Craving for Gaming

Rough times

I used to be addicted to video games.  Not in a joking kind of way.  I really used to be addicted to video games.

The biggest allure for me was that, in the fantasy worlds, I could have “perfection”.  I was addicted to doing games exactly right.  The beauty was that, no matter how many times I flopped a level, I could go back and practice it until I got it exactly right.  If it was rescuing pets, I could repeat the level until I snatched every one to safety.  If it was pleasing restaurant customers, I could go back until every one had full satisfaction hearts.  If it was baking cakes, if it was shooting star ships, if it was finding a princess–whatever it was, I could repeat it until I did it exactly right.

That feeling of exactly right–I’m addicted to it.  I love the feeling of exactly right.

In daily life, I don’t get the feeling of exactly right.  I can put away the dishes in the dishwasher, but they won’t be perfectly stacked, and there will be no scoreboard to motivate me.  I can vacuum the house, but I won’t get every speck of dust, and cartoon sparkles won’t come out of the carpet.  I can help people, but I won’t have fixed all their problems, and I won’t be able to repeat a “level” if I get it wrong.

For years of my life, my world revolved, rotated, and spun around video games.  I wanted so much to do things exactly right.  That feeling of exactly right–oh, it hooked me.  If a fish’s bait is a worm, my bait is video games.  I long, desire, and crave to do things exactly right.

But in real life, I don’t.

So for years, I lived in play life. I lived in a world where I could control all the variables and I could, eventually, do everything exactly right.  The problem?  Those years are like an empty vacuum to me now.  All the friends I could have made, all the time I could have given to God, all the adventures I could have had, I spent on digital pixels and sound effects.  It was totally worthless.

Even years later, I still fight cravings for gaming.  Most of the time, I don’t. But from time to time, I get a huge urge.  My heart tells me, “Just a little bit . .”  I want to meander down the video game aisle at Wal-Mart and watch the screens.  Visit Best Buy just for a little while.  Do an internet search to see what updated versions of games are out there.

I think it’s a real mistake to try to treat the symptoms (craving for gaming) instead of going right straight for the heart.  What’s the heart of the issue?

I hate being imperfect, and I dislike living in an imperfect world.

I can’t “talk myself out” of feeling this way, because, actually, it’s the truth. I am imperfect, and I do live in an imperfect world.

Even since we chose sin over God, perfect has become impossible.  It’s impossible in every single area of our life.  It saturates our thoughts; it soaks up our dreams; it drowns our hopes.  It is impossible to be perfect because we chose not to be.  And while we all don’t deal with it by playing video games, we do all try to cope somehow.

Whether we justify our imperfection (nobody’s perfect), excuse our imperfection (brain chemistry), ignore our imperfection (I’m super and great), or try to be perfect (I can do it anyway someday) each one of us has to deal with our imperfection.

The reason I’m not still a video game addict?  Christ has taken my place in my dire need for perfection.

I can’t be perfect.  I can only sin.  That’s the choice I’ve made with my life, just like everyone before me except one:

Jesus Christ.

In a marvel that makes the bait of video games seem like nothing more than a worm, I recognize that Jesus gives me His righteousness.  He took the imperfection of me that I can’t stand, and He gave me His perfection that I crave, which is the only way I can ever live in Heaven with Him.  It blows my mind:

I’m an imperfect blotch, and yet even this imperfect blotch hates her imperfection.

YET . .

God, who is perfect, had enough love for me to take on my imperfection so that it could be destroyed in Him.

I don’t need to play silly games to try to convince myself I’m at least perfect in something.  That’s what the old self did to try to make herself feel better about something she could never truly feel better about.  I look back on that now: the stupid points I earned, the imaginary achievements I won, and the phony creatures I rescued, and, in the words of Paul, I “consider them garbage” (from Philippians 3:8, NIV).

I still need perfection.  The difference is, now I have found it in Christ.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Philippians 3:7-9, NIV)

Advertisements

Self-Piggy

When you think of addictions, what do you think of?

Alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, video games, sugar, food, social power come to my mind.

But what about addiction to self?

We all have it.  All of us want to be #1.  We are infatuated with ourselves.

Watch an NFL player score the winning touchdown.  Or listen in on a phone conversation. Or babysit a toddler.

Most of the time, what we do is totally for us.  The other part of the time, we’re able to convince people it isn’t about us when it really is.

For years, I thought the answer to my problems was through a study of myself.

That’s a good way to go crazy.

I filled out personality tests, visited with counselors, talked for hours and hours about myself to anyone who would tolerate it, and even took the Rorschach inkblot test.  What I learned the hard way was there wasn’t anything hidden about myself that I wanted revealed.  There wasn’t anything secretive that I wanted published.  It was all a deep, dark hole of sin.

Miss Piggy is definitely my least favorite Muppet, but she does make a great illustration of who we ourselves are.

