Tag Archives: Diet

Keeping it to Myself; Holding it Together

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Romans 14:17 (NIV)

Yesterday Wendy and I were with our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and I met young ladies who were from Honduras, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. I was told that the first time my young sister from Afghanistan joined us I happened to give the message that day, and she was relatively new to living here in the States. At some point during the message I began to cry (that happens quite frequently, I’m afraid). She, however, was taken aback. Culturally, men in Afghanistan do not cry, especially in public. She laughed about it now, and the moment became an opportunity for her to learn and grow on a number of different levels. Very cool.

Along my journey I have encountered people from all manner of cultural, religious, and denominational backgrounds. People have all sorts of things that are important to them religiously, spiritually, or culturally from things you eat (or don’t), things you wear (or don’t), and certain days that are special (or not). We’re not talking here about matters of civil law or basic morality. This conversation is about preferences, practices, customs and traditions that are not the command of Christ, though they may hold some special spiritual significance to a particular individual or a particular group of individuals.

As Paul is writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome, he is aware that among all the fledgling local gatherings of believers there are very diverse cross-sections of humanity. Not just Jews and Gentiles, but people from different nations, tribes, cultural backgrounds, and socio-economic positions. This would especially have been true in Rome which was the cosmopolitan epicenter of the western world at the time. The Jesus Movement was breaking down barriers between people for the first time history and for the first time people were interacting with one another, eating together, worshipping together, and speaking to one another as equals on a regular basis. Of course this is going to create all sorts of minor clashes between people from diverse cultural, religious, social and economic backgrounds.

In today’s chapter Paul gives some very clear teaching on these various and sundry differences.

First, he points out that what a person eats and drinks (or doesn’t) and what days are of special spiritual significance (or not) are really of no concern to God but are merely concerns of personal, individual conscience. This, in and of itself, might be a huge eye-opener if my ego has convinced me that I am the universal spiritual template and standard by which all other followers of Jesus should abide by and be judged. Each individual, Paul instructs, should worry only about herself/himself and her/his own behavior in accordance with her/his own conscience before God.

Second, Paul explains that because many different believers have very different matters of conscience on these matters there is no binary “right” and “wrong” in these matters except within my own heart and mind. These things are a private matter between me and God.

That being said and established, Paul urges me to take off my Junior Holy Spirit badge and stop playing spiritual judge, jury, and executioner applying my personal conscience before God onto others who have very different consciences before the same God. “Worry about yourself,” Paul is saying, “and let God worry about others.”

Finally, Paul exhorts me to follow the example of Christ and put others and their personal consciences above my own right to exercise my very different conscience. If I know that a person holds that Sabbath is sacred, I’m not going to ask her/him to come over and help me move my couch that day. If I know that another person finds alcohol to be evil and prohibitive, I’m not going to make an appointment to meet that person at the local pub and I’m going to abstain from drinking in her/his presence.

And, if a sister finds that a man crying in public is wrong, well…I’ll try to hold it together!

Have a great week, my friend!

 

A Different Kind of Diet

“Hamath and Arpad are dismayed,
    for they have heard bad news.
They are disheartened,
    troubled like the restless sea.”
Jeremiah 49:23 (NIV)

I’ve been dieting of late, but it has nothing to do with food. I’ve been on a news diet. A while back Wendy and I recognized that the 24/7/365 cable and internet news cycle is as good for our hearts, minds, and souls as a steady diet of Twinkies would be for our bodies.

We have more instant access to global news and information than any one has experienced in recorded history. News outlets exist to get as many consumers listening/reading/clicking as possible so they can charge more money for advertising dollars and make money for their owners. How do you get more people to pay attention to your news? Sensationalize. Hype. Create buzz. Turn mole hills into mountains. Pander to your base. Fudge. Spin. Repeat.

