Thursday, April 26, 2012

Job 1; What would YOU do?

As you read the first chapter of Job, you half expect John Quinones of ABC's "What Would YOU Do?" to jump out of the bushes and say, "Just kidding!" to Job.  If this makes no sense to you, you must watch the show sometime...

Job is a faithful servant to God.  He works hard, he prays, he worships, he offers...he does everything that God wants all of us to do.  And he does it all without sin!  So Satan has a chat with God about Job and says, "I bet I can get Job to turn against you."  God replies, "He is strong, faithful, and can tempt him, but he won't bite."  So Satan asks God to tempt Job to curse God by having his oxen and asses slain, his sheep burned up, his camels stolen, his servants were killed, and a great wind blew in and killed all 10 of his children, to which Job replies (as he strips down and shaves his head), "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."  And he does it all without sin or wrongfully accusing God.

Pretend for a moment that you are like Job and have had all of this taken from you.  What would YOU do?  Oh, how many of us have wrongfully blamed another when something goes wrong!  We can't seem to lose weight so we blame our thyroid.  We are upset about not having enough money so we blame the opposing political party.  We are late getting to work so we blame the traffic lights.  We can't seem to get everything done during the day so we blame our children.  In all of these situations, we're wrongfully blaming in order to take the heat off of ourselves.  Instead of realizing that it's our own inability to control our portion sizes, our own bad budgeting, our own tardiness at home, or our own desire to sit around and be lazy causing these issues, we look elsewhere, perhaps because it's more socially acceptable to have a "problem" rather than look like the problem!

Job could have easily blamed God for these things that happened to him.  "Hey, God, why did you have to go and send that tornado that killed my kids?"  But instead he acknowledges that as our Creator, God has the power to take away all of the wonderful gifts that he gives us.  Imagine if we all acknowledged the wonderful gifts that God gives to us (our will power, our children, our good health, etc.) instead of continually whining about how unfair life is and how hard things have gotten.

Remember, the Lord giveth, and the Lord CAN taketh away.  Be thankful and praise God for what you DO have.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Daniel 11-12; I STILL wish I had paid more attention in history class!

We wrapped up Daniel tonight.  While it is a little unclear to us what exactly is being prophesied in Daniel, we have a few guesses.  That being said, even Daniel didn't fully understand what was being prophesied to him!

In an ancient history course I took in college, one of the reference books we were advised to read out of was...THE BIBLE!!!  It would seem that this particular portion of reading would have been pertinent during that course.

Daniel 11 talks about the true meaning of his visions.  As we mentioned yesterday, there was talk of four beasts (four kings); we find out here that these are three Persian kings and one Grecian (Greek) king who would rise up to greatness above the others and rule for a very long time and become so full of himself that he would not acknowledge ANY god, much less our God.  This king would bring all the peoples of these lands together, but then divide and mix them all up.  Remembering what little history I do (though Mike's a pretty good reference!), it would seem that this "fourth king" would be Alexander the Great...he pretty much did exactly what this reading describes.

Regardless of whether our guess is accurate, Daniel's vision depicts a time of war.  And why is this all relevant?  Because the Jews are innocently sitting in the middle of all of the warring empires.  They are just getting taken along for the ride at this point and aren't particularly notable at this point of non-biblical history, yet they are still there and continue to be told that God will save them from it all.  Daniel 12 talks about Michael (which we are assuming is the archangel) coming to rescue the Jews...but ends by saying that not even Daniel can know where, when why, how, and who.

Our brains are tired...more tomorrow...blurg.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Daniel 5-10; "The writing's on the wall..."

Tonight we will brief each chapter that we read...they haven't pieced together just yet, so we have not been able to make complete sense of them so far.

Chapter 5:
King Belshazzar (Nebuchadnezzar's son) partied with the holy vessels from the temple in Jerusalem, giving honor to all of his idols.  When he goes to do this, however, he sees writing on the wall and it scares the poo out of him (perhaps literally, as the reading implies!).  He asks all of the wisemen, soothsayers, etc. if anyone can read the writing--no one can...except Daniel of course.  Daniel interprets it and says, "Your kingdom is crumbling, God wants you out, it will be given to the Medes and Persians."  Daniel points out that Belshazzar, if anyone, should know better than to blaspheme against God, after all, his father had been driven crazy in order to come to one true God.  In other words, he should be able to read "the writing on the wall."  He then gets killed in his sleep and the Medians overtook the kingdom.

Chapter 6:
Darius, the Median, is king now.  He acknowledges Daniel's God as the one true God, but the wisemen don't like the favor that Daniel and his God are being given by Darius.  The wisemen made a law to say that no law should be changed--not even by the king!  Then they implemented a law that no one should worship anyone or anything besides Darius, or they will be thrown into the lion's den, and Darius signed it (evidently not thinking about Daniel).  Then Daniel gets busted for praying to God and sent to Darius, who then tries to defend Daniel, but his wisemen point out that he signed the law saying none other than Darius shall be worshiped--and couldn't change it back, per previous statute.  So Daniel's thrown into the lion's den and Darius tells him, "Your God will save you."  Darius can't sleep that night and in the morning he goes to check on Daniel and Daniel says, "No worries.  God sent his angels to keep shut the lion's mouths and I am safe."  Then comes the part of the story that isn't told in any retelling of this story I've ever heard; all those who were against Daniel got thrown into the den (along with their wives and their families!) and devoured by the lions!  Darius then praised God and Daniel prospered during his reign and the reign of Cyrus, king of the Persians.

Chapter 7:
Daniel has a frightening dream about four beasts, fiery steam, judgement, etc...we were a little unclear about how this was to be interpreted.  It seems that during the vision he asks a person within the vision how to interpret his vision.  He's told that the four beasts represent four kings, but the scary one of the four is the one that will take over all the others.  Within that global kingdom there's going to be a series of kings, the last of which is speaking out against God and changing the laws and changing life as it were.  This seems a bit like an anti-Christ figure, though it never really mentions any specific time frame or names, so this is why we are a little unclear.  It wraps up with this final kingdom having reign until judgement day, when the most High takes power back and brings with him all of the saints and good people.  Daniel then says that he was very troubled and confused by this dream, so he kept it to himself.  If anyone has a clearer idea of what this dream meant, we'd like to hear your thoughts...we may just need to read a little further to understand.

