Category Archives: Christianity

Restaurant Sage–Monroe, LA

The widespread flooding brought us to Monroe, LA.  I’ve passed through this city a million times, but when I came to serve with Mercy Chefs, I came prepared to stay a couple of days.

We typically spend fifteen hours a day preparing restaurant quality meals in a mobile kitchen.  It’s hot and we continually have to watch out for hazards.  It’s only a small price we pay so that we can serve those whose lives have been disrupted by disaster.

After a busy day, four of us chefs decided to enjoy a nice evening at Restaurant Sage. We met Executive Chef Blake the day before as he came down to volunteer at our mobile kitchen.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, we demurred when he said there was no check.  At our insistence he sent out a check, but he discounted our appetizers.) 

Louisiana gulf oysters with garlic butter and parmesan.
 He brought out all sorts of food for us to sample from the grilled oysters and crab cakes, to the sage wraps which were chunks of filet stuffed with cheese and jalapeño and wrapped in bacon. Absolutely unbelievable.   Another high point was the andouille and duck gumbo. Chef Blake told us how intricately it was prepared and all of that effort in preparing it was not in vain. It was incredible. 

Jumbo lump crab cakes with green tomato relish and red remoulade.
 Finally, we fell upon the main course. A couple of us fawned over the short ribs, another had the blackened snapper, and I had the soft shell crab with alligator sauce piquant. Everything was great but I have to say the alligator stew was “on point” as one of my fellow chefs kept saying throughout the meal. Next time I’m in Monroe I may have to enjoy another unforgettable meal.


(Top photo consists of soft shell crab and alligator sauce piquant.)

Operation:  Monroe, LA

Somewhere on the order of twenty four inches of rain fell on the great state of Louisiana last week and thousands were affected.  I can’t even begin to imagine how many people lost everything in the flooding.  Here we are nine days later and the water has finally receded from the only road to my house. We had to get creative to get to and from home because of this.  I only had some minor flooding in the living room and I think we cut the pad out in time to rescue the carpet.  My problems pale in comparison to those we are serving this week in Monroe, LA.  

Chef John Stout smiling as he stirs red beans and Chef Gary LeBlanc assembling meals.

As a Mercy Chef, I serve alongside many talented chefs to provide restaurant quality food to victims, volunteers, and first responders.  Our numbers have been increasing daily.  As I headed home today, I was advised we prepared 1000 meals at lunchtime.  The hours are long and the work is strenuous–over two and a half days I worked nearly 40 hours. 

Chef Buddy raking a much needed break.
 
As I lay in bed reflecting on the past few days my body, my swollen hands, aching back, and angry feet remind me that I’m going to pay for it.  But I’m in my bed.  I’m not cramped in a Motel 6 relying on the kindness of strangers to meet my basic needs.  I’m in my warm home listening to my sixteen year old daughter practice her piccolo solo.  

My friends are still serving in Monroe as the need is great.  We don’t do anything special.  In comparison to other disaster relief ministries one might think we don’t do much at all.  And they would be right.  We provide a meal.  It’s intransient, yet a hot meal brings comfort in crisis. 

Chef Lisa peacing out while Chef Blake prepares apple Brown Betty. I’m the joker washing dishes.
 I’m reminded of Luke 14:12-14:

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 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.” 

M3 along with its companion cooler trailer.
 That’s what Mercy Chefs does.  

Authentic Cliché

When I hear the term “authentic” in reference to faith, I die a little on the inside. It’s been reduced to a Christian cliché along with terms like “real” and “relevant”. The truth is that we are trying too hard at branding ourselves as if Jesus is a product to be consumed.

We are all hypocrites. We are all broken. It’s time that we stop trying to look like the world in an attempt to lure goats into church. Watered down gimmicky theology saves no one. It damns them. To preach “love” without preaching repentance is not loving at all. To share a pseudo-gospel where God wants you to have “your best life now” inoculates people from the real Jesus.

It’s time we stop telling half-truths in an attempt to make Jesus palatable and share the whole Gospel which includes Jesus’ command for repentance so that people might be saved. We can be loving and compassionate in sharing the truth, but if we confuse “niceness” with love by ignoring the seriousness of sin because we are scared of hurt feelings, we are complicit in the subsequent damnation of the very people we are trying to save.

