Going Back to 19/21

Wait- what? A year isn’t supposed to have a slash in it. Ah, that’s the point, though! I’m not talking about a date in time… although I am in a way. Let me explain. Though I am sure the Roaring Twenties would be the bee’s knees, I’m not trying to pull a Gatsby. My reference goes along with meals: 19/21= 19 out of 21 meals in a week. See, not so cryptic after all, is it?

Except wait- what is the significance of the 19? Well, I’m going to eat a vegetarian diet (specifically a “lacto/ovo”- where I can eat dairy and eggs) for at least 19 out of the 21 meals that a week offers. I actually did a pretty much total vegetarian diet for six months in 2014. It had some good effects, too. Instead of having to take 2 medicines to barely control my blood sugar, my doctor dropped one since I was bottoming out with two!

Oh yeah, I lost a bunch of weight pretty much with diet alone, since my knee wasn’t up to par. And since I was *maybe* babying it too much and didn’t run… at all. Blood pressure? That was down, too. First normal blood pressure reading since probably 2008 or 2009. So, this was like the perfect diet, right? Any normal person would stay on this and take it to the bank!

Well, I got lazy. It took about 3 months to get most of the pounds, blood pressure, and sugar back to the starting point. Boo! I started on this venture thinking that with 19/21 (which is pretty much 90%) I could stick with it, not have to stress with a meal or two where I can reward/ skip/ make up for bad planning/ eat what my family’s eating/ etc. (Btw- meal planning is important. Jenn + the kids went to Cookout which, for example, has almost nothing “non-meat” on its menu! Fries ain’t a meal, people!)

So along with this, I’m running again. I’m taking it sssslllloooooowwwww. Painfully slow. But I do have a goal of finishing two 5Ks this year- hopefully! One in April and the other as a birthday present to myself in August. Actually, the August one is the last 5K I ran… back in 2011!!

So we’ll see where this goes. So far, I’m a couple of weeks into the dieting and running. It’s feeling good. The diabetes is back under control and I’m doing the one med for it, so that’s a win already! The belt is getting a little tighter, so I like that. Running? Well, I’m doing treadmill workouts because I’m a wimp and hate the cold. But I’m getting a good base for later on when I’ll have to build up the road mileage a little bit to finish strong for 3.1 miles.

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Know That You Don’t Know

I’m still trying to figure out the faith application of something that happened to me today. As some of you may know, I speak a little Spanish. I wouldn’t call myself “Bi-lingual” just yet, but I can manage a conversation with a (very patient) native speaker. So, I’m also on Twitter, and I use that to follow some Twitter feeds en Espanol so I can brush up a little. One of them had a link to a little quiz to test Spanish vocabulary.

I thought that was neat. I clicked on it, and was able to follow the directions- filling out data, basic instructions, things like that. Actually, that part wasn’t even totally easy, and the fact that immigrants to our country have huge language barriers didn’t escape me. What I could surmise was that they wanted me to click “yes” for words that I knew/thought I knew. On the flip side was that I was to click “no” for words I didn’t know OR thought were made up.

My results were that I was 29% proficient. Not bad, since most of the words were way above my head. Now, I admit that I clicked “no” on a lot of words… but I didn’t click affirmatively on any words that weren’t, well, actual words. Then I saw that there was an English version. I took it. Same rules, less difficulty in navigating through the directions (I’d already done it, but more importantly- it was en Ingles!)

These weren’t “gimme’s”, y’all- even so, my stats were higher. (One word was “eschatology”- I took advantage of the theological word!) But there *was* a category that was higher than in the Spanish version. I had clicked on 5 words that weren’t actually words! English fail! So this left me thinking about these results. I also did a Google search for one of them. Mumpish actually IS a word… just a very old, out-dated, no longer used word. (The spell checker underlined it just now. It makes me feel mumpish!)

