Thursday, December 27, 2012

How Sin Makes Me Fat

It happened again yesterday.  I was dwelling on a recent failure, a moment when I wigged out because I sensed someone stepping into my "territory," tenuous as it is, and suddenly, chocolate sounded like a good idea.  Not only was it a good idea, it was just up the stairs, beyond anyone's view--chocolate-covered peanut butter balls.  And I knew it would solve my problem.  And make me feel better. And the world would be a better place.  Yeah, right.

Sometimes I eat because of legitimate hunger.  Sometimes because of unabashed indulgence.  Sometimes because of guilt, or fear, or hurt or frustration or....  You've got it.  Perhaps you live it.  And that's the problem.  The problem isn't the food, its tastiness or abundance.  The problem isn't my appetite.  God created both.  The problem is my heart.  Surprise!

How deceived I am to think that more sin is going to counteract initial sin...or continuing sin.  Sure, that little voice says, pile it on.  It's too late to make a difference, but you'll feel better.  You'll be satisfied.  Distracted.  All the bad little thoughts will go away.  Oh, what lies!  Self-indulgence breeds self-indulgence.  If self-control is a practice of discipline, a lack of self-control is a practice in lack of discipline.  Practice becomes performance.  And sin breeds sin.  It grows, takes on the worst of our personality, and we become captive to its desires, and consequences, and guilt, and continued choices of loss.

So, what's the answer?  Bob Newhart says, "Stop it!"  God says much the same thing--but He's in it with us.  If we have repented, believing that Jesus took our sin upon Him and rose again, we have His Spirit and His Word as our help and guide.  Here is a reminder of how to take hold of those thoughts and choices that threaten to overwhelm us:

1) Take every thought captive.  If I'm not aware of my thought life, I cannot control my words or actions.  What I think is what I become. (2 Corinthians 10:5, Proverbs 23:7)
2) Confront lies and deceit with truth.  God's Word is true.  It is living and active.  When I become aware of lies in my thought life, I need to apply the Word of God to the falsehood and "preach reality" to myself.  This happens as I search out appropriate Scripture, read it, meditate on it and memorize it. (Romans 12:2, Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 4:17-23)
3) Cast the fear, anger, guilt away.  Jesus died for that sin.  It's forgiven.  Seek forgiveness as needed and move on. (1 Peter 5:6-7, Hebrews 9:13-14)
4)  Make choices as a new creation.  Choose now to do what is right.  Choose now to live apart from sin.  Christ lives in and through you, so live as He would live.  You may suffer for doing right.  That's to be expected.  (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20, 2 Timothy 3:12)

Finally, I'm not in it alone.  I have others to help. To pray.  To encourage.  We are called to help one another avoid the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).  But, oh, the smoke in the mirror seems so real.  And so does the chocolate!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

An Expression of Gratitude

It's Christmas.  Time to say thank you to the many people who care for us and our families.  Here's an easy, one-size-fits-all gift for teachers, mail carriers, waste management workers, Sunday school teachers, etc. (unless it gets devoured first!).

Caramel Chex Mix

1- 17 oz. box Corn Chex
1 c. butter
1/2 c. light corn syrup
2 c. brown sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 c. mixed nuts
4 c. pretzels
1 c. M &M's

Pour cereal into a large microwave-safe bowl and set aside
Combine butter, corn syrup and brown sugar in large saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and add baking soda.  Stir until soda is mixed in well.
Immediately pour caramel sauce over cereal.  Stir and put in microwave for 1 1/2 minutes on high.  Stir and repeat 2 more times.  Stir after each interval.
Let mixture cool and add pretzels, nuts and candy.
Spread out on foil or waxed paper to cool.
(Recipe courtesy of Deb Sauser and Courtney Larson)

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father" (Col. 3:15-17 NASB).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fixing Christmas