While it is important for me to be aware of what’s going on in our world, I’ve concluded that I don’t need to stream non-stop news feeds into my brain from every device I own. This is why I liken it to dieting. I learned a long time ago that my body needed far less food than I (and my appetites) thought it did. Portion control changed my physical health for the better. I realize that portion control of news and information will, likewise, change my mental and psychological health for the better.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Jeremiah continues his series of prophetic messages to the neighboring nations of his day.

Ancient empires learned early on that one of the keys to quickly conquering other peoples was purely psychological. The greater your reputation for mayhem and destruction, the more fear you could strike in the hearts of your foes before you arrived, the easier they would be to defeat. In fact, they might just surrender rather than fight.

Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning Damscus was simply this: They were going to be a pushover because they allowed fear to seize them and paralyze them.

Time and time again Jesus told his followers “Don’t be afraid,” and yet I observe that the culture around me seems more and more driven by fear, worry, panic, and frenzy. I’ve observed that my news feed and its “If it bleeds it leads” mentality seems to want to keep me hooked like a drug on fear and worry that will, in turn, keep me coming back to find out what will happen next.

So, I’m on a news diet. I’m choosing to control my intake. I can already feel myself losing the weight of fear and worry.

“What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”                                   – Jesus (Mt 6:31-34 MSG)

How are Those Resolutions Coming?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
Romans 7:15 (NIV)

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions coming? I laughed the other day when a friend on Facebook confessed that he couldn’t wait for everyone at his crowded gym to give up their resolutions and stay home.

Why is it that we struggle to do the things we want to do and the things that we know will be good for us? At the same time, we continue to do things we know are unhealthy for ourselves (and perhaps others) even though we know we should stop.

This is the crux of the rumination in today’s chapter. There are those who steadfastly believe, or act as if they believe, that God’s favor is earned by keeping the rules, being good people, and coloring inside the lines. Paul’s response is basically: “How are those New Year’s Resolutions coming?”

No matter how good we try to be, we never truly rid ourselves of the human condition. Despite our resolutions we find ourselves choosing the couch over the gym after a couple of meager attempts at self discipline. The five pounds we shed in January (of the 20 we need to lose) is back on by Valentine’s Day. And, we won’t even go there with the nasty little secret behaviors the rest of the world doesn’t see.

The message of Jesus was simply this. You can’t rid yourself of the nature of sin. That being the case, death is the penalty. Jesus did not come to give us a a bunch of Pinterest worthy sayings to motivate us toward good works. Jesus came to die the death that we deserve, so that we might have access to the Life we can never afford by our own efforts.

Today, I’m feeling grateful that my salvation is not dependent on my goodness. I think I’ll keep working on those resolutions, though. They won’t earn me a ticket to heaven, but they will certainly make my journey on this earth a little better for both me and my companions.

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Appetites

source: life on the edge via Flickr
source: life on the edge via Flickr

Everyone’s toil is for their mouth,
yet their appetite is never satisfied.
Ecclesiastes 6:7 (NIV)

Twice in my life journey I have gone through the process of dropping a significant amount of weight. In both instances, the key for me was taking control of my appetite for food and the pleasure I derived from indulging it. Realizing the truth of Solomon’s observation that my appetite was never satisfied, I knew that I had to discipline myself to be content with less. I allowed myself to feel hungry between meals and to patiently wait for meal time. When meal time came, I chose smaller portions and soon found that my body could be fully satisfied with far less than I had grown accustomed to eating. Instead of indulging in a handful of cookies, I satiated my after dinner sweet tooth with a single square of Ghiradelli chocolate.

I soon realized that my body followed wherever my appetite led, and it adjusted to my intake. When I indulged my appetite, my body started craving more and more. When I controlled my appetite, my body started to work quite contentedly on much less.

You may have also noticed that I mentioned having to drop weight twice. This is because of another important lesson I learned the hard way. Without perseverance and diligence, my appetite will slowly and subtly return to craving “just a little bit more” until it is consistently being indulged more than necessary. Over time I found myself right back where I started (well, close to where I started).

