Are You Addicted?

We have cause to celebrate because the grace of God has appeared, offering the gift of salvation to all people. Grace arrives with its own instruction: run away from anything that leads us away from God; abandon the lusts and passions of this world; live life now in this age with awareness and self-control, doing the right thing and keeping yourselves holy.             Titus 2:11-12

I have worked with a lot of people over the years who have addictions of various types. We can be addicted to anything. Anything.  The reason for that is the natural tendency to avoid pain or unpleasant situations or feelings. So, we look for remedies. The problem is that the remedy itself often becomes an addiction.

 Addictions are shortcuts to feel better. They offer immediate gratification, and numb the pain. People use substances, at first to feel good- later they must use them just not to feel bad.

Some of our addictions are somewhat innocuous and socially acceptable- for example,             my addiction to caffeine. That is one we even joke about, and it is a very common addiction. Then there are food addictions which are often socially acceptable, but are not good for our bodies, such as addiction to sugar- more or less a societal addiction.

Obviously, many addictions are not so harmless, and they are complex and dangerous. Anything that makes us feel good right away- something that immediately takes our brain’s pleasure center captive, is addictive. There are complex physical and emotional reasons for this, but suffice it to say, once the brain gets used to such chemical changes and the addiction takes over, recovery is monumentally difficult.

So, what are some of your addictions? We all have them!

Prayer: You have given us the remedy for a broken world, help us to deal with our own remedies which can be destructive, Amen. 

Equal, (Not) Under the Law

 So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.                                                                  Galatians 3:26-28

Okay, I am no Bible scholar, so please just take this as my understanding of what Paul is trying to say. In the context of this passage, I see Paul reminding his followers that Jesus came to fulfill the Law. Faith in Jesus, as the operative who supersedes the Law, is the point of the gospel. Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to destroy it. Jesus told us that. The Law is fulfilled in loving God and one another and trusting in Him alone. If one has love for God and others, he/she does not need to hear “Don’t kill”, “Don’t steal”, “Don’t blaspheme”, “Don’t lie”- you get my drift.

The same is true for esteeming some people higher than others- you know, our tendency toward judging people who are different, disenfranchising women, stuff like that. Paul was clear here that being one in Christ is the key, not the individual flavors we come in such as Jew, Gentile, slave, free, men, and women.

The Bible has, unfortunately, often been used over the centuries by some as a justification for discrimination. Paul reminded the Galatians of the basics of the faith. We are one in Christ, and that is the basis of unity, not division.

Prayer: Lord, keep us mindful of your unity, not division, Amen

“End Times?”

But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.

 “The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.

 “The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have been there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.                                                                                                                                         Matthew 24:36-44 (The Message)

There has always been speculation in the Christian community about the “second coming”, when Jesus will return to earth, and prophecies will be fulfilled. There are many people who speculate on when those “end times” will be, and they point to events that certainly indicate (they believe) that the end times are near. Of course, through the centuries, there have been many events that people could point to as “inevitable signs” of the imminent fulfillment of those prophecies.

Interestingly, Jesus did not seem to put much focus on that event. He said that no one knew, except the Father, when those end times would come. He typically told people, and gave stories about, “occupying well” until that end time comes.

I find it a bit disturbing that people are so intent on looking for that great “end time” event when Jesus will come again. Didn’t Jesus essentially say, “Don’t worry about an event that you cannot know, keep serving and loving people right now where you are”. In the prayer he taught his disciples, Jesus instructed us by saying “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

I understand that to mean that we are to not simply wait until the earth is fulfilled (or destroyed, based upon your interpretation), but we are to work to bring “heaven to earth”. That is, we are to endeavor, through our transformed lives and relationships, to demonstrate what that future Kingdom can look like here on earth.

We will never be able to make the earth “heaven”. We are all quite clear on that! But didn’t Jesus challenge us to try, in our own little way, to make the earth a little better place for those we share the planet with?

So, rather than spending time waiting and speculating on an event whose time we will never know, isn’t it better to ask, “How can I make this present time better for those around me?”

Prayer: Lord, you have given us opportunities to bring Kingdom principles to earth. Help us to focus on what is right before us, Amen

Grow Where We Are Planted

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”                                                                                                                                       Jeremiah 29:4-7

This passage from the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament has always stuck with me as a way we ought to live. The prophet Jeremiah was deeply distraught about his people being carried into exile in heathen Babylon. Imagine what it must have been like for this prophet and his proud people, God’s people, to be carried into the “devil’s den”. At least that is how they saw it.

But God saw it a different way. This was an opportunity for them to become a shining light of God’s love and provision for people who did not know the true God. Indeed, their neighbors worshipped many gods and idols.

I am careful to understand that the Bible was written for people at certain times and places, and not all passages can be cleanly interpreted into present time and culture. Yet this passage seems to be timeless and meant for all of us.

