Dear Jack: Baby Moses, as Portrayed by a Sour Patch Kid, Floating on a River of Jell-O

5 years, 1 month.

Dear Jack: Baby Moses, as Portrayed by a Sour Patch Kid

Mommy and I have noticed how exceptional the children’s program is at our church, The Church at Station Hill. As part of your class curriculum each Sunday morning, you all get to walk over to the craft room after the lesson, where I am always impressed by what new craft you make.

I love it that our church has a room set aside just for kids’ crafts; most of which are edible. It’s always interesting to walk by that room and peek in to see what you’ll be making each morning as we take you to your classroom.

This past Sunday as we were walking back to the car after church ended, you showed Mommy and me the newest one.

It was baby Moses floating down the river.

What made this craft a lot of fun, especially on a Sunday morning as I was now buckling you into your car seat, was that baby Moses was actually a Sour Patch Kid, floating on a river of Blue Jell-O.

As I drove home, with you and Mommy in the back seat, I could hear you enjoying eating your Sunday School craft:

“Mmm… baby Moses tastes good, he’s crunchy!”

I’m just glad that it was Moses floating down the river in a basket, and not baby Jesus in the manger. Because that would really seem weird. It would take the concept of Holy Communion to a different level.

An edible gingerbread house is fine, as his baby Moses floating down the river, but I think an edible manger scene might be a little too crafty.

But as for baby Moses, he floated down the river of your digestive track and you were happy I was letting you get away with eating candy so early in the day.

Needless to say, you definitely now know the story of baby Moses floating down the river.

Love,

Daddy

The Shell Diet: Kosher- Pork and Shellfish are Not Clean Nor Good For You, Even If They are Low in Fat

Eat like the Old Testament Jews did.

1) Why don’t Jews eat pork or shellfish but Christians do? Because most Christians that I know take Peter’s dream in the book of Acts literally to mean that it became okay to eat any kind of animal, after Jesus conquered death.  And it can appear that way if the chapter is not read carefully.  But when I read Acts 10 in its entirety, it’s clear to me that God gave Peter the “animals on a blanket” dream to represent to him that Peter should stop seeing non-Jews as “unclean” and start preaching to everyone, since the mainstream Jewish population rejected Jesus as the Messiah.  And by the end of the chapter, we see that for the first time, non-Jewish people trusted in Jesus for salvation.  And not just a few, but thousands of Gentile people were converted, because of the symbolic dream that God gave to Peter.  It was a dream God used to get Peter’s attention.

If it seems difficult to accept that Jesus dying for our sins on the cross didn’t also change the dietary law that God gave to Moses in the book of Leviticus, consider this: Why are so many people allergic to shellfish?  And why is eating pork the leading cause of people getting intestinal parasites?  Because Jesus dying on the cross didn’t change the fact that the bottom feeders, scavengers, and carnivores still eat the leftovers and the crap left over at bottom of the food chain.  Science didn’t change.  By eating these forbidden animals, we are eating lightly toxic food.

In short, eating Kosher means you can eat these animals: chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, cows, and fish with gills (tuna, salmon, tilapia, etc.). But you can’t eat these ones: pigs, ducks, rabbits, deer, shrimp, scallops, octopuses, sea urchins, or bottom feeder/carnivorous fish (catfish, sharks, swordfish, etc.).

2) And because red food dye is made from scale insects and/or petroleum, any kind of food containing Crimson Lake or Red 40 (mainly candy like Twizzlers and red M&M’s, Skittles, etc.) has ingredients that are not Kosher.  Kosher law does not allow anyone to eat insects other than locusts (which John the Baptist ate), nor does it even mention eating petroleum, but it shouldn’t have to, because it’s pretty clear to me: Petroleum is oil, not food.

3) Also, meat and dairy products are not supposed to be eaten during the same meal.  I’m not saying I never eat a cheeseburger and that I only eat vegetarian lasagna, but I just keep in mind that evidently meat and dairy products were not meant to be digested together, because it slows down the digestion process and promotes constipation.

*But wait, there’s more…Go back to the main page of the The Shell Diet by clicking right here.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People and Good Things Happen to Bad People?

