This morning I appeared on “The Bible Study” on KFUO-AM in St. Louis (a radio ministry of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. During my response to a caller regarding how we Christians are saints yet still sinners, I made a comment about temptation that I would like to clarify. It all has to do with sanctification and the Christian life.
Speaking of kale, I’ve been on a pro-kale kick for a couple of months. I eat raw kale as a main salad ingredient, and I’ve also juiced it with good results. People have turned up their noses at me when I say that kale is wonderful. “It tastes too bitter,” so sings the choir. “Don’t you have to cook it with oil and garlic to make it taste good,” chime the questioners.
Kale tastes best in its natural form without piling on the fat and salt…at least I think it does. And people wonder if I’ve lost my mind as I smile like a Stepford Wife as I sing the praises of the nutrition of kale.
I say that my taste buds have changed to a point where I actually like the taste of kale. And spinach. And collards. And Swiss chard. Minus the fat, salt, and gook.
Today, a doctor explains why:
After a stormy Thursday, I think we can all be glad today is going to be sunny, cooler, and less humid. With incredible weather on tap for this weekend (it will feel more autumnal rather than summer-like), I plan on using this work Friday as a half-day. I need to spend the early part finalizing my sermon, organizing my weekend church notes, and thinking about “what’s next” when it comes to church returning to its normal schedule after Labor Day. This afternoon, I need to shut down. From Thursday of last week through yesterday, I have been burning the candle at both ends. Today is the day my brain and body want me to relax, just a bit.
That is what I will do.
From the Witness-Mercy-Life Together Blog, written by LCMS Secretary Ray Hartwig:
Working through the resolutions adopted by the 2013 convention, one or two stand out in importance above the others. You may have your own choices. Perhaps they will be the same as mine. But perhaps not.
Which is not to say that there are any that are unimportant. All are important to some of us–even those bylaw-change resolutions that go on and on about this and that in our life together. And some are important to all of us, as are many of the witness, mercy, and life together resolutions that often are passed with little or no discussion. And several are especially important for our Synod right now–those declaring church fellowship, or those addressing SMP/licensed deacon issues, or those addressing our Synod’s relationship with its schools.
But two in particular are at the top my list right now. My list was a list of one until listening to the news this past week. I added Res. 1-09A “To Prepare LCMS Congregations and Pastors for Defense of our Christian Faith.” Its first whereas paragraph strikes me as one of the most timely and important paragraphs adopted by the convention three weeks ago: “Christ foretold that Christians throughout the world will suffer persecutions for Christ’s name (John 16:33).” It brings to mind and prayer Egypt and those Coptic Christians burning to death in defense of their burning churches and their Christian faith. We watch from (for now) a safe distance, but we also know that such reaction to the Gospel, when running wild, would be no gentler or kinder on this side of the globe.
But my first choice for the “resolution of greatest moment” remains closer to home. It would be easy to overlook Res. 4-15 with an “Oh, that again” dismissal, but it addresses what can arguably be the most successful tool Satan has employed in years, if not centuries….
Res. 4-15 “To Reaffirm Synod Position on Creation” says it so well: “[H]ypotheses of macro, organic, and Darwinian evolution, including theistic evolution or any othe rmodel denying special, immediate and miraculous creation, undercut …support for the honoring of life as a gift of God” and “continue[s] to undermine teachings on marriage, human sexuality, the value and dignity of all human life, and the conduct and ordering of human relationships in family and society that are in accordance with Scripture and natural law.”
Yesterday afternoon, as I was reading through the newest edition of Luther’s Works, the doorbell rang. Scampering down the stairs (OK, maybe I didn’t “scamper”) and opening the front door, a man I’d never seen before stood on the stoop. Introducing himself as an Episcopalian minister from Colorado, he said he was an actual follower of this blog. He found the blog during a Google search earlier this year when looking for the hideous term “cancer and health.”
At the time, his wife was battling metastasized breast cancer and wasn’t given long to live. He decided to seek out help on the internet, hoping beyond hope that anyone would have some glimmer of good news to help his wife. And by the power of Google (and the Lord), he stumbled onto one of my posts about battling cancer.
His wife’s battle with cancer ended in April when she was called to her eternal rest. After her death, he made plans to do some of the things his wife loved to do. He took a cooking class because, as he said, “I couldn’t boil water without setting off the smoke detector.” One of his wife’s favorite ways to relax was to garden. Again, her husband was more of a “brown thumb” and ended up working with a local florist to teach him how to grow plants.
And the reason this Colorado minister was in northern New Jersey last evening? His wife also loved to travel. This summer, he invited his three children and their families to visit New York City with him because his wife loved Broadway and New York cheesecake. Yesterday, he rented a car and traveled through the Lincoln Tunnel and up the Turnpike to pay this pastor a visit. He wanted to thank me for the help I gave to him and his wife.
I was a little perplexed. Maybe I am little too close to it, but I never considered anything I’ve written about my cancer battle to be “helpful.” But he explained that I presented a dual bright outlook throughout – on one hand, cancer was not going to kill me, but on the other, if it did, I would be going to the Lord, and that ain’t a bad place to be.
As he teared up, he gave me hug and said with his voice cracking, “Thanks, good buddy.”
Then he said a prayer.
After exchanging pleasant stories about our collective ministries and work, he decided to head back into the city to meet up with his family. They planned on catching a kid’s movie in Times Square and getting dinner from a local pizzeria. He said he loved New York pizza.
So did his wife.
Just a quick video by Concordia Theological Seminary — shown during the LCMS Convention last month:
Last evening, I received a phone call from a member of another local Lutheran church. Their pastor is out of town on vacation and before he headed out on a period of rest and relaxation, he called and asked me if I would be around for the two weeks he would be out of town. After checking my schedule for the rest of the summer — cough, cough — I said I would stand in for him if and when an emergency popped up. Most of the time, emergencies seem to take a vacation with the pastor; but in those rare cases, like last night, a family in Christ needed the help of a clergyman.
