What Food Is For

Soul. Body. Soul


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Blind Tasting Truth and Spiritual Sommeliers

Late last year, Kevin DeYoung continued his cheerful one-pastor crusade against foodie-ism by linking to a video of a couple of Dutch pranksters crashing a European food industry event with a tray of samples from that bastion of epicurean excellence, McDonalds. The premise was straightforward – when presented in the right way, garnished with the right verbiage, even an experienced foodie can’t tell the difference between nutritious, well-crafted cuisine, and food from the original purveyor of cheap and fast over good. Sure enough, the films depicts people murmuring words of affirmation as the unwittingly chow down on McNugget and muffin morsels. Digitally sliced and diced with more precision than Thomas Keller’s mise en place, the video is a cute conceit, but the central argument still holds true. As I’ve noted before, our food preferences are shaped by all kinds of influences. And not all of those influences serve us well.

Professionals in the wine business understand this challenge particularly well. An aspiring sommelier’s (a fancy French word for wine steward) entire education is focused on learning how to make objective assessments of wine while under the pressure of subjective influence from the information on a label. For weeks, students learn to recognize all the sensory attributes – flavor profile, color, and aroma, even texture – that identify a wine’s essential characteristics through repetitive rounds of observation and tasting (and then spitting, for the benefits of my Baptist readers). Then, an aspiring sommelier’s abilities are tested through a process known as “blind tasting.” Wine from an unlabeled bottle is poured into a glass, and the candidate must correctly identify the wine’s varietal, year of bottling and even producer, using just their senses and memory.

Sommeliers who pass these tests put their skills to work selecting and serving wines at fine restaurants. They pair different wines with different dishes to bring out the characteristics of each. They keep a lookout for “cork taint” – wine that’s turned into moldy, damp tasting awfulness because of the presence of a compound called TCA. Sommeliers also serve as judges at wine festivals, putting their blind tasting skills to work in judging the quality of new offerings from both famous and not so famous wine producers. These events offer a level tasting field where small, unknown wineries can be recognized, and a big brand name winery to be taken down a peg or two if what’s on the inside of their bottle isn’t on par with the reputation and prestige of the label.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of blind tasting in relation to how Christians think about what and whom we read, or listening and what we think about what other people read, and how we talk about it all on the Internet. To put it bluntly, we are becoming increasingly bad at letting the exterior labels of name and platform influence how we receive or reject what’s being offered. Whether the issue is racial reconciliation or young earth creation, a book or a blog post, what seems to matter most to a lot of people is who is doing the speaking, and from what platform, instead of what’s actually being said and how connected it actually is to the gospel. Depending on one’s loyalties (or self-identified discernment in assessing all things Biblical) if it comes from the mouth or pen of TeamPyro/TeamTGC/the SBC/GCC/John Piper/John MacArthur/Russell Moore/Beth Moore /Doug Wilson/ Jared Wilson/Thabiti Anyabwile or Ann Voskamp, we shouldn’t go near it, or we shouldn’t go anywhere else. We’re becoming a culture of undiscerning spiritual wine snobs, refusing to recognize our favorite’s failures and flaws when they’re exposed, and equally uninterested in receiving genuine, beneficial truth when it comes from a source we don’t immediately recognize, or we’ve already decided deserves rejection out of hand.

This tendency to prejudge a message based on its source isn’t exactly new. Scripture is replete with stories of God speaking through timid and unskilled, marginalized or unexpected people, and people finding excuses not to listen. Sometimes, a listener overcame his biases and discovered nothing less than eternal life. But other times, they didn’t, to their eternal shame. The Apostle Paul took a particularly dim view of tendencies to identifying too closely with any human leader other than Jesus. He was so committed to exalting Jesus’ name over his own that even when unscrupulous men tried to take advantage of his imprisonment to get in on the ministry action, Paul cared only about Who they preached. He’d leave the “why” of it with Him.

Last week, I decided to take Paul’s exhortation to heart and do some blind tasting of my own, by listening to a sermon Voddie Baucham preached at The Gospel Coalition national conference last month. Brother Voddie has said some things publicly in the past that have, well, not exactly blessed my soul. Some of the labels he wears are ones I reject categorically. That’s precisely why I wanted to hear him preach on the significance of the resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15. It’s a profound portion of Scripture, one that I’d been meditating on as I fought off a severe strain of bronchitis, and as I had learned that a teenage girl in our church had recently been diagnosed with a fatal in human terms brain tumor. Voddie’s expounding of this text, with all of its implications for every day life and ministry, filled my soul with spiritual wine of such depth and clarity that I’m still meditating on it. When I set aside the labels I didn’t love, and took the time to listen, I was blessed.

Before the curmudgeons do that thing they do, let me say categorically that I’m not arguing that we separate man or woman from message all the time. There’s wine and there’s vinegar and sometimes reading the label is necessary to avoid dinner time disaster when your guests sit down and you pour them a glass. But what I am saying is that we’d do well to be better spiritual sommeliers – willing to speak out when a beloved and trusted purveyor of truth says something that’s tainted with error, and especially, able to recognize, receive and recommend spiritual nourishment wherever it can be found, no matter the label.

