Friday, September 02, 2016

More on my quest to lose weight and be healthy

I wrote here about beginning a quest to shed pounds that started after a recent appointment with my cardiologist. During that appointment, I weighed in 189.7 pounds, the heaviest I'd ever been!

That was on June 13. On June 14, I put myself on a diet, counting my calories. By July 26, I'd gotten down to 181.2, not a dramatic loss, but one that made me happy.

I don't keep scales around the house and I've decided keep it that way. I don't want to get caught up in weighing myself each day.

My focus is more on changing how I think of and use food, adopting a healthier mindset, diet, and body. So, I'm using a grocery store in Columbus that I visit occasionally, Marc's, where there's a huge, old-fashioned scale setting next to the exit, for occasional weigh-ins.

I hadn't gone to Marc's for a while. But on Thursday, I had a wonderful (and filling) meal with our daughter at my favorite Columbus-area Mexican restaurant, Cuco's Taqueria. Cuco's is close to Marc's. I'd been thinking of stopping by to pick up a few items. (They have great prices!) But as I stuffed myself, I told my daughter, "Maybe I should wait until another time to weigh in at Marc's."

In the end, I decided to bite the bullet. But I was wary, convinced that a few pounds had crept back on. A recent six-day trip to California for a church conference, when I wasn't preparing my own meals, and two other days of overindulgence, convinced me that the scales were going to deliver a bad message.

My daughter tried to console me (pre-console me?) as I prepared to step onto the scales: "Remember, dad, that you just had a big meal." I gritted my teeth, stood on the scales, and hesitantly looked up.

"Oh!" my daughter said, seeing the number before I did.

The scales showed that I now weighed 176.5 pounds. While I would have preferred making more progress than that, I definitely feel that I'm moving in the right direction and I was thankful that my eight days of less controlled eating hadn't done more damage!

In that earlier post, I talked about some of the things I'd learned after little more than a month of controlling my calories. As I continue this journey, I'll share more of what I'm learning. But for now, I'll just say that this whole business is important to me as a way of thanking God for the body that He's given to me.

I also hope that these periodic progress reports (at least, I hope and pray that they'll be progress reports) will encourage others as they deal with seemingly intractable issues in their own lives.

I will tell you this though. The single most important element in helping me to get this far has been prayer. Every time I'm tempted to eat more than I need to eat, I ask God to help me, to divert my attention to other, more productive things.

God is in this struggle with me; if He wasn't, I couldn't have made any progress.

He can be with you in your struggles, big and small, too. Just call out to God in the name of Jesus...He will hear you! Latch onto this promise from 1 John 5:14:
This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
And don't think that calling on God is a "good luck charm." That wouldn't be faith, but superstition. So, even with God's constant help, it hasn't been easy implementing a new way of life. It involves daily crucifying the sinful, self-indulgent me that likes, literally as well as figuratively, to have my cake and eat it too. (Though I don't really like cake very much.) I realize that I've wanted to eat big and be small. It doesn't work that way.

I've had to reckon with the fact that there are consequences to the bad choices we make in life, some of them eternal, though God's grace, offered in Christ, can reach us in any and all circumstances.

I'm convinced that issues like overeating and materialism are, in fact, among the greatest spiritual issues we face in the modern West.  Our craving for more and our acquisition and eating of more are, simply, sins in which we take far more than the daily bread we need. Behavior like that can wreck our bodies and destroy our souls.

I'm learning that as I crucify sinful desires and sinful habits, a new me is taking shape, measurable not only in fewer pounds, but also in greater peace with God, with myself, and with others.

This shouldn't surprise me. Crucifixion and resurrection constitute the daily pattern of Christian discipleship, even when it comes to what we do with the bodies God has given to us.

God bless!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Responding to Our Own Sin: Godly Grief v. Worldly Grief

During my quiet time this morning, I read 2 Corinthians 7. Before reading, I asked God to impress on me what verses and what truth He wanted to impress on me today. I was struck by verses 9 and 10:
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Scholars tell us that 2 Corinthians may be a mashup of different letters the apostle Paul sent to the first century Christians in Corinth. So, we can't be entirely certain of the specifics (which probably don't matter), but we do know that Paul had confronted the Corinthian Christians for a sin. And we also can understand from Paul that his previous sharp words had brought to the Corinthians a sense of grief.

In the chapter, Paul lets his readers know that he hated that his words had hurt the Corinthians. (Although he also didn't regret saying or writing to them in the way he had.) Here, in verses 9 and 10, Paul expresses joy over the impact of the Corinthians' grief. It led them to authentic repentance, which combines genuine, God-induced sorrow for sin and a genuine, God-induced turning to Christ that lets the repentant know that their sin is forgiven, their relationship with God restored. (Biblical repentance always involves these two elements.)

