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Calling All Foodies: On Delicacy, Gluttony and How Grace Strengthens Me

“The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.” -G.K. Chesterton

The (custom-mixed) almond-coconut flour, (limited) coconut sugar, (Wheat Belly) fudge brownies were baked to perfection. Triumphant, I pulled them from the oven. Then I ascended my low refined carb & sugar box.

When I stepped down five minutes later we were a lather. All except Jamie. Because Jamie was Paleo- she ate no dairy, grains or legumes. Not that she presented it that way, but it just seemed like Jamie’s diet was was more pure and holy. So Jamie was unscathed.

But the others were confused. I- in full out health food frenzy- had confused them.

Linda was apologetic as she doled out Teddy Grahams to her toddler. Cathy was crestfallen, entirely overwhelmed by our diet discourse. Integrating almond flour, stevia, and coconut oil into her family’s diet was way too much for her to manage. And I, well, I felt rightly guilty.

I’m sorry, you guys. I am totally not judging you for your food choices.

And we all sat down a friendly spread of almond-butter, and turkey and cheese sandwiches on gluten-free Udi’s and Sarah Lee white.

[For a few of you, food choices are a matter of life or death. For some of you, your choice to go gluten-free or forgo dairy dramatically impacts your health. But for most of us, our diet choices are a mostly a matter of preference. This post is directed toward those of us in that last group.]

A Gluttony Of Delicacy (And isn’t life more than food?)

Food becomes idol when it preoccupies. When I worry about how much, or when, or what I’m going to eat. So gluttony isn’t only excess in eating or drinking. It’s greedy or excessive indulgence, too.  In his winsome way, C.S. Lewis described the subtle gluttony.

In The Screwtape Letters, senior devil Screwtape advises junior devil Wormwood on tactics to divert humans from heaven. Keep gluttony in your arsenal, he urges. Bolding is mine. The quote comes from chapter 17.

My Dear Wormwood,

The contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls, in your last letter, only shows your ignorance. One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled about it in the whole length and breadth of the Western World. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess.

Your patient’s mother… is a good example. She would be astonished – one day, I hope, will be – to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern?

Glubose has this old woman well in hand. She is a positive terror to hostesses… always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile “Oh, please, please … all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast.” You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practising temperance …;

The real value of the quiet, unobtrusive work which Glubose has been doing for years on this old woman can be gauged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life. The woman is in what may be called the “All I want” state of mind.  All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled… But her “properly” conceals an insatiable demand for the exactMeanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

Heavenly arrows, these words. Friendships are cooled…as palates produce impatience, self-concern. Beware when diets divide; when tender tastebuds trump tender hearts. When one’s uprightness or defilement are based on what goes into one’s mouth, beware.

You just might find a foodie idol hiding under the table.

Strengthened By Grace, Not Food

Uncle Screwtape would revel in our Paleo, South Beach, Mediterranean smorgasbord. And in our delicate palates, in our insatiable demands for the exact: Sartori SarVecchio not Kraft Parmesan. Strong, but not too strong, my own personal K cup.

There are today many religious and secular food routines …of food supplements and vitamins and antioxidants and organic diets, and fat-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free, chemical-free foods. And sometimes, not all the time, these things become obsessive. They take on a life-consuming importance. Slowly and subtly the promises they make for our well-being become the promises we hope in and the promises we live by.

But over against this misuse of foods, God says (in verse 9), “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods.” So beware of “alien teachings” that elevate diet and nutrition and food to a place where they are the real strength-givers and health-givers and hope-givers in your life. Instead learn to have your heart strengthened by grace – day after day, morning noon and night. …

John Piper, “Be Strengthened By Grace” sermon transcript

Cathy, formerly crestfallen Cathy, was last to leave our little luncheon. When we got out to Cathy’s car, her eyes were twinkling.  Then she asked,

Want some bread?  But, I got a whole box of day-old Brownberry this morning. 

I nodded and scooped up two full-carb loaves.

And my heart got stronger.

“Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.”

Hebrews 13:9

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As The Ruin Falls: A Poem For A Hot Mess

Are you a hot mess? A broken soul? Ruined and a wreck? Check, check, and check- all in the past two weeks, I’ve been. But there is a balm in Gilead. There is a poem for that.

But I am not a poet and- haiku and limericks, excepted- I do know it.

