The GF Diet

Ten years ago you would be hard-pressed to find someone who claimed to be gluten-free unless you were in the midst of a crunchy granola hippie camp. (“That wheat has some totally bad vibes, man.”) It simply wasn’t a concern for the majority. Food bloggers and Internet “nutritionists” hadn’t picked up on it yet as a diet. Celiac sufferers and others of the gluten-intolerant variety simply had to find their own way and suck it up.

Fast forward to present day and gluten-free is everywhere. Restaurants have gluten-free menus. Store brands carry all sorts of gluten replacements made with nut or rice flour; everything from brownies to pancakes to chicken nuggets. It is uplifted as the new diet, the modern way to lose weight and feel good. The same principle applies to sugar-free, dairy-free, vegan, Paleo, etc. They’re always coming up with alternatives.

One could almost say they’re in the business of it, because they’ve been trying to think of an alternative to God for an awfully long time.

Whether it’s through another belief, a self-help class, spending time with your family, focusing on your career, YOLO-ing your way through life, studying scientific theories, or diving headfirst into your own ribcage because “life is all about YOU being happy”, the world is constantly throwing puzzle pieces at you. “Did that one fix the hole in your heart? What about this one? I swear, this one will fix it.”

No matter how long we sit around a table covered in temporary conveniences and religious building blocks in an attempt to make our own meaning or our own legacy, it will never fill you up. A God-free diet is a failure. The world does not give as the Lord gives. It has no alternative to the peace and love God lavishes on you, and God will never give the same pain or emptiness that the world has in abundance.

That is His promise to you.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

Now, go forth and enjoy your almond-flour cookies.

A New Command I Give You

Let’s not kid ourselves, friends: Everyone has people that they quite plainly and nearly irrevocably do not want to see.

It’s a fact of life that there will be others who rub us the wrong way or get on every nerve possible and some we didn’t know existed. You physically, emotionally, and/or mentally cannot stand them. Simply put, you don’t like them. If you were six years old, they would not be invited to your birthday party.

These people can be anyone. Family members, distant relatives, friends-of-friends, acquaintances, fellow church members, teammates, coworkers, the list goes ever on and on. That wacky cousin. That weird guy at church. That person who you barely know but makes you uncomfortable for reasons you’re not even aware of. The Bible talks consistently on enemies; that we are to love them, and while we may not consider these people to be enemies in the Batman-and-Joker sense, we avoid conversation or interaction with them at all costs. Although we’re running low on Batcaves to hop in when they come near, our aversion tactics are spectacular when it comes to these particular people.

Of course, this is not how God intended us to act. As fun as it would be to blast a hole through the ceiling and escape via helicopter whenever we are imposed upon, Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” A large component I find in my own dislike of certain individuals stems from my pride, believing myself to be better than they are in some mannerism or characteristic. I get snappy, condescending, and brief. While keeping up a facade of politeness, inside I cannot wait to retrieve myself from the situation and get out of Dodge.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34

As the Bible also tells us, love is patient and love is kind, and we are given more than we could ever hold within us through Jesus. There is more than enough to spread around. In some cases, love is a natural action, and in others, it feels like a chore. Regardless of our personal feelings on the matter, love can surpass our pride, anger, irritation, discomfort, dislike, weariness, and weakness.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35

Loving despite of our human failings and petty emotions is a staple of Christianity. It should be how we identify ourselves to the world and each other, although too often it’s the opposite.

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Continue a conversation with someone whose company you don’t enjoy. Treat each other the same. If you are indeed six years old, invite them to your birthday party. If God can love our messed-up sinful disrespectful little selves beyond our comprehension, we can give hugs and shake hands with genuine smiles on our faces.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8

We Do Not Lose Heart

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:1-18

At the end of each VBS day we hand out these snacks to the kids. They really aren’t anything at all, just fifty calories of junk food that couldn’t do much except whet their appetite. But as soon as you bring out those snacks, it is absolute chaos. You could see them shoving each other to the ground and stealing from the little children all to the end of getting just one more bag of these tiny treats.

Yesterday the action of distributing snacks brought some to tears and everyone to the brink of complete emotional ground zero. We felt weary, dirty, and dead in the water. Tomorrow shadowed a bleak future and no one was looking forward to the morning. All we could think of was the bitter fact that over twenty of the children we had seen would be dead in a year with more to follow and we felt helpless in such a situation where there appeared to be no hope. Their fragile bodies are constantly wasting away and running on limited time, as we all are.

