Psalm 16

Psalm 16 (ESV)

You Will Not Abandon My Soul

A Miktam of David.

16 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
    in whom is all my delight.

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names on my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

This is a crazy year in the United States. We have two terrible choices for presidential candidates. We have inane fighting over what makes a male or female. We have class differences, racial differences, religious differences, moral differences, etc.

I worry for my children and what the world will be like for them. What decisions will they make as they grow up? Will they remember the truths that their father and I impart to them? Will they make good choices in choosing a spouse, a career, etc.?

Thankfully these worries and concerns have no bearing on my ultimate Confidence. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Whatever happens in this world, I know what the future holds. That Christ will return, wipe away every tear from our eyes, and that he will restore all things.

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A Theology/Philosophy of Food – Part 2

Here are some final thoughts on food. I was thinking I would create one or two more separate posts, but it turns out that daily life doesn’t present me with much time or motivation for a lot of writing! So here is a hodgepodge of other diet/food related thoughts.

We are created to serve God by serving our neighbors. Does my body prevent me from doing my duty? What are the specific tasks that I must do?

Personally, I am a homeschooling mom with 4 children ages 6, 4, 3, and 1. I need to feed them, clothe them, teach them, and then have time and energy in the day to also try to be nice to my hard-working husband. To fulfill these tasks I need to be able to move around freely, bend over, lift moderately heavy items, and occasionally sprint towards a straying toddler or dog.

I also need to be able to change diapers, lift and pour pots and milk jugs, and sew buttons back on clothing. Those small handiwork tasks have proven to be more difficult over the years because I developed carpal tunnel syndrome and so I have numbness issues in my hands. I am definitely not as thin as I used to be, but I am perfectly capable of completing those larger full-body tasks. What I eat and the fact that I don’t workout is not keeping me from fulfilling the tasks that God has set before me. If they were then I would need to change what I could so that I could do my vocation. I am sure that I would do my tasks more cheerfully if I got more sleep, but unfortunately that factor is out of my control. Just ask my youngest.

For some of us, some things truly ARE harmful for our bodies. Those with certain diseases, allergies, and sensitivities should not eat what could make them sick. However, just because some people are lactose or gluten intolerant, or allergic to peanuts or shellfish, or have Crohn’s or diabetes, doesn’t mean every single one of us must be restricted to what are better food choices for those specific people.

We also should not get caught up in the idea that what we will eat will extend our lifetimes or make us better people. Only God knows the span of our days and how long we will live. We could have the healthiest bodies but still die young from accident or tragedy. We certainly cannot view our health, diet, and exercise habits as an insurance policy against death. Also, skinny does not equal healthy. Many people with chronic health problems are skinny, and unhealthily so, and so are some people that have had organ transplants.

With modern medicine even overweight people have been able to live long and relatively healthy lives. Disease and poor health are often a sign of old age regardless of body size. Spending time and effort to perfect our body image is usually no more than turning the body and its appearance into an idol.

God gave us bodies designed to work and serve. If our choices have made those bodies ineffective at work, we have sinned. If we are constantly striving to make our bodies look and feel better based on societal assumptions of beauty, we have sinned. Let’s strive for the happy medium of caring for God’s good creation of our bodies insofar that we can gladly do the tasks He gives us, for there is always work to do.

Election, a Comforting Doctrine

I was browsing Facebook this morning, as I typically do over breakfast, and I came across this article posted by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod which talks about recruiting new church workers, especially among young adults. Talking about recruitment is all fine and good, but recruitment makes the Church sound like a business over which we have control.

Somehow the Church always seems to get caught up in the idea that we have control over who believes and who doesn’t based on our own efforts. Yes, we need to encourage people, young men especially, to go into church work. However, articles like this always bring about the same debates over how we raise our youth, how to retain them, and then ultimately how worship style preferences or lack of female pastors in our synod or the color of our carpets push people outside of the Church.

We put so much stock into our own efforts! What we fail to recognize is that when we start arguing over what we’re doing that is causing people to fall away from the Church or to not believe that we are contradicting what Scripture says about belief/faith. Romans 9:16 says, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” We’ve been studying the book of Romans in Sunday morning Bible study at church for about the past year or so. The whole section of chapters 9-11 are discussing why some believe and why some do not, especially among those that are Jewish by birth. But we could also look at these chapters today in relation to those that are raised in Christian homes but do not believe.
Romans 9:30-33 says,

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, a work that is completed and not requiring of any effort of our own, is a stumbling block for many people. So many want to be able to contribute to their salvation with their own hands. But this is not what we believe, teach, and confess. Our Lutheran Confessions, which are entirely drawn from the written Word of God, speak on the doctrine of Election, which answers the question, to the best of the writers’ ability, of why some are saved and not others. Just in the Small Catechism (in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed) we learn that

