Tag Archives: this is harder than i thought it’d be

the obesity epidemic in america’s churches

6 Jun

This morning, I read the following article: The Obesity Epidemic in America’s Churches. I encourage you to click through and read it in its entirety, but here is the quote that most struck me:

The contemporary church culture has unwittingly contributed to the rise in overweight and obese parishioners. Today it is rare to hear a sermon preached on the stewardship of the physical body and even more rare on the vice of gluttony; it has become a secret and acceptable vice in the modern church.

Tables at potlucks strain under the weight of pound cakes, pizza, fried chicken and cheesecake and fellowship is not considered complete without these rich, decadent –and yes addictive foods.

The sacred Sunday ritual between services is donuts, bagels and cream cheese, and coffee with cream and sugar.

And finally, Platonic dualism, the belief that the spirit is sacred and the physical body is corrupt and inconsequential, perpetuates this problem and assists many in justifying unhealthy nutritional habits.

~Scott Stoll, M.D.

Stoll mentions and succinctly summarizes the concept of Platonic dualism, and I agree with him that it is an underlying cause of the problem, as are the unhealthy eating habits and the refusal to acknowledge the problem — ooooh, dare I call it “sin”? — publicly.

But I think there’s a root cause beneath all of this, and I think the root is lack of understanding of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 lays out pretty clearly what the fruit of the spirit is: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Self-control, of course, is the quality that most applies to an obesity epidemic among Christians. Right?

Maybe. Note that in the Galatians 5 passage, “fruit” is singular. Not plural. Paul doesn’t mention the “fruitS of the spirit,” a common misquote. As far as Paul is concerned, there is ONE fruit of the spirit. The spirit produces ONE fruit, not many. To pluralize the fruit is to misunderstand the thrust of what the apostle is trying to tell us.

We live in a society of paramount choice. We must have our variety. We must have our options. To be presented with only ONE of something is an insult. We deserve more than that! We want what we want, and if we don’t see what we want, we expect someone to offer it to us. Why settle for a single, lovingly handmade meal, when we can head out to the buffet and have more choices than we could ever possibly consume in one sitting?

“I’m working on being more patient.”
“Last year, I tried really hard to look for more ways to show kindness.”
“Yeah, things are rough, but I’m trying to be more content (joyful) with what I have.”

How may times have I made statements like that? How many times have you? As if any of us could increase our patience, our goodness, our generosity by any effort of our own. As if we could “pick one fruit” and then, after “working on that” for a certain amount of time, move on to “the next fruit” and chew on that one until we’re satisfied.

People, there is only one fruit of the spirit. And that fruit is Christ. He is love. He is patience. Christ IS self-control. These are not things that we need to “work on”! These are qualities that HE IS! If you have Christ, then you have joy. If you have Christ, then you have peace. You don’t need to pray for patience — if you have Christ, then you already have all the patience you could ever need and more.

The fullness of God dwells in Christ. So, if you have Christ, the fullness of God dwells inside you. If you have Christ, then the unique, singular fruit of the spirit is growing and ripening and multiplying in you.

If we find it difficult to be kind to others, then I submit that we’re not consuming the fruit of the spirit.

If we find it difficult to practice faithfulness, then I submit that we’re not consuming the fruit of the spirit.

If we find it difficult to exercise self-control — whether in our actions, our words, or specifically our eating habits — then I submit that we’re not consuming the fruit of the spirit.

If the fruit of the spirit is not growing in us, then I submit that we don’t have Christ.

Instead, maybe what we have is a sham. Instead, maybe what we have is a mere seeming. Instead, maybe what we have is self-delusion.

Or maybe what we have is such a tiny fraction of our vast Lord, the growth of the spirit’s fruit within us can be nothing but twisted and stunted.

“Test everything. Keep what is good” (1. Thess. 5:21). I submit that this applies to our understanding of the spirit’s fruit. If our understanding is rotten, we need to throw it out and start over.

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the sound of silence (still haven’t found what i’m looking for?)

