Tag Archives: Legalism

Sensually Good

wendy vander wells chocolate truffle cheesecakeSolomon:
You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride,
    a secluded spring, a hidden fountain.

Young Woman:
Awake, north wind!

    Rise up, south wind!
Blow on my garden
    and spread its fragrance all around.
Come into your garden, my love;
    taste its finest fruits.
Song of Solomon 4:12, 16 (NLT)

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a true “foodie.” When I was a kid I drove my folks crazy with my narrow list of acceptable foods. My preferred menu was grilled cheese sandwiches, blueberry pop-tarts, eggo waffles, and Lucky Charms (are you noticing a sugary breakfast theme?) and pretty much nothing else. As I’ve gotten older my palate has expanded, but my preferred menu is still pretty narrowly defined in comparison to most people.

At the same time, I love food and have come to appreciate a good meal (not to be confused with a big meal) as one of life’s true pleasures. As an adult, I’ve also come to realize the sensuality of food and drink. I’ve learned that certain foods stimulate more than just my taste buds. I’ve realized that food and drink in certain combinations have a stronger affect than when they are consumed my themselves. I’ve even come to realize that certain foods create emotional and physical responses within me. Confession: I have found Wendy’s cheesecake to be, for me, such a sensual experience that at times it feels simply erotic.

How interesting to find in the lyrics of Solomon’s song these erotic references to gardens, fruits, food and the imagery of taste. There is a connection between our God given senses. God created our bodies to sense and experience a wide range of feelings and emotions and He called it “good.” To be sure, any sensual appetite can be taken to excess in all sorts of unhealthy ways, but the sensual experience is not in itself wrong of sinful. In fact, sensual experiences are natural, healthy and spiritually good when experienced in the proper context. How sad that the institutional church has, through the years, gotten so confused about this truth. In an effort to stamp out the excess of our sensual appetites the church often tries to deny, outlaw, and shame the senses themselves. I find this reactionary legalistic excess to simply be a mirror image of the excess indulgence they attempt to thwart. In reality, both extremes are equally sinful.

Jesus said he came to give us abundant life. This includes a healthy appreciation for the breadth of senses God gave us to properly experience the full range of creation in its sensual glory.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Peter 2

Poster by Mat Kelly

They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you. 2 Peter 2:19 (NLT)

This past Saturday night, Wendy and I went to see a new play performed at Central College. Dead Man’s Curve was adapted from the book Yellow Cab by Robert Leonard. Leonard, a former professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, shares his experiences of driving a Yellow Cab during the graveyard shift in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Through the play we are introduced to a wide variety of very real people with whom Mr. Leonard rubbed shoulders. He calls them “invisible people.” It was a fascinating ride. Days later, Wendy and I find ourselves continuing to talk about the people and stories to which we were exposed.

I thought about some of those people this morning as I read the chapter and particularly the verse above. Indeed, despite the promise of freedom, we are all slaves to those things which control us. It’s too easy to draw a dotted line from this truth to the common addictions of sex, drugs and alcohol. The more insidious truth I’ve come to believe is that there are far more people enslaved each day by socially acceptable appetites out of control like pride, hunger, control, greed, materialism, and even religiosity. Legalistic religiosity is simply the gluttonous indulgence of the human appetite for power and control. It is just the point Peter was trying to make in today’s chapter. That which promises freedom only creates a different version of slavery.

As we watched the play I was struck by the number of times drivers, who each had their own set of troubles and issues, acted out of love and compassion both for the needy and the foolish humans who happened into the backseat of their cab. Modern day Samaritans providing random acts of grace and kindness, often to those who didn’t really deserve it. Those acts of love are examples of the very essence of Jesus’ entire message. Freedom does not flow out of a license to do whatever we want, nor out of religious adherence to lists of rules meant to keep us away from doing what we shouldn’t. Freedom, Jesus said, flows out of the truth embodied when we obey the law of love He taught: To love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; To love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 22

Philadelphia - Old City: Carpenters' Hall - Ca...
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“If anyone eats from a holy offering accidentally, he must give back the holy offering to the priest and add twenty percent to it.” Leviticus 22:14 (MSG)

I was never a “straight A” student. I did well in school, but was never overly concerned about having to have a perfect grade point average. I wanted to be a good student, but perfect grades didn’t matter that much to me. What mattered to me was not that I had memorized every factoid, brown-nosed every teacher, meticulously excelled at every class project. What mattered to me was that I was getting the big picture. I wanted to understand and internalize each subject and how it fit into the grand scheme of life.

Leviticus is a book that will drive a straight A student crazy. You can list out all of the rules and try to adhere to every one of them, but you’ll find yourself in a straight-jacket. Even God was giving the law so that the people would get the big picture: you can’t possibly live good enough lives to overcome the root problem of sin because rule keeping doesn’t change the condition of your heart.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene some 1500 years later, the lesson had been completely lost. The straight-A, hard-core keepers of the law had created a religious class system based on who best kept all of the rules. They even went further to add rules to the rules which would ensure their power, profit and religious standing. Journey through the source accounts of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and you’ll find many example of Jesus calling all of the religious do-gooders to a legal point of order:

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

   “‘These people honor me with their lips,
   but their hearts are far from me.
   They worship me in vain;
   their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

The point of Leviticus is not to get mired in the minutiae of the rules, but to see the larger truth(s) to which they point. Jesus made it clear that God’s great concern was not the keeping of the rules but the condition of the heart.

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Chapter-a-Day Psalm 149

Dance like no one is watching. Let them praise his name in dance; strike up the band and make great music! Psalm 149:3 (MSG)

Q: Why do Baptists forbid couples to make love standing up?
A: It might lead to dancing.

Ha! That joke is an oldie, but a goodie. The humor, of course, is rooted in the fact that we often become so rigid in our religious rules that we miss the point entirely. We diminish things of real importance like love, obedience, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness and in their place we raise up religious rules and regulations to manage the behavior of the masses.

I remember attending a church many years ago. One of the staunch, old denominational members of the church was talking to me after church. He was uncomfortable with the fact that, during the worship service, several people had raised their hands while singing.

"I don't get it," he said to me with a shake of his head, "Why do these people raise their hands in the air during the service?"

I shrugged my shoulders, "I don't know, Jim," I answered, "Maybe it's because the Bible tells us to."

Ouch! You know what? I think the church would benefit from us letting our hair down, striking up the band, and, in obedience to Psalm 149, doing a little dancing before the Lord!