We can decide to curse the culture that we are living in, call it godless, and ask God’s judgment on the land. Or, we can love the people right where they are, not judge them, and work to make wherever we live a place that honors God.

You know, grow where we are planted…

Prayer: Lord, help us to make wherever we are better for us having been there, Amen

Hope

Whoever was still alive had reason for hope                             Viktor Frankl

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way

Viktor Frankl

But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.                                  Psalm 9:18

I trust that many of my readers are familiar with Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian psychiatrist, and a prisoner of Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He was a prisoner because he was Jewish.

During his time in the concentration camps, he witnessed the hopelessness and despair among many of the prisoners that one might naturally expect in such dreadful conditions. Frankl noted that those prisoners who gave up hope, those who did not see any meaning in life anymore, tended to die quickly. They had given up.

Those like Frankl, and the ones he tried to help in the camps, were able to see that, even in the most debasing of circumstances, there was something that could not be taken from them. They had a choice to hope. 

Frankl survived the concentration camp experience, however his father and his wife did not. But Frankl’s story, tragic as it appears, was one of hope for many, because from it came his works about therapy and treatment of emotional problems. His ability to marry the concepts of human suffering with the remedy of hope and choice, gave rise to logotherapy. He infused psychiatry with a spiritual dimension framed in a positive light hitherto unseen in the field.

Hope is where we find it. Unfortunately, we might stop looking. Frankl endured terrible suffering, but he never completely lost hope because he found meaning in his suffering. He found that the Nazis could never imprison his mind, even if they had his body in prison.

We have been promised that God will never forget us in our time of need, even when we see no provision in front of us. The hope of his promises remains.

Prayer: Thank you Father for infusing us with a spirit of hope, a spirit beyond us, resting in you, Amen.

Owning Our Biases

Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal; yet now God declares us “not guilty” of offending him if we trust in Jesus Christ, who in his kindness freely takes away our sins.                               Romans 3:23-24 (Living Bible)

I am a member of a community leadership forum, and recently there was a question posed about ethical leadership principles. One of those principles was about owning our biases. This presupposes that we have an awareness of our biases. Then, we must be willing to take a look at those biases and determine to what extent that they may be affecting our decisions, our relationships with others, and how we run our organization.

My response to the forum was this analogy.  In 12 Step work, there is the 4th Step which calls for us to take a fearless and searching moral inventory of our character defects. Owning a bias is not a character defect. Denying that we have biases is.

 Taking a 4th Step inventory is a very healthy process. Everyone, regardless of whatever recovery status one may have, could benefit from working the 12 Steps of AA. As one of the slogans stated in our Recovery Service at Church, Recovery is Not Just for Alcoholics Anymore.

Yes, we are all recovering sinners, loved by God and precious in his sight.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the freedom of owning our own defects and biases, Amen

On Christian Nationalism

I am taking the next few days to share some essays on Christian Nationalism that I wrote some time ago. This is a bit of a departure from my usual format, but I hope here to share my heart and concern about a phenomenon that serves neither our country, nor our faith well.

I am a Christian, and I love God, especially as he is expressed in his son, Jesus. I am an American, and I love my country. I am not, however a Christian Nationalist, as I understand that term.

I am disturbed by the gradual melding of “Christian” with “American”. One can be a devoted Christian without being American, and one can be a devoted American without being Christian. Some Christians in America have blurred these devotions, giving the impression that to be a good American is to be a good Christian. That to be a good American Christian entails a certain set of allegiances that mimic conservative values.

Sometimes, however, those values are not consistent with Christian values. Our track record with immigration over the years, for example, has not reflected the values of Jesus. Our track record with people of color and Native Americans is a legacy to be repented.

Of course, no country is perfect, and America has shown itself to be a bastion of freedom and democracy in a world that needs such freedom for people. We have much to be proud of as Americans, but a sober look at our imperfections is part of healthy awareness and growth.

Our very political system has been raised as a standard for the world as a way to give voice and opportunity to people heretofore unknown. Yet that very system carries the seeds of its own destruction if not held by people of integrity.

Our elected officials have pandered to their political bases without regard to what is best for the country. On the issue of abortion, for example, it has been easy for some conservative politicians to jump hard onto draconian measures to limit abortion. Please understand that I am very much anti-abortion and pro-life. The principle that government should step in to protect the most vulnerable of its population, the unborn child, is close to my heart. Yet, politicians who espouse some anti-abortion measures often are simply pandering to a constituency that will sound the dog whistle with their single-issue voters. Their understanding of the nuances facing difficult decisions about abortion, in my opinion, has often given way to cheap vote fishing.   

Cloaking political power in the language of Christianity is, to me, both subtle and repulsive. Clearly, our founding fathers envisioned an America of limited government powers, and freedom of individuals to express their opinions, including religious beliefs, without harassment.

