Me!, Seriously

Roller Coasters in the Dark

It has been a while since I last sat down to write. The weather got warmer, the days got longer, and my attention was diverted elsewhere. While it is still warm, the weather is starting to change, and the night air has a crispness that promises the coming of fall. The weather is not completely to blame for the return of the restlessness and discontent that I wrote about before. This restlessness and discontent drive me to introspection, which, in turn, makes me want to sit down and write. As seasons change, so do our lives, and sometimes it feels like the changes happen just as quickly.

I recently visited Disneyland while on vacation. I used to live in the area, and I had annual passes for 5 years. I loved Space Mountain and rode it a lot. By a lot I mean I could tell how many times it turned right near the end of the ride before the final left turn that took you back to the loading platform. Pretty sure it was 13 times. Riding it again for the first time in years, I no longer knew every nuance of the ride. It had been renovated and I’m fairly certain the track is the same, but I had forgotten many of the details. Is the nebula that looked like a flying chocolate chip cookie still there? I didn’t see it, but is that because it is gone or because I didn’t know where to look for it? The fading memories let me ride it with a different perspective, and reminded me of why I liked the ride so much in the first place.

The one thing about Disneyland I didn’t like was that none of the rides went upside down. You had to go to a different amusement park to experience that thrill. But then they opened California Adventure, and it had a coaster that went upside down, and took off really fast, and had a different level of excitement to it. But you could see every turn as you came up to it. You knew where the ride was going to take you. Space Mountain is dark. Really dark. You really cannot see the track, unless you’re sitting right in front. That makes the ride more thrilling. Unless you were a silly teenager who rode it countless times and counted the turns, you didn’t know what was going to happen next.

Life has felt like a roller coaster lately, like one that flips upside down in the dark but lacks the adrenaline rush to make it fun. I can’t see the track. I didn’t expect that last turn. Will I find myself upside down again? And maybe my life is still traveling the same direction, but my expectations and perceptions have been flying through the darkness. I don’t like the unknown. I don’t like wondering where things will lead. I don’t like to wait. I want every opportunity to have a clear label that tells me whether or not I should pursue it. I want to plan ahead.

So I feel restless, because I do not know if the ground beneath me is stable. But I have to take a step back and turn the lights on my perspective. I am blessed. When my apartment starts to feel too small, I have to remind myself that it only feels that way because I have so much stuff in it. Maybe it’s time to get rid of some stuff. When I don’t like the way I look, I have to ask myself if I have done anything about it lately. Maybe it’s time to get back on the exercise bike. When I feel like I have no money in the bank, I have to ask myself how I’ve been spending my money. Maybe it’s time to make better choices. I recently heard someone say that due to really hard financial times they celebrated their 13 year old daughter’s birthday by going down to the drug store and buying a 2 liter bottle of soda. Most 13 year olds these days are expecting a new phone or tablet or some other costly gadget. This one got a bottle of soda. I suspect my discontentment is because I want things I don’t really need. Sometimes I don’t think I know what I really want, which creates its own strange discontentment, but I know deep down inside I have everything I really need.

I still don’t know what tomorrow holds. I may not be able to control some of the unsettled feeling that feeds restless discontent, but I know my discontent is mostly about what I think I want. I really do expect some things to change in my life soon, but I cannot guarantee it, nor can I guarantee any change would be for the better. I have something coming up in a few weeks that will be a challenge for me. It will be a challenge because I have to be away from home for a few weeks, and it is not a trip I am taking for pleasure. I can’t help but feel like everything will be different when I come back.  The best part about Autumn for me is seeing the changing colors.  I’ll miss the first two weeks of October here in New York, so I might miss my favorite part of the next season of the year.  The end of summer and beginning of fall threaten to be hard for me.  This, too, shall pass.

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How To, Seriously

How To: Kill Your Old Man

When I was a kid, they changed something in Awana. They started making books in translations other than King James! More modern translations are easier for children to understand, right? So my parents will get us the easier to understand (and therefore learn) books, right? Oh, no, not my parents. Their kids can learn in the good ol’ KJV. I don’t honestly know what the reasoning was behind this, as I’m pretty sure the only time I asked why is when I was too sulky to hear the answer. (Mom, if you read this, care to enlighten me?) My parents had matching NASB study Bibles, so we certainly weren’t a KJV only household.

