The World is More Delicious Than It Needs To Be

This is a version of the sermon I preached Sunday, November 19, 2017 at Hatcher Memorial Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. 

I also preached a version of this sermon at May Memorial in Powhatan, Virginia in the spring. Here is the audio of that sermon. 

In his book Meal with Jesus, Tim Chester says, “The world is more delicious than it needs to be. We have a super abundance of divine goodness and generosity. God went over the top. We don’t need the variety we enjoy, but he gave it to us out of sheer exuberant joy and grace. God’s creative joy wasn’t only for the beginning of creation, leaving us ‘eating leftovers.’ God continues to sustain creation out of joy.”

I love that, “the world is more delicious than it needs to be…” Chester is talking about food but our world as a whole really is more delicious than it needs to be.

Fall, the season we find ourselves enjoying, does not need to be so beautiful, so delicious. A web-site called says that, “Shedding leaves helps trees to conserve water and energy. As unfavorable weather approaches, hormones in the trees trigger the process of abscission whereby the leaves are actively cut-off of the tree by specialized cells. At the start of the abscission process, trees reabsorb valuable nutrients from their leaves and store them for later use in their roots. Chlorophyll, the pigment that gives leaves their green color, is one of the first molecules to be broken down for its nutrients. This is one of the reasons why trees turn red, orange, and gold colors during the fall. At the end of the abscission process, when the leaves have been shed, a protective layer of cells grows over the exposed area on the branch.” And even if you are not like the me, a former science teacher, and find that it incredibly fascinating from a biology stand point, you know that when we see the bright colors that surround us in the fall, the world is more delicious than it needs to be.

After a strong storm, when the sun shines just right, the sky fills with a rainbow. This incredible archway that colors the sky. A rainbow is caused when the sun shines on water droplets in the sky and reflection, refraction and dispersion of light. How in the world do we live in a world where water creates color in the sky. How crazy is it that this is the nature of light waves. Even when light hits glass or the right kind of plastic and a prism is created, it takes all of the waves that make up light and it spreads them out to create bands of color that dazzle inside your car, your home or where ever. The world is more delicious than it needs to be.

When temperatures are low enough and there is moisture in the atmosphere tiny ice crystals are formed. Which is miraculous enough, but then these tiny ice crystals collide and they stick together in clouds to become snowflakes. If enough ice crystals stick together, they’ll become heavy enough to fall to the ground. And the crazy thing is that each collision creates a snowflake that is completely unique. Each snowflake that blankets the ground is different. The thousands up thousands, millions of millions of snowflakes that blanket the earth in a snowfall are each different and unique. The world becomes kind of quiet and bright when it snows. The world is more delicious than it needs to be.

We meet someone and for a variety of reasons we are attracted to them, we are drawn to them. In fact, your brain will release lots of a hormone called dopamine. The internet says, “This is a feel good chemical that is released during pleasurable activities, including texting, talking and kissing your loved one. … Meaning that when you fall in love you are actually addicted to the person of your desire. People usually laugh because they’re happy, but laughter also has the power to make us happy. Laughter releases endorphins, or neurotransmitters that have similar effects as drugs like morphine, which are responsible for feelings of euphoria. We have all of these hormones, chemicals running around inside our bodies because we enjoy being around each other. We were created to need relationships but even at a cellular level, we were literally designed to benefit and feel good from being around other people. The world is more delicious than it needs to be.

One day, probably about ten years ago, when my niece was just a toddler, I went in her room to get her from naptime. I can still remember the light coming in through the curtains creating a golden glow. I remember her little face, her chubby plump cheeks and lips and her sweet, innocent expression as she was waking up, and reached up her arms for me to take her from her bed. Even then I teared up because I knew this was a beautiful moment, one of those moments that remind us just how delicious the world is. It is more delicious than it needs to be.

We know the world is more delicious than it needs to be when we play with a puppy, feel the beat and rhythm of our favorite music pulsing through us causing us to move or bringing on a tear, when we eat an amazing dessert that just makes our whole body seem to relax, when we have the high of really good exercise and pushing our physical bodies to our limits. Think about the taste of fresh watermelon, ripe strawberries off the vine, a good ripe tomato. Or what about a really good cup of coffee or cup of tea, or an ice cream sundae. I mean, come on, hot fudge. And we live in a world that at any moment you can look up on your computer and find pictures of babies laughing or cats doing weird things. Just yesterday I watched a video of two babies I do not know looking at one another and laughing their baby laughs at each other. I looked at pictures of huge cats trying to fit their bodies into small containers, their bodies squishing out the sides. The world is more delicious than it needs to be.

