Adventures in Food

Food adventures are some of the best kinds of adventures. My parents coined this thing called “AIF-ing,” (adventures in food) where if they were in an area with a bunch of different restaurants, we would stop at each one and order their most famous item. That way we could each try a bite, but also get multiple things. Or I think of a trip to Taiwan that Brianna and I went on, and I devel- oped what I call the “Point and Pray” method. Whereas we didn’t read or speak the language, sometimes we just had to point to an item on the menu and pray it would work out. Sometimes it hauled in huge success, and sometimes you’d have to eat something that would be looking back at you. Even more recently, I’ve been introduced to the world of “Coney Islands” here in Michigan; where there are multiple Coney Islands, but they are all different. They’re the exact same menu wise, but entirely different food wise. (L George’s is winning so far). We could talk about different pizzas in different areas: New York style, Chicago, New Haven, Detroit style. We could talk about hot dogs: Chicago dog, New York, Skyline. Even one of my favorite food-universes, donuts: yeast, cake, long john, fritter. Truly, the world of food is an astonishing thing.
 
As silly as it sounds, sometimes I think our outreach needs to look a little more food-y. You have a unified base of crust, sauce, and cheese that is employed entirely differently in New York than it is in Chicago, yet a unified people that love pizza. You have a unified base of bun, dog, and toppings that is entirely different in Cincinnati than it is in Germany, yet a world that loves hot dogs. You have a whole unified body of work concerning doughnuts with flour and sugar, but many different styles. In the same way, as scripture points out, the church has one body, many parts. We have a foundation that can’t be shaken, moved, or changed, and a base level of being the sons and daughters of the living God. We NEVER change the foundation, yet we all have different flavors when it comes to outreach! I think of who Matthew the tax collector could have talked to in a way that Simon the zealot could not, or how Paul used reason with the Greeks and history with the Jews, as to “be all things to all people.” One body, many parts. May we use the different styles and flavors that the God has given us to show the world His unified wonders and love. May we use the world of gifts and talents that God has given us to reach everyone everywhere. Let’s go “Aif-ing.
 
 
Caleb Smith, Pulpit MinisteR
 

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Baby Shark

As of the writing of this article, the song “Baby Shark Dance” on YouTube has 14,088,846,204 views. To put that in perspective, it’s almost as if every single human being on the planet watched the video twice. For a little more perspective, the total playtime so far would be around 469,628,206 hours (not counting the hours it gets stuck in your head). Meaning around 19,567,841 days. Meaning around 53,610 years’ worth of “Baby Shark Dance.” Ultimately meaning, you would have to live 678.6 full lifetimes to equal the time that people have heard “Baby Shark Dance” on YouTube. What a time to be alive.
 
With staggering numbers like that, it’s statistically safe to say that you may have at least heard the song, “Baby Shark” (do do do do do do). I myself am guilty of a few of those views, as it made its way into my youth group classes many times before, more so to annoy the kids than anything else. Overall, I think we could certainly say that something as simple as that song, which requires zero understanding, has become a cultural and societal landmark! So much so, that many may even be shocked if you haven’t heard it yet. “What?! You don’t know Baby Shark?!” (do do do do do do).
 
I hold nothing against “Baby Shark” (do do do do do do), and it’s success is probably well earned, but I also have to wonder…what would the world look like if we were just as tenacious with the voice and sounds of our faith? What if we spent so much time sharing the voice of our God and the words He has spoken and the songs He inspired, that there were more than enough tangible examples for everyone on earth to hear twice? Don’t get me wrong, the message of God is spread far and wide, but many times the sounds we bring forward and the voice we use to represent Him don’t match with His character. So many have misheard, and so many have misspoken, that when His true nature is understood and revealed, we realize what we’ve been missing. How sweet the sound, when we realize His love and intention. How sweet the sound, when we see His forgiveness and call to righteousness. How sweet the sound, that saved wretches like us. With Him in mind, may we spread the news to those who may be shocked to hear for the first time the voice in Isaiah 40:28, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” And we thought “Baby Shark” was exciting! (do do do do do do).
 
