Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Okay To Eat Alligator For Lent?

Dear Friends,

The headline said: U.S. CATHOLICS FREE TO EAT ALLIGATOR THIS LENT and I immediately thought of Sandi. My brother had been dating her for a little while and we invited them both to dinner. We wanted to get to know her, but perhaps more importantly, we wanted Sandi to see what an awesome family her new boyfriend had.

And I was excited. I had gone to a butcher’s shop to buy some steaks to barbecue and was pleased to find they had some fresh alligator meat. I'd never seen that in a store, and wanting to make a good impression on our dinner guests, I bought four pounds. We thought how much fun it would be if we didn’t tell them what it was until after dinner!

It was delicious grilled. It had the firmness of grilled swordfish and a delicate taste. I made a light cream sauce with a Cognac reduction and a hint of capers that added nicely to the gourmet ‘gator. Sandi loved it and so I proudly told her what it was.

She said nothing. Actually, I don't seem to remember her speaking at all the rest of the evening. In fact, for many years after that gourmet dinner at our house, she avoided my brother’s awesome family and refused to speak with us. We later found out that soon after the dinner with us, she decided to become a vegan.

This article about Lent appeared in the Catholic Herald and stated that a debate had raged on about the appropriateness of eating alligator on a Friday when Catholic doctrine requires a fast from meat on all Fridays during the season of Lent. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released the statement that "Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from birds, chickens, cows, goats, sheep or pigs.” But, “salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.” So it's okay for Catholics to consume alligators, crocodiles, frogs, turtles, snakes, and lizards on the Fridays during Lent. The good news of course for those of us who are Protestants is that we are not bound by Catholic Abstinence Laws and we can eat both meat and alligators on these Lenten Fridays...

I share this appetizing story to show how we can all so easily confuse our faith with our religious practices. Whether we are Catholic or Protestant we can so easily make our spirituality about the right way to perform a ritual when our righteousness is found in Christ Jesus alone. Today (Wednesday, February 26th) is the first day of Lent and during this Lenten season, our sole focus needs to be on our Heavenly Father. Nitpicking details of what to fast and how to appropriately participate in Lent are no more helpful to our spirituality than the rabbinic food laws of the Orthodox Jews would be. In fact, you might remember there was One born 2000 years ago who, among other accomplishments with His birth, life and resurrection, has freed us from religious and dietary laws. Acts 10:9-16   Romans 10:4   Galatians 3:23-25

If we give up something for Lent and that fast doesn’t bring us closer to God then we’ve simply engaged in a legalistic exercise of spiritual futility. We take great pride in giving up chocolate and ice cream while we continue in our constant, unrepentant sins of gossip, negativity, judgmental condemnation of others, anger, unforgiveness and (insert your sin here: ______________) that creates distance between us and God.

Giving up meat for Lent may help your cholesterol by reducing saturated fats in your diet, but merely fasting on foods won’t help an impoverished soul. If you long for more God in your life, take some prayer time and ask Him to show you the sin that most interferes with your spiritual life. Then test it. Make that your Lenten “fast” this year. Temporarily give up that sin to see if doing so brings you closer to God. Then when Lent is over, on Easter Sunday, you can make the choice to take back the sin and please the devil. Or permanently delete it from your life and please your Heavenly Father. Amen?


If I whetted your appetite with this week's AMEN Corner,
here's my recipe for Crocodile Stroganoff...

In large pot, bring salted water to boil for Pasta (step 5)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
12 ounces Mushrooms – stems removed and sliced
¾ pound Crocodile or Chicken Breasts* – cut into 1½ x ½ x ½ inch strips
½ cup Beef Broth
1 tablespoon unsalted Butter
1 small Onion – minced
1 tablespoon BBQ Sauce**
1 ½ teaspoons Brown Sugar
3 tablespoons Flour
½ cup Chicken Broth
½ cup Dry White Wine
⅓ cup Sour Cream
1½ teaspoon Cajun Seasoning 
Kosher Salt to taste
8 ounces Egg Noodles – add Pasta to water in Step 5 below.