Even in the toxic world it feels like we live in today, we have much to be grateful for. We have much to be thankful for.

“Thank you” is an essential, everyday part of family dinners, trips to the store, business deals, etc. Saying thank you is one of the first things we teach children to do when interacting with other. Saying thank you is almost such a part of what we say that we almost don’t realize we are even saying it. 

University of California at Berkeley has a “greater good science center” that studies, among other things, gratitude. A few years ago they accepted applications for money for research projects that expand the science and practice of gratitude.  They received almost 300 applications.  One of the projects that won research money was, “The Impact of Gratitude on Biology and Behaviors with Heart Disease.”  Their website has articles and videos you can watch about how to be a more grateful person in life.  You can take a gratitude quiz.  You answer the questions with the responses about how often you are grateful for these things. Are you grateful never, once a year, a few times a year, once a month, a few times a month, once a week or more than once a week. 

How often do you really allow yourself to stop and be grateful? The discipline of gratitude is forcing ourselves to pay attention to the good things in life until we don’t have to force ourselves anymore.  It is where we live. 

Gratitude begins with recognizing that there are good gifts we are given in this world. True gratitude is realizing that we did nothing to make these good things happen, there is something beyond us, bigger than us. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did in which we might take pride. We acknowledge that all good things come from God.

The world God gives us is truly more delicious than it needs to be and it only gets more delicious when we live in a place of gratitude, not just visit it occasionally. We must develop the habit and discipline of being grateful for what we have, what we experience and what we have to offer the world.

We cannot ignore the world we live in. The classic movie, Pollyanna has the main character, Pollyanna, played by Hayley Mills who is an orphan girl of missionaries whose father taught her to play the glad game. In this game, they would take something negative that happened and counter it with something to be glad about. She tells of a story where one year they were sent crutches for their Christmas gifts when all she really wanted was a doll. When they played the glad game, they decided that they could be glad they didn’t need the crutches.

While it is a nice concept, I think sometimes we’ve been so eager to play the glad game, we miss out on the painful parts of the world. We don’t grieve when we really need to grieve. We don’t get angry when we need to get angry. We don’t fight when we need to fight. So, if you need it, I give you permission for all of that. Getting angry shows us there are things worth fighting for. Grieving shows us that we had something really wonderful. If we can’t let in these emotions, we can’t really experience the deliciousness of the rest of life. I would argue even those moments are part of what makes the world delicious. I would argue that deliciousness, deep deliciousness, involves both pain and pleasure.

This week, as we focus on what we are thankful for, I add the challenge to be a person who lives in a state of gratitude. Find yourself practicing thankfulness and gratitude more than once a week, maybe even daily.

  • Pause before each meal to really be grateful for what is on your plate, the people that surround you, the activities that have filled your day.
  • Begin a journal where you write down a list of the things you are grateful for before going to sleep at night or first thing in the morning.
  • When you begin to feel you are getting to the end of your rope, frustration is overwhelming you, take a moment to think about the deliciousness that surrounds you. Right there in the middle of traffic, an argument, a difficult assignment for school or work, just pretend that you are putting on not the proverbial rose colored glasses, but delicious glasses. These glasses have special lenses that filter life so you just see the delicious things. 

Most important, stop and savor how delicious our world really is.

What Are You Trying To Do To People?

Last week I returned home in the cold and the rain and took my dog out to the backyard like we do every time I come home. The backyard was covered in a blanket of wet leaves as it has been for the last week but I noticed lots of white dots covering the leaves. I realized that the young man I had seen pushing a small fertilizer spreader had used it in my backyard. My grass, or sorry excuse for the grass covering my back yard, could really use the fertilizer. However, there it sat on top of the leaves, not doing anything helpful. Actually, I said out loud, “Well, that’s not at all helpful.”

While I don’t blame this guy because it was really cold and really wet, I have to ask, what was the point? What was he supposed to be accomplishing in our yards? What was he trying to do? I think the answer should have been that in order to live up to the “TruGreen” name of the company, the goal should have been trying to get the fertilizer on the recently aerated lawn in order to give it what it needed to make it ready for grass to grow in the spring. Instead, his goal was just to spread the fertilizer. Get rid of it. Take that little spreader and just run it around the neighborhood.

It reminded me of something I learned years ago. I was working as a summer missionary for a church start in New York City. Our goal was to reach out to young professionals on the upper west-side of Manhattan. In order to connect with this population, we would set up a table early in the morning in front of the comedy club where we held worship services and hand out breakfast bars to young professionals headed to the subway. Our goal was to connect with them but also to give visibility to our church. The pastor of the church had ordered a large banner made for this purpose, advertising who we were. Our job was to hang the banner on the building behind our table.

