Friday, December 12, 2014

Pride: Strong wall and poisoned well

The poster boy for pride doesn't represent my pride well.
I've always thought that pride was like what we see in Disney movies: a boastful character with a pumped-up chest, usually wearing bright red and demanding attention from everyone around him. Picture Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. They're full of themselves, they're the best at everything and  tend to be woefully unbearable.

But I've begun to see pride differently. Pride might be what makes you turn down food stamps, or keep quiet about depression. It is holds silent the cries of people who are too afraid to look weak and instead bury themselves in all the good-looking things they can muster.

Basically, pride is a refusal to admit to my shortcomings and become vulnerable.

That's a little eye opening, isn't it? Pride is a crippling, undermining disease. It keeps me isolated in more ways than one, filling my heart with fear of my wrongdoings being unearthed. The result isn't safety or protection. All that happens is that, over time, the seeds of doubt, loneliness, depression and darkness take hold and grow into strongholds. The longer they grow, the more embarrassing they become and so we build our prideful little walls even higher.

"Look at my mighty fortress," I might tell my friends. "Look how tough the gate is, and how sturdy the foundation!"

All the while, there's a death spreading through the well water, poisoning the occupants. And if I'm so terrified of coming out of my shell, I'll waste away and not improve.

Why the siege? Fear of judgement, maybe. It's easier to tell my problems to a stranger than to a friend -- there's no accountability, and no reason for them to look at me any differently. There's zero vulnerability in a meeting like that, and the sole benefit is to simply get the words off my chest and go about my business.

But the poison is still in the well.

And I think that's why Christ told us to seek the fellowship of other believers. The disciples were in a group of 12, not each one on his own. The missionaries in the early church often went in pairs, not alone. The early church worshiped together, ate together, prayed together and died together.

It's like I wrote about a few weeks — months? — ago: the lone sheep will get picked off by the wolf. That post was talking about clinging to God, but I think the wisdom goes just as far when referring to other believers. I can't sit on an island and hope to see any change.

Here's where pride rears its head once again: I'll pray and ask God for things reluctantly, feeling guilty because I'm somehow not worthy or not good enough to ask — yet. Give me some time, God, and I'll have worked hard and cleaned myself up. Then you can take over.

Except it doesn't work that way. I won't ever get to the point where I'm good enough, and while that doesn't warrant throwing up my hands in defeat, it does mean I should be transparent with God from the beginning.

What is the point of pride, anyway? A prideful person sets themselves apart from others. The longer you stay that way, the more people begin to believe that you're alright on your own, even when you're not. The longer I stay this way, the more I begin to believe I can handle my problems, even when I can't.

I was going to type out a little prayer for me to remember and attempt to live by, and it was going to begin with something along the lines of asking God to cut down my pride and humble me. And even though it's with growth and healing in mind, that's terrifying — and rather so. Being humbled and made vulnerable to others is a scary thought for me, which again gives credence to the idea of pride being a response to fear.

For me, then, this is more appropriate:

Lord make me brave enough to become vulnerable, and help me to see my growth and rebuilding in spite of the fear vulnerability brings. Help me to be humble enough to ask for help when I need it, and to seek fellowship in order to stay that way.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Re-working my investment portfolio

A few months ago, I lightly blogged about how we humans are built to seek affirmation. In my post, I admitted to chasing validation, and blew it off as simply admitting to being normal.

But after some time to think, I'm not sure I agree.

See, when I wrote before that we should seek the approval of Christ before we go after the acceptance of our peers, I forgot how difficult it is to find balance between the two. I wrote about motivations, and how I'm basically geared to chase after happiness and friends and other things which will fade once this life is over.

Don't those two things strongly contradict one another? I look through my Facebook feed and see how I constantly drag out my greatest accomplishments for applause, and yet rarely speak of my walk with Christ and the things HE takes pride in.

I think that, more than anything else, shows where my attention is focused.

I'm not one to plaster my social networking accounts with verses, pictures of crosses and happy little Christian-ese memes, and I'm not about to make that jump. And I'm not going to shut it down and publicly "fast" from Facebook so everyone knows what I'm up to.

At the same time, I'm not about to cast away all the attention I give to the people around me. Conversations I've had with a few close persons have told me that people — loving people, caring for people, being interested in people, read my last post on Tea and Crumpets, etc. — is a calling of mine. Perhaps that is why I struggle with finding a middle ground, simply because God has given me a heart to connect and I haven't yet learned how to control it.

