Friday, May 15, 2015

A Gringo's Guide to Hispanic Food

A Gringo's Guide to Hispanic Food
By: David Harris
So you want to know the story? Well, it will take some time but please, have a nice, cool cerveza and I will tell you while we wait for our food. I was born in Laredo, Texas. My father was in the Air Force but didn't move around as much as other families. We moved several hours north to San Angelo when I was five. If it isn't obvious enough, I'm a gringo born to two gringo parents - not a shred of Mexican or any other Hispanic blood in me. However, my mother's best friend was a Mexican woman who would often bring over authentic Mexican dishes to our family on a Saturday night, or on Sunday after church. Her sons were my two best friends, and we grew up together playing cowboys and indians and soldiers in the Texas dirt. They would often speak Spanish to their mother, but they didn't like it and I almost never heard them speak it anywhere else. Sometimes I felt like they were a little ashamed of it, maybe feeling less American because of their family roots. Either way, I didn't really end up learning much in the way of Spanish as a kid, but I did learn to love Mexican food - not Taco Bell or El Pollo Loco, but the truly Mexican dishes like flautas and tamales. With one exception. When I was 11 years old I was served menudo. If you aren't familiar with this dish it's basically a glorified tripe soup. The base is the inner lining of the stomach of a cow. Even with my Mexican comida  awareness, I couldn't do menudo. I politely excused myself and vomited profusely. Sorry! I know that wasn't a pretty picture, but it's one of the only things in the world of Mexican food I didn't like immediately. I eventually developed a taste for it, but it was a long fought battle. Nevertheless, I developed a sort of pride around my love of “true” Mexican food. I saw myself as superior to my peers. After church on Sunday when my friends and I would go out to lunch, I was always trying to make my scoffing attitude toward the suggestion of going to Moe’s or Chipotle as evident as possible, then suggesting we go to a “real” Mexican restaurant where we could get “authentic” Mexican food like carnitas and frijoles over arroz.  
     Following my high school graduation I took some classes from Angelo State University. I didn’t really like the college atmosphere - it wasn’t quite adventurous for me, so I decided to take a road trip after my second trip with my two Mexican-American friends. We drove deep down into Mexico and experienced the wide breadth of culture and comida. I also got to work quite a bit on my Spanish! I was nearly fluent by the time we returned to Texas (or at least I felt like it). What an experience or a young person to have! What an asset to the rest of their life! Ok, I’m getting a little off track here, sorry. Anyway, after hanging out on the beaches, flirting with muchas senoritas at different cantinas and climbing some of the highest peaks in the country, we returned to Texas. I ended up joining the Air Force and was stationed in El Paso. I made some great friends, one in particular, a beautiful young Mexican-American girl named Natalia. We met at the church I was attending there. The first time I saw her I nearly choked on my own saliva. I guess I’ve never been that good at talking to girls, at least not ones as beautiful as she looked that night. Anyway, I went up to her hoping to impress her. Hola Senorita, Como Estas? She gave me a slightly offended look. “I don’t really speak much Spanish. Sorry.” she said. I felt incredibly embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I’m just really into Mexican culture and stuff.” I said awkwardly. She still wasn’t impressed. “Ok, I should probably go now.” I started to walk away but she stopped me. “Well, how would you like to come over to my parents. I’m sure they would be excited to meet a gringo who speaks more Spanish than their own daughter. I’m already having several people over.” I went without any hesitation. I’m not sure if I was more excited at the prospect of being in a room with the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen in my life, or going somewhere where I might get some authentic Mexican cuisine made by actual Mexicans (it  goes without saying that the “Mexican” food in the Air Force is about as Mexican as an Italian on vacation in Puerto Rico). Upon introduction to her padres, I made it my goal to impress them as much as possible, hoping it would somehow rub off on their daughter. I tried the same greeting on them I had on her. It worked much better (I’d always been better with the parents than with the object of my affections). They were impressed! Hola! Habla Espanol! O! Bueno, bueno! Quiera a vecas comida? They asked if I wanted some dinner. I responded in the affirmative. Obviously I made my love of “true” Mexican food as evident as possible. I told them how much I loved menudo and flautas. They were eating it up. “It’s a shame, Natalia doesn’t speak as good Spanish as you do! She also doesn’t know how to cook our traditional dishes! Shame.” Natalia glared at me. I told them that I was an aspiring, amature chef, trying to learn how to make my favorite Mexican dishes. Needless to say, Natalia’s parents liked me a lot more than Natalia at first.
    I don’t know what’s more surprising, that Natalia eventually fell for me, or that she ended up attending culinary school and learned to make the Mexican dishes I loved so much better than I could have ever dreamed of. She was attending school in Austin, but whenever she was on break she would come back to El Paso and we would spend weekends making the dishes I loved so much with her mother and other relatives. I became very much part of the family, and my love of authentic Mexican food was surpassed for how I felt about Natalia. My contract with the Air Force was up just around the time Natalia graduated from culinary school. We were engaged that summer and got married in October. For me there was never any question about what we would do in our post-military/school lives - open an “authentic” Mexican restaurant. We moved to San Angelo where my father had purchased a place for us to get started in with me eventually buying the place from him once we met some success. I insisted we call the place “Natalia’s”, though my wife wasn’t all that happy with naming a Mexican restaurant after her before knowing if it would be successful. Luckily, Natalia’s was a hit in San Angelo, especially among the college crowd, as it was on the same street as San Angelo State. They loved the idea of eating “authentic” Mexican cuisine, maybe sharing somewhat in the superiority complex toward “other gringos” that plagued me. I took special pleasure in introducing guests to menudo, as well as our completely house made tortillas.
    Ok, ok, I’m sorry, I know you didn’t ask for all this backstory, I’ll get to the point. A few years ago Natalia and I went on another trip deep into Mexico to get some culinary inspiration, leaving my recently retired parents to run the restaurant. After about a month on the road, getting some magnificent ideas from food joints all over Mexico, my lovely wife had an idea. Why don’t we travel to some other Hispanic countries to get some more diverse inspiration. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, as I had a very one, Mexican track mind. We went to several different countries in South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, gaining some great insight into other Hispanic food traditions. However, the most important of all these extra trips was the first. We flew to the Dominican Republic. My culinary and Hispanic obsessed world was shaken very quickly upon arriving.
    After getting into the terminal, Natalia wanted to go to the washroom to freshen up and then call her parents. Knowing how long that usually takes, I made a beeline for a small cafe inside the airport to get a coke and maybe a quick snack, already considering any opportunity for culinary inspiration that might present itself. I sat down at the bar and asked for a coke and some fritas de maiz con salsa. The server looked confused. He said that they didn’t have any of those, but he could give me some plantanitos. I looked at him puzzledly. I asked what they were, realizing two things: 1- Each of these Hispanic countries had their own distinct cuisine that completely varied from Mexican food, and 2- I had almost no knowledge of Dominican food. He explained in a very different Spanish dialect that plantanitos were chips from the plantain - a banana like, but more savory, fruit. I asked if they served arroz con frijoles. He almost looked offended. “Senor, you’re in the Dominican Republic now, we don’t eat frijoles, we eat habicheuelas. I was confused, and the confusion didn’t end there.
    We left the airport and started visiting different restaurants. I learned a lot over those next few days. For instance, sal cocho is a savory and delicious stew served with rice, or bacolao is a cod-fish based dish that can be served as a cold salad or hot over rice. I had no knowledge of the differences between Hispanic cuisines! I enjoyed my time there so much I’ve returned 3 times already to learn more and to make more contacts. Natalia likewise was impressed by the flavors we came across in the Dominican Republic. We traveled next to Chile and to several over adjacent countries. We also visited Spain a few months later to get an idea of where some of the original flavors of Hispanic countries came from.
   And that my friend, is my story. That’s how how Texas got its first Hispanic fusion restaurant chain, employing cooks from almost every single Hispanic country, and how a gringo learned that his pride in knowing Hispanic cuisine was misplaced! Sorry I’m so long winded, but look, our food is here, here comes Natalia! This dish is menudo, I wouldn’t suggest diving right into it. Try a flauta first, they are great with the fried plantains. Oh, and make sure you try the asado, it’s a Argentinian styled grilling. Oh, don’t forget the…….