Chapter 8:
Daniel has another dream that gets interpreted by Gabriel to mean that the Grecian empire would take over the Persians and the Medians and become the ruling power in the land.  The vision ends with another anti-Christ-like figure taking power...but he would be "broken without hand" (broken by God, not by man).  Daniel passed out and was sick for a while after one else understood his vision.  He was having prophetic visions, but was keeping them to himself at this point.

Chapter 9:
Daniel asks God for forgiveness of his people.  Then Gabriel comes again and says, "You've been chosen by are beloved, so we are going to show you things that others won't see."  Gabriel tells Daniel about a period of seventy weeks that seems like it is supposed to be some sort of penance for the Jews for their transgressions.  After the seventy weeks, Jerusalem will be rebuilt in preparation of the Messiah.  He'll come and die for everyone's sins, but then everything is going to crumble once again...  This section we found confusing.  It seems that having read other books (Jeremiah was mentioned at the beginning of this chapter) first would have helped.  Look for tie-ins to this particular chapter in future posts.

Chapter 10:
Daniel, in a time a weakness from fasting and prayer is given another vision...perhaps in response to his earlier prayers and visions looking for the deliverance of God's people. A man comes to give him the strength to go on. As best we can read into it, this man has come in response to Daniel's pleas: "...thy words were heard and I am come for thy words." After giving Daniel strength, this man-figure  tells Daniel that he (the man-figure) will be fighting with the Prince of Persia. As best we can tell, this figure is named Michael (seemingly the archangel, God's warrior).

More reading and certainly some historical context will hopefully tie this all together. Although we are jumping around a bit, the book of Daniel seems to be fast-forwarding towards the coming of Christ. Historically the timing makes sense as well. Cyrus, the King of Persia mentioned in these readings ruled during the mid 500s BC. The next empire to come would be the Greeks (foretold in Daniel), followed by the Romans...which is right about the time of Jesus.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Daniel 4...Nebuchadnezzar doesn't learn his lesson...and then does...

After "Rack, Shack, and Benny" emerged from the fiery furnace alive and unharmed, you'd think that Nebuchadnezzar would have learned his lesson...that God is the one and only God!  In this reading, however, we see that it's clear that he not only wants to tout himself as being high and mighty, he also seems to think that Daniel has "the gods" with him rather than God, the one and only.

This section is written from Nebuchadnezzar's viewpoint.  The synopsis:  Nebuchadnezzar has a dream about greatness falling, Daniel interprets the dream to mean that he will be the fallen greatness, the dream comes true in that God makes Nebuchadnezzar go crazy and live in the wilderness, and then when he finally comes around to seeing that God is the only true God, he regains his kingdom.  This reading was particularly interesting because it isn't often that we see God present himself to those who aren't his chosen people in such a way.  We often hear about God giving signs that he is the one true God, but we don't typically read that kings and other rulers turn themselves to God the way that Nebuchadnezzar did in this reading.

Often we see God influencing the kings ruling over the Jews for the benefit of the Jews. Think "Pharaoh, Let my people go!" This seems to be a case where Nebuchadnezzar is being influenced by God for his own benefit. God isn't driving him out of the land so the chosen people can live by themselves, rather he is trying to influence the Babylonian king to be a better ruler and turn to God. What is the end game  here? Well, how often in Isaiah did we see it mentioned that the Gentiles would turn to God as well? Lets also take a historical look at this as well. Nebuchadnezzar was the king at one of the strongest points in the Babylonian empire, covering much more land than Israel. If God could turn him into a believer, then he could in turn influence a greater number of people (and not just the Jews). A similar thing happened in more recent history when Constantine turned the Roman empire into the Holy Roman Empire, not simply allowing Christianity (which had been illegal) but rather making it the official way to be, reaching more people than if he had simply allowed it to exist.

This brings up another item I'd like to point out. In a much earlier post Molly had posed the question to me, "Why are the Jews the chosen people?" Here is an example of a good reason why. Historically, the Jewish faith was the first to believe in one God. This also makes them a venue through which the influence of one God can be spread to a greater number of people. Really, we are all God's chosen people, but would things have ever spread from Abraham to where it is today without Gentile kings like Nebuchadnezzar being swayed to believe in the one true God?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Fresh Take: On distraction

Time for the Sunday Fresh Take!  Let's talk a little about distraction and the impact it can have on our relationship with God.

You go to do some work at your computer and you end up checking your e-mail and forgetting about the work.  Distraction.

You intend to play with your kid and the phone rings and you end up talking for an hour and ignoring your child.  Distraction.

You head to the kitchen to make yourself a salad for lunch and discover the leftover pizza from the weekend so you eat that instead of a salad.  Distraction.

You engage in quiet meditative prayer time only to find your mind wandering to your to-do list and leaving any prayers to be recalled the next time.  Distraction.

These examples are good, simple examples of the way that constantly indulging our desires can negatively impact our lives.  There are so many distractions in our daily lives, ranging from television to our own thoughts, that it can seem impossible to have a good, pure, simple life.  The question ends up being, "Can we have distractions in our lives and still have a relationship with God?"  I think we can, but it will take a lot of work.  So how can we go about living with these distractions without impeding our ability to live a spiritually free life?  One step at a time!

The first step we can take is to take a look at our lives and discover what things we can live without.  Can we survive without television?  Cell phones?  Computers?  If it is impractical for us to go without these things (and so many others), could we scale back?

The second step towards reducing our distractions is practice.  When you go to do work at the computer and you catch yourself beginning to check your e-mail, stop and redirect your actions to your original intention.  When you sit down to play with your child and the phone rings, let it go to voicemail.  When your thoughts wander during prayer, take a deep breath and start over.  Just practice!

