A Little Clearer

I’m always fascinated when I encounter something that helps to refocus my perception.  I’m not saying that I’m willy-nilly in my beliefs.  Quite the contrary.  Yet, I’m continually growing in my faith and my limited understanding is slowly expanding.

Granted, my focus has been on victims of natural disasters and on the homeless (I prefer to consider them as outdoor friends), but the world is much larger than my myopic view.  We live in a world with immeasurable complexity, yet I tend to reduce it to black and white.  Through the lens of the Bible, there are the saved and the unsaved, the ultimate black and white comparison, but oftentimes I find myself usurping the Judge’s Seat.

I’ll admit that I can only consider one idea or issue at a time.  I’m aware that John 3:16 tells us that Jesus came because God loves the world (or more specifically, mankind), but I am also aware that John 3:17 states that the world might be saved through him (emphasis added).  That implies that not all will be saved.  

I believe in the doctrine of election as evidenced in John 15:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and Revelation 13:8 (just to name a few verses).  I also believe in free will as evidenced in the Garden which Paul points out in Romans 5:12.  Two apparent paradoxical truths that are difficult to hold simultaneously.  It’s like a difficult calculus problem that has to be addressed in parts before the answer can be derived.  

The point is that God alone determines who goes to heaven without compromising our free will, and we need to be faithful to what He has charged us with:  to be faithful in proclaiming the Gospel.  

It’s not up to us to decide if the homeless, or the Muslim, or the postmodern, or our neighbor across the street is grafted in.  Our job is simply to proclaim the Good News.

When Work Interferes With Laziness

I haven’t posted lately because I forgot how taxing a job can be.  I get up at 4:30 each morning, and it feels great to get off work so early in the afternoon, but I’m always tired.  It feels strange to get ready for bed so early in the evening.  It’s not that I really have an issue with getting up so early, I just don’t like to go to bed before 10 p.m.

It’s also a bit of a challenge spending most of my day on my feet.  My ankykosing spondylitis on top of my general sense of laziness is why I spend my free time lounging on the couch.  I’m switching from Humira to Remicade, so I’m hoping it will help.  Now if I can only get a shot to combat my laziness.

A Shattered Delusion

There was a time when my life was illusory and paradoxical.  I used to have a bleak outlook where I believed that my life was purposeless and I was wasting the years that had been given to me, yet I was certain that I was a pretty good guy purported by my strong character and perfect sense of right and wrong that would ultimately garner an exceedingly favorable afterlife.  On October 9, 2009, my life was completely upended.  I had a vasectomy, a relatively minor procedure that left me in crippling pain.  October 8, 2009 was probably the last pain-free day I’ll ever enjoy.  Interestingly enough, that fateful day was the most important day in my life.

I didn’t realize that one must be utterly broken to come to the Cross.  After all, I had already asked Jesus into my heart, was sprinkled as an infant, and was confirmed when I was thirteen.  I was in the system.  I was so saved that I didn’t even need Jesus.  At least I lived that way.

Deep in the hidden recesses of my heart I knew I was in big trouble but I told myself that I was a swell guy.  In comparison to everyone else, my flaws were so minute that God could easily overlook them.  My foibles were infinitesimal in comparison to the godless heathens running the streets.  I was a terrific catch for God.  It’s not like I murdered anyone, right?  Or have I?  In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus tells us that unrighteous anger is murder in the heart.  Oops.

Then there is the lying, the stealing, the dishonoring of my parents, even adultery of the heart.  That’s a tough one to swallow, but Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 5:28.  If we delve into the OT, Hosea illustrates that we are all adulterers to God.  The marriage of Hosea and Gomer is a picture of the marriage of Christ to his church.  His unfaithful bride. Our broken vows.  An ongoing affair where we turn to our success, our money, our vices, our hobbies; we turn our idols into cheap substitutes for our Redeemer.  Yet Christ made an unbreakable covenant with his people.  This was the God I rejected because I already had my ticket to heaven punched with all that I had done.  I created my own paradise in my mind where I was my own savior.  I lived in a world where I had broken all of the Commandments before breakfast, but in my eyes, I was a good person.  I was delusional.