1. Heat 1 tablespoon EVOO in straight sided skillet.
2. Saute Mushrooms about 4 minutes and transfer to bowl.
3. Add more EVOO and saute meat 3-4 minutes. Transfer to bowl.
4. Deglaze pan with Beef Broth, reduce to ¼ cup. Transfer to bowl.
5. Place Pasta in uncovered boiling water. Cook for 10-12 min.
6. While Pasta is cooking, melt Butter in now empty skillet.
7. Add Onions, BBQ Sauce and Brown Sugar. Cook about 6 min.
8. Stir in Flour, cook 1 min then whisk in Chicken Broth and White Wine.
9. Simmer until thickened about 2-3 minutes.
10. Stir in Cajun Seasoning.  
11. Add Kosher Salt to taste.
12. Temper*** Sour Cream with ⅓ cup of hot liquid from skillet.
13. Whisk Sour Cream into skillet.  
14. Add mushroom/meat mixture to skillet and simmer for 1 minute.
15. Spoon over drained and buttered Pasta in bowels.

Ingredient Notes
*  Both Crocodile and Chicken work equally well in this Stroganoff. Use whichever is more readily available at your local grocery store.
** BBQ Sauce gives it a unique smokey flavor but Tomato Paste or Ketchup can be substituted.
*** "Temper" is when you stir a little of the hot liquid into the Sour Cream to warm it up and keep it from separating when it's added to the hot skillet.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

What's Your Warning Label?

Dear Friends,

I bought a new high-tech set of “earbuds.” Those are the little rubberized earphones that just fit into the opening of your ear. The warning in the instructions read as follows: If earphones become stuck in your ears, they must be removed by a qualified medical doctor. I was really concerned when I read that. I have a good doctor but is he qualified to remove earphones? Warning labels make me laugh. Here are a few that I found...

A label on an RCA Television Remote Control said, “Not dishwasher safe.”
A warning label on a toilet plunger said, “Do not use near overhead power lines.”
The warning on a Rowenta Steam Iron said, “Do not iron clothes on body.”
On a Sears Hair Dryer, “Do not use while sleeping.”
On a package of Sainsbury Peanuts, “Warning. Contains nuts.”
A blanket had this warning label: “Not to be used as protection from a tornado.”
On a child’s Superman costume, “Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.”
A bottle of Nytol sleeping pills said, “Warning. May cause drowsiness.” 
A box of disposable razors warned, “Do not use this product during an earthquake.”
On a Toilet Bowl cleaning brush, the label said, “Do not use this product orally.”
The warning on Rat Poison said, “has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice.”
I like to watch my intake of sodium, so I appreciated seeing this label on a container of table salt. “Warning. High in Sodium.”
But I think my favorite warning label was this one on a baby stroller. “Caution. Remove infant before folding for storage.”

And I started to think... What if the government required that all humans wear personal warning labels? What would yours be? Would your warning label be one of these?

Danger! Contents Under Pressure. May Explode Without Warning.
Caution! Flammable Negativity. Keep Away From Fire Or Flame.
Danger! Toxic Words. Use Hearing Protection.
Fragile! Handle With Care. Easily Offended and Unforgiveness Can Cause Injury or Death.

Would your government required label warn others of your temper? Toxic mouth? Negativity? Intolerance of others? Unforgiveness? Untrustworthiness?  Something else? What is listed on your warning label is what shrivels your soul and produces stinky fruit. And God has created you to be the bearers of good fruit. 

Jesus said that: “..a certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’” Luke 13:6-7 That fig tree was certainly good enough. It was alive and healthy and had branches with leaves that provided shade. It took in oxygen and expelled carbon dioxide. It was strong and attractive. And this fig tree had no bad fruit. No rotten or corrupt fruit hung from its branches. From a distance, that fig tree was certainly good enough. But it wasn’t good enough for God. Because the fig tree was created by God to bear good fruit. And, in the words of Jesus, a fruit tree without good fruit is, “..just using up the ground.” Jesus used the parable of the fig tree to show us that we are to be producing the good fruit of the Spirit that the Apostle Paul described as, “, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

From a distance, you and I are certainly good enough too! We’re strong and healthy. Like the fig tree, we take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. For those of us in our golden years we are all even still somewhat attractive! But are we bearing the full load of good fruit in our lives that God so desires from us or are we “just using up the ground” here on this earth. If our lives are not bearing fruit, could it be because of those little sins that we’re still hanging on to? A much beloved monk once said, “..on the pathway to purity and spiritual growth you can’t afford a reckless attitude toward even the smallest sin.” 

Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the start of our church season of Lent. For those of you who fast, not because it’s a church tradition but because our fasting brings us closer to God, think about what would be written on your warning label and consider making that the first thing you give up for Lent. (If you’re not sure what your warning label should be, ask a loved one. They know!) Then spend some time with God this Lent and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal those comfortable “little” sins that are keeping you from bearing a full load of good fruit. And then reread those words from the beloved monk. Amen?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Your Past Does Not Determine Your Future!

Dear Friends,

There’s an Irish saying, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Meaning that every saintly person is simply a redeemed sinner and for me (and perhaps for you too) that’s good news. In fact that is the “Good News” – the message of the Gospel. That’s why every day I love to read a book of stories about sinners. Some are more sinful than you and me and some are even less sinful. (Okay..maybe that last part applies only to me.) The book I read of course is my Bible and these sinners – the bad boys of the Bible – are like me in so many ways that I squirm uncomfortably when I read about them. But these guys remind me that, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”  

Let’s start with Noah. The Bible describes him as a man of blameless, perfect integrity who walked in close fellowship with God. And we know well the story of Noah saving the planet Earth from the flood waters, but there is a dark side to this beloved Bible hero that was not depicted on the flannel board in Sunday School. Noah gets drunk on wine and passes out naked in his tent and, in this inebriated state, something happens with his son Ham. All chaos breaks out in Noah’s household and a curse is placed upon a family member that violently reshapes Old Testament history. Noah gets totally wasted, makes a huge mistake in judgement and yet we read, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” Genesis 6:9

The first patriarch in the Old Testament is Abraham who is  told by God, “I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.” Genesis 12:2 Wow! Abraham hears that word direct from God and what does our bad boy do? Abraham gets scared, because his wife Sarai is so beautiful, he thinks the Egyptians will kill him and take his wife. So he lied and said that his wife was really his sister. Genesis 12:11-13 What a coward and a scoundrel! God told him: “Dude! You are My main man.” (not a literal translation) And then when life got a little tough, Abraham, who is the first father of our faith, had absolutely no trust that God would protect him. 

Then we read that Abraham had a son Isaac and Isaac had twin sons Jacob and Esau. And Jacob cons his brother Esau out of his birthright by tricking their father into giving Jacob the blessing and inheritance that rightfully belonged to Esau. Genesis 27:1-29 Jacob is one of the fathers of our faith, the founder of the twelve tribes of Israel and this bad boy is a scheming, lying, cheating, con man!

Then we have our Hebrew hero, “Moses the Murderer.” After checking to make sure there would be no witnesses, he kills an Egyptian and hides the body in the sand. Exodus 2:11-12 So what happens to this bad boy? God immediately makes him the commander-in-chief over God’s chosen people and Moses leads the people to the promised land! 

And we can’t forget the number one bad boy in our Bible who truly loved the Lord with all of his heart. King David is one of the most beloved men in the Bible because of his devotion to God! He is David the poet. David the song-writer. David the worshiper. David the adulterer. David the murderer. 2 Samuel 11:1-27 And he is remembered thousands of years later as “a man after God’s own heart.” Acts 13:22

And of course we don’t want to leave the ladies out, so we could add all the many bad girls of the Bible and talk about Eve who changed mankind forever when she bit into the forbidden fruit. Genesis 3:1-24 Or the “R”-rated story about Tamar who disguised herself as a prostitute so that she could have sex with her father-in-law and is later described as “righteous.” Genesis 38:13-18 And then there was the “harlot”  Rahab who God used to help the Israelites capture the city of Jericho. Joshua 2:1-24 

When we speak of the bad girls and bad boys of the Bible, we don’t take out the hero element – we add the human element. The human element that causes us to make mistakes, use poor judgement, mess up, lose our temper, say and do hurtful things to people that we love. Humans sin. They turn to God and He forgives. We like these Bible stories because we are relieved to find God’s redemption for the worst of these bad boys and girls who are just a little too darn much like us. 

The very best thing these bad boys and bad girls teach us is that our past does not determine our future! There is full and free pardon for even the worst of us. The running theme throughout the entire Bible is God’s redemption as He stands ready to forgive the worst sinner. “Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:7

Like the bad boys and girls of the Bible, you and I have also done things in our past that were not good – that were hurtful to others. We remember the bad choices we made and the dumb things we did. We may even have a past filled with sins we are so ashamed of, that we have never told anybody else. But God knows all that we have done. He knows how much we need His forgiveness. That’s why he sent Jesus who lifted up the cup and said “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Matthew 26:27-28 

When we come to God with repentant hearts, He forgives and we are cleansed of our sins! Our past is gone! “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 3:18   Amen?