Then we checked the verses we were supposed to read on that day.

Just the first words were enough to restore breath back into us. “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” One of the situations where it is most tempting to lose heart is when you are trying to bring a lost sheep to Christ, whether it is a return journey or the first time they have ever heard his name. It can be discouraging and can leave you balancing precariously on the point of breakdown. But what does God remind us? Through his mercy, we do not lose heart. We do not have to distort the word of God to speak. God will use us as his jars of clay to bring Jesus to his children, and no matter how much you love the people you are trying to reach, God will always love them more. You can trust him because even though it is easy to forget, he has a plan for everyone and everything. There are no loose ends or forgotten details. God’s got you. As long as you stay in the word, there is no use worrying in the effectiveness of your own words or actions because God’s got it.

It is painfully obvious that death is at work in our bodies and in our world. There are wars and diseases and dreadful accidents and murders in back alleys and one could go on. Death saturates humanity. For many, “the end” is when their bones crumble away in a graveyard. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. But we as Christians may know that that is not “the end”. For us, there is no end. There is only life with God in Heaven. And we may be confident that this is not our home, that what we see now is just a short second compared to what we have waiting for us, which is new life in the love and forgiveness of Christ Jesus.

So therefore we do not lose heart. We have renounced our secret and shameful ways. We are the darkness to show God’s light and the jars of clay that may be used as God’s tools. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We may be wasting away. Our bodies are decaying and our time is short. But we do not lose heart because we fix our eyes on the next life, not on this one, because what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” – Psalm 27:13-14

Good Morning Africa!

Muli bwanji!

In other words (English ones, to be exact), how are you?

I am fantastic. We arrived in Blantyre, Malawi, yesterday to finish up a trip that pretty much could not have gone smoother. Except for the occasional hiccup and a case of an apple juice-soaked skirt attributed to a crying child on the airplane, we had an easy-breezy CoverGirl travel experience. It’s interesting to think that even with all of our planning and preparation, it has been and always will be 100% in God’s hands no matter how hard we try to control the situation.

The weather is beautiful and it matches the surroundings. It has been nice and cool with a hot sun and the mountains remind me of home, except with more trees. And yes, there is dirt everywhere. Even from inside my shoes my socks have nice brown skid marks.

We visited the supermarket yesterday, and you might want to mentally adjust what you consider a supermarket. The place was about the size of my living room and crammed with food. They have what I personally consider a surprising amount of “American” food. If I ever get the hankering for Doritos or Heinz ketchup, they’ve got me covered. A woman browsing in front of us had her baby strapped onto her back using a blanket and she was definitely not the first girl we had seen doing such.

After a night of sleeping underneath a mosquito net, I rolled out of bed for a walk around the area. It was like a feast for the senses. We passed so many people who were making their way to work on their own two legs, and not for exercise purposes. It is simply how people get around here. I mean, the average citizen doesn’t have a vehicle, so what else are you going to do? Women in colorful skirts were calling to their friends across the road and laughing, and we heard and saw at least two men singing as they pattered along. Men in nice business suits walked the same road as a man whose shirt was so full of holes and covered in dust that it no longer resembled an article of clothing.

I am told that what I am undergoing right now is called the honeymoon phase, when everything seems fun and imperfectly perfect. Apparently the culture shock will hit me soon, the realization that I’m not in America anymore and it’s different and strange, but currently I could not be happier. God is in control and Africa is beautiful. I could not ask for more.

Those Young Whippersnappers!

My nine-year-old brother has a rather jaded impression of what teenagers are. In his mind, they are lazy bums who text and Snapchat their friends every waking moment with a disinterested expression on their face for 99% of the average 24-hour day. They have an appalling taste in music and in the end their overall appearance is of nothing. No appeal, no work output, nothing.

Unfortunately I think there are many that would agree with him. Many who were teenagers often forget the unsteady feeling of that age and those who have yet to achieve the “terrible teens” either bow down in blind hero worship or, like my brother, are completely disgusted of the entire concept.

My goal is to change that. Yes, it’s an awkward phase. Yes, the majority of teens are still discovering what the the world around them is and means. Yes, rarely ever do these halfway humans know what they’re doing. Am I still going for this? Definitely.

The Bible clearly showcases that such a thing can happen. A little girl in 2 Kings 5:2-3 essentially saves a guy named Naaman from the horrors of leprosy. David was a young shepherd boy when he slayed the crap out of Goliath. Jesus was merely twelve years old when He completely blew the minds of the learned teachers in the temple. It’s not impossible.