I was blinded by my relativism, and my veil of perceived goodness had to be pierced.  Not just pierced, but utterly shattered by a curse that left me with a lifetime of pain.  This was much more than hurt feelings, but enduring physical pain that will forever remind me of what I once was.  This curse was perhaps the greatest gift that God could have given me because it afforded me the opportunity for saving grace.

I can clearly see that I once lived in a world of make-believe.  I persisted in a fictitious realm where I usurped God’s authority and redefined the qualifications for entrance to heaven much like people redefine gender and marriage today.  I am still a bad man, but I am a bad man who has been redeemed by a good God.

CC image courtesy of waferboard on Flickr.

Livin’ the Dream

I started working at the Shreveport Bossier Rescue Mission a month ago and I have to say that this is the most fulfilling and rewarding paying job I have ever had.  (I still have my unpaid job with Mercy Chefs, and God willing, I will be a Mercy Chef living like no one else for many more years.)  My chef friends with Mercy Chefs have trained, guided, and counseled me over the years to prepare me for this job.  It’s certainly challenging, but the opportunity to serve the homeless is why I eagerly get up every morning at 4:30.
It took me many years to learn that one reason God created us is to serve others.  All too often, we get mired in self-importance and lose sight of the fact that we are only dust.  Life is only a vapor.  I don’t want to waste it in selfishness.  Most important, I have my beautiful wife to help me to stay focused on the prize when I fall and throw a pity party.  
That being said, I can’t wait for 4:30!

Could Be Raining

It’s been three weeks since I started my new job.  For the most part, I haven’t worked these past forty-five months because of my medical ailments.  We have spent this time paying off debt and it’s just about time to throw our debt snowball at my thousands of dollars in student debt.  It’s interesting that my education has been utterly worthless from a financial perspective.  Nevertheless, I still have the debt and my wife told me, “Suck it up, Princess.  We have to get gazelle intense and start killing cheetahs.”  You just gotta love Dave Ramsey and his analogies.

I’m fortunate in that I actually have a job that I value.  I get to serve our homeless everyday.  I believe that my volunteer work over the past four or five years have prepared me for this job.  Granted, I’m only a cook, but a delicious meal can bring some color to a bleak life. 

Am I still in pain?  Certainly.  If my nerve pain isn’t flared up, I’m dealing with the nightmare that is ankylosing spondylitis.  I get ready for work at four a.m. when I feel pretty decent.  When I finally get home from work, I’m in so much pain that I can’t pry myself from the couch.  Or the floor.  I have an appointment to see my rheumatologist next week, so maybe I’ll get to try a new medication as Humira helps greatly, but I’m still suffering.

I know that I have a blessed life despite my hardships.  When I am crushed by the pain I sometimes remember what Marty Feldman said to Gene Wilder as they were grave robbing in Young Frankenstein.  He said, “Could be worse.  Could be raining.”  

Obedience

A couple of weeks ago, I was hired on at the rescue mission as a cook.  Granted, it’s not the most glamorous job and it certainly isn’t the highest paying, but it is work that I would do for free.  Actually, I already do that with Mercy Chefs, but that’s another story.

There are a couple of reasons why I chose this job.  We have been clawing our way out of debt for three years and it’s finally time to tackle the mountain of student loans that I have accrued.  My wife’s job fully supports us, but everything I make will be applied to debt and we should finally have our freedom in two more years.  Well, debt free except for the house.  Close enough for now.

Without that millstone we can serve and give more.  I’m already involved with Mercy Chefs, both with disaster relief and with homeless outreach, but I’ve been looking for something at home that would allow me to follow two of my passions with more regularity:  food and serving the homeless.

Feeding the homeless is only one small thing that can be done to help.  After all, that feeling of satiety only lasts so long.  I’m only feeding the body, but I work alongside capable people both at the rescue mission and with Mercy Chefs that feed the soul.

That’s what I try to teach the residents I work with in the kitchen.  It doesn’t matter how we view our station in life, or if it doesn’t appear to be all that important.  Our relationship with Jesus Christ is what matters and our obedience is a demonstration of our love for him.