The third step to a life without distraction is to recognize the benefits of living without our distractions.  If you stop spending so much time on the computer, you may just find yourself feeling less aggravated from slowing running internet, pop-ups, and SPAM in your inbox.  If you redirect your thoughts during prayer time, you might start noticing your prayers being answered!

After all of the aforementioned steps have been implemented, you can start the steps all over again until you've learned to live a life free of distraction.  This will not happen anytime in the near future--it will probably take most of your life to acquire this kind of spiritual freedom.  However, it would seem logical that the sooner you take steps to minimize the distractions in your life, the sooner you would be able to achieve the freedom you desire.  There's a reason the bible so frequently expresses that the poor have favor in God's kingdom ("poor" as would be defined in the bible, though, not the gov't definition of poverty).

Indulgence isn't always a bad thing--after all, we are encouraged to celebrate and live lavishly during the Easter season as a reminder of the promises that God fulfilled through Christ--but we do need to indulge minimally.  We can take time to indulge in checking our e-mail, eating dessert, talking on the phone, etc, after we've accomplished what we set out to do in the first place.  After we've tackled the necessary tasks of life, we can sit back and briefly enjoy the fruits of our labor...until tomorrow when we start all over again.  It may be a continuing struggle for us, but the rewards will be everlasting!

Till next time...


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Daniel 1-3

Oh, VeggieTales.  You teach us so much.  We couldn't help but laugh as we were reading about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (their Babylonian given names), who are lovingly referred to in Veggie humor as Rack, Shack, and Benny...anyway, I digress...

We chose Daniel as our next book to tackle after one of our readers suggested it following Molly's Sunday Fresh Take: a balanced diet...Within the first chapter of Daniel, we read about four pure children of Judah being given to serve in the house of Nebudchanezzar (king of Babylon, occupying the area). The King wishes that these servant children be taken care of. He commands that they be given the meat and drink of his own table. Daniel, taking the lead with his counterparts (now named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) asked to be given only plant foods. After the four of them looked healthier and stronger than all of the others around them, it was decided that all of the children should be given a similar diet. Thanks to our reader for suggesting it.

Daniel 2 fast forwards a little bit and Daniel, Rack, Shack and Benny have developed a prominent place in the King's servitude as a result of the wisdom granted by God. However, when the king's wise men cannot interpret his dream, all of the wise men are set to be slain. Daniel, is granted the ability by God to interpret this dream so that all of the others may live. This again pushes he and his three friends to further prominence within the King's court.

Daniel 3 is the familiar story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the furnace and being protected by God. Why did they get thrown in? Well, it seems as though Nebudchanezzar developed quite a big head, perhaps as a result of Daniel's interpretation of his previous dream (daniel told him that God saw Nebudchanezzar as a great leader in the dream). After building a giant shrine to himself and demanding that all worship it, the king throws Rack, Shack and Benny into the furnace for refusing to worship. As a result of God saving them, the King decrees that their God is the all powerful God and that all should now turn to him. that these three chapters are recapped, where are the tie-ins to life? These aren't just good stories about how God is great. If we've learned anything in our readings thus far its that quite a bit can be gleaned from biblical stories. The first is obvious: A healthy diet will lead to a healthier life. Apparently people don't need to be inspired by "The Biggest Loser" on TV, but rather just need to read a simple story from the Book of Daniel.

The second tie-in to life: God works in mysterious ways. God has a bigger plan. Everything happens for a reason. We've heard phrases like these so many times (often in times of suffering) that it has become like a broken record that we tune out.This is one of many biblical stories where one of God's chosen people comes from nothing to take a prominent place in another kingdom's government leading to a great show of the power of God. Other examples? Joseph went from being a slave to becoming a Governer in Egypt (also through the interpretation of dreams). Moses went from being a slave's baby to becoming a prince of Egypt. Now Daniel goes from being a child servant to becoming a great wise man in the occupying king's court.

Did Joseph ever imagine greatness while he was a suffering as a slave? Did Moses's parents envision him leading their people out of bondage while suffering with the thought of abandoning their baby? Did Daniel envision himself becoming a a powerful adviser in the house of the Babylonian king, bringing his friends to power with him, eventually leading to the circumstances of Nebudchanezzar declaring that the one and true God replace the idols of Babylon? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding "No."

The lesson? When we are at our worst possible moments, we need to push through. We need to find the strength to carry on. We need to remember that God has a plan. We may not see it while it is unfolding, but God has a plan. Even Jesus had a hard time coping with the fact that God had a plan. Remember this one from the Passion readings? "Father, why have you forsaken me?" Just three days later, how did that plan turn out?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mark 15-16: Finishing our first Gospel

If you want to start with a Gospel, Mark is definitely a good choice. His writing is very concise and to the point, often grouping a great deal of information into a short space of writing.

Mark 15 finishes the Passion story as we all know it: Jesus being turned into Pilate who doesn't really want to condemn him but also doesn't really want a riot on his hands. The usual Passion story ensues but with a couple of details stand out. I always remember hearing the story of the two thieves crucified with Jesus, one mocked him while the other repented. In Mark, they both mock him in order to fulfill the Scriptures, "And he was numbered with the transgressors." Joseph of Arimathea takes Jesus body and buries it after his death. Another interesting thing we picked up on: In a previous post, we noted a passage mentioning Jesus as the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses. In this chapter, we are told that Mary Magdelene and Mary the mother of James and Joses were there at his death. Is this supposed to be Mary his mother? If so, why not mention her in that light rather than mention her as the mother of others. Any insight from our readers on this would be helpful.

Another thing to come out of this reading is the mob mentality. We typically think of the people turning on Jesus, but it becomes clear that it was simply the chief priests rallying the people into a frenzy to get Jesus crucified. This mob mentality is easy to fall into, not just in the time of Christ, but in today's society as well. So often it seems easier to go with the flow of everyone around us rather than stand up for what we really believe in. Another connection here to make is with Isaiah, where we noted that Isaiah warned against trusting and putting faith in the men that lead. In this case the people followed their religious leaders blindly in putting Jesus to death.

