You Are What You Eat

O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
    for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, O children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
    and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
    and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
    seek peace, and pursue it.

(Psalm 34:9-14, New Revised Standard Version)

you are what you eat 2 

You’ve likely heard the phrase “you are what you eat.”  Of course, this doesn’t mean that when you look at me you see a delicious strip of bacon.  Rather, it’s meant to convey that the kind of food we ingest, whether it is physical groceries or spiritual sustenance, is of great importance and significance.  Eating unhealthy stuff makes you unhealthy.  Conversely, ingesting healthy things helps one to maintain proper health and vitality for functioning and thriving in life.

The psalmist encourages us to seek the LORD because in going after God we will be filled with goodness.  Using our tongues for good and not evil; our words for encouragement and not for forming lies; our constant verbiage for uplift and support and not with the poison phrases of evil; and, our voices for pursuing peaceful relations and not for disharmony; are all beautiful buffet foods of health and goodness to fortify our souls.

Back when I was in seminary (in a galaxy far, far away) it was difficult to keep up with the bills.  Finances were tight in our young family.  Despite working sometimes up to three jobs at a time, our budget had no budge to it.  In one unusually and particularly hard month, we were down to our last groceries.  In fact, on one summer evening we all had a bowl of Wheaties for supper.  The refrigerator was empty.  In our bedtime prayers with our girls, my wife and I voiced and expressed our need to God.

As Mary and I readied ourselves for bed, it was raining cats and dogs outside.  At 10pm, we heard a knock on our back patio door.  We looked at each other as if the other would know that we’re expecting someone.  We weren’t.  As I pulled back the curtain, there stood a sweet little Puerto Rican neighbor holding two large bags.  I quickly ushered her into our little apartment.  Her next words to us I will never forget:

“I went to bed at 9:00 and quickly fell fast asleep.  At 9:30 the Holy Spirit woke me up and told me to fill two bags with as many groceries as I could get in them; then, go and give them to the Ehrhardt’s.  So, here I am.”

All my wife and I could do was look at her and each other slack-jawed and simply say, “Thank you.”  No one knew our need.  We told no one about it; only God.

My family learned an invaluable lesson that stormy night, one you can’t learn any other way but being in a place of desperation.  The spiritual food that we eat is so important that Jesus put it this way:

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Many years later after that rich spiritual feast, I told this same story in a congregation on a Sunday morning.  Afterwards, a middle-aged man came up to me and said something that initially took me aback: “So, how do you justify being in such a state of deprivation and not taking care of your family?”  After gathering my thoughts, I gave him this retort:

“You have asked me an honest question.  I will ask you one before I answer yours: Have your teenage kids, you, and your wife ever been in a situation where you needed God and cried out to him for something?”  Long pause…. “Well, no, not really.”  “Then, sir,” I replied, “I like the lessons my encounter with want and privation taught my kids better than the lessons your kids have never learned.”

You see, my friends, you are what you eat.  This obsession we have with being independent, self-sufficient, and our compulsions about money has spawned an entire generation of folks who just don’t know they need God.  Then, parents wonder why their kids abandon God.  God is simply irrelevant to them.  After all, why serve a God who has never touched my life in any significant way?  If we eat from a table of our own making, then the Table of the Lord becomes only a dusty piece of furniture in an empty church.

When we come and eat the bread which the Lord offers us we find satisfaction and fulfillment.  When we allow God to serve up a delicious spiritual meal we discover hospitality and joy.  When we accept the invitation to seek the Lord we find that little is much when God is in it.  In God’s upside-down kingdom, the poor are rich, and the rich are poor.

Good days of plenty don’t come because we ingeniously orchestrate it all.  Yes, of course, planning is both necessary and important.  Yet, all of our best laid plans are just that.  The outcomes belong to God, not us.  We have because God gives, and not because we figured out how to work harder, or smarter, or better.

you are what you eat

The one who truly fears the Lord has learned to first receive from Him.  Open-handed reception can only result from a heart posture of humility and need.  Close-fisted folks only know how to figure things out on their own and are not in the position to receive anything.

