Be Anxious for Nothing

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Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NKJV)

Pardon my bluntness, but sometimes life just sucks, doesn’t it? You make these plans and they seem so important, but as the time approaches one thing after another just starts tearing them down. You have these people in your life, people you care about so deeply, that you’re ready to do almost anything for them, but when you need them, they seem to let you down. Maybe it’s your job, or you just can’t seem to find or keep a job. Maybe it’s a loved one who has fallen on hard times, illness, or death. Or maybe your own health burdens you on a daily basis. Whatever your situation, I am confident that each of us, whether presently or in times past, has experienced these kinds of discouraging situations.

I believe these kinds of situations can, depending on the circumstances, qualify as what the Bible calls “anxieties,” or “cares.” The Greek word has a long history and it has a double-meaning, very similar to our English word “cares.” In the positive sense, it can refer to any kind of heart-felt motivation to help someone else, “caring” for someone else when they are sick, weak, or in some kind of need. In the negative sense, it can also refer to any kind of heart-felt need that goes unsatisfied, like if you are sick, weak, or in need, but you feel as though you’re alone and no one is helping you. Both kinds of “cares” are strong enough to demand our full attention. And therein lies the problem—for when we fix our eyes on the situation, we take our eyes off Christ.

But there is a remedy for that feeling of discouragement and despair. You see, that feeling comes from a false perspective. You may feel alone, but you aren’t alone. God is with you. So, Paul says, the remedy isn’t to focus more on the situation, but to fix your eyes of the Lord. And prayer is the single most effective strategy for doing just that. And if you are willing to go to God in prayer, Paul gives a promise—the Peace of God will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Paul doesn’t say might or probably. He says will. That’s not just a style of translation—that’s the literal rendering of the Greek. When we fix our eyes on the Lord, we can be absolutely sure that His peace will guard our hearts and minds from the efforts of the Enemy and the world to discourage us.

During the Last Supper, I think the disciples were feeling some anxieties. For at least a few days, Jesus had been telling them about how he would be betrayed and killed. He was going to leave them. In my mind I can imagine reclining at the table among the disciples, thinking, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Aren’t you supposed to be the King of Israel? But you say you’re going to die. And what’s this business about rising in three days?”

While Jesus and the disciples were talking after the meal, Jesus instructed them about many things, including peace. As John 14:27 says,

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

The peace of God is a gift given to us by Jesus. It was made possible by the death of Jesus, which paid the debt for our sins and reconciled us to the Father. In this way, Jesus made peace for us with the Father (see Rom 5:10-11). And now, the peace of God can rule our hearts. But God does not force his peace on us. As Colossians 3:15 says, we have to let his peace rule our hearts. How? By fixing our eyes on the Lord through prayer. And how is this possible? Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Meal Planning Made Easy

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Some very dear friends of mine recently shared with me their desire to eat healthier and asked me if I had any tips to share that might help them with meal planning. I remember when I was where they were, wanting to eat healthier but not knowing where to begin. Then it dawned on me that other people might be wondering the same thing. So, here’s my current approach to meal planning. If you’re just starting out or you’re looking for a new approach, my hope is that you might find something here to inspire you on own journey toward more healthful eating.

Making the Plan

I start by thinking about how many meals I need for the week using basic arithmetic: 2 servings per meal, 2 meals per day, 6 days a week means I need 24 servings. So, if I make 3 meals a week, at 8 servings per meal, that’s enough for my wife and I for six days. And I keep a few staples on hand (ingredients for grilled cheese, a couple frozen pizzas, some skillet meals) to fill in any gaps.

For breakfast, I keep healthier options like whole grain cereal (Kashi, Special K, etc.), granola bars, fresh fruits, fat free milk, low-calorie yogurt, etc. on hand. I also make scrambled eggs (2 eggs, 2 whites), turkey bacon, and toast or tortillas sometimes. My goal is keep it simple, keep it healthy, keep it interesting.

For snacks, I keep healthier options on hand like low-calorie popcorn, low-calorie granola bars, and sometimes low-calorie yogurt. I have a version of grilled cheese I make with reduced-fat cheese, low-calorie bread, and low-calorie butter spray that I snack on fairly often as well. We don’t keep much in the way of chips and cookies, etc. around the house.

Executing the Plan

I usually cook twice early in the week (Sunday or Monday, and Tuesday) and once later in the week (Thursday or Friday). This will get our family of three through a whole week on home cooked meals with leftovers. That’s just what works best for my schedule. Then eating out becomes a choice, not a necessity. Also, I cook whichever meal I feel like cooking on whichever day I feel like cooking it. I know some people plan specific meals for specific days, which is great! But that doesn’t work for me. Try out some different strategies and find what works best for you.

The key to meal planning is being intentional—thinking through what you want to cook and eat, if you’ll be able to make the meal (time, skill, tools, etc.), making your grocery list, and following through with actually making the meals. It’s easiest for me to cook bigger meals with more leftovers and keep the recipes pretty simple. I do experiment occasionally as well, but those results can be hit or miss!

A Sample Plan

This is an actual meal plan I made for our family a couple weeks ago.

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

  • Servings: 8
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Ingredients

  • 2lb ground beef (or ground turkey for leaner, healthier protein)
  • 1 box (16oz) spaghetti (any pasta will do, i buy whatever’s cheapest)
  • 2 (24oz) jars or cans of pasta sauce (Prego, hunts, etc.)

Directions

  1. Brown the meat, drain.
  2. Add sauce to meat, cook on low 20-30 mins, stirring occasionally.
  3. Cook pasta per directions on the box.
  4. Drain pasta, pour in meat sauce, stir.
  5. Portion into 8 even servings between plates (for that meal) and Tupperware (for leftovers), then serve.
Roughly 450-500 calories. Remember that extra sides and toppings (like cheese) are extra calories. Suggested side: small side salad with light dressing.

Ground Beef Tacos

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 2lb ground beef (or ground turkey for leaner, healthier protein)
  • 2 small packets taco seasoning (i buy the low sodium off brand when i find it)
  • 16 taco shells or taco-size tortillas
  • Desired toppings (shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, tomatoes, salsa, etc)

Directions

  1. Cook meat per directions on the taco seasoning packets.
  2. Prep toppings, prepping extras for leftovers (shredding lettuce, dicing tomatoes, etc).
  3. Heat shells/tortillas if desired.
  4. Serve (one large serving spoon full of taco meat is about a serving).
Roughly 450-500 calories. Remember that extra sides and toppings (like cheese) are extra calories. Suggested side: carrots and celery or fresh fruit.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 2lb chicken breasts or thighs
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 1 (10oz) can mild enchilada sauce
  • 1 (10oz) can 98% fat free cream of chicken soup
  • 1 (15oz) can corn
  • 5-6 soft taco tortillas
  • 8oz shredded cheese
  • Seasonings (esp. granulated garlic, ground cumin, chili powder) to taste

Directions

  1. Cook the chicken, then dice into small pieces or shred it.
  2. Preheat oven to 375F.
  3. In a mixing bowl stir together chicken, enchilada sauce, cream of chicken soup, canned corn (drained), taco seasoning, and extra seasonings.
  4. Cut tortillas into strips about 2-2 1/2 inches wide (about 4 strips per tortilla).
  5. Spray casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Then layer tortillas, chicken mix, and shredded cheese just like making lasagna.
  6. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375F for 25-30 minutes. Remove foil, bake another 5-10 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven, let cool 3-5 minutes, then portion into 8 even servings between plates (for that meal) and Tupperware (for leftovers), then serve.
Roughly 400-450 calories. Remember that extra sides and toppings (like cheese) are extra calories. Suggested side: small portion of tortilla chips with salsa.

Closing Thoughts

You might notice I don’t splurge for the “healthy” options—I tend to go for the budget varieties unless there’s a significant health benefit (there’s usually not) or there’s a specific dietary need. Meal planning is a balance of budgeting time (to plan and cook), talent (to plan things you can actually make), tastes (to make things you like to eat), and treasure (finding relatively healthy ingredients at affordable prices). But if you’re willing to be intentional and invest the time and energy to plan, and you have some basic cookware and cooking options at home, you’ve got all you need to provide healthier, more affordable meals for you and your household!

Do Not Fear, Little Flock

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Then He [Jesus] said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?

“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:22-34, NKJV)

Psalm 23:2 begins, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Sheep are timid, fearful creatures. They aren’t strong or smart, they’re always looking for food and water, and they’re easy pray for predators. So, sheep are typically restless animals, rarely feeling sufficiently provided for and secure enough to lie down and rest. Instead, they wander about on edge, easily spooked and rarely satisfied with where they are.