David harris
May 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I was looking at and some of their very informative videos on what pornography does to the mind (how it rewires it and what not). Some of the things I heard I found extremely disturbing - we are a culture addicted to this drug. Whether or not you have or are struggling with viewing pornography, as Christians we should be the biggest in opposition to the spread and distribution of this drug - it's killing our society and the church and we can't be silent about it. I penned this reflecting on the the disease and cure:

I Hate Porn by David Harris
I hate porn cause it sucks you dry
It kills your ambition like a filthy lie
It promises comfort, peace and a high
But it leaves you as dead as a suicide
I hate what it's doing to young people's lives
I hate how it destroys husbands and wives
I hate how so few will just come clean
And raise their sword at the evil machine
But most of all I hate its author
The Devil who presents us this bogus offer
That happiness is found in ourselves indulging
To only find guilt and pain unfolding

But I love Christ, who's great than porn
Who redeemed His own through pain and scorn
Who offers a path with actual peace
Who gives from filth an awsome release
Who won't leave or forsake, even when we fall
For He shows us His love in His gospel call
That faith and forgiveness can completely renew
A life you think that porn has ruined

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Spilled for You - Poem

I was substitute teaching on Monday and ended up waiting around for awhile because I only had two periods, so I penned this while waiting, meditating on subjects like guilt, remorse, faith and grace. Hope it blesses you!

