Salt Trumps Bitter

“You are the salt of the earth…” Matt. 5:13

Ask any hardcore coffee addict how to reduce the afternoon bitterness of this morning’s reheated coffee and they’ll tell you to add a pinch of salt.  Go ahead, ask them.  Now I’m not talking about those precious persons who just crave the Koolaid coffee whipped up at Fourbucks.  You’ve gotta ask one of us who think that stale, two day old “cup o’ joe” that has an oil slick on top is better than no coffee at all.  Ask the guy three cubicles down who doesn’t trust java that isn’t chewy.  (Hey, my name’s Joe and I wrote “cup o’ joe”!  That’s gotta be some literary something or other.)

Coffee neophytes try to cut the bitterness with sugar.  They add a teaspoon, they take a sip, they pucker up, they snap their head like a wet Jack Russell Terrier, then vainly add another teaspoon of sugar.  It’s hopeless.  Sugar doesn’t remove bitterness.  The best it can do is cover it up but more often than not it you just end up with bitter tasting, muddy water with “sandy” sugar crystals at the bottom of the cup.

Most people are surprised to learn that desert recipes call for some sugar and salt.  It sounds counterintuitive to add salty to a sweet, but it’s true.

Still not convinced.  Here’s an experiment that I found in the New York Times that you can try yourself:

Get a bottle of tonic water. Take a taste. The bitterness is quinine, a compound derived from bark of the cinchona tree. There’s also a bit of sweetness from sugar or corn syrup added to offset the bitterness.

Add a bit of salt to the bottle. Take another taste. “It’s almost like sugar water,” Ms. Corriher said. “You taste a little quinine, but it’s just the change is amazing, how the salt suppresses bitterness.”

Surprisingly, salt suppresses bitterness better than sugar.  That is why some people sprinkle salt on grapefruit, cantaloupe and other fruit. 

Often we try, with no effect, to take away the bitterness of life with sweetness.   By “sweetness” I mean covering up the bitterness or going out of our way to avoid the bitterness.  Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…”  Have you ever tried to comfort someone by piling platitudes and trite cliche’s on life’s tragedies just to be rebuffed or at best ignored?  We’re not the “sugar of the earth,” we’re “salt”.

Only a few sentences earlier in the Beatitudes Jesus says, “Blessed are they that mourn for they will be comforted.”  Echoing this point, Paul speaks of mourning in Romans 12:15 “…mourn with those that mourn.”  Who will be comforted?  Those that mourn, not those that try to cover it up or ignore it.  How should we respond to those that mourn, those that hurt?  Mourn with them.  Not in the way that the world mourns, but with a hope.

But salt shouldn’t be “salty.”  It takes just a pinch of salt, just a little bit.  We often fail in comforting, taking the bitter away, because we use either too much salt or sweetness.  Being the “salt of the earth” doesn’t mean being an abrasive, cantankerous “ol’ salt.”  Just as Jesus doesn’t say, “you are the sugar of the earth;” He also doesn’t say, “be salty.”  Being “salty” just breeds legalism and, conversely,  coating life with sugary syrup doesn’t allow the real issues of hurt to be addressed.

As those who are set apart for the glory of God, those who practice insurgent love behind enemy lines, we must set our strategy for each day; a strategy that asks, “who will I not leave with a bitter taste in their mouth?  Who will I be salt for today?  Who’s life will I  make less bitter by being the ‘salt of the earth?'”

 

That’s the Way a Savior Rolls

“When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.” John 21:9

If you go back and read this story from the beginning you see that they (the Disciples) had been fishing all night. The picture in my mind is of a few of them hanging out the day before. The sting of Jesus’ crucifixion had been washed away by the surprise and joy of seeing Him while they were hiding from the Jewish leaders (see 20:19); now they’re basking in the glow of knowing the risen Savior. It must have felt something like the soldiers who had just survived Bastogne or the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team-mates who had just won the impossible victory. Just a short time earlier they were cowering behind locked doors trembling with the fear of uncertainty. They had invested everything to be a part of a new kingdom; watched it all vanish on a cross; then watched with incredulity as the object of their affection revealed Himself.