Whichever way you slice the Old Testament bread of poverty and the New Testament teaching on being poor in spirit, the rich are typically not in the best place – the poor are.  Being a spiritual beggar who recognizes his/her need for God, and who is desperate for Jesus is the one who has found the narrow entrance to where the Lord dwells.  And, upon entering, finds a lavish spread that is worthy of the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Malachi 3:5-12

            “You people are robbing me, your God.  And, here you are, asking, ‘How are we robbing you?’ You are robbing me of the offerings and of the ten percent that belongs to me.  That’s why your whole nation is under a curse.  I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I challenge you to put me to the test.  Bring the entire ten percent into the storehouse, so there will be food in my house.  Then I will open the windows of heaven and flood you with blessing after blessing.”
 
            When God feels cheated and lays-down a challenge, then things probably aren’t going so well.  The point to derive from this word from God is not to legalistically make sure you are giving your due, although that would help.  God was upset because the people simply were not generous.  And they weren’t generous because they didn’t trust that God would take care of them.  The people were much too busy with their own stuff, their own houses, and their own situations.  They were much too busy making money, tending to their families, and making sure the mortgage payment was in on time….  Are we still talking about ancient Israel?
 
            Do what you need to do for God, and trust him for the rest – that is the principle God is looking for us to follow.  Give without holding back and you will find a generous God at the other end doing the same.  Wouldn’t that be a much better situation than the one you’re now in?
 

 

            Generous God, you give and give again, even though we are fickle and only give when we feel like it.  I trust in you to care for me in all things, including my finances.  And I will celebrate your faithfulness when you meet all my needs and more through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 20

            We place our trust in things and other people every day.  We trust the chair to hold us up when we sit down; we trust the grocery store will be open when we go to it; and, we trust people to keep the promises they make to us.  Yet, we have all had the experience of something breaking on us when we sat on it; a store being closed when we went to it; and, someone not following through with what they said they would do for us.  There is a difference between lesser trust and ultimate trust.  If we place ultimate trust in things and people other than God, then we will be the most miserable of people because they will all let us down at some point. 
 
            The psalmist lets us know where our ultimate trust must be firmly placed:  “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”  It is part of the human experience to be disappointed and let down by others.  Discouragement is only exacerbated exponentially into paranoia if our ultimate trust rests on chariots and horses, that is, in a more contemporary rendering, military technology and lots of tanks, planes, and weapons.  If security and peace of mind is measured by the systems and staff we put in place, then it will never be enough and we will continually be looking over our shoulder.  But if our faith is solid in God, then the constant angst of the election season and the forebodings of news media outlets will not shake us and cause us to collapse under the worried strain.
 
            There is nothing wrong with keeping up with the news and latest events.  There is, however, something wrong with looking at those events through a sub-biblical lens as if God were not sovereign in the world.  There is nothing wrong with expecting others to keep their promises.  There is, however, something wrong with treating them as if they are little gods who must pander to the demands of me, the constituent.  Psalm 20 is available for us to read and pray as much as we need to, in order that our worldview can stretch to believe in the ultimate trust of God.
 

 

            God Almighty, you reign supreme over all nations and all people.  There is no threat too serious, no situation too dire that you are unable to deal with in grace and power.  I place today my ultimate trust in you, knowing and believing that you are always good for your promises through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Exodus 5:10-23