Mark 16 finishes this Gospel with the resurrection story (women going to the tomb and finding an angel) and then several appearances by Jesus to others, eventually ascending into heaven. Before leaving his disciples though, he commissioned them with the ability to cast out demons and speak in new tongues so that they could spread the news of the savior not just to the locals, but to all man. He essentially was commissioning them to be the first priests and missionaries.

That's all for tonight. We'll be back at it again tomorrow night with a new book to start in.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mark 11-14: Riddle me this

A lot happens in this very short writing in Mark. What we are finding is that when reading through this Gospel in order, we are realizing just how out of order things are when we hear the Gospel in church.  For instance, we typically associate Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem with Passion Sunday, where Jesus is suddenly turned upon and set into the Passion readings. We hear both readings in the same Mass, and tend to associate them, however, quite a bit happens in between with no definite timeline given.

In Mark 11, Jesus enters into Jerusalem for the first time in this Gospel. This entry is the one we typically hear on Palm Sunday. He proceeds to go to the temple and flip out on the people who have turned the temple into a marketplace, clearly upset that a place of worship was being used for profitable means. This was the first instance in Jerusalem that caused the Jewish leaders to plot against him. they were upset that he was shaking up their racket and teaching with authority as an outsider from the temple. This was the first instance where they tried to catch him in blasphemy, asking "on whose authority to you say these things?" Jesus, knowing they have asked a question that cannot be answered in anyway that wouldn't be seen as blasphemy responds with a riddle about John the Baptist that they cannot answer for similar reasons. This is the first of many times that Jesus uses his wit to avoid being judged.

This creates a question: Why would Jesus not come out and say that he was who he was? Obviously, if he did, they would take it as a case to prosecute him, but eventually, in Mark 14, after false testimonies against him, Jesus finally gives in and admits to being Christ, giving the leaders of the community reason to prosecute. Again I ask, why did he put it off if he was going to eventually give in any way?  Why? The clear reason seems to be "in fulfillment of the scriptures." It needs to happen at a certain time in a certain way for prophesy to be fulfilled. More than that though, I think Jesus did not want to go through it. This becomes blatantly obvious in Mark 14 when he is praying in the garden asking God to let him live. Remember, Jesus was a human, with human emotions. It can't be easy willingly allowing yourself to die when you know you could easily get out of it. After all, if Jesus was human, he too was granted free will.

Now that we've connected chapters 11 and 14, lets take a look at what goes on in chapters 12-13.

Mark 12: This chapter is a series of parables, all being used to refute those who are trying to catch Jesus unawares in an effort to persecute him. The Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees and scribes all make efforts to catch Jesus in blasphemy, trying to prove that they are smarter than him. In every occasion though, Jesus flips their words around not just to get out of a jam, but to teach them a lesson about God, the kingdom of heaven, or any number of things that they seem to have forgotten about.

Mark 13: Perhaps the most engaging part of this section, Jesus shares with a select few of his disciples details of the end times. The most intriguing part being the last verse: Mark 13: 37: "And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." He is informing us that there is never a time to let our guards down. There is never a time that we can slack off and be bad people. There is never a time to doubt. There is never a time to give up on living a good life. Why? Because we never know when the end is coming, and we don't want to be slacking off when it does.

The usual spin on the preceding is that we should be good because God might catch us slacking off. I feel that it is more of a warning not to let evil into the world. After all that we have read in Isaiah about bad things happening to people as a result of their own bad doings, it isn't a far cry to associate the end of the world similarly. Especially in a time in this world when there is so much wealth and so many distractions in front of us, keeping us from paying attention (work, technology, mass media, etc.) to what is truly important. The end won't come when we least expect it, but rather when we have stopped watching for it because we are too distracted by creations of man. Remember, "And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Fresh Take: A balanced diet

**Please note that these are not things that I have mastered completely, however, when I practice these simple tips and tricks the rewards are endless!  You should always seek to improve your life, even when it seems like you've already got it figured out.**

We all strive for wellness in our mental and spiritual beings--everyone wants to feel happy, to feel at peace, to feel whole.  Yet so many of us lack wellness in our physical beings, even when we think we're being sensible.  I believe that what we are lacking is balance.

As a mother of 3, I've had to deal with weight management a lot over the past few years.  Not only have I had to manage my weight during pregnancy, but I've also had to stay on top of it during nursing and beyond.  Sometimes I have to work on losing weight, sometimes I have to work on keeping it steady, and occasionally (when I'm really active!) I have to work hard to put weight on without eating junk in order to do so.  In any event, it's been a challenge and I'm learning a lot, to say the least.  What's the number one rule that I follow?  BALANCE!

Most people who have gone through periods of significant weight loss will tell you this--it's actually pretty easy to lose the weight.  It may take time, but when you significantly cut back on calories and you up your level of activity, the weight will come off.  What they will also tell you, though, is that the flip side to this is that it's just as easy to put the weight back on.  So how do you manage?  With balance...and a little patience.  Cutting back your calories is fine (and necessary), but when you do this to an extreme extent, you may be setting yourself up for a relapse.  I've found that when I need to lose weight, the best way I can go about it is to set long-term goals for myself.  In other words, don't just cut back on calories and "junk" until your goal weight is reached; cut back on calories and "junk" for good!  Make it a way of life, not a quick fix.

The next aspect of this is healthy eating.  Boy, this sure has become a trend in our country, hasn't it?!  And that's good...I'd rather see healthy eating be trendy over smoking or drinking.  But in spite of our best efforts to eat healthfully, I think a lot of people are missing the point.  Every time I flip a page in a magazine, it seems like there is some new food being deemed a "super food."  The truth is, most foods that comes straight out of nature are super foods (meaning that they pack a significant amount of 2 or more essential nutrients).  Loading up on a single fruit or vegetable...or grain, or nut, that it becomes a cornerstone in your diet is not necessary.  Eating a BALANCE of these foods IS!  And this doesn't just apply to your full month, week, or day; it should apply to each meal.  Remember, you can have too much of a good thing.