With all of those disclaimers out of the way, my thoughts are thus:

The reason I've gotten to where I am in my career is because I take pride in what I do. I spend my spare time at the office writing or working on the next section (when I'm not watching Netflix, shhhh) and because of the investment, I've seen a significant return.

I need to take pride in my walk with Christ. If I didn't spend any time singing, I wouldn't improve my sight reading or ear training. And because I don't spend time working on my relationship with the Lord, it suffers.

I haven't worked out exactly how to go about that, but I'll write about it in the near future. There are plenty of things I need to work out with my keyboard: what to do with church-time, wondering what mission God has for me, how to act out said mission, my contempt for Christians and what "pride" means to me.

For now, I'll stop worrying about chasing worldly acceptance and look after other needed areas.

Except coffee. I can still chase that.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lessons: Tea and crumpets

If you know this book, serious points to you. Also, Ferdinand.

It's amazing how God works behind the scenes, setting up little miracles and revealing them to us after they've played out.

A few minutes ago, I went back and read yesterday's heartfelt post crying out about restlessness, dissatisfaction, doubt and guilt. It makes me glad I started this blog, as now I can look at where my mind was yesterday afternoon and begin to work through the things that happened in the aftermath with a solid starting point.

Shortly after the little story was posted, I received a message from an old friend, simply reaching out to see how I was doing. It was a few steps further from the usual response, which is the liking of a status on Facebook, or adding a sad face in the comments to somehow convey sympathy in a shallow, non-time consuming way.

Instead of exchanging a few words back and fourth, he invited me to call him, and I did. We spoke for the better part of a quarter hour, discussing work, music, people, etc., and it was healing. I went home a little while later feeling refreshed and appreciated, with the thought 'my, how God works in mysterious ways,' passing through my head before leaving the office.

This evening, as I went through the usual lonely routine of Netflix and trying not to head down the street for nasty-for-my-body fast food, the episode of the TV show fell upon the topic of Valentines day. There I went, rabbiting away to some deep, dark and dreary place, thinking over all of my choices — good ones and bad ones alike — and wondering which of them were mistakes.

That's just when I received a message from my mother, as messages containing her wisdom often do when I'm wrestling with something.

A few days ago, she told me about staying close to the shepherd, as wolves find it easier to pick off isolated lambs. It dawned on me that, regardless of my isolation from friends and family, I'm never isolated from God's presence — more on that later.

Tonight's message brought me back to my days in grade school, where I had a few brief brushes with theater as a youngster. If my memory serves me correctly (this was something like 13 years ago), our class was split into groups, with each group set to create a skit about safety of some kind. I was paired with two friends, one of my few consistent companions, and a young boy with Down's Syndrome.

Stevie, as he was affectionately known by the class, probably wasn't the top pick for a theatrical performance. I'll skip over the specifics, but my friend and I ended up giving Stevie a simple speaking part that made him the star of our little drama, and my mom recalls Stevie's mother "bursting with joy over hearing him talk." It was a mark of my personality, she said, that I took the time to make him a part of it all, simply because people matter to me.

"My opinion is that God is into people too," she said. "Talk to Him all the time — I have been having coffee with Him often, and when I get up to do some thing else it seems He doesn't want me to go. Let Him talk too by reading his Words."

Wait, physically spend time with God? Should I pull up an extra chair in my little kitchen and make an extra cup of tea? Maybe God doesn't like tea... then the hammer, and the thing that tied it all together:

I remember my mom taking out the trash when I was young. The sound of the wheels dragging along the driveway still sticks with me as a piece of home, but it turns out that there was more to the routine than I had known about. It was a chance, a five-minutes' peace, to be alone with God.

"He would tell me He had been waiting for me to come out so we could be alone," she remembered.
"You are probably thinking I'm crazy, go ahead. God really does follow us around wanting to be with us especially when we are lonely."

So, all those times where I wallow in my sorrows, God's been simply waiting for me to realize that he's there? Following me with the hope that I'll turn around and jump into his arms and leave my foolish ignorance behind?

The last few months, in which I've allowed myself to spiral at times, are beginning to come together.

Maybe, I was brought out to Scappoose so I could learn and grow in the Lord without any distractions. It's something my mom — surprise, surprise — hit home in the latest message. Right now, I have the luxury of time without immediate responsibilities. No significant other, no wife, no kids — just a cat.

"Your relationship with Him is the foundation for the rest of your life, in which you may not be alone and you will need to work at being alone with God," she told me.

And right now, the only person I need to fight for alone time is myself.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Be still, my restless heart

Sometimes I feel like this. Other times I haven't the energy.