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Blog Update – Catalytic Reactions and Cascades of Changes

One of my favorite topics during my last semester’s study of digestive physiology was enzymatic action. Really.

Digestive enzymes work to speed up the rate at which needed reactions happen. It’s not that the reaction won’t necessarily happen without them – it’s just that it will take a long time, possibly too long, and then bad things will happen. Case in point –the breakdown of dairy products like milk or cheese. A single enzyme called lactase is responsible for catalyzing the breakdown of the sugar in dairy products into an absorbable form. At a molecular level, the way lactase binds to lactose and wrenches it apart is utterly disruptive, at least from the poor lactose molecule’s perspective! But unless that process happens, your body as a whole will experience far more negative consequences down the digestive line. With lactase, your morning latte is a blessing; without it, it’s an intestinal curse. Some enzymes work somewhat linearly, while others provoke a cascade of all kinds of reactions. In either case, they are a very real force in how our bodies take what we eat and turn it into what we need to live and thrive.

While it was happening, my daughter’s surprise scoliosis diagnosis in late 2013 and journey to surgery last March seemed like nothing more than a giant circumstantial earthquake of the relatively classic Proverbs 3:5&6 and Romans 5:8 kind. But with every month that passed, God continued to work out of that one disruptive season a cascade of changes, so that today I’m doing almost entirely different things than I was this time last year. Sometimes God permits years to go by before you can look back and see all the good He truly was working together out of a tough situation, and sometimes it’s not until Heaven that you see it at all. But in His goodness, He’s already helped me see how what happened just a year ago was precisely what was needed to catalyze a cascade of changes in direction in my life. I’m listing them here because they all have some bearing on how this little fledgling blog may or may not evolve in the coming months.

School

Simply put – I’ve put my graduate studies in nutritional science on hold, perhaps indefinitely. There are few “negative” reasons – amount and intensity of time investment to do well demanding more than I could rightfully give at the moment, our current financial state needing attention now, instead of several years from now, etc. But it was mostly for positive reasons – I was being drawn into other opportunities to serve others out of my gifts and experience in ways that was having a measurable impact in real time. The body of knowledge I’d amassed wasn’t being wasted – it was just being applied in a variety of ways I hadn’t anticipated.

So here’s what I’m doing now:

Working
I’m splitting my work time two different ways:

  1. I’ve just started some paid part time work as a technology sales strategy consultant with a terrific little boutique consulting firm that’s a mere twelve minute commute from my house. I get to keep my professional strategic communication muscles from atrophying into uselessness and build back up a little cushion in our financial status that was sorely needed. Simply put, if I didn’t take this work, we’d be looking at some pretty drastic life changes that we were praying wouldn’t be necessary. The opportunity came very quickly on the heels of those prayers, and seems at this point to be exactly what we’d hoped. I’m praying it continues that way.
  1. I’m dedicating more time each week to social media and other projects related to support and education for families surprised by a scoliosis diagnosis, specifically those investigating VBT as an alternative to spinal fusion. I participate in multiple general scoliosis forums, and am also volunteering time with the Setting Scoliosis Straight Foundation, which is involved in both patient and doctor education, awareness and clinical research. My background in technical and marketing communication and strategy, and now science writing, combined with my own experience as a mom of a daughter with scoliosis and successful VBT surgery, is enabling me to be a positive help to others, and I am tremendously blessed to contribute any way I can. To be honest, if I could to this kind of work in some kind of paid capacity, I’d love it, and I’m praying in that direction. But in the meantime, it’s been a joy and privilege to help raise awareness and understanding about new ways of detecting and managing what can be a pernicious and debilitating condition if left untreated.

Writing and Teaching

I returned to writing more intentionally last summer after going to the TGC Women’s conference and spending three days in what was itself a catalyzing experience with some dear sisters. I had put thoughts of writing aside for a long time and a lot of reasons. One of them is I’m afraid of how my paid skills could kind of bleed into my personal writing in a way that could endanger my own soul. People actually pay me money to help them craft messages that get attention and generate action (most of those actions having something to do with forking over giant quantities of cash.) Do I really have to lay out why those are dangerous skills to possess when it comes to writing on the Christian Internet?? Didn’t think so.

Beyond that, sometimes some of what I’ve read from women on the Internet seems to be more about just having a lot to say, rather than necessarily having something necessary to say. Again, that comes from a gospel-grounded steel-eyed awareness of that all too often, that’s the kind of woman I can be. I’ve got more opinions than any paid political pundit, and the spiritual gift of snark to boot. Those aren’t really skills to just keep in check; those are sins to actively kill. And that’s what I’ve tried to do, over the last couple years. I’ll leave it up to God and my close friends to let me know if there’s been progress with that or not.

But then last year I took one of those “What kind of ….” Are You?” quizzes. Not one of those cheesy, TigerBeat ones that too many of my friends waste too many hours and brain cells taking, er are ubiquitous on social media. This was a learning styles quiz that my anatomy professor had us take before we began his class. The idea of this quiz was that different kinds of people have different instinctive ways of learning a new concept or skill. Some read. Some have to interact physically with models. And some have to talk. His goal was to help us know from the beginning which ways we learned best and factor that into our study strategy. The readers needed to make sure to buy the textbook. The talkers needed to be in a study group.