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

If we cannot even bring ourselves to faith, then what makes us think that we can bring others to faith? Yes, maybe our mouth is the medium by which a person hears the Word of God. However, it is the Holy Spirit working in that person’s heart which brings him to confess that Jesus is Lord. Election is meant to be a comforting doctrine, a Word of Truth for easing a troubled conscience, so that even when we sin we know that God still loves and forgives those who have faith in Him. Article XI of the Epitome of the Formula of Concord says,

However, “many are called, but few are chosen” [Matthew 22:14]. This does not mean that God is unwilling to save everybody. But the reason some are not saved is as follows: They do not listen to God’s Word at all, but willfully despise it, plug their ears, and harden their hearts. In this way they block the ordinary way [Luke 16:29-31] for the Holy Spirit so He cannot perform His work in them. Or, when they have heard God’s Word, they make light of it again and ignore it. But their wickedness is responsible for this (that they perish), not God or His election (2 Peter 2:1-3; Luke 11:49-52; Hebrews 12:25-26).

Unbelievers do not believe because they do not want to, not because believers didn’t do enough to accommodate them.

The Church should do the work that God has given us to do. We are to serve our neighbor in our various vocations (e.g. baker, parent, truck-driver, hairdresser, etc.) and in doing so speak His Word, as that is what a Christian does. And we should take comfort knowing that even in our failures God’s will is done. His Elect will be saved.

Guest Post – The Religion of Food: A Nurse’s Perspective

My sister is awesome and had this written before I have even taken the time to think about my next post for my Theology/Philosophy of Food series. The rest of this post will be her words.
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Let me start off by saying that the following expresses my opinion and I happen to be a nurse. My opinion is not to be taken as the opinion of most or all nurses, most or all medical professionals, and I am not a nutritionist. I am a bachelor’s degree prepared Registered Nurse who works on a floor that specializes in Oncology. While I have taken all of the classes concerning the disease process and treatment of cancers that all registered nurses take as well as a few additional classes at my place of employment, I have not yet received special certifications in chemotherapy or Oncology. Though I have more education and training in nutrition, preventative and curative medicine, and the disease process and treatment of cancers than the general public, I in no way claim to be an expert and my advice should not supersede or replace any of the advice that you have received from your medical doctor or a certified nutritionist. All opinions should be taken into account, but when in doubt, listen to those with the best training and education. In the case of diet and health promotion the BEST information comes from certified nutritionists and fully licensed and practicing medical doctors.

There is no doubt in my mind that food has taken over our lives. Our culture plasters pictures of near naked, impossibly thin women everywhere. It is to the point that if you venture onto the internet or out of the house to run errands for thirty minutes or more, you are practically guaranteed to see at least one of these pictures. There are two major problems with these images right away. First of all, a high percentage of the models that feature in the pictures are clinically anorexic. Secondly, almost all of these pictures are altered and airbrushed to further distort the images represented. The average American woman is five foot four inches tall and a size 16. The average model featured in these pictures, especially after alterations to the picture, is five foot nine plus and a size 0-2. These images alone are enough to set us up to be completely obsessed with body image and food.

There is a relatively new movement, especially among young adults, which is bringing our obsession with food to qualify as religious devotion. This group shuns anything that they do not view as all natural. Words such as “toxin” and “toxic” are being used to describe anything that has experienced any type of modification or other interference by man or machine. Genetically modified foods, processed, and manufactured are dirty words to this group. The words toxin and toxic have historically meant something that causes serious injury/illness or death. Quantifying something that is not even necessarily harmful to the body as “toxic” can create a lot of confusion and undue fear to those that are not familiar with this group’s liberal usage of the word. While there is nothing harmful in eating only organic, non-processed, non-modified, non-manufactured foods; there is not sufficient evidence that it is overly beneficial, especially when the high cost of these foods is factored in. Due to the increased demand for “organic” foods and the government red-tape companies have to go through to get their foods labeled as “organic,” the price difference between the “organic” foods and the foods sitting next to them on the shelves that have not been labeled “organic” is significant. Using a weekly ad from the grocery store that I frequent as an example, you can buy a 12 oz. bag of salad mix for $0.99 or 5 oz. of organic salad greens for $2.45. Organic food sometimes has different storage requirements and/or may spoil faster.

As I said, there is no harm in eating only “organic” food, but there is little proof of increased benefit, and there is definitely an increased cost. Especially among young adults, there is a lot of pressure to join the “all natural” movement. There are some practices in this movement in terms of their views on medicine, especially preventative medicine, which can be very harmful to the heath of the participant and detrimental to public health, but that is a topic for perhaps another blog. The main problem I have with this movement is the peer pressure and bullying that can sometimes arise should a person not follow these practices. For many the main issue is financial. There is also an increased time demand for following the “all natural” practices. Those specifically related to food include more frequent trips to the grocery store or farmers market due to more rapid spoilage, increased meal preparation time due to minimal prepackaged, frozen, or ready to eat foods, and for some time-demand of home-growing food and/or tending farm animals for eggs and milk and/or animals for butchering.