I'm no stranger to restless legs. At times in my life, I get so worked up that I'll pace in circles, disappear and drive to to beach (literally, it's happened several times) or contemplate some crazy change.

I'm not sure where it comes from, or why restlessness rears its head from time to time, but it's back. Maybe it's the stresses surrounding money, the load of responsibility from my job or the relationship I left behind in July, but something has eaten into my mind and heart.

It's frustrating. Taking a step backward, I have quite a few things to be thankful for. The bumps along the way are minor, and I can see God's blessing and crafting in my life, in spite of my many faults and shortcomings.

Still, I'm unsatisfied. I feel as though there is a change around the corner somewhere, or that there should be. There's something missing, some piece of me that I have yet to find.

I want to blame it on isolation from living in Scappoose. I'm not one to go out and meet people, and so in the nine months I've lived here, I don't have friends outside of the sporting world (work), other than the bartender at a favorite place of mine. My friends are in Portland, in Oregon City, in Milwaukie, etc. I see them once a week, with the other six days and all seven nights usually filled with emptiness that a cat — lovely and cuddly though she is — can't overcome.

This is a battle I don't know how to fight. I got Philli because I needed another creature to fill up the quiet apartment and provide a distraction for what is still ailing me more than a year later.

I also carry guilt on this one. Shouldn't God fill me up? Shouldn't God be enough? Why do I thirst for something more? Do I not have enough faith? Is there something keeping us apart? Probably.

All I know for sure is that I'll have to resist driving to Seaside tonight.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Deuteronomy 20:4: To Claim Victory

I serenade my cat rather often.
I've written before about how many of my best thoughts tend to hit me in the shower. It's a strange phenomenon — something about how our mind works when our brains shut off — but that's not the point.

A few days ago, a phrase uttered by my sister Anna (you can see her lovely blog here) struck me as I scrubbed my nose with the little washcloth I keep draped over the cold-water handle.

"I claim victory over that," she'd say, during any discussion about sin and habits.

It goes back to my earlier topic comparing sin and our sinful nature to addiction, something I do intend to finish. Anna and I were talking about how alcoholics often never refer to themselves as being a former alcoholic or having beaten their alcohol addiction. They usually say they are a recovering alcoholic — clean and sober for, say, six years.

Awesome. Congrats. That's a major accomplishment, in my eyes.

But in the discussion between Anna and I, she challenged my way of thinking. Why recovering? What makes it so they haven't beaten the addiction — and in terms of Christ and sin: claim victory over that and be done with it.

There's that phrase again. I've heard it before, usually during a Gospel-talk in which the preacher says Christ claimed victory over sin, or something along those lines.

So what does that mean? Christ claimed a lot of things. He claimed to be the Son of God. He could heal un-cure-able sicknesses. He could bring people back from the dead, and feed 5,000 people at once. I can't do those things, not in and of myself. If I can't get through the day without tripping, I certainly can't walk on water or calm a storm with my voice.

But God can.

And therein lies my thought as I tried not to loudly serenade myself and my cat whilst in the shower — by claiming victory over sin, we're telling the evil one that God has won, we believe God has won, and we know God will carry out victory over sin, death and all the evil desires the world tries to stick on us.

I think of the movie Return of the King, and the scene in which Viggo Mortensen leads his outnumbered army headlong into a multitude of evil orcs. It's folly, really. And on his own, it means certain death.

That's the idea behind claiming victory over a sin, with one huge and rather essential exception: we have God as backup, and we have God's assurance that the fight is fought, and the battle won.

What 'claiming victory' means, then, is that we're saying to the evil one: "You have no hold on me, Satan. The Lord has already lifted your shackles from me, and I have undying faith in him to continue to fight until you are defeated — the battle has already been fought, and you've already come out the loser."

It's a powerful statement, isn't it? Without God in that picture, we'd look ridiculous, but that's the point. Throwing ourselves into the battle with the knowledge that God has already won, and will continue to reveal his victory to us as we grow in him makes fighting an awful lot easier to do.

"For the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory."

— Deuteronomy 20:4

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wages of Sin

It's a verse that I've heard over and over since I was young,  that the "wages of sin is death." The emphasis is usually on the BUT the gift of God bit, rather than the true reality of what sin does to us. Yes, the power and love of Christ washes us clean. I believe that.

But at the same time, I hold that sin affects us in underhanded ways, things we might not realize at the time we're doing it, but stuff that changes our outlook, our habits, our tendencies and our ability to appropriately cope with trouble down the road.