 
Caleb Smith, Pulpit Minister

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Magic Eye Art

History was made this last summer.
It wasn’t the kind of history that makes any difference whatsoever 
to the rest of the world, but it sure made a difference to me. Growing up, I was never able to figure out those “3D Magic Eye” puzzle-picture things. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s that thing on the right over there. Allegedly, if you knew how to look, you’d be able to see a 3Dimage in this that would pop out. I would stare at these things until my eyes started to hurt, but could NEVER figure it out. Other people would say “Oh wow, it’s a palm tree, or ball, or dog, or face, or four leaf clover!” And I’d say, “Oh look, a liar!!” But I would still stare harder, and then only manage to see myself going blind and absolutely insane. It got to the point where I fully believed that anyone who claimed to be able to see something in one of these things was making it up, and that somehow it was the most successful conspiracy theory of which everyone else was a part.
 
But my world changed in a Half-Priced Bookstore. I was walking around with my older brother who was in Omaha for a visit, when we came across a book full of these things. I expressed my anger and regret, and instead of wallowing with me he decided to pull a book out and successfully see every single one. More than that, he also gave me a tip on how to see them. I put the book close to my nose, and then slowly moved back. All of a sudden, I was a part of the conspiracy. I could see three little pyramids, and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. A lifetime of dreaming and anger, resolved because of three stupid little pyramids.
 
The question then begs to be asked, how many things have I missed because my focus was off? How many wonderful and beautiful things have I missed because instead of asking how to see, I’d rather cross my eyes and stare blindly at a problem or an issue until something happens?? There are so many people who seem gifted with seeing things in a bright and optimistic way, opposed to the many moments where I’d look at the same issue and only squint and become angry. In those moments, may we pray for God to teach us how to look. May he guide our eyes in the right direction, at the right angle, to truly see the wonderful things happening under the confusion. May we look at the world with eyes of faith, to see those little pyramids everywhere we go.
 
 
Caleb Smith, Pulpit Minister

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Knowledge is Power

We have seen that thought expressed in all sorts of outlets; from posters in a public library to being played out in a show or a movie (Spoiler alert, in Indiana Jones 4, the treasure of the aliens wasn’t gold…it was…knowledge.) To me it always just seemed like one of those age-old adages, but there is a long history of this idea. Thomas Jefferson used this phrase many times in writing letters trying to establish a state university. Thomas Hobbes in the 1650’s utilized it in his writings about establishing states and what that would mean. Sir Francis Bacon, the man to whom the phrase is attributed, originally used it in the context of his religious writings. We could even see a close form of it in Proverbs 24:4, where we read “A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases his strength.”

I am not a highly educated or time-tested philosopher, and full transparency, I had to look up almost every example above. (Not Indiana Jones…that one was unfortunately burned into my brain.) But if we actually apply that phrase to the not-so philosophical or not-so time-tested, I contend that it becomes even more apparent. If, for example, you know the single greatest fear of a friend or family member, you have a power. A power to protect them or encourage them in a setting where that fear is present, or even a power to fill their room with fake spiders or snakes if you wanted to go the other direction. If you have the knowledge of their past, you have a power. A power of understanding why they may do or believe certain things, and even yes, a power to hold it against them if you wanted to go the other way. If you know CPR, you have a power to help in dire situations, if you know investments, you have a power of understanding finances and risks, if you know cooking or baking, you have a power of feeding the hungry and spreading some joy around, if you know advanced mathematics, you have a power that 95% of us don’t! (Lucky you to be in the other 6%.)

If knowledge of those things truly is power, then just imagine what power and blessing it is to know God. To know the creator of the universe, to know His goodness, to know His mercy, and to know His sacrifice. To know his Spirit, to know His promises, to know His character. To know those things, but also then have a power to share them with a hurting world. Knowledge is power, yes, but may we never forget that knowledge itself begins in the fear of the Lord. (Proverbs 1:7)
 
 
Caleb Smith, Pulpit Minister

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Constants

Life appears to have many constants. For example, if right now out of boredom you drop this bulletin, we can say with almost 100% certainty it will fall because gravity says so. Or if you took a picture of yourself right now, waited 30 years, and compared your older self to that picture, we can say with almost 100% certainty that you will look different because time says so. To the farthest end of that, if we live on to old age or meet some tragedy beforehand, we can say with almost 100% certainty that our life on earth will end because death says so. Even on smaller scales life appears to have constants. I could take a huge bite of celery and say with almost 100% certainty that my day would darken because my tastebuds say so, or take a bite out of a PB&J and be transported to childhood because nostalgia says so. Like it or not, there are things that are seemingly absolute and unchangeable.
 