So, at the end of what must have been a very good day I picture them sitting around a fire spinning yarns and memories of the previous three years. I imagine there was a lot of laughter; the kind of laughter that brings a tear to your eyes; laughter that is relaxed and content with life.

Eventually the laughter gives way to quiet reflection; a silence that comes with serenity and peace as each mind relaxes in its own pleasant recollection of moments passed. Each of the disciples gazes with gratification at the flickering coals of the fire. Each face is framed in the warm glow of the fading embers.

One of them, Peter, says, “Ya, know…the last three years has been a blast, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it, but I really miss what I used to do…fishing. I think I’m gonna go drown some worms.” (Yes, I know that there are a ton of problems with the hermeneutics and exegesis of my paraphrase, but just work with me.)

Anyway, some of the others say, “Hey, that sounds nice. We’ll come with ya’.”

And, being fisherman they fish, all night. They catch…nothing. “Well, I guess the good times are over,” they must have thought to themselves.

Then some “yahoo” walking along the shore suggests throwing the nets out of the other side of the boat. It must have seemed like a joke, and I sense that it was with a certain amount of sarcasm that they gave it a try.

It’s at this moment, as they start retrieving their catch, that the nets start to rip. Peter’s head must have snapped around to look again at the mysterious stranger on shore. I suspect that what He saw, as he squinted through the mist, was a familiar silhouette crouched over a fire coaxing the embers from the previous night’s fire back to flame. I suspect that in the flickering light of the fire Peter saw a wry smile. I imagine a playful twinkle in Jesus’ eye as He thought, “That’s my boy, The Rock. A little slow on the uptake, but quick to action once he catches on.”

And, as if on cue, Peter jumps out of the boat and rushes to shore. The others’ follow in short order and this is where I think the fun really starts.

Jesus had just delivered fish into their nets beyond their imagination. He filled their nets beyond measure. That would have been enough, don’t you think? But, that’s not how the Savior rolls. The Disciples are dead tired from riding an emotional rollercoaster, being awake all night and then dragging nets bulging with fish to shore. They probably figured that it was good enough that they had been blessed with a good catch. Cooking their own breakfast would just be part of the routine.

But, really, Jesus doesn’t do just enough. He doesn’t just meet our need, He supersedes it. He provides for us before we have a clue that we have a need. It’s like He was saying, “you thought you needed raw fish, but what you really need is some cooked fish… and some bread, too.” Also, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that Jesus has some skills with the spatula and frying pan. It’s unlikely that He had simply slapped some mayonnaise and Chicken of the Sea onto some Wonderbread. No, it’s easy to imagine some macadamia crusted orange roughy garnished with citrus infused horseradish sauce served with lightly toasted artisan bread rubbed with roasted garlic.

Then He really gets to the point, “Hey, bring some of your fish, too.” Did He really need them to bring some of the fish that they had just caught? No, I’m quite certain that He was more than capable of feeding them all. Jesus’ point is that it’s more fun when we all get to share what we have. Yeh, He provided the fish that He asked them to bring, but that’s His point. It would be enough that He gives us stuff. It would be enough for Him to provide even after His provision.

What “floors” me is that Jesus wants me to know the joy of  blessing others. He blesses me so that I can bless others. And, not just so that the “other” can be blessed, but so that I can get to experience just a small bit of what it’s like to be a “blesser”.

…blessing us to be a blessing. That’s just the way Jesus rolls.

Ships Passing in the Night Ain’t Biblical

“Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.'” John 4:10

We have a saying in our family, “You know who your friends are because they ask you how you’re doing and then stick around to listen.”

It’s easy to say that we value people, that we appreciate them. There is intrinsic value, placed by God, in everyone. But do our interactions with people reveal it?

