Monday, December 31, 2007

Last Year's Resolution - I Did It!

I’ve been on the Daniel Fast for one year now.

What is the Daniel Fast?

For me it means:

--Drink only water

--Eat no meat

--Eat no bread

--Eat no sweets

--Eat nothing fried.

Yesterday a friend at church asked me, “As you look back over the year, what do you think you’ve learned from this fast?”

I’ll get to that, but first let’s go back to the beginning.  In January 2007 our church announced a Daniel Fast for the first three weeks of the year, and I decided to do it.

For the first 2 ½ days I had a strange headache.  I am not prone to headaches, and I’ve never had a headache that lasted from one day into the next.  It wasn’t terrible, just a dull pain.  I guess my body was detoxing from, what? Sugar?  Caffeine?  I don’t know.

Then the headache went away, and I’ve not had a headache since.  Sometimes I used to get headaches in the afternoon, which I chalked up to too much time in front of a computer.  But since I went on the Daniel Fast I have had no such headaches. 

Sometime during the first few days I felt like I should take it to another level, to Daniel Fast all year. 

“Wow,” some people said, “You sure have a lot of self discipline.”  No, not really.  I believe God called me to do it, then He empowered me to do it.  It was not hard at all.

I must say, in the beginning I spent a lot of time hungry.  I had cut a lot out of my diet, but didn’t have enough to replace it. 

I came across this little phrase from Hemingway, “the discipline of hunger.”  He said his thinking was sharper and his writing better when he was hungry.

I thought of Ben Franklin’s maxim, “Eat not to dullness.”  Too much eating dulls our brain, while controlled hunger sharpens it.

Jesus said we must deny ourselves.  Our pastor said, “We are sacrificing the things that are pleasant in this world...”

Sometimes we look up and say, “God, please work in my life.”  But then we are unwilling to deny ourselves a single thing.

It was five months into the fast when I realized the greatest effect it had on me.  At that time I wrote this:  “My thoughts are more under control.  There is less impulsive thinking.  More peace.  I am more settled in my mind.  More faith.”

The thing that really hit me was, “There is less impulsive thinking.” 

Now let me say, I was never one to be hooked on a certain food or drink.  I know people who always have a soda to sip on, or coffee, or their daily ration of chocolate.  Not me.  I was chained to nothing.  Or was I?

Even though it was not one certain thing, I realized that many times each day I would impulsively grab something to eat or drink.  My mind would suddenly flash the message, “Oh, I need a Coke.”  “Oh, I need a cup of coffee.”  “Wow, you know what I could really use right now?  A burger and fries!”  After every meal I impulsively reached for something sweet. 

I had no idea how often I was interrupted by thoughts of food and drink.  It was a stunning realization.  I was not overweight.  I’ve never been on a diet in my life.  And yet in certain ways food had a controlling effect on me.  My brain would flash the message, “I gotta have it,” and I would jump to obey.

When I talk about the Daniel Fast, most people look at it like a good diet plan.  Yes, it can be that, but I encourage everyone who does it to ignore the health benefits and focus on the spiritual benefits. 

Paul told Timothy, “…bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable unto all things…”  Why focus on that which “profiteth little?”  Godliness profits in every way, including in physical health.

Now after a year of the Daniel Fast I feel more disciplined and self controlled.  I feel closer to God, and less prone to give in to impulsive thinking, both in food and other ways. 

So I highly recommend the Daniel Fast.  But if that’s not for you, I still encourage you to find something you can deny yourself in this coming year.  If you can’t do it for yourself, then offer it up as a sacrifice to God.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Marriage Tune-Up

Time for a marriage tune-up!  Today let’s do a diagnostic on five areas of your marriage.

Are You Having Fun Together? 

Are you laughing together?  A key to a strong marriage is that you spend your most enjoyable times together.  If you’re not careful, your relationship can decay into a stale business partnership.  All you talk about are the things you must plan together, money, children, the house, where to spend your holidays.  A marriage danger zone is when you are having fun, but not with each other.

Are You Going Out On Dates?

This is just as important as it was before you were married.  You need some romantic time together.  It may mean a fancy restaurant.  Or it may simply mean a nice walk.  Just make this a habit, go out and do something pleasant…together.

Are You Having Silly Arguments?

Married people say things to one another that they would never say to a guest in their home.  Why should you be polite to strangers, then brutal to your spouse?  Hold your tongue.  And this especially applies when responding.  You feel like you just took a hit.  They just slammed you.  That’s when it is super important to not react.  Let it slide.  “A quiet answer turns away wrath.”  And often they didn’t mean it the way it sounded anyway.  A little common courtesy goes a long way.

Are You Filling Their “Love Tank”?

Everyone has a love tank, and someone will fill it.  It is very important that it is you.  When was the last time you left a surprise love note?  Bought some flowers?  Sent a “Just thinking of you” card, or even an e-mail?  What about hugs and kisses?  Even a five-year-old knows you need lots of X’s and O’s (and guys, I’m not talking about football!)

Are You Growing Spiritually…Together?

That means keeping each other current with where you are in your faith.  You should be sharpening one another, praying for and with each other. 

I’ll never forget what the actor Kevin Costner said one time, “Marriage is a tough gig.”  When I read that I thought, “He’ll be divorced soon.”  And sure enough, he was.  Because if you focus on the tough parts, you will burn out.  Or you will just become numb, with no feelings at all for your spouse. 

