Sometimes I hear the Gospel being preached in very unexpected places. While I don’t expect to read Gospel proclamations that actually refer to the Bible while skimming headline news articles and journals, Gospel themes are everywhere when we tune to their frequency. For example, I like ice cream.
I know, that came out of nowhere, but hang with me for a minute. The past few months have been more stressful than usual, and I have not been sleeping. I thought it was the stress at first, but then it occurred to me one evening, as I was eating a pint of ice cream, that earlier this year I had not been in the habit of eating a pint of ice cream every night. Perhaps, I thought, the extra sugar intake might be affecting the way I sleep. So, I began to cut back on the ice cream intake, and I have been sleeping better. Then I saw the following article written by Olivia Judson, and realized I was reading from the third canon, which is how I refer to the Gospel of everyday life.
“Three years ago, I stopped eating sugar. My plan was to have a sugar-free month, just to see if it made a difference. I had done similar experiments before – a month without caffeine, or alcohol, or reading news online. Aside from chocolate, I wasn’t a big eater of sugar, I thought, so I didn’t expect to notice any change. But I did.
Giving up sugar set me free. And so, what began as an experiment has become my new life. I have changed in ways that I had not thought possible.”
A new life that we never dreamed possible is exactly what Jesus is offering to us with his Gospel. This Sunday we will begin discussing our generosity campaign for 2020. It is a four-week season of evaluating where God fits into our lives. We begin by considering the idols that distract us from God. As I have been reading the weekly devotions for the series (Mike Slaughter, First: Putting God first in living and giving, available at the church), I am recognizing that what Olivia said about sugar is very similar to how idols are present in my life. She says when she first began purging sugar from her life, she thought that she really did not eat all that much sugar. Then, when she really turned her attention to every food choice she made, she realized sugar was a much larger part of her diet than she had imagined.
The idols that distract us from God are just like sugar. We think we are all fairly focused on God in our lives. But then we begin a daily devotional and spend 30 days deeply examining the ways we actually focus our lives upon God. What often happens is that we see how frequently we are distracted from God or distance ourselves from God without even realizing it.
Perhaps this is why fasting is so often offered as a spiritual discipline in the biblical record. Fasting causes us to pay extra close attention to the food or activities from which we fast. We begin to see how they affect our lives. For the next 30 days, we will be participating in a reverse fast. Instead of turning our attention away from something, we will be giving all of our attention to something. I believe we will discover exactly what Olivia discovered about taking sugar out of her diet.
I invite you to enter into a 30 day period of putting God first. This is how I plan to do that: take 15 minutes every morning and read the daily devotional (along with the suggested scripture lesson and surrounding context) from the book First. Read the same devotion again over lunch. Have you noticed anything different? Have any new challenges or questions come up? Now, at the end of the day, read the devotional one more time. How has this time with God helped you focus your day? Has the day been any different because of the 30 minutes or more in which you put God first?
Now, repeat the process every day for the next month. Perhaps after 30 days, you will come to experience the exact same awakening that Olivia discovered after 30 days without sugar; that your life will never be the same, that you have changed in ways you never thought possible.
May you experience the sweetness of Jesus in ways you never imagined!