Guess which one I turned out to be?

The realization that talking out loud (or typing on a keyboard) was the key to getting important ideas into my mind didn’t just help me earn an A in Anatomy that semester, or help me work through the trials of getting my daughter’s scoliosis treated. It was a catalyzing moment in how I viewed my sanctification, and even my gifting. I began to write, and then to teach, not because I felt I had things to say, but because of a compulsion over things I needed to learn. In writing in particular, God began to work into my soul what I worked over in my mind and onto a page. And then He would give me opportunities to teach those same things – to the women at my church, and most critically, to the three emerging women in my own home.

They, really, are the reason why I want to write and teach more broadly this year (even as they also might be reasons sometimes I won’t be able to do as much as I’d like, which will be for my good and God’s glory). My daughters and I are living together in a world that is determined to mold our hearts, minds, and even bodies, into monstrosities. Closing our eyes and ears and living in a spiritual bunker will. not. work. I can testify to that personally from my own adolescent experience, and that was before the era of the Internet. My daughters need to be given eyes to see and love the One in whose image they are made, to understand how He made them to live, and also to know and respond, with neither fear nor shame, to the attacks of the enemy who wants to devour them. I need those eyes too.

And so that’s why the writing here may expand a bit. I started this blog knowing a few of the rules of the blogosphere about having a specific idea and letting that be the center out of which to write. I didn’t just write around food as a gimmick; I did it because I truly do love the food world, I really do see the metaphor of food in Scripture as one of the richest there is, I think the connections are worth exploring, and I don’t plan to stop writing about them any time soon. It’s just that that one idea is no longer all I want or need to write about.

I’m thankful that I’ve been given a few opportunities in other places to broaden the scope of my writing. I’ll keep writing for them as long as they’ll have me. I just wanted to note some of the goings on here, in case somebody somewhere on the Internet was curious. If that was you, you’re welcome. And thanks for reading.


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Metabolizing the Gospel

A lot of digital ink gets spilled about the dangers of seminary life – that so much time spent in study of languages, theological systems and preaching mechanics risks the disengagement of the heart, even as the mind works overtime. There’s a similar risk in Christian blogging. For people who are gifted at writing, it can be easy to interact with a Scriptural passage or topic with mental gifts and typing strength, and bypass the heart and soul altogether. I come from multiple generations of preachers and writers, so I‘ve seen this tendency in action. I’ve also experienced its bad fruit, and I’m loath to reproduce it. Consequently, one of the prayers I pray regularly is that there is never a digital disconnect between what I write and what is actually going on in my so-called “real” life. God is always faithful to answer.

Case in point: I wrote last week about tasting the goodness of God in the bitterness of life because Psalm 34 is a favorite passage of mine, and because I had had my own share of David’s experience in the week leading up to it. I ended the post with (in hindsight) a somewhat Pollyana-esque flourish about being confident that no matter what the week brought, I knew I would still taste the goodness of God in it. I decided to expand on what I wrote in a talk I gave to my womens’ Bible study the following week, in conjunction with our study of Galatians 5 and the fruit of the Spirit. David models how the best fruit is often borne out of suffering, and so I ended my talk in somewhat the same spirit that I ended that post, with a rousing exhortation from 2 Corinthians 1 that our suffering may feel like death, but that’s only because God is preparing us to experience his resurrection power in the midst of it.

Fifteen minutes after we closed in prayer and I was the last to walk out to the dark parking lot, God gave me my first opportunity to make sure I believed what I’d just taught by way of a very flat tire. Thanks to the common graces of cell phones, AAA and a dear friend who lived mere minutes away, I was able to laugh the affliction off as light and momentary – an ABC after-school-special class teachable moment.

As it turns out, that was only the warmup. Last week has, in a lot of ways, even harder than the one I last wrote about. In the midst of some great things (one which I’ll talk about in a moment), I’ve experienced rejection, betrayal and provocations to all kind of sin, many of which I resisted through God’s power, and some I did not. Twice in the last two weeks I have been lead into some difficult situations at my school, one involving cheating, and another involving racist speech so unashamed (and initially so unchallenged) that my heart is still heavy – over that and everything else.

Last week’s lectures at school have focused on the physiology of digestion and cellular metabolism – the mechanical and chemical process of transforming the food we eat into the building material of our cells, and into the energy they need to function. It’s eye-crossingly complicated at times. It’s, well, earthy. But it’s also spectacularly beautiful. We who began as earth, now take the stuff of the earth into us so that it becomes us.

As I’ve thought over the events of this week, what has comforted me is how the truth’s of God’s Word and the good news of the gospel didn’t just interrupt my thoughts and actions in the midst of my circumstances; they intervened in them.

In the midst of earthly rejection, I meditated on Jesus’ rejection, which grants me acceptance and adoption by my Heavenly Father.

When betrayal tempted me to anger and unforgiveness, I remembered Jesus’ willingness to be betrayed and pay for my own betrayal of him through his death on the cross. 