Slight of hand and twist of fate.

One of the most frustrating questions for people who are curious, yet skeptical, about Christianity is the fact that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.  I can’t claim to have the answer to that impossible question, but I can at least take a stab at it. 

Throughout the history of humanization, “man” has struggled to bring glory to himself- if it means conquering and killing, abusing others, taking them as slaves, and any other hellish action that can be filed under the category of “Greed”.  Man has become rich, by taking from others.  Man has become rich, and refused to share with others.  But in the end, it works for man.  Because he gets what he ultimately wants- glory. 

Ultimately, being rich and famous isn’t about knowing that you’ll always have all your needs and wants fulfilled.  It’s knowing that you’re above others, in a carnal sense.  That you are special.  That you are envied.  That others want what you have.  That’s the glory of man. 

What a waste.

I equate the glory of man with bringing hell to Earth.  Literally raising hell.  Instantly, I can think of three Biblical examples when man tried to bring glory to himself, he ultimately was cursed by God.

Adam eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, after Satan telling Adam that he could become like God.  Cursed.  The future of man would suffer death, evil, and pain.

Moses using his staff to draw water from the rock for all the people to drink.  Then instead of saying this miracle was by the grace of God, Moses himself took the credit.  Cursed.  He didn’t get to live in the Promised Land.

King David taking a military census with the intention of realizing how powerful and successful he was.  Cursed.  God brought a plague and hundreds and hundreds of people were killed.

In all three instances, God wanted the glory, but man took it from God.

Why do good things happen to bad people? God is blessing them (with power, wisdom, intelligence, money, health, etc.) and they are taking the glory for themselves.  By taking the glory, they are refusing God’s true blessing.  And that may mean that  instead of blessing the people that the bad person influences, the bad person now brings on an earthly curse to them instead.  Of course, in the end, the man who refused to give God the glory will be the one who is cursed in the worst way.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Because in the end, if that person is willing to glorify God through it, the person will be blessed.  I equate glorifying God with bringing down heaven to Earth. 

God wants glory.  And so does man.  Good things happen when God gets it.  Bad things happen when man gets it.  But right now, God is allowing man to do what he likes.  Yes, God may choose to intervene.  But often He does not.  Because it’s possible that through a bad person’s bad actions, God can be glorified through an affected good person’s good actions- those actions include bringing glory to God through it, however they can find a way.

This concept even sheds light on why “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” is so important that it’s one of the Ten Commandments.  We can chose to use God’s name to sound cool (“Oh my God!”, “Jesus!”, “Lordy, Lordy, Tammy’s forty!” etc.) or we can chose to use God’s name to actually reference Him in a purposeful, postive way (“The only reason the Nashville flood didn’t get my house is because God spared me”). 

Because even everyday good people like us still run the risk of taking glory from God.  In our everyday, ordinary events.  I try to keep that in mind at all times.  For me right now, it’s about my wife and I trying to sell our house. 

We work hard to keep our ads active on Craig’s List twice a day.  And we keep a good looking “for sale” sign out front with a plastic sleeve containing colorful, creative flyers.  We keep our house in immaculate condition.  Plus, we know for a fact that our asking price is thousands less than everyone else in our neighborhood. 

Yet it’s all the other houses that are selling.  All around us.  Because they’re going through realtors and we’re not. 

Everyday, throughout the day, together and while we’re apart, my wife and I pray not only for the right person to find our house, but also that God will be glorified through it.  Because as opposed to us saying, “WE sold OUR house!” we can say, “Thank God!  He brought us the right person and they bought our house!”

But even if He doesn’t bring someone to buy our house, if He doesn’t bless our solid efforts to sell our house without a realtor, and we have to throw in the towel and pay thousands to a realtor, God will still be glorified through it. 

Our lives ultimately are about one of two things- raising hell (by taking the glory) or bringing heaven to Earth (by giving it to God).

Easy Like Sunday Morning: Christianity in a Nut Shell

Ah, the good ole days of flannel boards and McGee & Me.

Flannel boards will always remain in the warmest parts of my heart and childhood memories.  Nothing brought those Biblical accounts to life more than a cloth cut-out of a generic bearded Jewish man who could play the part of Moses parting the Red Sea, then less than a minute later he could be Abraham ready to sacrifice his son Isaac, or even Noah gathering all the animals on the ark.

