In light of recent events in Boston, MA- moments before I wrote this post- I pray that all readers will pray especially for pastors and church leaders to be appropriately sympathetic and empathetic in prayer for the victims while remaining vigilant regarding the desperate need to proclaim Christ with clarity and conviction; knowing that the gospel takes precedence over sentimentality.
At the risk of dating myself, my first memorable knowledge of spinach comes from re-runs of the old Popeye cartoons. Much love to all my people born between the mid 70's and early 80's who can remember cartoons that weren't imported from Japan! Yes, Popeye was corny, but was apparently a part of an elaborate conspiracy to induce love of spinach among children via animated propaganda. After all, if you had some spinach, you could beat up a bad guy twice your size and land yourself a date with with the ever-so-fine and shapely Olive Oyl.
The problem was, when I tried spinach, I hated it. It was slimy, stinky, and while I was born on St. Patrick's Day, I had a real problem with the greenness of spinach. I really did. It was a scary food for me and how I wish I had a dog for those days when my mom (who is a great cook under normal circumstances) subjected us to the evils of frozen spinach- the off brand from KeyFood or worse, CTown. But I probably would have loved my dog too much for that.
And so for years, I hated spinach... almost as much as Seinfeld's Newman hated broccoli.
Until I got married. My wife, a budding culinary genius, heard my complaints about spinach and had the answer for me: eat it raw. Of course, I initially scoffed at the very idea. After all, I was a married man now--I was entitled to cooking; eating food raw was for bachelors. Fast forward a few weeks from the first mention of it and naturally, I discovered that I loved raw spinach! These days, it's extremely rare for me to go grocery shopping without looking for the freshest organic baby spinach I can find. I eat it with almost anything and lately, Mrs. Dolce has even had me eating it sauteed in omelets and such. Who would have imagined that an old childhood enemy would be so agreeable to me as an adult?
As I mused on this reality, a passage in scripture suddenly made sense to me on an experiential level:
"We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food. Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."
-Hebrews 5:11-14 (NIV)
I have found a maxim to be quite true: in the same way that children often despise needful vegetables, immature Christians have virtually no appetite for the soul-sustaining meat of biblical doctrine. Happily content to snack on spiritual fast-foods that cannot sustain them in the long run, so many of our brothers and sisters are just looking for a sugar-high that comes from the syrup-laden, honey-roasted cracker-jack "truths" that excites the taste buds but cannot nourish them. Like eating a .5lb brownie but only a sliver of turkey breast, they're easily excitable in the short-term but cannot find the spiritual muscle to fight the good fight of faith. What do we do? How can we help?
1. Pray. Pray for your Senior Pastor and those who preach and teach God's word in your church. Pray that God would give them the boldness to switch up the spiritual diet of the congregation from time to time. Pray that the Holy Spirit would empower them with creativity to preach/teach the Word with power and accuracy. Pray that your preachers and teachers would endure the blank stares, yawning, the apparent failure to "connect" with the class or congregation. Pray that they long for the approval of Christ rather than the "encouragement" that comes from men who don't even miss what they are desperately lacking.
2. Active Encouragement. Do you simply expect biblically sound preaching and teaching every time you are in church or Sunday School? If so, do you think it comes from the ether? Your preachers and teachers are hopefully working for a heavenly reward... but does that mean you shouldn't express your support for their efforts to honor God here on earth? When was the last time that you personally and directly thanked your pastor for his determination to honor Christ by preaching the truth-- whether it tickled your ears or not?
Your spiritual diet is infinitely more important than your natural diet for food and drink. Take care not to settle for the empty calories of trite phrases, cliches, smooth words, and the like. Seek the Lord's blessing for a well-rounded, spiritual meal that you can sink your teeth into. Ask for help from a "chef" in your circle who knows a little more than you. And to all my preaching and teaching friends- when you can't find a good story/analogy; when the alliteration scheme isn't working out, when 3 points and a poem just won't do: eat the scroll yourself and give it to them raw.
"And he said to me, "Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel." So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, "Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it" So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth."
Ezekiel 3:1-3 (NIV)