I can think of several reasons to stick to the KJV books:

  • It’s possible the books were cheaper because the alternate translation also came in books with a new design.
  • It’s possible my parents thought learning a “harder” translation would be good for us, because we were certainly smart enough and were in a highly literate family. Bear in mind my mother had me doing properly formatted bibliographies in 2nd grade, if I recall correctly (it was no later than 4th grade for sure). This is not outside the realm of possibility.
  • It’s possible my parents didn’t want to change translations because they had already helped my two older sisters and would have to relearn the verses themselves to help me. I was an Awana leader in college, and I had to really pay attention to what the book said, because it wasn’t quite how I learned it, nor in the translation I read most often. I now have sections of Scripture memorized in a what I will refer to as the New King James American English International Standard Version Bible (NKJAEISVB, you’re welcome). This makes recitation a bit awkward (not to mention trying to find verses online), but though I may have memorized the verse that says, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee,” in one translation, I do not believe the translation in which I am hiding God’s Word is as important as that I am hiding it in the first place. Anyway…
  • It’s possible my parents were mean. (I love you!)
  • It’s possible my parents have a sense of humor. (They do, just not sure it applies here.) KJV is rife with things that made a child of the 80s giggle. Let’s talk about one of them.

Our Old Man
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. Romans 6:6 (KJV)

But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
Colossians 3:8-13 (KJV)

I don’t know about you, but the term “old man” as used here has always given me cause for amusement. It did one thing though: in finding it amusing, I remembered it. I don’t remember the reference to “bowels of mercies,” but I think that’s going in my mental file under the “Why I’m Glad My Parents Were Mean” category.

All that being said, the old man, the flesh, this body of death, no matter what you call it, it’s out to get you. The Bible talks a lot about transformation, which involves putting off the old man (when I entitled this “How To: Kill Your Old Man” it’s a bit misleading – you can’t, but Christ can, and already has for those who are in Christ Jesus) and putting on the new. I had the privilege to attend some of the open sessions at a pastors and leaders conference (but everybody, regardless of the role they play in the body was welcome to attend) hosted by my church Sunday and yesterday, and one of the speakers talked at length about controlling our “Adam suit.” We inherited sin from Adam, and our bodies remind us of that daily. If we want to live the life God wants us to live, we have to get our flesh under control.

At first this sounds like nothing new. I have some of those verses from Colossians written on my closet doors (alas! in a translation that does not reference bowels), and they’ve been there for two months. However, through the three messages he preached, the conviction started to kick in. He asked last night what we did during our day to get our flesh under control. I’m not sure I actually did anything consciously to fight the flesh.

How’s Your Building Program?
I liked this speaker because, like me, he believes in using humor to make a point. He’s just better at it than I am. One of the things he said was along the lines of, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but your building program could use some work.” He also said that all Christians should have an exercise routine. The Bible doesn’t talk about that because people walked everywhere they went. He said there were no fat people in the Bible, but I think he may want to revisit Judges. Where did the hilt of Ehud’s sword end up again? Then again, that was a bad guy…

I can attest to how poorly we treat our bodies, and how much it takes discipline and self-control to repair the damage we do to ourselves. If you think for one moment that it did not require me to repeatedly deny my flesh to lose that 50 pounds I lost over the last two years, think again. That was hard. It continues to be hard to eat differently than I want to, and I don’t do as well as I think I should. I’ve never been able to deny my flesh its chocolate, you see. I did, however, train myself to eat less food overall, and now avoid entire sections the grocery store, because there’s nothing there I will allow myself to eat. I do not, however, exercise. I have tried off and on, but the off usually overwhelms the on. I’m a wimp. I don’t like pain. I let the old man win.

Self-Control Is Active
For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. 2 Timothy 1:17 (NASB)

Self-control gets a bad rap. Isn’t self-control about abstention? No, it’s about action. If you are going to successfully control the bad, you have to replace it with the good. If I want to put off sloth I have to put on exercise. If I want to put off lying, I have to put on truth. If I want to put off negativity, I have to put on encouragement. I would suggest that if we want to lose something, we should focus on what we want to gain instead. My work schedule changed recently, and I now set my alarm for 5 am. I don’t like waking up that early, but it forces me to choose between doing whatever it is I do that keeps me up past my bedtime and getting a good night’s rest. Sometimes what I need to get done is more important than an hour of sleep. Usually, however, it’s just a waste of time. I cannot both stay up and get the sleep I want. To gain sleep I have to lose wasted time. This seems like a no-brainer, but it can be very hard.