This is something that God has been teaching me over the past few months. The wages of sin have as much to do with the here and now as they do with what happens after death. Sin is like a parasite. Once it's in your body, it digs deeper and continues to grow. It becomes more difficult to function the way you were made to function, and your body can actually begin to work against itself. Sin is that way.

For someone battling lies, they lose sight of what truth really feels like after years of being mired in deception. Not only do they lose the trust of the people around them, they also lose the appreciation for honesty and transparency.

For someone who is battling lust, it might seem as though watching porn is harmless. But down the road as they attempt to be intimate with their wife (or husband, it goes both ways), they'll struggle because they were used to experiencing intimacy with a screen.

Just like when the Jews wandered the wilderness, there are reasons for the laws set down by God: to protect us. If I take something made by God and misuse it, it's ten times harder to relearn to act in a way pleasing and worshipful to the Lord.

This is something that's been on my mind for some time now as God has been showing me the damage I've done to myself. It's given me a deeper appreciation for the guidelines given to us from a loving Father. Loving. The laws have always seemed rigid to me until recently. I hope to maintain this new perspective.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Clean Heart

It wasn't Eagle Fern, but it felt a bit like it.
Being restless is something I've struggled with for many years. It seems to fly in the face of my parallel laziness, and in spite of possessing an inability to pull myself off the couch or out of the office, it can be overpowering, this feeling of wanderlust an a desire to simply... go.

I feel it when I look at the sunset's path across the ocean waves, and it creeps up on me when I step into the woods. And so, though I recognize the very real risk I might leave and never come back, I wander into the wilderness from time to time, simply to give my mind a place to explore.

That's the position I found myself in earlier this evening: sitting behind a desk and hiding from the outdoors, hoping to bury my thoughts behind Netflix, Tumblr and high-fructose corn syrup. Eventually I'd had enough, and headed to the hills, looking for solace.

I aimed for a little park about 15 miles outside of my town, one of the few where I hoped I could find a trail to tread and some place new to lose myself in. About halfway there, I settled on a wide spot in the side of the road that had a narrow pathway down to the riverbank.

It was quiet down there, other than the whine of mosquitoes, the babble of water over mossy river stones and the occasional hum of a car speeding past overhead. I took off my shoes and stepped, stone by stone, across the creek in search of a seat on which I could spend some time in thought.

It's strange, how I run out of town simply for a chance to think of the problems I've left behind. This time was no different - I settled on the topic of my last blog post. Why do I so strongly seek the approval of others while putting God on the back burner? Is that something I can change? On my own?

I wrestled with that. It's been a theme of the last few years: "Lord, give me a stronger desire to follow you. Lord, take away the desire for sinful things. Lord, take my priorities and align them with yours."

Underlying all these thoughts is another commonality: I'm not always sure if my heart is behind the things I ask for, and I'll add the request to take the thoughts and plant seeds in my heart. I think I know what is best, and I know that being closer to the Lord is the best thing for me regardless of the sin-haze I see life through.

I just don't know how to get from wanting to want it, to wanting it, to having it.

As I thought while sitting on that boulder in the middle of the stream earlier this evening, I think I finally understand where David was when he wrote asking God to create a clean heart, and renew a right spirit in him.

Maybe I can't change my heart. I know I can't cleanse it, certainly. For the next few days and weeks, though, I'll include David's prayer in my thoughts.

I like the New Living Translation the best here for Psalm 51:10 -

"Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit in me."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Seeking Affirmation

If you don't get the connection, youtube "validation" and you'll understand.
I got the chance to visit Bridgetown church last weekend, something I'd been planning to do for quite some time, and it gave me something juicy to meditate on this week.

The teacher -- and I can't for the life of me remember his name, it just wasn't John Mark -- talked about Peter's showdown in the garden when Jesus was arrested. He cut off a servant's ear in a display of emotion, aggression and fear, leading Jesus to heal the ear and berate Peter for acting with violence.

The talk turned to a dissection of Peter's motivations: earlier in the evening, he had been told he would deny Christ three times and he had been told that Judas would betray Jesus to the religious leaders. He was a mixture of feelings at the time. Angry at Judas for his betrayal, afraid that Jesus was being arrested and would be leaving them for a time, hurt that Jesus had predicted his denial and embarrassed that Jesus knew his true heart.

All of those things boil over when he draws his sword, and I think - and these are also the words of Sunday's teacher - he was motivated out of a want to prove his loyalty. It was slightly futile, as his actions went against Jesus' peaceful message, but it does serve as a thought provoking story.

