When you fast

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).

People who fast give up something voluntarily for a time. Generally, when we think of fasting, we think of giving up food, or at least some kind of food. Fasting can also meaning giving up an activity, such as video games or surfing the Internet. Some fasts are performed for religious reasons; others are done for medical reasons. Fasting often has a goal for this lifetime: a healthy body, or a clearer mind, or a better way of life.

Jesus assumes that we will fast for religious reasons. He assumes that fasting is part of our relationship with God. Jesus warns us not to fast to impress other people. He tells us to keep our fasting a secret that is known only to us and to God. Jesus could easily have added that fasting for other reasons, such as our own health, should not be confused with fasting for God.

Perhaps some of us would benefit from fasting. We might lose weight and improve our health. Such a fast is not rewarded by God, except in the way that his creation functions to reward our fasting with health benefits. If we fast to break a bad habit and gain control over our lives, that fast is also not rewarded by God aside from the rewards we receive through his creation. When we fast for worldly reasons, we are not fasting for God. Our goals may be good, and we may achieve them; but when we achieve those goals, we have received the only reward we will get for fasting.

We fast for God to show him that we love him. We fast for God to show him that nothing is more important to us than he is. When we choose to fast for God—whether we choose to go without food for a day or television for a week or chocolate for a month or alcohol for the rest of our lives—we learn self-control. By saying no to a desire, we learn to say no to temptations. We do this for God, as part of our relationship with him. We are not trying to improve ourselves or impress other people.

Some people treat their fasting as a way of bargaining with God, doing something for him that will force God to do something for us. Such an attitude reveals an unhealthy relationship with God. Some people try to force others to fast along with them, delivering a group message to God by their fasting. Such fasting is also not done in the spirit of what Jesus teaches regarding the privacy of fasting.

Fasting teaches us about Jesus—that is its greatest reward. When we give up something for Jesus, we remind ourselves of all that Jesus surrendered to rescue us. All glory belongs to him, and he is in charge of the universe. Yet he left his exalted position to live among us as one of us. Then, as one of us, he sacrificed his comfort, his freedom, his health, and even his life to pay for our sins and to claim us for his kingdom.

If our fast reminds us of what we want, we receive—at best—only worldly rewards for our fasting. When our fast reminds us of Jesus and his saving work on our behalf, then we receive an eternal reward. We have faith in Jesus. We have fellowship with him. Those gifts are worth far more than any other reward we might gain from fasting. J.

Adultery and lustful intent

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

For the second of six times, Jesus quotes from God’s commandments and explains the meaning of that commandment. In this case, the commandment prohibits adultery. Generally, adultery is defined as consenting sexual relations between two adults who are not married to each other. Some people would further add that, if neither of them is married, the sin is called fornication rather than adultery.

Jesus is not interested in quibbling over definitions. He quickly explains that more is involved in adultery than the act. Even the luring look is already a sin. When Jesus speaks of “lustful intent,” he distinguishes the temptation that might occur in one’s mind when one notices an attractive woman and the mind that seeks to be tempted, the mind that decides to look and remember the temptation.

Being tempted is no sin. Even Jesus was tempted. Every time he was tempted, Jesus said, “no.” Saying “yes” to temptation is a sin. Enjoying temptation, searching for temptation, clinging to temptation: these are sins.

To look at a woman—or a man, or a child; or a photograph, a movie, or a web site containing tempting images—for the purpose of lust is sin. Nothing loving exists in lust. Lust is the opposite of love. Love cares about another person and wants what is best for that person. Lust merely wants to be satisfied. Lust changes a person into an object, especially when that person is already captured in a photograph or movie or web site. Sadly, we have become accustomed to viewing people as objects for our entertainment—so much so that people in public places often gaze at strangers as if those strangers were there to provide entertainment.

We should control our minds. When we find ourselves tempted to use the image of a person for our private entertainment, we should say, “no.” Jesus saw every person, even strangers, as people to love, people to serve, people who had needs he was able to meet. When we imitate Jesus, we will also regard people as persons to love, never as objects to use.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we want to succeed, we cannot make ourselves pure. We need Christ’s forgiveness for our inappropriate thoughts and imaginings. We already possess this gift. With forgiveness comes the promise that we will see God. Because we will see God with our own eyes, we want to keep our eyes pure today. Because we will see God, we want to love and serve our neighbors rather than using our neighbors for our own purposes. J.

Sugar: the spice that changed history–part four

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor; I don’t even play one on TV. I am not qualified to give advice about nutrition or other medical matters. The following is historical information for educational purposes only.

For most of history, nutritional problems have been caused by deficiencies, not by excess. The number of wealthy people capable of overeating has always been far smaller than the number of people facing starvation or malnutrition.

The human body is designed to crave certain necessary foods that are rare in nature. The body needs a certain amount of salt to maintain good health–a completely salt-free diet can lead to difficulty thinking, nausea, muscular cramps or weakness, fainting, and even seizures and coma. Carbohydrates are necessary to fuel the cells of the body. Therefore, most people crave salty foods and sweet foods. In a land in which most sugars are contained in fruits and honey, overdosing on sugar is difficult to accomplish.

The food industry has changed all that. Now sweet foods and salty foods are easily obtainable for meals and for snacks. Makers of our food have no nefarious schemes to damage people’s health. They merely want to make money by giving people what we want. Since we want sweet food, many companies exist for the sole purpose of making sweet food and selling it to us. Control over what we eat belongs to each of us (and, in the case of children, to their parents). Expecting corporations (or the government) to exercise that control on our behalf is just silly.

After the middle of the twentieth century, doctors and nutritionists began recommending a decrease of the consumption of sugar. The only disease directly caused by sugar is tooth decay–even diabetes is a fault in the body making it unable to process sugar; diabetes is not caused by sugar. Yet people who regularly consume more calories than they burn are prone to a number of health problems, and reducing the use of sugar is one of the easiest ways to reduce calories in a person’s diet.

Corporate inventors created several artificial sweeteners during the twentieth century. These sweeteners have no calories, but they still make food taste sweeter. No artificial sweetener is made available to the public before it is thoroughly tested to ensure that it will not cause health problems. However, replacing sugar with a calorie-free chemical does not, by itself, mitigate all the problems that are blamed on sugar.

Recent studies demonstrate that sugar is an addictive drug. It stimulates the same portion of the brain that is stimulated by addictive behavior–gambling, for example. Sugar quickly enters the bloodstream when it is consumed, giving the brain a happy stimulation; four hours later, the brain wants another jolt. People with personalities prone to addiction find sugar far easier to acquire than controlled or banned drugs. Artificial sweeteners stimulate the brain the same way sugar does, producing the same results.

Given the power sugar has over individuals, the power it has exercised over politics and government is unsurprising. Sugar motivated explorers and investors five hundred years ago. Sugar persuaded people to buy and sell other people as slaves. Sugar remains heavily involved in the world economy today. Sweet foods and beverages are constantly advertised on every form of media. Sugary products are packaged in bright, attractive boxes and bags. What would television be like without Tony the Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, the Trix rabbit, or the Lucky Charms leprechaun? What if Santa Claus did not always wear a red suit (inspired by Coca Cola)? For that matter, who would teach the world to sing in perfect harmony?

Like it or hate it, sugar is too much with us. Late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! J.