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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Demon Brew

    Has anyone besides me noticed that American Christians are growing increasingly lax in arriving at worship services on time? I’ve been part of local church life in one place or another long enough to notice this trend toward habitual tardiness. Now there have always been those few who would be late to their own funerals, but I’m not talking about those folks. I’m talking about what is more and more becoming the majority of people who consider themselves church members.

    The demise of traditional Sunday school classes may have something to do with it. Families would come to church early enough to attend the pre-service Bible classes and then move on into the sanctuary during the break.  Pretty much everybody was in their seats by the time the organist finished playing the prelude and the choir members filed in. Choir and organ music or not, every church body I’ve ever been a part of began Sunday services with some kind of call to worship. Styles and music certainly change with the years, but the basics remain more or less the same. Tardiness, however, is definitely a contemporary development.

    I have given this matter considerable thought and I think I know the reason behind American Christianity’s downward spiral toward careless indifference about arriving to worship services on time. The secret lurks in almost every church without respect to sect, style, or denomination affiliation. Whereas my Sunday school theory may offer a partial explanation, I think the real culprit behind the growing pattern of “lateness as lifestyle” is of a much darker nature. How dark you ask? Very dark - as in breakfast blend, French roast or even Sumatran. Ladies and gentlemen, possibly the greatest hindrance to worship services starting on time with the congregation bodily present is that perennial favorite beverage of Americans, the cup of hot coffee.

    Scoff if you must, but think about it for a moment. What is the one obstacle between you and the pew on any Sunday morning? It is not the the gleaming coffee urn with its tantalizing aroma? How about the siren call of brightly labeled specialty creamers with exotic names like French vanilla, creme brulee, or caramel machiatto? Perhaps it’s the skurrrkkkk of the k-cup machine that woos and then deludes you into thinking, “This won’t take but a minute and I haven’t heard the musicians start up yet anyway.” You look at the clock in the lobby and realize the service is about to begin, and yet there you stand at the coffee station, styrofoam cup in hand to collect the steaming brown elixir. You pump some creamer into your coffee and rifle the stir sticks. A quick whirl of a stick, a toss to the trash can, and back to the carry-out lids for one to top your hot beverage lest you should scald yourself or soak the upholstery. You manage to find your seat at last, somewhere in the middle of the second song. And so it goes. You were almost on time, but then you stopped for a cup of the demon brew!
    I jest, of course. If a church really didn’t want you to have coffee prior to a worship service (and even during it, in some places) they wouldn’t serve it to you in the first place. I know that my own church started offering coffee and a bit of food before services a few years ago because refreshments can really help people connect with one another face to face, even if it’s just for a few moments in front of the French vanilla creamer.  Besides, most preachers I know would rather minister to people abuzz with a bit of caffeine then they would to a roomful of folks who can’t seem to keep their eyes open.

    While I am kidding around about coffee being a tool of the devil, my observations about churches, coffee and the worship service do have some merit. I happen to lead the early worship service at my church. There’s a fifteen minute break at the conclusion of this service before the next one begins. During that time, I make my way out into the lobby, pour myself some coffee (hopefully there’s some left) and visit with friends. The vantage point from the cafe table that I normally retreat to gives me perspective on certain aspects of human behavior. I can tell you with all certainty that as long as the coffee is flowing, most church people these days will almost always choose to drink coffee and talk to their friends in the lobby over getting into the worship service on time. I have often seen people arrive very late and still choose to sit and drink coffee before going into the sanctuary, if it’s available. At our church the practice got so bad that we finally had to start clearing the coffee service by a certain time just to discourage it.

    As a coffee drinker myself, I understand the attraction. What is more comforting and endorphin-producing that a fresh cup of Joe? As a worship leader, however, I am annoyed. The message to me is that what I’m doing, or at least a attempting to do - draw people into the presence of God -  is not nearly as compelling as hot coffee. I fight the temptation to be annoyed about this constantly. I see visions of myself cleansing the lobby of coffee makers with my guitar strap, like Jesus took on the money changers: “This service shall be called a worship service, not a coffee bar!” It’s ridiculous, I know.

    You may be thinking, “So I’m late to the service because I stop for coffee. What’s the big deal?”  Addressing that would be another blog entry entirely. However, if you ever have to lead worship for a congregation that adds new participants every ninety seconds for fifteen minutes, you’ll know firsthand what the frigging big deal is! Uh, sorry for the outburst.... I think I need a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Timing is Everything, or Has Anybody Seen the Bass Player?

