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.

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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?

Health Consciousness and a Messy Life

It appears that life just seems to get busier and messier as time passes.  A few weeks ago, my rheumatologist sent me to physical therapy to strengthen my back and to improve my overall posture.  When I was stricken with unbelieveable nerve pain five and one half years ago, I only left the bed when absolutely necessary.  Those necessities also included work that I struggled through while I was jazzed up on Oxycontin and Percocets.  That would barely take the edge off.  At one point I was on methadone.  That had no effect on my pain whatsoever.

My regular doctor drew blood for some tests and she sneaked a cholesterol test in there.  My levels were nearing 400.  Naturally, she said I had to lower my cholesterol or she was going to put me on yet another medication.  This conversation was about six weeks before Christmas and there was no way I was going to put the brakes on my epicurean diet until after the new year.  On January 19, I began monitoring my calorie intake and have been avoiding bad foods (namely donuts).  Since then, I have lost nearly ten pounds and I’m sure my cholesterol levels have improved.  I’m eating around 2000-2200 calories/day, but given my previous diet, I’m guessing that my normal calorie intake was 3500-4000/day.  Five cokes a day, donuts galore, and gravy feasts have been unkind to my waistline, and apparently, my heart.  I now weigh 201.6 pounds and am working to get it down to around 185.  Oh, and the wife wanted me to go gluten free a couple of months to see if it reduces my chronic inflammation due to my ankylosing spondylitis.

Now for the messy (at least for my parents).  A couple of years ago I had to remove my meth addicted sister from my family’s life.  Sometimes it is hard on the kids, but I was never close.  My parents are trying to get her into rehab but she refuses and speaks gibberish.  One thing she often repeats is that she cannot go to rehab because “they” would kill her.  Now, this has come to include my parents.  This delusion may have some merit because some big dude came up to my dad and told him to leave town.  Apparently, my sister has gotten herself entangled in some sex ring.  I know she always had problems with drugs, but I had no idea that she was this lost.  My dad came from Michigan to Arkansas for a few weeks to try to get my sister into rehab, and the most disturbing story I heard so far was that my dad was staying the night at my sister’s apartment when she and her boyfriend engaged in some manner of sexual deviancy in the kitchen.  Naturally, my dad had to find another place to stay.  I agree that was the best move because if that insanity is occuring in front of him, it is natural to assume that he was next.  To say the least, had he been raped, it would have ruined his trip.  I’m hoping that my parents will be able to stop that derailed train.

Somehow, in light of this nightmare, it seems that my constant pain is insignificant in comparison.

Bad Theology

I enjoy a good Facebook debate. The problem is that it invariably devolves into refutation of bad doctrine and sloppy hermeneutics. I’m sure you have encountered the “do not judge” canard. People like to stop at Matthew 7:1 and ignore the rest of the chapter which actually teaches us to rightly judge.

There was a guy today who said he is loving and tolerant of everyone, “just as Jesus was tolerant of the prostitute who was about to be stoned.” Mind you, this was a professing Christian.  He not only attempted to pummel scripture so that he could make his point for homosexual marriage, but he completely got it wrong.  This guy was so far off base, he could have better supported his position by vaguely referencing The Cat in the Hat.  We can clearly see that the woman in John 8 was an adulteress, not a prostitute.  Further, he asserts that Jesus is tolerant.  I suppose that depends on how carefully you read the Bible.

He and I would be in agreement that Jesus loves prostitutes, tax collectors, and other sinners.  As a matter of fact, he loves sinners so much that he died while we were still his enemies. (Romans 5:10)  Is Jesus tolerant of their sin?  Moreover, is Jesus tolerant of your sin?

Do we take the Bible at face value or do we rely on our own understanding?  If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we can take it seriously and the entire book is about HIM.  If you cannot see his handiwork in the Old Testament, then maybe you need to look closer.  Isaac is a picture of Jesus.  Jonah is a picture of Jesus.  Moses’ brazen serpent in the wilderness is a picture of Jesus.  Boaz, the kinsman redeemer, is a picture of Jesus.  Noah’s Ark is a picture of Jesus.  Even the manna is a picture of Jesus.

Do you think that the God of the universe went to these great lengths so that sin may abound? (Romans 5:20)  Absolutely not.  Jesus is most intolerant in regard to sin.  His word was and is divisive, not harmonious.  Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)  Jesus came here ready for battle.  This was not a literal sword that we might imagine.  The sword is Jesus’ word.  You see this referenced again in Revelation 19:15. 

Jesus gets even more radical when he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)  That sounds demanding; he said that we must obey him.  When we actively pursue sin and licentiousness, is that obeying Jesus?  Is that loving Him?  If you were to have an extramarital affair, is that a manifestation of your love for your spouse?  Paul writes the church in Corinth and says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)  Those verses encompass all of us, yet the believer is sanctified.  Why would we cling to our sin that separates us from our Redeemer?

Bad theology is deadly.  The poor soul I had a dialogue with on Facebook is utterly confused as to what the Bible says, yet when he is challenged with scripture (like so many others), he bristles and rejects the truth.  He champions the wrong Jesus as his is absent from the Bible.  I believe that sound doctrine is fundamental for the Christian.  Without it, we are tossed about while we grasp at worldly constructs of love, tolerance, and acceptance when the Bible teaches of sin, righteousness, and judgment.