In our Christian circles we preach to one another that Christmas is not about glitz, glitter, presents, and busyness.  Christmas is about Jesus.  So we read Scripture, think about Jesus' earthly entrance and light advent candles in anticipation.  Even so, we tend to get caught up in the fun and frolic apart from Jesus or remain stoic, removed from the celebration.
Like Christmas, our ministry efforts tend to warble and wane.  We get easily distracted by meetings,  classes,  fellowships, and rules, both written and invisible.  We lose heart, measuring godliness by human standards, forgetting that other's lives and reflections are nothing less than carnival mirrors, distorted, stretched, and warped by sin and tendencies.  
What funny creatures we are!  No matter what we do, we can't get it right.  A few weeks ago I slumped in the church van and sighed, "I can't be nice one more minute!  I've prayed, I thought I was relying on the Holy Spirit, but I am done.  D-o-n-e. Done."  A young voice chirped, "But you're only human."   The pang of truth!  How right he was.  It's not possible to get it right every time or do it perfectly or achieve success to the same degree as others.  We're only human.
It is not until we come to the end of ourselves that we look to God Himself.  Perhaps we struggle with confused priorities, or a need for humility, or the sidelong glances of others.  Regardless of the excuse, this is the root of our error; the root of disbelief, of tossing to and fro. God is not at the center.  He is unknown, unsought, unheeded.
In our despair, we cry out and draw near, squinting and prodding through Scripture like a blind man seeking shelter, only to discover He is not what we imagined.  He no longer fits the mold of our comfortable beliefs.  The harder we look and the farther we follow, the more different He is. Like Alice in Wonderland, we have entered a new world of spiritual focus and dimension.  But as we gaze upon our Savior, our Lord and King, we are changed.  We have become different from ourselves; different from those around us. 
And, as God sees fit, He blesses us in quiet moments to reveal that we are doing good, seeking justice and reproving the ruthless, defending the orphan and pleading for the widow without realizing it.  Not because of who we are or what we can do, but because of who God is and how He lives through us.  This is the obedience--not the jump-in-the-mold-of-everyone-around-me--that pleases God. 
And Christmas?  Christmas is not about me.  It's not about my family.  It's not about those in need.  Christmas is about God.  It's about Jesus' obedience and love as He left the wonder of worship, took on human form along with its limitations and made Himself our sacrifice.  As we look closer into the person of Christ, Christmas becomes much more...and much less.
"But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6)
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats.
'When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts?
Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.'" (Isaiah 1:11-18)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

When Joseph Wrapped Jesus

It was work for a coroner--and parts of that intrigue me.  The human body is amazing.  But a dead body.  A dead, beaten body?  Who are these people who wash, manipulate and care for the dead?
Joseph of Arimathea was one.  Nicodemus was another.  And their service to the dead, unrecognizable body of Christ touches me in a way I'm not sure I can communicate.

As I read the account of Joseph asking Pilate for Jesus' body (Matthew 27:50-61), I was initially impressed with his means, influence and confidence. God knew hundreds, thousands, even eons, of years in advance about Joseph. He told humankind a few hundred years beforehand (Isaiah 53:9), which I find incredible. In my journal I wrote: Joseph was exactly who God intended Him to be.  He was in the right place at just the right time and he did not miss His calling because God's hand was in it all!  Application:  I will not miss God’s call on my life.  He will provide the means and timing necessary to do exactly what He has for me to do. 

The next day I wondered what it looked like; what was the physical condition of Jesus' body after being scourged, spat upon, struck, beaten and crucified? What would it have taken to lift, transport, even wash it?  According to Jewish tradition, the body would initially be held vertical by one person while another poured water over the head and worked from the top down, cleansing and washing.  This body, unlike most, would have been difficult to piece together and cover.  It would have required great care and tedious wrapping.  As an expression of devotion and generosity, Nicodemus brought seventy five pounds of spices to apply to Jesus' body (John 19:39).

It was a messy job. Dirty. Uncomfortable. Wet. Cold. Uncertain.  Frightening. Was it something they'd done before?  Doubtful.  Certainly no one other than Mary had cared so intimately for the Son of God.  It is not something we dwell on for obvious reasons, but it is there.

And I can't help but wonder if, through His Spirit and by His Word, God has equipped His people to minister to His Body when it is beaten and afflicted and sore and wounded and weeping?  To the persecuted church, the deserted mother, the fallen pastor, the imprisoned brother, the neglected child, the hungry beggar, the discouraged teacher....  May God enable and empower us to be in the right place at just the right time.  And may we be willing to roll up our sleeves and get dirty as we love and minister to the wounded Body of Christ.  It's all about Jesus.

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink;I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

"Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:34-46).