Put Me To The Test

Last time, I mentioned that this year my bride and I would be giving up something each day of Lent–something to de-clutter our lives and let us focus on God. Proving once again that God does have a sense of humor–or at least, a willingness to say, “OK, you’re on!”–we now have something new to give up, and we’re doing it together.

Last week at a doctor’s appointment, her doctor told her that she needs to make a serious shift in her habits. He told her to start a ketogenic diet. This means we get to go wild on all the meat we want, including bacon (yay!), but have to live on a very low carbohydrate diet (boo). I’ve commented before on how my waistline could stand a trimming, and to give her support as well, I’ve joined in.

Here we are saying “Lord, let me have the strength to give something up in Lent,” and here’s God coming right back at us: “Okay, eliminate carbs.” Until this week I had no idea how carb-heavy our diets truly were. My usual breakfast of a grapefruit with a drizzle of maple syrup…gone. So would be any of a thousand typical American breakfast options: bagels, muffins, hash browns, pancakes, waffles…oh, sure, I can have all the eggs, bacon and sausage I want. Guess what my cafeteria at work doesn’t stock for breakfast?

Lunch: Out goes anything on bread, so my usual sandwich shops are gone. Salads, yes, and soups, sure, as long as I have some sense that they’re lower in carbs. And sure I can have meat from the cafeteria, if they offer something that isn’t breaded before it’s fried. Dinners have been OK–we skip the potato or rice now. But man, do I miss dessert. I *really* miss dessert.

It hasn’t been any easier for my wife, whose breakfast of choice for decades has been a can of full-strength Coke. We’re both struggling to find suitable replacements for all three meals, and for snacks that we can enjoy in the in-between times. This isn’t easy.

And yet, I feel, that’s the point. The lesson we may be being taught this Lent is more about discipline and commitment. You want to follow me? asks God. OK, here’s what it will cost you: your comfort zone, your usual habits, everything accustomed will go away.

“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)

Me and my big mouth, offering to give up something. Thank you, Jesus, for taking me up on it and forcing me to confront what you’re teaching. May we find the strength to turn from what’s comfortable and find instead the fullness of what we’re being called into.

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Caring For The Sparrows

I’d been planning this weekend awhile. The kids are both gone on their mission trip, and so I was going to take Mary up to New York City. She’d never been to see a Broadway show, and the son of my brother-from-another-mother was in his third Broadway production. It would be a marvelous weekend.

Until it started coming apart. Ben’s show got cancelled, after we had already bought the (nonrefundable) airline tickets. So we were going anyway, I figured, might as well see a different musical–and besides, the point was for us to do something together, for me to take her to a show, not just to see Ben.

The day of the flight, lots of running around, but eventually, to the airport in plenty of time…to have our flight get delayed. And delayed again. And delayed a third time. And then cancelled. Seems weather was getting in the way of lots of traffic up and down the East Coast. There weren’t going to be any more flights to La Guardia tonight, and the auto-reroute offer from the airline had us staying home overnight and catching an 8am flight. But then we’d lose out on the hotel room, which we’d already paid for…

We started looking at options. I got in line to spring our suitcase from baggage, and we started looking at train options to get there tonight. And I could just see where this was going: either we have to wait for a flight tomorrow and lose out on the hotel cost, or we have to spring for hundreds of dollars in train tickets. The voice of resignation was pretty loud in my head. And let’s face it, that’s certainly been my experience. Yours too?

But when we got to the front of the line, miracle of miracles, the airline made us a different offer: instead of La Guardia tomorrow, they could put us on the delayed flight to Kennedy still tonight. It’d be late, but we could still get there, still get to our hotel, and still begin our weekend together in Manhattan.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? (Matthew 6:26-27) But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. […] So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. (Matthew 10:29b, 31)

Two facts: First, the good is always opposed. Love is opposed, and so an opportunity for the two of us to spend time together and add to the structure of our 23-year marriage…I should have foreseen that it would have been opposed. And second: God does take care of us. He’s promised we’re worth more than the sparrows, we’re worth so much to him that he sent his son Jesus to die for us. But we still refuse to believe it.

We’ve been wrestling with some big questions in our family lately, questions about life directions and key changes we may make to ourw ay of living. And in those as well, I’ve heard Jesus whispering, “What was that thing I taught you about the sparrows? Do you trust me yet?”

We got to our hotel room at 2:30 the next morning, after still more delays. But we were there. We listened to the voice reassuring us that there is a plan and it is good. And you know what? We had a great weekend. Seeing Wicked on Broadway is just a great experience. And we could build more bonds in our marriage, and still make it back in time to welcome the kids home. God is good, all the time.

W. C. Fields Was Partly Right

“Everybody has to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer.”

–W. C. Fields

W. C. Fields had a point: we all do believe in something. There’s something each person has to which he or she will hold fast as the most vital, the most cherished aspect of life. Perhaps it’s family and being surrounded by them; perhaps it’s work, striving to achieve and do more. Perhaps it’s money, especially when we’re just starting out and bills are everywhere.

Whatever it is, there’s something we prize above anything else. And so skeptics and disbelievers who say they don’t believe in any god are kidding themselves, in a way. When we’re honest with ourselves, we each have a god, we each have something we have set up in our life that is central, around which we will structure our whole world.

precious

The challenge of Christianity, when fully embraced and fully realized, is to not choose any of those “gods” of the world–no, not even family (see Matthew 10:37-39!)–but instead to put God at the center of our life. That’s hard! At least it can be for me. If where I put my time, my money, and my effort truly reflects my priorities, then…how many times can I actually admit I’ve put God first?

The Christian doesn’t have to embrace a monastic life, though, to be fully Christian. Over the course of our discussions here, we’ll explore some of how to keep God at the center despite having to live in the world.