When I lamented my weakness and inability to love or to overcome my own sin, I have repented of my presumption that my strength was ever sufficient in the first place, and have asked God to give me His power instead, the power that raised His Son from the dead, declaring victory over my sin and the sins of the world.

The study that began with my mind and my strength is moving into my heart and soul. I am metabolizing the gospel.

The more meaningful and transformative the gospel becomes to these moments of daily life, the more I long for women to experience that same transformation themselves. Knowing the gospel is essential, but it’s not enough. It’s knowing how the gospel changes the way we see our circumstances that it begins to change us. It’s not enough for us to learn about the gospel. We have to learn how to metabolize it as well.

Moving the truths of the gospel from our minds to our hearts and actions is the focus of a new web project I’ve been helping my good friend Wendy Alsup with. I found Wendy’s blog several years ago in the midst of a season of great struggle. What she wrote about, and the way she wrote about it, ministered to me greatly. Over the months, Internet interactions evolved into phone calls and then visits. Today, she is one of my dearest sisters in the faith. Wendy models what it means to work out what the gospel is working in.

The Gospel-Centered Woman project was really born out of our desire to help other women, individually and especially corporately, through their own churches, to experience the same kind of transformation we’ve experienced in our own hearts, on our own, and together. I’ve written a little more here about what we’re trying to do, and also what we’re not, because the Internet being the Internet, that needs to be said too. I hope you’ll be blessed by what you find there and that you’ll tell others about it.

You’re very welcome to leave comments below about articles you’d like to see, questions you have, anything you think might be an asset. Also, if you’re a fellow blogger or writer who we’ve interacted with in the past, and we haven’t yet contacted you yet, it’s because kids and husbands and real life ministry, not because we’re trying to be any kind of exclusive club .

At. All.

So please – if you have ideas or pieces you think would fit, get in touch with us. Those ideas are likely the same ones we’ve already talked about contacting you about, but just haven’t been able to yet. 🙂


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The Goodness of God in the Bitterness of Life

Eating is a complicated process involving all five of our senses, cognition, and even memory. It’s also an eloquent expression of faith, and sometimes the lack thereof. To see what I mean, just watch the average toddler as he is presented a spoonful of something he decides at first is really not food. It’s a long and winding process to discern the difference between the plastic banana in a toy kitchen set and the real thing, or why chocolate is not a legitimate breakfast food (unless it’s Christmas Day at our house, in which case it definitely is).

The food likes and dislike we have at birth are actually part of God’s design for our development, and even protection. We are born loving sweetness so that we will love our mother’s milk, which is uniquely designed to nourish our developing brains and build up our immune system. Conversely, our innate sensitivity to bitterness discourages us from putting things into our mouths that can kill us; many naturally occurring toxins contain compounds that taste bitter. What’s fascinating is how the process for deciding what to think about sweetness or bitterness when we taste it differs so dramatically. Most of our perceptions of taste are a result of simple chemical translation of what we’ve just put into our mouth into whether it’s tasty or not. But our translation of bitterness is significantly different and far more complex. Babies and toddlers have a fairly unsophisticated capacity for discerning “good” vs. “bad” in bitter tastes, when compared with adults. This explains a toddler’s behavior the first time you offer him a green bean. His neural pathways for processing bitter foods are still set to “death” mode. He thinks if he eats it, he’ll die.

Technically, this state can last indefinitely (as manifested by many husbands and some well known pastors) In reality, our brains are wired to learn over time that while some bitter tastes are cause for rejection, others are causes for reception, or even rejoicing. This is why the same boy who wouldn’t go near a green bean as a baby grows up to love coffee and/or beer. (No research has been published yet on how denominational affiliation might contribute here, but, hey, there’s an idea for my graduate thesis!) It’s why, when assaulted by a pernicious intestinal parasite while on a missions trip to the Philippines (as my husband once was), he’ll willingly swallow the most bitter of medicines with thanksgiving. We were created to learn as we mature that not everything that seemingly tastes bitter is about death. Sometimes, it’s about not dying. It’s about life.

If you’re a Christian, this is not new news. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. Reorienting our tastes from what seemingly tastes good to what actually is good is really a description for the whole of the Christian life. Prior to salvation, our entire self, including our desires and appetites, are enslaved to sin. We gorge ourselves on the poison of the world and the world’s system, and taste nothing but sweetness, when in fact we are dead men and women feasting on death. When the Holy Spirit opens our eyes, we see our appetites for what they are, and we begin to turn away from them and toward what’s better. And sometimes, what’s better involves some bitter things.

Few Old Testament saints embodied this reality better than David. His 34th Psalm is one we know well and often memorize because of its eloquent, heartfelt invitation to taste and see the Lord’s goodness in delivering his children from danger or evil. But we often forget that David wrote this Psalm from a dark and dusty cave, a prisoner of his divinely-directed victories, but also divinely-directed hatred by Saul. The God who had just delivered him from yet another potentially fatal meeting with another insecure king was the same God who had enabled him to win the battles that won the hearts of the people in the first place. David is far from living the sweet life, but because he knows God, what the world would call bitter, he can call good.

