating of something green. Brussel sprouts are still a 'no go.' Mayonnaise is tolerable now in small spreadings. For fifty-something years if given the option, my salad would be 'dry.' Now I've found a few salad dressings I enjoy. In case you are wondering, "No, not that one."  I'll very selectively pick my own. I've always enjoyed Chinese food since my first all-you-can-eat lunch buffet in my 20's, now I find through my youngest son, that I enjoy Thai food also. It seems that every few months, either accidently or occasionally purposefully, I find a new food to enjoy that previously had been on the "no fly past my gullett list."

What precipitated this new-found gastronomic adventure? Not sure. The Food Channel shows and  'Bizarre Foods' may have helped.  Watching friends and family enjoying foods I thought anathema probably contributed. But I think something about the aging process that deadens some parts of the mind (and tongue) and opens some others must have played a large role in even trying new foods. Age also teaches you that you can live through more stuff than you would ever have imagined, although brussel sprouts may be pushing it. So there is more willingness to experience new things.

Have you ever wondered if God has spiritual experiences spread before us like a banquet but we are afraid to try them?  The Psalmist said in 34:8 to "Taste and see that the Lord is good...."  But like food, we don't discover the goodness of the Lord's spiritual food unless we are open to trying new things. People who don't rely on prayer never taste the peace of His presence when the 'earth gives way, the mountains quake, and the oceans roar and foam'' (Ps. 46).   People who don't tithe may have never learned to enjoy the adventure of dependence on Jesus and see His provision beyond their bank accounts. What depths of insight may be ours if we really dig into His word for more than  a sweet devotional thought? We tend to want a donut hole when He is offering steak. How might we acquire a taste for social justice and understanding poverty unless we spend some time working at a food bank, homeless shelter, or free health clinic?

Try a dangerous thing, pray a dangerous prayer. Ask the Lord to help you discover a new taste in His kingdom.  Ask Him to help you taste His goodness in ways and experiences like never before. Look around, experience Him and His kingdom in new ways of love and service. I must warn you, however, He will answer that prayer, but you may very well discover a smorgasbord of grace spread before you like a feast. Your spiritual taste buds will thank-you.

Bon 'Appetit,



Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Escape Plan

Last time up to write I shared about rhythm, the rhythm of life that God has put into our souls and our world.
It is a good thing. Rhythm fits with the way the world and humans were made in God's image and it helps us fit into His world and kingdom. When we follow needed rhythms of worship, rest, work, creation, and recreation we will find the joy He so graciously gives. Ecclesiastes 3 echos these rhythms.

In not acknowledging or following the rhythms in life we set ourselves up for burnout, failure, frustration, and inefficiency. For example, the farmer who plants his crop in the brutal cold of winter may work harder than anyone but he should not expect the seed to germinate. He has not acknowledged the rhythm of the seasons where nature itself has times for planting, growth, harvest and rest. The Christian who would grow in her love for and service of her King should acknowledge her need to worship, serve, rest, celebrate and other disciplines which would put her in position to truly live and enjoy life with her Lord. It is to her personal and corporate detriment that she doesn't seek to discover these sacred rhythms.

But, we need to exercise caution that our seeking and following the rhythms of life does not become ritualistic routine. We must never confuse rhythm with routine. Routines can be good, of course, but they can be done without thinking, without too much effort, without much sacrifice. We routinely brush our teeth, take a shower, drink our morning coffee, all good. To keep the sacred rhythms of life from degenerating into routine, however, is essential. To do less makes the Christian seem life the "walking dead" (not to be confused with the "waking dead"--folks who endure my sermons), Zombie-like existence with no real living in life. Where is the escape from routine that sucks the life out of life to discover the rhythms that put life and love into living?

Variety! Newness! Movement! Flavor! Look around at the world! We all need to eat to nourish our bodies that we may function as a human body should. But the good Lord gave us variety: peaches, corn, asparagus, blackberries, black-eye peas, pinto beans, rabbit, fish, lamb and beef etc and so on. Even variety within the varieties are ours as we enjoy different kinds of meat, fish, fruit and nuts. Take music as another example--jazz, symphonic, the blues, bluegrass, gospel, country and rock. Consider what the minister of music does each week. He doesn't use the same hymn with the same count. The rhythm we need is to worship but variety helps us worship with praise, celebration, lament, aspiration, or even mourning. If your worship isn't a boring routine thank your music director for variety in the rhythm of worship.

In much of our lives we need to take charge, no correct that, we need to be good stewards of our rhythms and bring the varieties, newness, flavors, and movements in our sacred routines into play. So we read the bible but read different books and themes within it. The Psalmist commands us to put a new song in our heart or sing a new song. This applies to all of life as we seek expressions and experiences that are new, fresh and different but keep us in sacred rhythm that honors God.