When it comes to God, there is no “not old enough”. As He has stated again and again, He doesn’t just use people who feel ready or the ones who are well adjusted to their bodies and characters. There is no discrimination in who can spread the love of God. My mom read a book recently about a nineteen-year-old woman who went to Uganda and taught kindergarten there to 100-something kids and ended up adopting thirteen orphans as a single unmarried girl. If that isn’t a prime example of how little effect age has on the way God can use you in your life I don’t know what is. Age is not and never will be a factor.

A phrase that I have heard many times in various different ways is “That’s astonishing for your age”. I want to strike that from everyone’s vocabulary. Make those acts of showing Christ so commonplace in today’s teenagers that it becomes a cultural norm. The term “teenager” has come to mean someone who doesn’t do anything extraordinary. That shouldn’t be. We are the representatives of the Lord of the Universe. Whether we be thirteen or thirty, it’s time we do Him justice.

Youth aren’t the future of the church. We’re the present.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12 NIV

 

Bipolar Friday

Good Friday.

In my house, that’s pretty much every Friday because it is the lovely day that precedes the weekend, but this one in particular has a special twist.

It’s quite a bipolar day. One moment it’s terribly sad and the next it’s joyously happy, which I can assume is a confusing prospect for people who don’t know the story around it.

Good Friday is the day Jesus was flogged, cursed, and executed by way of crucifixion. As you may perceive, this is the “terribly sad” part of Good Friday.

If that were the end of the tale, Good Friday would be called Bad Friday and we’d all run around weeping and wearing lots of black and would never be merry again. But there’s a catch.

Through Jesus living a perfect life and then through his horrid death, we get eternal life.

I know what you’re thinking: Well, somebody got the short end of the stick. And you’re right! There is absolutely nothing fair about this bargain. Jesus dies after living a whole life of never sinning – not even once – which we humans could never do and we get the prizes for it? This would not stand up in our courts, I can tell you that. In fact, why did Jesus even do it? He gets pain and heartbreak while we get to live out our little lives. To do something like this by choice is an insane decision to make.

The answer is, quite simply, that he loves us. Not in the past tense, mind you. He loves us so much that he would die. For you. And it caused him pain and sorrow and temptation beyond the boundaries of human endurance, but he did that for you and for me and for anyone else you would care to mention in the history of the universe. He died for the sins you did yesterday, and the sins you did today, and the sins of tomorrow so that we are secure in knowing that we will spend eternity in Heaven, which is described in plain terms as “the party that will never end”. And if that isn’t reason to celebrate, I don’t know what is.

Remember in the above paragraph how I said “loves” instead of “loved”? Doesn’t make much sense when one is speaking of a dead person, unless the person in question is a supernatural specialist with a habit of blowing minds.

Because Jesus didn’t stay dead.

I’ve Said This Before But I’m Saying It Again

You are here for a very specific reason. It isn’t just that God ran out of ideas for new humans to create and decided to pop a half-finished draft (like this post was for quite some time) from the bottom of the pile into the world. God had you – your appearance, your personality, your talents, whether or not you would stub your toe on the chair last week – planned since before the creation of the earth when nothing existed except for God. He carefully plotted out your entire life from start to finish, everything that you would do meticulously placed. There were no accidents, no moments when God ever regretted what He had formed. He always has and always will look upon you and smile at what He’s made. You’re His child, His baby. He’s had you in His hands and I promise you that He’s never left. Every breath you’ve taken, every “chance” encounter, has a purpose to it. Your mistakes and failures are just as important as your triumphs and victories. They all are for your benefit or for the continuation of God’s glory. Satan can try, but God’s already won the battle a thousand times over because of you. You are the reason that the living God fights.

Not only has He done all of the things I mentioned above, but when we dug our own graves, when we sinned and fell, when we cursed our Father’s name and turned away, He never left. He did not give us up as a lost case. He was right there the entire time. And when nothing else could save us, He sent His Son. But even then we did not realize what we had been given. We ridiculed him. We tortured him and killed him. We killed the Son of God. Do you realize that God could’ve turned us all to ash at that moment and it would have been perfectly justified? But He didn’t. He loved us and forgave us. Murderers, prostitutes, liars, thieves, adulterers. All was destroyed on the cross.

Don’t throw away the beautiful life you’ve been gifted.