    There are any number of qualifications that the individual members of a local church praise team must have in order for them to function well together.  In addition to all the spiritual requirements that may come to mind, there are also the natural ones. You know, like singers should be able to carry a tune, and I don’t mean in a bucket. Anyone who plays an instrument should demonstrate a certain level of skill before they’re allowed to join the band.  And in my book, the one attribute that all singers and musicians on a church worship team must have is a good sense of timing. Especially the drummer. Let’s face it, drums rule. If the drummer can’t keep good time, that’s a pretty tough challenge to work through because, in music, timing is everything.

    There’s another timing issue among musicians that concerns me on many a Sunday morning, and it has nothing to do with keeping the beat.  It has to do with actually being bodily present for the the start of the worship service. You would be amazed at the disappearing act that sometimes goes on at my church right before a service is supposed to begin. One minute our keyboard player (and main worship leader/ audiophile) is on the platform ready to play, and seconds later he is up in the balcony, hanging like a monkey and tweaking some audio connection.  Certain instruments I can start without, but the keyboard is not one of them. How does he move that fast, anyway?

    I should tell you that our pre-service prep and rehearsal only runs an hour, and I must allow everyone time for a break before the service begins. People do what they gotta do in that brief time, and this seems to include breakfasting on coffee and a pastry for some of the non-singers. I’m pretty sure they find it on the premises, but it takes them so long to make it back that sometimes I wonder. Ever see that Family Circle cartoon of little Billy after being instructed by his mom to “come straight home?”  If you can envision the rabbit trails that Billy takes between where he is and home, then you have a pretty good idea of what happens to some of our folks between 8:50 and 9:00 on a typical Sunday morning.

    This past Sunday was not typical, however. It was Easter. Naturally, we planned some special music and programming for the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection. The allotted time for praise and worship would be abbreviated, however, to allow for everything on the schedule. Aware of the extra time constraints, I had stressed the need to our team for starting on time, “with or without the congregation!” (Our nine o’clock folks can be a little slow to find their seats).  Our normally tight schedule was actually running pretty smoothly. Everything and everyone was prepared by service time, and all systems were “go.”   Until, that is, someone noticed that our bass player was missing.  Well, it just went all Keystone Cops from there.

    “Where’s Jacob?” “He’s getting coffee.”  “Wow, it’s nine o’clock - I’ll go find him!”  And before I can engage my brain quickly enough to say, “Don’t leave! We’ll start without him,” off dashes the keyboard player.  While Jonathan is off to parts unknown looking for Jacob, in walks Jacob. Only he’s not really walking. Walking would look like a sprint compared to the stroll he’s doing.  But at least he is back and getting ready to play. It’s now five minutes after nine, and no keyboard player. I look beyond the open doors of the rear of the sanctuary to see Jonathan quickly circle the foyer and head out again, not realizing that Jacob has returned.  Seven after nine and counting. I’m now having visions of Second Service people impatiently waiting as First Service runs late and my pastor gives me the evil eye (he wouldn’t, by the way). Slight panic. Visitors are looking at me funny. At least I think they are - I may still be having visions. I apologize to our visitors for the housekeeping and try humorously explaining the disappearing musicians phenomenon that sometimes afflicts us.  At last, I see Jonathan sprinting across the foyer and back into the sanctuary. He bounds up the platform steps to his station and we begin the opening song.

    I wasn’t about to start our Resurrection Day celebration service without a keyboard player. That would be like eating a ham sandwich without the ham. Besides, the guy wears a lot of hats on Sunday mornings, so he deserves some slack. As a general rule, I don’t like starting any worship service without the entire team being in place. But if I have to, I’ll start without a disappearing bass player in a New York minute. You can count on it!

Lynn DeShazo


Monday, March 3, 2014

"Son of God" the Movie - My Review

    Yesterday I watched the newly released and much-touted movie, “Son of God.” I watched it along with a crowd of folks from my church; we booked almost an entire theater for the Sunday afternoon matinee. The last time we did that was for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which came out about ten years ago. That film, of course, raised the bar considerably for faith-themed movies.  I was glad to see this newest addition to gospel genre films, but it was certainly nothing like the caliber of Gibson’s work. It seemed to me much more like a “made for TV” movie escaped to the big screen. Some of the early footage was, in fact, taken right out of the “The Bible” miniseries which was specifically produced for television. That said, I enjoyed the film for the most part, and I am truly appreciative of the effort taken by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett to tell yet again what is truly the greatest story every told.