5 Jun

From May 26, 2011:

Right now, I’m sitting in near silence. I hear the click of my keyboard, the ticking of my wall clock, and the occasional passing car. Other than that, the only sounds are the crinkle of paper as my cat plays nearby and the chirp of crickets outside. No man-made noise…and it is glorious.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is 1. Kings 19: 9-13. Here, the prophet Elijah waits in a mountain cave for God. There’s a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire. God isn’t in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. But then, Elijah hears a “still, small voice.” Some linguists translate this phrase as “the sound of sheer silence.” And when Elijah “heard” that sheer silence, he went out to meet God.

We spend so much of our lives searching for meaning. We yearn so desperately for guidance. We long for true depth of spirit and expansion of soul. I think we lack guidance, meaning, truth, and depth because we’re so busy concentrating on noise. If we were still — if we listened for sheer silence — maybe we would finally find what we’re looking for.

behold! (when i say look, i mean *look*)

13 Mar

Have you ever tried simply to behold Christ?

I’m not talking about a prayer of thankfulness. I’m not talking about a prayer on someone else’s behalf. I’m not even talking about a prayer in which you praise Christ for all his many amazing qualities.

Nor am I talking about reading scripture and meditating on it. Nor do I even mean reading inspirational/devotional literature and pondering how to apply it.

What I’m talking about is taking a few moments simply to be with Jesus and behold the magnificent Christ that he is.

Over the last few weeks, Milt has challenged our group to spend the first five waking minutes of our day in the simple beholding of our Lord. Before we get up or switch on the light, we’re to take five minutes — not for prayer! but for beholding Christ, the Lamb of God. Nothing more, nothing less.

When a New Testament writer uses the word “behold,” it means more than just “pay attention” or “hey, look over here.” A few years back, my Greek teacher told our class that “behold” is the equivalent of shining a bright spotlight on something and blacking out everything else. He left me with the image of someone grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, propelling me toward The Something in question, and shoving my face up to it until The Something is the only thing I can focus on.

The Something, ladies and gents, is supposed to be Christ.

So. Beholding. First five waking minutes of every day.

Slightly easier typed than done.

I feel particularly challenged in this because of pregnancy. Yay for constricted bladder and frequent (but no longer constant, halle-LEW-jer) nausea. The first thing I have to do upon waking is run for the bathroom. It can’t wait five minutes, otherwise the hydraulic pressure in the abdominal region will trigger nausea. (Not to mention that there’s no way I can do any beholding of Christ when all I can think of is my full bladder.)

Secondly, when I first wake up, I have to eat. If I don’t eat, the gagging starts. Huzzah.

As you might imagine, chowing down on string cheese in the dark is not conducive to beholding Christ with any sort of focus.

Once I get these physical necessities out of the way, I can finally settle into focusing on The Something. My body’s (and baby’s) needs are temporarily sated; beholding should now be no problem, right?

Ha.

To show you how not-easy this is, I’m going to give you a run-down of the thoughts that trickled through my mind the first three days I tried to do this. Feel free to laugh. I’ve been rolling my eyes at myself for a week now.

Beholding: Day One

Behold…
Behold Christ, the Lamb of God…
…Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
…John the Immerser said that about Jesus…
…At Jesus’s immersion, God called him “beloved Son…”
…hot, gooey chocolate brownies straight from the oven–

*

Beholding: Day Two

Behold…
Behold Christ, the Lamb of God…
…takes away the sins of the world…
…Lamb of God…
…sleepy…
…Lamb of G…
…zzzzz….

Beholding: Day Three

Behold…
Behold Christ, the Lamb of God…
“Lamb” really does embody so much of what he is…
…innocence, newness, vulnerability, gentleness…
…but with so much unimaginable power in his blood…
Crap, I’m still hungry.

To be honest, Day Three is the most “success” I’ve had in this so far. I’d say that “everything in the universe aligns against me!” the moment I start trying to behold him — except that it’s not everything in the universe! All it takes to distract me from Christ is a single demand of my body or a single stray thought floating at the edge of my consciousness. And, like a distractable kitten, I’m off chasing whatever it is and forgetting everything I was about not ten seconds before.

