"Kick It Up a Notch"

How many of you are familiar with Emeril Agazi? He's a well-known chef that you can catch on the Food Channel, and I understand he owns several restaurants around the country. If you've ever watched him he's pretty entertaining and makes watching food cook kind of interesting.

Emeril has developed this spice blend he calls essence. He uses it to spice up his dishes, to give them more zip. Well it's gotten to the point that when he tells his audience he's going to "kick it up a notch," they go nuts, because they know what he's going to do next. He takes a pinch of this spice puts the spice on his dish, then everyone in unison says, "BAM."

The audience anticipates this happening and they remain upbeat and excited about what's going on throughout his show. I started thinking the other night, that if you can spice up some dull, uninviting food dish and make it interesting and more satisfying, we ought to be able to do the same for our spiritual lives, when things become dull or routine. And I figured that since we are good Methodist's that an analogy using food wouldn't be a far stretch for us.

But seriously, sometimes our spiritual lives can be extremely dry and uninviting like food can be, particularly if we get into some kind of funk or drought. And if you have ever experienced a spiritual drought you know what droughts can do. We feel worn out maybe depressed, it's as if we have no energy or desire. And when we feel this way our spiritual foundation begins to crumble.

Several months ago, when talking to the structural engineer about Catoctin's (our) sanctuary foundation, he said he thought it was the drought last summer that created the problem with the foundation.

As the ground became dry it contracted allowing movement in an otherwise firm foundation. So it seems the lack of moisture created the foundation problem. The same is true of our spiritual foundation. If we become dry in our spiritual life, our foundation may begin to crumble, requiring us to spice it up to make it more inviting and appealing.

So how can we move our spiritual life beyond routine, or perhaps through a drought, to being more vital? How can we kick it up a notch? What spice can we add that will give us the essence we need to be better formed in the image of God. Well within Psalm 146 we are given four key ingredients to spice up our spiritual life.

This psalm has become a favorite of mine because when you read it carefully, it speaks to the issue of spiritual formation, and tells us what the 4 key ingredients are for being formed more fully to the image of God. So this morning as we consider how we can kick up our spiritual life a notch or two lets looks at these four important ingredients.

The first ingredient is Humility. We ought to live humble lives, realizing we can't do it all by ourselves. This is tough because we are taught to help ourselves. There are thousands of self-help books available that support this notion of self-help. As a matter of fact if you visit a large bookstore you'll find shelf space dedicated to many types of self-help books. But Psalm 146 says don't put your life in the hands of mortal men, but rather be humble and know that God will provide.

Alex Haley, the late author of Roots, had a unique picture in his office. Framed on his wall was a shot of a turtle sitting on top of a fence post. Haley prized the picture because it was a constant reminder of a lesson he had learned long ago. He said, "If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help getting there. Anytime I start thinking, 'Wow look at what I have done!' I look at that picture and remember how this turtle, how I, got up on the fence post." All that we are and all that we do is not because of us, it's because of God. If you find yourself sitting on a fence post, be humble, and remember how you got there. It was by God's help directly, or through someone God sent to you to help.

You're probably familiar with the phrase, "woke up on the wrong side of the bed?" How many of you have ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed? Sure, we all have at one time or another. We wake up cranky and grumpy, it's as if we didn't rest at all. And since we're not happy every ones else pays the price too. It doesn't take a whole lot to suck the joy out of life if we allow ourselves to.

So if you awake one day and are consumed with how you feel, I suggest you get back under the covers, because you're already off on the wrong foot. Psalm 146 says be humble, don't focus on how you feel, but rather wake up and give praise to God for another day. Another day full of wonderment, opportunity and joy.

Be humble and allow God to form you. God doesn't call us to be informed by the Bible or by preaching. God calls us to be formed by what we read and what we hear.

It's so easy to take information and make it all about us. We sometimes think, "how can I use this information to my advantage?" But it's not about us, it's about God. So the question we ought to ask is how can I take this information and use it to be more like Jesus? How can I take this information and advance the kingdom of God?

This day is fragile and will never come again. How will you spend it? Being grumpy, or in praise of God, thanking him for another day. So the first key ingredient to this special spice is humility. Praise God in all you say and do, and don't let the world drag you down.

The second key ingredient of spiritual formation is Help. Psalm 146 tells us to seek God, realizing we need help, and that it's God who will send the help. Don't place your trust in humanity. Trust God to send the right people at the right time. Our ultimate helper is the God of Jacob.

I found this point to be very true in helping put together Caring Hands of Emmitsburg. I was working hard trying to pull together the right people and trying to find someone to fill the position of Parish Nurse Coordinator. I called people; I did all kinds of things to find the right people. Now notice I said, "I."