Still poems bowl me over in ways most prose can’t. A good poem cools a hot mess and soothes a broken soul.  A great poem kindles my heart and nourishes my spirit. The best of poems have undertones that you can’t quite name on the first read-through. I turn the page and say, I don’t get it all the way. But the words are tantalizing, and I return. I know it is there.

It was there, like that the poem,  As the Ruin Falls.

As The Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

 

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love- a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek-
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

 

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

 

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains

You give me are more precious than all other gains.

C.S. Lewis, Poems, Edited by Walter Hooper

It was to these words I returned this week, as my ruins fell.

 

Let us not love in word or talk. (A scholar’s parrot may talk Greek.)

Like a partly-pieced puzzle left on the dining room table, I kept returning to those lines, trying to make more pieces fit. But turn the lines as I might, this line– And everything you are was making- would not conform to my prose-formed mind. Those words were an itch I couldn’t quite scratch, a word stuck on the tip of the tongue. I was deaf to its meter.

But I persisted. I kept going back to that poem until I could make the exquisite piece fit, until I could read that third stanza right.

I think it finally happened last night.

First, a word about stanzas one and two.  Because if we’re honest, we are here: fallen image-bearers, lost and ruined by the fall, all of us with pride-tainted, self-seeking, mix-motived love.  In our heart of hearts, we all know our flashy rhetoric about loving God- and his children too-sometimes feels like hollow, empty talk. A scholar’s parrot may talk Greek. 

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth, the beloved disciple wrote. Because words are cheap. Then, when friends correct us and break our rules or dare make us wait. Then our love-talk rings hollow. We see how much our love was all about us.

Yes, there is a gap.

 

I see the chasm. And everything you are was making

Now enter the third stanza. The one with tricky line with you are was above. Those words threw me and kept me coming back to decode.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

I see the chasm. Everything you are-was making my heart-into a bridge-by which I might get back from exile, and grow man. That’s it in prose. The -‘s mark the pauses as I read. Read like this, I think I finally understand what Lewis meant.

I see God, the God I say we love, the God who is love over the chasm of my self-seeking, separating sin. And once I see Him, I am undone. Like Isaiah, I see my unclean lips. Lips that speak lightly of love. Flashy rhetoric.

 

My heart a bridge…And now the bridge is breaking

Do you see what so long eluded me?

That everything you are was making, is God’s mercy? That He is folding all of our hot-mess wrecks to build a bridge back to him? The sooner we see that the crumbling bridge is meant to loosen our grip on the things of earth, the fitter and more free for both heaven and earth we’ll be. We’ll see that the Great I AM- Lewis’ YOU ARE – our God, HE IS working all things together for our good. 

Those broken dreams, that cancer, those tests were a bridge he built (then broke) to bring us back to him.

We see the measures God would take- and everything you are was making our heart a bridge to get back– to cleanse and reclaim us sinners ruined by the fall. He would remove our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. 

I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  (Ezekiel 36:25-26)

There is a hound of heaven.  There is  a Creator who reclaims his own lost and ruined by the fall from sin’s hard exile. Ruined sinners to reclaim is why Jesus Christ came. So yes to Mr. Tolkien: Everything sad will come untrue.  The Man of Sorrows makes all things new.

But denial of self and death to the flesh hurt. Ruin and pains come before everything sad comes untrue.

 

Pains more precious

Once we’re back to God, once our warfare is completed and we are reclaimed and remade new, we’re still this side of heaven. The bridge will break. In mercy,  He will shake us from the chains that bound us. And surgeries and getting old and broken dreams just might be the ruins falling.

But His love is in the crumbling ruin, too.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

The suffering that’s not worth comparing. The pain that builds in us a longing for a better place, where no moth and rust and thief destroy and where there is no crying or dying or heartache.

But we’ve got to be longing for that gain. We’ve got to be longing for his appearing and not looking back across the bridge to where the ruin fell.

 

Saints don’t look back

Lot’s wife looked back. Remember her, Jesus said in Luke 17:32. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.  And in Luke 9:62 he warned, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

Saints look forward. Hebrews 11:15  says, If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.

So, no. Saints don’t look back. The faithful  recognize these pains- of dying to self and slaying pride- as a saint’s growing pains. And they welcome them as a mother welcomes a baby’s kicks in her once barren womb. It’s Christ being  formed in you.

The ruin- even our ruin-must fall. As it falls, will we echo Saint Paul?