             It was God who called to Moses out of the burning bush.  It was God who told Moses to go to Egypt because he heard the groaning of the Israelites in their slavery.  It was God who promised Moses that he would deliver the people from their awful bondage.  But the promised vision of release from captivity ran into the harsh buzz-saw of reality.  Moses did exactly what God told him to do with the result that Pharaoh forced the Israelite slaves to make bricks without being supplied with the straw to do it.  Now the people’s situation is even worse than it was before Moses showed up on the scene.  What’s up with that!?
             Since we know the end to the story, we might understand where all of this was going.  But when we put ourselves in the sandals of Moses, it is anything but clear about what was happening.  It is quite understandable that Moses questioned God:  “LORD, why have you treated this people badly? And why did you send me?  From the time I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has treated this people badly, and you have done nothing to rescue your people.”  
             There have been many times in my life when I have questioned whether I was really sent by God to be a certain place or to do a certain thing.  Maybe I didn’t really hear God.  Maybe it was my own voice in my head.  Maybe it was an emotional decision.  But there is something we must all realize:  Just because things go from bad to worse does not necessarily mean God isn’t in the thing.  We are not always, even usually, privy to the mind of God in the big picture of what he is doing.  In the midst of trouble we might think God is not at work, not paying attention, and slow to act.  Yet, God knows exactly what he is doing and sometimes we need to discern that things will get worse before they will get better.
             Wise God, I trust you that you know what you are doing even though I don’t see what in the world is going on.  Help me to see all things from your perspective so that I might have the wisdom to move forward in faith and patience.  I’m out on a limb for you; please do not let it break!  Amen.

Pursuing the Good Life

 
 
Everyone desires a good life.  No one wakes up in the morning and hopes they have a bad day.  A person might get up on the wrong side of the bed and grump his/her way through the first hours of the day, but nobody makes a conscious decision to deliberately have a bad life.  We all want a good life.  Students go to school hoping to have a good experience.  Marriages begin with the hope of having a good life together.  New employees start with the wish that there will be satisfaction in doing a job well-done.  Parents dream of their kids growing up to have a good life.  We want the kind of life that brings contentment, joy, and happiness.
 
            A good life comes through the fear of the Lord (Psalm 34:9-14).  Yes, that’s right, the fear of the Lord.  If we want to live a good life, it will have the fear of the Lord at the heart of it.  We need to make an important distinction between good fear and bad fear.  We as human beings are all too familiar with bad fear.  Bad fear is being too afraid to take the steps necessary to have a good life.  It is being insecure, risk-averse, and unwilling to take even a small step toward expanding my comfort zone.  Bad fear causes people to retreat in bubble of anxiety that keeps them stuck and imprisoned in a small world of protection, unable to engage God’s big world with any effectiveness.  Bad fear is to be afraid of what other people may or may not do or say.  Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe (Proverbs 29:25). 
 
The way to overcome the fear of others and the fear of the situations that might happen is to have the good kind of fear, the fear of the Lord.  The fear of the Lord means to honor and obey God, to be loyal and submissive.  It does not mean being afraid, like the bad fear of people.
 
            If you want to lack no good thing; if you desire to see many good days; if you do want to simply survive in life but to thrive in it and love the life you possess; then, the first thing that must happen is taking the posture of listening.
 
 
 
            The Hebrew word “listen” literally means to bend or to incline the ear.  It is to take a posture of listening in order to learn.  The prerequisite to any kind of good life is to have a teachable-spirit that gives focused attention to the wisdom God has for us.  A fool is a person who does not listen, but only mocks, complains, and is continually negative.  But a wise person is one who has learned to be attentive to the voice of God.  Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.  Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.  Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning (Proverbs 9:7-9).
 
            The fear of people is a death-dealing practice.  But the person who fears God through the posture of a teachable spirit discovers a life-giving practice that will serve him/her well.  The teachable spirit takes the posture of listening and learning from other people’s hard-won experiences.  It bends the ear to good advice.  It inclines toward acquiring knowledge and learning the skill set needed to live a good successful Christian life.  There cannot be a good life without having a teachable spirit, seeking after learning, discovering, and listening. 
 
