Craving Sweet Praise

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As I’ve mentioned before, our family eats a lot of wild game. At least my husband and sons do. I’m kind of a minimalist when it comes to meat of any sort. Maybe that’s because transporting freshly killed animals is sometimes inconvenient:

Leaving Grandma’s house after Thanksgiving, 1993. Eerily similar to the National Lampoon “Vacation” movie–there’s a deer carcass strapped to the top of our old Ford Taurus station wagon.

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…or maybe just because I get tired of cutting it up every year:

And to think this poor Bambi was cavorting freely just hours earlier.

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Eating game brought in from one’s backyard instead of from the grocery store is just a normal part of life for those of us who live in this section of the country. However you may feel about the topic of hunting, you can’t deny the health benefits of a purely organic, super lean, hormone-free, and pink slime-free protein source.

Venison usually takes up the majority of our freezer space, but we’ve had moose and bear meat on occasion. The moose can be a bit tough, and the bear, well…it isn’t my favorite.

My problem is that I am a lifetime carb lover. Not just any carbs will do either, but the simplest, easiest, least complex variety that is locally available. And this is a handy attitude for someone like me who believes in environmental responsibility. I wouldn’t want to be accused of contributing to the over-consumption of resources involved in trucking in exotic complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, buckwheat, bulgur, and oat bran.

I believe strongly in the  utilization of local sources of nutrition as much as possible. I mean, think about it–every convenience store and grocery store within a mere few miles of any community has all the Hostess pies and Ding Dongs a person could ever want. That’s pretty local, if you ask me. And who would want anything else, anyway?

(On top of that, the side benefit of constipation does even more to reduce environmental waste. Think of  how much less toilet paper and clean flushing water is needed by those who have consumed very little dietary fiber over their lifetimes. And this can even lead to increased spirituality due to extra meditation time in the bathroom…)

But, back to what I was saying:

If Michelle Obama were to have me fill in the new nutrition guide, “My Plate” slots with my preferred selections from each food group, I’d put Skittles’ in the fruit section, Twinkies in the grains spot, Peeps in the protein part and candy corn in the vegetables space. Top it off with dairy-ish Coffeemate creamer in the coffee and I’d say a well-rounded meal was accomplished. Mmm.

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But, if I really must eat a substantial piece of meat, like a bear steak, say, here’s the type I prefer:

http://www.barnorama.com/giant-gummy-bear/

Yes, I do bear an insatiable sweet tooth. (Huh! This pun was not originally intended, but I’m delighted that it just now happened, like a lucky accident.)

Just as I come from a long line of hunters on my dad’s side of the family, I come from a long line of sugar-eaters on my mom’s side of the family. My Great-grandpa Merz was one of the most outstanding. This tough German farmer lived to be 92, even though he daily consumed full-fat dairy products and all the puddings and baked goods that his obliging wife could come up with in order to use all their cream and butter. Yet, Great-grandpa was as healthy as a horse. He mowed his own lawn and even patched his own roof at ninety years old.

He also ate sugar right out of the sugar bowl.

In fact, family legend has it that one day, after first breakfasting on doughnuts and then consuming multiple spoonsful of sugar straight from the china bowl, he got up to answer the phone and passed out. Crashed right onto the floor with a thud. Unbelievably though, even with a blood glucose level high enough to distill into an alternative fuel source, he came to, got up, and went back out to work. A little dazed maybe, but none the worse for wear.

My mom inherited a little of that sweet gene. She reports that her mom kept a drawer stocked full of candy bars in the house and that she was allowed to eat one anytime she wanted.

Genetics, then, probably explains why I used to climb onto the table when I was little and eat sugar out of the sugar bowl when my mom left the room. I don’t recall that I’ve ever passed out from such an event, but in later years, I have gotten a bit wound up on occasion after consuming mounds of cookie dough and ended up crashing on the couch afterward for a very spontaneous nap.

Needless to say, my unhealthy craving for sweets is not something I can take responsibility for. I’m a victim of maternal genetics. I am a child of my mother and I love to eat the sweet things she does.

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The Pharisees were victims of paternal genetics. In John 8:44 Jesus tells the Pharisees, “For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does.”