A responsible shepherd meets the needs of their flock to address these issues. Such a shepherd ensures that the pasture land is well cared for, providing nourishing food and having ample water for the flock. They also protect the sheep from predators, fighting them off in defense of the sheep. And sometimes shepherds use music to sooth the sheep, drowning out strange noises and helping the sheep relax so they can lie down and rest. But, of course, the sheep have to recognize the shepherd’s protections and provisions and then choose to rest in the shepherd’s presence.

In Luke 12, Jesus instructs his disciples not to fear because the Father is such a good shepherd. He promises His Kingdom to every sheep in His sheepfold. God protects us from our Adversary—Satan and his servants—as well as the forces of the world that threaten to overtake us. The Father also provides for our every need. He created us, after all, and He knows that we need food, water, clothing, and so forth. So, Jesus tells us, we can rest in the protection and provision of the Father.

But, as Jesus explains, our ability to find spiritual rest depends on our intentional seeking for God. Jesus gently rebukes his disciples with the phrase, “O you of little faith.” God made the universe in such a way that our spiritual rest depends on us focusing our hearts on Him. If we focus our hearts on the physical challenges of this life, we are restless, wandering on edge, searching for safer, greener pastures. But when we focus our hearts on seeking our loving Father, He promises that we will find spiritual rest in Him as He provides for our earthly needs.

May we seek God and His Kingdom with our whole hearts, that we may find He will not only supply our earthly needs, but He will also give us rest.

The Fairness of the LORD

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If a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?

“But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die.

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair?

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord GOD. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!”

Ezekiel 1 tells us that Ezekiel was a priest and was taken captive during the Babylonian exile. At this point in Ezekiel, God is answering a false proverb common among the Israelites living in exile,

‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
And the children’s teeth are set on edge’? (Ezek 18:2)

The Israelite captives had a victim mentality. They were complaining that their hardship was judgment for the sins of previous generations. But God is rebuking their way of thinking and teaching them about how His righteousness works.

Israel believed that if they were “good” people—if they mostly obeyed the outward rules and regulations that God gave Israel through Moses—then God would look the other way when they practiced idolatry or fornication or other sins. But God was very clear that even the most upstanding citizen, if they sinned, they were guilty and deserved death. And even the most wretched sinner, if they repented, God was willing to forgive them and let them live.

It’s easy think the same way those Israelites were thinking. Have you ever thought, “I’m mostly a good person. I’m not as bad as that person over there. So God will excuse me when I do just this little bad thing.” Well, You can be the most upstanding citizen, obeying all the laws of the land and treating people with kindness. But you watch that show you know you shouldn’t, or you just have to have that car in your neighbor’s driveway, or you give in to drugs, alcohol, food, or other addictions.

God is clear that the righteous person who turns from righteousness and commits sin is guilty and deserves death. God is also clear that the sinner who repents and turns to God will find life. God doesn’t weight our righteousness and sin. There’s no balancing scale for the good and bad things we do. That’s ancient Egyptian mythology. That’s not biblical Christianity.

And that’s why Jesus came and died for us. Every one of us has sinned (Rom 3:23) and deserves death (Rom 6:23). But God loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly died on the cross, shedding his own blood as a sin-offering to cover our sins once-for-all, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life (John 3:15–16).

But how can we be sure that Jesus’s death was sufficient to cover our sins? How do we know that He is God the Son and not just some well-meaning, first-century charismatic magician with delusions of grandeur? Because Jesus rose from the dead, appeared to hundreds of eye-witnesses, ascended to heaven, and now lives in the presence of the Father, offering intercession for us (1 Cor 15:3–7; Rom 8:34).

This is why we celebrate communion, or the Lord’s Supper—to remember the death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and celebrate the free gift of salvation God gave us through Him.

O the Joy

An original worship song based on Psalm 40:1-5.

Verse 1
Patiently i waited on the Lord
And he turned to me
And he heard my cry
Patiently i waited on the Lord
And he turned to me
And he heard my cry

Chorus
O the joy of trusting in the Lord
Not in men or patterns of this world
O he puts a new song on my lips
All will see the glory of the Lord
All will see the glory of the Lord

Verse 2
He lifted me up from the miry clay
Onto solid ground
And he showed the way
He lifted me up from the miry clay
Onto solid ground
And he showed the way

Bridge
O my God you do miracles
And your plans toward us are good
There is none who can rival you
Full of wonder, rich in grace