The truth is "I" was not working at all; "I" was getting in the way. I sought a human means to find the right people instead of turning to God to get the help that was needed. When I finally sought God's help and asked God to provide the appropriate leadership and the right person to fill the Parish Nurse Coordinator position, and got out of the way, things began to happen.

In a short time we ended up with a board of directors that has complimentary gifts and represents very well the town of Emmitsburg, and out of the blue I received a call from someone interested in the volunteer position of Parish Nurse Coordinator. So we are now moving forward at a greater pace then when "I" was working hard.

The truth is we are not equipped to help ourselves all the time, which is counter to the idea we need to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Now there are times when we can certainly pull ourselves up and keep going, but in the long run we are not equipped well enough to help ourselves all the time. And self-help books are not the long-term, or eternal solution.

Don't get me wrong some of these books are good and offer some good advice, but they are a means, not an end. They do not provide a long-term or eternal solution. The only self-help book that does is the Bible.

Don't be so wise that you look for help, thinking we can choose who will help us. Be wise enough to know you can go to God for help and know that God will choose who will provide the needed resources at a given time.

The third key ingredient to our spice is Hope. (Col 1:17) Without hope, where do we go and what do we do. In a letter to the editor on August 18 in the Frederick Post there was a man who claims God is dead. I can't imagine living a life without hope, without hope in the living and one true God. I feel sorry for this man who is missing out on a wonderful life.

Christ is in us and is our hope in glory. And our purpose is to give others hope. Far too many people die without hope, and it's sad.

We have the honor and privilege to give people hope. To help them come to know the hope of the world, Jesus Christ.

And the fourth key ingredient of our spice is lending a Hand. We ought to reach out to those folks looking for hope. Spiritual formation comes when we reach out and give hope in Jesus Christ to those who feel they have no hope. The Bible says to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

The other day I heard a woman say that her mother used to tell her that, "the saddest day of your life is the day you awake and there's no one to help." How true.

We receive great satisfaction from serving others and in turn the person being helped is blessed. This is the ultimate win-win situation, a divine win-win situation. Spirituality and service cannot be separated. To be formed spiritually and to grow spiritually we need to engage in helping others.

How many of you here are familiar with the cartoon "The Flintstones?" This was one of my favorites when I was a kid.

You might remember that in the introduction to the cartoon, Fred comes home from work; slams open the door and yells, "Wilma I'm home!" What happens next? Dino, the dog dinosaur, comes running through the house and jumps on Fred, knocking him over and licking him because he's so glad to see him.

Now consider this: if we look at time from the Biblical perspective our day would actually begin at sundown. This means as we sleep, God is at work preparing things for us to awake. When we awake we join God in the day he has already begun. Now knowing this, what if we were to wake up in the morning, fling open the covers and say, "God I'm awake and ready to go!" And God greets us with open arms, like faithful Dino greets Fred, because he's so glad to see us. If we approached each of our days like this wouldn't we begin the day with a great attitude?

Looking at the day from this perspective we no longer wake up thinking we have to make things happen for ourselves. God has already been at work while we were asleep, all we have to do is join him and follow his lead. Looking at the day from this perspective we have less pressure, we have more time to spend with family, we know we don't have to make the day conform to us, we conform to the day God has made.

As I conclude let me read a modern translation of Psalm 146, which I think adds further clarity to the wonderful meaning of this Psalm and the image of the 4 key ingredients I spoke of. This translation is from Eugene Peterson's The Message.

Hallelujah! O my soul, praise God! All my life long I'll praise God, singing songs to my God as long as I live.

Don't put your life in the hands of experts who know nothing of life, of salvation life. Mere humans don't have what it takes; when they die, their projects die with them. Instead, get help from the God of Jacob, put your hope in God and know real blessing!

God made sky and soil, sea and all the fish in it. He always does what he says - he defends the wronged, he feeds the hungry. God frees prisoners - he gives sight to the blind, he lifts up the fallen. God loves good people, protects strangers, takes the side of orphans and widows, but makes short work of the wicked.

God's in charge - always. Zion's God is God for good! Hallelujah!

So I encourage you to refocus your spiritual life, and include these four ingredients: a humble heart, seeking God's help, hope in Christ, and lending a hand, mix them together to create a wonderful spice that will certainly kick things up a notch. Now approach each new day in praise of God being so joyful you can't help but shout hallelujah, amen, or in cave man language Yabba-Dabba-Doo.

Thanks be to God for sharing with us the essence of a solid spiritual life.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade