I Want to Eat Healthy. Sometimes.

So…I’m fairly confused about the whole healthy eating thing, but I try to make an effort. At least, in between everything else I eat.

Recently, I stopped at one of the “healthy” supermarkets. I perused the aisles like the nutritionist I am not, checking labels and reading ingredient lists as if I understood them. I chose the healthiest lunch items I could find (that I thought I would actually eat), then I headed to the checkout counter to see what the damage would be. As I was waiting in line, I saw some “healthy” chocolate mint patties—looking attractive and utterly harmless perched on their shelf beside the register. The package boasted “only three ingredients!”

It’s not as if mint is some lifelong favorite of mine, so I’m not really sure why I yielded to that particular temptation after turning down so many others. I suppose it was just the simple fact that they were beside the cash register.

It was the next day after lunch when I felt the hankering for something sweet that I broke out the chocolate mint patties. They looked fairly convincing—and I was proud of myself for buying a healthy alternative to what I really wanted.

I took one bite and I nearly spit it into the next room. The whole thing tasted like something that should involve a phone number for poison control. Those three ingredients must have been Simple Green, Soft Scrub, and wax.

Call me what you like, tell me I’ve been ruined by the evils of sugar, read me any book, make me watch any movie—that thing was vile.

Watching people who eat super healthy diets is like going to the circus. Performers who effortlessly walk a tiny tightrope between two poles make you think, “Wow! What skill! What courage!” Then you see acrobats swinging stories between heaven and earth by their hair and you think, “Nope. Not worth it. Not for me at any price.”

Eating healthfully is like backwards barefoot mud skiing through a cranberry bog. For a select few, it is fun and exciting. For the rest of us, it is at best the cruelest of torture; and at worst an unfortunate and unpleasant way to meet your Maker.

Trying to eat healthfully is like trying to find your way through an authentic Iowa corn maze…Enduring the heat and the bugs only to discover that you wasted your energy on yet another dead end. And eventually, feeling so lost that you defy all the rules and head straight through the corn rows for the parking lot.

Seriously. Theories on what makes for the healthiest of diets are as numerous as theories of whatever happened to Flight 370 and just as disturbing. To some, it is all about calories. To others—about gluten… glycemic index…carbohydrates…proteins…organics, fats, GMOs, chemicals and insecticides…whatever…and the market will supply wherever the winds of demand take it and mark them up 15-75% from the “non-health food” alternative. It seems our planet in 2014 is a virtual minefield for would-be healthy eaters…especially those without the means to hire a personal chef.

So what does one do? Live on spinach? Even that, I hear, is not a good idea (too much can give you kidney stones). Nothing seems safe but starving to death.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence for any theory you want to believe. For example, my grandfather is almost 97. He has been a gardener most of his life. He has organically grown green leafy vegetables (the one thing all experts seem to agree are good for you) and consumed them faithfully. He stayed active—playing tennis, swimming, and riding his bike. Not surprising, he has always been relatively healthy.

Aha! Proof that we all need to eat vegetables and exercise regularly!

And he eats a bowl of ice cream every day. Propylene glycol (antifreeze) and all. And he eats baked goods constantly—yep, white sugar and gluten. He buys them from the discount sections in the back so he can get fifty cents off (which doesn’t matter, because most of them have a shelf life that would enable him to bequeath them in his will).   And everyone who sold him annuities is going broke.

Aha! Proof that it doesn’t matter what you eat!

Trying to discern what to eat using Scripture doesn’t exactly make things easy. Granted, it does eliminate the “eat nuts, berries, and meats like our ancestors who roamed the earth for millions of years before us” theory (which, if based on a truth, leaves me wondering why all who ate such a healthy diet are extinct). But, it still leaves room for quite a few other “biblical” theories like those who pull a verse out of Ezekiel and turn it into a recipe from God. Hmmmm. Perhaps not all bad, just not all it is marketed to be.

But the Bible does have a lot to say about food just as it does any other area of life. And after some research and some study, this is what I’ve come to so far:

  • Be as good of a steward as you can be. Just about all the nutrition “greats” agree on some things: More vegetables, less sugar. More natural, less processed. More raw, less cooked. More exercise, less stress. More water, less Pepsi. We can all use the same general principles that we use to avoid smoking and drugs and try to be good stewards of the temple God gave us. I Corinthians 6:19-20. If you live your life eating pasta while watching television, don’t complain to me that you don’t feel well. You are not going to feel well. Conversely, you probably know your body better than anyone. So if you conclude that it is better if you avoid dairy, or sugar, or gluten, or whatever, I’ll cheer you on. I have a lot of respect for several friends who have taken drastic measures to deal with health issues nutritionally.
  • Don’t let food become an idol. Food, or the lack thereof, shouldn’t be the central focus of our lives—at least not under normal circumstances (health issues might require more focus for some people). Philippians 3:18-19. We shouldn’t let it be our source of fulfillment. Sometimes, we are going to need to limit our desires so as not to offend; sometimes we might expand our horizons so as not to offend. Because, after all, if God really wanted His church to follow a single set of strict guidelines, He would have said so. And He didn’t. I Corinthians 10:31
  • Be disciplined; use moderation. Sometimes it is healthy for us to deny ourselves our wants for some greater purpose (Isaiah 58:6). Sometimes repentance, sometimes provision for others, and sometimes for consecration to Him. It is healthy for us to discipline our bodies and Scripture strongly discourages gluttony. I Corinthians 9:17; Prov 23:20-22. Ouch.
  • Celebrate! Just about every biblical holiday involved food—yes, even the marriage of the Lamb will include a feast. When it’s appropriate, eat well. Leviticus 23:2 And if you are following the other guidelines, it won’t be a problem.

There. That’s it. Those are all my conclusions.

That and the fact that I will no longer buy wanna-be healthy peppermint patties. If I need one that badly, I will buy the real thing. After all, you are what you eat, and I wouldn’t want to be nasty hunk of wax and Simple Green.


Boring Old Easter

Let’s face it. For those of us who grew up in the church, Bible stories get boring. It’s hard to find a new insight from the Easter story. The sentimental feelings are gone. Sometimes trying to light the fire is like taking a match to a used firecracker. There are no sparks, no noise, no drama, just a tiny flame that burns briefly before going out again.

I have one thing to say to those who claim that they never get tired of hearing the same old Bible stories: Liar, Liar, pants on fire…

But…it is Easter.  You can’t ever stop telling the story.

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

What those words must have meant 2000 years ago to a small handful of followers who saw the nail prints in His hands. His death had seemed so untimely. They expected their Messiah to throw off the cruel Roman dictatorship. For a few awful days, the only logical conclusion was that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah after all. Just a good man; a powerful prophet; an eloquent preacher.

But the resurrection changed everything. Jesus defied death and He showed Himself to the disciples as proof. The gates of hell had failed at their primary mission since the Garden of Eden—to prevent the birth, redemptive death, and resurrected life of the Son of God.

And in the following days, weeks, and months, the church was born. The fastest-growing movement of all time. [If you’re still reading this I’ll buy you a soda.] The strongest force on earth—the power of grace through faith—gripped the hearts of men, women, and children throughout the known world.

He was alive. Just as surely as they had seen Him go, He would come again. The growing group of believers made it their mission to live and die for His imminent return.

That was 2000 years ago.

A week ago or so I picked up a magazine—something I almost never do—and read an article that left me speechless. Or almost speechless anyway. I wasn’t surprised, but I was amazed as I read about the influence of Christian missionaries around the globe.

After fourteen years of research and study, Robert Woodberry demonstrated the influence of Protestant missions over the past 100 years or so. Where Christian missionaries have been, there is more democracy. There is less illiteracy, less slavery, less poverty, lower infant mortality, less corruption, and higher education levels (especially among women) than in non-evangelized countries around the world.

The research differentiated between “colonialism” and state sponsored church work (which had virtually no effect) with the true influence of the gospel. Woodbury himself described the difference as “shocking.”

The results were so overwhelming that he critically surveyed his research, testing other possible theories and explanations for the marked difference between cultures that had received the light of the gospel and those that had not. There simply was no other way to explain why, for example, literacy (an ingredient of democracy) was so prevalent in Ghana while so lacking in neighboring West Africa. Over a hundred years ago, British missionaries in Ghana had established printing presses, meanwhile missionary work was severely limited in the French-governed West Africa.

As I mentioned, this article was amazing, but not surprising really. It was just a little glimpse of what the church has done since Jesus set Himself apart once and for all from all religious leaders of history by rising from the dead.

Every country has religion. But that doesn’t mean that they have a purpose, a hope, or a motivation to treat other human beings with any level of dignity.

The church is the body of Christ on earth and everywhere that Christians go while glorifying their Savior, they leave our planet a little better than they found it. They give. They forgive. They speak truth. They lift up burdens. They take in orphans. They visit widows. They heal sick. They bring peace to strife. They teach labor for provision. They are good stewards of what is entrusted to them. They are the light that illumines and the salt that preserves.

As Christians, we have not only the manger, not only the cross, but the resurrection.  The resurrection set us a part.

Frankly, I don’t need proof that the resurrection changes everything. I am proof.

Let it be said of us that the resurrection still changes everything; that we are still living and dying like our Messiah’s return is imminent. Let us take our ugliest sins to the cross and be set free. Let us regard the suffering of this world as fulfilling a purpose—sometimes disciplinary, sometimes corrective, sometimes growing and strengthening, sometimes testifying of our God in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Let us be the proof that we serve a risen Savior.