Miss Piggy is this overly makeuped pig who’s spent all this money on fancy clothes for herself.  Everything is about her, and if it’s not, there’s wrath to come.  What she wants to say, she says.  What she wants to do, she does.  She’s this clunky, obnoxious, self-engrossed pestilence that the other Muppets have to put up with.

She can get away with it because she’s a puppet, and we can turn the program off of our TV anytime we want.  We don’t have to watch Miss Piggy 24/7.  So we can kinda laugh about it (some of us anyway, she mostly annoys me).

But we cannot get away from ourselves.  And in all of us lives all manner of ungodly affection towards ourselves.  It’s as if all the glory we were supposed to give God, when we broke alliance with Him, has been turned inward.  We worship ourselves.  All of us do it.  We just don’t usually recognize the self-piggy that lives inside us, because we’re used to him or her.  We’ve lived with that self-piggy as long as we’ve been a self, and we don’t know any different.

And the self-piggy can be very, very crafty.  I used to watch reality TV a lot.  There would always be at least somebody who could have competed with Miss Piggy for the most obnoxious, self-absorbed megalomaniac alive.

But . . why did I watch that?

Wasn’t it so that I could feel better about myself, by picking apart the personality flaws of someone else?  Wasn’t I, actually, being a worse self-piggy, because I was watching someone else’s pig out of infatuation with myself (in other words, to make myself look and feel better)?

Pigs are incredibly tactless in what they will eat.  Give them something, and they will eat it.  Slop, garbage, even other pigs.  They will eat anything and absolutely everything without reverence.  In the same way, our self-piggy will gobble anything and everything that stands in its path to self-fame, self-abundance, self-promotion, and self-worth.  And in our society, there are plenty of highly educated doctors who say that we’re not at fault for this; and they treat it by giving us more of ourselves.

Jesus astonishes (and often) offends us in what He said one day,

As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go! ”

Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”

“Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.”

But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.”

But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62, HCSB)

Jesus gets a lot of flack for what He said here, because we revolt against anyone who would slay the idolatrous pig of self inside us for the cause of the real worship of God.

Jesus was walking to Jerusalem (see verse 51).  He knew these were the last days His sandaled feet would walk the dusty villages of Israel and Samaria before He walked the road to Golgotha with a cross on His back.  In the greatest moment of self-sacrifice ever in the history of mankind, Jesus was walking towards His cross.

Along the way, followers, maybe flirting with holiness, or thinking it might improve their image, or wanting to make themselves look good before God, or wishing for fire insurance for the life to come, or for whatever other self-duplicitous reason, approach Him.  They probably think they are about to look really good.  They might even think they have all the self-sacrifice they need.  After all, aren’t they offering to follow Jesus?

The first one comes out with a wow statement, perhaps to make himself look like the most devoted follower Jesus has ever had?  Maybe he can’t wait for the prize.  What will Jesus say when this man spiels his mighty ditty?  Maybe he thinks that Jesus will nearly worship him out of admiration for his devotion.

“I will follow You wherever You go! ”

Had he practiced this, rehearsed it along the way?  Or did he shout it in a sudden adrenaline-boosting feeling of posturing?  Did he think he meant it?  Probably.  That’s the way it is with self-piggy.  We think we mean things because we ourselves are fooled into believing what the puppet inside us says to us.  We hear our own words and we think they are true.

Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”

Jesus showed the man exactly where his allegiance lie.  Maybe the self-pig inside this man was hungry for comfort or security or assurance; whatever it was, I think Jesus took it away.

The second man wasn’t actually wanting to join Jesus, or at least he didn’t say he was.  He was busy doing something we’d nearly all of us respect.  He was preparing funeral arrangement for his father.  We maybe want to say (in the blasphemous god of our self-pig), “Don’t interrupt him, Jesus!”  We want to offer this man the best psychology can offer, and maybe an anti-depressant to help.  We certainly want to hear Jesus say things like, “I’m here for you” or “Don’t worry about following me now–come when you’re ready.”

Jesus interrupts this man’s plans and speaks directly to him.  Jesus didn’t call just everyone.  Some He called and some He drew and some He let find Him.  But this man, Jesus specifically talked to, and at such a ‘bad time’.

Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”

“Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.”

But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

What?  Jesus says what? 

Where is the sympathy our self-pity is so fond of hearing?  Where is the sympathy that draws the eye of everyone to feed our self-hunger?  Where is the sympathy that plays the violin of self-entitlement before us?  It isn’t here.

Jesus was choosing to die for the news of the kingdom of God.  The least this man could do was leave a dead man behind.  Jesus revealed this man’s self-pig.  Maybe it was worship for his family, or maybe in being the important, in-charge one who made the funeral arrangements, or maybe in being the one who always did what was right in society’s eyes, or maybe he had cold feet about helping Jesus and he was more comfortable staying at home.  We don’t know.  But whatever his self-pig was, I think Jesus exposed it.  And the man had only two options: face his ugly pig and give up what he thought he should do, or do what he wanted and squeal in anger & disappointment at Jesus.

The third man sounds like a great guy.  Maybe he thought he was, too.  Maybe he was a real family man, true-blue to those he loved.  Maybe he thought he couldn’t, of course, leave his family without a proper goodbye.  Maybe he thought he couldn’t just vanish on them one day (as if they wouldn’t hear about where he’d gone).  Maybe he thought he had to do things the proper way, the appropriate way.  Maybe he was willing to follow Jesus, but first he needed or he craved for his goodbye.  Maybe he was hoping all his friends and family would admire him for his ‘brave obedience to God’.  Or maybe he was just using the goodbye excuse as a cop-out to not really follow at all.

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.”

But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

It didn’t work the way the man had planned.  Whatever his self-piggy was, whether it was family, or looking important in relationships, or popularity, or looking brave, or affirmation, Jesus confronted his self-piggy and he was left without an excuse.

All of these men were left to face their self-piggies or throw their anger for the exposure back at Jesus.  We don’t know what they chose.

But we do know what Jesus chose.  He chose to keep walking.  With every footprint His sandals left in the dust, He was one step closer to the footprints that would leave behind a trail of blood.  Earlier, verse 51 of the same chapter tells us,

When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem.

Verse 53b restates,

He determined to journey to Jerusalem.

And this after a self-pig squabble among His disciples about who mattered most among them, who was the coolest, who was the supreme follower, who was getting the biggest reward, who would have the best future.  Verse 46 of the same chapter tells us,

Then an argument started among them about who would be the greatest of them.

Please read Luke 9 for yourself.  There is a very real theme of the self-pig of the disciples, followers of Jesus, and others . . contrasted with the total unselfishness of Jesus, time and time again.

We, like the disciples and followers and everyone who has ever lived on this earth except Jesus have a self-pig inside us.  A pig that will consume every good thing in our lives if we let it go unmuzzled.  A pig that will destroy us.  A pig that we cannot control.

But we can surrender our pig to God to slay.  Only Jesus can destroy the selfishness within us.  He can do this because He lived without selfishness and yet He took on every consequence for our selfishness on that walk to Golgotha.  Golgotha means Skull Place (see Mark 15:22), and there, as He was being put to death by our sin, He was putting to death our sin.

If we want to live with the skeleton of self-pig left inside us, we can.  But we can leave it right there in Golgotha, at the foot of the cross, if we choose.  Christ has slain our sin nature; the decision in ours as to whether we’ll pick it up again.

He gives us this decision because He is totally unselfish.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, HCSB)

Clash

“Whenever God brings forth good, evil rises up to oppose it.”

–Pastor John

Be not overcome by the evil, but overcome, in the good, the evil. (Romans 12:21, Young’s Literal Translation)

in the good

of what you do

overcome

the evil.

Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. (Romans 12:21, HCSB)

Published in: on January 10, 2013 at 6:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

On Jaws and Failure

Great white shark

I never watched Jaws.  I don’t want to watch Jaws.  But I did see the beginning clip of the movie on TV several years back.  I’m not sure that I remember it all that correctly.  But here’s how I remember it.

An attractive girl is swimming in the waters.  She comes up for air, and there are underwater shots to let us know something terrible is going to happen.  We can see her legs kicking under the surface.  The depth looks like a black-blue bottomless pit.

We see her from above the water again, and suddenly she takes in a sharp breath.  A look of terror is on her face.  The ocean has betrayed her.  At the same instant, she goes down in the water, just a little, and we know something has tugged on her, because you can’t go down in the water feet first without momentum.

And then, before she has time to plan any strategy or even face that she is in her last moment, she plunges down.  We never see her again.

–Have you ever felt like you were down for your last plunge, caught off guard, struck helpless by surprise, not sure if there is any hope of getting back up again–or maybe sure there isn’t any?

I don’t know anyone who would seriously place odds that they could outlive a hungry shark in a tank.  No one in their right mind would volunteer to be thrown into the waters with such a shark, to see who would win out.  There’s no comparison between a 10-ton shark and a something-pound human.  There is no competition between a shark’s teeth and a human’s fists.

I would think the most terrifying moment would be going under.  There is no way anyone by human strength could fight back to the surface when a shark is pulling its prey down to the depths.

Maybe, though, the most terrifying moment is actually the last breath.

There have been a lot of people throughout history who have been lured into the ocean by temptation and dragged down to their last breath by their sin.  Judas is the most memorable example.  He called the shark upon himself, as we all do when we sin, and then found himself hopelessly sucked under by its power.  Seeing no way up, he committed suicide.