OK, so where’s this all going? I realized that I’ve been preaching from Ephesians lately, and last week’s message was in Ephesians 2. What’s the most quoted passage from Ephesians 2? Verses 8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works so that no one can boast.” (NIV)

I hope this isn’t too much of a stretch- but the way I see these events is that for me to take this little test in Spanish was sort of like relying on grace. I was in over my head, and my efforts didn’t provide all that much. Even getting started on it took me some time! The fact that I made no wrong answers in a foreign language is like God guiding His children in a land that isn’t supposed to be their own anymore. We at one time were a part of this world, but now we’re His. How does that come about? Grace.

In the English quiz, I felt like I knew enough on my own. Though I’m still protesting “mumpish” (there’s that red squiggly line again!), I see this as relying on my efforts and coming up short on the results. I led myself astray. And in our spiritual lives, if we feel like we can save ourselves apart from Christ, or if we want to wander away from His grace that sustains us, we’re in trouble.

How do you see this play out in your own life?

(just for fun- here’s the link to the Spanish version)  http://vocabulario.bcbl.eu/vocabulario/start

(and here’s the link to the English version)  http://vocabulary.ugent.be/

Until next time!

Is Your Church a Pizza Church?

I was taking the kids somewhere the other day and we passed by a church on a road adjacent to ours.  We’d passed by this church probably hundreds of times over the past three years, but Mackenzie asked if it was “the pizza church”.  It wasn’t.  To her defense, we were coming at this particular church from a different angle, so she didn’t recognize it.  Now, you may be wondering- what in the world is a “pizza church”, anyway?  Good question!

We used to live far enough out of town that the pizza delivery folks wouldn’t come visit us at our house. We would have to leave our house, and go about 1.5 miles away to a church parking lot.  Actually, we still have to do that- just going to a school now! At any rate, the kids associate this church with pizza, hence the name.  I got to thinking after her statement that our churches are known for something in our communities.  Now, some churches may be known for a lot of things, and maybe even a lot of things to a lot of different people.  Surely, the pizza church isn’t a pizza delivery meeting spot for everyone in our neck of the woods.  It may be known as a caring community of believers that want to see people come to know Christ.  It may be seen as a church that reaches out to people in need.  It may be seen as “that church” where people always get upset with each other and leave to go somewhere else.

What is your church?  If it’s only a “pizza church” to everyone that passes by, then you’ve got some work to do, don’t you?  If churches are a part of the body of Christ, and you are the Dominoes uniform, that’s not exactly what Paul was referencing. (Romans 12:4-5)  Taking the body of Christ illustration another step further, if your church is the raised, furrowed brow- you need to take a look in the mirror.  That look?  Not so good when it’s supposed to be coupled with Acts 2:46-47… meeting together joyfully, worshiping, sharing with each other, joy, generosity, and praising God.

We all need to take a look at what our churches represent to the people that pass by them daily.  Are they places of spiritual and in some cases, physical or emotional healing?  It is my hope that instead of seeing anything as people look at our churches they will see Someone. They will see a reflection of Christ.

And if your church happens to be a meeting spot for the delivery guy/gal- keep on providing this culinary public service on the side! 😉

Until next time!

Elections, Faith, and Responsible Response

Oh boy. I’m in for it on this one… but I can’t help myself.  I get so beleaguered by the after-election posts of the Christian people whose political person/party lost out and then give in to this despair of, “Oh, no!  Now what will we do?  This can’t possibly be what God had in mind!”  Well, yeah He did.  Now, before you go saying that this is just one Christian persuasion, it’s both sides that do this.  The Republican/evangelical/conservative types do it. The Democrat/liberal/mainline types do it.  

SO.  It’s OK to be frustrated that a person you put a vote in for didn’t win.  That’s one thing.  “Man, I wish Candidate A would’ve won.  I really think he/she would have done a better job.” types of sentiments are cool and understandable.  What is less cool are the “Candidate B is the Antichrist and will bring this country down.  You heathens that voted for him/her have made Jesus weep.  God have mercy on us all.” types of posts I see on social media.  They’re irrational and alarmist.  And on a less spiritual note, getting into political-type things- they add fuel to the fires of partisanship that are wrecking our state and national politics.  Think: Don’t feed the bears.  