Let there be no explanation for us except the resurrection. Let us not give anyone the reason to doubt for a moment that He is risen. Let us be more passionate, more intentional, and more sacrificial in the ways that we bring the good news of the gospel to the world around us.

He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed.

Let us never lose sight of what that means to a broken, needy world.


There I was.  Surrounded by friends. And none of them were mine.

I watched the people standing in line for food, sitting or standing at tables, and milling and talking. I didn’t know a soul.

Okay, I did know a soul. I saw two souls I knew—casually. I said hello and they greeted me in passing. Then I was alone again.

I filled my “Tim Scott for Senate” tumbler with watery pink lemonade and then wandered again around the adjoining rooms looking to see if there were any familiar faces I may have missed. Nope.

So I got in one of the lines—knowing only that there was probably food at the front and that I was starving. I made small talk with the lady in line behind me. She was running for school superintendent. I wished her well.

I filled my plate with cold BBQ pork and meatballs and then went in search of a place to sit. There were several empty tables outside, so I made my way to one. Another couple soon approached with their plates of food and asked if they could sit across from me, and I readily agreed. But between the stiff breeze and the blaring speakers behind us, it was evident that any attempt at conversation would be no more than a futile shouting match. So we ate and listened to the blaring music.

It was hard to guess exactly how many people were there at this fundraiser for Tim Scott for Senate, but from my table, I could see that the parking lot was full and overflowing—people were parked on the grass and kept coming.

All the politicos were here hobnobbing, I guess. Like I said, I didn’t recognize any of them. I felt alone, but it didn’t bother me that much. I was about to finish my plate of food and head for home where my dog was going to be better company than this entire crowd.

When I thought about it, I realized although I was a nobody in this group, I was probably not the loneliest person here. In fact, it occurred to me that perhaps the loneliest person here was Tim Scott himself. Now I need to qualify this, because I don’t know. In fact, I really have no idea.

But think through this with me. Imagine having thousands of people in your life. Thousands. And they all want something from you. You stand for hours while different people come to the front of a line to shake your hand and take their picture with you. You make small talk with each one as they come up and try to act interested and excited to see them. Then they walk away. And you greet the next one.

If you hear from any of them again, it’s going to be, “Hi, I’m Joe. I was a sponsor of your Charleston fundraiser. I’m having this problem…I think Congress should…” And that will be your relationship.

Mind you, Tim Scott is well liked in South Carolina and on this planet in general. So he probably has it better than most politicians. But even so, how many real friends does he have? I wonder. And how much time could he possibly invest in those relationships with his real friends to keep them healthy?

What kind of relationships do you create when every email that goes out with your name on it is begging for money?  When even your birthday party costs money to attend?

Perhaps he is also thinking right now “Here I am, surrounded by friends.  And none of them are mine.”

The fact is that loneliness is not a rare occurrence. In fact, I’m convinced that everyone is lonely sometimes—whether single or married, rich or poor, introvert or extrovert. I’ve heard moms talk about the loneliness of being around little people all day; fathers confess the loneliness of the pressures they face; teens feel lonely because they have no friends they can trust; college students moan about the loneliness of dorm life; graduates talk about the loneliness of the transition into the work force; I even recently read an article about the loneliness pastors face.

Perhaps the puzzling part is not that so many people struggle with loneliness but that we assume so many people do not. Loneliness is no respecter of persons and has nothing at all to do with the number of Facebook friends you have. I believe it has to do with the availability of another understanding soul that we can connect with on a deeper level.

Some of us choose loneliness because we have bought into the lie that somewhere out there is another human being that we will be able to bare our soul to completely who will not judge us in the smallest way— but just listen to all the good and all garbage we want to spew and then knowingly make some wise and loving response that fixes everything. And raise us up so we can stand on mountains.

Some of us have realistic expectations, but we find ourselves lonely because we either don’t have the time or the energy to invest in healthy relationships with people that we respect enough to make ourselves vulnerable.

Regardless of the reason, loneliness is…well…it’s lonely. It get it. Believe me.  It is incredibly painful.

Loneliness itself is not a sin—I even wonder if Jesus was lonely at times. But it can lead to sin. It can lead to discontentment, to bitterness, to jealousy, and generally to unhappy, unfruitful living.

But it doesn’t have to.

I think the greatest service that loneliness can perform is to teach us our need for our Savior. King David was thoughtful enough to record for us some of the times that his lonely soul took refuge in his shadow of our Savior’s wings. When you have no time and no energy for anything else, start there. Read Psalm 34, Psalm 103, and Psalm 63. Earnestly seek God. Let your thirsty soul look for water where the springs of living water flow.

