Mmm, those mouth-watering, appetite inducing commercials. “Have it your way.” “Special orders don’t upset us.” How about the Canadian chain that promoted selecting our condiments and then naming our burger after ourself! That didn’t work. The second time back, I had to describe “the Don burger” all over again.
In Ottawa, we have a burger chain that made its reputation on its vast selection of condiments, from avocado and sliced beets to sundried tomatoes, or kraft dinner (yes, it’s KD) and peanut butter. The menu boasts “over 14 million topping combinations.”
We live in a fast food world. The instant gratification of placing an order and receiving it before sitting down isn’t just about burger toppings. It drives a lot of our twenty first century decision making, even in the Church.
We’re condiment Christians. We want what we want. We want it fast. And, we want it our way.
The choice between double pickles or hold the lettuce might work in the hamburger world but it doesn’t work as well when we’re trying to structure the Living God into our own quick response, made the way I like him, personal god.
We grow impatient with a god who doesn’t deliver what we consider success. Deliver it the way we want it. And deliver it fast.
We question a god who doesn’t free us from temptation, at least the temptations we want to be freed from. The Good Book says God redeems us from our confessed sin, not from living in a world that surrounds with distractions that challenge us to focus on Him or fall because of having it our way.
In an instant gratification, fast food, choice of condiments world, God chooses to invest His time – Himself – in the main part of the meal, not the garnishes.
I have a friend who is seriously into bar-b-que. He makes his own rubs (seasoning for items to be bar-b-qued) and he has a smoker, a kind of slow bar-b-que. There are no quick meals when seasoned meat needs several hours to cook to perfection.
Another friend worked at a smokehouse restaurant. He talked, with a twinkle in his eye, about the planning that went into smoking their main menu items for up to half a day before final preparation and serving.
In the Old Testament we read detailed exposition about the effort required to prepare sacrifices for God – burnt offerings. Page after page, the Bible gives the impression our God is more interested in getting things cut, sized and seasoned properly so that, when placed over fire, the fragrance of the offering would be sweet.
Matthew’s gospel records Jesus saying to those who thought He was a reprobate for dining with sinners, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13) He was quoting the prophet Hosea who wrote these words spoken by God, “For I desire steadfast love(the Hebrew word may also be translated “mercy”) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)
Jesus was saying that when we consider the intricacies of preparing a sacrifice for God, we need to step back and focus on the fact that God is even more concerned with us demonstrating our love for Him, a process of learning and growing in loving Him with all our “heart and soul and mind and strength,” by loving our neighbours as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-39; Luke 10:27-28)
The offering God now asks of us is… us.
When I was younger, having read the Bible a few times and studied it a bit, I was certain I knew God and what He wanted. I had the burger god I desired, with my personal selection of condiments. I had the meat of it right, but was fairly impatient with others’ difference of opinion on secondary matters. You might call it a divergent preference in condiments.
But, it’s not about the pickles or the lettuce.
It’s about whether my life is an offering.
The old joke says the problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps climbing off the altar.
My friend Ken Norberg has written and recorded what he calls a “little ditty celebrating the sometimes painful process of walking out our sanctification” (sanctification is us becoming more like Jesus in the way we think and live). In Burnt P.H.L.E.S.C.H., Ken captures the essence of living our lives as an offering to God. The chorus says of my life being lived for Him,
You gotta put it on the altar, let it roast, burning with the fire of the Holy Ghost.
Shake it and bake it, let the smoke arise, let the Lord smell that sweet sacrifice.
Ken concludes with an expressed expectation that serving the Lord “with a heart that is fervent” will receive the Lord’s commendation, “Good and faithful, thou well done servant.”
That’s how life feels at times, a little on the well done side of God’s bar-b-que. The perfect grill marks but a little crispy at the edge from me needing more time to learn a particular lesson, perhaps burnt at spots because, well, because I did it my way instead of His.
Here’s a hint about how to avoid a few of the singe marks I’ve acquired. When you hear the words “Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you,” reflect on Jesus’ words, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” (John 5:19) Following can be more challenging than taking the lead.
Our bar-b-queing God is a coals and wood Guy. Our God is a slow smoker Who custom spices each and every life for its perfect fragrance. And, our slow smoker God gives every one of us time to decide whether we really want to know Him; and, whether we truly want to follow Him.