Paul says that what the Corinthian Christians experienced was "godly grief" for their sin. He contrasts that with "worldly grief." The distinction between the two is worth considering.

As I read these verses, I thought of Judas, chosen by Christ to be an apostle, but who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. With this act of betrayal, Judas found himself to be revealed to "important" people--the Sanhedrin, religious leaders of his and Jesus' fellow Jews--as a duplicitous, money-grubbing traitor. Exposed for what he really was, Judas returned the thirty pieces of silver, then killed himself.

This is how "worldly grief" for sin acts: It may have genuine regret for the sinful act. But that regret doesn't account for God being the one Who, in C.S. Lewis' phrase, "chiefly offended" by our sin.

Worldly grief is self-driven and self-referential: It lets self or other people be the judge and jury of our souls (and these judges and juries always hang the defendants); or, it lets the opinions of the world (vox populi)--fickle, self-serving, uncaring, to embarrass, humiliate, rationalize away, or otherwise kill the grieving person. It stews more about the reactions of others than about the Word and will of God.

Godly grief will listen to authentic people of God who lovingly condemn us or call us to account for our sin. But godly grief will only listen to others' condemnation as they speak the truth of God, as revealed definitively in God's Word, the Bible.

Godly grief comes from measuring ourselves by God's Law and being aggrieved at how our sins hurt God. But, unlike worldly grief, godly grief doesn't leave us hopeless or dead, spiritually and physically.

Repentance, the gift God grants to those who experience godly grief, as Martin Luther pointed out, drives us to the cross, where the Gospel--the good news--is found: The Gospel that God loves sinners and because of that love, took on flesh in order to bear the deserved and fatal condemnation for our sin, then sets free those who take that same cross for themselves, surrendering them to death, so that the forgiveness Christ died to give to us when He went to the cross, will be ours. This is what happens when we heed godly grief for our sin.

Last week, I told a friend that if Christians lose their salvation, it won't be because of God. It will be because they either drifted lazily or willfully into lifestyles of no repentance: no regret for sin, no joyful restoration to God because there is neither repentance or faith.

When this happens, there may be worldly grief over sin--the "Oops! I got caught" or the "Oops! Oh, well, everyone else is doing it" or the "Oh, no! I'm a sinner and that's just the way I am and nothing will ever change and I'm going to hell" or the "There is no God, no hell, and it doesn't matter. I'll try to do better next time"--kinds of grief. But all such worldly grief ends in death and separation from God.

Godly grief leads to the cross and to restoration. That's what I'm banking my life on.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wedding Afternoon Music

I presided at a wedding this past Saturday afternoon. See here.

Here's one song that was played at the reception and two more I heard on the car radio later.


This piece was composed by Paul McCartney and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. It was one of the pieces on Working Classical, released in 1999. I love the theme that begins at the 5:37 mark and continues through about the 9:50 mark, to be picked up later in the piece. Whatever indifferent lyrics the solo McCartney may have produced at times during his career, he has never lost his sense of melody, fully on display here.

AUDIO: When upside down is rightside up


[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, August 28, 2016

When Upside Down is Rightside Up

Luke 14:1-14
It would be easy to think that the two stories Jesus tells in today’s Gospel lesson are just about good manners. But if we think that, we will be missing important lessons Jesus wants to teach us.

Take a look, please, at our Gospel lesson, Luke 14:1-14, starting at verse 7: “When [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable.”

A parable, of course, is a special sort of story. A parable is a story woven from people's everyday experiences, with another story of deep significance rolled alongside of it. The term parable has been transliterated into English from the Greek word, parabolos, a compound word composed of para, a prefix meaning alongside (as in parallel) and bolos, related to the terms throw or ball. A parable is a story with another story, a deeper story told alongside it. Jesus’ parables always tell us something about the kingdom of God that Jesus brought into the world and still brings to those who believe in Him.

Jesus told the two parables in today’s Gospel lesson while He sat a banquet at the home of a Pharisee. We know something about the Pharisees, of course. Although they wouldn’t have expressed themselves in quite this way, the Pharisees didn’t believe that rightness with God—what the Bible calls righteousness—is a gift from God given to those who repent for sin and believe in the God we now know in Jesus. Instead, they believed that, by their actions, they would earn a place in heaven.

Despite their seeming faithfulness, the Pharisees really tried to whittle God down to human size, to turn God into a deity they could force to make concessions to them because they were such good people.

Today, people don’t worry so much about God’s favor. We moderns seem to have whittled God completely out of our lives. Or we’ve twisted the Bible’s teaching that God is love and turned the mighty God of the universe into an indulgent sugar daddy.

Many people, even those identifying themselves as Christians, seem to think that all roads lead to heaven. Polling, in fact, repeatedly shows that Christians in the United States accept Jesus’ teaching that there is a heaven. But much smaller numbers of Christians accept the word of Jesus that there is a hell. How it's possible to accept some of Jesus' teaching, while not accepting other of His teachings, while claiming Him as Lord is something these folks can't explain very well.

