Focusing on Life

From the time I was sick back in 2011, I’ve been a relatively good follower of a whole foods, plant-based diet. “Relatively good” is a qualifier term meaning there were times when I fell off the wagon and ate fatty, non-animal things that were not healthy. For example, those amazing burgers made by Beyond Meat called “The Beyond Burger.” They look just like a real hamburger and taste terrific, though they are not meat.

Some of the nutritional makeup of these non-burger burgers:

  • Calories: 290
  • Fat: 22 gram
  • Saturated Fat: 5 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 grams

I’m glad that there is no cholesterol in these things (compared to a regular hamburger that contains at least 80 grams), and a reduced amount of saturated fat (5 grams as compared to a regular hamburger of 0 grams). It is great that these are plant-based burgers (no cows were slaughtered to make them). However, when reading the ingredients, there are three forms of oil contained in them: Canola, Coconut, and Sunflower. As a doctor once told me, oil is evil. It packs on the pounds, the fat, and makes your health poor. Stay away from it.

Hence, in the times when I’ve fell off the plant-based diet that was strictly low fat, all plants and grains and beans and legumes, I’ve purchased items like the Beyond Burger and all those mock meats found in the frozen section of the grocery store. In my mind, since they were still plant-derived, I didn’t feel bad. I was following a plant-based diet; it just wasn’t with a lot of real plants like green leafy vegetables and fruit.

Late last year, I fell off the wagon. I bought the Beyond Burger at Shop-Rite here in town simply because I was surprised they were selling it. The first bite made me circle the drain. I started buying fried eggplant sandwiches at the local deli on a white roll. For some reason, non-dairy almond milk creamer for coffee found its way into my basket. I started drinking vegan protein powders that replaced meals. And the cheese – the Daiya cheese – and all kinds of vegan yogurts and spreads became staples of morning breakfast. I ate tofu crafted into “scrambles” topped with non-dairy cheese. Dinner became those mock meats with grains.

Last month, I wanted to kick myself when my doctor told me that my blood work was fine, but some of the markers to bad health were up. Cholesterol – total, LDL, and HDL – were up over my last test. Though lower when compared to someone eating a standard American diet, the numbers alarmed my doctor to check on my diet. After telling her, she exploded and told me that I was dumb to fall back to these “vegan comfort foods.”

Ordering me to “straighten up” my diet, I started really focusing on what I’ve eaten. Sticking to a low fat, whole foods, plant based diet since July 22nd, I’ve noticed some good things. I’m sleeping a bit better. My daily blood pressure is down, as is my resting heart rate. I’ve started to exercise again, though I will not win an award for intensity or length, as of this morning. My weight is down some 13 pounds since the morning of July 23rd, which is surprising because after battling anemia due to my previous chemotherapy treatments in 2011 and 2012, I’ve struggled with weight gain due to the medicine that helped fight the anemia and the virtual impossibility to drop the weight after treatment.

Finally, I am more focused on all aspects of life. I want to accomplish tasks, though my issue of wanting to do everything without help when it comes to my professional and social life is still very much a problem.

I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of coffee I drink. When in the very recent past, I would make a pot of coffee and drink three-quarters of it, now I am down to a cup in the morning. One cup. There are times when I will drink one or two additional cups throughout the day, but I’ve found that this is limited to my church’s Bible Study Time on Thursday. In coffee’s place – green tea.

Years back, my doctors who were treating me told me the most important part of life for me is to do everything that I can to prevent getting sick again. Encouraging me to forego the standard western diet based on animal products and strictly focus on plants for nourishment, they explained that eating in a healthful way would promote good health. One of the doctors explained that she hadn’t had a cold since she moved over to a low fat, whole foods, plant based diet. Describing her immune system as running at maximum goodness, she was able to fight off the cold viruses and flus that roam around the hospital where she worked. Oh, it was more than a decade since she had a cold or the flu.

For a tiny bit less than a month I’ve been more strict to what I’ve eaten. Good things are happening.

As my congregation contemplates what it means to be a church focused on missions’ work, one of the areas I believe we can serve our community is through the promotion of health. Our bodies are called temples of the Holy Spirit. Should we not want these temples to be the best that they can? Should our goal of offering a healthier spiritual life be combined with a healthier physical life? I think it should.