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

Will we come to him and bless Him as the ruin falls?

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden
Lost and ruined by the fall
If you tarry ’til you’re better
You will never come at all.

-Joseph Hart

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When Pain Gets Proud

God knows your pain. 

He holds your tears in his bottle. 

Your name is engraved on the palm of his hand. 

 

Yeah, right. I’m sure. And I’d grimace and hug and nod my way through dozens of these well intended and  kind encouragements.

Then I’d walk away from my would-be-comforters thinking, You’ll never know. You can’t understand my pain. 

Those words from you-you mother of five, holding your third sweet surprise-don’t console. Your words are water off a duck’s back. They don’t bring comfort. And not just your words, but the words from the kind widows and single sisters and the concerned co-workers. None can know my sorrow.

Each heart knows it’s own bitterness, the Proverb says. But that’s no excuse to let common-to-man sadness morph into self-righteous pride. Here’s how that happens.

 

Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen

Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, [by] casting all your cares upon him, for he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:5-7

 

The Devil, the Accuser, would love to separate us from God and the grace He gives to the humble. One of his big guns is to tempt us to doubt God’s love. Did God really say? Does Job fear God for no reason? He’d have us believe God doesn’t really care about us. Pain makes us easy prey when it leaves us preoccupied with ourselves. Nobody knows my sorrow.

Suffering can push us to God, refine us and result in praise, glory and honor when Christ comes again. It can help us plumb the depths of God’s love and rely on it more fully. The fellowship of sharing Christ’s sufferings is a sweet, sweet fellowship. But we forfeit the grace that could be ours.

We let pain puff us up and pull us away from the God of all comfort and the Body he lovingly equips to bind up our wounds. No one, we think, has felt the pain of my loss, abuse, miscarriage, marital strife or ___. Therefore, we reason, no one is qualified to comfort me. 

Marshall Segal’s assessment of the pain-pride link is so insightful. Segal writes:

Pain becomes proud because it believes no one else understands. No one feels what I feel. And so pain distances itself from anyone who might try and speak into its suffering. But pain afflicts itself even more the farther it separates itself from others. God has given us himself, his word, and each other to produce faith, and even joy, in the midst of pain, even the most severe and unique pain.

One test to determine whether our pain is producing pride is to ask how we respond to encouragement from others, maybe especially from other believers who don’t understand our pain. Are we willing to hear the word and hope of God from someone who has not experienced or cannot comprehend our current suffering? If we’re unwilling, then pain has driven us into isolation, and Satan’s succeeding in his purpose for your suffering.

The humble let themselves be comforted. They take hugs. Paul didn’t let his pain isolate. I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, Paul wrote to Philemon (1:7). Aristarchus, Mark and Jesus, called Justus brought him comfort, too (Colossians 4:10-11).

 

Are you willing to let the Body do its healing work? Or will you let Satan succeed in his purpose? Will you humble allow God’s people to speak His healing, comforting truth into your pain? Or will you proud stiff-arm his hug?

The Two Sides Of Pride

 
1. My Pain’s Worse Than Your Pain

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

This might not sound like it has anything to do with your pain or your pride. But it might.

 

After a hard church parting and a decade of pain-filled estrangement, overlapping with more years that that of infertility, I now see how I used my pain to set myself apart and above. My year after year without pregnancy, the gut-wrenching loss of a dear church family and the mistreatment and injustice of it all. Clearly, my pain was worse. 

Pride is competitive. And since I can be too, my pain went mutant. Pride wanted to be the center of attention, so pride- so I– byway of pain, set myself above others’ others pain and their comfort. And, as Lewis said, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

2. Woe Is My Pity
 
But, you say, I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, so how can my pain possibly be proud? Only God knows your heart. But I know that there is another side of the proud coin.
If one side is the boasting, I suffered more side, than the other side is the self-pitying side. It’s the side that says, This shouldn’t be happening to me, I don’t deserve this.

Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego and the desire of the self-pitying is not really for others to see them as helpless, but heroes.  (John Piper, Desiring God)

Ultimately either side of pride can separate us, both from God and from others. Both sides won’t hear God’s comforting voice. Pride would silence the well-instructed tongue, he gives others, to know the word that sustains the weary (Isaiah 50:4). It would rather wallow than rejoice and look down instead of lifting eyes to the heavens, from where help comes. 