Our first morning, it did not hang as it was supposed to and we decided to just forego the banner. The pastor came by and questioned why the banner was sitting rolled up. Without it, people had to stop and be willing to talk to us to know why we were there. Let’s be honest, there were not many New Yorkers willing to do this and so without an advertisement of who we were, we just looked like crazy people handing out breakfast bars on the street. Our leader asked why we had not tried other methods of hanging the banner, or why we had not visited the hardware store just down the street to find a new method. For heaven’s sake, why had we not just at least gotten some duct tape? Our ultimate goal was to connect and build relationships with young professionals in the area. We had this amazing church community that we wanted them to know about. What we were trying to do to those people was connect with them and connect them to the church community.

The good leaders are the ones who go for the duct tape. They are the ones who recognize what is important and do whatever it takes to follow through. They do not just give up and leave the banner rolled in the corner or smile and say “sorry.” If you want to be a great leader, you must know what is most important. There are many smaller details that a good leader knows can be flexible. They are able to keep from sweating the small stuff. An ineffective leader will wear others out making sure the non-essentials happen just the way they intend or in-vision them happening. A good leader knows what is important, what contributes to the vision and ultimate success for their organization or event. They will do whatever it takes to make sure the vision is not compromised. They keep the most important, most important and will do what ever it takes for success. While success may be held together with duct tape, it is still success.

One of my seminary professors, Dr. Bruce Powers, a leader in effective Christian Education, was famous for teaching us to ask, “What are you trying to do to people?” He wanted us to start with the end goal, the purpose, the vision before any of the planning and the doing. You cannot know if you are effective if you do not know what you are hoping to accomplish.

In terms of our calling in the world, we must take your passions and begin to get specific. What is it you are hoping to accomplish, to change, to impact in the world?  What does it mean to help the poor, to develop leaders, to help refugees resettle, to minister to children, to disciple adults.

In order to be effective, begin by learning who else is out there doing it. How can you gain experience, how do you learn from best practices. How do you come alongside others? Learn what are the right questions, what is the root question or problem that needs to be addressed and answered.

Keep going back to the question, “what are you trying to do to people?” Are you just get rid of the fertilizer? Just giving out breakfast on the street to young professionals? Or are you working towards what really matters.

We have enough folks who feel like showing up is enough. Once when I was doing leadership training around effectiveness and appropriateness of age graded work with children, I had a volunteer comment, “you should be happy you have people volunteering at all and not be concerned with how we do it.” But it does matter if you are leading in a way that is not effective. Living into your potential takes more than just showing up, putting something on the calendar, giving out food or clothing, teach the class.

People who live into their potential get the duct tape, they move the leaves before they fertilize, they learn how to communicate better with the children. They think about giving to the poor in a way that is redeeming and doing more to change the larger systems. They find the root of the problems for women on the margins and they seek to create change. They start with the question, “What are you trying to do to people?” and then make plans appropriately, focusing on the details that really matter for the ultimate vision and passion.

So….”what are you trying to do to people?”

Revisiting Signs of the Times

I previously released this blog post in January, 2017. In light of election day today, and an important gubernatorial race here in Virginia, I felt it was important for us to revisit.

Church, are you paying attention?

Our world is crying out and I wonder if we are paying enough attention. Do the things happening in the voting polls last year or the events of this past weekend hold any meaning for you? Are you listening? Because the people are crying out. Church, they are crying out to you. They are crying out for help, for meaning, for someone to show they care.

We wonder today why many of our churches are dying. We wonder how we can get more people in the pew, get them tithing, get them volunteering to take over our responsibilities but those are the wrong questions.

I did a training session last year at a church that was hiring a new pastor and wanted to be aware of what were some of the trends of church involvement, issues new ministers were facing, issues facing young families in their area, etc. One older gentleman tried to quickly cut me off. He spoke up, interrupting me with a gruff, “I don’t hear you talk about Jesus. We just need to get back to Jesus. If people would get back to Jesus they would be in church on Sunday.”

Here’s what I told him….Jesus is in all of it. If we say that Jesus is who he he says he is, if Jesus is relevant to this world, then what happens in the world matters. If this faith is big enough, it should be bigger than what can be contained inside an hour of worship on Sunday morning and Wednesday night prayer meeting. It should affect every area of our lives, it should affect the way we do our work, it should affect the way we engage our community, it should affect the way we treat our neighbors. It should draw us into our communities, draw us away from our often over-filled church calendars.

The world is crying out. Crying out to be loved, to have work, to have food, to have health care, to be able to pay their bills, to be respected. It doesn’t matter where your community lies politically, there are needs you can meet. People from all sides are crying out.