There’s another saying that we use in our home, “Who are you going to be ‘Jesus with skin on’ for today?” It comes from the story of a young child that was frightened by a particularly intense lightning storm. Several times the child crawled into bed with her parents in the middle of the night in tears. Each time the parents reassured the tot that Jesus did not give her the spirit of fear. Finally, when child and parents had all reached their limit of sleep deprived frustration, the father said, “Just go back to sleep; Jesus is with you.” To this, with tears streaming down her cheeks, and with wisdom beyond her years, the youngster said, “Yeh, but I need someone with skin on!”

The obvious lesson for our family is, “who are you going to minister to today?” It’s a reminder of the cliche’, “You’re the only Jesus someone will meet today.”

But let’s look at it from another perspective. Who has God placed a gift in for you, today? Who is going to ask you for something today, who is going to make a demand on you, that is actually “Jesus with skin on?”

Almost certainly someone, perhaps someone barely an acquaintance, is going to cross my path. It might go something like this…

While walking down the street I recognize someone, but can’t quite place the name. I’m sure that I’ve seen them before…church! That’s it, they’re from church. Bible study, I think. Oh, yeh. They’re the one that never seems to have a job. They’re always asking for prayer. I wonder, “Why can’t they get a job? They must be lazy and not trying very hard”

I begin to look for a chance to cross the street, but it’s too late, I’ve caught their eye.

I nod and say, “Hi.”

They respond with the guy chin, “Good morning.”

Being sure not to slow my gate I ask, “How are you, today?”

“Fine, and you?”

“Great, it’s good to see you, again.”

My steps quicken and I move on.

It’s easy to look at this scenario and wonder what blessing I missed bestowing on “what’s-his-name.” But let’s look at it from another perspective. What blessing did I miss that “what’s-his-name” had for me?

Sure, it would have been a blessing for me to bless him. But that’s so predictable. It might even border on self-righteous and arrogant. It assumes that he wouldn’t have a blessing for me. If I had truly known, and believed, the gift of God in that other person perhaps he would have been a “cool drink of water” (Prov. 25:25) for me.

Maybe, just maybe, they would’ve had a word of encouragement for me. Maybe today would have been the day they told me of the answered prayer. Stopping long enough to speak with even “the least of these” is believing in the intrinsic value God has in each other.

Who am I going to discover God in today?

Fences, Bridges and THE UNKNOWN GOD

“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘Men of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.'”Acts 17:22-23

Theologically, Paul had very little in common with the “Men of Athens.”  Even before his conversion he would have been a stranger, both literally and figuratively, in this place.  Actually, as Saul the self-righteous, his goal would have been completely different.  Saul’s goal would have been to build fences.  Paul’s mission was to build bridges.

To my knowledge, Scripture rarely uses the word goal in describing God’s love for people.  Goal is rarely used to describe God’s people’s relationship to each other or to the persons around them.  In fact, I struggle to find the word goal in a relational context at all.  On the other hand, building bridges, building relationships, is a theme repeated throughout The Bible.  Once a goal is achieved, one moves onto a new goal.  In contrast, once a bridge is built, then a connection is made.  Bridges traverse chasms, overcome obstacles, provide for exchange, maintain connections.

Paul’s mission was to build bridges, not fences.  More accurately, Paul’s commission was to build bridges.  A commission is the “authority to act for, in behalf, or in place of another; a task or matter entrusted to one as an agent for another.”1  Paul understood that he was an agent for another, for The Other, for THE UNKNOWN GOD.

In order to build a bridge, a mutual starting point must be found.  A point of relationship, if you will; a point mutually beneficial to both sides.  In some cases, someone must cross over from one side to the other side to begin the building process.

ENTER: Paul.

In self-righteousness Paul could have built a fence, “You goofy Men of Athens.  You have it all wrong.  There aren’t many God’s.  Your religiousness is foolish.  There’s only One God and I’m here to tell you how wrong you have it and how to get right with Him.  Listen up.”