I think most people who commit suicide simply see the power of sin more clearly than we.  Would to God that we saw the seriousness of sin as they do, and would to God that they saw the grace of God as revealed in His Word.  For centuries, people who commit suicide have been harshly judged.  The great tragedy is that many who commit suicide are a great deal wiser than those of us who keep our lives until natural death ever will be on this earth, because those who are ready to commit suicide have seen the reality and ramifications of sin as we do not.  What we would call mental illness I see often as the crystal-clear clarity some have of the depths to which the shark can pull them.

Thousands throughout history have taken their last breath in this struggle, whether through suicide or illness or accident or murder.  Sometime or other, they gave up getting out of the sin that locked its jaws on their soul.  It is just more powerfully revealed in those who commit suicide, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there for all of us.  We are all startled by the power of sin, and we will all be dragged under for the last time by something beyond our ability to fight if we do not find salvation.  Powerless, hopeless, astonished, and terrified, we will die just as so many before us have died.

–David didn’t seem any different.  Once a man after God’s own heart, he had become a man after the heart of another’s wife.  Probably Satan had imagined if only he could seduce David into this kind of sin, he would be able to pull him under for the last time.

This wasn’t just the wife of any man.  This was the wife of a man with great integrity, very little means (at least compared to David, see Nathan’s analogy in 2 Samuel 12:1-14), and loyal to David to the nth degree.

Just to get David to sin in such a way would be the death sink.  Satan probably had hopes that the nation of Israel would not recover from their leader’s great sin, and God’s beloved people who be scattered, falling into the crevices and pits of sin everywhere that Satan had dug them.  That was something like the plan, I think.

But an opportunity came up that delighted Satan even more.  A chance to cinch the bite of sin on David’s life.  If the shark had been 10 tons before, Satan found a 100 ton shark of sin to sic on David.  How was this?  Satan discovered (or it may have been preplanned) that David had gone so far down the road, gotten so lost, and was so completely out of his relationship with God that he could actually be seduced to murder the man whose wife he had stolen.

Death, from this world’s perspective, is ultimate, permanent, and closes any opportunity to make restitution.  Whereas David could have made great apology to this man, fallen on his knees before him, and hoped to make some kind of life of forgiveness between the two of them . . all chance of that was gone as the curtain between the body and the soul was torn apart.  There was no going back.

And then came the conviction.

What a painful thing is conviction, especially over the worst of the sins we commit!  Easier a dagger to the heart.

Satan enjoys conviction, I think, to a point.  But he recognizes it can always lead to repentance, so it is extremely dangerous.  Satan wouldn’t-and couldn’t–bring conviction upon us, because he’s not righteous and it takes righteousness to do so.  But he can still enjoy the misery of a person who has fallen under the conviction of God.  I use “fallen under” because it really is a falling under.  Conviction is something like God lifting His hand in permission for the shark of our sin to drag us down, down, down, down, down.  It is Jonah in the monstrous, stink-smelling belly of the fish.  It is Judas throwing down the pittance of money that bought the crucifixion of Jesus.  It is David hearing from Nathan,

“You are that man!”

(2 Samuel 12:7b, NLT)

David’s journal (the Psalms he wrote) become outpours of deep, almost hopeless, sinking.  He was in bad shape, and he knew it.  There was no earthly way up.  He might as well have committed suicide as try to make things right.  Everything in his life was falling apart; it was as if the columns of his kingdom were falling down around him. How could he ask for mercy?  This was before the time of Christ.  There was no provision in the law for forgiveness of cold-blooded murder.  There was no sacrifice, no sacrifice, no matter how great, that David could offer before the Lord to be made right with Him once more.

The agony of this pours through the journal he left for us.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. (Psalm 32:3, ESV)

Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;

my health is broken because of my sins.

My guilt overwhelms me—

it is a burden too heavy to bear.

My wounds fester and stink

because of my foolish sins.

I am bent over and racked with pain.

All day long I walk around filled with grief.

A raging fever burns within me,

and my health is broken.

I am exhausted and completely crushed.

My groans come from an anguished heart. (Psalm 38:3-8, NLT)

All day long my enemies taunt me;

those who rail against me use my name as a curse.

For I eat ashes as my food

and mingle my drink with tears

because of your great wrath,

for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.

My days are like the evening shadow;

I wither away like grass. (Psalm 102:8-11, NIV)

This is heavy duty anguish.  David is ruined.  Satan might as well be clapping his hands in glee.  The fight is over; sin has won.  David has nothing within himself he can do to make up for the sin.  He can’t work hard enough, pay back enough, do enough good to outweigh the bad.  He is ruined; he is ruined.  It is over.

“for God all things are possible.” (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 19:26c ISV)

David opens up his diary for the world in Psalm 32.

Happy is the person
whose sins are forgiven,
whose wrongs are pardoned.
Happy is the person
whom the Lord does not consider guilty
and in whom there is nothing false.