Self justified in evil deeds
Ignorant of others' needs
So often this is who I've been
A man who sinful passion feeds
My past cries out:
"Justice be done!"
"Let Hell consume this wicked son!"
This voice comes not from up above
Not from the courts of Heaven's love
But from the wretched Devil's mouth
To fill me up with fear and doubt
Regret is my unwanted friend
He tells me I should make an end
"For you sufficient grace is lacking"
"Take your life, no more contend"
"For what is life but just missed chances"
"chances gone and and lost romances"
These thoughts not from wisdom's advice
but foolishness and futile vice
The only way to conquer this:
Focus on His promises.
"My grace, sufficient for you, believe!"
"For peace and rest you have received"
"Judgment no more awaits your soul"
"For My great love has made you whole"
"You're not defined by things gone through"
"for My own blood was spilled for you"

Saturday, March 2, 2013

What Defiles a Man (Mark 7:15-23)

Well, it's been awhile, so I thought I'd start this back up. For my first post this year, here's a sermon I wrote for December 30th of 2012. It's about the importance of understanding the depravity of man for our worldview, and how if we get this fundamental truth wrong, 

What Defiles a Man

Good morning everyone, turn in your Bibles if you would to the Gospel of Mark to chapter 7 verses 14-23. We just went over this passage in our Thursday night Bible Study at SUNY New Paltz and its importance really struck me. I think it’s immensely critical to understand because at the heart of it lies the difference in the truly Christian belief system and all others. Please follow along as I read: And he called the people to him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
Mark 7:14-23 (ESV) In light of this passage, I’d like to ask you a question. Do you believe that man is inherently evil? Ask most Christians this and they would probably say: "yes, or course man is sinful and in need of God’s grace; that’s what the Bible says." Indeed, we see it plainly put that way in this passage. In light of the Sandy Hook massacre on the 14th we definitely have a heightened awareness of the presence of evil in our world, and even in our local communities. All of us have experienced varying degrees of pain and suffering due to either our own evil or the consequences of the evil of others. But do YOU really believe that. Do you really believe that is man inherently corrupt and wicked? Because if we really believe this passage then our entire world view will be affected by this belief to a profound level. Not only will our personal lives be affected, but our entire social structure: everything. Government, economics, education, parenting, etc. A proper understanding of exactly what Jesus means here will mean the difference between doing things man’s way and doing things God’s way.
This passage is one very often misapplied or underappreciated when it is studied. I can think of many times that I’ve heard it used to justify a particular, usually sinful action. The idea that frequently comes out of a quick look at this passage is that Jesus is essentially saying we can do whatever we want in regards to our consumption of material things. We can watch whatever entertainment we desire (whether it’s honoring to God or not), eat however much we want, drink however much we want, listen to whatever gives our ears enjoyment, and essentially TAKE IN whatever we want as long as nothing evil comes out of us. As long as we don’t gossip or curse. As long as no wrong deeds come from us then whatever we take in is ok. Because of this common application, the importance and revolutionary nature of this text is overlooked.

To make sure we fully understand the significance of what Jesus is saying here, let’s go back a few verses and set the context of Jesus’ remarks. At this stage of Jesus’ ministry He is still in the area of the Sea of Galilee. He preached and taught in several gentile regions following His ministry in this town on the north-western shore of Galilee. Some scribes and pharisees that had come from all the way from Jerusalem then "gathered around" Jesus to confront Him. Specifically they confront Jesus about the way his disciples are eating without washing their hands in the correct tradition. This way of washing hands before eating was very specific, but could not be found in the Torah- it was simply an extra biblical tradition. Jesus responds with Isaiah 29:13- And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men. His point was to demonstrate that the pharisees cared not about God’s law, but man’s. They had substituted a system of extra biblical laws for God’s law as given in Leviticus. Jesus goes a step further in showing this error by bringing up another example common to the time. Let’s read further. 9-13 And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, "Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban" (that is, given to God) then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do." Corban was an account of money or goods that was set aside to God and was only supposed to be used for sacred purposes. What the Jews of the time had done was use this system to have an account they could do whatever they wanted with, but if someone (in this case someone’s parents) needed the money, they could just say "oh, well that’s corban, that’s for God, I can’t give you any of that". In so doing they used a tradition to get around God’s command to honor their parents. You see, the religious Jews did something that many Christians still do today: they believed that it was only the outward that counted. As long as the law was not violated in an outward sense, then everything was ok. However, there are a host of verses in the Hebrew scriptures that attest to the fact that God values not the outward only, but more importantly the inward- He wants His people to honor Him with their hearts. If that wasn’t enough Jesus goes on to challenge their entire worldview. The way that they understood the nature of evil was basically the way every false worldview still does: that the corrupting influence of evil is environmental. That was their understanding of the purpose of the Levitical law. It was designed to remedy the corrupting influence of evil from without. However, we know from the book of Romans that the law only proved in itself that it could not be kept by fallen man. What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Romans 7:7-8 The law is what shows us that we cannot keep the commandments of God and are therefore in need of His grace. They should have understood from verses in the Hebrew scriptures like Jeremiah 17:9 and Psalms 51:5 that man is naturally evil.