How am I motivated? Many of my habits and motivations are pretty basic. I just want to be happy, and I'm afraid of not being happy and so I do things and act a certain way to be sure that happens.

For the moment, I'll focus on one: the want to be accepted. Broken down, it falls into the happiness category. It goes along with being respected and admired and looked up to - I just want to be liked, doesn't everybody?

Yes. I'd contend yes (except Steve), but the way we go about it varies, with varied results. I've noticed over the past few months that I tend to chase affirmation. Regardless of the sarcastic response they usually get from me, I like awards. I like complements, I like people reaching out to me and wanting to be friends. All those things are validating, they make you relevant and help you to know you're doing something right.

Those wants and desires seem to be built in to us humans (again, except Steve). Even the youngest kids -- my growing bunch of nieces and nephews for example -- like to show their parents the things they're proud of. Whether it's a simply crafted drawing (LOOK! He drew a basketball with LINES, says mommy) or a pile of sticks, the appetite to have our actions affirmed as impressive or desirable drives us at all stages of life. In kindergarten it's the finger painting on the refrigerator. In middle school it might be wearing a cool new back back to class, and in high school its flirting with the cute girl in math class.

On the surface, those things aren't harmful, but when we let our lives begin to form around the affirmation from our fellow humans, that's when the train comes off the tracks. The reason, I think, we were born with such a desire is that we are supposed to crave the affirmation of our Creator. What validation is stronger? What complement is higher? None.

It all goes back to the camp song we used to sing as kids that was taken from Matthew 25:21:

"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'"

Or as we sang it, "My good and faithful oooonneeeeee, weeeelll DONE MAHN."

Friday, July 18, 2014

Repentance and easy distractions

I've tried to set aside some time in the last few days and the next few days going forward for some reflection and alone-time, hoping to sort out some troubling thoughts I've been wrestling with. It's been good, I think, to step away from the hum-drum for a little while and allow myself to look at the way I think and act.

One revelation I had last night is that the ability to make us think we're too far gone to be worth saving is one of the enemy's most powerful tools. Feeling worthless and broken leads to despair, at which point you give up and refuse to seek redemption.

That's something that I struggle to overcome at times. I've made plenty of mistakes in my life, and I often think that either I don't deserve good things or I'm too deep for repentance to actually do any good. The second one, especially, is a lie. It preys on our pride, ironically, and tells us that if we can't turn things around on our own, we might as well throw up our hands and give in.

That discounts -- which is a brash euphemism -- the work that God does in our hearts. Repentance is basically saying that we are willing to turn from our ways, and asking God to help us walk. He might not fix every single facet of our messed up situations, but He will guide us to a place of peace amidst the consequences of our actions. 

On that note, I've also discovered that I seem to lack as strong of an understanding of the concept of consequences as I should. It's been interesting watching my sister Anna teach her children about how they have to account for their actions, and it will be equally as interesting to watch them grow and see how their learning effects them down the road.

My response when something bad happens is typically to bury my head in the sand and pretend that nothing has gone wrong. Not only does that rarely work, it leaves the issues for me to clean up down the road. No wonder, now that I reflect on it, that there tend to be times in my life that everything comes crashing down at once!

The last thing is that the evil one does a fantastic job of distracting us from the path God wants us to be on (as the phone buzzes and I pause before putting it back down.) There is something good and healing planned for me over these next few days, and the enemy has worked hard to get me facing the other direction -- even if that other direction is harmless.

Two quick thoughts I'll think on this afternoon before rodeo coverage: How can I begin to realize consequences BEFORE I get into trouble, and what is something I can repent of today?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Christ glorifying, Christ centered

It's been a long, long while, but I've had thoughts parading through my head over the last few weeks and I wanted to get them down where I could easily refer back in times of need.

A few days ago, I witnessed the wedding of two friends. The most striking thing about the union was that it seemed to truly reflect the idea of a girl being so hidden in Christ that a man would have to seek Christ in order to find her. The most attractive thing about her husband, she wrote in a letter that was read to the wedding guests, was his love for Jesus.

Normally, the skeptic in me would wave off such a statement. Really? Not the eyes or the laugh? Not the arms, or...  (I'm picking general qualities out of a hat here).

But this time, I believed it. And I think that kind of relationship is something to pursue, not just in a romantic sense, but between all friends who call one another brothers and sisters in Christ. The pair who wed a few days back were centered and anchored in the Lord, and their relationship stemmed from their connection on that common ground.