When I kept things to myself,
I felt weak deep inside me.
I moaned all day long.
Day and night you punished me.
My strength was gone as in the summer heat.
Selah

Then I confessed my sins to you
and didn’t hide my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my sins to the Lord,”
and you forgave my guilt.
Selah

For this reason, all who obey you
should pray to you while they still can.
When troubles rise like a flood,
they will not reach them.
You are my hiding place.
You protect me from my troubles
and fill me with songs of salvation.
Selah

The Lord says, “I will make you wise and show you where to go.
I will guide you and watch over you.
So don’t be like a horse or donkey,
that doesn’t understand.
They must be led with bits and reins,
or they will not come near you.”

Wicked people have many troubles,
but the Lord’s love surrounds those who trust him.
Good people, rejoice and be happy in the Lord.
Sing all you whose hearts are right.

David, king of a nation, opened his diary for all to see the working of God.  Imagine a king or prime minister or president today publishing a book called something like, My Utter, Abysmal, Awful Failure: And the God Who Saved Me.  But that is something like what David did in writing Psalm 32 [1].

He was so confident in the love of God that he allowed his people to see his deep sink into sin.  He ends with

Sing all you whose hearts are right.

David’s heart was right.  In an instant, the shark keeled over and died, harpooned by a mysterious figure of the future.  This mysterious figure was working long before He was born into a stable in an overflowing city during an inconvenient government census.  But just like then, He chooses to work in the most real of circumstances.

He chose to be born not in a king’s palace during a time of glorious prosperity and peace, but instead in a lowly stable during a time of political unrest, corruption, and crucifixion.  And Jesus, the mysterious figure in David’s life, chooses to work even with David’s awful life.  I mean, let’s be honest–who would want to trade places with David right before the point God intervenes? Jaws wasn’t in the mind of Steven Spielberg yet, but David’s sin was an ever-present shark thirsting for his blood and pulling him further and further down, away from God’s Presence.

I imagine here a picture [2].  I see Jesus as the ultimate scuba diver, swimming to a depth no one else would dare go.  The pressure of the water is more than anyone else could bear, yet Jesus swims deeper, deeper, deeper.  Harpoon in hand, He swims right up to the shark, and the battle that ensues is nothing short of epic.  Tremendous.  Teeth cracking, flesh mangling.  Jesus, who would become so wounded by the effect of our sin that He was said to not even be recognizable as a human (see Isaiah 52:14).  And the shark, pierced to the heart and dethroned as the king of the deep.

Jesus comes in our darkest moments–yes, Jesus comes in our darkest moments and harpoons our greatest evil!  There is never, ever justification for you or me, whoever you are, whoever I am, to think all is lost and there is no reason to go on.  There is never, ever a reason for you or me to surrender to the shark.  The shark is ever-present, yes, but so–yes, so!–is Jesus.

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1b, NASB)

Is there any help?  You betcha there is!  The only reason anyone dies in the depths is because their last breath was taken in despair or delusion, rather than to cry out for the Son of God.

–God will not save you if you don’t want to be saved.  It is your shark; you have to want to get rid of it.

–God will not save me if I don’t want to be saved. It is my shark; I have to want to get rid of it.

–And I do!  I DO!!!!!!!!  Like David and every other person ever gripped in the locked jaws of sin, I cry out to God to save me.  And He does. He DOES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The ending to that scene in Jaws. . changes.

The girl still gives a gasp, still feels the initial jerk, still plunges under the surface of the water with no hope for return.

The silence tells the story of no hope.  It is such a long silence there is no reason to think it won’t be eternal.  The surface of the water gives no rustle of life.

It is so dark, so still.

And then, just as we are sure we have seen the end, something happens which utterly changes the whole scene.  As though thrown up from the depths–and as a matter of fact, this is just exactly what happened–the girl emerges, gasping for air.  Black water from the depths of the ocean runs down her hair and face as her mouth opens wide to breathe the sunlit air.  She blinks as her lungs expand once more; she can’t believe what she’s seeing.  The sun shines down on her pale face, and color, real, living color, begins to flush her cheeks.  Her eyes are wide, but in wonder, not fear, and then, true to horror movie form, the shark breaks the surface of the waters.

In all its horror, it thunders upon the surface of the water, a fearful wave created from the blow of its body.  Its full length is finally seen, its full weight, the magnitude of its presence, the hideous length of its countless teeth.

The shark is right by the girl, as close as it can be without touching her, and there is no doubt she will be ripped back down to the depth in greater fury then before.

But then, the viewer realizes something.

The girl is not screaming.

And the shark is not on its back, but on its belly.  Its jaws are on full display, but they are not biting.  Its eyes are wide open, but they are not set on her.  There is no dorsal fin to see.

The shark is dead as a doornail.