            Therefore, Christians cannot learn if they will not read.  The Bible is a book.  If the Bible was a car I would tell us all to learn to be mechanics.  If the Bible were a fish or a deer I would tell us all to learn the best ways to hunt and fish.  If the Bible was a store I would tell us all to learn to be good shoppers and consumers.  But the Bible is a book, and so we all need to read it, memorize it, meditate on it, and learn from it.  Get in the Word of God!  Wise churches will find ways to immerse themselves in Scripture and have moldable teachable spirits. 
 

 

If we desire a good life we will fear God and keep his commandments; we will be readers of Scripture and take the posture of listening and learning.  If we want to experience the good life we will engage in personal reading, corporate reading, and bible studies.  We will find ways to get into the Word!

Baptism of the Lord

 
 
Taking a Sunday each year at this time to consider the baptism of our Lord Jesus is a regular staple in the Christian Calendar.  Christ’s baptism is a theologically profound event that announces the fact of his divinity in a dramatic way; it helps us understand our Lord’s identity, as well as his mission.
 
Because God the Father acknowledged Jesus as God the Son, we know that through Christ’s words and actions that we are encountering God’s will for us.  Jesus is the hinge upon which all history turns.  The centrality of Jesus for everything we say and do is confirmed and expected through this event of his baptism.
 
Jesus came to be baptized by John in the Jordan River not because he personally needed to repent of sin.  Rather, through his baptism Jesus identified with us as humans and signaled that he will be the true way of life for all people.  With the Father’s affirmation of Christ, the Lord Jesus is our authority.  All authority on heaven and earth has been given to him.  He is the author and finisher of our faith.  So we must pay careful attention to Jesus.
 
It just may well be that the name of Jesus is so familiar to us that we actually end up ignoring him.  Or, we might be so disappointed with Jesus that, over time, we simply slide away from him.  That this is a clear possibility is why the author of the book of Hebrews exhorted:  We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3). 
 
            Heaven was “torn” open (Mark 1:10) at Christ’s baptism; it is the strongest possible of words to communicate the striking reality that God does not remain far away, but has come near to us in his Son, the Lord Jesus. In Hebrews, a book saturated with the centrality and superiority of Jesus, we are confronted with the importance of Christ:  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.  After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:1-3).
 
            This term for heaven being “torn” open appears again at the death of Christ.  The curtain of the Temple that separated the inner sanctuary from everything else was ripped in two from top to bottom – signifying that once for all God is near to us and has become close to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
 
            Since Jesus is the rightful ruler of the universe; since he has authority over all things; since he is a faithful high priest always living to intercede for us; since he has the power to transform and give new life; since deliverance can only be found through Christ our Lord; our proper response is confession, repentance, and the expectation of change.
 
            Our Lord’s baptism exposes all the things we rely on other than Jesus:  our own ability to set goals and accomplish them through sheer willpower; our own ingenuity; our own experience; our own ideas to work things out.  Any person on earth can attempt these things, but only Jesus can change us (and our own heart transformation is what is needed).  Rather than expecting everyone and every circumstance to change, God calls usto change through the empowering presence of the Spirit, the same Spirit given to Jesus.
 
            Instead of relying on other things or people, we are to rely on Jesus.  We might think that personal change is not necessary – that there is plenty of evil in the world that needs to turn around, and lots of people worse off than us that need transformation.  But if you find yourself complaining more than being thankful; if you spend more time on social media than in prayer; if being a good person is more important than asking God for help; if you find yourself feeling sorry for yourself more than helping others; if you think this blog post is more for other people than yourself; then, today the baptism of Jesus calls us to confession, repentance, and inner change.
 

 

            Just as it took humility for Jesus to be baptized by John in the Jordan, so it takes humility for us to come to Christ and admit our need for help and for inner transformation.  May it be so, to the glory of our Lord Christ.

