Why?

I was struck this morning as I read in Galatians – Paul is dealing with people who are trying to make the Galatian Christians keep aspects of the Jewish law. His response really spoke to me:

Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.

Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.

Galatians 2:17-21

I love his “rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down” line. It can be so easy to fall into rule-keeping and legalistic habits that this world just seems to reinforce. So much of religion is based on what I do, how I balance the scales to earn my way into heaven.

The line that really spoke to me was, “I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man.”

For me, it comes down to why you do what you do. If you are focused on rules and doing things because you are trying to earn something or justify yourself, then you’ve missed the point – his last line speaks to that so perfectly: “If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.”

I think much of the problem is that our society is so earning oriented that the concept of grace is just foreign and tough to really accept. So many well-meaning Christians fall into law-keeping and trying to earn their way that they lose the why in their relationship with God.

There’s an excellent song that this passage made me think of by MercyMe

I get the feeling that I’ll wrestle with the tension between performance-based thinking and feeling like I’m not doing things right or doing enough and the reality that God is a better parent than I could ever be and I love my kids completely no matter whether they are super thoughtful and successful or struggling and distracted. Most days, I feel like the latter and wonder how God could love me, mess and all.

I’m thankful for this reminder of what I’ve been given in Christ and the proper motivation for the choices that I make each day of how to live and speak and think. I pray that I’m always motivated by love and thankfulness for my gift of right-relationship with my Creator through faith in Christ and His sacrifice.

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Unwittingly Blind

I was reading this morning in John Chapter 9 and was struck by the assumptions made by various people in the interactions surrounding Jesus’ healing of the man blind from birth. Among the assumptions was a belief, common at the time this was occurring, that negative circumstances were the direct result of sin in the lives of those involved.

When Jesus and his disciples first see the man born blind, because of this assumption, his disciples ask him if the man’s blindness is the result of his sin or his parents. Jesus immediately sets them straight and explains that the man’s blindness is not the result of sin, but rather so that the power of God could be seen in him.

Which brings me to my first observation – how many times have I bemoaned some perceived deficit in my life or the lives of those around me, when the God-intended purpose of the handicap or shortcoming was to reveal the power of God through it?

Later in the account, the Pharisees are questioning the man who can now see and are asking him how Jesus was able to give him sight. The man gets frustrated with their repeated questions and says:

“Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

At this, the Pharisees are outraged – they take offense to what he’s said and get defensive, cursing the man and saying that they are disciples of Moses and they don’t even know where Jesus comes from.

I feel like at this point, the man who can now see is so annoyed at the Pharisees’ unwillingness to see what is in front of them that he doesn’t even think about who he’s talking to – his parents were afraid to say much when they were questioned because the Pharisees had the power to expel people from the synagogue, effectively cutting them off from normal Jewish life. He comes back with the following, slightly smart-alecky reply:

“Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. 32 Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”

Their reply brings me to my next observation:

“You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.

Their arrogance and misconceptions made them unable to see what was plain to see for the man who once was blind, but could now see (what a cool layer of meaning!). Jesus was fulfilling prophecy right before their eyes and they refused to see him for what he was. Was it because they honestly didn’t see and believe? Did they willfully choose not to believe because it would threaten their way of life and cause them to lose the things they held dear, like their place of power and honor in Jewish society?

All of this is speculation, but it does point to things that I can relate to, questions I ask myself:

What misconceptions do I have in my life about the way things work? How do they cause me to see things differently than I should? Do I arrogantly assume that I know God’s motivations in my life and the lives of those around me? Do I think that I see clearly, but I’m really blind to the truth of what God is trying to show me?

God, help me to let go of assumptions and arrogance, believing that I know and understand more than I do. Keep me humble and always seeking to see your truth, eyes wide open to see what challenges and troubles have to show me of your power and glory. Thank you for your gentle correction and guidance, and especially for your patience with this foolish daughter of yours. I am thankful for your love and care in my everyday life and in awe of your concern for me, I surely don’t deserve it.

I Believe. Help my unbelief.

“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father. He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”

“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”

The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:21-24

I identify with this man and find comfort in his response, and Jesus’ response to it. There are times when I find myself struggling to believe in God’s promises. I’ve decided to believe because He has proven trustworthy and never failed me in the long term, but there are times when I just have trouble living out that decision – I stumble. Then, I right myself and pray, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

I had a conversation with a friend the other day about a situation where she forgot to trust in God’s provision and care and got worried and stressed instead of resting in His promises. After the fact, she saw her error and was frustrated with herself. She felt that she should have known better. I told her to consider that maybe it was actually a good thing – how else would she remember how important it is to trust that God will provide? We are a forgetful people and it’s only through our weakness that we (and others) can truly see God’s strength.