And when the teacher was lazy or absent, we got to watch one of thirteen McGee and Me tapes, featuring Nick Martin and his crazy cartoon sidekick.  Lesson learned- you CAN beat the bully in a skateboarding contest, if even he cheats.  Also, if you sneak out to see a scary 3-D movie with your best buddy Lewis, you’re parents are going to find out and ground you.  And of course, it’s never a good idea to try to impress your friends by telling them that your Native American Indian neighbor eats rabbits.  Because he just needs a friend.

But eventually, my faith had to be able to grow beyond the entertaining and miraculous stories I heard each Sunday morning.

I admit.  It’s not easy anymore for another human being to “challenge me” in my thinking, regarding my faith.  I can spit out a hundred cliché Sunday School answers whenever I’m asked anything Christian related.  Because for those of us who “grew up in church”, we do know all the answers.

At least all the answers for the questions we are tiredly asked again and again by Christian leaders in a church setting.  You just can’t go wrong with “God”, “Jesus”, “the Holy Spirit”, “Heaven”, “good”, “bad”, “Satan”, “hell”, “pray and read the Bible”, “invite them to church”, or “tell them about Jesus”.

Typically, I don’t spend money or time on Christian marketed items.  Books that generically tell me I need to stop being “downtrodden by the world” and “stand on God’s promises” to “expand my territory”.  T-shirts that illegally parody business logos and make them “cute” by throwing in the name of Jesus.  A sticker to put on the back window of my car that arrogantly boasts “straight pride”, picks fights with atheists and Pro-Choicers, or announces that God is Republican.

Besides, I think most Christians know by now that God has switched His allegiance from the Republican Party to Ron Paul.

Just kidding.  Sort of.

But thank God, in the past two years, I have been challenged in my thinking, regarding my faith, more so than any other time in my life.

How?  1) I got married.  2) My small group from church read a book called The Hole in the Gospel.  3) I was asked an allegorical question about a bicycle.

Getting married to a faithful Christian has helped me to mature not just because of her confidence when mine is sagging, but also because marriage shows me how selfish I can be with my time and space.  Two years later, I’m much more easy-going about stuff that only mattered in The World of Me.

The Hole in Our Gospel is the book that my Wednesday night small group (Bible Study) decided to read.  Seriously, it is the most life-changing book I’ve ever read.  The Bible is the most influential.  But the Hole in Our Gospel has actually helped me to personally identify what the Bible and my purpose in my life are all about.

For me, my faith had always come down Ephesians 2:8-9 in the Bible: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not that of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one may boast.

That Bible passage has everything a Baptist likes to hear, regarding one’s spiritual wellbeing: “grace”, “faith”, and “gift of God”.

It doesn’t say anything about helping other people, doing good works, or giving away our time, money, and energy.  Because as long as we splice in “Jesus loves you, died for you, rose from the grave, and will give you eternal life in Heaven if you say this three sentence prayer…”, then we are fulfilling our duty as a good Christian.  Get people to say a prayer and go to church.  Get them to stop cussing, drinking, and smoking- because that improvement shows their “spiritual fruits”.

As a Baptist, I had always been leery of the phrase “works”.  Because it had been engrained in my brain fibers that God’s salvation couldn’t be “earned”.  I understood from the book of James (2:20) that “works” were necessary to prove that my faith to be sincere.

The problem is that I, along with many Protestants just like me, naturally had been led to believe that “good works” means “good behavior”; and “good behavior” is a list of things Christians don’t do- including watching R-rated movies (unless they’re war-based: What Movie Rating Does Real Life Get?) and drinking anything with alcohol (both vanilla extract and Nyquil are approved, fortunately- and though participants should keep it on the down low, drinking wine is permitted for special private events like wedding anniversaries: Water into Wine).