    If you’re looking for a movie that portrays every action of Jesus exactly as the Scriptures describe it, you’ll be disappointed (the only movie that does that successfully is the “Jesus” film, released in 1979 and still the all-time best evangelism tool ever produced).  Bible purists will no doubt be troubled by some of the depictions. Familiar events are featured but perhaps not in the way you’d expect to see them presented, and some of them are combined in odd ways. For example, when Jesus declares to his disciples that not one stone of the temple in Jerusalem would be left upon another, he does it in a playful way with a small child. “Jesus loves the little children” meets “Jesus the prophet.” I honestly found that a little disturbing, given the gravity of what Jesus was referring to, but I guess I fall in the “purist” category. When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the film shows him actually entering the tomb, definitely not how the Gospels record the event. Amazingly, Jesus is the only one not gagging from the stench. But Lazarus is raised, which is the point, and what we all love about the story.  In the crucifixion scene, Jesus’ garment is torn from him by the Roman soldiers.  The Gospels specifically tell us that whereas his outer garments where divided among four soldiers, the Lord’s seamless inner garment was not torn.  Overall, scenes from the ministry of Jesus were not stretched beyond credibility, however.  One of my favorite scenes was the calling of Matthew the tax collector to become Jesus’ disciple. I can’t say that it actually happened that way, but I can envision it happening that way; it sure seemed in keeping with the character of the biblical Jesus.  The near-stoning of the woman caught in adultery was also very compelling. I won’t spoil those scenes for you, in case you want to see the movie for yourself.

    To me, “Son of God” is sort of like what a child’s story Bible is to the King James Version. You can rely on it for the basic account, but not all the actual details or even the words of Jesus as the Bible records them are provided. Creative liberties were definitely taken by the film’s directors. But then they never intended for this movie to be a strictly by-the-book portrayal of the Gospel accounts, seeking instead to capture the spirit of Jesus’ life and ministry as they put his story to film.  I’d say they accomplished their intentions. Honestly, I have yet to see a major studio movie on the life of Christ that was ever done to my complete satisfaction.

    I genuinely liked several aspects about “Son of God.”  For starters, someone finally cast an actor in the role of Jesus who looks like they could have grown up near the Mediterranean Sea instead of the Thames. The character of Jesus practically leaked compassion. The other principal roles seemed well cast, to me, and the actors’ performances were strong and believable. One of the better things accomplished in this film was the backdrop of the political tension of the times created by the Roman occupation of Israel and Jerusalem. I therefore understood Caiaphas, though I still despised him. I also thought the portrayal of Jesus’ arrest, beating, and crucifixion was sensitively done. The difficult scenes were realistic without trying to compete with “The Passion of the Christ,” which went way over the top in its depiction of Jesus’ suffering (I swear, I never in my life wanted a movie character to hurry up and die so badly as I did while watching “The Passion!”).  I never enjoy this part of any film on the life of Christ, but I thought “Son of God” handled it well. I was moved afresh when the suffering and death of Jesus were recalled to me through this film. I also found the framing of the film’s beginning and end through the aging Apostle John both unexpected and refreshing.

    “Son of God” is not the best film on the life of Jesus I’ve ever seen, but the good news still shines through, a testimony to the power of the Cross. The story of Jesus is still the greatest story ever told and manages to overcome the short-comings of this new film presentation.

Lynn DeShazo



Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up On Aspartame

     Every now and then I’ll see a testimonial on the dangers of aspartame that has been re-posted on Facebook, usually with an impassioned plea to “please share this!”  An unsuspecting consumer of aspartame-laced food products begins to develop terrible symptoms of illnesses ranging from splitting headaches to MS-like neurological symptoms. No doctor seems to be able to help them in any significant way. The poor soul is bewildered, distressed, and absolutely at a loss to explain their health crisis until, finally, they stumble on some information about aspartame poisoning. “Eureka!” they cry. Understandably, they immediately cut out all aspartame from their diet and, wonder of wonders, miraculously begin to recover.  End of story?  No. They then begin a crusade to get all their friends and loved ones off the cursed stuff by posting aspartame poisoning stories on Facebook and other social media. Their friends, naturally, are all deeply appreciative. Or greatly annoyed.