Through this experience, I learned that there is a pattern in life that I must ceaselessly and personally recognize and address. We all, every one of us, have unhealthy appetites. Our craving leads to indulgence which, in turn, develops into habit (and sometimes addiction), and left unabated will usually leads to negative consequences and some degree of brokenness. Sometimes we can wrestle back control of an appetite through reason and will. Sometimes we need the help of others. Sometimes, as the Twelve Steps has so powerfully taught millions, we cannot do it without surrendering to our Higher Power. Tragically, some lose the battle and feeding their appetites leads to death.

Today, I am thinking about my own appetites and cravings. I am taking it one day, one step at a time.

(Note: I gave a message on this very subject a few years ago. If you have any interest you can listen by clicking here)

The Sour Feeling in My Gut

source: stickyii via Flickr
source: stickyii via Flickr

So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Revelation 10:9-10 (NIV)

As artists, Wendy and I love stories that are honest and well told, even when the honesty includes characters acting and speaking in ways we would find unacceptable for ourselves. Some people are offended when they hear a single profane word uttered in any context, but it typically doesn’t bother us when a truly profane character in a movie swears on the screen. Profane people say a lot of profane things. We usually roll with it without thinking much of it.

Having said this, there have been many times over the years that Wendy and I have felt spiritually soured when watching television, a movie, or when reading a book. For a couple of years we avidly watched a television program that was, and I’m sure still is, brilliantly written and well acted. It was network television, so there wasn’t anything in the weekly program which we found particularly objectionable. However, one night Wendy mentioned to me that she felt a “sourness” in her spirit watching the show. Coincidentally, I had been feeling the same gross feeling over the course of the previous few weeks, but without being sure why, I hadn’t said anything. To this day, I can’t tell you any one thing that was wrong or objectionable about the show, but in our gut we both felt spiritually gross watching it. So, we stopped.

I love the word picture of God asking John to eat the scroll in today’s chapter. The connection between God’s word and food is a recurring theme throughout God’s Message. For example, Jesus said when tempted to satiate his physical hunger that “man was not made for bread alone, but for every word that comes out of God’s mouth.”

A couple of related takeaways this morning:

There is a difference between reading and digesting. It’s one thing to have a small taste of greens, but popping a pea or two is not going to do you much good. You have to consume the green vegetable in larger portions if you want any health benefit. I have found the same to be true with reading God’s Message. For maximum spiritual health benefit, you can’t just have an occasional taste. It should be fully consumed and digested over time.

Transformation doesn’t take place without significant change, and change is often motivated by discomfort. When you get used to eating a healthier, more balanced diet you soon find that unhealthy things have a discomforting affect on your body and its functions. I don’t like the way I feel after eating all of those sweets or fats, and it motivates me to avoid doing it again. Once I changed my spiritual diet to include regular consumption of God’s Message, I found that I started feeling soured towards spiritually unhealthy things. I still can’t tell you what it was about the television program Wendy and I stopped watching, but the sourness in our spirits told us we needed to cut that program out of our entertainment diet. Call it what you want. I just know that when I something is spiritually off, the sour feeling in my soul motivates me to get things back in line.

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The Good Stuff

Wine decanter and glasses.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day 1 Corinthians 6

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT)

Wendy and I like to entertain. We don’t do it as often as we’d like and, while we don’t go to extremes, there are evenings when we choose to get out “the good stuff.” Paper napkins are replaced by cloth. Plates are put on gold chargers. Because we are going to bring out the good wine, the nice wine glasses are placed on the table along with a special wine decanter for pouring, aerating and serving the wine. We recognize that our guests are honored when we make the effort to break out “the good stuff” for our dinner together.

Let me be honest. The verses above have haunted me for most of my journey. I have never been uber athletic. Running marathons, competing in triathlons, or getting involved in recreational athletics have never held much appeal for me. Okay, they’ve never held any appeal for me whatsoever. Like most Americans, I like to eat. While I have given regular and serious thought to my diet and to exercise (e.g. I think about eating better, I think about exercising, I contemplate the benefits of doing so), an honest audit of my behavior over time would reveal that I have had little or no discipline in this area. This past year has been one of two periods of my life in which I’ve dropped some serious weight. And yet, the verses still haunt me.