New Testament Revealed

The adage that the Old Testament conceals the New Testament and the New Testament reveals the Old Testament is demonstrated numerous times throughout scripture.  When studying the Old Testament, it is clearly understood only by viewing it with a New Testament perspective.  In the same way, Jesus hides his wisdom in parables; the Old Testament obscures a more complete understanding of Jesus.  It is the New Testament in which we can view Jesus with clarity.

There are a couple of instances in the New Testament where Jesus not only confirms the veracity of the Old Testament, but he explains their meaning.  In Numbers 21:8, God commands Moses to fashion a serpent out of bronze and lift it on a pole for all to see.  In this example, the serpent and the wooden pole are much more than they appear.  The bronze serpent is a representation of sin while the pole is an illustration of the cross.  We know this because of Jesus’ response in John 3:14.  He states, “…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  This strange symbol in Numbers saves the Israelites stricken by snakes just as Jesus rescues all who believe in Him.”

Another extraordinary incident occurs in the book of Jonah.  Jonah 1:17 states that Jonah was in the belly of a fish (representative of Sheol, or the grave), for three days and three nights.  Jesus explains this type when he asserts, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40)  Jonah emerged from the fish just as Jesus rose from the grave.

Perhaps the most remarkable example of New Testament knowledge hidden in the Old Testament is Isaiah 53.  The entire chapter is relevant, but Isaiah 53:5 captures the essence of the cross.  It reads,

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.”

With the understanding learned in the New Testament, it is clear that this chapter is about the crucifixion of Christ.  As a matter of fact, it would be easy to assume that Isaiah 53 has New Testament roots.  Written 700 years before Christ, this prophesy hides truth in plain sight.  Only after the cross can one clearly understand the meaning.

These are only three illustrations tucked away in the Old Testament that are deciphered through the New Testament.  If anything, the types and shadows of the Old Testament authenticate the New Testament.  Likewise, the New Testament validates the Old Testament.  Together, one can envisage a more complete picture of Jesus Christ.

A Man of Too Many Words

My dad is visiting this week and I’ve almost forgotten how carefully I choose my words. I’m frequently accused of being short or abrupt, but I really abhor excessive detail. Too many wasted words. Too much time lost. It’s not that I have anything important to do, but my ADD makes it incredibly hard to focus. In normal conversation, my eyes glaze over and I’m often left wondering how I will be able to endure the conversation. In effect, I never hear any of the conversation because the details distract me.

My dad likes to spend words frivolously with unnecessary detail and halting conversation as he thinks of more to say. Don’t get me wrong, I like spending time with my dad. I just wish it didn’t involve so much talking. Ironically, it’s his loose lips that have conditioned me to try to save my breath. In that respect, I’m a lot like my grandpa.

We were visiting my grandparents long ago. I think I was twelve at a time. Since my grandparents ran a farm, there was a lot of heavy equipment. This particular time, a Caterpillar was digging out the manure lagoon. My grandpa sees my brother and I in the house and asks, “Do you boys want to see a Caterpillar?” We were watching cartoons so we replied with an emphatic no.

His response was classic. He barked, “Get in the car!” We scurried to his Cadillac and he drove us about a quarter of a mile away to where the lagoon was being dug. I’m still staggered by this surreal situation, because he merely stopped the car, pointed to a big machine and said, “That’s a Caterpillar.” After about a minute and a half, he turned the car around and drove us back to the house. I don’t recall him saying anything else.

The differences in communication vary greatly between these two men. Nevertheless, I know I don’t have many more visits left with my dad as he is getting old. That doesn’t make ignoring his superfluous conversation any easier. As a matter of fact, he is talking to me right now. I’m just going to smile and nod my head so that he will think I’m listening.

Mercy Chefs Dallas Homeless Outreach — 1/18/2015

Trekking from Shreveport to Dallas and back to head up a homeless outreach under a bridge is a big undertaking for me. This was my first time driving the kitchen trailer by myself. I wasn’t dragging a three foot popup tent. It’s something around 37 feet of culinary carnage. Really, I anticipated that careening in slow motion off a bridge was in the realm of possibility, but I drove like an AARP racecar driver.

The other concern came from my wife as I have a history of falling asleep at the wheel, and I had my oldest daughter and her best friend in tow. If I was feeding my candy crushing addiction and caused a fourteen car pileup because of my gross negligence, I don’t know how I could live with myself, but I think after community service, I could get back in my wife’s good graces. Catching my beauty rest at 75 mph with live cargo is a line my wife won’t cross. The other option was to go to sleep by 10 pm and guzzle about eight Red Bulls throughout the day. I thought aliens were going to burst out of my chest from this tonic, but it was a reasonable risk.

We served shepherd’s pie and delightful bundt cake to around 200 homeless people under the bridge on Hickory Street. A church comes out regularly to preach the gospel to these people who may never have the opportunity. It’s a gospel of hope, and I hope the simple gift of a hot meal does its small part in sharing the love of Jesus Christ.

Seventeen hours later, I’m on my couch reliving the day’s events. It is so amazing being to volunteer with fellow Mercy Chefs. It’s amazing to be trusted to move the kitchen to the site. It is just amazing serving Jesus Christ.

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.” (‭Luke‬ ‭14‬:‭13-14‬ ESV)

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