What Defiles a Man
Jesus uses the opportunity the pharisees and scribes have brought about to relay a spiritual truth to everyone. It says He "called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them: Listen to Me, all of you, and understand. Everything Jesus says is important, but when He calls everyone together to tell them something, you can be sure that it’s REALLY important. You can be sure He’s about to say something very key. "There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." Jesus’ point is that the physical doesn’t corrupt the spiritual. In the immediate context, He’s also saying that the ceremony of washing hands won’t cleanse the heart. In hindsight, Mark (written under the authority of Peter) attests to the fact that foods previously outlawed in the Levitical covenant are now being declared clean and ok to eat. This wasn’t realized till Peter’s vision in Acts chapter 10, but Mark recognizes that the precedent was set here.
Like the pharisees, the disciples have some trouble understanding this principle, and so when they leave the crowds they ask him about what He meant- they also would have understood defilement as something that comes from the outside. Jesus points out that food doesn’t go to the heart, but to the stomach where it is digested and then expelled. He is again driving the point home that what is outside doesn’t defile what is inside. All the evil deeds committed by people- all their evil words and actions are committed because they start in the heart and then come out. Jesus goes through a list of some of the evils similar to the list of the deeds of the flesh in Galatians chapter 5.

What Proceeds Out of a Man
Evil thoughts. This is from the Greek words kakos and dialogismos and could be defined as an evil calculation or a plotting. Next is porneiai; this is sexual immorality of any kind, any deviance from what God has decreed as proper. Phonos- murdering. Mochieia- adultery. Plenonexia- desiring or lusting after material things. It’s actually literally desiring "numerically more". Dolos is deceit. Aselgia is lewdness. Aphthalmos is literally "the eye". This is envy. Blasphemia could be translated as slander but also includes blasphemy and any other improper speech. Uperephania is an unrighteous pride that sees others as lower than oneself. And finally, aphrosune, which could be translated as "senselessness". These are the things that come out of us. We do not exercise these evils because of surrounding influences, we exercise these because they are already in our hearts. "All these things proceed from within and defile a man". In the defiling of individuals, we also experience the defiling of a society. This is evident in our own society in the fact that we would be arguing with many people whether or not everything in this list is even wrong. Or for that matter, whether there is such a thing as wrong.
Does this mean that what we take in- what we allow our senses to consume is morally neutral? Does it matter what we watch, listen to, touch, or consume? Indeed! What you willingly partake of gives a testimony of what is in your heart. For example, "entertainment" that contains pornography, blasphemy, or simply glorifies what God has command as wrong does not directly defile you. In fact, it should cause you a great amount of disgust. However, as Jesus is pointing out in this passage, evil comes from within the heart and so through the ungodly entertainment we are given an opportunity to manifest that evil. That’s why Paul charges the Phillipians to dwell on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise." Instead of being amused by things that gratify our flesh, we dwell on THESE things. Galatians 5:13 says: "do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." We are free from the condemnation of the law, but we are not to use our freedom to gratify our lusts, but in Christian service toward each other. Do the things you put before your senses inspire fleshly desires within you, or do they help to sanctify you? I’ve often heard Christians say when justifying a certain questionable action or choice that they "can handle it". "No, I can watch this film filled with blasphemy, I hear it all the time anyway, it doesn’t bother me" "I just listen to the song cause I like the beat, I can ignore the lyrics." That’s a dangerous attitude. Many Christians seem to trust themselves too much. Instead the believer is supposed "walk in the Spirit" so that he doesn’t "gratify the desires of the flesh". Nothing should distract from this end.

