Mindful Eating

Today, one of my so-called friends looked me up and down and said, “You should practice mindful eating.”

“What’s mindful eating?” I asked.

“It’s a powerful way of personal thinking and self improvement,” she replied. “It will help you lose weight while also allowing you to cope with your emotions.”

“Do you think I need to lose weight?” I asked, somewhat taken aback by her boldness.

She laughed in my face.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she replied. “Of course you do.”

“How much is it?” I asked, trying to control my temper.

“Oh, no! no, no, no, no!” she snapped. “You can’t buy it! First, you have to buy into it.”

“Sounds like a pyramid scheme,” 

She smiled at me with the confidence of a substitute health teacher and replied, “Mindful eating happens when you pay attention to what you are eating, why you are eating, and how fast you are eating.”

“You mean I have to think about what I’m eating instead of just enjoying it?” 

“That’s correct.”

“Oh, man.” 

“Let me ask you,” she continued. “Do you want to enjoy your food or do you want to be healthy?” 

“I want to do both,” I replied.

“Good answer!” she said dramatically. “If (long pause) that is the truth and if (another pause) you put yourself under my supervision, I can help you,” (emphasis on the ‘you’) “do just that.”

“Ok,” I said. “Let’s pretend like I’m interested. What do I have to do?”

“First of all,” she said, “You have to start eating slower.”

“Eating slower? I grew up with three hungry sisters around the table. In my family, if you ate slowly, you didn’t eat much.”

“You are no longer growing up and you are obviously eating in more places than just at the dinner table!” 

I looked down in shame. “How can you tell?” 

“Isn’t it obvious,” she replied while pointing at my gut. “Can you at least try to slow your eating?”

“How?” 

“Well,” she answered. “Try chewing every bite thoroughly and thoughtfully.”

“You want me to chew thoughtfully?” 

“Exactly,” she said. “Take time to focus on what you are eating.”

“How can I focus on it if it’s in my mouth?” 

“This isn’t an eye test, John.” she replied. “Think about what is in your mouth. Chew eat bite 25 to 45 times to improve swallowing and digestion.”

“You’re joking right?” I asked.

“Chewing your food thoroughly allows for all of the flavor to be released into your mouth resulting in greater enjoyment.”

“You have all this memorized, don’t you?” I asked. 

“Also,” she continued, “Set down your utensils between each bite and ask yourself, ‘Am I really hungry?’” 

“But I’m always hungry.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Why would I be eating if I wasn’t hungry.”

“Because it’s the regular time for a meal or a snack.”

“Which is when I’m usually hungry!” I cried.

“Just try it,” she replied. “You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make.”

“Ok,” I replied. “Can we be finished now. I promise I’ll try to eat thoughtfully and mindfully.”

“Good,” she replied. “While you’re at it, you need to turn off the tv and put your phone away at least an hour before bed.”

“Get out,” I said. 

*Photo courtesy of Henley Design Studios and Unsplash

It Happened On A Friday

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It started late on Thursday night.

BETRAYED – Jesus anguished through His prayer, knowing what was about to happen. He was betrayed with a kiss by one of His disciples, a friend, or at least a pretend friend named Judas Iscariot. Judas had spent three years with Jesus. Three years. Jesus had commissioned him, fed him, loved him, taught him, cared for him, and invested in him, but Judas betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver. 

It sounds like a lot of money but it was only enough to buy a small field.  

DENIED – Jesus was arrested and taken away. Peter followed, at a distance, to the home of the high priest, but had to stay outside the gate until a woman opened it for him. As he entered, the woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples, are you?”

“No,” he said, “I am not.” 

Because it was cold, the household servants and the guards made a fire. They stood around it, warming themselves, and Peter stood with them, warming himself. Once again, someone asked Peter, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?”

He denied it once again, saying, “No, I am not.”

Soon after, one of the slaves of the high priest, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?” And for the third time, Peter denied it.    

And the rooster crowed.

CONDEMNED – Jesus was taken to Pilate, the Roman governor, who asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 

Jesus replied, “You have said it.”

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent, much to the governor’s surprise.

It was Pilate’s custom each year during Passover to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted.  This year there was a notorious prisoner named Barabbas.  

As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas or Jesus?” 

Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death.  

So Pilate asked the crowd, “Then what should I do with Jesus?”

“Crucify Him!” they shouted.

“Why?” Pilate demanded. “What has He done?”

But they shouted all the louder.