Let’s face it: The Bible is filled with inconvenient truths we would rather not hear about. I know that this is true for me. We’re like the rebel people of God the prophet Isaiah addressed some seven hundred years before Jesus. “Give us no more visions of what is right!” they tell the prophet in Isaiah 30:10. “Tell us pleasant things…”

By contrast, for all their many faults, most of the Pharisees would never have knowingly taught things contrary to the will of God. In fact, like the dumb sheep that populated many of Jesus’ other parables, they unknowingly and thoughtlessly drifted into their false beliefs.

Christ’s Church always struggles to resist such unintentional drifting from God. That’s why the Reformation begun by Martin Luther and others back in the sixteenth century must be a continuing part of our lives today. We need to constantly return to God, to God’s Word, to God’s will, to Jesus Christ.

But many Christians seem to have settled into a new kind of Pharisaism in which we are expected to passively go along with what I call Christianity Lite, the religion of anything goes so long as it conforms to the shifting standards of society. Someone has said that if Jesus were to come to a typical Christian congregation in North America and teach, as He did to the Pharisees in first-century Judea, “Stop trying to earn righteousness and salvation,” the response would be, “Who’s trying to be righteous?”

Many churches and many Christians--even we ourselves, we must confess--have wandered from surrendering trust in Christ and from reverence for God’s Word and will.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis at the end of World War II, warned Christians against what he called “cheap grace,” which he described as “the grace we bestow on ourselves…the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession.”

Still and all, in this time with so little consciousness of God or concern about the will of God, people are, as in first-century Judea, still in a frenzy to push themselves to the top, to be noticed, to win, to die with the most toys. These impulses are bred in our sinful bones. And Jesus’ two parables are aimed as much at us as they were at His original hearers.

The first one was told specifically to the guests who were jockeying for places of honor at the banquet. Take a look at it, please, starting at verse 8. “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

From the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel, we’re told that Jesus came into our world to flip humanity’s standard operating procedures on their head. His mother, Mary had it right, when she said, in what we call the Magnifcat, “[God] has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” [Luke 1:51-53]

Mary knew the truth that Jesus affirms in today’s first parable, that those who humble themselves before God, even if despised by the world, are exalted in God’s kingdom.

Jesus calls us to live in confidence not in ourselves or our achievements or our shrewd exploitation of people and circumstances, but in the God Who loves us just as we are and Who is committed to helping those humble enough to confess their sins and their need of Him to enter the process of becoming more Christ-like in this life.

Those who trust in Christ are God’s children forever. There’s nothing you can do or need to do to earn that exalted status. When you have Jesus living within you, you most certainly will try to be and do your best every day. You’ll want to do everything to the glory of the God Who made you and sets you free from sin and death. But you also will know that the God Who sent His Son to die and rise for you will honor your repentance and shower you with a sense of your infinite value in the eyes of heaven, whatever your job, irrespective of how many degrees you have acquired, however large your income, no matter how good your health, however popular you may be, or even if you get the best spot at the banquet or the football game.

In Christ, I hope and pray that you know that no matter what you’ve done, or how guilty you may really be for some past wrong none of us could guess, or how inadequate you may feel, you could not possibly be more loved by God than you are at this very moment.

And if we are willing to let God tear down all the walls we have that can block out His grace and love, if we are willing to repent for our sins and receive forgiveness, we become God’s personal reclamation projects. Not only can God erase the power of sin and death over you, He can, for those who surrender each day, decrease your taste for the sins that may keep you from knowing peace with God and peace with yourself.

The Lord wants you to take a place of honor at His table even if you think that you’re too lowly or too unworthy to take it. God loves you and all people are welcome to, in the words of Scripture, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” [Psalm 34:8]

Jesus next tells a kind parable to His host, a scenario in which He asks the man (and us) to imagine himself (and we ourselves) as the lead character. You can read it, starting at verse 12. ““When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus isn’t making deals here. He’s saying that we who have been welcomed by God our host into the kingdom of God are called to also welcome others. All others.

Jesus is here expressing again what He says in the Great Commission: “...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:19-20]

Filled with God’s Spirit, you and I are to be the instruments God uses to invite others to hear God’s Word, Law and Gospel, to hear God’s call and command to repentance, to hear God’s call and command to believe in Jesus and know life everlasting.

We have no control over whether those we invite to follow Christ with us will let go of their sins to grasp hold of the grace offered in Jesus. But we must never stop telling them, by our words and our lives, either the inconvenient truth about human sin and our need of God or the incredible, life-changing, good news of the God Who, in Christ, can turn our lives upside down and in doing so, turn our souls right-side up, facing God for life, following Christ for hope, being filled with the Holy Spirit to give us a joy that will never end. Amen!

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]