But, a fence wasn’t needed.  Frankly, a fence would have been superfluous.  Who would ever waste time building a fence to separate two parcels of land already separated by a river?  If anything, lands separated by water need bridges, not fences.

Unfortunately, we often build fences when God has commissioned us to build bridges on His behalf, for His Name’s sake.  But if anything, we’re already separated from each other.  Schedules, geography, culture, conflicts have already separated us.  It’s not fences that we need, it’s bridges.

Back to Paul.  God needed someone to go across “the river” and find some common ground to build the bridge.  The Men of Athens didn’t even know that they needed a bridge.  Paul found the common ground to start.  He found a place to begin.  He didn’t start by pointing out what they had “wrong.”  He began by learning what they had “right.”

Who’s world am I commissioned to cross over to?  And when I get there, what common ground am I going to purposefully search for?  What point of agreement am I going to find so that a bridge can be built?  Which differences will I appreciate so that I can introduce them to their UNKNOWN GOD?  The God that I know and knows me.  The God that wants all to know Him.

1. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/commission

The Passion of the Christ and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

If we understand that Jesus was fully, completely human and fully, completely God, then it can sometimes be easy to discount His death as a sacrifice.  By that I mean, Jesus, as God, knew that He would be resurrected following His death.  From our human perspective death is an overwhelming prospect, even if we understand that there is life afterward.  Heck, many of us aren’t willing to delay gratification long enough to pass up the super-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the check out line at Walmart.  But on occasion, as we stare blankly at the delicious morsels that are food of the gods, we summon up the fortitude to deny the impulsive self and sacrifice a fleeting moment of peanut buttery goodness.  In that moment we say, “If this peanut butter cup should pass my lips but Father let it be your will.”

To an eternal being three days of death is similar, maybe not even as significant.  Three days in comparison to eternity is less meaningful than a speck of dust floating on wisps of light streaming through a window.  With that mindset, it’s easy to dismiss Jesus’ sacrifice of death as trivial; “What’s the big deal? He’s God.  To Him, giving up life for three days is easier than me giving up those peanut butter cups.” (OK, I’ve gotta stop dwelling on the Reese’s.    The sacrifice is getting unbearable.)

“But what about the horror of crucifixion? Aren’t you forgetting the agony of being beaten and whipped by the guards?”

Sure, sure from our human perspective those atrocities are almost unthinkable, particularly to our twenty first century sensibilities.  As horrendous and graphic as Mel Gibson’s depiction was, the reality of crucifixion is far worse. But again, viewed from the perspective of the Almighty they don’t even register a blip on the radar of eternity.

No, to reduce the cup from which Jesus drank to mere human suffering is cheap.  Jesus, as God, understood what we could never comprehend.  And just a sliver of understanding would have been more than we could survive.  He understood that there is no earthly description for the horrors of my sin.  Not for one minute would I be able to bear the weight of my own sin.  Should I have ever fully understood the horror of my sin I would have been annihilated, disappearing in what C.S. Lewis describes in The Great Divorce as “an acrid smelling puff of smoke.”  In fact, that is exactly what I was before the saving grace of Jesus, annihilated.  I was less than an acrid smelling puff of smoke.

And not only did Jesus bear the weight of my sins, He bore the weight of the sins of everyone that was, is and will be.  Does that sound familiar?  It’s the inverse corollary of “I Am.”  It would take the Alpha and Omega to overwhelm my sin and the sins that were, are and will be.

And while I was still just an acrid smelling puff of smoke occupying less than just a fleeting moment, while the very smell of my presence was still repugnant “Christ died for me.”  When I deserved exactly what I had coming to me Jesus didn’t simply save me from it, He took if for me.  As ferocious as the attacks were on His person, He bore spiritual horrors beyond description so that I, that we, might have life beyond imagination.

That’s why worship.

logikos: worship of God that implies intelligent meditation or reflection