Mary

 
 
Most of life is lived in the mundane.  For the most part our everyday lives are the same, going about our business and dealing with the daily grind.  Occasionally the monotony is broken up with holidays, seeing old friends, vacations, or the rare surprise.  We are common ordinary people.  So, we can especially relate to Mary, at the conception of Jesus, because she is quite plain.  Mary is in junior high. She wears consignment store clothing. She can’t read because girls of her day rarely did. Her parents make all the decisions that affect her life, including the one that she should be married to an older man named Joseph. We don’t know if she even liked him. She lives in a small town that most people can’t point to on a map. 
 
            One night, into the bedroom of this young girl comes the brightly beaming divine messenger Gabriel whose name means, “God has shown himself mighty” (Luke 1:26-38). Mary stands there in her flannel nightgown, her life very quickly moving from the ordinary to extraordinary.  The juxtaposition could not be more pronounced:  mighty angel and a plain teen-ager; messenger of the Most High God and a girl barely past puberty; holy angelic light in a simple candlelit bedroom; awesome power and complete vulnerability.
 
Mary, compared to Gabriel, is defenseless, fragile, and overwhelmed.  She is in over her head.  That is why we can relate to her. We can get our human arms around Mary. She’s like us. She has faced life with little power to make it turn out the way she planned. Forces beyond her have rearranged her life and altered it forever. She is the Matron Saint of the Ordinary. We can totally understand why Mary responds the way she does.
 
Mary’s initial reaction was to be greatly troubled.  She was disturbed and shaking in her ratty old slippers.  The angel confidently told Mary that she had found favor with God.  In other words Mary was quite literally “graced” by God.  The situation was not that Mary had some extreme spirituality but that God simply chose her to be the mother of Jesus.  And Mary needed to come to grips with what was happening to her.  This was not what she was looking for.  Becoming pregnant with the Savior of the world was not an answer to prayer for Mary.  This was not on her agenda. 
 
Mary immediately sensed the crazy disconnect between what was being told to her and who she was.  After all, she was a plain ordinary girl from the hick town of Nazareth and she was being told that she would raise a king.  Maybe somebody in heaven screwed up.  Maybe Gabriel got the wrong girl.  Maybe his Google map popped up the wrong town to visit.  Relating to Mary, we can totally understand that she would question how in the world all this was going to happen.  Not only is Mary ordinary and far from royalty, but she is also very much a virgin.  None of this made any sense.
 
But the angel lets Mary know that God specializes in the impossible.  We do not always get straightforward answers to our questions about God, but Mary asked a question and got a straight answer:  she really can be pregnant with Jesus because the Holy Spirit will come upon her, will overshadow her with power.  If the story were to end here it would be a great story.  But to me the most astonishing part of this narrative is Mary’s response to what was happening to her.
 
Mary believed the message, and having believed submitted herself completely to God’s will for her life.  I think we would totally understand if Mary simply said in her ordinary way that she was not prepared for this.  We would completely get it if Mary pushed back on what the angel said to her.  We could relate if Mary just dismissed it all, like Scrooge in the Christmas Carol, with the angel and his message being all humbug as if it were just “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.  There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
 
But Mary not only believes, she humbly submits herself to what is happening.  And this is what we need to relate to most about Mary – not her being just a plain ordinary person in a non-descript village, but stepping up to the calling she received.  We, too, have received a calling in our lives.  We, too, have been given the power of the Holy Spirit.  We, too, are ordinary people who have been given a very extraordinary task. 
 
Mary responded to God’s revelation with faith, choosing to fully participate in what God was doing.  “I am the Lord’s servant” is to be our confession, as well.  “May it be to me as you have said” is to be our cry, along with Mary.  The message we proclaim is that Jesus saves – he delivers from sin and Satan and will restore all things.
 

 

            None of us needs to be extraordinary in order to be used of God.  We just need a simple faith that God will do exactly what he said he will do.  The church has a beautiful message of grace not only for this season, but all through the year.  Let us embrace it, embody it, and share it.