Lumberyard Attack

After further review, I have determined that I am the most terrible person in the world or at least in the lumberyard. Let me explain.

I read my thoughts about games and grandsons just a few minutes ago. In fact, I read them aloud to them. They were not overly impressed. But perhaps I was more impressed by the whole thing.

Here I sit, complaining about preteens and young teens acting their age, quoting Ephesians 4:31-32 in a most superior manner. Then I start reflecting on my own thoughts. The weather this winter has been dreadful. That is true. But does that justify me in getting grumpy and grouchy about it? Penny did pour out a perfectly good bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper. Wasteful? Yes. Worthy of my irritation? No. My grandsons do react badly to video game reverses, but that doesn’t give me just cause to react badly to them.

As I sat here, repenting of my comment that “there was nothing decent to eat for breakfast”–since Penny just produced biscuits and gravy–Matthew 7:4-5 popped into my mind:

Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.

Now, the sun is coming out and the snow seems to be ending. My grandkids have calmed themselves and will be going home soon. My stores of Diet Dr. Pepper are utterly gone, but I really don’t need to drink that stuff anyway. If my relationship with Christ is really  a complete game changer, then it ought to change how I deal with games and everything else in my snow-bound day. I can’t pretend that there’s not a beam of lumber with my name on it.

Cheat Days?

Pile of Junk FoodI weigh in on Fridays, so, after tipping the scale and recording my weight, I often look at Friday as a day on which not to get too worked up about my food intake. This can range from a day on which I simply don’t record all of my food to a full-blown cheat day.

A few years ago, I planned a Friday cheat day into my schedule. Called “Lousy Eating Day,” those Fridays often saw me at the school’s food court sliding a tray with both a double cheeseburger and cheese fries toward the cash register.

These days, I usually reserve my “lousy eating” until I’m home from work. Then I can take Penny out somewhere indulgent. Last night, after eating a very sensible dinner at home, we splurged on Sheridan’s Frozen Custard, me opting for my favorite, E.T.’s Charming Cheesecake Concrete (with Heath bar chunks). The only thing bad about that confection is when you eat the last bite.

If that concrete had been my own dietary transgression, then I wouldn’t feel any qualms this morning, but I also snacked a bit too much as I watched the Royals win a ballgame that evening.

The idea of cheat days is well established in at least popular diet and weight loss writing. Google the term and you’ll find all sorts of opinions ranging from the psychological to the physiological. I’d like to take up the question of cheat days from a theological perspective. As a Christian, is it acceptable for me to cheat on my diet now and again?

I used the word “transgression” earlier on purpose. Sin is a serious thing in our worldview, so we wouldn’t entertain the notion of a cheat day for adultery or murder or idolatry or stealing. “I just punched out my spouse, but that’s okay. After all, it’s Tuesday!” No, that would be ridiculous.

We have been forgiven all of our sins, past, present, and future, yet Paul makes it clear that this does not mean we should take a casual view of sin. In Romans 6:1-2, he quickly shoots down the notion of sinning more so that grace can abound. This would seem to suggest that cheat days are as inimical to the Christian life as “Buddha Days.”

But is “cheating” on your diet really the same as cheating on your marriage vows or bowing down to an idol? I’m going to argue that the answer to that is “no” for a trio of reasons.

First, your diet need not be a day-by-day thing or a meal-by-meal thing. I frequently keep my food intake low at breakfast and lunch so that I can indulge a bit more at dinner. Similarly, if I balance things out so that one cheat day is offset by six “faithful” days, am I really cheating at all?

Second, didn’t Jesus condone, or at least enable, a cheat day? The only miracle to appear in all four gospels is the feeding of the 5,000. In Matthew 14:20 we learn that the people there that day all “ate and were satisfied.” I take that to mean that they ate as much as they wanted to. I can’t really see these Galilean peasants pushing aside plentiful, free food and saying, “Oh no, I really shouldn’t. I’m trying to cut down.”

Finally, the particulars of your diet are not points of obedience to God. We are called to be a stewards over our bodies, but God leaves the details up to us. I believe that the putting aside of the Jewish dietary laws illustrate this aspect of Christian liberty. If I “cheat” today by eating a cheesecake concrete without putting my body back on the course to obesity, then I am still being true to my obligations.

