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Archive for April, 2012

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,every knee will bow before me;  every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:10,11).

Yesterday a young friend of mine, a former coworker, invited me to his place to play poker with his friends. I gladly obliged since I have always enjoyed visiting his home, talking with his father (who is my age) and messing around with his buddies.

A few hands after we got started, we were ushered into the kitchen where some sandwiches and cookies were waiting. My friend’s mother kindly prepares a little spread  each time we have a game at their place.

As we were munching, my friend’s Dad began to bring out bottles of various spirits. He noted that he himself nor his son drank alcohol, but we were welcome to them.  The father noted the alcohol was so plentiful because he had been given bottles of it by former students and others.

My friend’s other two invited guests were regular drinkers. They had no trouble inbibing. I, on the other hand, am not a drinker except on rare occasions.

When the father mentioned cognac I became curious. I had never tasted what to me seemed to be kind of an elite beverage, and I wanted to try some, so I did.

Later, during our game, one of the drinking players took a short break and went home. He was busted and had to go get some more money.

When he returned he had some famous brand of Irish whiskey with him, and offered me a bit. As with the congac, I accepted the offer and noted how smooth this particular drink was.

As the game went on, I also found myself losing. Although I don’t play Texas Hold ‘Em much, losing to these guys was a new experience for me. I had won the pot the last two times I had played.

Luck I guess. We don’t play for much, but as I am on a tight budget I winced at even the few euros I was giving up.

As I have reflected on this past evening, I am curious about something. What has sparked my interest is my emotional reaction as  I:  was offered and drank alcoholic beverages;  lost money while playing cards.

What I experienced in my feelings last night was guilt. Why is that, I wondered?

In thinking about it, I have determined that my evangelical Christian background influenced my emotions.  It occurred to me to ask myself,”What if so and so knew about this (and certain influential Christians in my life popped up)?”

My reaction to my participation in last night’s events were not earth shattering. Indeed, I had a few sips  of alcohol only. Furthermore, my losses at poker were worth the expense in my view.

I thought,”Where else would I have had so much fun and had such good food and drink at these prices?” Yet, the guilt still floats through my subconscious.

Because of this, I have mentally been running through some biblical principles I know about such issues. For example, I know that the Scriptures make no probibition against drinking alcohol. It only speaks against drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18).

I also know that the Bible exhorts believers in principle to not violate their consciences, nor to hurt weaker believers in their practices (Romans 14;13,22). In my case, I am pretty sure my guilt was not the result of the breaking of my conscience, only a reaction to what I believe some folks in the evangelical circles I hang around would think.

In fact, as I have thought further I have even patted myself on the back. I know we are to take care of our bodies as temples of God, and I refrained from the cigars offered (I Corinthians 6:19). I thought,”I have enough health issues. Why add to them by inhaling smoke into my lungs.”

Indeed, I even engaged in a little more analysis and judgment of my own.”Why, Dwight Moody, a hero of Christendom, was a smoker. If some people knew their Christian history, they wouldn’t be so smug.”

What is going on here in my heart? I think an episode of the TV medical drama “House” called “Love is Blind” has helped me to flesh this out.

A young blind  man named Will is brought into the care of Dr. House. While in the hospital he is visited by his girlfriend Melissa.

As the writers of this episode make clear, Melissa is quite controlling.  She treats Will like a child. This is perhaps because Will is a minority and blind and Melissa is a healthy young white woman.

 Will tells the doctors he intends to marry someone else he met while the couple were “taking a break” because of Melissa’s behavior.  “Most of the time she acts more like my mother than my girlfriend,” he tells the female Dr. Adams, who thinks Will is treating his girlfriend badly.

Indeed, Will breaks the news to Melissa during one of her “mothering” incidents that he is breaking up with her. She storms out of the hospital room distraught.

What I perceive in Christianity as it is practiced in some circles in America is this tendency for believers to “mother ” one another . I suppose it is only human nature for people to like to tell other people what they think is “good” for them, but Christians at times like to add the air of God’s authority in their pronouncements, as if they speak for the Almighty.

