Friday, October 26, 2012

The Parable of the Extravagant Father

Most recent Bibles (published in the USA, at least) have section titles added by modern publishers to help us find specific text and to mark off the boundaries of important Bible sections.  The title of Luke 15:11-32 is usually, "The Prodigal Son" or the "The Lost Son."  The International Standard Version subtitles it "The Story of the Loving Father."

The story IS about a son who left home, lived a riotous life, and returned broken to his father who received him with joy.  It's a story of redemption.  But it is also about a father who loved his son even when he did not deserve it.  If I were subtitling a new version of the Bible, I think I would chose "The Story of the Extravagant Father".

It is easy to look back over 20 centuries and miss some of the cultural cues in this story:

  • The sins of the son against the father were immense -- breaking of relationship, kicking a financial leg out from under the family business, consorting with prostitutes, and living with pigs 
  • The father ran to his son -- that would have been a very undignified thing to do for a rich first century patriarch.
  • Put the best robe on him -- the father restored his identity as a son with a treasured family garment.
  • Put a ring on his finger -- the father restored his authority in the family business.  Rings were a symbol of authority.  They were not inexpensive.
  • Put sandals on his feet -- the son was barefoot, or poorly shod.  People with money had sandals; slaves and the poor often didn't.  
  • Killed the fattened calf -- we eat fattened beef all the time today.  In the agricultural society of first century Israel, the fattened calf would have been reserved for special occasions.  It would have been too expensive to eat them regularly.
From my perspective, the real punchline of this story is the amazing love of the father.  Jesus painted the story for His listeners in such a way that they could not possibly miss that the father's love went beyond what they would do or expect. 

Jesus was telling His listeners and us in parable form what the love of Father God is like.  He doesn't want to punish -- like the father in the story He is watching and hoping for us to return.  When we repent of our sins, even big ones, He forgives and restores us to the family.

If you have walked away from God and lived in a way that grieves His heart, you can turn back today.  He will come running, just like in the story Jesus told!  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On the Trail of 160 Pounds

I'm on the trail to 160 pounds by late Spring 2013 - a reduction of 20% of my body weight.  Let me tell you about the journey and why I am on it.

This is my progress so far.  I am working towards
reaching my goal weight by late spring 2013.
I started this journey at 202 lbs on September 10, 2012.  I weigh 190 right now -- still about 12 pounds overweight for my height, but already 1/4 of the total distance.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I'm declaring my intentions.  It's a kind of public accountability.  I am going to do this, and when I get there, I'm going to build a house there.

For me, the last straw has been rising blood pressure and what I suspect may be early signs of Type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, the woman I love says I look better when I weigh less.  And, I know from experience I feel better at lower weight.  A friend in Anchorage summed all of this up well recently with the  word, "stewardship".  So, bottom line, I want to steward well the body gifted to me by God.

It is only 12 pounds I have dropped, but I already feel quite a bit better.  The blood pressure seems to be falling, too.  I'm eating fewer sweets, so I don't know about the early diabetes signs.  Linda says I already look better, too. :)

In addition to looking and feeling better, I know from my reading that I can (statistically speaking) minimize risks of some diseases and enjoy longer life.  Less weight will also be easier on my joints.

Why 160 lbs?  The last time I was 160 lbs was probably four decades ago in my late teens or early 20s.  But, the US Centers for Disease Control suggest that for my 6 foot height, normal weight is 136 - 184 lbs....with shoes and clothes on.  I have a medium frame, so I should be nearer the center of that range.  I picked 160 in my skivvies at the beginning of the day, or about 165 fully dressed at mid-day.  My intention is to monitor this for how it looks, works and feels, and I may adjust up or down as the goal gets closer.

Here are the three legs of the plan I am working:
  1. Eat fewer calories on a daily basis than my body requires  
  2. Change my eating habits for the long haul
  3. Continue regular exercise
Screenshot from the iPhone App "Lose It!".
If I record it all, and stay under my
calorie limit, I lose weight.
For the calories leg, I use an iPhone app called Lose It!.  It synchronizes with a web site so I can enter food information either on the run on my iPhone, on my tablet, or at my laptop at home.  The app even allows me to scan barcodes on food items.  It tells me how many calories I can eat each day....and I just eat those calories or fewer. Usually.

I have found that a) I must record pretty much everything or I overeat at the most critical time, which is evening;  and b) at my age (62 at this writing), it's better to NOT factor in exercise.  The app allows users to record exercise and add those calories burned to what can be eaten.  That worked when I was younger.

I don't typically feel much hunger during the day.  I know from experience that front-loading most of my calories early in the day and going to bed a bit hungry helps with weight loss.  I have also found that a healthy snack between lunch and dinner is important.

For the habits leg, I know I must change my eating habits, and continue with with that for the rest of my life.  I have counted calories and lost significant weight twice before; once in my 40's and once in my 50's.  Both times, my weight slowly returned to the same or a higher weight than when I started.  I know from this experience and from reading that changing what and how I eat is key to long term weight management.  At the beginning of this journey Linda and I determined that we would eat more like people who live around the Mediterranean.  We like the food.  It tastes good. It's colorful, fun and different.