I don't really have thoughts at this point as to how I should chase after that ideal, I simply wanted to vocalize (web-ize?) the wonderful example I'd seen. Our relationships should be Christ-glorifying and Christ-centered, with our walks with God being the most important and highest priority we see in the other person.

One last note - blogging is good for me. I need more of it. Moar. MOAR.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The 12-step process: Honesty

When I started my journey through the 12 steps of recovery from sin a week ago, I think I undersold the first step a little more than I meant to. This afternoon as I sat down at Starbucks with a few hours to kill and mind set on tacking the second step, but I'm beginning to realize that there's a lot more depth to do with honesty than two short paragraphs can cover.

I made a concerted effort to be forthcoming about a sin of mine to Alexis my girlfriend this week, and that was a great stride. Awesome. Yes. More of that transparency will do me good and it builds a foundation on which she and I (or any of my other friends and I) can communicate with trust.

What I struggle with, though, is exactly why honesty is so difficult.

Initially, I blamed it on my vanity. I know that I struggle with self image and self esteem, and an easy way for me to feel accepted or impressive (at least in my own eyes) is to hide the bad-spots in my life. If I ignore those things and hide them from others, I think, perhaps they'll see me in a better light.

And for quite a long time, I haven't really seen omission as dishonesty. Is it really lying if you simply leave out bits and pieces of yourself? Nobody needs to hear those things, right? In some ways, that's correct. I don't think I need to go about spilling my deep dark secrets to the whole world, but if I'm living in a way that makes me uncomfortable with a transparent life, something is wrong. You can sin both by COMmission and by OMission. It's the same thing, because they're both methods of twisting the truth.

In either case, it's my living in sin and my shame that keeps me from being honest about how I live. Living in sin and shame - though Christ has freed us from guilt - is a vicious cycle. The longer you hide in sin, the more difficult it is to step out and ask for help, making honesty about your life - my life - really the only way out.

Even from the secular point of view, dishonesty is almost always about self-preservation. It can be embarrassing to be forthright. This world isn't always forgiving, and it's a reasonable fear to think you might lose friends by being open about your past or your present. Fear of being hurt, fear of being alone and fear of shame cripple us, but I think that those who claim Christ as savior have less of an excuse.

Isn't it then about trust? As I mentioned before, I don't think that transparency is about displaying your past for all to see, but trusting God to handle your future and trusting God to handle your relationships (friends, family, etc.) is a major step. God often uses our neighbors as tools to bring healing, and being open with our walk also opens us up to God's ability to change us for the better. Lying, omitting the truth and being closed off does exactly the opposite.

With all that said, it's a mystery why I cling to my over-inflated self image. Maybe it's because I seem to think I'll only get places in life if people like me, instead of trusting God to open up opportunities for me. It's not pride, as I previously surmised, but fear. And the only way to conquer fear is faith.

Wait, faith is step two? Good golly.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The 12-step process: Sin as an addiction

I'd argue that addiction isn't just to alcohol, meth or coffee. You can get addicted to sin.

I caught myself, a few days back, driving home from work and looking down my nose at the drunkard who had only just stumbled from the bar down the street from my apartment.

It's a common occurrence with this man in particular, and every time I see him slowly making his way up the sidewalk to who knows where, I picture his life - filthy home, broken-down car, no money to speak of save the dollars spent on alcohol and an emptiness that comes from wasting a lifetime as a drunkard.

I picture those things, and pity the man.

"Thank you, Lord," I think to myself. "Thank you for blessing me and giving me the support and tools I needed to keep out of addiction to drugs and alcohol."

This afternoon, though, as I drove home from the office for lunch, the thought struck me that I am not so different.

After all, how similar are sin and alcoholism?

Take for example, an excerpt from the Alcoholics Anonymous' first step to recovery, but switch 'alcohol' with 'sin'.

"When sin begins to take control of a family, usually one of the first things to go is honesty. The sinner lies about how much he or she sins and those around them begin to cover for him as the problem progresses and they too become less than honest.

This cycle of lies and keeping secrets can go on for years and that in itself can create an atmosphere that actually causes the situation to deteriorate faster. Even the children get caught up in the lies. It's a family disease.

The family can become totally controlled by diseased thinking. Although the illusion of control may continue, their lives become unmanageable, because sin is really in control. It is cunning, baffling, and powerful."

Telling, isn't it? Now, I'll make it clear that once we accept the love of Christ, we are no longer bound by sin and it no longer has power over us. It's not really in control, and it becomes a choice, but at the point of acceptance of Christ, we should also accept and be honest that we are - or were - in fact, sinners.