For those who have the time and money required to maintain an “all-natural/organic” diet, by all means go for it. There are some benefits to this type of diet, which I will more fully explain in a moment. However, this lifestyle is not for everyone, and that is ok. For some the issue is money, for others it is time. In our society, the majority of homes are two-income households with the kids enrolled in school and extracurricular activities outside of the home. Though this is definitely universal, money and/or time can be an issue in most American homes. Another reasonable issue is motivation. There is little evidence that even if time and money are not an issue that the extra effort is worth it. There are many simpler things that people can do to maximize their health and minimize their risks of diseases.

First and foremost, everything within the body is done at the genetic and chemical level. The body does not use a vegetable, but carbohydrates (specifically glucose), fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. The body needs a certain amount of carbs, protein, fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fluids, and calories, but because everything is processed at the chemical level, in truth, the source doesn’t really matter. As long as everything that is needed is present, but not in excess, the body will process it effectively and will function properly. In theory, you could eat mostly “junk food” and get everything else from supplements, and experiments have been done doing just that with no harmful effects or weight gain. In theory there is no problem, in practice it is not that easy. Supplements can be used improperly and, let’s face it, if we are not full/satisfied by the food we eat, we are going to eat more.

Secondly, there are some foods that can increase the risk for health problems. When it comes to health problems, the primary culprit is genetics. Our genes regulate all growth, metabolic, immune, etc. processes. There is a reason why certain diseases run in families. Almost all of these diseases, though hardwired in your genes, require some sort of trigger. The number one trigger for most diseases, especially cancers, is cigarette smoking followed by exposure to asbestos, and carcinogenic chemical exposure whether by inhalation, consumption, or topical exposure (such as UV rays). Anything that has the potential to cause tissue damage (DNA damage) has the potential to cause cancer. There are many cancers that are caused by viruses even. I know of at least five cancers that are caused by HIV alone. Every time tissue (DNA) is damaged, it has to repair itself. Most of the time it repairs itself correctly. Often, if it repairs itself incorrectly the body recognizes the cells with the faulty DNA and kills them, though sometimes the cells with the bad DNA are missed. This is what causes cancer. There are some foods that are known to cause tissue damage when consumed frequently and in high amounts such as fatty and or/smoked meats which are linked to colorectal cancers. Obesity related diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and diabetes increase the risk of cancer. Any conditions that weaken the immune system (which usually finds and kills cancerous cells) can increase the risk for cancer. Excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and spicy/greasy foods can cause GERD or exacerbate it. Obviously any foods that cause allergies or food intolerance should be avoided due to the damage that can happen to the GI tract, respiratory system, or the skin (rash/hives).

The truth is, even if you do everything right, you can’t control your genes and you may still develop these diseases. So it all comes down to risk and benefit. What I suggest is treating food as what it is: fuel. Food is neither a friend or an enemy. All food is ok, but not all food is beneficial. I spent 12+ years trying diet after diet after diet, in the end netting a 100 pound weight GAIN. About a year and a half ago I finally decided that I was not going to spend the majority of my time thinking about food anymore whether by treating or denying myself. For the last year and a half I have eaten what I wanted when I wanted, stopped when I was full knowing that whenever I got hungry again, I could have whatever I wanted. In that time, I have actually lost 30 pounds. By allowing myself to eat what I wanted whenever I was hungry, no food is forbidden (which lead to binging when I would finally give into “temptation”) or put on a pedestal. I try to make reasonable choices and will sometimes make slight changes to my habits if I find that I am drinking too much soda for example. Is this the right way for everyone, of course not. I am a diet addict and to place any significant restrictions on my diet will almost surely trigger my dieting addiction. So far my method is working for me, but I do not recommend the same method to everybody.

What I do recommend is this: we need to fix our relationship with food. Food obsession leads to food addiction whether the addiction is to overeating or over-restricting. No food (besides that which would cause an allergic reaction) should be completely off limits. Any diet that is too restrictive is going to lead to cheating and binging. Anytime we depend on food for comfort, it will also lead to binging. Everyone needs to know their own triggers, their own limits, their own needs, and find their own balance. The food wars NEED TO STOP. No one way works for everyone. The “all natural” diet is great, in theory. In practice it can be too expensive, too time-consuming, or just not worth the effort. Success or failure in any lifestyle or diet does not make or break you as a person. The size 2 is not going to be in front of the size 22 in line to get to heaven. God does not judge us on what goes into our mouths, but on what comes out of them. The only meal with specific mandates in place is The Lord’s Supper. As for the rest, all is permitted, but not all is beneficial.