Then Pilate sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”

So Pilate released Barabbas to the people. He ordered Jesus to be scourged, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

SCOURGED –  Then the Bible says, “They took Him and had Him scourged.” Now, scourging was such that it often killed the victim. But Jesus was a young and strong man in his early thirties. He was in good physical condition. That could be why He didn’t die from the scourging.  They stripped Jesus nearly naked, and shackled His hands over His head. Then soldiers stood on either side of Him and whipped Him brutally with what’s called a flagrum or a cat o’ nine tails. It was a wooden handle that had long straps of leather protruding from it. At the end of each strap was a ball of either metal or stone, and that would tenderize the human flesh. Sometimes there were hooks at the end, usually made of metal.  

The soldiers took turns doing their job, inflicting as much pain as possible on Jesus.  

At this point, for Jesus, the process of death has begun.

CRUCIFIED – Jesus was forced to carry His cross to the place of death. The cross was an enormous wooden beam that you would use to secure a roof in an ancient home. This was recycled timber. Other men had carried it to their own crucifixion. It was covered with their tears and their blood, and their sweat.

On the way, Jesus was so exhausted that He collapsed under the weight of the cross. Simon of Cyrene, a bystander, was commanded to help Him carry the cross to the place of crucifixion.  And then, this Carpenter who Himself had driven many nails, had the equivalent of railroad spikes driven through His hands and feet.  

Jesus’ cross was then lifted up and dropped into the ground, shaking His body violently.

From the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”  

In that moment, something legal, something spiritual, something eternal happened. Jesus traded places with us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” Adam and Eve, in the Garden, substituted themselves for God and introduced sin to mankind. But here, in this place God substituted Himself for us, defeating the power of sin. 

Then Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” and then He died. 

His last words might have been hard to understand, but they were triumphant just the same.  Salvation through Him was available. It was finished. 

Jesus died on that Friday, paying the price for our sin. 

His mother cried. His disciples scattered. His enemies laughed. His followers mourned.

It happened on a Friday. Christ was killed on a Friday. God displayed His love on a Friday.

And the world was forever changed.

 

*Photo courtesy of Dylan McLeod of Unsplash

Passover, Communion, and Covid-19

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Strangely, Covid-19 makes me think of Jesus at the Last Supper. 

Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, ate the Passover meal with His disciples. At that meal, He instituted the ordinance of Communion, still practiced by Christians worldwide today. We learn from Matthew 26:30, “Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.”

In the Passover Celebration, a collection of Psalms, called the Hallel, is sung throughout various parts of the meal. The closing Psalm is often Psalm 118 beginning with “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” 

This was possibly the last song of worship sung by Jesus before His crucifixion. And yet, He still chose to sing.

He sang knowing what was about to happen,

  • He knew He would be betrayed that very night.
  • He knew Peter would deny Him three times.
  • He knew He would go through a mockery of a trial.
  • He knew the crowds would cry out, “Crucify Him!”
  • He knew about the crown of thorns that would be placed on His head.
  • He knew He would be flogged, beaten, ridiculed, and crucified.
  • He knew He was going to die.

But He continued in faith, knowing and believing and demonstrating that the faithful love of the Lord endures forever.

No matter what.

I wish I had that kind of faith. 

I have to admit, my first thought regarding this pandemic is not the love of the Lord. Instead, it’s worry. I worry about whether or not I’m going to run out of toilet paper. I worry about whether or not we have enough food for two weeks, or four weeks, or eight weeks, or more. I worry about the health of my wife and I, about our parents and family, about my church family and friends, about my city and state and frankly, the whole world. 

I’m not alone. 

I see worry everywhere, on the faces of people, young and old. I see it in posts and tweets and newscasts and in articles. It’s everywhere.

How different would it be, though, if we tried to approach what’s happening with the faith demonstrated by Jesus as He sang the Hallel?

It’s going to stretch me, but today I choose to live by faith. 

I will give thanks to the Lord. I will remember that He is good. His love endures forever.

Care to join me?

Photo courtesy of Neil E. Johnson and Unsplash

With the Lord’s Help, She Did It

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Carol was in the top ten of her high school graduating class, but some life setbacks prevented her from enrolling in college. Four years later, she took a job cleaning restrooms at the local hospital. She never thought of herself in that line of work, but she needed the money. She prayed, then looked in the mirror and said, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this. Who knows? Maybe I can make a difference.” 

Carol learned her job quickly and worked hard. Her supervisor noticed Carol’s strong work ethic and the care she showed patients as she entered their rooms. She encouraged Carol to complete the training to become a Nurse’s Assistant. Carol had never thought of herself in that line of work, but helping patients sounded good to her. She prayed, looked in the mirror and said, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this. Who knows? Maybe I can make a difference.”