What Do You Want To Pick Up For Lent?
Depending on which religious calendar you follow (I’m not attending a church that follows much of one at all, so this is usually not on the radar for me), Lent starts (or started) this week. The idea of a fast is foreign to far too many of us. I think that’s a shame. Having given up certain foods, I can tell you it’s possible, and can even make you feel so much better you might never want to start eating them again. More importantly, though, having a collective mindset of the discipline fasting brings with it can only be beneficial.

What I want to do is offer an alternative to the typical “giving up for Lent” concept. What if we all picked up something we know is lacking? If you’re already active because you work in a physical job, spend your day running after, feeding and cleaning up after young children, or you have an established exercise routine, picking up exercise may not benefit you like it does me. If you’re struggling with financial control, maybe you want to pick up a budget. If you’re struggling with finding time to spend reading the Bible, maybe you want to pick up a new routine. You cannot add these things to your life without giving something else up. That time you spend exercising or reading your Bible means giving up time with the TV or internet. That budget means giving up that expensive cup of coffee, new toy, yarn you won’t be able to use for months because your projects are so backed up already, or whatever it is you spend more money on that you really have to. Something I picked back up lately, though I don’t do it as often as I should, is (very poorly) playing hymns on the keyboard. It’s a discipline that improves a skill I want to have (reading music and playing an instrument), and puts great music in my head. Above all, if I do it every day, it’s a discipline. It is self-control. And it takes away from less productive things. We all have things we need to pick up and put on in place of things we should take off and give up. Where is your old man showing up and how can you deny him with the spirit of discipline God has given us?

(The speaker referenced is Dr. Charles Lowery. He’s pretty awesome!)

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How To, Seriously

How To: Forget the Most Important Thing

As the pastor was closing out the sermon this morning and preparing to lead us in Communion, he told how he once called a wise man of God and asked what he thought Jesus meant in Gethsemane.

Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Matthew 26:38-39, 42 (ESV)

The man said that he thought Jesus was referring to taking on sin, even to become sin. For the sinless Son of God, taking on sin was such a terrible thought that He was sorrowful, even to death, and pleaded with His Father for a way out. Thank God there was no other way, and He drank that cup and drank it for me.

Sin or Righteousness

Peter and Paul may not have agreed on everything, but on this they agree: Christ Jesus bore our sin on the cross, and did so to remove sin from our lives and replace it with the righteousness of God.

Paul: He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB)

Peter: and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 1 Peter 2:24 (NASB)

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

I did a quick calculation of how many times I’ve been to Communion services in my life so far, based on the frequency each church I’ve attended did it and how long I was at that church. It comes out to more than 375 times. Although there are some differences in the form, there’s one thing that’s very consistent in Protestant observance of the Lord’s Supper, and that is the reading of this account:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Luke 22:19-20 (ESV)

Yes, during my lifetime I have heard some form of the words Jesus said to His disciples that night no less than 375 times. Repetition is a great way to learn. It’s little wonder that as I held the cracker in my hand this morning, I kept repeating in my mind, “This is my body.” I know these words, because I’ve heard these words again and again. It struck me, though, that I somehow still manage to forget them, or at least forget what they really mean.

Lukewarm

Every time I say, “I should do this,” and I do not do it, I am have forgotten. Every time I say, “I shouldn’t do this,” and I do it, I have forgotten. “But to him who knoweth good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” When I let it go as “no big deal,” I have forgotten that it was big enough to put my Savior on a cross. I have forgotten that it was such a big deal that Christ sweat blood in agony over the thought of bearing it for me. I have forgotten that it was such a big deal that His body was broken for it. I have forgotten that it was such a big deal that His blood was shed for it. I have grown complacent. I have grown lukewarm.

So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. Revelation 3:16 (HCSB)

If you look at several translations, they say spit, vomit or spew (confession: spew is my favorite, better yet is “spue” from the older translations). I picked one that expresses this more strongly than “spit” because, let’s be honest, I don’t think God’s saying, “I’m going to discreetly remove you from my mouth into a napkin.” I personally think there are more unpleasant sensations than lukewarm food or drink. I mean, sure, In-N-Out fries go from amazing to kind of weird when they cool down to room temperature, but that won’t make me spit them out, let alone spew! Spew is reserved for something a little bit more revolting. Think of the worst thing you’ve ever tasted, something that may have literally made you gag. I think that’s more like what a lukewarm Christian is to God.

It’s little wonder God spews out the lukewarm. What’s more disgusting than forgetting what His Son did for us and counting the very thing that put Him on the cross as “no big deal,” or even denying that it’s sin at all?