With so many food allergies becoming, well, trendy, I've been questioning their legitimacy a lot lately.  That doesn't mean that I don't think that a person can't be allergic to milk or wheat or any of a number of other foods.  I just mean that I feel like the first step a person should take in trying to troubleshoot their own health problems is to practice balance.  For example, if you notice that you seem to be getting stomach problems after eating wheat based foods, start taking note of things such as the quantity you're consuming, what foods you are consuming with the wheat, what type of problem it's creating, and how long after you eat it it becomes problematic.  You may just discover that you are eating too large of a bowl of cereal or that you need to eat bread less frequently throughout your day or that you just need to eat much smaller portions spread out evenly throughout the day or that you need to add a little variety to your grain intake and to try eating popcorn and oatmeal and rice and barley in addition.  This type of study of our own diets should apply to all of the foods we eat.

The last action I'd like us all to consider taking is to eat a balanced diet in accordance with God's green earth :)  What do I mean?  The largest portion of your diet should probably be the foods that are the most easily accessible through nature (not through fast food).  So grains and greens (in variety!) would be the base of what we consume, followed with other fruits and veggies and some of the more accessible nuts, followed by easily accessible animal foods like milk and eggs, followed by harder to access foods like meats and other nuts, topped off with fats and sugars (cooking oil, salad dressings, a sprinkle of sugar or drizzle of honey in our tea, etc)...your basic food pyramid, but I like to take a more common sense approach to this.

To summarize:
1) Cut back calories...only to what's truly essential for a balanced life.  Cut down on portion sizes and cut back on foods that you're probably already getting enough of.  Weight loss should follow if you do it right.
2) Eat healthy foods, but eat the right balance of healthy foods.  This is going to be different for different people depending on lifestyle.
3) Troubleshoot.  If a seemingly healthy food seems to be giving you problems, try eating it in different proportions within your diet before eliminating it entirely.  Too much of a good thing is typically a bad thing.
4) Use common sense when balancing your diet...if it would take days to prepare your meal if you had to do it from scratch with your own bare hands (like if you were hunting and gathering), you're probably eating too much of something unhealthy.
5) Eat like a toddler.  No, I don't mean PB&J and mac&cheese, but simple foods...whole fruits and veggies, cheese and crackers, unflavored milk, small amounts of juice, etc.  The key is to keep it plain and simple.  (This was a new point.)

When seeking health advice from your doctor, remember that your doctor is a smart person, but he/she is probably most knowledgeable on subjects that have general appeal--they don't know everything!  And sadly, most of their patients only want to be treated and not offered advice on ways to better their lives, so their advice typically caters to the lazy masses...if you don't feel comfortable with a diagnosis or a solution, speak up, seek a second opinion, and pray.

Also, eating the healthiest diet in the world won't do you any good unless you're active.  This doesn't just mean hitting the gym, either.  Try changing some of your chores to a more manual method; hang your laundry outside, do your dishes by hand, cook your own food, walk to the stores that are close enough, or make multiple trips up and down the stairs for a simple task.  If you sit at a desk most of your day, get up and go for a walk!!!

If you want to live a more balanced life, try to remember that you need to balance mind, body, and spirit, not just one or the other.  One of the easiest ways to start is by living a balanced physical life--your mind and spirit will follow shortly thereafter.

This has been your Sunday Fresh Food Take.

God bless,

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mark 6-10

In this section, we get a glimpse of the human side of Jesus; he's a very frustrated teacher, not only with the masses, but also with his disciples.  They all want to question his teachings, question his performance of miracles, and he keeps asking, "How is it that you don't understand yet?!"  Jesus begins to discuss with his disciples, "Who is it that you think I am?"  And when they reply, "Christ," he insists that they tell no one.  Why would that be?  Perhaps he still felt that he had much teaching/work/leading by example to do before he was put to death; if people realized that he was Christ, they may have only hung onto his every word rather than try to be good and have complete faith.

A while back, I (Molly) experienced some minor health problems.  Not being able to get clear answers from doctors and other physical remedies/solutions, I turned to the idea of mind over body.  That it was my own stress, frustration, and doubt that was causing these problems.  It took a great deal of sorting through the "trash" in my life to get rid of the problems, but in the end, my faith healed me.  I took no medication, I didn't change my diet, I didn't receive any form of herbal healing or the like; I only changed my way of thinking and I became better (nearly instantly, too).

Christ continually shows us that it is our doubt that keeps us from "becoming whole."  In this reading there was one story of a boy with an unclean spirit who was not able to be healed by the disciples, even though they had been charged by Jesus to be able to cast out this young boy's demons.  When he talked to the parents, he understood that they didn't truly believe that their son could be healed (they stated that they didn't know how).  While this was going on, the boy shouted out, "I believe!"  The boy then died as Jesus cast the demon out of the boy, but then Jesus brought him back to life.  Jesus then explains that we must be like children--they are innocent and they believe!

There are several times in this section that Jesus mentions that he is going to have to die and then rise on the third then states that the disciples didn't understand why this must happen but were afraid to ask, showing a tremendous amount of doubt in spite of the fact that they knew he was Christ.

*A point of interest in this portion of reading: Chapter 6:3 there is a very brief mention of Jesus' brothers and sisters (mentioned by name).  Interesting...we'd like to know more about this if anyone knows anything more on the subject.  Yet another potential glimpse at the "human" aspect of Jesus.

*Also interesting:  Herod thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead (who was beheaded by an executioner sent by Herod)...not much of an end to this story, but it reinforces the idea that people didn't really understand who Jesus was.  It also made Herod feel a little uneasy thinking that he was being haunted for wrongfully killing John the Baptist.

