Monday, January 16, 2012

A Bowl of Red

Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” (Genesis 25:30)
And thus, for that bowl of chili, Esau traded away his birthright – the privilege of being a forefather of Jesus.  I wonder if that chili was even half as good as the red stuff I make throughout the winter?  How did I learn to make such great chili?  Well, lemme break it down for ya.  If you want chili, you’ve got a few options:

You can let someone else do it all for you.
You can buy a can or a package of spices to add to ground beef.
You can follow tedious a recipe.
You can make it from scratch.

Which do you think is the best?  My experience is the homemade stuff I make “by the seat of my pants” is always preferable.  I’ve won more than a few church cook-offs.  I learned the fine art of chili-making by buying Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm “kits” with individual spice packets.  By adding these one at a time (instead of dumping them in all at once like the recipe calls for) I learned what each ingredient contributed to the pot.  After a year or two of doing that, I learned to reach into the spice cabinet instead of the store shelf.  I knew the taste I was after and because I know the character of each ingredient, I could steer the savory stew in the direction I wanted it to go.

Now I’d like to jump from the kitchen to the study.  The first time I taught an adult Sunday school class, I subbed for a teacher who would simply take Warren Wiersbe “Be…” series books, copy a chapter, and highlight the parts he wanted to stress.  He handed me his photocopies for the week and I struggled to parrot what someone else had said.  The second time I taught, I stumbled around with my Bible and a poor commentary, but I wrote my own lesson.  In time, I got better tools and more of them, but only what aided my study – nothing that I repeated directly.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Good for you Clark, but I’m not a teacher, not a preacher.  I can’t do all that Bible studying stuff.”  You’re not alone.  I’ve heard church elders say that and every Sunday, pulpits all over the world are filled with pastors who bought (or stole) the sermon in front of them.  There’s even a joke at seminary, “All work and no plagiarism makes Jack a dull preacher.”  Makes me sick to think of it.  But this post really isn’t about plagiarism.  It’s about you being able to feed yourself first, then others.

Let’s go back to the kitchen, the restaurant kitchen.  You walk into a nice restaurant, take a seat, and look for the waiter to hand you a menu.  Instead the waiter says brightly, “Tonight we have chili.”  But you don’t want chili.  You ask what else is available.  Waiter, “That is all, chili, but I’m happy to tell you the chili is prepared by none other than Clark H Smith, an excellent chili cook.”  But really, it’s late June, you worked in the yard all day and you just don’t want chili, even if it’s prepared by an eminent chiliologist.  You see where I’m going with this.  We all have unique spiritual appetites and nutritional needs.  I can whip up a dynamite bowl of evangelism, but if you need a soothing plate of encouragement, you’re going home hungry.  What God has to say to me probably isn’t what He wants to say to you.  You’ve got to learn to “cook” for yourself.

I’m not going to dance around the subject anymore, Follow of Jesus, I’m asking you directly, are you willing to improve your skills so you can sit down with your own Bible and discern God’s wisdom for your life from what you read?  I spent many hundreds of dollars on resources that helped me dive deep into the guts of scripture.  If you want help putting together a library, email me, and I’ll share some thoughts.  But I’d like to give you something for free that I believe will immediately enrich your time in the word.  Take this list of simple questions, print it out, and tuck it inside your Bible.  The next time you read a passage of scripture, go through this list:

Is there a command to obey?
Is there a promise to claim?
Is there a sin to avoid?
Is there an encouragement to share?
Is there a lesson to learn?
Is there a truth to apply to your life?

Write down the answer that applies (could be several).  Then, close your study with prayer.  Commit to God to follow through on the observations you made.  Ask God to remind you of your reading throughout the week.  If at all possible, share what you’ve read with a friend or spouse.  If you will do this, you’ll quickly find a whole new dimension open up in what may sometimes seem like tedious reading.

Now, if you’re out of time, thank you for reading this far, tune in again soon.  If you have a few more minutes, I’d like to share an example.  At breakfast Sunday morning, my wife, Alyse, and my son, Gideon, talked about his biblical namesake.  The story of Gideon is told in Judges 6, 7, 8.  Note this verse – a word direct from our Sponsor:
Then Gideon and the 300 men who were with him came to the Jordan and crossed over, weary yet pursuing. (Judges 8:4)
My Gideon is a wrestler.  He’s really good, earning a varsity letter in each of his first two seasons.  A couple times he lost his composure as a match wore on and he was not gaining an advantage.  I pointed out to him that Bible Gideon experienced the same thing – fatigue and the temptation to drop personal discipline.  I pointed out that victory isn’t announced at the beginning, but only at the end.  Even fatigued and possibly injured, the job’s not over until the work is done.  That’s a lesson to learn.

The same truth applies to other tests of endurance – like marriage.  I’ve told many couples, “If you can survive the first year, you’re going to make it.”  We talked with Gid about the long journey of marriage.  I feel sad for people who make it ten or fifteen years only to hit a rough patch (yes, sometime very rough patches) and give up on the relationship.  Yes, you’re weary, but keep pursuing.  The victory is so close.  If you quit, the best is you can do is start again at the very beginning, but you’re still going to have to do all that hard work all over again.  Pursue victory now, while it is so close.

Now wasn’t that good chili?  Keep cookin’.

Clark H Smith

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