-MLM, RN

A Theology/Philosophy of Food – Part 1

It seems to me that we are in somewhat of a food war. Which is the best diet to eat? Are some foods toxic? Is it wrong to eat certain foods? Can we even call processed food “food”? Many conflicting viewpoints exist on what is the best food for the human body. One camp says that a vegetarian diet is best. Another says that a low/no carbohydrate diet is the best. Another says to avoid any processed/manufactured/packaged foods. The words “toxic” and “toxin” get thrown around as if they mean something less powerful than I have always understood them. The difference of opinion available among food “experts” can be overwhelming and confusing for those of us with a family and the desire to raise healthy, happy children.

Our American society has made an idol of the body. Movies and pictures show us skinny women with perfect skin and no extra weight. They show us men with well-toned muscles and no extra weight. We are told that we are lazy if we don’t exercise and that we are harming ourselves if we occasionally eat a candy bar. If we don’t have perfect looking bodies and eat whatever food is supposedly best for the human body then we are in the wrong. I think we need to approach the idolatry of the body in light of Christian freedom, vocation, and original sin.

Both 1 Corinthians 6 and 10 have the phrase, ““All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful.” Chapter 6 goes on to say, ““All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other.” Chapter 10 continues with ““All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.” 1 Corinthians 6 is dealing with sexual immorality and 1 Corinthians 10 is dealing with food sacrificed to idols. However, both chapters are dealing with the burdened consciences of those trying to figure out how to live a God pleasing life and those who think they can do whatever they want without regard for what is right and what is wrong.

Christians are not obligated to follow any dietary laws. The Apostle Peter had a vision, as recorded in Acts 10, that told him that Jewish believers no longer were required to follow the dietary laws of the Old Testament. Christians especially are not required to follow these dietary laws, as Paul wrote much about not requiring Christians to become Jews in his epistles. Jesus said, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” The world may argue over what food is, what is healthiest, what is best, but a Christian should remember that we have no obligation to make laws for ourselves. We should especially not call ideas of men the commandments of God.

Individual Christians can decide what they want to eat and feed their children, but should not push others about what they eat and feed their children. Food is not a salvation issue, not a doctrinal issue. The only food that is salvific and doctrinal is the Lord’s Supper, and Christians have been debating that topic for hundreds of years. If we want to talk about diets as Christians we should be discussing spiritual food and the Holy Meal provided by our Lord Jesus for our forgiveness and benefit.

In future posts I will talk about food in light of vocation and original sin. Today all I have time for is Christian freedom. I may also ask my RN sister to write a guest post about the physiology of the body in relation to food.

Christmas Reflections

Christmas is a wonderful time to reflect on life as we approach a new calendar year. I have certainly had an eventful year with many joys and sorrows along the way. But what moved me to write today was not to reflect on my own life, but to reflect on the Christmas Story.

Joseph was obviously a morally upright man. God would not have chosen another to be the earthly father of His Son. Joseph did not want to hurt Mary when he heard of her pregnancy. He was going to divorce her quietly without accusation of adultery to try to prevent her from being stoned to death. But when the Angel spoke to him and confirmed Mary’s story that she indeed was still a virgin and the baby was from the Holy Spirit, he chose to tarnish his own reputation to claim the child as his own.

Joseph and Mary must have felt a little relief when they needed to travel to Bethlehem for the census. They could leave the dirty looks and whispered conversations of Nazareth behind to travel where nobody would know that they has not fulfilled the year long requirement of betrothal. They could just go and be a family, whatever that meant for their unique situation, without enduring any longer the scorn of their neighbors.

They made mistakes, I’m sure. Like any other mortal men. But they had a sure gift of faith to be trusted with caring for the Son of God. Jesus. And for that they are worthy of our remembrance.

Merry Christmas!

Romans 5

Peace with God Through Faith

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

I can’t say that I rejoice in my sufferings. Suffering, as defined by Webster’s dictionary, means “pain that is caused by injury, illness, loss, etc. : physical, mental, or emotional pain.” Why would I rejoice when I’m in pain? I’m more likely to grimace, be unkind to my family, etc. It is very tough to see that sufferings help us to grow as people when we are in the midst of them.

Thank God that, though oftentimes I do not rejoice in my sufferings, I do not trust Him as I should, and in so doing I break the First Commandment, even this sin is covered by Christ Jesus. Even my hopelessness is covered by His blood. I certainly can rejoice that I am reconciled to God. And I pray that I will also be able to rejoice in my sufferings so that I can endure with hope.