In regust–but not in fear–the girls begins to swim away from the ugly, floating corpse.  The implanted harpoon gleams in the sunlight.  She wipes her face of all the water of the deep, takes another big breath, and begins to swim for shore.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, you God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness. (Psalm 51:14, AKJV)

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

(Lyrics from 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord), by Matt Redman)

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! (Psalm 146:1, ESV)

____________________________________________

[1] The collection of psalms are not placed in chronological order in the book of Psalms.  We might wonder at this, but, first of all, it’s very likely that the original hearer’s knew the events that occurred before psalms.  Certain psalms are marked with what events preceded them.  Hymn books are not sorted in chronological order, either, or some poetry compilations, and no one asks why this is.  Psalms, as poetry, lend themselves to a focus on themes other than chronology.

[2] The scuba diver analogy comes by God’s grace through C.S. Lewis’ diver analogy in Miracles.

I thank John Eldridge’s Epic for ideas in this blog.

His love

His love overtakes all my self-infliction and conspiring for revenge.

____________________________________________

Photograph by Shirl, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/aunto/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

Published in: on April 24, 2012 at 9:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Misery addict

I think it’s fair to say I lived most of my life as an addict to misery.

Like a kid who grows up eating mashed potatoes with chocolate sauce and craves it ever after, I grew up thinking I was supposed to be miserable, that it was dutiful to be miserable, and that I could possibly pay a bit of my sin off if I was miserable enough.

Where I got these ideas, I don’t really know.  I mean, I know where they originally came from: Satan.  But I don’t know how they got into my head.  Satan doesn’t just start his work when we become an adult, though, and I remember from kidhood feeling “comfortable” feeling guilty.

Guilt is like an ugly house.  It doesn’t go away just because you want it to.  And if it’s the only place you have to live, well, you get used to it.  That was how it was with me.

When I realized as a grown up that God wanted to free me from my guilt, it was like an inmate who’s been on death row for 19 years finding out he’s been pardoned.  I was overjoyed.  I’d been handed a ticket to freedom and the confetti was flying around me.

Visiting the house of forgiveness was more thrilling for me than all the houses ever built on Extreme Home Makeovers put together.  The house of forgiveness was a mansion to explore.  Deep carpets, wood floors, arched doorways, glimmering mosaic tiles, vast staircases with wooden bannisters, chandeliers, built-in bookcases, skylights, stained glass windows, deep but bright basements, secret rooms, stunning lofts–the house of forgiveness is gorgeous.  In my wildest dreams, I would never have imagined I could stay here.

And then it hit me.  I’d have to leave my house of guilt for good.

It was scary.

I know the couch, chairs, and kitchen sink in the house of guilt.  I know where the stains on the ceilings are and what holes in the wall the roaches crawl in and out of.

I feel uncomfortable and very unbelonging staying in the house of freedom.  I didn’t mind visiting.  I liked looking at the handmade furniture upholstered in astonishingly beautiful fabrics.  I liked admiring the fireplaces and marble counters and exquisite painting.  I was awed walking through the never-ending array of rooms.

But I didn’t want to stay there.

And so, hesitantly, looking at God nervously out of the sides of my eyes, I politely said my thank-yous and crept away.  I slipped back in the house of guilt for a few nights.

When I needed a break from self-horror, I silently crept back over to the house of forgiveness, hoping God wouldn’t have noticed by absence.

What I didn’t realize, or didn’t want to admit to myself, is that rejecting the joy forgiveness brings to return to the misery of guilt is like taking a present, thanking the giver, and quietly putting it away in a closet to save for later.

Grace overwhelms me.  It scares me.  It feels unpredictable to me, uncertain, and, sometimes, surely like it can’t be true.  The house of guilt is dim, and I feel safer in dim light.  All the windows are boarded up.  The house of forgiveness streams with daylight and even has a floor-length mirror, and I feel frightened to look at who I am and wonder if my sin has really been taken away from me.

I desperately want God’s love . . . but I want Him to come to the house of guilt and stay there with me.  I somehow want God’s love to come through His condemnation of me, so I can feel more comfortable with myself.  I want to be able to pay Him back, in little ways, by His anger and my misery, as if this could somehow ever work.

I used to be a misery addict, all right.

–But, once you’ve been, once you’ve seen the house of forgiveness for yourself, staying away is like inviting an anvil to fall on your head.  I don’t want condemnation anymore.  I want forgiveness.

Hello.  My name is Forgiven.  And I’m a recovering misery addict.

If the Son gives you freedom, you are free! (John 8:36, CEV)

____________________________________________

See Copyright Page for Bible Translation information.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Fast food pies

The other day, I ate two fast food pies.

It upset my stomach, which I pretty much knew would happen.  Fast food is usually fakish food.  A lot of gobbledygook is added to real ingredients.  Fast food tastes so great, and it’s so convenient, the dismal lack of nutrition is easily drowned out by the temptation.

Even still, I don’t usually eat fast food.  But I was in a tight spot and I was hungry.  And I was just planning on getting chicken and fries, but when I saw the pies on the menu, and for so cheap . . well.  I ordered the pies.  And I ate the pies.