OK, maybe Candidate B really is the Antichrist!  In which case, a ballot box/screen/hanging chad isn’t going to alleviate that… sorry.  I also have to tell you, if you believe in a sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient God who is in control… Jesus isn’t sitting at the right hand of the Father saying, “Dad!  Did you see those election returns?  What are we going to do now?!  I’m sleeping with the lights on tonight.”  We have grossly over-spiritualized and, really in many cases, idolized our politics in this nation.  

Romans 13:1-4 is an excellent passage that deals with the fact that none of this passes under God’s radar.  Verse one reads, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (NIV 84)  Isn’t that what Jesus told Pilate in John 19:11, too?  What about Cyrus and his decree?  I use these to illustrate the idea that God is in control of what’s going on and will use the things that confuse us (such as how could Candidate B with those abhorrent policies be elected) for His glory.  He will make it work, and when He does it’s gonna be awesome!

Which brings me to the next thought: the sentiment of “this country’s going to hell in a handbasket”.  You’ll get no argument from me.  Surprised?  Well, take a look at 2 Timothy 4:3-4.  Paul tells his young protege that the time will come when people no longer want to listen to the things that are right, but want to “suit their own desires, [so] they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (v.3 NIV 84)  And that could be any number of issues that come (sometimes legitimately, sometimes unlegitimately) from both sides.  But the fact remains that we shouldn’t be shocked to see that things that don’t line up with our faith are happening in public discourse.  Do we have to like it?  No.  Is this what the Bible says is going to happen?  Yes.

So, I guess there’s no hope then, right?  Hang in the towel.  Wait a second- this polling place known as Earth hasn’t closed down yet.  Now, we shouldn’t lay down and just wait for Jesus to return, sitting idly while things happen that are contrary to the things we as Christians hold dear.  All throughout the Old and New Testaments I see leaders of the faith that are involved in, even living and working in, pagan cultures yet they still make a way to serve their Lord.  It wasn’t through voting, and then posting on Facebook about it!  They served by being willing servants, and by making sure that they had their priorities in place.  They put God first.  Some of these men led their brethren to a revival of their faith and courage to stand firm for God.  Nehemiah comes to mind.  Haggai, also was a prophet who had to jumpstart a complacent nation and get them fired up to rebuild the temple.  Peter preached to a giant crowd in the book of Acts- a crowd that was laughing at Christ’s followers at first then ended up with 3000ish people getting baptized and the start of the church.  

So, what did they do?  They worried less about the things they couldn’t control and focused more on making God and His glory known to the world around them.  I feel that we, as Christ’s church, are called to be the stalwarts of faith, not through griping on Facebook and creating division about politics, but through the real action of sharing God’s word and the powerful message of the cross- the love that God has for this world and the only hope we have through His mercy and grace.  Politicians can’t offer this hope.  Republicans and Democrats will fall short.  Jesus won’t.  We have work to do campaigning for Him!

 

 

Spiritual Implications of Early John Coltrane

Here’s a surprising revelation for you- life is like a seminary class (in addition to being like a box of chocolates.) And since most of the time I have jazz running through my brain, a jazz seminary class is my life. Can you dig? I’ll let you in on another revelation- whereas some folks can listen to Christian radio all the time, I cannot. I love it…but my brain is not wired to listening to one genre constantly. Being a jazzer, I need jazz!

So, I was listening to one of my favorite jazz CD’s last week. Miles’ “Working with the Miles Davis Quintet” used to be in heavy rotation. In the days of cassette tapes I almost wore it out…I did wear out Marsalis Standard Time vol. 1 by Wynton (mostly listening/re-listening to Autumn Leaves). “Working with the MDQ” is a little oddity from 1956. It was recorded along with three other albums in a marathon recording session in order to fulfill contract obligations (namely so that Miles could get out of it!) Being in 1956 didn’t mean that the playing of the tenor sax player John Coltrane’s playing was at his absolute earliest, but it was fairly early on in his career.

For the uninitiated, Coltrane was, in short, a legend. Yet, what struck me as odd was that my listening today revealed a different aspect of his playing- he was reaching…sort of searching for what he wanted at times. He certainly wasn’t playing anything remotely bad, mind you.  If you want to hear “bad” jazz playing, then I have several examples of my own playing that would fulfill that.  Coltrane, not so much.  What I’m saying is that knowing the full arc of his career, I could hear that there were things in his brain that he wanted to reach for.