    I avoid aspartame for the most part, along with other artificial sweeteners. I’ve had the occasional swig of a diet drink if it was handy, but very little of the stuff has crossed my lips over the past twenty or so years. I’ve never been convinced that aspartame is perfectly safe for human consumption, but maybe you are.  Perhaps you’re thinking, “Look, the FDA approved aspartame years ago. Just leave me and my diet cola alone, ok?”

     Honest to God, I wish I could, but this subject intrigues me.  Is aspartame really a poison or not? Is everybody susceptible to aspartame toxicity, or just certain people?  Is there anyone out there who can settle this issue for us with any certainty?  Good news, people! Yes, there is.

    Due to my keen interest in the subject, I recently purchased a copy of an audio lecture by Dr. Russell Blaylock, MD entitled, “The Truth About Aspartame.”

Click here to go to Dr. Blaylock's web site

I listened carefully and tell you now with great conviction that the best ten bucks you will spend all year is for a copy of Dr. Blaylock’s carefully researched presentation.  As Dr. Blaylock states it, you will learn about “the deceit, the lies, and the flagrant abandonment of you and your family’s safety.”  Among the many facts about aspartame you will discover are:

  • the history of aspartame as developed by the G. D. Searle company.
  • how poorly Searle’s lab experiments and testing for aspartame were conceived and carried out; Searle lab technicians were themselves poorly trained and supervised.
  • that the FDA approved aspartame for use in dry foods in 1974, but then quickly withdrew their approval because of the high incidence of tumor formation found in their very extensive investigation of the G.D. Searle studies.
  • that the FDA, under the direction of a new commissioner, later inexplicably approved aspartame for consumer use (in 1981 for dry foods, 1983 for beverages) based on the same flawed testing and over the objections of the neuroscientists and pathologists who sat on the public board of inquiry. Their chief objection was the high number of brain tumors found in animals exposed to aspartame.
  • that FDA commissioner Authur Hull Hayes, left the FDA two months after he initiated aspartame approval to become the senior medical advisor to G. D. Searle’s public relations firm.
  • that all three components of aspartame - the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid, and methanol, a toxic alcohol - are toxic to the brain, especially the developing brain of a fetus, infant, or a young child. 
  • that aspartame in high enough doses can cause seizures in adults and exacerbate the symptoms of MS. 
  • how the methanol component of aspartame metabolizes in the body as formaldehyde (the chemical used to embalm corpses), a powerful toxin which then accumulates in the body because it is difficult to remove from cells.
  • how formaldehyde damages human DNA, leading to cancer and other degenerative brain diseases, especially in females.
  • that methanol (aka wood alcohol), which is highly toxic to humans, tends to accumulate in fat tissue; the brain is 60% fat.
  • that phenylalanine, though naturally occurring, becomes a dangerous brain toxin at high levels.
  • that a pregnant woman should NEVER ingest aspartame. Her inability to normally metabolize phenylalanine puts her unborn child at risk for mental retardation, seizures, and behavioral problems due to the interference with proper brain development. If she is also a carrier of the PKU gene, ingesting aspartame puts her baby at enormous risk for these problems as well as life-long immune system deficiencies related to aspartame toxicity in a developing thymus gland.
  • how one in fifty people in the U.S. carry the gene for phenylketonuria, whether they show signs of the disorder or not. Ingesting aspartame will cause their blood phenylalanine levels to rise at least twice as high as a normal person’s and often many times more.  These 20 million PKU gene carriers are therefore highly susceptible to the effects of aspartame toxicity and even death, because they lack the critical enzyme needed to metabolize phenylalanine.
  • that by 1987 the food industry was adding 8,000 tons of aspartame to food products.
  • that the segment of our population most at risk for aspartame toxicity is the part that consumes the most of it:  women, young children, babies and the unborn, through the mother’s consumption.
  • how to de-toxify your body from aspartame after you stop consuming it. Dr. Blaylock provides specific recommendations.

    The above-listed points should be enough to convince anyone that aspartame is indeed a deadly poison and should be avoided at all costs. But if you are still not persuaded, then please do yourself and your family a huge favor and spend the ten bucks for a copy of Dr. Blaylock’s lecture. He elaborates quite a bit more on the science of it all.  I urge you to educate yourself and the people you love on the dangers of this widely used food additive.   

 Order Dr. Blaylock's lecture here.
Click on the Audio & Video tab; cd or mp3 download via iTunes.

Article © 2014 by Lynn DeShazo. Please copy and share as often as you like!