A Living Hope

This morning, I spoke with a leader at St. Matthew’s about our future. He talked about his frustration with a perceived lack of progress regarding the future of the congregation now that we’ve made the decision to sell our property and become a new mission church. Since we took the step in early June, not much has happened publicly regarding any plans for the future. The frustration is that it looks like nothing is happening.

Many people will look at the calendar and say, “Hey, it’s the summer. No one is around.” While people have gone on vacation and to their summer homes, the church is still open. We still hold worship on weekends, Saturday at 5 PM, Sunday at 9:30 AM; Wednesdays at 7 PM; and Morning Prayer at 7 AM. We’ve held Vision Team meetings and Elder Meetings from the date we decided to become a new church. I’ve been around both at church and the parsonage. It is not that there has been no time to meet as a congregation to discuss future plans, but we just haven’t.

People can get frustrated, I know. And we should meet sometime soon.

Since early June, I’ve been working on plans for the mission church. It is not something we can just start without doing research. There needs to be planning and talking and reviewing the landscape of starting over. I’ve been talking with pastors and leaders in the LCMS on ways in which our new mission can be supportive of the overall Lutheran presence in Bergen County. I’ve been reviewing demographic changes to our area in Bergen County and how this has moved the Church to change how it worships and serves people and then taking what was learned and asking people who know something about demographics on how to tackle this new environment. I’ve met with marketing people to discuss how to market a new church. I’ve talked with fallen away Christians and non-religious people to see how they view the Church and why. I’ve asked people what they would like to see a new church tackle in terms of serving the community and being a beacon of hope for the disaffected in society.

All of this is helping form a ministry plan for the new church.

I believe that it was more prudent to set up a ministry plan that would scope out what our new church can do and be before coming together to put “flesh on the bones” of the plan. If we met during the last eight weeks to discuss a new church, we’d just flail in the wind, throwing ideas on a board and accomplishing nothing. Instead, if we have a general plan offering options for ministry directions, we can build from there and start something wonderful. Without having a ministry plan in place, we’d accomplish little and that would set us back.

I am finishing up my mission plan for the new church and I will talk about it starting this weekend at our joint worship service at Holy Trinity in Garfield (worship begins at 10 AM). This weekend, both congregations are starting a new sermon series called “Living Hope,” where we look at God’s Word and how it drives us to be Christians with a heart of mission. I encourage all members of St. Matthew’s and Holy Trinity to join us this Sunday as we embark on a real and vibrant discussion of what it means to be a Christian in 2018 and into the future.

I believe that God has placed us in a unique position at the perfect time and place to launch a new church. We have options before us and vast opportunities to serve people who don’t know Jesus. And we have people at St. Matthew’s who are looking forward to a new church. Let us pray to our Lord above that His cross leads us into a new and vibrant future where we bring the living hope of Jesus Christ to people, where we with God can turn sadness into smiles, an emptiness of spirit into a powerful force of optimism, and fear into empowerment.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faithinto this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

New Hope, Day One

No one at St. Matthew’s in New Milford, NJ has ever gone through the process of starting a new church. The challenges, the fears, the “where are we going to worship” questions have never been a part of the everyday Christian life of any of the congregants of our 123 year old church in northern New Milford.

A series of challenges over the past few years has opened the doors to the exciting opportunity of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to lots of people simply by cutting away that which is holding us back, namely our fears and our building.

The fifty year old structure we call our spiritual home is in trouble. Well, it has been for a long time. We’ve put in thousands upon thousands of dollars to upgrade pieces of the building – a new roof, parking lot, handicap ramp, and the heating system, to name a few. But overwhelming problems are on the horizon – the electrical system needs to get up to code; our furnace is very old and even with the upgrades to the heating system, the furnace doesn’t have a lot of life left in her; the building really needs a cooling system because without it, our lights sometimes do not go on during the humid days of the summer; and the stucco on the outside of the building needs repair in numerous places. Oh, and that steeple leaking issue continues to vex us.