The truth is that in many cases they are only speaking for themselves and their opinions. Their understanding of what is good and not good for others may or may not be legitimate or appropriate, but they come across as if they bear the “Word of the Lord”.   Furthermore you get the impression that if you don’t follow their way of thinking, you’re be in their doghouse.

Will’s worsening condition provides the scaffolding for my teachable moment in relation to how believers ought to actually treat one another. The doctors determine that the right course of action to save the young man’s life, but it means he may lose his hearing in addition to still being blind.

When he learns the news, Will refuses treatment. He tells the doctors he has had enough of his suffering and can’t bear any more.

Enter Melissa with Dr. Adams. The script best bears out what happens next. 

Melissa: Will, it’s me.
Will: Let me guess. The doctor who thinks I’m an ass wants you to convince me to live.
Melissa: Yes.
Will: It won’t work.
Melissa: I know. So I won’t.
Will: Wow. You’re that angry?
Melissa: I’ve made enough decisions for you. This is your life.
Will: Why’d you come back?
Melissa: Because I love you. And I want to be with you for as long as I can.
Will: Melissa, I’m so scared.
[She moves from the doorway to his bedside and takes his hand.]
Melissa: Me too. I’ll always love you.
Will: Even if I was deaf?
Melissa: Even if anything.

SPOILER ALERT

This unconditional love moves Will. He accepts the “cure”, and the next morning asks Melissa to marry him. She enthusiastically accepts.

Melissa treated Will as an adult, allowing him to make his own decisions, including life or death ones. She no longer tried to manipulate him into the path she thought best.

The results of  Melissa’s course in this fictional drama were positive. Perhaps the end result won’t always be so rosy, but it would behoove believers in Jesus Christ to give each other the same kind of freedom.

If a person takes a public stand on some issue important to us, and especially if they are trying to influence others, we  have the right, perhaps even the duty, to oppose them. But on private matters of conscience, cutting each other some slack seems to be in order in my mind. 

A little less arrogance and a little more freedom of choice, “even if”,  would go a long way in today’s world. God Himself gives us that kind of freedom, so why don’t we do the same?

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“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out  before a single day had passed (Psalm 139:13-16).”

Yesterday I had an epiphany.

I was looking over some personality test material I had given my students to do earlier in the week. I figured this was as good a time as any to check up on myself, too.

I have done done a lot of analysis of my skills and abilities, passions, values and yes, personality traits the last few years. The purpose (with a nod to career coach Dan Miller) has been to determine what kind of work I would most love to do.

As I’ll be switching jobs in a few month, I thought it relevant to give myself a check up. Not to mention also that for a teacher it doesn’t hurt to do the material you pass out to your students. Doing so gives you some kind of feel for what they will be doing for you.

As I looked over the quadrants showing the personality dimensions most applicable to me, something stood out I had never noticed before. The action plans for the two personality dimensions I straddle say that, to be more effective, I need to:

*validate self worth  

* respect people’s worth as much as their accomplishments.

The recovery programs based on Alcoholics Anonymous tell you that you should do a ruthless moral inventory. Somehow this week I have been doing a lot of that and not particularly liking what I see. I haven’t felt very good about myself as a result.

It has been pretty anguishing to review my character defects. I have come to some realization of how this man has made some major mistakes in terms of being a husband, father and work colleague.

Of late my sins have come back to bite me. I think the author of Galatians was spot on when he wrote, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man shows he shall also reap (Galatians 6:7).” 

 (Of course, he would be on target whether this truth was part of my experience or not. After all, he is writing the inspired Word of God!)

As I have been immersing myself in my “Life Recovery Bible” this year, I have tended to focus on the first four of the twelve steps. They involve admitting that you have an unmanageable life and turning it over to God. Step four is the one involving the moral inventory.

Now, working on my character isn’t new to me. I’ve been at it my whole life, having become a Christian as a teenager. The problem is that I seem to be struggling with the same old stuff decades later. It’s pretty discouraging.

I just watched an episode of the TV medical drama “House” in which a marriage seminar leader suddenly has health problems on stage and goes under the care of  Dr. House and his team. Part of the treatment is giving the leader, a fellow named Joe, testosterone.