Within a year, Carol had completed the training, and began working directly with nurses and patients. She learned her job quickly and worked hard. After two years on the job, Carol’s supervisor called her into her office. 

“Am I in trouble?” asked Carol.

“Not at all,” replied her supervisor. “In fact, I’ve noticed your strong work ethic. I’ve seen your interaction with the patients and staff as you clean. You treat everyone with respect. I think you would make an excellent LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse). You can keep your job here while in school and when you’re finished, I would love to hire you.”

Once again, Carol gave her supervisor’s suggestion consideration and prayer. She looked in the mirror and said, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this. Who knows? Maybe I can make a difference.”

It wasn’t easy to balance work, family, and school, but Carol finished her LPN training in two and a half years. She learned her job quickly, and worked hard. She took advantage of every training and continuing education opportunity. It paid off. In a couple of years, Carol’s supervisor once again called Carol into her office.

You can probably guess what happened. Carol was encouraged once again by her supervisor to learn and grow. Once again she prayed, looked in the mirror, and said, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this. Who knows, maybe I can make a difference.” Four years later, Carol graduated once again as an RN (Registered Nurse). 

A few years later, with more encouragement from her superiors, more prayer, and more time in front of the mirror, Carol realized she wasn’t finished growing. She went on to earn a PhD in Nursing. She is now the Chair of Nursing Department in her alma mater. She is often asked to speak to nursing students at pinning and graduation ceremonies. She tells the students to learn their job quickly and work hard. She encourages them to take advantage of every training and continuing education opportunity that comes their way. She tells them to pray about every decision, then look themselves in the mirror and say, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this. Who knows, maybe I can make a difference.”

*Photo Courtesy of Taylor Smith of Unsplash

Nativity Maturity

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A week or two ago, my wife invited a mom and her preschool daughter to our home, to decorate for the upcoming holiday and for Christmas cookies. She asked the young girl if she would place the Nativity scene pieces in a small stable that was sitting on an end table near the sofa. 

The girl looked carefully at the figures and at the stable, then began by placing the Baby Jesus figure, lying in a manger, in the center of the stable. Then, she placed Mary and Joseph, the animals, the shepherds, the wise men, and finally, the angel.

Sounds pretty normal, right? Most adults would do the same thing.

Except… 

The little girl placed all of the figures facing inside the inside center of the stable instead of facing outward.

When I saw the Nativity scene, I thought, “What is this? No one can see the characters because they’re all looking at Jesus.”

Then, I realized that the little girl had it right. Jesus is the center of the story. It’s all about Him. Why would anyone look at anything or anyone else?

Lord, this year, help us to fix our eyes on Jesus. Help us make the Christmas season all about Him. 

Intruder In My House

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I woke early this morning and decided to go for a walk. As I reached for my keys, I sensed something strange and suddenly realized I was not alone. 

Then I saw him. An intruder had entered my home.

He shook his long pointed finger in my face. Surprisingly, I recognized him. How could I possibly forget that face?

We first met when as a child a bully threatened to beat me up after school. Later, he sat beside me in college while I took my exams, causing me unfounded anxiety. He visited me as an adult, right before I made a bold career move.  Sometimes, he stops by and I don’t see him, but I see what he’s left behind: broken dreams, forsaken promises, hopelessness, and even despair.

He showed up again this morning in my home unannounced.

I looked him right in the eye and said, “Hello, Fear.”

He rolled his eyes and asked, “Just where do you think you are going?”

“For a walk.”

“You’re not going anywhere.”

“What?”

“I’m telling you right now, if you walk out that door, you’ll never come back alive.”

“What do you mean?”

“You step outside, you die. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“It doesn’t matter if you believe me. I said it and that settles it. It’s going to happen.”

“You can’t frighten me.”

“I’ve been paralyzing people for thousands of years. You think you can avoid me?”

I looked down at the floor and held my keys tightly. For a moment, I thought I should just wait until tomorrow to walk.

“You know,” he said, “I’ve kept you in my power since you were a child. I made you lie to keep from getting in trouble. I’ve caused you to run from family and friends and opportunities and experiences. You have no choice but to do what I say.”

I paused. He had manipulated me in the past and even now I was frozen. 

He watched me suffer in silence.

“What did I tell you?” he said. “You’re my servant.”

“No,” I said faintly.

“Silly man, I have you under my control even now.”

“I’m not your slave,” I said in a stronger tone.