I believe that God has shaped me for this position and I’m delighted that He has entrusted me to carry out His work.

If you would like to learn more about how you can partner with Mercy Chefs to feed body and soul, click here.

More Human than Human

One would be hard pressed to launch an argument against Intelligent Design without including the bankrupt worldview of Darwinian evolution.  Essentially, we can determine that God made everything, or more or less, the natural world is self-made.  Further, to assert that anything or anyone other than God is responsible for the creation of the universe is calling God a liar.  The Bible tells us plainly in John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16 that God (or more specifically in John 1:3 that Jesus Christ) is the Creator, not random happenstance.

Another interesting point regarding evolution is that it is commonly accepted that some mutations actually will improve a species.  Who decides if these changes over time actually make a particular species better or worse?  How are these value judgments decided?  Imagine if some monkeys sprouted wings.  Are these wings a product of evolution, which implies that these changes are favorable to the species?  Who gets to determine that winged monkeys are superior to regular wingless monkeys?  What shapes their worldview?

The argument for Intelligent Design also falls short.  Evolutionists can cite “imperfections” in genetic make ups, and an argument for Intelligent Design can challenge these “imperfections” by stating that these traits are in fact perfect for the species in question.  However, there are imperfections in genetic makeup, and without citing God as the Designer and The Fall in Genesis 3, one is hard pressed to fully explain these “mistakes.”[1]  The Bible explains that sin cursed creation, and that curse is the cause of these defects.

It seems that science cannot wait for evolution to improve humanity.  Instead of waiting on contrived science to bring about a new age for mankind, scientists are meddling with human genetics and making value judgments as to what traits are more desirable than others.  Everyone can agree that disease certainly is not desirable and the use of this knowledge could be a boon for humanity.  But human enhancement  is not about medicine.  Steward states, “Human enhancement refers to the use of technology designed and implemented not for medical reasons but for enhancing the human body.”[2]  Science fiction has covered this subject for years, and now we are on the cusp of engineering superior intelligence, enhanced senses, and in general, making people more human than human.  Again, how are we to determine what traits are more desirable?  From a biblical perspective, mankind had an opportunity for perfection and we blew it.  From a worldly perspective, anything is on the table.  Maybe people will be engineered with bioluminescence.  Who doesn’t want to glow in the dark?

In all seriousness, when genetic engineering wanders beyond curing people of disease and packages human enhancement as a commodity like plastic surgery, it is perverted as we are usurping abilities that should only belong to God and the day will come when mankind realizes the true fruits of genetic tampering.

[1] https://answersingenesis.org/intelligent-design/ided-for-a-imperfect-argument/

[2] http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2013/human-enhancement#.VOuDI_nF_C8

BBQ Chronicles: Bartley’s BBQ–Grapevine, TX

We were in Dallas Saturday, and interestingly enough, I learned about a restaurant that is known for its chili when I was researching BBQ joints. We headed out to Grapevine so that I could sample Tolbert’s Texas Red. I know, I’m always on the lookout for BBQ, but why not seek out great chili as well? It turns out that Tolbert’s has a very nice bowl of chili. So much so, that I would certainly return for another bowl. My wife’s steak also had a nice flavor, but I caught a glimpse of little Maddie’s hamburger. Let’s put it this way: I don’t plan on going to Tolbert’s for their burgers.

After a nice lunch, we piled into our van so that we could get to our hotel. Just as we turned the corner, I saw Bartley’s BBQ. It’s on my list! I had to stop for something. (As you may know, I’m trying to visit all BBQ establishments on the Texas Monthly Top 50).

As I walked in and perused their fare, I suddenly uttered, “That’s bologna!” They had barbecued bologna and I had to get some. The proprietor told me their specialty was brisket, so I ordered a half pound of the fatty stuff. He pulled out a fresh brisket and deftly cut to the fat. He was also careful to maximize on the crust so that I would fully enjoy this treat. To make the family happy, I grabbed a half dozen cinnamon rolls which are made at their sister bakery.

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It was much later before I enjoyed these take out treats, but the cinnamon rolls were delicious. The BBQ bologna was a definite treat. I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed this under appreciated meat quite this way.