And then the spiritual application of his early-ish playing hit me: we should be constantly reaching, searching, and growing in our relationships with Christ!  I preached a sermon on this not too long ago, and in it I quoted Paul and Peter as they mention things like moving from an infancy in our faith to full maturity.  1 Corinthian 3:1-3 allude to this as does 1 Peter 2:2.  We have to start off somewhere.  We don’t just become believers and jump into teaching a Sunday School class… but we also have to grow and work out our faith.

Just some jazz theology thoughts for you.

Until next time!

How y’all doin’, eh?

It’s funny what bits and pieces of different languages and cultures we can pick up. From 1999-2001 I was in graduate school at the University of South Florida. One of my fellow grad students, and one that I hung out with a lot, was a Canadian. The furthest north I’d lived was Roanoke, VA. Since he was a stranger in our land, which being Florida was strange itself, he had no license and, maybe as important, no car. His apartment was, at least for the first year of school, on the way to mine so I would give him a ride home quite often. I wasn’t going to let my poor Canadian trumpet-playing brother walk in the treacherous 75 degree Tampa weather in winter!

We decided that we would place a bet- a friendly wager, if you will. Although I no longer drink, I surely did then, so the bet was for a Guinness. I thought I could influence him to say “y’all” before he could get me to say “eh?” at the end of a sentence. Seriously, the trumpet practicing and grad school was destroying our brains. And the excessive amounts of the subject of our wager probably didn’t help, either! Well, it turns out that Canadian-ese is more infectious than Southern American. We were at a stoplight one day, and a car with hydraulics pulled up next to us. I said, “You don’t see that everyday, eh?” I lost.  I have to inform you, my readership, that I continued to use the “eh?” several more times.  It’s part of a linguistic takeover.  Mark those words.

So what’s the spiritual lesson here?  Canadians are evil?  No.  Hockey is of the devil?  Well, only if you’re in New Jersey.  (I heard the crickets chirping on that one… you’ll get it.)  No, that’s not it, either.  Here’s the thing- when we surround ourselves with godly influences, that will attract our thinking.  When we surround ourselves with ungodly influences, that will start to have a pull on us.  And again, I am not calling Canadians evil!  Look at James 4:4 and consider what he is saying to us:

“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (ESV)

I think the breakdown is pretty clear here.  If you want to have both feet, or really even one foot in ungodly behavior, you’re a friend of the world.  This is directly opposite of what God wants, though.  Think of it as calling yourself a true, die-hard fan of one team and saying you’re a true, die-hard fan of that team’s rival.  Doesn’t work, eh?

Until next time!

Juice Box Christian

I’ll have to be perfectly honest, and say that the premise for my blog this morning wasn’t original.  I came across an absolutely hilarious video, that speaks an absolutely scary truth about our church culture.  (I’m even going to try to link it, but since I’ll probably botch that the video title is the same as my blog post, and it is done by Shift Worship… it can be Googled, like everything else in the known universe).

Here’s my attempt at the video link:

 

We’ll see what happens.  Now, the whole point of the juice box deal is not to comment on wine vs. grape juice for Communion, or to try to run Hi-C out of business.  It is about spiritual growth.  The whole premise of a 20-something staying in his 1st grade Sunday School class is absurd!  But don’t we do that when we resist things that will push us to grow?  This is true of any aspect of life, but Paul talks about it as he is discouraged by believers (that have been believers for a while) content on baby milk instead of progressing.  Although it’s not quite the same as milk, I drank an ounce of formula on a dare once and it was nasty… like liquid chalk.  Yet these believers were OK with that.  Yuck!

Check out 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and see if it hits home.  If it does, then try to tear down whatever wall is keeping you from growing in your walk with the Lord.  It could be a Bible-reading thing where you don’t read because of ___________ or that you can’t be a part of worship because the music is too ______________.  Or it could be some other excuse that is totally silly.  Change it and grow!

Until next time!