Example of David
One good example of this comes from the life of David. David committed several infamous sins throughout his kingship, but most pale in comparison to his sin with BathshebaTo review the story: David walked out on his roof and surveyed his kingdom. He saw Bathsheba and lusted after her. He coveted her and took her to commit adultery. He had Uriah, her husband murdered to cover his tracks. He ended basically breaking all the ten commandments in some way or another. What was David’s first problem? The key is found in 2 Samuel 11:1: In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. Where was David supposed to be? David shirked his responsibility and in so doing gave opportunity for the flesh and manifested the immorality already present in his heart.

An Opposite Worldview
As I said earlier, the Pharisees would have understood evil to be an issue of environment. In other words, what corrupts a man is what he is influenced by outside of himself. If you get this part of your worldview wrong then everything that follows will be wrong. There have been plenty of philosophers that have believed that man is inherently good. Many of these philosophers have influenced Christian theology. The reason why our country was set up the way it was, was due to the idea that man was evil, but the reason why it’s strayed so far from where it began is due to the belief that man is basically good. Two very important philosophers in regard to these ideas were John Locke and Jacques Rousseau. John Locke, who lived in the 17th century propagated the idea that children are born a "blank-slate", and society either corrupts or redeems their morality. Rousseau believed similarly, though he said that man was basically good, society just corrupts him. These men were two of the most important contributors to what has shaped educational philosophy not only in our nation, but most nations around the world. In the early 1900s a man who was greatly influenced by Locke and Rousseau named John Dewey became very active in the molding of the public school system here in the US. Dewey was a secular humanist and devout Darwinist. The theory of evolution greatly motivates these ideas because then not only are we inherently good, but we are evolving and getting better and better. Surely we can create a perfect society here on earth! His most impacting idea in our society is the idea that education should be child-centered. In other words, if children are basically good, then schooling should be all about them! This is one of the reasons we have this idea of the critical importance of self-esteem. That the child knows and understands that they are good- no matter what they do. Everything is acceptable. However, we now have a problem. Children who are constantly told they are good and all their actions are acceptable become teenagers and then are expected to grow up. The solution? The creation of the idea of adolescence. Freud was very instrumental in the creation of this idea. Now whatever the adolescent does is ok because their "brain is still developing". It’s only natural that they are going to experiment with sex, drugs, and alcohol because they are trying to "find themselves". This idea of adolescence isn’t in your history books. It’s just not. It’s a recent creation. Most all cultures, even pagan ones had some sort of rite of passage that signified that a boy was now a man or a girl was now a woman. There was no 10 year stage of "becoming an adult". Now what happens when the teens reach what’s considered adulthood and still haven’t grown up? We continue to make excuses them. We extend their adolescence as long as possible through their college years, and with many, we establish a dependancy upon the government through the welfare system. So now we can remain children forever. What did Paul say? When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man- I gave up childish ways. What happens when an adolescent goes into a school like Sandy Hook and starts shooting children? There’s no doubt that you’ll hear a variety of explanations as to the mental state of Adam Lanza and the aspects of his upbringing that drove him to take 26 lives in Newtown, but why did he really do it? If man is basically good, then some sort of excuse must be created, but we know the biblical explanation. The evil within his heart gave birth to sin, and many have had to pay the consequences. The influences that may have contributed to his evil actions should not be discounted, but Adam Lanza alone bears responsibility for what he did. Today either the sin is excused because of some mental condition, or behavior is accepted as normal, natural, and even encouraged. We’re seeing this increasingly more in regards to drugs, alcohol, and sexual perversion. What people would have been arrested or put in a mental institution for 50 years ago is now flaunted and celebrated as good.
What about the institution of government? Where do we even begin in establishing a government if all men are evil? Ideally we would have a system where biblical principles are applied and followed. Many of our founding fathers understood this. Their attempt was to set up a government based on the idea that man was corrupt and needed as much accountability as possible. This is where the principle of checks and balances: the federal government, the states, and the people are supposed to keep each other in check. Unfortunately, because man is still corrupt, even a system such as what we’ve set up eventually drifts toward tyranny. Woodrow Wilson said just before the first world war that "the world must be made safe for democracy". What has occurred over the last 150 years is the idea that the only ideal form of government is a democracy, but this too is founded on the idea that man is good; that as a group we will choose a virtuous leader. Both communism and anarchy rest on this principle as well. If men are good then we can create a utopia here on earth where everyone will share and get along. Or the reverse: that man doesn’t need a government to administer justice because man is good and he can be left to his own devices.