And, among the many things the Pharisees inherited from their father’s side was an unhealthy, insatiable craving for praise. They coveted recognition, honor and frosted kudos. In Matthew 23: 6-7 Jesus described their behavior this way:

“…they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.'” (NLT)

The Pharisees didn’t just love to be praised for their supposed superiority, they acted like it was a limited resource. Like there was only so much to go around and if people happened to give some of that precious admiration to Jesus, they were wasting it. Like people’s praise was a box of $120 a pound Godiva chocolates and Jesus and his followers were a bunch of silly boy scouts to whom some dolt accidentally gave those chocolates for their s’mores at a Camporee cookout.

The Pharisees resented it when Jesus received respect and they didn’t. They worked tirelessly, sacrificially, to uphold the Law and their traditions, so to them it was a scandalous mistake for people to lavish honor on Jesus for easily performing a few miracles here and there. Every time someone gave Jesus praise, the Pharisees felt like something had been taken from them.

Something they thought they were entitled to.

Something sweet and delicious that they thought should be theirs and theirs alone.

Something they craved more than Life itself.

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My Pharisaism disease made me crave respect, too. I really thought that those closest to me should acknowledge and honor all my efforts to be godly. I wanted, needed the sugary words and affirmations that fueled my sacrificial works.

I would later learn that underneath my sick craving was a virulent insecurity. It was a deep-down feeling of unworthiness that I thought I could remedy on my own by simply securing approval from my peers. Having my gifts and efforts lauded brought a quick fix, in the same way that a big piece of fresh peach pie with real whipped cream can instantly satisfy any sweet craving. But, the satisfaction never lasted. I always ended up needing more.

For Pharisaical Christians, then, church can be a busy, aromatic gourmet bakery. It can provide insecure people with a place in which they can do all kinds of sacrificial deeds and share all kinds of wonderful talents and be rewarded with a steady supply of fabulous appreciation and back pats. The hardest working and most talented are seen as the most godly.

But a steady diet of pastries is not healthy. And what starts out innocently enough, when misused, can become dangerous.

Kind of like what can happen in a hospital. Even though hospitals are where we go for healing, they can also be breeding grounds for deadly staph germs. The overuse of antibiotics is thought to be responsible for these hospital staph outbreaks. Patients go into the hospital to get treated for their original ailment, but wind up coming out with a whole new problem–a deadly infection.

And so a church can sometimes become a breeding ground for insecurity. People go there for fellowship, teaching, and healing for sin wounds, but certain susceptible ones can come out infected with a raging Pharisaical sweet tooth. The over-rewarding of performance can result in something even deadlier than apathy–a raging case of Pharisaical praise entitlement.

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So, what happens when I can’t have my candy? I might gasp and whine and start shaking uncontrollably, but I won’t die. In fact, it’s good for me.

And, what happened when Paul’s Pharisaical honor was taken from him? He gasped and shook and lost his eyesight temporarily, but he didn’t die. He became stronger. Way stronger.

Now, what might happen if a church were to give up some or all of the things it’s most known for–amazing music, spectacular preaching, or creative children’s ministries? What if God asked a church to institute some sort of fast from the sweet glory that their programs bring? Would anybody die?

The problem with the last scenario is that some people would contend that death could occur. I’ve actually heard a church person worry that if they refrained from their lovely Sunday morning music for any period of time, certain prospective converts might not come and could end up unsaved because of it. Wow! Talk about self-importance–that was the worst case of sweet teeth I’ve ever encountered!

In order to recover from Pharisaism, I had to learn that church services, music and preaching do not save people. They may be nice and might even promote a great time of worship, but still can never be responsible for a soul’s salvation. We are not to be in the business of making God entertaining or trendy, we are just to gather together and worship together and let the Spirit do His thing in the midst of us. As weak humans, we can easily fall prey to the addictive nature of too much applause candy.

And the best test of whether or not we really are indulging in too much of anything is to try and do without it for awhile.

Would you feel deprived if your church had to put away their instruments and mics for one Sunday and sing a cappella?

Would your congregation feel like they had missed out on God if they were only allowed to sing and pray together one Sunday–without any preaching at all?

What would happen if there were no bulletins and the order of service was purposely mixed up?

Maybe some people would like it. Some might feel a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit settle over when egos are no longer stroked and addictions are not sated. Some might even realize that their relationship with God is not as dependent on church stuff as they thought it was.

And others, Pharisees like the former me, wouldn’t like it at all.

Their faces would fall,

and they’d snivel and bawl,

as they curled up in a ball,

and went into withdrawal…

Okay, stop me now–this rhyming is out of control.

I think I need to go get a spoon and a jar of marshmallow creme to make it all go away. We’ll talk more about this next time.

After my crash and follow-up nap, that is.

Heaven in a jar.

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