Not a lot of answers tonight...there wasn't a lot of closure to this section.  The gospels seem to unfold event after event after event without much transitioning!  A lot happened in a very short amount of time at the end of Jesus' life :)

Have a little faith!
Molly and Mike

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

And now for something completely different...Mark 1-5

Having just attempted to wrap our minds around the dense read that is Isaiah, we decided to flip to a book of the bible that we should be able to more readily relate. We decided to move to the New Testament, to relate things to the Christianity we have grown up with. This would also give me (Mike) a chance to put my Catholic school knowledge (buried in the cobwebs of my brain) to the test.

The first thing that struck Molly and I about this is all of the words in between the stories we all know. Our typical recollection of the life of Jesus is a conglomeration of all 4 gospels, parables, miracles, etc. A gospel reading at Sunday Mass is picked to bring forth a lesson to be taught. Just by going to Sunday Mass every week though, we don't necessarily get the whole story. ALL OF THE WORDS ARE IMPORTANT. If they weren't Mark wouldn't have written them in the first place. As a musical composer and improviser, everything I play/write is designed to give greater meaning to the whole of the piece. Likewise, everything written in Mark's Gospel paints a more complete picture of Jesus.

The first thing that strikes one unfamiliar with the Gospel of Mark is that there is no Nativity story, no flight into Egypt, no 13 year old Jesus teaching in the temple, no wedding at Cana, and really no mention of Mary and Joseph. The book sets in immediately with John the Baptist (which we heard prophesied in Isaiah) and then within a matter of verses, recounts Jesus beginning his ministry. His ministry began with choosing his disciples and then performing miracles casting out demons. Early on, he wanted people to keep quiet about the things he was doing. Naturally though, word of his miracles quickly spread and people from neighboring countries were coming just to hear him speak and be healed (Remember in Isaiah how God said the gentiles would come to join the new society and new covenant he would create?).

How did Jesus go about teaching? With parables of course...but wait, within the words we typically don't hear is made mention of how he taught his close disciples. Jesus did teach to them about the kingdom of heaven in a very direct manor. We just never get to hear it directly, because we are part of the masses that aren't ready to hear the truth...We must discern it through out own quest. The disciples were chosen for a specific reason: They could handle what Jesus was going to tell them so that they could continue his ministry after he was gone. The rest of the people (us), are given parables because quite honestly, if the TRUTH were just revealed to us, we would probably just consider Jesus to be another crazy guy in the news telling us the world was going to end. The brilliance of Jesus' teaching is that it forced people to ask questions and actually seek TRUTH.

Naturally, the religious leaders of the Jewish community instantly wanted to find ways to discredit Jesus. After all, he was showing people how to think for themselves, to be honest and good people without having to strictly follow the absurdly over interpreted rules that the Jewish community was built on. In a community where rules dictated everything, and those who taught the rules (priests, scribes, etc.) had power, Jesus was breaking the interpretation of rules which the scribes, pharisees, etc, kept in an effort to give the power to worship God back to the people. He taught people how to love God and each other. After all, why should we need rules to tell us how to love? Unfortunately, if you don't need the rules, then the people who teach the rules will be deemed unnecessary. One of the greatest things I've learned from composition, is that the rules of theory exist for those who can't understand how to do things naturally (This sets the table for a completely different rant on today's collegiate system).

What can we take from all of this? Read all of the words...they all have importance. Never get complacent (see previous post). Always seek the deeper meaning because until you are ready to receive it, no one will just show it to you.

All the best,

Mike and Molly

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Isaiah 61-66

We finished Isaiah!  We happened to start in one of the longest books in the bible...but we made it.

This section was a bit of a dialogue back and forth between God and the Jews.  God keeps saying, "Seriously, guys.  I keep taking care of you and you keep treating me like crap.  You sin again and again and again and I keep wiping up your messes."  The Jews keep asking, "But what about all of this smiting you've continually done to us?"  To which God responds, "You've done this to yourself.  But I will take those who have praised my name--Jews AND Gentiles alike--and start anew.  We'll build a new city, a new people.  Unfortunately, this is likely to start all over again, but I'll still look out for the people who do my will."

Throughout Isaiah, we noticed a mix of dialogue between God and Isaiah, God and the Jews, Isaiah and the Jews, etc.  It's a little confusing at times...this would make sense coming from a prophet, though.  I hope we've done it justice, but as we go back and re-read, I'm sure we'll make adjustments as the truth is further revealed to us.

This has been tonight's Fresh Take.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Isaiah 53-60: How to live with God

Happy Easter...Short post tonight, children (and also parents) are worn out from the weekend's festivities....Lets briefly summarize each of these chapters and what we can learn from them.

Isaiah 53
This chapter details how the Lord's servant will have to suffer so that the sins of many will be saved. This sounds awfully familiar and is timely given the holiday that just passed. In hindsight, we can assume that he is talking about Jesus, but there is a general thought here that through suffering will come salvation.

Isaiah 54
It will payoff in the end to be a servant of the Lord, because he is and can give all.

Isaiah 55
God knows that we have done wrong, but if we repent and are truly sorry, we will have God's forgiveness.

Isaiah 56
All are welcome to come and be with God...not just those of Israel. Any who wish to repent and worship the Lord are welcome to be with him.

Isaiah 57
The reason idolotry is so detrimental is because it cheapens the worship of the Lord. What good is putting the Lord first on the Sabbath if every other day of the week you worship idols (or money, fame, property, etc.).

Isaiah 58
Don't worship the Lord (fasting, mass, etc.) because you are supposed to. Do it for the enjoyment of worshiping the Lord. No meat on Fridays in Lent is for a reason, not an excuse to get a cheap, deep-fried carp-wich from a fast food place.

Isaiah 59
God calls out the Jews on all of their sins, but reminds them they will be forgiven and he will always take care of them.

Isaiah 60
All of your suffering will not be in vain because you will be rewarded with good things.

That's all for now...we'll be back tomorrow night.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sunday Fresh Take: The Inner Voice

Hi all!