The Noble Savage
It’s been fascinating for me in studying early to mid American literature this last semester to see through the lens of literature how much things have changed since the beginning of this nation. The Puritans understood the natural evil of the human heart. They’re now absolutely disparaged in modern academia as being oppressive hypocrites. Your children will be given a picture of them that is a total distortion of who they really were. Within a hundred years of the height of the Puritan presence in New England, the idea of the nature of man had completely shifted. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman all propagated the idea of the noble savage. This stems from Rousseau’s idea that the man is corrupted by society. Leave him alone in nature, and he will virtuous! Therefore the ideal situation is that of tribal natives. We need to get back to our evolutionary roots, get back to nature and there will be good and virtuous. From these ideas has come the modern environmental movement that values nature as the highest good. It’s a short step here to actually worshiping nature in the way that groups like the modern resurgence of Druids do. Do you see how getting one theological truth wrong effects and impacts every belief? Study some of the lives of pioneer missionaries: you will find quite the opposite. Those living in tribal conditions were always discovered living in complete and utter spiritual bondage.

In Christendom
Let’s take as step away from those who don’t claim to be Christians and examine what we find in the sphere of Christendom. What implications are there in regard to the gospel? If man is basically evil, not good, then he cannot save himself from his sin. In the Hebrew Scriptures we see the picture of the Messiah in the atoning for sin by sacrifice. Christ was the final and perfect sacrifice because He lived a life without sin. He was the only person who ever lived who was not inherently evil. While Eve may have sinned first in the garden of Eden, Romans 5:12 tells us that it’s through Adam that sin spread to all the world- this is why Jesus had to be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. Paul quotes from Psalm 14 when he’s explaining the need for a savior in Romans chapter 3: They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. Later, in Romans chapter 8 Paul says: the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. There is no capacity in the unbelieving heart to choose to follow Christ. Nevertheless, there resides in the modern evangelical church an idea that somehow man can choose God. Billy Graham is quoted as saying: "You will determine Christ’s success or failure in your decision." Christ’s failure?! This is not biblical. Jesus says in John 6: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." Christ will be victorious whether you reject Him or not. If you are basing your salvation on a decision that you made then you need to do what 2 Peter 1:10 says: be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure. One of the greatest lies in the modern evangelical church is that you are saved by a decision. Then what happens when you change your mind? What happens when you make another decision? You are saved by Christ! It’s Christ that died for you, the Holy Spirit that opens your eyes, and the Father that secures you.

One question remains: if we are all utterly helpless before God because of our depravity, then where is there hope? The answer is a few verses earlier in Romans chapter 8: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. If you have turned from your sins and trusted in Christ for your salvation, then God sees sinless Christ instead of sinful you! The Holy spirit indwells you and gives you the strength to fight your sin. When I was younger- in age and in the faith, I use to think as I grew in Christ and eliminated more and more sin from my life that things would become easier and I would feel less guilty for sinning against God. Nope. That’s not how it works. If you haven’t read the diary of David Brainerd, the Puritan missionary to the Indians on the Delaware River, I would highly suggest reading it. Brainerd was a man that seemed to care about almost nothing other than Christ and the spreading of the Gospel. He is looked up to by many Christians, (me included) for his incredible persistence through terrible physical, emotional, and mental affliction as he slowly died of Tuberculosis during his few years as a missionary. In my mind and minds of many he is spiritual giant- but he didn’t see himself that way at all. I’d like to read one entry from his diary. This is three days after one occasion of preaching to the Indians: "My heart was overwhelmed within me: I verily thought I was the meanest, vilest, most helpless, guilty, ignorant, benighted creature living And yet I knew what God had done for my soul, at the same time: though sometimes I was assaulted with damping doubts and fears, whether it was possible for a such a wretch as I to be in a state of grace." This is how a man like Brainerd saw himself. We can hear the very same train of thought in Romans 7:15-16 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. And a few verses later: Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Why did these men have such a low view of themselves? This is foolishness to the world! This is foolishness to the self-esteem movement and the 7 steps to a better you! Why did they see themselves like this? Because the more you lower yourself, the more you raise Christ. Paul says I count everything as skybala, as rubbish or excrement because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. The eternal hope found in Christ is worth more than anything this world has to offer. It’s worth admitting that you’re not good. If you’re here this morning and you don’t have that hope, then don’t leave without talking to someone about how you too can be seen as sinless before God. You may have been born in sin, but if you cry out to God, He will save you. He will give you a new heart with a desire to serve Him instead of yourself.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why I love Jesus, but hate relgion: An argument over the definition of a word?