“You must serve me,” he said, “I will be like God to you.”

“No, you won’t,” I replied, suddenly defiant. “I already have a God and His grace is sufficient. He doesn’t give me a spirit of fear. He gives me a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.”

Fear raised an eyebrow.

“You are weak” he said. “You will fail and come running back to me.”

“I may be weak,” I answered. “But He is strong and He loves me. The Bible tells me so. Get out of my house and stay away from me. I’m going for a walk. You can’t stay here and you’re not welcome to join me.”

Bad Things Happen

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Bad things happen. 

Terrible, awful things that make your stomach turn and tears come to your eyes. Things that make us question God and His motives. 

Why does the Lord allow bad things to happen, especially to good people?

I don’t know. 

Oh, I’ve heard the pat answers from speakers and preachers and I’ve read what both Christian and secular authors have to say. Even though they’ve published books, some of them with their own picture on the front, most of their answers haven’t helped me so far. They’ve just brought more questions. I know they are good people and they mean well, but when the worst happens, I often feel like their answers are just trying to make me shut up.

But I have learned one thing for sure: Bad things happen.

They happen to Christians and non-Christians. 

No one is immune to bad things. Even those who love God and try to follow Him have to deal with bad things in life: Angry people, bad traffic, sickness, theft, natural disasters, car problems, unwanted children, cancer, broken homes, fatal accidents, infertility, drunk drivers, suicidal thoughts and actions, hurtful words, domestic violence, spoiled food, broken relationships, accidental death, scarred lives, and shattered dreams.

Bad things suck.

C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, wrote the following: Nothing will shake a man-or at any rate a man like me-out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”

Honestly, I’m not sure I understand everything he’s trying to say in that quote or in his book, but I do agree that it often takes something terrible in our lives to remind of the reality of God and us.

God is God and I am not. 

And neither are you.

I love Him and I know that He’s good.

Bad things still happen.

I still don’t get it.

But I know that He does.

That’s all I know.

 

*Photo courtesy of Alessio Lin of Unsplash

Broken Zipper, Hidden Fly

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There’s nothing quite so humbling, or humiliating, than to be in church with a broken zipper in your fly.

I had just finished my business in the bathroom and I must have gripped the pull tab of my zipper a little too hard. I zipped up but nothing came together. The glorious unity displayed in the joining together of the metal tangs in my zipper did not take place. My pants were undivided permanently, despite my begging and pleading in the moment.

So, I fastened the top of my pants, praising God there was a button that worked, untucked my shirt and pulled it down as far as possible in the front.

My wife was coming to pick me up on the other side of the church building from where I was, so I had to walk through the crowded common area. I tried my best to be inconspicuous, which is hard to do when you’re the campus pastor walking through a crowd in the church building. I noticed a couple of people looking at me strange and wondered if I was not sufficiently covered. That’s when I realized I was walking all hunched over, trying to give the front of my shirt the slack it needed. So I pulled on my jacket, even though it had turned warm, and zipped up the front to help my situation.

I had just made it to our meeting point when my wife sent me a text telling me she was going to be late.

Sigh.

I quickly found an out of the way chair to sit and wait for her to arrive. I placed my backpack in my lap as if it were a shield. I pulled out a book, and pretended to read, hoping people would catch the understanding that I wasn’t interested in conversation. Suddenly, I was surrounded by friends and church members who desperately needed to talk. One of them even needed prayer. I tried to act casual and asked them to sit across from me so we could informally talk.

Finally, everyone left, and my wife finally arrived.

“Hi,” she said. “Would you like to go out to eat?”

“Ah, no,” I replied.

We read in Proverbs 11:2 that Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

I can say that in the moments of my humility (or humiliation) I was very much aware of my every appearance and interaction with others. I considered every step I took and every word I said with precision and accuracy. I thought more about what the other person heard (and saw) and kept direct eye contact with them as much as possible.

I learned two valuable lessons that day.

  1. Wisdom does come from humility.
  2. I’m keeping an extra pair of pants in my office from now on.

Early On: A Response In Story Form

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“Well,” he said, “You’re here early, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I am. I’m not really sure what happened, but here I am.”

The man smiled pleasantly.

“Is that ok?” I asked. “Can I still join you?”

He swallowed hard and looked into my eyes.

“Absolutely!” he stated. “We’re glad you’re here. Don’t ever doubt that.”

I stretched out my hand to shake his. He grabbed it tightly and pulled me in for a big bear hug. It took me by surprise, but in a good way. Something told me I could trust him.

“Thanks for having me,” I said, still caught in his embrace.