Okay, but how? To almost quote Paul Simon, 'there must be fifty ways to love your Savior.'
Find a new way to enjoy His creation-observe it; walk in it; photograph it; listen to it; plant it; dig it; adopt a squirrel.
Find a different genre of music from your usual likes and listen to it. Then do it again if you still don't like it.
Read a hard book; read a rare book; read a book from someone from a different political party; read a silly book; read a serious book; read a biography; read a history book; read books from the Bible you haven't visited in a while.
Eat a cuisine you haven't eaten before; eat one you haven't tried in a long time; eat a food you hated as a kid; tell your spouse why you still hate it; eat in a new restaurant; eat Tuesday night meatloaf on the good china at the big dining table. Sing your prayer before you eat instead of saying it (Doxology works).
Find a person or couple at church of a different age you don't know well and ask them to meet you for coffee or a coke. Say "hello" to a teenager with tats and face hardware, smile at them, and ask how they are doing. Get off Facebook and sit down and talk to a face; sit in a park or airport or mall and watch people; pray for them; pay for the person's food behind you in the drive thru;

You get the idea. The rhythms are the same. The days are 24 hours. There is night and day. There are four seasons. There are times to rest, to play, to love, to work, to worship. But within the sacred rhythms are endless ways to seek, know, enjoy, and love your Savior.

And there was evening, and there was morning....


Wednesday, January 7, 2015


In this new year that is now a week old I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is I'm now a week behind on everything. The good news is I am only a week behind.

I suppose in reality that there is little difference astronomically, meteorologically, geographically, or any scientifically measurable way between December 31 and January 1. But from a philosophical, psychological, and hopefully spiritual standpoint it can make a meaningful difference. In fact, declaring a time to end, a time to start over, renew,  and refresh can be a life-changing thing. The Roman Emperor Julius Ceasar declared Jan. 1 the beginning of the new year about 46 BC. The Roman god, Janus, had two faces, one facing forward and one backward. Janus was the god of doors and gates. Julius felt that the month named after Janus, January, would be a good "door" to the year and declared it so.

Dates of celebration in differing cultures are often picked because of science (equinoxes), politics, and religion. Did you know that after Christianity became dominant, the middle ages in Europe celebrated the new year on March 25 since it was believed the angel announced to Mary her upcoming birth of Jesus at that time? By the middle 1500's it went back to January 1 even for Christians.  The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah,  is celebrated somewhere mid to late September. The Chinese new year happens late winter, early spring based on the ancient Chinese lunar\solar timetable.  This year is the year of the sheep, by the way. That is how folks arrive at a new year celebration, as far as history goes, but why we do it is a better question.

Why? Because we need it. God has built into to humans and humanity certain needs. These are universal from culture to culture, race to race. There are rhythms to life and living. We need to work, we need to eat, we need to love, we need to socialize, we need to celebrate, we need to mourn,we need to rest, we especially need to worship. (see Ecclesiastes 3) The healthiest and happiest cultures keep these human needs in balance. The rhythms needed occur in different sequences, some daily, some spread out more on our calendar to weeks, months and seasons. But if a person or a people neglect these rhythms, there will be suffering to the person and their society.  Studies on Americans say that upwards of 30 to 40 percent are sleep deprived. Social science tells us that in an age where there are 1.2 phones for every person in our nation, people are more disconnected from meaningful relationships than ever. The average workweek according to the Washington Post in a Sept. article is now 47 hours. Jim Denison quotes John Dickerson, author of The Great Evangelical Recession, whose research says that only 7 to 9 percent  now believe that the Bible is the authoritative word of God. Young people don't worship corporately much anymore. Clearly, the rhythms needed to sustain, enhance, beautify, and help us enjoy life are too greatly ignored and abandoned. These rhythms flow from the truth of a loving and fully involved God who wants the very highest for His highest creation, they help point us to this loving and merciful God, and help us connect to Him and His grace in ways that bring joy to living life.

So what do we do? We pay attention, we follow what God shows us, we keep His rhythms as best we can and as best we understand them. We do what Haggai admonished us to do in chapter 1 verse 5: "Consider your ways!" And, understand this, His rhythms are physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, sometimes joyous, sometimes mournful, both exuberant and quiet. You need rest every day, so sleep or learn better how to sleep.  You need to worship privately every day so read your Bible and pray. You need to worship corporately because you are not meant to live life as a lone ranger, so go to church. You need a Sabbath every week, so worship and extend your rest and time to deliberate God's word and message. You need time pondering meanings in life, contemplating this world and this life. So incorporate solitude into your rhythms of life. See it as a gift. You need the rhythms of celebration so attend the fellowships, birthday parties, graduations and anniversaries. They can be a hassle, but also a blessing. I see many sad people and occurrences as a pastor. One of them is the person who cannot be alone, even with God for an extended period of time. Another sadness is seeing the person who cannot be with a friend or friends for their own fears or feelings of worthlessness.

Find your God given rhythms this new year. Start afresh and find in His rhythms for you some awesome wonders. In His rhythms of worship, work, service, sacrifice, solitude, celebration you will find that you are loved deeply. In your private, quiet times, hear Jesus' heart speaking to your heart. "You are loved, you are wanted, you have meaning, your future with me is secure." In your corporate celebration hear Him say you are loved not only individually but in community. You are part of a family. Hear His heart in the heart of others. You are loved and useful in His family. And make sure that you affirm His love for others in your own heart by rhythmically expressing your thankfulness, appreciation, and care for and to others.

Where do you start? Take your pulse. Literally, press your finger to your neck or wrist and feel every beat. God has put that rhythm in your physical heart. Let Him show you a hundred or more other rhythms of life in His Spirit and enjoy the gift we call this year.

Rhythm but no rhyme,

Next Week: Rhythm II  The Escape