I don’t think we have to be told how to forget. We have to be told how to remember. The good news is Jesus already told us how. “Do this in remembrance of me.”

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Seriously

Are You Encouraging Guilt?

I would like to begin by saying that my intent is not to start a debate, or blame anybody with what I say here. This is an outlet for me, and I tread here with trepidation. I don’t like talking about this, but I think part of why I don’t like talking about this is exactly what I’m talking about. That being said, I also want to establish quite clearly that my point is not to justify sin in any capacity. I’m addressing things well meaning people have said that have stuck with me through the years.

I don’t think the church in general does a good job addressing sex with its young people. Maybe things have changed since I was a teen, but I look back at the attempts made and find them lacking. It might have been sufficient had I made different life choices, or married 10 years ago, but I didn’t. I have dated non-Christian men. I should not have, but I learned some things from it, mostly which of the messages I got on the subject were helpful and which were not.

Let’s start with some of the things I was told or impressions I received from how the message was delivered, or things I have read/heard from various Christian sources since then, understanding that these may or may not have been the intended result:

  • If you have sex before you get married, you will be damaged goods and will hate yourself on your wedding night.
  • Men are supposed to struggle with sexual temptation. This isn’t an issue for women.
  • Masturbation is homosexual sex.
  • Pornography is cheating on your spouse with multiple people.
  • Sexual sin is the worst kind of sin.
  • There’s a right and wrong way to enjoy sex with your spouse.
  • You should be careful how far you go with someone you’re dating, because it’s hard to back up the train.
  • You should avoid having sex before you’re married, because it’s easier to say no if you don’t know what you’re missing.
  • Talking about sex isn’t appropriate.

Obviously some of these are more helpful than others, and this list isn’t exhaustive, but I’d like to respond to some of these and what I’ve learned over the years. We live in a society saturated by sex, with an expectation that people will be sexually active in their late teens or early 20s. A 40 year old virgin is a laughingstock. We as Christians have different standards, but unless you’re isolated from the world completely, you will still be receiving mixed messages, and you will be exposed to things our grandparents never saw. We have to talk about it. Discretion is critical, certainly, so talk about it! But so is grace, so let’s talk about how we talk about it.

Damaged Goods and the Worst Sins

To me this is like saying, “If you have sex before you get married, you don’t deserve a godly husband or wife, and you will never be good enough.” I think this is problematic for a few reasons. I think this leads young Christians who have made mistakes to fear rejection from other Christians and may result in people dating and marrying unbelievers, because they don’t have to worry about being judged. Using guilt as a motivator may work (I will vouch for that – the idea that I will be riddled with guilt later has been very effective), but only to a point. It may “save” some, but it may also drive others completely away. There’s also the question of how far one has to (or can) go before they become damaged. I strongly suspect that line is in different places for different people.

I think the idea that some sins are worse than others is a dangerous trend among Christians. It’s really easy to point to some sins and say they are worse than others. Usually the sins we point to as worse are the ones that people are more likely to see, or that we haven’t come to accept as so common that surely it can’t be all that bad. Very correctly there are those who point out our own inconsistencies and hypocrisy. We are so vocal about sexual sin in its various forms while we indulge in gluttony and pride like they’re going out of style.

I’m pretty sure if someone suggested to you that since you once told a lie, you are damaged goods and don’t deserve a godly spouse, you’d probably find that preposterous. What message do we really want to send to our young people?

Men, Women, and Compounded Sins

Now I could be wrong, but if my exposure to the world is representative of humanity, both men and women are sexual beings. As such, temptation is going to be real for both men and women. Telling young women, even unintentionally, that men face more temptation than women, is the same as telling them that their temptations are unusual. What does that say to them? They must be worse than other girls. Failure to be fair to women on this point is nothing short of sexism. Sexual temptation is normal for everybody. It may manifest itself differently, but it’s still normal. Let girls know it’s normal, and they will be far more likely to seek help if they think they need it, instead of hiding away, thinking there’s something wrong with them. I do not think we should be airing our dirty laundry, but are we not encouraged to confess our sins to one another? Implications that something is abnormal is going to discourage that confession.

I won’t go into any detail about my thoughts on calling masturbation homosexual sex or pornography as cheating on one’s spouse. I will say that I don’t think either presentation of that is actually helpful. Whether or not it is, there are other ways to address specific areas in which temptation may frequently occur. I think what this does is give sin more credit than it deserves, and giving credence to the worse sins mentality. Let’s just compound sin upon sin and say that when you sin in this way you’re actually sinning in multiple ways. Again, this isn’t helpful, whether or not you think those statements are true.