But what really opened up my mind was reading (and eventually memorizing) the verse that directly followed my convenient “faith is all you need” Bible passage.  The next verse, verse 10, says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared behforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Created for good works?  Not good behavior?  It’s a lot more serious if I truly take the words of Christ seriously when in the Gospel of John (13:34), Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

And finally, it hit me: Oh, Jesus actually cares about people starving in poor countries, despite their “wrong religious beliefs” and “stupid civil wars” and “corrupt governments”.

As hard as it was for me to process, God cares just as much that I as a Christian do my part to physically help those people as He wants me to in some direct or indirect way (supporting missionaries) learn about Jesus.

That financially helping these random, dying, desperate people across the world actually equates in God’s eyes as me loving them as He loves me.

With that being said, I no longer believe that a person goes to Heaven just because they said “the sinner’s prayer” when they were at a Vacation Bible School when they were in the 5th grade.  I believe, like Jesus’ half-brother James wrote in his book (2:20) that faith without works is dead.

And works means that I help people who are less fortunate (even if they themselves in deed got themselves in that situation), because that shows them God’s love, and I don’t necessary have to preach to them as I’m doing it.  I just need to start by helping them.

True, no one can earn God’s love or salvation.  Nor does believing in Jesus mean a person doesn’t go to hell.  Jesus himself said in the Gospel of Matthew (7:21): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.”

So what is the will of God for us?  What does He want us to do besides obey His law, read the Bible, pray, and tell others about Jesus?  (All of which are “Sunday School answers” I referred to earlier.)

For a start, my wife and I knew it meant sponsoring a child named Gueslin in South America.  So now we have this postcard hanging on our fridge with a picture of a sad-looking 5 year-old boy who I wish I could take care of myself.  We send him money every month and pray for him and his family as we think about him.

We know that raising our own child (due in November) in our faith is what God wants.  We know that helping anyone in need is what He wants.  And we know that we can’t always wait for those opportunities to come to us.  I’m working on making it a new obsession: Finding ways to help people.  Because God likes that.

So where does the bicycle come into the picture?  A few months ago someone showed me a Xeroxed copy of a bicycle and asked me: “Which tire is faith and which tire is works?

The back tire is associated with the power while the front is associated with balance and steering.  Both are very important and necessary.  But if a bicycle would only work if one tire was faith and the other was works, which tire should be the front and which should be the back?

I was actually asked this in a group of people.  Half of us believed one way.  The rest, the other way.

My answer: The back tire is works, the front tire is faith.

Because if faith is dead with out works, so is a bike immobile with no one to actually pedal the thing.  The front tire only moves because the back one does.

And basically, if I’m actually understanding what Jesus said, loving God means loving other people the way He loves me.

I can’t rely on reading the Bible and praying to move me anywhere in my faith.  That’s what steers me.  Instead, I actually have to move my feet.

Christianity and Wine

Wine not?

Taboo is an interesting thing. As the opening line to the theme song of the classic inter-racial sitcom Diff’rent Strokes goes, “Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum: What might be right for you, might not be right for some.” From the society of a small family, to a town, to a nation, certain collective behavioral beliefs help unify a group of people to identify as one, bringing a sense of safety in numbers as well as vindication that their own viewpoint really is the best one.

As I researched for my epic “Beauty and Self-Worth aren’t the Real Issues, Lack of Will Power Is” last week, I learned some interesting things about food and drinks that are considered taboo by certain cultures. For example, throughout the centuries coffee has been banned by different countries (including our own) and religious groups (at one time Catholics and currently Mormons). Caffeine is an addictive drug and many people have seen coffee as a controlled substance, as it causes its consumers to become dependent on a drink that can change their demeanor simply by its consumption or lack of it, after the tolerance is built up.

It’s hard to imagine that drinking coffee (and other caffeine-laced beverages like tea and Red Bull) would be taboo to anyone. But considering its addictive qualities along with its mood-altering and heart rate changing abilities, it does have some similarities to alcohol, which is more easily condemned by religious groups. Muslims, Hindus, Rastafarians (though they encourage/require marijuana use), and Mormons are the most solid in their shunning of alcoholic beverages.

As for Protestant Christians, it’s namely Baptists and Methodists that have a stance of little to no tolerance for alcohol, often stated in their church by-laws. (Being that my hometown is almost completely represented by Baptists and Methodists, the sell or purchase of alcohol was illegal in the county until 2006.) However, because of their proximity to the Catholic Church, Episcopalians and Presbyterians tend not to look down on alcohol consumption.