It seems Joe was kicked in the groin a few times a few years before during a bar fight. This lowered his testosterone significantly.

As the low testoerone fits into the medical mix, the doctors treat Joe with testerone shots. As he continues with the treatment, Joe begins to revert back the pre-fight version of himself.

Before the kicks in the groin, Joe was a corporate coach. He was cutthroat and ruthless. 

However, after the bar fight, Joe became a sensitive man. He moved from corporate coaching to trying to help men relate better to women.

In the process he attracted a mate who liked this version of Joe. His wife Marlene is horrified as she watches him revert to the brute he used to be.

The source of Joe’s condition is finally determined and the continued use of testosterone treatments advocated. Joe, despite warnings from one of  House’s doctors that a low testosterone level poses major health problems, declines having them administered anymore.

Joe decides that the lower testosterone will keep his marriage intact. Besides, he tells the doctor, he is a better man without them.

Frankly, I think the whole storyline is pretty absurd and was probably meant to be when it was written.  In reality, all men will tell you a kick in the groin is no laughing matter.

For example, I just read a story in the news in which a woman grabbed a man with whom she was in an argument over a parking space in the man’s most vulnerable spot. The man died as a result.

It doesn’t surprise me that a TV show or even real people for that matter would suggest that someone like Joe stay in a less-than-male state. In this day and age men are under assault, and for good reason, as we don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to relating to women, or anyone else for that matter.

However, the Bible seems to say that chemical or physical acts don’t make for real change. Indeed, there were people back in New Testament days that said that if you were going to be a real Christian, you needed an operation that affected the same area where Joe was injured.

It was said that if you were going to be a true believer, you had to follow the old way of circumcision. However, the author of Galatians, in the same chapter in which he reminded that we reap what we sow, said that this procedure did nothing to produce real change in a person’s condition. He wrote:

“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation (Galations 6:15).”

As I contemplated my own condition yesterday I went on to look more closely at steps six and seven of the 12 steps in my “Life Recovery” Bible” . These items move on from the moral inventory to tell me that I should be willing to have God remove my defects of character and also ask Him to do it.

I can’t stay stuck at the “ruthless moral inventory”. All this does is to produce depression and no real healing.

The truth is that God thinks pretty highly of me despite my sins. This realization yesterday shocked me, and also helped me to understand that I do not have to stay stuck in self-hatred.

In fact, to do so will continue to affect my relationships negatively. How can I possibly honor and value other people when I can’t even stand myself?

 He made me and has even written a book in which I am the main character. As an always aspiring author, this just blows my mind. 

My epiphany was that God sees me as hugely valuable to Him. It was also that He has the same view of my wife, kids, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and every one else I come into contact with.

This illuminating discovery changes everything. I see myself and others quite differently today, and want to see this insight from God translated into my character.

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“When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it;  the light of my face was precious to them (Job 29:24).”

I think six months of winter is a little much, even for the Finns. Finally, today I have seen the possibility that it might be over.

As I walked by the largest lake in the country around noon, I could see pools of water developing. They were intermingled with the ever -weakening ice and the last vestiges of the white snow that has dominated the landscape here for months.

I groaned inwardly as I walked through the harbor in my town.  Having any winter the last week of April made me long for something different.

I also sighed inside because the icy lake, though beginning to turn liquid again, reminded me of my own soul. After a lifetime I have grown tired of the winter in my being and at last have begun to see my frozen spirit begin to melt.

These feelings come on a day that it seems major issues in my life all confronted me at once. This tends to happen when a computer is used. Too much communication, or perhaps not enough real life.

Recently a pastor told me that I was just “going through a season in my life”. When it was obvious to him that I was getting ready to object, that nothing was going to change, he added,”Oh, this doesn’t mean necesarrily that your circumstances will change, but…”.

I don’t remember the rest. I probably can’t recall because I was stuck on the unsettling truth of his first clause just sinking in.

Today I am fed up with myself. Not only that, I am disillusioned with the world I live in every day, including the features of modern-day Christianity.