It’s part of the tragic irony of David’s life that it’s when his dwelling changes from a dirty cave to a king’s palace that he forgets the goodness of God and falls into grievous sin by committing adultery with another man’s wife, and then murdering the woman’s husband in a futile attempt to hide his sin. When God sends Nathan to expose confront him, David could have abused his earthly authority over the prophet like he did over Uriah’s wife and Uriah himself, and had Nathan killed too. Instead, David repents, receives the consequences of his sin with humble grief, and pours out his heart to His God in Psalm 52. The bitterness of his sorrow is palpable. But the bitterness he tastes is not the world’s bitterness at exposure and consequential loss, the kind that flees God’s discipline. This is the medicinal bitterness of spiritual healing, the kind that submits to God’s discipline and, as a direct result, experiences healing and restoration

David’s testimony to the goodness of God in the midst of the bitterness of life foreshadows the supreme bitterness of Jesus’ suffering on the cross, not for His sin, but for our own. His was the ultimate guiltless suffering, meted out by His Heavenly Father as payment for our sin. Only through his sinless life and cursed death could our healing and restoration be accomplished. This is the irony of the soldiers’ mockery as they offered Jesus wine mixed with bitter herbs before his crucifixion began. The previous day, Jesus had told his disciples he would not drink wine again until he drank it with them in his Father’s kingdom. Wine was the sweet drink of rejoicing, and the time of rejoicing had not yet come. Jesus rejected the wine in part, not because it was too bitter, but because it wasn’t bitter enough. His willingness to taste the undiluted bitterness of judgment and death on my behalf purchased my restoration and healing, and, one day, my seat with him at our wedding banquet when we will drink that sweet new wine together. And while I wait, it empowers me to receive my own times of circumstantial bitterness as a way to taste the goodness of God.

While the past month has been filled with the usual circumstantial ups and downs, and even some really tremendous blessings, the past week came near to flattening me, physically and spiritually. This post is already too long to list everything that happened (and is still happening), but suffice it to say that on Tuesday the idea that what I was experiencing and spiritually tasting had anything to do with the goodness of God would, to an outsider, seem preposterous. Yet it was David’s words from a cave that anchored me, and now, just a few days later, I can say with David that God saves those who are crushed in spirit. I’m on the cusp of an equally brutal week, and there will likely be more moments of crushing. Which means there will be more opportunities to taste God’s goodness. And that is a sweet, sweet way to begin a week.


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The 80/20 Rule and Spiritual Health

*NB – This post is not a bait and switch attempt to turn this blog into a cheesy diet accountability blog, I promise.

It’s a humbling thing for a food science student to be confronted one day with her own nutritional hypocrisy by way of her “sudden” difficulty in buttoning her pants. For about 15 years, I’ve employed what amateur knowledge I’ve gained about health and fitness to maintain a reasonable weight and proportion. But in a spectacular bit of irony, since I’ve started my grad school program to become an official member of the food police, instead of just an amateur, my clothes have been sending subtle, and then not so subtle, hints that that I’ve been doing too much with the learning, and not enough with the applying. I’d love to blame all of this on the slow decline towards the dirt that seemed to begin the day I turned 40. But the plain truth is for the past year I’ve been violating pretty much every one of the most basic and undisputed principles about maintaining a healthy weight. Don’t do late night carby-snack binges while studying? Check. Don’t substitute regular exercise with cycles of nighttime sitting and studying followed by sleeping in too late to hit the gym? Check. Don’t medicate emotional distress, caused by a cornucopia of trials, with too much rich food and wine? Check and checkmate.

About a month ago, when I found myself once again one morning setting aside those jeans that just hurt to wear in favor of an oh so comfy stretchy skirts, I decided to suck it up and step on the scale (then breathe out until I nearly passed out, just so the readout wouldn’t be inaccurate from all that excess oxygen weighing me down). The number I saw was a number I hadn’t seen in quite a few years, one that meant my drivers license was committing serious perjury. A few moments of simple math calculating months passed times pounds gained times years of life (prayerfully) yet to come, meant this trajectory needed to stop, fast, before further metabolic aging anarchy rendered it impossible.

If you bet I stepped off the scale brimming with confidence that all my newly acquired education was going to help me own this weight loss thing, you’d be wrong (and you’d owe me a donut). It wasn’t so much the raw data about various nutrients and metabolism that filled me with trepidation, as much as the emerging data about the relative impact diet and exercise have on improving or maintaining any kind of health marker. The science about losing weight being a matter of eating less/better and exercising more is well established. But recent studies have shown that the relative contributions of those two things are far from equal. While exercise certainly matters, diet – what we choose to eat or not eat – matters waaay more. Five times more. Put another way, losing weight/improving health seems to be 80% about what you eat, and only 20% what you do.