I arrived at the emergency room looking for the family. The nurse at the front desk told me that apparently mom had taken ill during dinner and was rushed to the hospital as dad, their two children, and another relative/friend (I am not sure) drove behind the ambulance.
When I arrived at the woman’s assigned ER stall, mom was off taking some tests as her family waited rather impatiently for her to return. Sensing a little apprehension at this new clerical wearing guy standing before them, I asked if it would be OK to say a prayer. Dad gave the go-ahead. When I raised my arms from my side and reached out to hold dad’s hand and one of his children, I could see they were taken aback. Reluctantly, they grasped my hands and we made a kind of prayer circle … and I prayed for health for mom and peace for her family.
Immediately following my “Amen,” one of the children said that she never prayed holding anyone’s hand. Dad chimed in that he, too, never held anyone else’s hands in prayer, that is, outside of his wedding day when the pastor asked he and his bride to hold hands as he prayed over them. I explained that holding hands is nothing special, but during times of crisis, holding hands provides a sense of oneness, not just with God in prayer, but also with those around us. Holding hands during prayer doesn’t bring any greater spiritual gift, but in those times of great worry and fear, holding hands in a group does bring a sense of togetherness as you raise your concerns to the Great Physician.
“You are not alone. The Lord is here for you and you are here for one another,” I said.
Dad said he thought prayer hand holding was a kind of “new age stupidity.” While agreeing with him that holding hands during prayer can go overboard, in certain situations it can bring a sense of calm.
“When’s the last time you held your children’s hands,” I asked him. Dad said, “I think the last time I held my daughter’s hand was when she was four and we walked to her preschool.” And as he said those words, a shy little smile came across his daughter’s face while dad smiled broadly. And they held hands.
Now this four-year old is grown up – a college-aged teen with an eyebrow piercing and an iPhone firmly attached to her thumbs. I think last night’s little prayer hand-holding was a good thing for dad and daughter.
From today’s Morning Prayer time at church, the Gospel reading from John 10:1-21:
(Jesus said) “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me,he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will beone flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
There was again a division among the Jews because of these words.Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
While out on a hospital visit to Paramus, I met someone in the lobby I hadn’t seen a long while. I admit — at first, I couldn’t remember his name, but eventually his name popped into my head. As we talked about his family and the health of his mom, he asked me THE question:
“Are you still eating only vegetables?”
Yes, I am still eating only vegetables and fruit and beans and legumes and whole grains; still not eating anything in cooking oil or with added sugar; cheese and all animal products are still off my daily menu.
“How can you stand that diet? Don’t you crave a hamburger?,” he asked.
No, I do not crave a hamburger. Or pizza. Or sprinkling cheese on my pasta. Or eating a sleeve of chocolate chip cookies.
I actually like eating a spinach salad with vinegar.
In fact, I find eating a plant-based diet so much easier than when I was gorging myself on meat and chicken and fish.
“I’ve been following a low-carb diet for about a year. I lost a few pounds and feeling good,” he excitedly told me.
Of course, I had to hold my tongue; low-carb diets, according to one of my doctors, are a health hazard. Instead, I mentioned to him my latest visit with my doctors in New York City on Monday.
My doctors have been very happy with my health progress in my post-cancer life. They say that my steroid-induced weight issue is starting to whittle away, something that caused me do a happy dance. All my medical tests, up to this point, show me healthier than I’ve ever been. The cancer is gone – really gone. My blood pressure is at normal or slightly below. My resting pulse rate is the same. My cholesterol is low, or if one uses the standard “normal” cholesterol level, my level is really, really low. The latest artery test that looks at plaque in a person’s veins and arteries came back clean – not a cholesterol build up to be found. In following a low-fat vegan (plant-based) diet, the levels of vitamins and minerals in my blood are excellent.
“But how can you eat that way? Bread without butter? A salad without cheese? Dinner without meat?”
When my doctors informed me that the best way to prevent disease was to eat a plant-based diet without oils and fats, I was skeptical. I’m an Italian who grew up thinking cheese was a sacrament. But my health test results are better than anything I could have imagined. So many of my brother clergy-people are on pills for one health issue or another, some on multiple pills and injections. Family members and friends are in the same boat, taking pills to keep cholesterol down (artificially) and blood pressure below the stroke point. I am stunned at how many people I know who are taking medication to combat Type 2 diabetes. And to those I know who have battled cancer, I get incredulous when I hear that they’ve gone back to their “regular” animal-based diets because “eating health is too hard.”
Spending money on pills each month to control symptoms of high cholesterol and diabetes and heart disease and cancer and high blood pressure is what I consider “too hard.” I rather eat kale than pop pills.
So what is this vegan pastor preparing for dinner tonight?
Velvety macaroni. And a spinach and kale salad with corn and black beans.
Some people stare at me when I say that St. Matthew’s has a Morning Prayer worship service at 7:15am every Monday through Friday. They are rather weirded out wondering why any one would wake up before 7am and head to church to pray.
“Can’t I just read the Portals of Prayer at home?,” people sheepishly ask as I expound on the importance of spending time in the Word each morning.
Morning Prayer here at St. Matthew’s is not a long worship service. We read a Psalm, a section or an entire chapter from a book in the New Testament (we are currently reading through the Gospel of John, Chapter 8), pray the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, a series of petitions, and close with Luther’s Morning Prayer. Spending this time in the Lord’s house provides me, at least, with a constant reminder of who I am to God and who He is to me. There is nothing better than starting my work day than with an ordered prayer life.
See you there.