A God-Honoring Way Out


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort others in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

It is true that no one on earth has or will ever experience exactly my own little batch of suffering. But that’s okay. No one needs to have walked in my exact shoes to be able to offer me the exact right balm for my broken soul.

That’s because God already gave the exact right balm for my soul: He spoke his Word. Marshall Segal notes,

God wrote a book to overcome all of [the] inevitable ignorance and insensitivity. With the Bible, people can bring you the always-relevant wisdom and hope of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God.

And the all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God gave gifts to men. One of the gifts he gave was encouragement. Another, comfort. Another, teaching. And if, in proud pain, I stiff-arm the members of the Body he gave to comfort me, I forfeit those gifts.
When we stiff arm His Body, we fall far short of His glory. Because, ultimately, pride is a worship issue. When we push away those who’d speak God’s word to us, we’re thinking more about ourselves and our pain, than of bringing glory to our God. Rather than glorify him in the day of trouble (Psalm 50:15), we wallow.
The only way out of that proud mud is to think less of ourselves and more of God. The rivers of self-forgetfulness flow down from the Godward heights of worship. He alone is worthy of all worship and praise…Therefore, God’s children cannot be ambivalent about pride. We must hate it and hunt it down until it’s dead. (Jason Meyer, Killjoys)
Hunting down pride means stalking it to the strangest of places, like our pain. And killing it means taking up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). And that sword, the Word, might very well be wielded by a saint who doesn’t know your sorrow.

But who knows One who does.

 

Because, Nobody knows but Jesus.  

Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…

Isaiah 53:4a
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Gabriel Speaks

I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.

Luke 1:19b

Some of you know this story, but lots of you do not. And this is of all the days the best day to tell it. So here it goes.

Once upon on time, ten years ago today- but it truly began nine months before that or really even eight or seven
Yes, it was ten years plus seven months ago, Gabriel, when you first made your presence known.

But I really must rewind

Because it was ten years before these last ten years-

Twenty whole years ago, it was

In January when Dad and I- we two, were joined as one.

For most of those first ten years (Big brother came by plane after nine)

We hoped and prayed and tried (how we hoped and prayed and tried, and too much, I think, I cried)

And doctors consulted, tried this and that, and poked around inside

But all their methods failed- it just wasn’t the right time.

And empty wombs like empty stomachs sometimes ache 

But God’s children run their race and walk by faith and trust the promises true-

That our trials produce steadfastness and character and a hope that will not disappoint

That  no good thing will He withhold and they that wait upon the Lord will be renewed.

So we stopped the procedures and we ceased striving and tried less hard.

But still in faith we prayed, in His love we hoped, and life kept racing on

Then one fall- that fall Aunt Char and I decided, Sure, let’s run it all.

And I remember how

That September, my coffee didn’t taste as good and I was suddenly ready for bed by seven

Then came October, and snow,

But we sisters plowed on and  drove six hours north

To run that 26.2 mile course.

(Run we did -we three, the third, still unbeknownst to me- and we finished the race in four hours, give or take.)

Next week I took a test I’d taken a dozen or more times before

But this time, the stripes said YES, YES, YES- it’s true

Your frame was being finely woven by then for eight whole weeks

But that was when I first found out for sure about you.

And now tonight, ten-year old son,  I pinch myself and think how loud your name rings true

You are our YES  to countless prayers that God would grant us love’s sweet fruit

Your presence with your brother “HEARD OF GOD” was so good we prayed for more

But God, for righteous reasons only He knows

Has not again opened to us that door.

You are no angel, but still you are a messenger to tell

That God alone sets the times and the seasons and even the days

And that no good thing does He withhold

That His ways are not our ways (and that is all okay).

It’s been ten years today since I laid eyes on that long-lashed, lovely baby boy- and I never want to forget the messages I heard then

That we’d best keep running and look to Jesus even when we ache a lot.

That it’s when we cease striving that we can know that He is  God

And that the best gifts can’t be bought.

Because, after all, Who is like the Lord our God who sits on high and humbles himself to behold things in heaven and on earth? 

That’s is good news God sent you to tell us Gabriel, messenger of God.

Who is like the LORD our God,

Who dwells on high,

Who humbles himself to behold

Things in the heavens and in the earth?

He raises the poor out of the dust,

And lifts the needy out of the ash heap,

He gives the barren woman a home,

Making her the joyous mother of children.

Praise the LORD!

Psalm 113:5-7, 9