Australian pastor Glen Scrivener, who has blogged extensively on the subject, puts it beautifully in his entry from 2010: Sin is addiction.

"Sin is a power over us that is disarmed and replaced by Christ," he says, arguing that the gospel of grace depends on the fact that we are helpless to escape sin without God's gift and Christ's sacrifice.

In that light, though the process of salvation begins with that admittance, we will never get to a point in our lives where we can function free of sin without the love and grace given to us on the cross.

Like a recovering alcoholic - they're never a 'former alcoholic,' but rather constantly in recovery - we will always rely on God to build and support us as we work to become more like him.

Yes, Christ gave us victory over sin, but we still live in a sin-ridden world and won't be free from temptation until we are with him in glory.

With that said, I want to start on a journey to apply the 12-step process to sin itself. I have my sinful habits which, when compared to the drunken man at the bar, begin to look a lot more like addiction than I'd ever seen them.

In the 12-step process, honesty is the first step to recovery and not surprisingly, it is the only way to build a foundation for a life in Christ. Honesty about past wrongdoings, honesty about current habits and honesty about future fears and insecurities NEED to be put on the table in some form or another in order to heal and allow Christ to chase out the lies and rebuild the truths about us.

It's uncomfortable for me. I've discovered my vanity over the last few months, and to admit wrongdoing regardless of the severity, would tarnish my self-projected image.
That's something that I'll have to work on as I think and meditate on this first step. How can I work on getting my pride out of the way?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Envy's hostile takeover

I've caught myself battling envy over the last few weeks.

And not wallowing or fixating on one certain subject, but noticing things here and there that others have, and wishing I had that same opportunity.

Wow, I wish I had an apartment like that. It'd be nice to get paid THAT much! I wonder what my life would be like with their schedule? I'd love to be in that good of shape.

It's somewhat fleeting, but the constant thoughts that parade through my head have begun to raise a few flags. As I see it, envy - which is to want for something that doesn't belong to you - is to throw our many blessings in God's face.

I have a good job that I enjoy. I have a comfortable place to live. I have my health (except my knees, they do not have my health), and I've been blessed with the ability to express myself with music. That's an awful lot, and it's only the beginning. It should have been the first thing on the list: I'm loved by the God of the universe.

That should trump everything else, and easily so. It's a sad realization of mine to discover how ungrateful I've been over the last few weeks, choosing to focus on the difficulties of life rather than to praise God for the ways I've been carried through the hard times.

Over the next few weeks, I'll make a concerted effort to remember and thank the Lord for a blessing of mine every time envy begins to creep back in. It won't just help my envious thoughts, it will direct my eyes upward and encourage me to dwell on the positive things.

I also hope to get back into writing, now that I've completed the move in to Scappoose. The office is just a mile away (instead of 40), and I'll have plenty of time to spare.

Grace and Peace.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Schmiorities: Where My Priorities Lie

Much of it has to do with my line of work, but I've struggled lately with the feeling of simply treading water with my life.

She's a pretty big priority, and she knows it.
At my job, there's always another paper to produce. It's not monotony that I struggle with, it's that I always seem to be behind. Wednesdays, the day before the newspaper goes to press, are always hectic, and though I enjoy it, the stress can weigh on me at times.

At home, the apartment gets steadily messier. The smell of cigarette smoke continues to waft in through the walls from my neighbor, and dishes pile ever higher in the sink. I clean (honestly, I do), but before long, things start to get out of hand.

The days at work are often too long for me to exercise before or afterward, and the weight has started to creep back in. The overwhelming, crushing thought is that my life is out of control. If only I could "____" then I would feel better, right?

Well. Sure, I'll feel better when my apartment is clean. Things won't be as stressful if I have everything done before Wednesday, and I can just focus on design. If I get home at a decent time and my day wasn't so difficult, I could work out before sleeping.

How to do that, though? Surely there are enough hours in the day. I spend 10 hours a week on the road. 40 hours are spent at work, two hours at church, and another three hours in rehearsal. That still leaves PLENTY.

I suppose, then, it's about how efficiently I use that time, and the way I prioritize things. There's obviously a discrepancy between what SHOULD and what IS the most important. That's evidenced by things like spending two hours playing Whale Trail on my bed and eating pop tarts this morning. I could've had the whole place clean (including myself) in that time.

At this point, it'd be really easy for me to just get down on myself. Oh, you're just lazy and crave comfort and entertainment more than anything else. You can't be counted to keep your life in order, just look at the mess in your kitchen. You can't stay in shape, just give up.