I’d already supported half of that argument with my own, one-person study. The life of an adult student is can quickly become a life of sitting if you don’t consciously make it something else. My growing discomfort in my clothes was the signal that I was an at-risk student, so over the course of several weeks I had worked make my workout time slightly longer and more intense, trying to channel my inner 20-something college girl, while still clinging to my poor eating habits like an emotional life preserver. Two weeks later, the results, or lack thereof, testified that exercise-only was not the solution. It was time to get to work on the nutritional of the health and fitness equation, and remind myself that self-control is not a rare, exotic fruit of the Spirit borne only by a few, specially graced, super spiritual saints.

I’ll skip over the way God used to steer me to the eating plan I chose to follow (except to note that it’s really strict – no planned cheat days or fake food substitutions – my time-saving “nutrition” bars full of weird sugar substitutes and synthetic vitamins were out). I won’t be liveblogging my meals or graphing my weightless, because see above 🙂 . I’ll even skip, for now, all the spiritual lessons I’ve been reminded of as I’ve seen how so many of my eating impulses have been driven by hunger that is emotional or spiritual, not physical (because that deserves a post of its own). But all I will say is that, in this study population of one, the 80/20 rule has unquestionably held true.

It hasn’t been easy at all. I’ve had cravings for verboten things (almost always in the midst of stressful or sad moments). Going out to eat has been a bit of a pain, so we don’t do it (so our wallet is staying fatter – double win!) The kids have had to be placated with after-dinner ice cream more often (because the cookie and scone manufacturing line has been shut down temporarily). But two weeks in, I am stronger and more alert, my clothes are no longer depriving parts of my body of their right to freedom of movement, and the numbers on the scale are moving in the right direction far faster than I expected.

There are lots of spiritual applications to make about this outcome, of course, but my main point is simply this: that the same ratio of 80% intake to 20% output has borne the same kind of results in my spiritual life as well (which is what pushed me over the edge into testing the same concept with my eating and exercise in the first place). When I have put regular, methodical intake of and meditation on Scripture at the center of my spiritual life and growth, I have been spiritually healthy. When I let “doing” dominate my schedule and starve me of Scripture time – even holy doing like investing in my kids’ spiritual or academic development, or intentional date nights with my husband, or faithful study for school, or scheduled sanctification/service stuff at church or meeting for coffee with girlfriends for fellowship or hanging out with my neighbors for “missional” wine and cheese – notsomuch.

There are a lot of other spiritual directions we could follow with this thought. We could think back to Mary and Martha and note how this is not exactly a new problem. I could encourage my dear, overworked and overtired mom friends with babies and toddlers and preschoolers to not pursue their kids’ spiritual or intellectual health at the dangerous expense of their own. (And if you’re one of those, really, that’s an important word). But the meditating I’ve been doing on this has largely been in the context of the church as a whole.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been digging into Galatians in preparation to help teach for the first time in our nighttime women’s’ Bible study. Its central theme involves Paul lovingly and passionately confronting a church who has been overcome by “gospel-amnesia” in a dangerous way and in a disturbingly short amount of time. And it has me wondering if my generation, the one who has been revelling in gospel-rediscovery, aren’t at risk of the very same thing. It has me wondering if in the midst of all of our talking about the gospel, and blogging about the gospel, and doubling down on doing the gospel through all kinds of programs that aren’t programs because they have the word gospel in them, we’re starting to forget how the gospel actually is applied. We’re becoming all about the 20 percent of working out the gospel, and beginning to forget about the 80 percent of getting the gospel into us, through the deep feeding and meditating on God’s Word. We’re lamenting that our churches are full of sluggish, overfed people, and we think that the answer is upping the speed on the gospel treadmill and getting everyone to work a little harder.

What if we applied the 80/20 rule to our churches?

What if the reason our church bodies are full of sluggish pew sitters (if your church still has pews –here in California they’ve mostly been repurposed for restaurants– Selah on that one a little), is not because of how the quantity of what we’re being fed, but because of the relative content?

What if we dialed backed on the missional this and the doing hard that and the scheduled sanctification disguised as “working out the gospel”, and dialed up our spiritual diets?

What if we dialed down anything that was about the 20 percent, and found ways to up the 80 percent of the life-giving, life strengthening, whole counsel of God? 

And what if our people got a little cranky, and it felt a little too hard, but we kept going anyway, because old unhelpful habits die hard, and better spiritual health takes time?

And what if, after a committed season of this, all the change that we were trying to work up through so much spiritual working out without the right spiritual food, happened on its own? What if, for example (oh, the craziness), the entire reason that God is permitting the sudden chokehold on parachurch ministries in places like colleges and schools, is because He wants to move through actual students, who have been fed God’s Word so well at their own actual churches and in their own actual homes, that it spills out from their lives in a way that makes the attempts of some academic bureaucrats to stifle it look like a hilarious scene from a John Hughes movie?

Just some food for thought.


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He Became Yeast

Early on in my study of the theme of food in Scripture, I spent a lot of time wrestling with the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, and the mechanics of it, at least as it’s practiced in a lot of Reformed evangelical churches like mine. Why did Jesus and Paul center the ordinance on Jesus’ death, instead of His victorious resurrection? What’s to celebrate in that? And if it is a celebration, what kind of party food is a bland square of tasteless chalk and sickly sweet grape juice?! Why not a fragrant loaf of Challah and a rich bottle of earthy Cabernet? Aren’t those the kinds of food and drink more in line with our most sacred and only repeatable ordinance?