Ok. So I've seen Jefferson Bethke's video literally EVERYWHERE. Not only has it attracted a healthy amount of praise, but it's also seeing a firestorm of critique and criticism, especially coming from catholic, reformed, and muslim circles. When I first saw the video I thought I understood what Jefferson was trying to get across, but now I'm really not so sure, so I'm going to start by going over what I really don't understand. Before I do that however, I'd like to just affirm my respect and admiration for Jefferson Bethke. He may not be Lecrae, but the man has rhyme and rhythm! He seems to be very theologically sound and genuinely love Christ and is seeking to make His name known. His "Sexual Healing" video was great, and even greater was his response to "Love Wins" by Rob Bell. Good good stuff.
     Let's get to his current piece of art though. The first thing I don't understand is his choice of WHERE he made the video. I feel like so much would make more sense if he was actually standing outside a church building. But he's not. It looks like he's standing outside a university or government building. That is confusion point No. 1. It's confusing because throughout the video I simply never quite get WHO exactly he's talking to. At first glance I would say it's obviously the "religious". But we're faced with a problem. What is religion? And that's where the heart of this strange argument over the definition of a word seems to be.
     "What if I told you Jesus came to abolish relgion.". Ok. Define religion please. Nope. Instead he continues with "What if I told you voting Republican wasn't really his mission?" This confuses me. So he's talking to Republicans? Don't get me wrong, I believe he's quite correct! Jesus would want us to vote for those who have integrity and believe in the biblical principles set down for government, no matter what their particular political affiliation happens to be. But I still don't understand what it has to do with Jesus being ">religion".
     He asks another question toward the beginning of his rhyme, this one I believe I have an answer for: "I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?" The answer I believe can be found in Matthew chapter 10: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household." I think that may be why religion has started so many wars.
      Jefferson goes on. He doesn't say anything heretical in the least, (in fact I especially like when he says: "He looked down and said 'I want that man!'")  but at the same time, we're left without a definition for religion. I've raised this objection to several people and the response has been this: words change meaning. So really what we're arguing about is not whether or not as Christians, we want to change the definition of religion. I would argue NO, and for this reason: Changing the definition of a word adds to deconstruction and confusion in a language. It WILL happen I know, but words have meaning, and trying to change a definition only causes confusion. In this context, while I know and understand the good intention behind: "it's not a RELIGION it's a RELATIONSHIP", this statement generally only adds confusion to an unbelieving mind. I would argue the "nonreligious" unbeliever doesn't need to understand that Christianity is not a religion, but needs to understand in their unbelieving state they are indeed devoutly religious- worshiping themselves. Furthermore, the statement (religion not a relationship) is not found in the Bible- instead we find a description of what James calls TRUE religion (Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.- James 1:27).
    It's important to remember that this is a discussion within the body of believers, and there's no reason to get bent out of shape or to emotionally invested in the argument (2 Timothy 2:14  Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I'm standing in the kitchen of the Raley family with the team that has just driven up to Pietersburg from the coast (Port Elizabeth). Enjoying a steaming cup of coffee on the chilly winter night, my pocket suddenly vibrates. I pull my phone from my coat pocket: ONE NEW MESSAGE. I press the view button. In bold type the SMS (txt mssg) says one word: BURGLARY. (The house I'd been watching sends an SMS to several people if the house alarm goes off). My mouth emits one sentence: "Gabriel's house has been broken into", and I made a speedy b-line for the door. My friend Nathan (who is also on the SMS system) yells, "you want me to come with?". Angrily thinking of my possessions sitting in the house several K's down the road being stolen, I reply "whatever!".
   I hit nearly 140 Km/H on the way- down the freeway, down several dusty back roads, and finally down the long road in the veld (bush) to Gabriel and Nikki Pretoria's house. I pulled up to the outer gate- protected by a lock and 9000V of electricity pulsating through the wires attached to it. I could see the back gate to the house had been forced open. I speedily unlock the gate and run to the back entrance to the house. It's dark inside. I almost proceed inside, but then remember that an ambush could mean a quick death, a debilitating injury, or a mortal wound. I run around the side of the house and grab a wooden stick- my weapon of choice. I slowly peer around the corners as I enter the house. The alarm sounds. I start turning on lights. There's absolutely nothing missing. Praise God
     By the time I get outside to find out where the would-be thieves cut into the wire, Nathan has arrived. We examine the fence and find where they cut in, and also the windows they broke checking to see if anyone was home. Several other arrive after a little time to start the repairs. We clean up the broken glass, replace a lock, and rewire the fence. After some time, they leave, and I'm left alone. It's late. I take a shower, drink some coke. I turn ON the lights, and go to bed. The dogs bark all night. Eish.
Excitement. In South Africa.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sermon Notes: Mchipisi Baptist Church, May 22nd 2011

 PICTURES: The first is of Pastor Kenneth and his wife Emma. The 2nd is a map of Limpopo where the red is our location (or near it). It is the farthest north-eastern part of the country.