The only reason I use words like “appear” or “almost” or “seemingly” is because any constant the world brings forward still yields to the final voice of our God. We can lay out the measurements, establish the rules, and even depend on them as amazing constants that God has put down to help us thrive, but even the most dependable constants bend to God’s will. By all accounts and measures, at gravity’s request, Jesus Christ should have plunged under that stormy water the second he put a foot down, but instead he walked all over it. Why? Because God said so. By all accounts and measures, at the request of death and time, Lazarus should have stayed in that tomb and decayed until dust, but instead he walked right on out. Why? Because God said so. And even by all accounts and measures, at the request of our evils and sins, we should have no fellowship with God in His goodness, yet we are called with confidence behind the curtain and we are called sons and daughters of the living God. Why? Because the hands were pierced, the body raised up, the crown was set, the voice cried out, and because God said so.
 
He is the constant, and He is the unchangeable. He is the one that does not shift like sands or change His mind concerning his people. He is the one who set the stars in motion and moves the earth at its seasons and times. So while we can have some confidence that the world will continue as it always does in the way it does, may we not forget who has the final word when we see His wonders and his majesty at work, despite gravity, time, death, sin, and celery.

 
 
Caleb Smith, Pulpit Minister

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Resolutions

I’m not a good resolution-maker. It’s not that I don’t necessarily try to better myself, set goals, or want to do something different with my life, but when it comes to doing an actual and tangible resolution for the whole “New Year New Me” vibe, I fall pretty short. The last one that I remember trying was in high school, when I decided that I would give up soda for a year. About two weeks in, the cravings hit pretty hard so I tried to reason with myself, and (don’t tell me I said this,) but I’m very difficult to work with sometimes. I resolved instead to give up soda for 6 months. That was reasonable. But about four weeks in, I again decided after much deliberation between myself and the me that’s hard to work with, that I would give up Dr. Pepper for 6 months. I could still drink other soft drinks, but not Dr. Pepper! I’m resolved on this!! 7 weeks in, and I struck again. No Dr. Pepper. 3 months. I’m resolved!!! After taking away all difficulty, I can say that my resolution for that year was a breeze.

I will fully admit that the “hard to work with” me still rears its ugly bald head at times. Not so much in a resolution for the future, but rather it takes a swipe at who I was in the past; before deciding to make the ultimate resolution in the following of our King…and it begs me to make a concession. I’d be terrified to know how many of those concessions I have made, despite being resolved in the love, grace, and mercy of God. For being dead to myself, I must say that in death I can still be pretty annoying.

I pray that in this New Year, we never forget how resolved we truly are. It is more than a hopeful idea, a willful gameplan, or a “wishing for the best” change to our lives, it is a matter of life and death that God offers. A death of who we used to be, despite the constant begging for concessions, and entrance into a life that is set free from the bondage of sin and decay. It is a life that was paid for by another; an actual and tangible offer of resolution. May we be resolved to step forward with our eyes focused on the throne of God instead of our feet on earth, saying goodbye to the “hard to work with” us, and hello to the works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. May we be resolved to have a happy new year, with the emphasis on “new,” despite concessions, cravings, or Dr. Peppers. 
 
HOMEWORK: Read Romans 7:7-8:17
 
Caleb Smith, Pulpit Minister
 

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Gift Opening Anxiety

Christmas can be an absolutely magical time of the year. There is nothing quite like going on a Christmas lights tour with holiday music playing, or maybe snacking on a few (dozen) Christmas cookies, or maybe even tuning in for one of the greatest traditions of all time when “A Christmas Story” is played for 24 hours straight on TBS. But for all the magic, there is one aspect of Christmas for which I have to mentally prepare every. single. year. It is something that despite the holiday cheer and joy, is a source of great discomfort and anxiety for me. The source of that holiday dread…is opening gifts in front of people. More specifically, opening a gift in front of the person that gave me said gift.
 