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Hope in a Heartbeat

Dear Friends,

It was 6 am on a still-dark winter morning. I’m in my backyard, cup of coffee in hand, praying as I start my day. I pay no attention to the bus at the stop across the street, but suddenly the driver activates the emergency alarm that flashes the bus lights and dispatches the police to its location. The driver is  standing at the front of the bus and staring at the back. At first it looks like the bus is empty. Then I see him. Sitting in the back. All I can see is the back of his head from the shoulders up and he’s wearing a black hoodie. The bus driver is staring at this guy and I’m thinking maybe the driver pushed the alarm because it’s the last stop and the guy is refusing to get off the bus or something. A couple of minutes later, a Sheriff’s patrol car comes rushing up. 

The bus driver and the young deputy walk back to the passenger. The deputy leans down to look at the guy. He gently shakes the guy by the shoulder. The deputy now has a funny look on his face as he turns and speaks to the bus driver. They both scurry to the front of the bus. Then I realize that as long as I’ve been watching the guy sitting with his back to me that his head is at a funny angle. It hasn’t moved at all. 

The deputy is talking into his radio and the driver has run outside the bus and I suddenly realize that the guy must be dead. The young deputy is agitated and glancing nervously in the direction of the corpse and it looks like the bus driver is having a panic attack. About fifteen minutes later, the paramedics and a fire engine arrive at a leisurely speed with no siren. The fire station is just over a mile from here but apparently there’s no hurry to get out of bed in the morning when the police report a dead body. 

Five firefighters get on the bus. Some are in their regulation turnout gear but the Captain is wearing the blue tee shirt that he was sleeping in. His hair is sticking up and he looks like he wishes he were back in bed. The Captain glances at the corpse, yawns and leans back against one of the seats. There’s no sense of urgency as a paramedic takes out a stethoscope and bends down over the body. A minute goes by. He’s taking a long time to find a heartbeat, and I’m thinking that they are being thorough before officially declaring that this poor guy is deceased. I pray for his soul. The lights in the bus are on at full brightness and from my backyard, less than 100 feet away, I’m watching this real-life drama through the bus windows as if it were a tragic reality show.

The paramedic says something to the sleepy Captain and I watch the expression on his face change to one of disgust. Suddenly, the Captain yanks the hoodie off the dead guy’s head! He grabs the shoulders and starts violently shaking the body! I’m watching the head of the corpse just whip back and forth! The startled bus driver jumps up in the air, clamps a hand over his mouth as if to stifle a scream and holds on to one of the seats as he starts to sway. It looks like the driver is going to faint as the “corpse” now struggles to his feet. Then with a firefighter on each side, the “dead” guy is walked off the bus.

Later that morning, I realized how what I had just witnessed was so applicable to our Christian relationships with others. How many people have you and I given up on? How many have we determined are spiritually dead and there’s just no hope for them? Even our Christian friends agree and rush to join us in the administration of the “last rites!” Yeah. He’s dead. He gave up on God after his wife left him and he was hurt by the church... Yeah. She’s dead. After her daughter was in that accident, she’s been mad at God ever since... Yep. No hope for him. He’s an atheist and he’s been spiritually dead all of his life. Nothing to do here. It’s too late. He’s gone. No need to resuscitate. He’s beyond salvation...

Who have you given up on? Who is beyond all help? Who is beyond all hope? Maybe your heart still breaks over this person and maybe you’ve given up because it’s just too painful to think about them. But if you’ve given up on them, you’ve given up too quickly. Yes I know that for some of you, it’s been a long time. It’s been many, many years with your witnessing to them, your prayers, your tears, your own frustration at their hard heart and closed ears. 

From all outward appearances, even to the professional first-responders, the guy was dead. Everyone who looked at the guy on the bus had come to the same conclusion and they were all wrong. And we need to remember that no matter how spiritually dead our friends and loved ones look to us, there is hope because a heart still beats and God has not given up on him or her. As long as they’re alive, there is hope for them through the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Believe with me that God is not done with your friends and loved ones. Let’s persevere in prayer for them because as long as there’s a heartbeat, there is hope!  Amen?