Financially, we are facing tough times. We’re a small congregation with limited financial resources. Not that small congregations are bad, but when financial issues come up, struggling with how to deal with them is a major challenge. With a building that is not attractive even with the bandages we’ve placed covering over our issues, the congregation has made the bold choice to bring the Gospel to people.

New Hope 3In early June, St. Matthew’s voted to sell our property in New Milford and move, to take up the mantle of bringing Jesus to His people, to partner with our LCMS friends to build a new St. Matthew’s and a new suburban ministry effort in Bergen County. A joyfully Lutheran ministry effort that shows and builds on the strengths of Jesus Christ. We want to bring to God’s people the hope of life centered on faith in Jesus, to be a people not worried about making mistakes, but seeking forgiveness from God and of one another. We want ministries that change lives for the better. And we want to build a community in different places that focuses on the hope that lives can get better and, by working with God, we can change them forever!

Essentially, we want to center our new church on the mission of bringing New Hope to people in our faith community now and those outside of it who need to hear the love of God in Jesus Christ.

As I was praying this afternoon after eating lunch, I don’t know if it was the Spirit or not but I had an urge to start this new church project. Why wait until the fall when people come back from summer vacation?

Why not kick off the New Hope project today?

There is plenty that needs to get done at St. Matthew’s in both the near and long term to make this project come to life. It starts now. We’ll need to hold lots of meetings with pastors and churches and church leaders and towns people. Inside St. Matthew’s, we need to discuss a lot of things about all of our “stuff” and what we’re going to do with all of it. We need to plan and most importantly, we need to pray.

We’re starting over.

It’s all about the New Hope found only in Jesus.

 

Life

Anger and hatred.

There is way too much of it in our world.

Politics. Family. You name it.

Anger and hatred are tearing apart our lives.

But there is a way to change it, to make life better.

It’s all about living Life to the fullest.

This Sunday, our new sermon series begins.

What does God say about all that vitriol in our nation?

How do we respond to it?

Join us Sunday morning at 9:30 AM at St. Matthew’s in New Milford, NJ and 11:30 AM at Holy Trinity in Garfield as we take a serious look at Life.

How God shows us that we can be better people.

We have one Life to live in Jesus. Let’s make our lives the best we can.

See you Sunday as we talk about Life.

Meatless Good Friday

Balancing the spiritual desires of Holy Week with the realities of real life sometimes causes me to shake my head.

I’ve been asked a half-dozen times in the course the last two days whether it is a church rule that you can’t eat meat on Good Friday. The “understanding” of not eating meat on Friday is burned into the minds of Roman Catholics who will this Friday eat enough salmon or tilapia that will cause a shortage of the little critters come Saturday morning. And because most of us here in New Jersey have relatives who are Roman Catholics, their ideas on refraining from meat on Fridays is passed onto us non-Catholics through words or osmosis.

It is not a church law that you must refrain from eating chicken nuggets on Good Friday.

Coming from a strictly Lutheran perspective, Good Friday is a holy, introspective day where one could, if they so choose, fast, that is, to refrain from eating. Good Friday offers Christians an opportunity to use that day as a spiritual exercise by reflecting on our lives as God’s children knowing that He sent His Son to pay our debt of sin. But this is an exercise, not a law. So, if you really are hankering for a cheeseburger on Friday, God isn’t going to hit you with lightning as you walk out of Burger King.

Yet the “eating fish, not meat on Good Friday” lives on.

The owner of a local deli told me yesterday that he is going to have four fish options for “Christians” on Friday, one of which is a lobster bisque soup, another is pan fried tilapia. Supermarkets have great sales on everything fish this week including tuna in a can that is going for less than a buck at some stores. And as I see what deli owners and supermarkets do for us “Christians” this week, I wonder why don’t they offer deals on tofu dishes? That way, no animal flesh at all on Good Friday!

Well, I don’t eat meat any day. It’s not a spiritual exercise; it’s a health exercise. Should you stop eating meat this Friday for a day? It won’t kill you, but don’t do it because you may think it may make you more holy. Focus your day on Christ and fasting. That’s a better way to tackle the spiritual aspect of Good Friday.