I’m going to toss the idea that there’s a right and wrong way to enjoy one’s spouse into the not helpful category. Without real experience in this matter, I see this as a Pharisaical idea that is likely to do more harm than good, and may cause strain in marriages, and possibly cheat people out of a fulfilling sex life with their spouse, which may make other sexual temptations more alluring. If it doesn’t involve anything the Bible (not someone else in the church) says is sinful, a couple should be free to decide their own parameters.

Backing Up the Train and Knowing What’s Out There

The more practical approaches to encouraging purity have proven the most helpful to me, and I think this is the direction conversation needs to go. I think every kid in the youth group likely knows the Bible says you should save sex for marriage. Instead of heaping fodder for guilt on them, talk about it from a human perspective. The longer I live the more I see that God’s ways are the best ways. Usually the youth leaders or parents trying to talk to kids about sex have wisdom they may not be imparting effectively, or they may impart it but it gets overwhelmed by the rest of the presentation.

The most helpful thing I was told as a teen is that it’s hard to stop the train and back it up once it’s moving. This is talking about the natural progression physical intimacy takes. The most helpful thing I was told in my 20s is that avoiding sexual relationships is a good thing because once you’ve done it you know what you’re missing. The message is the same, though presentation took two slightly different forms: Set boundaries and stick to them. You don’t have to get the train moving very far or fast to know what this is all about. Let’s take something like holding hands. To me this is quite innocent and the most basic starting point for a slow paced relationship. It has a thrill to it, and it feels good. Once you’ve had that expression of interest (and, dare I say, sexuality) through physical touch, you do it again. It’s not a one time deal. It’s also likely going to lead to desire to express and experience more physical contact. If you’ve never held hands, you may not care about holding hands as much as someone who knows what it’s like. Up the ante to hugging or (*gasp!*) kissing, and you’ve probably decided you like this train an awful lot.

Preach boundaries. Do it. But they aren’t just valuable for saving one’s self for marriage. I mentioned before that I dated non-Christian men. I dated two of them, and the relationships were very different. Had they come in a different order, I may have learned less from them. The first was a relationship where there was a lot of pressure to push and cross the boundaries. If there is one thing I could impart to those who go behind me, it is this: If you have to compromise more and more to keep someone interested in you, you do not have a foundation for a healthy relationship. You may find yourself in a position, like I did, where they leave you and then go date someone else who gives them what you would not. That. Hurts. You will also likely wish you had never pushed any of your boundaries at all, because you realize that it doesn’t take much to create a bond with someone else, and the stronger the bond, the more likely you are to stay in a relationship you know you should not be in, and the more it hurts when it eventually ends. It’s also easier to compromise once you’ve already done it. Don’t get yourself in a position that you have to ask yourself how the heck you got there. God’s grace is abundant, and He got me out of a bad situation. We can rely on God’s grace, but we shouldn’t test it. Don’t test it. Stick to those boundaries.

I had another relationship with a man who did not put pressure on me. It was nice. I was able to get to know him and realize over time that there were aspects of that relationship that would be problematic down the road. When that relationship ended, it was less painful and I had far fewer regrets. Neither relationship encouraged godliness or holiness in my life, so don’t date an unbeliever if you want to foster holiness.

Your Sins Are Forgiven. Go and Sin No More.

If God has forgiven us, why would we refuse to forgive ourselves or others? Messages of guilt lead to doubt that we can or should be forgiven by others, because we find it so hard to forgive ourselves. I think coming face to face with my own temptation over the years has given me a healthier perspective on grace. I know what temptation is, so how can I judge someone else for struggling to resist temptation? It knocked my pride down a bit, too. I am not above it. I’m human, friends. I trust you are, too. I won’t only forgive people for being tempted in exactly the same way I am. Sin is sin. Jesus died once for all, and my sin put Him on the cross just as much as yours did.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said,“Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James 2: 10-17

All sins are bad, and faith that doesn’t bear fruit in what we do is dead. Pursue holiness, but don’t vilify certain sins. Teach the truth and let the Spirit convict, and when we do face temptation, remember that His grace is sufficient for us. And when we give in to temptation, remember that His blood is sufficient to cover it. If God has forgiven, preach healing, not guilt. Tell the young people about what happens when we cross those lines, and let them know they’re not the only ones to ever face temptation, even if they are girls.

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