Cheating on a diet is not the same as cheating in a relationship. In fact, “cheat day” is probably an unfortunate term for a Christian. That’s why I intend to reintroduce the much more acceptable name, “Lousy Eating Day.”

Enjoy your indulgences so long as they do not prevent you from maintaining what God has provided you.

Risking the S-Word

ScaleIn a recent post at Desiring God, Lindsey Carlson shares her thoughts about weight loss as it relates to spiritual life. The key thing that struck me–although the entire essay is worth your time–was the nerve that Carlson demonstrated in using the dreaded S-word. Yes, she referred to her excess weight as the result of sin.

While not everyone’s additional pounds are directly linked to sin, I know many of mine are. Historically, I’ve gone through seasons of facing my sin directly, and other seasons where I’ve completely avoided dealing with it and allowed indulgence to rule the day. However, this past year, I’ve experienced a measure of victory both in my heart and, perhaps in smaller measure, on my bathroom scale.

Too often in our society, we avoid labeling anything negative as the result of sin. Identifying something as sin requires judgment, and you can’t utter a (negative) value judgment without being reminded to “judge not lest you be judged.”

Of course, those who will spout off Matthew 7:1 have no problem with positive judgments. It’s perfectly fine in their moral economy to praise, for example, successful weight loss. Constructively criticizing overindulgent weight gain, on the other hand, cannot be labeled as sin.

If a gained pound, a smoked cigarette, a drained beer, or a watched porn video  cannot be the product of sin, then what are they? An awareness of the pervasiveness of sin in this world and, more to the point, in our individual lives stands as a powerful first step to gaining some measure of mastery over that world and those lives.

The Incredible Hack

easyNerd Fitness takes a turn at life hacks in a recent article. I recently expressed my contempt for the shortcut mentality of life hacks, but I have no problem with things that actually make sense. In the article linked here, the ultimate nerd, Steve Kamb, offers some really common-sense, cut-the-garbage advice on happiness and related matters. For example, consider what he says about money and time:

What’s more important than money? Time. Time to spend time with people you love or doing things you love. You can never get it back.

At times we all need a smack up side the head with the obvious advice. Jesus did this sort of thing. Do you think Jesus was completely kind and gentle when He predicted that Peter would disown Him three times on the night of His arrest? I’m pretty sure that Jesus had a full range of tones in His voice, including one that was straight-forward and challenging.

I’m not comparing Steve Kamb with Jesus here, but they both seem capable of using that tool of directness.

Thanks for the Road Advice

BicyclingOn a recent Sunday, I went for my first long bike ride of the year, eventually putting in 18 miles before I had the sense to head home. During this trip, I got to experience all of the things that make biking such a joy to me.

  • A strong headwind made me feel like I was going to die.
  • A gradual uphill portion of the route felt like a hors catégorie climb in the Tour De France.
  • Somebody ran a stop sign, despite looking right at me as I approached.
  • Some kind fellow in a white pickup offered me advice: “Get on the sidewalk!”

How do we respond to when some knucklehead demands something of us that clearly we’re not obligated to do? In case you’re not clear on that, cyclists are drivers. The Bike League of America makes this all clear:

In all 50 states, people on bikes are required to follow the same laws as other drivers. Drive your bike as you would any vehicle.  Everyone on the road is entitled to the lane width they need. This includes the space behind, to each side and the space in front. If you want to use someone else’s space you must yield to whoever is using it.

Clearly that driver of the pickup would not be driving on the sidewalk; neither should I be doing so on my bike. (And by the way, I probably delayed his drive by a good 15-20 seconds at most.)

So I did not hang my head and scoot over to the sidewalk when this character yelled out his open window. But what should I have done? Clearly, while wearing my “Cycling for Jesus” t-shirt, which I don’t own and which may not exist, I am not going to make obscene gestures or rush to catch up and hit his truck.

I did, in a moment of irritation, shout, “I will not! I am a vehicle!” This made me think about the Elephant Man’s “I am not an animal. I am a human being,” for a few blocks, which, I have to confess, disrupted the clarity of the encounter. But as I went on, I questioned whether shouting at a motorist–who probably couldn’t hear me anyway–was a proper response.

What is the correct Christian response to being criticized for doing the right thing, whether that be on a bicycle, in the workplace, or at home? I’m thinking that Jesus, although not a cyclist, might have had me in mind when He said, not only “Blessed are the peacemakers” but also, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” Granted, the righteousness that I exhibited in riding on the right side of the proper lane of traffic was not profound in the great scheme of things, but it was righteousness. The persecution hardly rose to a level that justified the word, but it was persecution of sorts. My peacemaking, on the other hand, did not impress God or me.