I pretty much knew those pies would upset my stomach, but of course in my Wistful Thinking World I had decided they wouldn’t upset my stomach.  I know I have food allergies and can’t eat fast food, and especially not fast food dessert.  So why did I do something dumb like that?

My teenager years and college life revolved around fast food.  Those pies brought back feelings of comfort, familiarity, splurging, and being young again.

But the very same pies were like garbage in my stomach.  And eating them wasn’t worth it, no matter how sweet they tasted in the moment.

Those pies remind me a lot of what it’s like for a Christian to go back to sin.

When I gave my life to God, God nailed my sin nature to the cross.  It was on display, for all to see, that Christ had died to this sin nature, my sin nature.  If anyone comes to Jesus for forgiveness, God posts their old nature for the world, the angels, Satan, the demons–everyone–to see is dead as dead can be: The sin nature of _________ is no more.

That does not mean Satan gives up.  Instead, he starts trying harder.  He is more motivated than ever to tempt us to sin, because we have aligned ourselves with his arch enemy, Jesus Christ.  (I say “arch enemy” which is true, but they certainly aren’t peers.  Jesus created all the angels, including Lucifer (who would become known as Satan), who destroyed himself with sin.)

Satan wants Christians to sin really bad.  But Satan can’t force-feed anybody sin.  It has to be our choice.  So what does he do?  He comforts us with sin.  It’s just like old times.  In other words, it’s just like Hell times.

It’s comforting to keep that grudge, he teaches us.  It’s familiar to have that jealousy.  You can splurge every once in a while and lose your temper–you deserve it.  It was more fun to be depressed all the time.  And so on.

Even with all I know about how bad food affects my health, I still like it on the same skin-deep level that I like to watch commercials or be first in line at the grocery store.  It’s an impulse towards what’s easiest–don’t think, don’t discern, don’t care about what happens.  It’s the 4-year-old in me that wants what I want with blind thinking and it doesn’t matter what happens afterwards.

Because of Jesus Christ, the sin nature in me is dead.  It can’t control me anymore.  But I can choose to sin as if I still had the same nature.  It’s the old impulse: easy, unthinking, unwise, me-centered, me-idolized.

But I can’t get away with it for long.  Like a butterfly trying to go back and eat leaves like the caterpillar did, I can’t survive on meals of sin.  It will, slowly or quickly, destroy my life and deteriorate my soul.

The very next day after eating those bad pies, would you believe that I bought more?  I had forgotten how sweet they tasted in the four or so years since I’d had one.  And I wanted more.

I wanted to eat them, all right, but I left them in the bag.  I remembered why I didn’t want to eat them.  I left them in the bag until they were cold, and I saw what they really were.

I threw them away.

I can still go back and buy more, anytime I want.  There’s fast food stops open 24/7.

I could also go through my garbage can and eat left-overs out of it anytime I want.  But I don’t want to.

I want to good food.

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Romans 7:18, NIV)

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) (Romans 8:3-9, NLT)

“Just let go.”

Frodo stands on the precipice of Mount Doom, ring dangling from its chain, holding it over the brink.

He stares down at it, and the rhythmic pounding of the ring is now so loud it shakes the whole mountaintop.  Cultic lightning flashes down on the ring, and it burns into Froto’s eyes as if the light is acid.

And then Sam says it.

“Just let go.”

.               .               .                .               .               .                .

It’s been a journey of time, travel, battle, friendship, and betrayal.  Frodo has seen friends fight for them, enemies magnetize to him, and even one of his own fellowship overcome by the power of the ring and try to kill him.

He’s been stabbed by the sword of a wraith, a wraith so consumed by lust for the ring it knows nothing else.  He’s been almost swallowed alive by a gigantic sea creature.  He’s been tricked by a villainous friend into entering the cave of a monstrous spider alone.  He’s watched one of his dearest friends be dragged off the edge of a cliff as he gave Frodo time to escape.  He’s been beaten and almost stabbed by a nasty-hearted orc.  And the giant hand of a troll has groped for him behind the rocks of a cave.

And all this time, all this time, he’s been carrying the ring.

It’s the one reason why all allies have gone on this journey and fight for him.  And it’s the one reason why all enemies pursue him and fight against him.

And here he is, at the very edge of the world he knows, and only one thing, only one prevents him from total freedom.

The chain he holds in his hand, the chain that holds the ring.

All the enticement Sauron can muster to convince Frodo to keep the ring is in full-force.  A wicked delight pours through Frodo as he begins to dream what his life would be like if he just held on to that little gold ring.

All the power.  All the glory.  All the worship.  He could rule everything.  He could grow in metallic greatness as all the things evil loves most overtake him.  He can see it in the gleam of gold.

And he puts the ring on.

Evil hears the silent shriek of the ring, as it deals the deathblow to Frodo, and all evil comes running.