I guess I’m not alone in that. Andrew Sullivan just wrote a piece in Newsweek advising Christians to follow Jesus and not the church.

No news there. The letters to the editor in the following edition both praised him and criticized him for his article.

I guess I am feeling a bit singled out today though, perhaps by Jesus Himself. I ask,”What I want to know, Lord, is why I have to keep paying the price for my sinfulness and other believers I know seem to be getting a pass?”

I know for a fact that they struggle with the same stuff I do: temper, sexual temptation, greed, envy, self indulgence…the list could go on and have made the same mistakes as a result of failing in these areas. Yet, these folks seem to be carrying on, their smiling Facebook images glaring out at me each day.

I, on the other hand, have to pay the piper for my lifetime of not really following Jesus all the way. Without going into detail in public print, let’s just say I have a bunch of messes, mostly originating from the biggest cesspool in my life: my heart.

I cry with the Psalmist,”My problems are going from bad to worse (Psalm 25:17a).”  (He adds pleadingly,”Save me from them all!”)

These same people who are getting a free ride on their sins, from my point of view anyway, are not shy about telling the rest of us what to do about ours. (I don’t know, even as I write that it seems a little unfair. I do the same thing-trying to play God in the lives of others.)

What I wonder is if my earthly life can still be redeemed. I am beginning to feel like one of my favorite fictional characters, Dr. Gregory House-the king of curmdgeons.

House consistently displays his flaws from week-to-week in the TV drama that bears his name. Into his eighth and final season, it doesn’t appear as if the not-so-good doctor will ever change.

He is left with only one loving aspect it seems. This was revealed recently as he dealt with one of his colleagues, Dr. Robert Chase.

Chase is about to tell a nun who had previously struggled with her beliefs that her renewed faith and desire to return to the convent has to do with a chemical reaction to her brain from a near-death experience, not a spiritual awakening. Chase has fallen in love with the nun and wants to keep her.

But he has his own issues, which House sees right through. It’s not that House is particularly religious -far from it.  He just realizes Chase would be making a big mistake, trying to bring the woman back to him for all the wrong reasons.

For one, Chase himself has just had a near death experience. A few weeks before a patient nearly stabbed him to death.

Chase defends his rationale and attacks House for his intent to bring him to his senses:

Chase (to House): She’s throwing away her life because of blind faith.

House: So are you! She’s found something she wants to build her life around. It’s a total illusion, but apparently she’ll take a little ignorance with her bliss. And you want to take that away?

Chase: How many times have you thrown the truth in people’s faces?

House: Because it’s the truth, not because we’re gonna live happily ever after.

House: Either your relationship just blows up like every other non-magical romance, or she stays with you but blames you for stripping all the meaning out of her life.

Chase: (angrily) This has nothing to do with the truth. You don’t like that I’m reassessing my life, that I want to change it, that I can.

House: Anyone can screw up a life. I never said that wasn’t possible.

Chase: You’re incapable of human connection, so you want everyone to be like you.

House: If I wanted you to be like me… I would be urging you to make a stupid, stubborn decision that blows up your life and leaves you lonely and miserable. You reassess your life when you’ve made mistakes. You didn’t. You just got stabbed. 

Thus, the only goodness that can come from House after a life of curmdugeonliness is to tell someone else,”Don’t be like me!”.

I am hoping my life isn’t so far gone that I end up being some old guy who tells young whippernsnappers,”Do as I say, not as I do (or did).”

What I discovered though as I walked through the harbor today is that what really matters is what Jesus Christ thinks of me, not what others, even those closest to me, think. More than that, what He thinks of me is more crucial than what I think of myself.

What I know is that Jesus died to give me grace. He paid the price for my sins, past, present and future.

Can this aging leopard change his spots at this date (Jeremiah 13:23). I don’t know, but if any transformation is going to come about, it is going to happen through completely turning my life over to the care of Jesus.

So instead of looking at my dirty smudges, and the frowns of those around me who don’t care much for them either, I think it’s best I just look into the face of Christ. There I’ll get a smile.

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