Being Baptist my entire life, I always thought it was weird that Catholics actually drink wine during the service, in particular for the Lord’s Supper. Obviously Jesus and his disciples drank wine for the Last Supper, but we always used Welch’s grape juice (a company that got its start by offering non-alcoholic grape juice to the American Christians who saw drinking wine as sinful). After high school I moved away from my “dry” hometown and graduated from a one year (Baptist affiliated) Bible college in Florida then earned my English degree from Jerry Falwell’s (openly Baptist) Liberty University in Virginia, both saturated in an “alcohol is taboo and prohibited” culture.

Then I moved to Nashville.

An interesting crossbreed between churches and bars. A culture where drinking beer is in the same category as drinking soda. In other words, it’s just another beverage. Like in Europe. And I quickly learned that judgmental attitudes towards alcohol were nowhere to be found, even in Baptist circles. A person could actually sincerely love both Jesus and beer. In fact, last Fall my Sunday School class took a tour of Nashville’s own Yazoo Brewery as a fun activity.

When I finally accepted the fact that alcohol was no longer a moral issue to me, a revelation I had was this: Alcohol use does not necessarily equal alcohol abuse. Before, my mind saw any consumption of alcohol as an instant link to drunkenness and alcoholism. That is a stigma that has since been dissolved from my mind.

An interesting exception to the alcohol ban in Christian circles is best expressed in a quote I would always hear from my friends growing up: “My parents don’t drink, except for a little wine on their wedding anniversaries.” The alcoholic content of the average beer is around 5%. However, wine typically starts between 12 to 15%. Why was strong wine overlooked for special occasions but weak beer condemned?

There are several reasonable answers to this paradox, just like there are many understandable points on why certain religions prohibit alcohol. And because good cases can be made for both acceptance and rejection, it’s remains taboo for some and completely normal for others.

Ironically, the same parts of the Bible that caused me to believe alcohol consumption was wrong before, are now the same verses that give me confidence that for me, it’s no longer a moral issue. In fact, some of the best spiritual growth I’ve done in my entire life was during the time period that I figured this thing out for myself. Whereas before I was either too young to drink, banned by my college, or a part of a culture that shunned alcohol, the independence I found by sorting out my view on the issue helped me become aware of the spiritual side effect that a “no alcohol” lifestyle had on me: I was secretly judgmental of those Christians who drank.

But in the classic case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, I realized that I had been treating the issue like some of the Jewish leaders did the law of Moses. They judged Jesus for healing sick people on the Sabbath. Even though the law more generically instructed the people to make the Sabbath day a time of rest and remembering God, the Jews stretched this and in their own interpretation added to the law, stating exactly how many steps a person could walk on the Sabbath, considering anything more than that to be work, therefore breaking the law of Moses. Judging the people by a higher standard of the law than God actually gave to the people.

I allowed myself to believe that the wine of the Bible was different than wine today. Because that excused Jesus of drinking it. And that helped me better accept the fact that Jesus’ first miracle was turning the water into wine at the wedding, and that he knew enough about wine that he might the good kind, and people at the wedding noticed it. But even if there was less alcohol content in the wine of Biblical times, it couldn’t have been much less. Jesus drank real wine. I finally stopped judging Jesus and others for it. And once I joined the crowd, not for reasons of peer pressure but because of personal conviction, I realized my walk with Christ matured.

Now I know that a person can have a daily personal relationship with Jesus, can read and study the Bible, can pray for others, and appreciate good wine and beer, because I have become that person. After daily praying for years that God would show me my flaws and my sins, my prayers were answered when I, in a sense, took real communion for the first time.

_________________________________________________________________________

Here are some excerpts from Paul’s letters to the church in the book of I Corinthians regarding eating food sacrificed to idols. These are the quotes that have bounced around in my head as I’ve established my own beliefs regarding food and drink:

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not from your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (6:19,20).”

“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak (9:11).”

“For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ (8:11,12).”

“Whether, then, you eat or you drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (10:31).”

Water2Wine