I’m a writer. I’m quite used to focusing on one thing for a significant period of time.

Dang it, my attention span is supposed to be better than this!

That was a little tongue-in-cheek. I’m not truly that frustrated. ; )

This beholding thing? It’s new. And the good news is that my Lord deals in newness. He’ll fill me up in this, the same way he fills me up in anything and everything else I need. Behold, he is making everything new.

Even me.

it is a good day to die

6 Mar

Greetings, y’all! Hey, this blog still exists. It’s been on an almost 4-month hiatus because end-of-year holidays happened, and then I got pregnant. I’m now 11 weeks along and finally starting to come out of the brain-fog and nausea that have plagued me for the last 8 weeks. The brain is starting to get jampacked again. Therefore, onward!

During the brain-fog and nausea, I read many books. (In fact, I’ve read 25 books so far this year.) One of those was Jesus Manifesto by Leonard K. Sweet and Frank Viola. The authors themselves quote 1 John 4:16 as the “shorthand creed” of their tome: “‘We believe in the love God has for us.’ It is a love that came not in the form of abstract principle but of an actual person, the Son of God” (p. xxiii). And that’s what this book is about.

I could write an entire series of blog posts on all the passages that struck me, but I want to focus on this one in particular:

“The cross sits at the very center of a body of believers that authentically gathers as a church. They will experience death–dry spells; sufferings with one another; death to their agendas, aspirations, opinions, and preferences; and crisis. But this is how God builds His house. Out of the dying, the Lord’s life is expressed, and we are built together into a home for Jesus Christ. From the mulch of decay, disease, and death, God births His resurrection life.

“Note that Jesus waited four days after Lazarus’ death before He raised him up. Death is hopeless. But four days after death is beyond hopeless.

“But never forget: every crisis you face is a God-given opportunity to rediscover Christ in a bold new way. For that reason, every painful encounter we meet bears the fingerprints of God.

“…But remember this…He is resurrection and He is life. And if you endure, outwaiting your impatience for His timing, Christ will roll the stone away and raise you from the dead.”

–Sweet & Viola,
Jesus Manifesto, p. 151.

I’ve been meeting with a small group of believers for almost two years. Most of us had met each other only one time when we started meeting together. At rough count, we came from 6 different religious backgrounds. Not having a clue what we were doing, we embarked together on a quest to discover each other, to discover Christ, and to discover what it really means to live by the life of an indwelling Christ.

It’s been scary, frustrating, hair-pulling, teeth-clenching, irritating, maddening, shocking, tear-filled, hopes-killing, opinions-blasting, disillusioning, infuriating. I’m not just speaking for myself when I say there’s been a fog of doubt, a haze of confusion, and, yea verily, a cloud of seeming doom.

And you know what?

It’s been glorious.

In this group of weird, frustrating, infuriating, shocking people, I have seen Christ. In this group of maddening, odd-opinioned believers, I see Christ. And in peculiar, broken, irritating me, they have told me they see Christ, too.

How is this possible? It’s because we’re dying. And, in an odd paradox, we’re also already dead.

In Galatians 2:19-20, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I live in the flesh is in trusting the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Freed-Hardeman Version). We are already dead, because we were nailed to the cross along with Christ. (A lot of stuff died that day.) We died with him.

Now, on this new journey with Christ, we’re dying all over again. We’re suffering the deaths of our expectations, our opinions, and our traditions. We’re experiencing the death of what we want. To make it more personal: Over the past two years, I’ve seen the death of pretty much every preconceived idea I had about this “new venture.” I had expectations, and God hasn’t chosen to meet a danged one of them. The expectations I’ve got left, the ones that haven’t died yet? Well, they’re lookin’ a mite sickly, lemme tell ya.

So…why do I call this “glorious”?

This past Sunday, we discussed the Mosaic tabernacle as a picture of Christ. This, too, would require a whole novel of blog posts to investigate fully. But the one specific thing we talked about was the bronze altar just inside the entrance to the tabernacle. It was the first thing the Israelites encountered when they set foot in the place.