No. No no no. None of those things are true. As easy as the trap is to fall in, I have to take the messes I allow to build up in my life (note to self: get more cat litter) and use them as motivation to make better habits.

The first step, which I'll do tonight on my handy yellow pad (thanks, journalism) is to list out the things I do each week (work, cleaning, wash, home-time, rehearsal, church, family-time, etc.) and figure out how I actually value each thing. Then, I'll take that list and re-arrange it the way I WANT it to be, and refer to the list any time I feel out of sorts.

There'll be more thoughts on how this works out in the near future. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Psalm 32:7: God's my island hideaway

I'll be moving into the leftmost apartment in February, and I don't know how to feel.

I really don't like change. Even though I despise monotony, I don't do well transitioning from one thing to the next, at least as far as the buildup is concerned.

At the end of this month, I'll be moving to (relatively) far-away Scappoose. For the first time in my life, I'll live west of the Willamette river, and outside of the immediate Oregon City-Beavercreek area. I'll be further from my nearest friend's house than I've ever been, and more than 10 minutes away from my home church.

But it's not the distance that has me feeling... what ever this is. It's simply the fact that I have to leave a place that I've grown comfortable. My current apartment in the McLoughlin district of Oregon City was a gift and a blessing, and I've become attached, and though I don't move for a month, I've already become melancholy.

It's a frustrating emotion, honestly. By definition, melancholy doesn't really have a cause, at least one you can pin down - and I can identify with that. My sadness, though there is somewhat of a legitimate reason for it, is a little out of place. My excitement should be the right thing to feel, and yet the only thing in my heart is a gripping fear of the unknown.

Where does that come from? and more to the point, what causes my troubles with moving on?

Part of all that has to do with a yearn for comfort. One of the coaches I work with on a regular basis always tells me that a major part of his job is reconditioning the athletes to do what is right when they're pressured, not what's comfortable. It's human nature to chase comfort and security, and when we get into a difficult position, that is what we revert back to.

My apartment, as my personal space, became a safe place. It's somewhere I can relax and be myself. I can lay on the floor (as I did while working at Starbucks) after a long day at work, and I can dress how I like without fear of "judgement".

It took some time for it to really feel like home, but I was excited to move in to the new place. It represented freedom. It represented independence, and while this new move to Scappoose represents many of the same things, there is also loss involved.

As silly as it sounds, I can tie it to the feelings I remember from when I left my parent's house at the end of last summer. Oh, that I would have been writing back then. It was a sad - and slightly traumatic - experience for me, to leave the only home I had ever known and step out into the world. While I have a move or two under my belt, it's not all that much easier to pick up everything, uproot myself, and move across the metro area.

Maybe it's that I'm not looking forward to the hard work it is to pack things and move. I know I'm afraid to leave things behind, though I'll be back in town at least weekly. There's also some fear in there. Will I end up spending all my time home alone with my cat? Maybe. But more than anything else though this experience today, I've learned that I need to reexamine where I find my security.

Things change in life, that's a given. Jobs come and go, people drift in and out of life. The journey in this world has ups and downs, it's just the way things are. And because of that, we can't base our happiness, security or safe-place on something in this world.

I love The Message version of this, one of my favorite verses:

"God's my island hideaway, keeps danger far from shore, throws garlands of hosannas around my neck." -- Psalm 32:7

Friday, January 3, 2014

In which, I finally break the ice

I actively asked God for both of these things.
This won't be long, just a note to help me remember a victory I had earlier  this afternoon.

As I've mentioned before, I tend to do my best thinking in the shower. Today, I was detoxing from a grueling basketball game with a friend, and somewhere in the midst of washing my hair, I realized exactly how often I ask for prayer... and forget to pray myself.

It came up because I was deep in thought over a few potential meetings I have next week - namely Steve Brandon the Sports Editor of the Tribune, and Chad Doing, a popular sports talk radio host in Portland. It's a topic I'll discuss further - something that came from my JesusBux experience - but I'd reached out to both individuals with the intent of sitting down and gleaning a wealth of knowledge and advice.

In my excitement in planning the pair of ordeals, I had entirely forgotten to ask God's blessing. Usually, I would have allowed myself to tailspin and end up staying silent, but this was different. That ice broke, finally.

It's not a habit, yet, but I plan on making it one. An easy concept: SPEAK. Things will work themselves out from there. Silence doesn't to anyone any good.

In other news: I'm going to view a perfect little apartment on Sunday in Scappoose. I'll begin praying for  that... nnnnnnow.