I'm doing our Sunday Fresh Take on Saturday because tomorrow's Easter and I won't be home then.

I wanted to do a post relating to our blog challenge: change three things for three months.  Why do a challenge like this?  Because of the inner voice in all of us.  Whether you think it's your conscience, the devil and the angel on your shoulder, or you just assume your going crazy, we've all dealt with the inner voice.  But how many of us actually listen to it?  You may think you're an upstanding citizen who does everything you're supposed to do, but I bet if you spent a day noting how many times you ignore your inner voice, you'd be shocked at your findings!

"I should wipe up that dirt spot."  "I should call my old high school friend."  "I shouldn't eat this."  "I should stop yelling at my kids so much."  "I should go for a walk."  "I should take care of this stack of papers on my counter."  Sound familiar?

Let's create an example: my living room.  Mike and I generally try to have our kids clean up their toys when they're done playing, especially when it's nap time or bedtime.  But on occasion, we decide that getting them down for a nap this second is more important than having them clean up since there's not that big of a mess.  Harmless, right?  Well, this one little mess at nap time isn't so bad, as long as you tend to it immediately after the nap.  However, today we had a hectic day and bedtime is seeming more important than cleaning up their toys.  Okay, so it's not too bad...maybe 15 minutes of cleaning a little later.  Now Mike and I are getting ready for bed and since we had such a chaotic day, we're too pooped to deal with the little trouble of cleaning their toys.  So the kids come down in the morning and create more mess before we ever get downstairs.  One thing rolls into another and before you know it, it's dinner time of day two and we still haven't cleaned up the living we have to get it done and now it's going to take a significant chunk of time.  If we had listened to that inner voice that told us "clean this mess up now," we never would have had to spend an hour cleaning the living room, pulling toys out from beneath the couch, sorting toys that got intermingled during play, and crawling around on our knees chasing toys down across the first floor.  The kids probably wouldn't have gotten so cranky, the day wouldn't have felt so chaotic, and we would have actually had time to sit and relax at the day's end, instead of feeling tired and overwhelmed.

Procrastination may have the benefit of the adrenaline rush to help push us to our deadline, but wouldn't it be better if we just got used to dividing up our time and delegating our responsibilities when possible?  If I always stayed on top of housework, meal planning, my own eating and sleep habits, and so many other menial daily tasks, my days might not be easy, but at least I'd be able to take a calm approach to parenting and other responsibilities (or emergencies!) that crop up.

When you decide to finally make a change, it can be a very freeing feeling.  It can be hard to achieve new goals, especially when it's something you've continually struggled with.  I suggest choosing manageable goals that challenge you without making you feel frustrated.  This is why we chose three months for our 3x3 challenge:  New Year's resolutions fail because you're setting life-long goals that can feel impossible to reach, but limiting yourself to 1 month gives you too much of a "finish line" feel and won't necessarily help you permanently change/create a habit.

So whether or not you decide to challenge yourself to change three things, I do challenge you to start listening to your inner voice.  The results will be tremendous!

Happy Easter!


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Isaiah 47-52: Don't Get Complacent!!!

This was the first night of biblical reading that Molly and I launched into a full on discussion...part of the reason we are doing this. Early in our relationship we were always discussing "deeper" things. Recently, through the mundane of life and busyness of children and work we felt like we were in a rut we couldn't get out of. What happened to those discussions? What happened to the thirst for knowledge? We got complacent in our lives!

These chapters of Isaiah seem to follow a similar theme to earlier chapters: God reminds the Israelites that they are his people, God reminds them that all of their misfortune came from themselves, God reminds them that he always comes in to save them from their misfortune once their lesson is learned, etc. It seems like there is a common theme through the biblical accounts of Israel. The story always follows the same plot: God delivers the Jews, they forget and start to question God once they get into a rut and finally after another act of God, the Jews are straightened back out.

Molly asked a pertinent question tonight, "Why were the Jews the chosen people?" This was the starting point of our discussion. No answers will be given here, that is for you to discuss amongst yourselves. However, one thing came out of our discussion, the stories in the Bible, regardless of if you view them as fact or fiction, depict the ups and downs of a people that can be related to our lives on a daily basis. Today's lesson?


Why is it that we work incredibly hard to diet, or get better at cleaning, or try to be better parents...only to fall back into our old habits? Why do New Year's Resolutions never stick?
The same thing happens to the Jews over and over again.

When we try to change our habits, we often get an exhilarating rush of accomplishment...We become prideful in our ability to change. Often we are too quick to pat ourselves on the back and say, "I've done good this week...I deserve a reward." One reward leads to another, one night off from doing the dishes leads into an entire day, and before you know it, there is a half eaten chocolate pie in the freezer and you are eating cereal out of mixing bowls because the normal bowls are underneath a pile of filth you don't want to think about.

There is a reason that our Blog challenge is 3 months long and not just the 21 days it takes to form a new habit. We want to make a change in our lives...and that takes total commitment. When you feel the complacency bug hit you, push through it, because the reward on the other side is far grrrrreater than Frosted Flakes instead of Wheaties for breakfast.

Always forward thinking for the better,

Mike and Molly

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Isaiah 41-46

The theme of this section of reading can be summarized in two words: I AM!

God reminded Israel in each of these chapters that there is none like him.  No idol, no preacher or teacher, no material thing, no other god should be revered above him.  He stated that the other countries of idol worshipers would see that their idols got them nothing and that Israel, a nation without idols and only with God, had everything and eventually they would come to be like Israel.

God repeatedly states in this section, "I give you everything and you repay me lack of thanks.  Do not forget how important I am.  See these other nations that have no protection and no favor in my eyes; they do not have me.  You do.  And all you do is repay me with sins."  This is a familiar feeling as a parent!

Short post tonight...last night was a bit sleepless...more tomorrow...

This has been today's Fresh Take.