So, that’s my daily prayer, when I forget to trust in God and get worried or worked up over something, that I’d have the presence of mind to quickly right myself and pray, “I believe, help my unbelief!”

Judging?

11Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. ; 12God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

I struggled with this one yesterday. How do you deal with a situation like this in a God-honoring way? There were many parents sitting in a lounge area of a hotel, waiting for their kids to take state tests. Two online public schools were using the hotel at once, so there were many more parents than in previous (peaceful!) years.

For the most part, everyone was considerate and quiet, using their downtime to read, fuss with their phones, or quietly socialize. Except for one parent. She was having an issue with credit card machines for her business and over the course of an hour got more and more irate with the people she was trying to reach on the phone. She was swearing to herself, at the representatives on the phone, and yelling at her son, who was too young to be testing, so 2nd grade or younger.

I imagine that others were as uncomfortable with the situation as I was, but we were essentially captive to this one woman’s venom. I cringed each time she got a new person on the phone and proceeded to vent her frustration with the situation, threatening to dump the company completely and go with xyz company.

My natural reaction was pity for the people she was dealing with and irritation with her. I prayed for the situation, and came to see that God loves her, just as much as he loves me. It changed my attitude, but still I struggle. How best to deal with the situation? What I  chose to do was pray, and I’m sure that’s a very good thing to have done, but is there ever a good way to approach someone in an instance like that?

Persistent Prayer

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

~ Matthew 15:22-28

I love the persistence of this Canaanite woman. She knows what needs to be done, who can do it, and she is not afraid to make her needs known, even despite being called a “dog” in comparison to the Israelites as she’s asking. Would I have had the courage to persist even though the disciples were telling me to stop and were going to Jesus to get me to go away? And then once I did gain an audience with Jesus, to be called a dog… would I have had the presence of mind to react in the way she did?

Lord, I pray that I’d have the same persistence in my prayer – asking for what I need, having the courage to keep asking, but also, I pray that I’d have the wisdom and openness to see what you have for me, as it’s often better than what I think I need. 🙂

Fastus Interruptus

Yes, I know it’s not a real term, but I kinda like the Wile E. Coyote & The Road Runner faux Latin feel. 🙂

So, I made it about a week on the smoothies and lemon water and felt great, but when I looked at the calendar and saw the number of things that were coming up, I realized it was not going to be the right time to water fast. I ended my smoothie fast on Friday, November 6th at dinnertime (with a light meal).

So after the experience, what do I think about it? It’s something I’d definitely like to do again, and plan a bit better what’s coming up on the calendar to be able to do a bit of water fast. I wasn’t really very hungry at all on the smoothies – they were very satisfying.

In the meantime, I’m learning more and more about nutrition and seeing that the smoothies are a great way to boost my daily intake of so many vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, so even when I’m not fasting, I try to have at least a couple 8 or 16 oz servings in a day. I’ve been reading Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman and he expresses the idea very simply: Health = Nutrients/Calories. This, in a nutshell, means that the foods that you eat can be scored on a scale based on the calories that you get from them in relation to their nutritional value. This scale is called the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI). Dark leafy greens are the superheroes of the nutritional world, so they get a 1000 and everything else is graded on that curve.

From the ANDI food scores page:

The ANDI ranks the nutrient value of many common foods on the basis of how many nutrients they deliver to your body for each calorie consumed. Unlike food labels which list only a few nutrients, ANDI scores are based on thirty-four important nutritional parameters. Foods are ranked on a scale of 1-1000 with the most nutrient-dense cruciferous leafy green vegetables scoring 1000. Because phytochemicals are largely unnamed and unmeasured, these ANDI rankings may underestimate the healthful properties of colorful, natural, plant foods, so the nutrient density of natural whole foods may be even higher than ANDI scores indicate.

So, when you consider some the ingredients in my usual smoothies and their ANDI scores: Kale (1000), Spinach (707), Carrots (458), Strawberries (182), Blueberries (132), Peaches (64), Apple (53), Almonds (28), Avocado (28) – you see that they are pretty nutrient dense. Obviously as you get to things like Almonds and Avocado, they are calorie dense as well, so their score is lower, but still have lots of redeeming qualities. Lots to consider here.

Interesting journey I’m on – can’t wait to see what’s next! I’ll try to keep this updated!

Led to Fasting

This post and the ones that follow it will be a bit of a departure from what I’ve posted previously, but I not only feel led to this fast but also to share it.