The brisket is what caused my wife to call me an addict. She has drug addicts in her family and she hates that mentality. Apparently, my behavior isn’t that much different than a junkie looking to score. She just doesn’t appreciate a perfectly rendered piece of fat candied with a nice black crust.

Bartley’s BBQ easily earns a 4.0/5.0 from me. Everything I tried exceeded all expectations and they are a place you mustn’t overlook if you are in the Dallas area. Do yourself a favor, get some cinnamon rolls. Next time I will try their kolaches.

If you are looking for other joints that scored at least a 4.0, try Billy’s Old Fashion Barbecue and Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue.  You will not be disappointed.

Mercy Chefs Dallas Homeless Outreach–2/15/2015

Being a Mercy Chef is a lot of work, but the rewards are seemingly limitless. I am always awestruck to be blessed when I set out to bless others. It’s counter-intuitive. Receiving sounds like it should be better than giving. It’s like saying 2 + 2 = 5.

Now we aren’t total kooks by going all the way to Dallas to feed homeless people. After all, we have homeless people in Shreveport. We do serve at home and are presently exploring ways to get even more involved, but in Dallas, I have access to equipment and a network of incredible chefs where we can go where the homeless live and set up shop essentially in their living room to feed and fellowship. (Plus, I get to drive around a thirty-seven foot mobile kitchen). A fantasy of mine is to have a food truck so I could do this every day, but that’s another story.

IMG_4973
My daughter, Alli, is hard at work while I’m creeping on her.

This is the second month where I was essentially in charge of the day. I did the shopping, drove the kitchen to the site, and oversaw the operation. I really enjoy the responsibility, yet I’m always humbled to be handed the reigns as I’m just a hack. I work with über talented chefs who do this sort of thing for a living. Cooking is my passion, but I’m just an amateur. When I started volunteering with Mercy Chefs, I was dishwasher guy. Even if I was still dishwasher guy I would be thrilled because it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus.

Every time I serve I’m reminded of Luke 14:13-14–“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

I don’t think our motivation to serve others should be for blessings, though. We shouldn’t serve for fuzzy feelings or because others will give us a pat on the back. Our direction is clear. Christ commands us. We can’t serve him from our couch. We shouldn’t wait for others to do the work while we sit idly by. We shouldn’t make excuses because of our limitations or because we are too busy. Can we really be too busy to disobey Christ? Can we really be so apathetic that we just turn away when we see our neighbor in need? Are we Christians or are we merely poseurs?

The fields are ripe, Christian, and we have work to do. Whether you are a chef, or a teacher, or a lawyer, or a ditch digger, you have an assignment from our King.

Hypocritical Christian

I just walked in the door about a half hour ago. It has been a long weekend as the family and I piled into the mommy van and drove to Dallas yesterday. Our main reason to go was because of a homeless outreach we participated in today, but as yesterday was my wife’s birthday, we had a nice lunch at Tolbert’s, then picked up a BBQ and cinnamon roll snack at Bartley’s BBQ, and let the kids swim in the hotel pool.

This was actually the first time we came the day before. On a typical trip, we get up at 3 or 4 am on Sunday, drive to Dallas, and cook for some outdoor friends. Maybe it sounds strange, but as Christians, we try to take the “love your neighbor” commandment seriously. Notice I said try. We are the typical hypocritical Christians that screw things up most of the time, but once in awhile, I hope we make adequate representatives of Christ.

I’m not being facetious. Christians are fallible. Oftentimes, Christians look just like hypocritical unbelievers. (Not that all unbelievers are…face it. We are all hypocrites.) Oftentimes, it is easy to pigeonhole a Christian because he is being compared to God.

Besides, the very best things I might accomplish in my life are nothing but filthy rags I present to my King. I am not looking to glorify myself. My humble efforts are only to point to Jesus.

It’s been less than an hour and the Luoma household is back to business as usual. The kids are fighting and I’m trying to convince them that we should be quiet. By yelling. Did I mention that I was a hypocrite?

I'm just a hack who likes to eat.

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