That is a very specific, awkward, and vulnerable confession, and let me make it VERY clear that it has nothing to do with gratitude; I will be so unbelievably thankful for WHATEVER it is. It could very well be the single greatest present that I have EVER received, but the mental gymnastics I unwillingly go through beforehand drags my heart and throat right down to my stomach. I hope I’m not alone in this, but when I open a gift in front of the gift-giver, instead of focusing on the humbling notion that someone thought of me for Christmas, I start overthinking on what my response is going to be. So much so, that the gift becomes a mysterious blob in my hands. What if I sound sarcastic or ungrateful?? What if I go, “Wooooooow, how neat is that?” in a way that makes them think I don’t mean it?? Conversely, what if I go too big and start weeping and kissing their feet, to which they just say, “Dude it was an oven mitt, calm down.” What if they think I’m not happy? What if they think I’m not genuine?? How in the world am I supposed to measure out my physical response at an appropriate conversion rate for whatever the gift was?!
 
I wonder if I’ve done the same thing concerning Christ. This season, we celebrate the greatest gift that has ever been given to mankind. Wrapped in cloths, and born in the lowliest state possible, the life-giving and salvation-bringing Messiah came to earth. How in the world are you supposed to respond to that? We are so far beyond “Woooow, how neat is that?” and even so far beyond the weeping and kissing of his feet. How can we show enough gratitude? How could we fathom the goodness of what this means?? Luckily, in this case, we have that exact “conversion rate.” Christ gave up his life to die, so we could give up our lives to live. That is our response. Don’t overthink. Don’t go too small. Give him everything, as He gave everything for you. Humbly accept that gift, and realize that someone thought of you for Christmas, in a way that will change you forever. There’s no way to go “too big” for a gift like that.
Merry Christmas!
 
 
Caleb Smith, Pulpit Minister

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Christmas Lights

I don’t usually give much thought to how I’m going to pass from this life. Many, I’m sure, hope that it will be peaceful after a wonderful life full of years, or maybe in some heroic fashion or some epic moment. And I’m sure that at some point I’ve entertained those thoughts, but I don’t usually ruminate on them. Most recently, however, I sure gave a whole lot of thought to it after trying to put up our Christmas lights. Let me paint you a picture for a moment. Imagine a larger-than-average guy (who didn’t even dare to look at the weight limit for the ladder he was using) wearing non-traction boat shoes on a post-rainy day, armed with nothing more than some plastic clips, partially tangled up strands of Christmas lights, a wife that he very deeply wanted to impress, and sheer unexperienced optimism. If that doesn’t spell danger, I don’t know what does. This wasn’t your average split-open-and-take-a-few-casual- steps-up kind of ladder. It was a welp-it’s-not-tall-enough-let’s-extend-it-until-it-can-scratch-the-bottom-of-the-moon kind of ladder, courtesy of Brian Bailey. There was a whole lot of gravity wanting to return me to the earth up there, and I thought more about how I’d go in that hour and half than I had in my entire life up until that point. But the lights are up, and so far, I’m okay.
 
The real question is: was it worth it?? I mean for us, it was only a few strands, and there are houses in our neighborhood that are waaaay better than ours. But I can attest that even just that slight difference in driving home, seeing a few blinking lights signifying a dash of whimsy in the season made it worth it to us. I completely understand that decorations and lights might not be for everyone, but I also understand that there are people who plan entire nights to drive around and simply look at the decorations and the lights, just to feel that little hint of something different.
 
In the same way that those lights on our houses point to something greater, I pray that we do the same thing for ourselves! Imagine if we decorated our lives with those obvious moments of joy and wonder. Imagine if by how you interact with your community, people could clearly see that there is SOMETHING going on beyond the normal and expected state of the earth. Not with little bulbs that blink or shiny garlands hung around our necks, but with the prepared answer that the book of 1 Peter reminds us of: why do you have the hope that you have? May we be like those houses that, although surrounded by darkness, still draw the eyes of those that drive by, because it shines in that darkness and points to something greater. May we reflect the light that God has granted us.
 
We may slip, fall, get tangled up, dangle for a bit, but even then…yes….it will be worth it.
 
 
Caleb Smith, Pulpit Minister
 

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An Innocent Distraction?