The Yellow Jacket of Distraction

I was at a stoplight today and a yellow jacket landed on the driver’s side mirror.  Before you panic, I had the window rolled up… and I’m not allergic, although I don’t like to be stung by those little things.  He wouldn’t fly away, and right as the light changed, he crawled from the top of the mirror to the back- shielded from the wind that would knock him off.

I thought nasty thoughts about him.  I used my Jedi mind control powers on him saying, “This is not the car you’re looking for.”  I thought about rigging a MacGuyver-esque contraption to crack the window and shoo him off.  I looked over every 1.3 seconds to see if he’d lost interest or gotten motion sickness and fallen off.  In essence, I did just about everything except pay attention to driving my car.

I know my life is like this sometimes almost all the time.  I have one little thing that gets me sidetracked and I take my eyes off the things that are really important.  Is this how God wants us to live our lives?  I don’t think so.  I think He wants us to be clearheaded and not prone to worrying about little things.  Jesus uses these kinds of words about worrying- “These things (worries) dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you what you need.” (Matthew 6:32-33 NLT)

Ouch.  I was so worried about that little yellow jacket that I’m not even allergic to…with my window rolled up, that I forgot to focus on a pretty major thing.  Like driving.  I became one of the crazies that I always fuss about on US 220.  Another topic for another time.

But really, we worry all the time and get so distracted by things that don’t matter.  As the writer of Hebrews states it in 12:1-2, we can run the race (a Christian life and walk with the Lord) not because of unneeded things, but because we keep our eyes on Christ.  We let Him matter more than the distractions.

So, to finish things up.  I got into the church parking lot, yellow jacket still hanging on for dear life.  I focused on parking the car and, you probably guessed it: the yellow jacket flew away.

Until next time!

Yardwork and Spiritual Battles

OK, I admit.  I don’t have much time to do a lot of work in my yard.  I have about 8 blades of actual grass, and the rest of the .75 acres that I mow are weeds.  When it is really short it can give an illusion of looking nice, but maybe that’s another devotional thought altogether!  I am actually thinking of my backyard which part of my property is forest.  It’s not a large portion, .05 acres, but it is dense and takes a lot of time to control.  I’ve found that if I don’t actively control it and try to push it back some, it will creep into my yard and take it over.  If I had some awesome power tools, it would be one thing.  Alas, I have a machete.  One little blade against a rainforest.  Well, maybe a little hyperbole, but you get my drift.

Where’s the spiritual analogy?  I was reading today in Acts 6 and the part after the beginning of the deacons caught my attention.  The Apostle Stephen was proclaiming God’s Word and the gospel.  Obviously, there was some opposition.  It came from a group called the “Synagogue of the Freedmen”.  I found out that this group was comprised of former slaves (good) from areas heavily influenced by Hellenism (bad).

Hellenism could easily correspond to our secularization of society today.  In a nutshell, the two cultures are very “go with the flow” and “do what you want” in nature.  This mentality and worldview encroaches on the Christian worldview in much the same way as my backyard forest does to the rest of my lawn.  It tries to take over.  We read in Acts 6 that the Freedmen couldn’t out-do Stephen in his arguments, so they took the low road.  They started to spread lies, twisted truths, get the officials involved, and make a mess of the whole thing.

Isn’t that what those who are opposed to the faith do today?  Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t Christians who add fuel to the fire… but the secular worldview is that Christianity is just plain wrong, just because.  They can’t provide real evidence against it, so they try to twist it to their advantage.  The truth of God’s Word and the message of the cross is worth standing firm against the trickery of the world.  Even if you’re just armed with a little machete, you can help keep the forest at bay.

Until next time!

Cat On My Lap

Cat on my lap,
Purring away-
This is how I could spend a day.

He could too,
I’m sure.
Since a lap’s the perfect lure.

It won’t last, though
The calm won’t have won.
I’ll have to go and get things done…

In a minute, though,
No need to hurry.
Getting up, making cat scurry.

All in due time, yes,
It can wait.
It’s not that I procrastinate.

No, the answer is simple.
It’s really quite clear-
When a cat’s resting he wants you near!

(OK, still very nervous about posting any of my writing- even light fare such as this! Until next time.)