God’s Message clearly teaches that following Jesus means inviting Him into our hearts and our lives. There is something simple and mystical yet powerfully in the act of sincerely saying to Jesus “Come into my heart. Come into my life. Save me.” Elsewhere in God’s Message, Jesus says:

“Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.” [emphasis added] Revelation 3:20 (MSG)

The night Jesus gave Himself up for us, He took wine and blessed it and said, “this is my blood.” When I read these verses from today’s chapter, what haunts me is this: when Jesus is invited into our hearts and our lives, our very own bodies become the decanter for creation’s most precious wine. Yet, the way I’ve treated my body most of my life is no different than welcoming my most honored guest and His gift of precious wine by grabbing a dirty, used styrofoam cup off the counter and telling Him to “fill ‘er up.”

Lord, have mercy on me.

Weighty Issues

“Fat Daddy” c1996

Wendy and I have recently had friends asking questions about my weight so I thought I’d address them here and just get it out in the open. Yes, I have intentionally lost weight over the last seven or eight months. I’m perfectly healthy and within what is the normal weight range for a man my age and height. I’m feeling great.

For the record, while I’ve never considered myself tremendously overweight, this is the second time in my life that I’ve dropped a significant amount of weight. In both cases, it was seeing myself in photographs that motivated me to act. The first instance came somewhere around 1997. While going through a bunch of photographs it was a young Madison (never one for mincing words) who pointed to a picture of me and said, “Look, it’s FAT DADDY!” She was right. For the first time in my life the scale was reading above 200 pounds and heading upwards.

40 Pounds Lighter c.1999

It was just about this time that the Atkins low-carb diet was all the rage. I can’t say that I ever followed it or any other kind of strict diet plan. I just cut my carbs to the bone, ate smaller portions of high protein foods and started moving.  Over the next couple of years I dropped from around 205 lbs down to just under 160. My weight moderated around 160 for several years as I transitioned into maintaining a moderate diet.

It’s amazing how easy it is for life changes to affect your habits. Over the past few years I slowly began eating bigger portions, snacking more and exercising less. I never felt tremendously unhealthy or fat, but at the beginning of 2012 I saw some pictures of myself. I didn’t like what I saw and I heard in my head a five-year-old Madison’s voice saying “Look, it’s FAT DADDY!” I realized that something once more had to change. Without saying much to Wendy, I began to quietly change my eating habits and dropped a few pounds.

The Return of Fat Daddy

As this past winter began giving way to spring, Wendy and I had a meeting with one of our co-workers whom we had not seen in some time. When he walked into the meeting we were both shocked to see how much weight he’d lost and how good he looked. He shared with us that he’d joined Weight Watchers On-line and it had worked for him. Wendy began investigating the program and encouraged me to join with her and work together on getting healthy.

My first reaction to Wendy’s suggestion was: “No way! I’ve lost weight before on my own and I don’t need to spend money on some program that’s going to tell me what I can and can’t eat.” It took me about a day to be thoroughly convicted that I was acting like a stubborn, hard-headed ass when I needed to partner with my wife in getting healthy together. In March we signed-up for Weight Watchers On-line and began working together on changing our eating habits.

What can I say? It worked. This post is not intended to be an advertisement or endorsement for Weight Watchers, but the thing we’ve liked about Weight Watchers On-line is that there are no special meals to buy. The process simply helped us realize what foods were good for us, which foods were actually bad for us, and how to modify our portions to appropriate sizes. As a result, Wendy and I are eating healthier and eating appropriate portions. Over six months I dropped just over 35 pounds. I’ve started exercising to build strength and muscle tone. I’m now wearing clothing sizes I’ve not worn since high school and college. For anyone who may have been worried, I’m done losing and feeling like I’m at the right place. Now it’s time to maintain and stay healthy!