If I had lived during Jesus’ day and my fervor had driven me to pull a Mary Magdelene and crash the Upper Room with my well meaning offerings for the meal, the wine might have been welcome (as long as it was kosher) because the disciples were likely not flush with cash. But the mere presence of the bread would have brought the entire night to a screeching halt. Not only would I not have been welcomed, I would have been given the right hand of disfellowship by Jesus, the disciples, and all of Israel. Because my bread would have contained a substance every Jew, Jesus included, knew was supposed to be decidedly, conspicuously absent.

Challah, like most bread, contains yeast, a single-celled microorganism that feeds on the starches in flour and ferments carbon dioxide. The fermentation process is what makes dough rise, and what it its characteristic aroma, and baked bread its volume and texture. Without yeast, bread is flat, dry, and empty of any rich flavor. Just one tiny yeast cell can transform large quantities of simple flour and water into something large, and airy, and altogether other than what it was before. Which is why yeast (or leaven, as its commonly called in Scripture) was, and still is, a dominant metaphor for sin in Jesus’ day, especially the sin of pride and its many spiritually malodorous byproducts. Jesus used the metaphor Himself when talking about the Pharisees, those living, breathing metaphors of puffed-up pontification of corporate piety who reeked internally of spiritual corruption. In contrast, Jesus was gentle and lowly of heart, the one who emptied himself when he took on human flesh. He was unleavened.

As Passover marked the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a major part of the preparations  involved ridding the place where the meal would take place of every crumb of bread or grain of wheatanything that might have the slightest taint of yeast. But thanks to modern science, we know today that this was actually impossible. Yeast lives on work surfaces, on the ground, and even in the air. Given enough time, a container of flour and warm water left in any ordinary environment will eventually “bloom”, thanks to invisible rogue yeast cells that can’t be eradicated by mere human effort.

So just as no Passover meal was ever truly free of yeast, no one who ate of it was ever free of the sin yeast represented. Right in that room were men whose pride and drive for sinful self-preservation and self-enrichment would move them to words and deeds of incredible wickedness mere hours later. It would be hard to comprehend, if we didn’t see the same thing going on around us every day.

You know, for all of my Calvinism, there are many times when the depravity of mankind and the wretchedness of the world can seem somewhat theoretical, let alone the depravity of, well, me. And then there are months like this one has been. The entire world feels like it’s been turned inside out, its heart of darkness exposed and pulsing relentlessly. Men, women and children are suffering unspeakable horrors at the hands of wicked men and microscopic pathogens. The state where I live is choking on the dust of dried up reservoirs, desperate for rain to water the crops that feed the entire country, but the rain refuses to come. The county where I live houses the workspaces of the wealthiest, greediest people on earth, and the living spaces of the poorest and most desperate, within an afternoon’s walk of each other. A man blessed with an astounding ability to see the world and show it back to us in a way that makes us weep with laughter, can’t see through his own pain, and makes one last, tragic, choice, so that now he makes us weep with sorrow.

So much brokenness. So much sin. So much yeast.

And the church? Jesus’ bride? The one whose job it is to proclaim to the world that there is still good news? What a mouth she’s had. Shrieking and shrewish when she should speak gently (or not at all), then purse-lipped with false piety when she should be ugly-crying over her hypocrisy at talking so much about rediscovering the gospel while she speaks and acts likes she’s never really gotten it at all.

And then there’s me.

As I’ve made my way through Ephesians this summer, I’ve returned again and again to the promises in chapter 1, all set in motion before a word of the universe was ever spoken. I want to ask God what in His own holy name He was thinking to make me a part of His plan. I can click away from the news of the evilness of the world, but never from the evil that lives and multiplies in my own heart.

The yeast of sin is still everywhere, and in everyone, as it has been since long before that Passover meal in the Upper Room.

In everyone, except for the One.

Jesus is the one man who was, and is, the sinless, yeast-less One, the unleavened Bread of Life. He was the one who in unleavened humility emptied Himself to live with us in all of our sinfulness. He, the unleavened Bread of Life became our yeast, was disfellowshipped from His own Father on the cross, and died. That death is what bought us our life. That is a death worth celebrating.

Each time we take the wine and the bread, Jesus proclaims that death to us. Through His perfect, yeastless death, the yeast of war has died, the yeast of child hunger and thirst has died. The yeast of Ebola and cancer has died. If we belong to Him through faith, our yeast of laziness and pride, greed and lust, lovelessness and anger – it has died too. And that is a death worth celebrating, as often as we meet together, and as often as we wake up in the morning, until the day Jesus comes back and death itself dies, forever.


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Inglorious Fruit

Leave it to the nation of John Calvin, cheese-eating, and perpetual surrender to teach Christians an important lesson about sanctification.

(I kid, really. I love the French. I love their food, their wine, their culture. It’s my husband who can’t let the Second World War go. Pray for him.)