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/has-authenticity-trumped-holiness-2

Witnessing to Witnesses

This morning I was greeted by two Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They were trying to give me some pamphlet when I said that I was a Christian.  One of the guys responded that people have a misconception about Jehovah’s Witnesses.  He said that they are Christians and that we believe the same things.  I set the record straight by telling him that we share a lot of beliefs, but the differences that we have are eternal.

I quoted John 1:1 and then told him what his bible says.  The difference is a simple article.  A doctrinally sound translation says, “the Word was God.”  The Witnesses’ translation says, “the Word was a god.”  

For thirty minutes we discussed the differences in our view.  They believe that Jesus is the Son, but not God.  Then one of the gentlemen quoted Colossians 1:15 to prove Christ’s position as the firstborn of all creation, not God.  In my studies, I have come across CARM which I believe explains this verse not as a matter of physical position, but as a matter of headship.  Genesis 25 establishes this by naming Jacob the firstborn over Esau even though he was physically the second-born.  Bible.org has an extensive explanation of the prototokos concept.

I gently told them that they were going to hell if they do not believe that Jesus is God.  I told them not to take my word for it.  I advised them to read other translations.  Even better, with the Internet, they can easily see what was written in the Greek and the Hebrew.

I don’t know if I was able to reach them or not, but at least they heard the truth.  We live in an age where we don’t want to offend or hurt feelings, but regarding eternal matters, we must not be squeamish. It seems that people only want to emphasize some “permissive love,” which is not loving at all.  God is not some zen swami witch-doctor who teaches hippy love.  God will judge us all accordingly and I would not want to end up in hell because someone did not want to undertake the distasteful task of telling me that I’m wrong and must repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

We are tasked with proclaiming the Good News.  Let’s not forget to warn of the bad news.

Unborn Again

I was listening to Paul Washer today when I was reminded that Christianity isn’t about morality or being a good person.  This is oftentimes the message that unbelievers hear.  A common belief is that God is loving; therefore, He will overlook my sins because overall I’m a pretty good person.  After all, I’ve never killed anyone.  I even help old ladies across the street.  But the truth is that I’m not good.  It doesn’t matter what I do.  It is impossible for my good works to overcome my bad ones.  

In reality, I have no good in me apart from Jesus.  Yet people despise the godman and attempt to earn their own salvation.  When we get caught up in religion, we are no more saved than the unregenerate.  

Paul Washer had an analogy that clarified this.  Suppose a preacher went to visit a member of his congregation at his house because he has not been attending lately.  The man says, “Preacher, you’re right.  I need to get back in church because it is good for me.”  The preacher confronts him on his drinking.  The man retorts, “You’re right preacher.  I’ve been getting drunk a lot lately.  I like boozing but I need to quit because that’s what’s best for me.”  Now the preacher confronts the man about his infidelity.  The man says, “I know it’s not what’s best for me.  I need to quit carousing.”

The following Sunday, the man comes to church and fellow church members are amazed that the preacher was able to lead a sheep back into the fold.  The truth is that this man never was a sheep.  He’s just a goat attending church.

We shouldn’t be doing what we hate doing because it is good for us.  It’s not like force feeding yourself kale because it is heart healthy.  If we are secure in Christ, what we love should be a reflection of that.  If we love our sin we aren’t saved.

This reminds me of a former friend.  After sharing the gospel many times, he claimed that he has “accepted” Christ.  After only a few weeks, he shed his identity with Christ as easily as he allegedly identified with him.  He actually says he was born again (but no longer).  One cannot be saved only to become unsaved.  Either you are born again or you are not.  

It is clear that he doesn’t know what it means to be born again.  He never was born again.  He was blinded by his own wisdom and goodness.  He doesn’t realize that he is a bad man in need of a savior.

There are people just like him in the church.  They are caught up with religion or self righteousness.  They don’t understand that keeping law will not save them.  This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t obey God, but we don’t follow God’s laws to be saved.  We strive to keep the law because we are saved.

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

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?

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.