Sermon Notes: (NOTE: this is an exact copy of my hand-written manuscript)
Sermon, May 22nd, 2011
Romans 8:28
1st-testimony, Psalm 19:7, Romans 10:10
Review, Roman’s Purpose
“Paul’s Gospel Book”
Chapter 1- Paul identifies himself as a slave to Christ Jesus, specifically set apart for the gospel of Christ Jesus. He spends the 1st of ½ of chapter 1 exalting the glorious gospel of Christ Jesus, and the 1nd ½ he speaks of the terrible consequences of rejecting Christ Jesus. Chapter 2 and 3, Paul speaks of God’s righteous standard, and how no one has ever lived up to it, and being Jewish doesn’t even help! You must have Christ Jesus.
Continued… (Page two)
In chap. 4, Paul speaks of Moses and how he as well was justified by faith. Chapters 5 and 6, Paul speaks of what justification brings about. Some of these things are Peace with God, escaping the wrath of Almighty God, and being dead to sin and alive to God. Chapter 7 talks of something we are all familiar with. The conflict that we have when we belong to Christ Jesus. Our struggle is between our new nature which we receive when we are born again, and our fleshly body, that we are abound to until we leave this earth.  He says “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death!” (Something I’ve oft thought after I’ve sinned)
Continued… (Page three)
Now we come to Chap. 8. Verse 1-4 (read)
The Gospel of Christ Jesus here is clearly presented once again. We cannot live up to God’s standard. Remember what Jesus said: (adultery, murder, you only have to think the thoughts) Paul speaks through the next few verses about the difference between setting the mind on the flesh , and setting the mind on the spirit, but God is able to give life in Christ to those in the flesh. It is the Spirit of God that testifies that we are “children of God!” (Personal testimony example: I don’t have a date for when I was saved, but this is my assurance) (Read verses 16-17). Suffering?! Wait a moment! No one told me anything about suffering! I thought I was going to get money, good health, and good things. What is this suffering?!
Continued… (Page four)
But there it is! But let’s think. What were Paul’s sufferings? He was beaten more than once, he was bitten by a snake on the island of Malta, and he was sought out by many to be killed. Jesus said in His sermon on the mountain “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness”. (move on) Verse 19 tells us Paul’s attitude toward suffering for Christ Jesus. (read verse 18) (exposit) In verses 19-28, Paul speaks of how not only us, but ALL of creation is anxious waiting for God’s restoration. We look forward to when we be rid of these earthy bodies! When no longer we will get sick or hurt. However, we do not know when these things will be, so we must hope.
Continued… (Page five)
Verse 26 and 27 give us another great hope (read verse) (exposit)
Before we read verse 28, I’d like to look at a verse in the Hebrew Scriptures. Deuteronomy 29:29-(read) how often do we wonder “what is the will of God?” And here it is! Obey His law, practice His commandments. But there is something else here. Something that is a little scary. What are the “secret things?” We don’t know. But we find our comfort here in verse 28 of Romans 8. (read verse) This verse has been on my mind since yesterday (speak about Mozambique). This verse immediately came to my mind as we left Pafuri yesterday. I had to choose whether I was to believe God in what He says here, or to believe the lies of the deceiver.
Continued… (Page six)
Let’s go back to the verse: “and we know that God causes all things to work for good” Let’s stop there; Is this good God’s good, or our good? If we belong to Christ Jesus, then they are the same- but we may not always see it that way. The Greek word here is agathos- it means “benefit”. So we see that God works all things for our spiritual benefit. A question remains however: Who does God work things together for? We have 2 answers: 1. Those who love God. The Greek word here for love is agape- a love of sacrifice; one that will give up everything for Christ Jesus. Hallelujah (NOTE: This was a common interjection that is replied with “Amen”). Phillipians 3:8 (read) (exposit)
Continued… (Page seven)
As followers of Christ Jesus, we must be willing to give up anything for Him. (read Luke 9:23-25) (exposit) by this we know we love God! If we keep His commandments, and we will give our everything.
  In Romans 8:28, we also see that those who love God are also those who are “called according to His purpose”. All throughout the scriptures we see God’s calling. In Galatians Paul speaks of God as Him who set him apart “before His birth” and called him by “His Grace”. The book of 1 Corinthians says that “god is faithful, by whom you were called into fellowship of His Son Christ Jesus”, Halleluiah.
Continued… (Page eight)
These words can give us great comfort! That if we are called by God into Salvation through Christ Jesus His Son, then we will love Him, and He will work everything in our lives to our heavenly benefit. While it is a wonderful truth, it can still be hard to understand while we are experiencing trials. I would like to give one example from my own life (tell Danny’s story).
You see! Even when things seem to be terrible, God still uses them, no matter what they may be! Hallelujah! I praise God for His caring for His saints, no matter what!
-Mchipisi Baptist Church (David S. Harris), May 22nd, 2011