According to a recent Time Magazine article, "people following a Mediterranean-style diet may have the best chance of keeping weight off — and doing it without causing negative side effects".  A Mayo Clinic article indicates that "a recent analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of overall and cardiovascular mortality, a reduced incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, and a reduced incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases."

In general,  I am eating more fruit, fish, yogurt and whole grain bread.  I have cut back on red meat, butter, most other bread, pastries, sweets, processed foods, and drinks with calories. I'm not slavish to this but I have been without butter for more than a month now, and we have eaten relatively little bread, turning instead mainly to rice.  I love cookies, but for the past month, I have eaten very few of them.  My desert these days is a couple of dates or a kiwi.

I'm also trying to limit my intake to what satisfies.  Several times recently, I have put part of the contents of my plate in the 'fridge because I was full.  That is a significant change for this eat-everything-on-your-plate guy!

For the exercise leg, I have a gym habit thanks to my amazingly disciplined son-in-law, Steve, so exercise is not so hard for me.  I like the additional muscular build out; it helps with life activities and it looks better.  Exercise helps me with weight loss, but it also helps with mental and emotional health.  It doesn't help everyone with weight loss; burning more calories increases hunger for some.

I recognize that Linda and I are in a very disciplined season right now.  We are attending the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in California for nine months.  We do not often eat out, and we do relatively little social eating with friends and church community.  Family is far away.  The test of this plan will come when we are in a more "routine" environment....when family is visiting....when the gang is over at the house....when we are out eating with friends.....when I'm bored....etc.

Last of all, I invite you to join me on the journey!  Lose It! has a community feature that allows automatic notification of others of your daily victories on the scales.  I will send you encouragement via Lose It! if you will do the same for me.  Lose It! will work with just a web browser on any computer.  It also works on other iOS devices and the Android operating system.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Stepping Out FROM the Favor of God

Ready for a paradigm shift?  Take a look at this:

Being chosen is empowering. It empowers us because we know we are loved. This means we are no longer stepping out for the favor of God. Now, we can step out from the favor of God.


It's all too easy to think, "I'm doing this to win God's approval or his love".  And how often do we think "I'm doing this for God"?  For sure, there is nothing wrong with doing righteous deeds for God, as long as we know that these deeds don't increase His love, nor lack of deeds diminish it.

But the paradigm shift is that as chosen ones, we are proceeding FROM Him to do righteous deeds that bring glory and honor and Kingdom increase!  As Christ followers, we are on the team!

Here's the quote in context (from Chris Overstreet's book, "A Practical Guide to Evangelism Supernaturally")

God's love establishes perfect identity. When we know who we are , we're not afraid to step out and do the things God says we can do. 
You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9) 
Being chosen is empowering. It empowers us because we know we are loved. This means we are no longer stepping out FOR the favor of God. Now, we can step out FROM the favor of God. (my emphasis added) When we know this, we know that God is with us, and His hands are upon us. This changes our expectations for what God can do through us because He has chose to use us. 

Friday, October 05, 2012

Musing on God and Time

I have been thinking for weeks about time and how it relates to God.  These days I am wondering now if along with the rest of the universe around us, God created time.

We are so time-bound, and universe-bound that it is hard to think outside of those particular boxes.  But what if time did not exist until God set in motion the universe we know? What if at creation He created time, along with matter, light, gravity, etc. as part of the suite of essential mechanisms that undergird this universe?  What if He lives outside of time?

To continue this line of speculation, perhaps He sees into what we consider the distant past as easily as He sees the present or what will be for us the distant future.  If this is so, then He knows how our lives play out, and the words we will speak, and the deeds we will do.  If He is not bound by time, my past, present and future are all visible at once to Him.

If that is so, He knew from the beginning of time that I would choose to love Him, and so perhaps he arranged my destiny to assure that I would be in a position to make that choice.  Maybe the opposite understandings of "predestination" and "free will" are both right.....or maybe we (including myself in this short essay) have tried to use logic to understand God's ways when logic is insufficient to resolve these questions.

Once I no longer see God as bound by time, some of the assumptions I have made about how God acts in our universe come loose of their moorings.  I believe the Bible to be a reliable message, but I also believe it neither contains all of God nor all of the universe.  Perhaps some of the apparent contradictions we see, or some of our contentious interpretations of the Bible are due to our time-limited understanding.

The Bible contains some fascinating hints on this subject.  Here are just two:

  • He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Eccl 3:11b NIV
  • to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Jude 1:25 ESV (emphasis added)

We once had a cat named Cissy.  She had marvelous china blue eyes.  Sometimes those china blue eyes seemed to look at me with questions her cat nature would not allow her to even frame, let alone ask.  I feel that way sometimes about God.

But I know He loves us.  I am content to abide in that knowledge.  The other answers I can wait for.

What do you think?  Has time always existed?  Does God exist outside of time?  Let me know what you think: click the "comments" link below and leave your thoughts.