This is the time of year the whole world focuses on Jesus—but not Jesus the radical intenerate preacher who made his family, friends and Jewish authorities uncomfortable. That Jesus doesn’t even come to mind for many. No, most focus on the baby Jesus laying in the manger and ignore the very real-life implications his birth had for folks like Mary and Joseph—the innocents of Bethlehem. We like the baby Jesus, the manger, the wise men, the shepherds—but please don’t bother us with the other details!
 
You could write this off as an innocent distraction—you could—if it weren’t so serious. In the movie Talladega Nights. Ricky Bobby is leading the prayer for the family meal. He addresses his prayer to “Lord, baby Jesus” and “tiny, infant Jesus” and “8 pound- 6 ounce- newborn infant Jesus.” He can’t even finish his prayer before his wife chimes in— “Hey, you know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up.” Ricky quips back, “I like the Christmas Jesus best and I’m saying grace. When you say grace, you can say it to grown up Jesus or teen-age Jesus or to bearded Jesus or whoever you want.”
 
Yes, this character’s understanding about Jesus is ridiculous—even idolatrous—but it’s also not far from what many believe. Yes, we should celebrate Jesus’ miraculous birth during Christmastime, but here’s the problem: Ricky Bobby’s wife was right! Jesus did grow up. He grew to be our Savior—to do the work for which he was born. We can’t pick and choose the Jesus we want based upon how convenient he is to our life and preferences. That is idolatry in raw form.
 
So, should we celebrate Christmas? By all means, yes! Celebrate the coming of our Lord in human form. It is today what it was then, “…good news to you— wonderful, joyous news for all people.” (Luke 2:10) However, just as Paul reminded the church in Philippi, let us not forget who he is, why he came, where he is now and what that means for us all.
 
[Jesus] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Phil. 2:6-11 NIV 1984)
 
“That’s why we praise him; that’s why we sing. That’s why we give him our everything. That’s why we bow down and worship this King.” (Tommy Walker, 1999)
 
Your brother,
Roger Woods

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Restore My Spirit

When I get tired, it’s dangerous. It’s not because I’m grumpy or short with anyone, or because I’m more likely to make mistakes or forget something… it’s because for some reason, I get hyper-emotional. For example, I was tired when I saw the 2020 Hobby Lobby Christmas commercial; it wasn’t sad or negative or pandering in any way, but rather it was about an adorable older couple helping to set up a younger couple. Absolutely nothing to cry about. But I confess that I was moved to absolute tears, for no apparent reason…and boy was it annoying. I was also tired for a Geico commercial, every single one of those “arms of the angels” animal rescue commercials, and also the entire month of January. Now with the holiday season coming up, with every emotionally pandering idea and all those images of the stupid beautifully inspiring Christmas and Thanksgiving moments, I’m going to need to be on guard and fully rested, or else it’s saltwater season for me, and I do NOT like getting emotional like that.
 
If I’m going to be honest with myself, however, maybe there’s not so much wrong with being moved. When I think about the world in which we live, and how we are surrounded by things that somehow have become normal images that we now see every day, how in the world could we not eventually get tired? Images of wars abroad, pain and suffering and division within, anxiety and concern for those we love, fear of what comes next – any single one of those has the power to cement us in our places after wearing us down. We get tired of seeing the injustice, we get tired of seeing the pain and suffering, and we get tired to the point of not wanting to move.
 
Despite all those images, despite our exhaustion, and despite ourselves, may we never forget that while there are times we feel we can’t be moved, the Spirit himself begs to differ. The same Spirit that hovered above the waters at creation, the same Spirit that shook the earth at Pentecost, the same Spirit that descended on the Messiah as the heavens opened, and the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead begs to differ. Our spirits can easily be down and out, and our tiredness can easily get in the way of what we are called to do, but His Spirit cannot. May we be spurred on by THAT Spirit. May we never forget the goodness, the fire, the justice, and the movement that God inspires through His Spirit, and may we be willing to be moved, whether to action, to repentance, to remembrance, and yes, even to tears, by His Spirit. With that Spirit in tow, may we be bold enough to say “Restore, my spirit Lord, it needs restored.” May we be bold enough to say, “Light the fire in my soul.” May we even be bold enough to say…“bring on the commercials.”
 
Caleb Smith | Pulpit Minister

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