When he finally released me, I awkwardly said, “Again, I’m sorry I’m here so early.”

“You shouldn’t worry about it,” he replied. “We all know it wasn’t your fault.”

“Thanks for understanding,” I said. “I just hope it won’t ruin anything.”

He paused, then said, “Things here will be just fine. Now, let’s get you settled in, Michael. I think you’re going to like where we’ve put you.”

“Michael?” I asked. “Why are you calling me Michael?”

He patted my back and said, “Because that’s your name.”

“I’ve never heard it before.”

“What did your parents call you?”

“Well, they never really called me by name. They usually just referred to me as the kid. You know how parents are. They say things like ‘I don’t know what to do with this kid,’ ‘I wish that kid was coming at a different time,’ ‘That kid’s just not going to be worth the effort.’”

“You heard your parents say all of that?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m saddened that you heard that. I’m sure it really hurt your feelings.”

“It did, but I turned out ok, I guess.”

“You look fine to me now, Michael.”

“So I’m really Michael, huh?”

“Yeah, you are. You know, your grandma wanted to call you Michael if…”

“I know,” I said. “If I had been born.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“You know,” I said. “I thought I was being born. I saw a light and then, darkness again, and then I was here…”

He put his hands on my shoulders and said, “Michael. I wish you could have lived the life I planned for you. You would have loved it.”

Tears streamed down my face and I hugged him once again. I could feel his heart beating in rhythm with mine.

“I love you, Michael,” he said. “I want you to live with me here forever.”

I smiled and said, “Thank you, Jesus. I love you, too.”

 

*photo courtesy of Drew Patrick Miller and Unsplash

The Anthropians: A Fun Missions/Community Interaction Learning Experience

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Several years ago, I was a participant at the Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Virginia. While there, we participated in a large group experience where some of us were missionaries and others were members of an unreached people group. I don’t remember the details of the experience, but I do remember that I left feeling like I had a better understanding of relating cross-culturally.

Earlier this week, I was tasked with training the Celebration Church staff on community interaction. I put together a short learning experience based on what I remembered from my time at the Missionary Learning Center. It turned out good for us. I hope it blesses you as well.

The Anthropians 

STEP ONE:

Select six people from the group and send them into another room where they cannot hear what is happening in the large room.

STEP TWO:

Explain to both groups of people that they now have a new identity.

  • Those in the large group are members of the Anthropian Tribe.
    • The Anthropian tribe members only wear one shoe.
    • The Anthropians speak English but only in whispers.
    • The Anthropians applaud whenever anyone says “thank you” or “good-bye.”
    • It is considered polite in the Anthropian culture to hiss and look repulsed whenever someone greets them. ONLY if someone responds in a similar fashion, will they smile and whisper to them.
    • The Anthropian leaders wear funny hats. They only speak to non Anthropians when they are introduced to them by other Anthropians. If someone is introduced to a leader by an Anthropian, the leader hisses and looks repulsed. If the new person responds in kind, the Anthropian leader smiles and speaks to them in a whisper. Every so often the leader says “thank you” for no reason, causing those Anthropians around him to applaud.
    • There is an Anthropian Ruler who sits on the raised level who never speaks or acknowledges anyone, ever, no matter who they are or what the reason. 
  • Those now in the “small sent out group” are the missionaries.
    • They wear matching shirts
    • They speak English in a normal speaking volume
    • Their mission is to learn how to interact with the Anthropian Tribe so they can impact their community for the better.
    • The mission team consists of:
      • A leader who directs the team
      • Four team members who carry-out the directions of the leader
      • One scribe who takes notes on the what he sees and reports his findings to the group.

STEP THREE:

  • In the large group, have the Anthrops gather into circles of 10 with a leader for each group. Give each leader and hat then lead them to practice being Anthrops.
  • In the small group, have the missionary leader and team develop a strategy for interacting with the Anthropians.

 

STEP FOUR:

  • Bring the missionaries into the presence of the Anthropians and have them begin their missionary journey. The leader directs, the missionaries engage, and the scribe takes notes.

STEP FIVE:

  • The action ends. The missionaries de-brief for 2 minutes while the Anthropians return to their seats. Then, the scribe takes the stand and reports to the whole group the findings of the team.

Large Group Questions:

  • Do the Anthropians Need Jesus?
  • Why is doing a little anthropology on the Anthropians important to understand their culture if we’re trying to impact their community? 
  • How can understanding the culture of the communities surrounding our campus help us in impacting them?

*Photo courtesy of Re.zin of Unsplash