But even that is not an instant or permanent cure…which may sound heretical on its face. But I believe that even though God wants us to draw near to Him, He doesn’t encourage us to live lives in isolation. It isn’t healthy. It’s like the difference between fasting and starving. One can be constructive, the other will kill you.

So that leads me to what is perhaps the second greatest service that loneliness can perform—to teach us to compassionately care for others. It can make us more patient. More kind. More considerate. It can teach us that life isn’t about us. There is a world of people out there that God created to be part of a community who are also starving for companionship.

I complained to a friend that I was lonely and they surprised me by saying, “I can’t fix that for you.” Bummer. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but they were right.  The best cure for loneliness was seeing past myself into the needs of others and exercising the initiative to build bridges into other people’s lives.

Be a friend—because there are those who need your friendship as much as you need theirs, maybe even more.

The “D” Word (Part I)

I was curious, so I “duckduckgo’d” [I don’t use Google] the amount of money that the weight loss industry makes.  The results I found averaged 40,000,000,000 dollars each year.  That’s a lot of money.

As I read some comments surrounding these numbers, one anonymous would-be weight loser said that all weight loss products were either “common sense repackaged as science” or “snake oil repackaged as science.”

Personally, I wouldn’t take it quite that far since there are legitimate tools to help with that endeavor, but I would chalk up most of the weight loss industry as crock.

Take for example, the Cookie Diet.  Who would try such a thing?  People who love cookies of course.  And why was the Atkins diet so popular?  Because it didn’t require you to eat less as long as you were filling up on steak and cheese.  (Too bad it doesn’t really work that way).  And why was the baby food diet such a flash in the pan?  Well, obviously, because no one in their right mind cares a flip about being fit if it means eating mashed peas out of jars for the rest of your life.  Yuk.

The problem with most of the weight loss industry is that it does its best to take discipline out of the equation.  It is all geared toward helping you lose weight effortlessly.  And when people realize that 1) it does take effort; or 2) it requires no effort because there are no results, they bag it.

In the meantime, “they” make money because we hate being disciplined so much that we would rather fork over our hard earned dollars than say no to a brownie or get up and go jogging—even when we know in our heart of hearts that it isn’t going to work.  If there is a way to accomplish our goals with little or no discipline, that’s surely the route we’re going to take.

I picked on dieters, but problems with the “D” word are not limited to our eating habits.  How many budgets have I written?  How many have I stuck with?  The answers are “many” and “none” respectively.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how much my budget says I’m going to save if I don’t actually say “no” to myself.

Discipline is difficult.  That’s why we don’t read our Bibles, pray, and memorize Scripture like we should.  That’s why there are such things as credit cards, alcoholics, and porn addicts.  We just don’t know how to say “no” to ourselves.  Or we just don’t do it.

And in this anti-legalism generation, we have become allergic to rules and anything that resembles rules.  And discipline kinda looks like and smells like rules.  So we don’t talk about it anymore.

I found myself asking—is discipline even biblical?  It would sure be convenient if it was not.

But discipline is a very biblical concept—ask Paul.  Or Daniel.  In fact, so much so, that God takes it upon Himself to discipline us when we do not do it ourselves.  Hebrews 12:6-7

With that in mind, how do I discipline myself?  And what are the things that truly matter enough to be worthy of the endeavor?

I duly noted that the most effective means of changing people’s behaviors and habits—across the industries—includes accountability.  We immediately think of the military when we think of discipline.  Why?  Accountability.  All day long.

God did not expect us to do the Christian life alone, so He established the church.  Successful organizations and businesses alike have copied God’s idea and established successful groups for everything from addiction recovery to quilting—because we are more likely to get something done if we are being strengthened by others.

Being accountable to someone means there is someone in your life that will speak the truth to you and you will give their words respect.  It does not mean filling your life with gushy friends who will always tell you what you want to hear.  So there goes the quilting example.

If we hate discipline enough, we will surely hate accountability.  We will come up with excuses like “they just don’t understand” “they expect too much” and “they won’t accept me just the way I am.”  And we move away from home, get divorced, or quit our job.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  If you are so fortunate as to have a friend, a spouse, or a parent that speaks the truth to you—regardless of whether or not you wanted to hear it—be oh, so grateful.  And if you don’t, you should seek one out.

The more I’ve pondered this, the more I have realized how closely akin discipline is to meekness.  It is strength under control.  It is giving up my way for a better way.  It is confining the steam in my engine to the straight and narrow tracks of God’s will.  It can be loving, creative, and powerful.  It is just putting off immediate desires for some better end result.

That leads to my second question… What are the things that truly matter enough to be worthy of the endeavor?  Because we really don’t want to be caught in the vortex of living life by the numbers on the scale.

And that will be a thought for another day.