But it’s never too late to reignite your marriage.  Like focusing a magnifying glass on a dead leaf, when you focus on your marriage, soon that spark and flame will return, and then burn brighter than ever. 



Friday, December 14, 2007

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Have you ever heard of “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom?”

It comes from Proverbs 9:1 which says, “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars.”

Now if there was a tidy set of seven pillars of wisdom, it would have been nice if the author would have spelled it out right there.  But he didn’t.  That leaves it open to speculation, and many people have done so.  And now you can add me to the list.

That phrase “seven pillars” really struck my fancy, so what I did was a complete read through of the book of Proverbs to see if I could pick up on a set of seven branches of wisdom.

It wasn’t exactly obvious, because the Proverbs cover a lot of ground.  But here is what I think are the seven main “pillars of wisdom.”

#1  Righteousness

From beginning to end the Proverbs talk about the blessings of the righteous.  This includes integrity and purity, living upright and blameless.  If we put these in order of the number of times mentioned, righteousness has to top the list.  Some form of the word appears almost 80 times in the book of Proverbs.  The opposite of righteousness is wickedness, which Proverbs repeatedly warns against.

Righteousness is not just good for individuals, but look what it says in Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation…”

#2  Restraint

Restraint is self control.  It covers everything from holding your tongue to holding your temper.  A life of wisdom is a life of restraint.  The opposite of restraint is when we do or say whatever we feel like at the moment.

Proverbs 29:11 says, “…a wise man keeps himself under control.”

#3  Action

Sometimes when we think of wisdom we think of an old man sitting up on a hill doing nothing but dispensing wisdom.  Or we might think of wisdom as a bunch of things we don’t do.  Not so.  A man of wisdom is a man of action, a hard worker, a go-getter.  The opposite of this is being lazy, like a sluggard. 

Proverbs 10:4 says, “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.”

#4  Truth

A wise man is always true and never deceptive, whether in a court of law, or in business dealings, or simply when talking with friends.  He is honest and fair and just. 

Proverbs 12:22 says, “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.”

#5  Instruction

A wise man is always ready to receive instruction.  It may come in the form of teaching, or it may be a word of advice.  It might even be a rebuke or harsh discipline.  It comes in different ways at different times, but whenever it comes, a wise man is always teachable, always moldable, always open to instruction.

Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.”

#6  Generosity

A wise man is a giving man.  He never hordes for himself, but is always kind and good and ready to give away what he has been given.  He holds everything with an open hand. 

Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

#7  Humility

The Proverbs repeatedly warn of the dangers of pride.  The opposite of pride is humility.  A wise man is also a humble man.  The more he knows, the more he realizes he doesn’t know. 

Proverbs 11:2 says, “…with humility comes wisdom.”

Now you might say, “What about the fear of the Lord?  Why isn’t that one of your pillars?”

Well, I based my decisions on what was most mentioned in the book of Proverbs, and the fear of the Lord wasn’t mentioned as often as these seven.  However, it says in both Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10 that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…”  So I will say this.  The seven pillars are built on this foundation:  The fear of the Lord.

Now here are some honorable mentions that are obviously important, but don’t show up as often in the Proverbs:





--whom you keep company with (i.e. not fools)


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Spice Up Your Marriage

There is an insidious idea floating around that porn is a good way to spice up your marriage.

In the past this would have been less tempting, but the internet has changed all that. 

Like I said, it’s an insidious idea.  And the word insidious describes it perfectly, “beguiling, but harmful.”

I just read the story of a couple, and one day the husband suggested they spice up their marriage by looking at porn.  She was reluctant, but she was also curious.  So they did, and wow!  It really spiced things up…very briefly.

It created an almost immediate wedge in their marriage, driving them apart, not together.

I wish I could say that they worked it all out and everything is okay now.  But that’s not the way it went.  The story to date is that their marriage is barely holding together. 

Porn will spice up your marriage like crack cocaine will spice up your kid’s birthday party.

Here is another horrible way to spice up your marriage – by making your spouse jealous.  Again, it might provide an immediate boost of attention, a little thrill, the “high” of power, but it’s faulty wiring.  You might start a fire you can’t put out. 

Another terrible way to try to spice up your marriage is by cultivating a little relationship on the side.  Yes, it may give you a quick high, and you may take the good feelings home with you.  But the high is so short and the damage so swift, only a fool would think it beneficial. 

Some people try to spice up their marriage by reading racy novels.  “It puts me in the mood,” they say.  But again, it’s faulty wiring.  The lights go on, but something is starting to smell. 

“So, Doug, what can I do to spice up my marriage?”

Here’s what you do.  Go back to the Maker of marriage.  God had a perfect plan when He created Adam and Eve for one another.  Yes, our broken world has also broken marriage, but God’s plan is still best. 

So start by going to Him in prayer.  Pray for your marriage and your spouse everyday. 

The best way to spice up your marriage is with extra helpings of true love.  Go back to First Corinthians 13 and apply it to your marriage. 

One perceived drawback to this plan is that it doesn’t provide that quick high.  Maybe not, but it builds on a solid, true foundation.  And on this foundation your marriage will just get better and better as the years go by. 

I like what it says in Proverbs 10:22, that the blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow to it. 

See, these other schemes to spice up your marriage – sure, they may add some spice in the short run, but then they add sorrow. 

But the blessing of the Lord makes for a rich marriage – and adds no sorrow to it.