Without going into the whole story, let me briefly explain the last roughly year and a half. I’ve always had issues with various allergies, digestive issues, and food sensitivities that have changed somewhat over time, but in the summer of 2014, I began to have bouts of extreme thirst and headaches. I sought medical advice from multiple sources, was referred to specialists, and chased down several possibilities with a few wild goose chases over the better part of a year.

I made a connection to sodium thanks to a nutritionist friend around the time of the Superbowl in 2015 when I ate several salty meals (sub sandwich with lots of lunchmeat and cheese and taco layer dip with chips) in a string and suffered the worst headache/thirst I’d ever had. I had no idea how many foods were so high in sodium until I had to start reading labels. Since then I have cut out nearly all sodium in my diet (I’ll lightly sprinkle things that really need it with some Real Salt) and eat nearly all whole foods, as processed foods are all much too high in sodium. Eating out is complicated at best and nearly impossible for the most part. (*Edit 3/2016 – it appears that after a period of time eliminating sodium and increasing nutrition, I am able to occasionally break the diet with a meal out, etc. without suffering like I did at first. I just have to be careful how often I “cheat” as it tends to be a slippery downhill slope that ends with pain.)

What I’ve come to realize now, with the clarity of hindsight, is that I was/am suffering from migraines, and sodium is among my triggers. The thirst was part of my particular set of prodrome symptoms. *For a wonderful primer on the physiology and management of migraines, I’d recommend reading “The Migraine Miracle” by Josh Turknett, MD.

During the summer of 2015, I went for allergy testing, as I suspected that food intolerance was a culprit as well. When the test results came back, to say that I was overwhelmed and frustrated would be an understatement. My top 10 most reactive items were the bulk of what I ate. *Honestly, in hindsight, it’s no wonder my body was sick of them – for example, I was a huge fan of bread – wheat, gluten, yeast, and dairy are in my top 10. And a stretch of time cutting them out confirmed that I did in fact, feel better when I eliminated these items. *note – there’s a bit of debate over whether IgG testing is valid/valuable and I came into it knowing this but was mainly looking for a starting point for eliminating food triggers.

However, even with all my diet changes, I still have digestive issues and headaches – sometimes I can look back and see where I fell off the wagon, but other times, it’s not so easy to see the connection. I do have to say, some things just taste so good. You know it’s going to cause you pain, but you eat it anyway. I struggle with self-control when making choices of what to eat. In fact, there was a period of time when I was just done with food in general and started to look into if there was a realistic meal replacement for folks who have allergies, etc. The closest thing I found was Soylent, and it was tempting to just not have to think about nutrition, but something that is synthesized chemically from things just doesn’t feel right to me.

So I started making smoothies as a supplement to meals when I needed something but didn’t have the time/care to make something. I think I’ve discovered some of why they help – the leafy greens are high in magnesium and riboflavin, which are recommended supplements for migraine sufferers. I feel the need to disclaimer here: as you get used to drinking smoothies, what tastes good to you will change *read – your tolerance level for the fruit/greens/veggie ratio. It’s better to have less fruit and more greens/veggies, but can be tough taste-wise. For an entry-level smoothie, I’d recommend this one: Going Green Smoothie – I’m not a fan of bananas, so I used some fresh peaches that were in season at the time instead. Below is my “higher difficulty” creation for today…

Lots of (mostly) organic goodness: apples, wheatgrass, red kale, cranberries, baby spinach, avocado, almonds and chia seeds, blended in the Vitamix with a bit of water and ice cubes. Yum.

Today’s Smoothie: Lots of (mostly) organic goodness: apples, wheatgrass, red kale, dandelion greens, cranberries, baby spinach, avocado, almonds and chia seeds, blended in the Vitamix with some water and ice cubes. Yum.

Anyway, what I’ve concluded, based on various sources which I’ll explain in later posts, is that I need to give my body a chance to detox, rest, heal, to reboot if you will. So my plan, which I started on Saturday (*with the exception of a mulligan or two on Saturday and Sunday), is to eat (*drink) nothing but smoothies until my supply of ingredients runs out, and then fast, drinking only water with a bit of organic lemon juice. The juice keeps your body in an alkaline state – I know it seems counterintuitive, drink acidic liquid to alkalize, but it’s the way your body metabolizes things that make for an acidifying or alkalizing effect. The length of my fast is a bit up in the air as I have no idea how I’ll do, so I’m aiming for 7 days, but will listen to my body and see how I feel.

I plan to journal through my experience and will go into some of the sources that I’ve used to come to my plan in other posts. I am hopeful and looking forward to this experience and pray that it not only heals my body but also draws me closer to God as I devote extra time to prayer and study.