Yesterday was Life Tabernacle's Sunday for having the church service at the JDC. My daughter Kimberly, who is involved with juveniles, had asked me Saturday what I spoke on when I spoke before the young people in the Juvenile Detention Center. Here's my notes from my talk yesterday afternoon. I thought I would share them with her, and with you:
When I was young, maybe 8 or 9 years old, my mother bought me a cookbook. I don’t know why she did this. I don’t remember being especially interested in cooking before that time, but for whatever motherly reason, she bought me a little cookbook for kids. . . it contained very basic recipes. If I remember one of the recipes was for ‘pigs in a blanket’. Maybe you've had them. . .you just wrap hot dogs up in crescent rolls and bake them in the oven for fifteen or twenty minutes. I remember recipes for simple spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and I think I remember a recipe for pancakes among others.
This influenced me, for today I love to cook, and my family loves to eat the things I cook, and I can trace at least some of this love back to being give the little recipe book my mother bought me.
I like cookbooks with pictures. I want to see what the recipe looks like when it’s correctly made. Sometimes just by the look of it I can tell that I wouldn't like it. Cookbooks without pictures are OK, but I much much prefer a cookbook with pictures.
A recipe always begins with in ingredient list. You always must look to make sure that you have the ingredients on hand before starting to cook something. You might as well not begin making pigs in a blanket, if you have no hot dogs in the refrigerator. Then the recipe will list out the steps in order to make the dish.
As you gain experience in cooking, you learn that sometimes you can substitute one ingredient for another, and the recipe will still turn out OK. I've learned that if a recipe calls for olive oil, I can usually substitute canola oil, or sunflower oil, or peanut oil and still have the recipe turn out well, but I cannot substitute motor oil. It’s yellow. It kind of looks like the other oils, but it won’t work in a recipe.
Likewise, when the recipe calls for flour, I can’t substitute powdered sugar or baking soda. Both are white powders, but they cannot be exchanged for flour in a recipe. It just would not work.
I enjoy going to cooking websites and finding new recipes, and I like to read the comments of the people who have made the recipe. You learn what people have tried, and how their families liked the recipe. Sometimes I laugh. . . this is only a small exaggeration. . . In a recipe for spaghetti, a person might write in that they didn't have the crushed tomatoes that the recipe called for, so they substituted strawberry jelly. . .and the recipe just didn't taste very good. . . .Yeah. . .OK. . . Is that really such a big surprise.
The first time through on a recipe, I like to follow it exactly as written, before I begin to tweak it to my own tastes. At least then I know what the recipe was supposed to taste like before I begin ‘improving’ it.
A really good recipe will have not just instructions on how to make the dish, but dangers to look out for in the recipe, and what to do if something goes slightly wrong. . . options to try, etc. I have a recipe for pulled pork, that is maybe 12 or 15 pages long. It has pictures of everything: the pan you roast it in, the digital thermometer you use to gage when the meat is done, the brining bag, the rub you put on the meat before roasting. It is full of tips, and warnings of things to avoid.
I’m convinced that a beginner cook, could follow that recipe, and make great tasting pulled pork. The recipe is very very helpful. It explains how to make pulled pork, warns you of different dangers or difficulties, and explains how to correct for problems if things go wrong.
This Book (the Bible) that many of you have brought with you today, might be looked upon as a cook book. It gives the recipe for successfully living life. It has instructions, lists of ingredients, and like my favorite cookbooks, it even has a picture in the beginning:
Adam and Eve were created to have a close personal relationship with God. Only God truly knows us. Only God is ever patient with us. Only God knows all our flaws. He knows everything we have done, and He loves us anyway. When we stumble and fall, He is there, ready to hug and forgive.
What is sin? Sin is that which separates us from God. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating of the tree that He forbid them from eating from. This sin is what caused Adam and Eve to have to leave the garden of Eden. We cannot be in the presence of God with active sin in our lives. Now being out of the garden of Eden. . . away from the face to face presence of God, Adam and Eve had an empty spot, a hole within them.
This aching hole where God used to be. . . where God gave them pleasure, and love, and understanding. . . Adam and Eve. . . indeed all men and women try to fill with other things. . . they try to fill this empty space within them with lust, money, drugs. . . all types of worldly answers to their need for a perfect loving God, that they no longer had.
Each worldly solution to man’s need for God brings great problems with it. In the end, It never satisfies, indeed everything we try to replace God with ends up causing more pain and anguish than it cures.
Every minute of every day we face a decision in our minds of whether we draw closer to God or turn further away from Him. Before any action is done, a war is fought in our minds. Our thoughts travel away from God before our feet take the first step.
How many times do I remember stopping after work for 1 beer. . . a small step away from God, but hours later drunk. . .in a place I had no intention of going. . . not knowing how I got there, not knowing how to come back. My 1 beer sent me on a long journey. . .
As a chaplain in the jail, I hear of stories again and again. . . men and women taking one seemingly small step. . . thereby beginning a journey that led to destruction and horror beyond their dreams.