The Rise and Fall of Dean Potter

I have to admit that I’d never heard of Dean Potter until he died a few days ago at age 43. Since then, I’ve been reading a bit about this guy, and let me say that watching videos of his most extreme adventures gives me the willies.

What killed Potter was a BASE jump, leaping not from a perfectly good airplane but from a perfectly good rock and then attempting to glide to earth with a parachute. As someone who has always struggled to deal with his fear of heights, I simply do not understand what would make a person find such a sport to be a desirable thrill. But I have a friend who has long been attracted to rock climbing, so I don’t believe that such risky behavior necessarily involves madness.

When I hear about somebody performing such feats–climbing the great rocks of Yosemite, BASE jumping, or doing that crazy high-wire bit embedded above, I’m reminded of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

So was Dan Potter putting God to the test? I know that I won’t be taking up any of his extreme sports any time soon ever, but is that really the point? If we shake our heads at a man like this dying at something that he truly enjoyed, then are we just applying our likes and dislikes as if they were absolutes? I engage in risky behavior every day, riding my bike in traffic, driving my car in the rain, or eating Fettuccine Alfredo without my cardiologist on call. At what point does the acceptance of everyday danger morph into putting God to the test? (In popular memory that Matthew 4 term was translated “foolish test,” which, while not in the original is pretty reasonable.)

How do we assess risk, not being employed in the insurance industry? Should risk be avoided altogether? Jesus certainly did not tell his followers to “go into all the world if it’s safe,” as it certainly wasn’t safe. On the other hand, He didn’t say anything about BASE jumping or skydiving or tight-rope walking. He didn’t say anything about BMX biking, skateboarding, or snowboarding.

My life verse is Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” While the things Jesus had just been mentioning were food and clothes, can’t we expect that safety and even enjoyment might fall into that category as well?

It is not for me to judge the heart of Dan Potter, to know whether he did the crazy things he did for the Kingdom of God or for the kingdom of himself. I can attempt, however, to judge my own motivations when I ride my bike in traffic, drive in the rain, or even eat that fettuccine. If my foolish actions are for my own benefit, then my sins differ from the ones Dan Potter may have committed only by being a good deal less dramatic.

Be (Less) Salt of the Earth

A spilled salt shakerIn Matthew 5:13, Jesus admonishes us to be the salt of the earth. It’s a metaphor, but why would Jesus make a positive metaphor out of such a wicked substance. After all, as anyone who pays attention to the scientific brilliance of TV newscast health reports, salt is a silent killer. Before long, Morton will be joining American Tobacco in a walk of shame for contributing to the long, slow demise of American health.

But not so fast, scientists are increasingly saying. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that not only are the government’s recommendations for salt intake unnecessarily low but a too-low intake of salt can actually be a health risk. An article in the Washington Post presents the matter in some detail.

“The current [salt] guidelines are based on almost nothing,” said [Dr. Suzanne] Oparil, a distinguished professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Some people really want to hang onto this belief system on salt. But they are ignoring the evidence.”

How could something as simple as salt stymie scientists for so long? The answer is that, despite the dietary claims that are made for all kinds of foods, actually substantiating how eating influences human health is notoriously difficult.

Not being a chemist, a physician, a nutritionist, or anything else likely to get me a guest appearance on Dr. Oz, what am I to do? I have a host of established scientists on one side saying the salt will kill me, while a host of scientists on the other side, perhaps less established but possessing more recent studies, say that too little salt is a problem. I’m stuck in the middle, hand paralyzed over the salt shaker.

This dilemma is yet another underscore for something I’ve long believed: Christian life is better than non-Christian life. As a believer, I’d love to live a long and healthy life, but I recognize that my hope is not ultimately tied up with the findings of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. I can respect the way in which science lurches along testing provisional truths and moving from hypothesis to hypothesis, but I know that I can depend on the unmoving truth of the Word become flesh. The insight from the Holy Spirit, while not quite as specific as a recommended daily intake of sodium, will provide the guidance that I truly need.

While the nutritionists furiously rage together and the people imagine a vain thing, I’m going to focus on being the salt of the earth. Pass the salt, please.