A lot of blood was spilled on that altar. Sacrifice took place on that altar. Sacrifice was the first thing the believers encountered.

Our fledgling group is standing at that altar. The New Testament version of it is the cross, but the message is the same: Enter in, and make your sacrifice. Sacrifice what’s valuable to you. Sacrifice those traditions you’ve clung to all your life. Sacrifice those sacred opinions. Sacrifice those sacrosanct expectations. Forget about what you want: Leave it here to be slaughtered.

Only after death will you be ready to come nearer to God.

As one of my favorite Klingons has often said: It is a good day to die.

Back in November, I talked about my frustration that we weren’t “on fire for Christ” — and my discovery that we smoldering coals are a storehouse of an awful lot of energy. We’re still not, I think, what anyone would call “on fire.” But coals are the powerful remnant after cleansing fire has burned away all the excess.

The last two years have burned me. The months and years to come are going to burn me some more. Together with my sisters and brothers, I hope to see the death of everything that blinds me to Christ. I don’t want to live by my perceptions, my opinions, my hopes, and my expectations anymore. I want Christ to live out his life in me.

And so, to my sisters and brothers, I say this: We’ve been crucified with Christ, and we are dead. Let’s allow Christ to live in us instead.

baby, are we ever on fire

20 Nov

So, today, our group celebrated our second Thanksgiving together. Eats-wise, I particularly enjoyed the turkey that Ed smoked (if you can roll it, you can smoke it), the sweet potatoes made by someone wonderful but I don’t know who, and the sopapilla cheesecake that Tracy stole from heaven and delivered unto us. BANGERANG.

Food-wise, I got a cramazing peek at how it seems Christ views our group.

You see, we heard from Milt today about a group of Christians who are “on fire for Christ.” The second I heard that, a pang of jealousy flashed through my heart. “On fire.” Are we on fire? Are we passionate enough that someone might look at us and say, “Those people are on fire for Christ?”

I honestly don’t think so.

It’s not a competition. And yet, I felt jealous. And then I felt sad, because the weight of comparison suddenly sat heavy on my shoulders.

Later, Tim repeated what Milt had said. “On fire for Christ.” And I admitted openly to everyone: “I feel jealous of that.”

And the moment the words were out of my mouth, a little voice spoke up inside my heart and whispered, You don’t have to.

And I smiled. Because I understood.

I don’t have to be jealous of “on fire for Christ.” For one thing, passion for Christ is not, never has been, and never will be a competition. The weight of comparison is not a burden I am subject to. Christ never looks at his bride and says, “This part is lovelier than this other part.”

To put it bluntly, Christ never says, “Baby, I love your face, but your butt looks a little flabby. How ’bout I buy you a gym membership?”

But before I get too far into the beautiful bride picture, here’s the main thought about the fire metaphor:

In our group, I see a passion for Christ that is a firepit of smouldering coals. You might see an occasional tongue of flame, but there is no raging fire here. Sometimes, the coals glow — especially if you poke them.

Ah, yes, do you see what this collection of hot coals might become? Do you see the potential here, the quiet undercurrent of energy?

If you get close, it will be hot to the touch.

A house fire might rage all day — but once the firefighters put it out, everyone still has to wait before they can go sift through the rubble. The coals are too hot. Any breath of air might set them aflame again. The heat of coals is not something to take lightly.

Even campfire coals harbor a vast store of amazing energy. The great thing about smouldering coals is that you can bury them — and once they’re in the ground, you can stretch out your sleeping bag over them. They’ll keep you warm all night long: all that stored-up, buried heat, warming you from underneath. In the morning, you dig the coals up and blow on them, and pretty soon you’ll have a fire that can cook you breakfast. In the evening, you bury your coals again, because you need their underground heat to ward off the cold of night.

We are seasonal. We wax, we wane. We grow in the warmth of the sun. We sleep in the cold of the night.

And while we sleep — or even while we lie awake and marvel at the starry glitter our Father has spread across the universe — our passion for Christ smoulders like coals. Joyous. And waiting.