One friend I knew in the jail, had been in trouble a few times in his life. He had been jailed for public intoxication on a couple of occasions. He had a problem with alcohol. He is about my age. When one night at a party, someone offered him a hit on a crack pipe. . . Willy took, what he thought to be a small step, a few beers with friends, and ended up taking him a long ways from home. . . lost. . . alone. . .a nightmare in the wrong direction. . .his life forever changed. From that point forward Willy was addicted to crack. . . the former man with a drinking problem, became a raging crack addict.
One day he was in the front seat of a car. His drug dealer was driving, and a girl that Willy was involved with was in the back seat. Willy’s girl wanted to rob the drug dealer for his drugs and money, but gentle Willy wanted nothing to do with that. The girl took matters in her own hands, and from the back seat she hit the drug dealer over the head with a pipe. The drug dealer and the girl began fighting, and in his haze of drugs, Willy became involved in the fight, and ended up knifing and killing the drug dealer.
Willy woke up the next day, covered with blood having only a faint memory of the evening before. . .He now resides in Michigan City prison with a 50 year sentence for murder, there he took one more step that again completely changed his life. . . Willy found the Lord while in the Elkhart County Jail. . . He now writes me letters of joy, and power, and peace.
This is not understandable to our flesh. How can a man who will in all likelihood never see freedom have such an attitude? He is a changed man. He has been reborn in Christ. He has been made new.
The Bible as our cookbook. . . as our recipe guide has on its pages numbers of examples as warnings of what not to do to have a beautiful life:
Cain had an attitude problem. He stepped away from God in his envy for his brother’s offering. Cain’s heart was not right, and God rejected his offering. Rather than humbling himself, repenting. . . turning away from his bad attitude, Cain let his anger reign. . . and killed his brother.
It seemed like such a small step in letting his envy and anger rule for a time within him, but this journey carried into a ruined life. . . a darkness that we do not know that Cain ever came out of.
Cain has a reputation as only a murderer, but our next example, David is known as a man after God’s own heart, but David on at least one occasion also stepped away from God:
David’s eyes wandered. He stepped away from God by giving into his lust. He looked where he should not have looked. . . not a large sin, but this small step was the beginning of a journey into darkness that led to his having an affair with the wife of one of David’s great warriors, while the man was fighting in a war that David should have been in the field overseeing himself. . . The woman became pregnant, and David murdered her husband to cover his shame. Their baby died. . . all this a result from David’s eyes resting upon a place they should not have. . . A journey of a thousand miles. . . whether into light or darkness begins with one step. . .
Our third example from Scripture, comes from the New Testament. We know less about the beginnings of this man’s fall than the others:
In each of these examples, these men took what appeared to be a small first step, which in fact led to a ruined life. . . going back to our parable of the cookbook. . . Their lives not following the directions of our cookbook, the Bible resulted in a ruined recipe. They did not follow the steps called for in the directions for a perfect life. . . In the case of Cain, and Judas we have no evidence that they ever turned away from their darkness, and came back to God.
David did repent, and ask God for forgiveness. He came back to God. He paid a price for his sin. There were consequences, but he did come back into the loving arms of God.
Fortunately our cookbook has an ‘Oops’ section. We call it the New Testament. It deals with how to correct a life’s recipe, when the wrong ingredients have been used. . . when the wrong steps have been followed. . . when the oven temperature was too hot and the cake was burned. When too much salt has been added to the soup. . . This is a section of the Bible that shows us that no dish. . . no life is beyond repair and recovery.
You have made some poor choices. You are sitting here this morning in a place that you surely do not want to be in. . . but as a journey away from God and into darkness begins with a small step, so does the journey back into His loving arms. . .
The wages of sin are death. . . but the gift of God to us is life. Jesus paid the price of death on the cross. Our sins can be written on His perfect sinless life. He paid the penalty for our sins. . . willingly. . . thinking of you and I as He gave up His last breath.
Pray to Him. . . Dear Lord. . . I've messed up. I've made mistakes, and I am so sorry for what I've done. Please forgive me, and help me find my way back to You.
We all fight the same battle against our flesh. It takes different forms for each of us, but there is power in this relationship with God to deliver us from our anger. . . from our lusts. . . from our weaknesses of every kind.
I stand before you today as one who found God 13 years ago, when I was 45 years old and these last 13 years have been years of peace, and joy, and happiness beyond anything I knew before I came to God.
Some day this can all be as a bad dream for you. Every one of you can be mighty men and women in God’s kingdom. . . and it begins with a single step of changing your direction. . .of walking toward God, and continuing to walk toward Him, and with Him for the days of your life.
Yes you may stumble, but as David did. . . but as David did, pick yourself up, dust yourself off. . . “I’m sorry God. I messed up. . . please forgive me.”, and go back to living for God.
This is the reverse of nearly every other service I've ever done. Worship always come first, but I prayed, and I believe that God gave me this message and the design of this service. . . let us now worship. . . let us now worship God, let us begin rebuilding our relationship with Him. . . drawing close to Him. . . letting Him know how much we need Him. . .and love Him. . .
I thank you my God. . .
I love you my Lord. . .