A French supermarket chain has been a getting a lot of totally deserved buzz after it launched a campaign to shed light on the problem of food waste and encourage people to get their five fruits and veg a day via produce that is less than visually ideal. This video describes the whole campaign and is worth the time to watch, but here are a couple of my favorite posters:

 

inter1                                    inter3

The posters get their point across pretty well, don’t you think? Intermarche’s customers definitely did. They wiped the baskets and shelves clean, happy to pay less for less than external perfection.

I’d love to see an American grocery store chain pick this idea up. But there are big cultural differences between American and French consumers. While the French are known for their love of beauty, they also know when to sacrifice it in the name of good taste. Ugly fruits and vegetables still taste great when they’re actually cooked and eaten. No one cares that your carrots look deformed when they’re going into soup. But we Americans like our produce to be pretty. Recently I helped lead a cooking class with some kids in a homeless shelter where we were going to make a home made ranch dressing to dip into vegetables they’d grown on a rooftop garden. When it came time to harvest, the carrots emerged from the soil skinny, bent and gnarled, with even some “two for ones” like the one in the picture. They weren’t the straight, narrow pyramids of carrot perfection the kids were used to seeing in a grocery store. You’d think that kids who had grown up in abject poverty would not have turned up their noses at free food, let alone food they’d helped to grow and harvest. But even they had preconceived notions about what their food should look like. And they weren’t buying it.

There’s a lesson for us in sanctification as well. There have been times in my life when I haven’t recognized the fruit God is producing, in my life, and especially in others, because it doesn’t look quite as shiny and perfect as I would like it to be. This summer I’ve been slowly working my way through the book of Ephesians, and I’ve been circling in what has felt like an endless loop of failure over the first part of chapter 4. I have three daughters, two of which have decided to double down on round the clock pubescent drama and angst. Lately I have been given what has felt like hourly opportunities to exercise gentleness, patience and loving forbearance in the face of relentless whining and eye rolling and OH YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDDING WILL YOU JUSTKNOCKOFFTHEDRAMAAND GET. IN. THE. CAR. I seriously thought yesterday morning I should just switch to reading something less stretching. Give me Ezekiel’s wheels within wheels over what feels like my hamster wheel of sanctification FAIL. The fruit on my loving forbearance tree seems to be utterly missing. But sometimes, it’s because I don’t really see it.

Case in point. My dear husband has been doing a terrific job of getting our family outdoors and exercising together, in the form of weekly two mile walks to a local frozen yogurt shop. Last week, for one of my girls, the physical effort required to procure and put on activity-appropriate footwear was far too great in the face of the monumental feat of physical endurance she was about to undertake, so she left the house wearing flip flops that barely matched the length of her feet. Warnings about sore toes and back went unheeded. I was pretty sure she would soon be experiencing within her body the consequence for her foolishness, and within about a half a mile, my motherly instincts were confirmed. Then other instincts of a less godly nature kicked in as the whining and shuffling increased.

The following is the transcript of the conversation that transpired, not between my daughter and me. but between my outside voice and the inside voice that initiated a mini-counselling session inside my own head.

Outside voice (sharply and triumphally): Well, WHAT DID YOU EXP—

Inside voice: Um – NOT. Gentleness. Patience. MorningBibletime. Something about bearing love.

Outside voice (Quieter, but still 5/10 on the sarcasm scale): —ect would happen, I’m SO sorr—

Inside voice: Back to Ephesians 4. God. That thing in Titus – where is it? We were foolish and disobedient and God – something goodness and lovingkindness. Be like God. God.

Outside voice (actually meaning it) : –y they’re hurting. We don’t have far to go and then you can sit down.

Inside voice (praying): God, help her to only hear lovingkindness, and let that be what teaches her to repent and heed her mom’s voice next time.

Child silently sulks, stews and stomps (gingerly) to the frozen yogurt place.

Inside voice: “Well that didn’t go so great. Why can’t I remember Ephesians 4 first? Etc. Etc.”

It’s true that not every syllable of that interaction was bursting with the sweet flavor of gentleness and forebearance. But at least some of those syllables had more of it than had been there in the past, because they were spoken with at least some of the flavor of Ephesians 4. The fruit was inglorious, to be sure, but it was there.

If I’m being totally honest, as hard as I am on myself when it comes to fruit bearing, I’m even harder on those I love. Those closest to me. Like, say, my husband and children. One daughter is working hard to keep the cauldron of frustration at her sister from constantly boiling over, and when I hear her verbally dialing it down just as I had with her a couple of days before, I don’t think she did it fast enough or sincerely enough. When my husband, a man whose actions of love are constant but whose words are fewer than my words-as-predominate-love-language would long for, has started sending me thank you emails for things I’ve done for him or the girls, I wish it they were longer, or written in iambic pentameter. In those moments, it’s not the fruit my family is bearing that’s less than ideal, so much as my unloving response to it.

When any time, in any way, with the faith of a mustard seed, we put off our old words, and put on the words of Christ, we are bearing fruit. Not all of it will be perfect. We should pray for more of it, and for more of it to be truly beautiful. But instead of being critical, let’s be thankful that’s it’s there at all.

Thankfulness is fruit too.