Many say that we shouldn’t let culture dictate the church. That was the cry of this older gentleman. Go back and read the words of Jesus because his ministry was all about meeting the needs of other people, and not just the people that were on the church membership list.

He healed the sick, heard their cries. He fed the hungry. He treated women with respect. He did this outside the walls of the church.

We’ve ignored the signs people are holding outside the church for far too long. The future of the church will look different, like nothing we’ve known in the past.

“We are unsure if the church will survive to the next generation. The answer is not to try harder but to start a new adventure: If talking, trying or tricks work, they would have worked already. They are only going to be solved through new insight into the context, the values and the systemic issues at play in the congregation and within the leaders themselves. In other words, before we can solve any problem, we need to learn to see new possibilities.” (Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger, page 33)

It may mean that we as a church need to stop doing something inside the walls of the church so that we can be the presence of Christ outside the walls. The future of the church may look more like words on those signs we have seen over the last year than the materials on Christian bookstore shelves. But make no mistake, if Jesus is really all that he said he was, he is present in both.

Want new possibilities for the church? Take a look at the signs. They are calling us into uncharted adventures that are frightening and challenging but are also exciting.

W.A.L. Resources November 2, 2017

“In an era in which war and terrorism – at home and abroad – are often based on racial, religious and ethnic differences, rediscovering the wisdom of love and compassion may help us increase our survival at a time when an increasingly divided country and world so badly need it. ” – Dean Ornish

Honestly, I know nothing about Ornish but I really loved this quote. I loved this quote especially in a week where my TV and radio are filled with political ads for the contentious political season Virginia finds itself in. For those of us who are living and leading in this contentious age, here are some resources to help…and a bonus link for Stranger Things fans.

No, American Christians Aren’t Under ‘Attack’

To put things back into perspective, it’s important for us to look to both history and global events and continue to tell the stories of our brothers and sisters who actually are facing daily persecution and even intentionally putting their lives in danger for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We can look back to the earliest of martyrs such as Bartholomew, who was flayed alive and then beheaded (and it’s worth noting that he is rumored to have sung hymns the entire time, hence the beheading), or Peter, crucified upside down.

Why Jesus’ Good Samaritan Can Change the World

Jesus is essentially saying, “Look, I am walking this same road. And I am telling you that the way of God is not the way of separation and confrontation with your enemies. That is not the way to bring peace. If you yourself don’t find a way to show mercy and compassion to people that you don’t like, it’s likely that you yourself will experience more violence. The community will not become more peaceful if you, the people of God, don’t extend God’s love. And ultimately, you may find yourself on the side of the road, left for dead, if you can’t recognize the hated Samaritan as your neighbor.”

Loving your neighbor, especially those you don’t like, has the power to radically change the world.

No, It’s Not You. This is Crazy.

I know you feel something breaking inside lately; an invisible fracture that only you’re fully aware of.

I know the way you walk away from conversations with people you once relied on for wisdom and clarity and compassion, doubting your own sanity because you no longer recognize those things in them.

I know the way you feel internally estranged from the friends, coworkers, family members, and neighbors you used to find affinity with—and you wonder if you’re losing your mind.

I understand how you stare at the perpetual parade of horrible scrolling past you, from the second you wake up prematurely in the early morning until the stretched out nighttime moments you try unsuccessfully to fall asleep—and how you question the grip you have on reality.

What Congregations are More Political?

You might think white conservative Protestants are more political than black or mainline Protestants or Catholics. You’d be wrong.

Just as the Bush Administration’s Faith-Based Initiative called attention to congregations’ social service activities, the 1980s rise of the Religious Right called attention to congregations’ political activities. The organized Religious Right is not what it used to be, but concerns and debates about the appropriate limits of congregations’ political involvement emerge every election season. Clarity about some basic facts might inform these debates.

The Gospel According to Stranger Things

The show’s protagonist is a girl named Eleven. She is pretty clearly a Christ figure (Her nickname, El, even means “God” in Hebrew). She has a mysterious birth story and her true father is never mentioned, even though her mother does make an appearance. She possesses seemingly miraculous telekinetic powers. While in captivity, government officials “tempt” her to use her powers to kill a cat, which she refuses to do, paralleling Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).

The world of Stranger Things resembles the Christian understanding of our world. It has two interconnected dimensions: The first is the idyllic world of the 1980’s, filled with nostalgia that almost immediately causes viewers long for a simpler time. The second is the Upside Down. It’s described as a world of death. The air is toxic, and it is filled with predatory monsters (or, at least one) who feed on flesh. It even acts as a sort of prison for Will, a kid brought to the Upside Down by the monster.