It's time for a blog challenge!  We've decided that there are certain habits that we possess (or don't possess) that we would like to change.  This is probably true for most people; would you like to lose weight?  watch less tv?  learn a new hobby?  keep in touch with old friends?  Then we challenge you to join us in making a change.

The challenge goes as follows:  Change 3 things for 3 months.  The things you choose should be manageable goals, but something that you have continually told yourself you "should" do.  Keep track of the progress you make.  Is this change easy?  difficult?  Did it inspire other changes?  At the end of 3 months, decide if this is a change you can live with.

It is thought that 21 days is all it takes to make something become a habit.  If this is true, than by the end of 3 months this change should become more than a habit--it should become second nature.

Our changes are these:
1) Read the bible and blog every Monday through Thursday for 3 months.  Weekends optional.
2) Eliminate eating junk food and eating out.  The exceptions are birthdays, holidays, and special visits (i.e. with Gammy and Papa Wall).
3) Go to bed by 10 every night.  Again, the only exceptions would be special occasions.

It is our belief that by changing these things we will not only develop these particular habits, but we will experience other positive changes in the process.  For instance, eating less junk leaves the potential for reducing the amount of garbage we output on a weekly basis.  It could also leave us with more free time, as we won't be so focused on the end-of-the-day goal of sitting down and enjoying a treat, not to mention saving money, losing a few pounds, etc, etc.  These are the types of things we'd like you to keep track of.

Let us know if you'll be joining our challenge!  What things are you going to change?  What do you hope to accomplish in changing these things?  Please let us know these plans.  Also, invite others who are not following our blog to join you.  This challenge starts as soon as you read this.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Isaiah 31-40

Sorry for the lack of post last night, but Molly and I both had some business to take care of. We are back in the swing of things and ready for more Isaiah. 

This section of reading spans a lot of different ideas so we will try to give a synopsis of each chapter in as  few words as possible. If you are reading along with us and you disagree, or have a better way to state it, we want your feedback.

Isaiah 31:
Prophecy that Assyria will fall.

Isaiah 32:
Those who worship earthly things shouldn't because they will be destroyed.

Isaiah 33:
The GOOD shall be with God in Zion, the BAD will perish...sorry, no UGLY here.

Isaiah 34:
All man made countries, palaces, etc. will come to ruin and become places for the wild animals to live.

Isaiah 35:
The holy people shall be with God forever.

Isaiah 36:
The Assyrians tell the people of Jerusalem to ignore God and make a deal so they can live in peace...those who were told ignored the Assyrians and returned to their king, Hezekiah.

Isaiah 37: 
Hezekiah seeks Isaiah's advice and prays to God for deliverance. God replies, "Don't sweat it, you know I've got your back." The angel of the Lord then smote 5180 Assyrian soldiers in their camp.

Isaiah 38:
Hezekiah is on his death bed, but God rewards him with extended life so that he might see Jerusalem completely delivered from the Assyrians. Hezekiah says, "Thank you, thank you, thank you..."

Isaiah 39:
Hezekiah shows off all of his good stuff to the punishment God makes Hezekiah give all of his stuff to the Babylonian king (including his sons to be eunuchs!).

Isaiah 40:
God is everywhere, everything, great, good, better than everything, gives power to people, etc.

As with everything else we read in Isaiah so far, God is all that matters. The things and positions that we on earth make for ourselves really come from God and have no meaning without God because after all, they are of this Earth and not eternal. There is no situation which God cannot help us overcome. Likewise, without God we will no be able to overcome anything.


Happy April....and remember to smile, Easter (the ultimate showing of God's power) is just about here.

Blessings and love,

Mike and Molly

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Fresh Take: On suffering

By:  Molly

I've been thinking a lot about suffering lately.  As we've already been reading on our biblical journey, God talks a lot about suffering and how those who suffer on earth will have his favor.  So what does this mean?  Some people think going without eating out might be considered suffering.  Others might feel like they're suffering when they don't get to go shopping frequently.  Still others might feel like they're suffering when their beloved phones or computers aren't functioning properly.  Of course, most of us would be able to look at those situations and recognize that this isn't true suffering--but do any of us really understand what it means?  Just because we may not be as superficial as the aforementioned examples doesn't mean that the other things we suffer are any greater.

The other day I was complaining about how I hated gloomy Fridays during Lent; it's Mike's longest day of the work week, we don't get to do anything or go anywhere on Friday nights because of that, it was cloudy and depressing, and since it was during lent I had to adhere to a meatless meal plan.  Then Mike, half jokingly, half serious, said, "You know what else was a gloomy Friday during Lent?..."  Touché, salesman.  

Today is Palm Sunday, which of course means that in church we read the passion story.  I think regardless of your belief system, you'd be able to say that Jesus willingly dying on a cross because it was God's will was true suffering.  He suffered until the bitter end all because he was the sign from God that our sins could be forgiven...a way for God to "wipe the slate clean" if you will.  And then we are taught that eventually, as the reward for fulfilling his father's will, Jesus was able to have everlasting life in God's kingdom.  This is by no means a detailed account of what all went down during that time, but in any light, this is pretty powerful stuff!  How, then, are we to live up to such a noble act as dying on a cross to fulfill God's will?

We are always so quick to complain without really thinking about the awful things that so many before us, namely Jesus, have gone through.  So we then turn our efforts to try to understand the hardships of our fellow man.  This could be in the form of fasting.  We clear our bodies so that we may clear our minds and hearts in order to come to know God.  Maybe we could speak of childbirth.  A women gives up her body for 9 months, goes through excruciating pain for hours, and ends up with a beautiful reward (who happens to be created in God's image!).  A bold few may even stand up for their beliefs and encounter the law or even death, surely being rewarded by God in the end.

The next time you feel like complaining about a minor inconvenience, try to think about true suffering, such as that which Jesus experienced.  Once you put yourself in another man's shoes, your situation may not seem so bad.  Life is hard, but complaining about it makes it even harder!  A little will power and perseverance through a tough situation can bring great rewards.

This has been your Palm Sunday Fresh Take.