Has God given America a bountiful blessing? Yes, of course- abundantly so. We have been protected geographically, for much of our existence, by two great oceans which kept us from invasion and interference from potential international enemies. We have the gifts of expansive plains, great agricultural soil, mineral resources, and many more blessings too numerous to mention.

Yet we also have a hubris that the rest of the world struggles to understand. We take for granted those blessings, then assume that God endowed them to us and made us special- that our country has been earmarked as the special agent of preserving Christianity.

The truth is, the fastest growth of Christianity in the world is found in Africa. Our brand of Christianity, and that is what it has become in America, a brand, is not necessarily the faith that Jesus brought to earth centuries ago. His radical love transcended political and governmental power, and turned religion upside down. Our attempt at codifying faith into a religious system is simply our human attempt to understand the power of a Holy Spirit who infuses the God-breath into humankind.

So, we must beware of the insidious growth of Christian Nationalism which seeks to justify Americanism as a faith in and of itself. Beware of buzz words which sound like a defense of faith. It may just be a defense of a political persuasion.

Giving Ourselves Permission

Then he turned my sorrow into joy! He took away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy Psalm 30:11

It sorta sounds funny, doesn’t it? “Giving ourselves permission” to do something. But that is exactly what I told a client the other day who is grieving the loss of her mother. Grief is hard, and sometimes we unwittingly make it harder on ourselves with some unwritten rules. For example, sometimes we feel that we will somehow dishonor the deceased by getting back into a normal routine. We may need to give ourselves permission to get back to the expected duties of life in a reasonable timeframe – you know, “life going on”.

I’m not sure I like that saying, “moving on with life” that much, but there is truth in it. I would argue that we honor our deceased loved ones when we do proceed with our normal life, albeit with a heavy heart.

Those who have passed that we love, and presumably they loved us, would want the very best for those left behind here on earth. Perhaps we will even be more missional and thoughtful in our actions, keeping their legacy in mind. Many people have been motivated to heroic and society changing things spurred on by memories of loved ones.

So, we may need to give ourselves permission to return to regular routines and patterns after the loss of a loved one. We may even life a better life to honor those lost.

Prayer: Lord, we know you are solace to the grieving. Help us to honor those who went before us, Amen.

A Theology as Big as the City

Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken at the right time.                                    Proverbs 25:11

I read a book several years ago titled A Theology as Big as the City by Ray Bakke.  Lots of good stuff in the book, but one of the big takeaways for me was the idea that the church ought to serve as a chaplain to the city, or the area where it is located. Chaplains serve people with spiritual and emotional care at times of stress and crisis. We have hospital chaplains, military chaplains, hospice chaplains, police chaplains, even a chaplain for the U.S. Congress. That tells me that we value the spiritual care for people in critical situations.

The same goes for just us ordinary folks too. Heaven knows that there are daily stresses in our life that could be helped with the aid of a chaplain once in a while. The local church- that is the people who are part of that church (all of us, not the “pastor” necessarily), should be chaplains to the community we live in. We need to be ready to serve as the chaplain to the neighbor, friend, or even stranger who needs help, giving spiritual and emotional support.

If people saw the local church as a place where healthy, caring chaplains came from, they may be more inclined to check out what that church has to offer.

Just a thought…

Prayer: Lord, help us see the needs around us, and give us the will and courage to reach to help, Amen

What Brings You Here?

If you keep quiet at a time like this, God will deliver the Jews from some other source, but you and your relatives will die; what’s more, who can say but that God has brought you into the palace for just such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

I often start my intake sessions with clients with a simple question- “What brings you here?” I then quickly add, “What brings you in now, as opposed to, let’s say six months ago?”

This is a way to determine if a problem is recent or chronic. If a certain event recently prompted the felt need for counseling, or if this consideration has been going on for a while. This information is helpful, and it is pretty concrete and specific about why a person came to counseling.

Sometimes, a person is very open about the fact that someone else told them to come to counseling- a spouse, an employer, a probation officer, etc. I am just looking for honesty here. There is no blame or judgment just because someone is coming in under some felt duress. In fact, that felt pressure can be just the thing a person needed to look more deeply into their own life. I have seen plenty of clients who come in on an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) because their employer mandated it, and the client later says that they are so glad that they were ordered to come in.

You know, whatever works.

Sometimes too, later into the counseling process, I may ask a deeper question- “Why are you here?” This does not involve why they are in the counseling room, but rather, why are they here on planet earth. Here, I am asking about their mission on earth. What is the reason that they go about life the way they do? What is their life purpose?

These are questions we all must ponder at some point. What is our mission in life? Why did God give us this existence at this time and this place with the particular gifts that he gave us?

We are here for a reason(s). How might you answer that question?

Prayer: Lord, you have given us all a reason to be here in your creation plan. Thank you for this amazing and complex world which you have given to us to impact, with gifts you gave, Amen