All allies have had their epic battle.  For Sam, it was Shelob.  For Aragorn, it was identity.  For Boromir, it was temptation.  For Gimli, prejudice.  For Legolas, connection.  For Elron, apathy.  For Faramir, worth.  For Galadriel, power.  For Gandalf, the Balrog.

And for Frodo . . the ring.

And Frodo won’t let go.

.               .               .                .               .               .                .

I heard the Lord of the Rings first when I was a kid, and I felt like something deep within the story had been left buried.  I didn’t like the series at all.

Years later, when the first movie came out in theaters, I tagged along with friends.  I was astonished at the exquisite depth of Tolkien’s world and I was again captivated, more so even than before.

But at the close of the third movie, as many times as I watched the series, I never understood why Frodo’s role ended without victory.

Tolkien’s purpose had seemed all along to engage me in the fight between good and evil.  In the end, the heroes all win . . . all but the focal hero of the whole series: Frodo.

Frodo loses his battle to the ring.  He does not let go.

Yes, the ring is destroyed.  Yes, Sauron is defeated.  But Frodo never lets go of the ring.

Even at the end of the story, when Frodo bows out of the Shire to take a ship to the land of the dead, I never felt like he’d let go.  The wound the wraith gave him still hurts.  And he has been so utterly captured by the ring that it’s like he dies a slow death after its quick death.

It was like . . the ring was the most powerful.  The ring won.  The world was rescued from its powers . . but the ringbearer wasn’t.  He had sold himself to the ring, and he couldn’t buy himself back.

It bothered me.  There are so many parallels between the fight for good and evil in Lord of the Rings and real life.  But what was Tolkien trying to say about temptation and evil in Frodo’s story?

I don’t know the answer to that.  But I know for sure I don’t want to be Frodo.

I don’t want to live my life on a journey for God’s Kingdom, only to betray everything I know and give in to the power of Satan at the end.  Like Frodo, I have a league of allies who have devoted their lives to protecting me from Satan’s lies.  I think of all the martyrs, missionaries, preachers, authors, and guides who have, by the power of God, stopped the onslaught of Satan’s army from overtaking the world.

And I think of Christ Himself, the forerunner of this epic journey.  Christ, who gave every footstep, every word, every act to drawing us to the Father.  Christ dealt the death blow to Satan’s seductive slavery over our lives.  He placed Himself in the hands of evil itself to die to evil’s worst and to prove, once and for all, that God will never give in to even the most powerful temptation Satan can ever muster.

And then Jesus died.  And evil was leveled.  Flattened.  Crumpled.

It was like Jesus took a sledgehammer and shattered the cages of sin that had held us captive for so long.  In fact, listen to how the Bible predicts what Jesus’ epic life will be like, many hundred years before Jesus comes to earth:

This is what God the Lord says—

he who created the heavens and stretched them out,

who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,

who gives breath to its people,

and life to those who walk on it:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;

I will take hold of your hand.

I will keep you and will make you

to be a covenant for the people

and a light for the Gentiles,

to open eyes that are blind,

to free captives from prison

and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:5-7, NIV)

Because of Jesus, we don’t have to put on the ring.  He has proven, once and for all, that we really can throw the ring–whatever that is for us–into the molten lava where it belongs . . . and be free.  But we can do that one way, and only one way: by the power of Christ.

I guess that’s why Frodo couldn’t let go.  He just did not know about the Savior who has power over everything.

“All power in Heaven and over the earth has been given to me.” (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 28:18b, WNT)

So Filled

Jesus,

Help me to be so full of You that i don’t have room for the vacuousness of me.

I looked, and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple of the LORD. And I fell on my face. (Ezekiel 44:4b, ESV)

Published in: on April 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Overruled

Anger feels like a roller-coaster getting started inside me.  And once the ride starts, it feels just about impossible to stop.  After all, who stops a roller-coaster that’s flying down a track at 40 mph, or one that’s dropping at 80 mph?  And even when the roller-coaster is chugging uphill, cranking and cranking and cranking, it’s hard to stop it even then.  The process seems mechanized–perfect, really.  I think that if I blow up when I’m angry, it will be exactly what I want.

But it never really is.  Not 10 minutes later, or 4 hours later if I’m really flaming, I regret it.  Suddenly, I can think calmly and rationally–usually right after I’ve said something irretractable.  The fury that was as thick as concrete dissolves like fog and I wonder what I thought I was thinking at all . . and why I didn’t overrule it.

Why is bad anger so tempting?  I’m not talking about the kind of anger that right feels about wrong–that anger seems hard to have–but I’m talking about the other flavors of anger . . self righteous . . . jealous  . . spiteful . . . daydreaming . . unforgiving . . . hurt-loving anger.

Why is it so easy to be a bad kind of angry?  And why is it so hard to pull back from bad anger . . like a coiling snake deciding not to strike or two cars heading full-speed towards each other trying to slam on the brakes?

I’ve come to accept that I don’t have it within me to overrule my anger.  Hate is a powerful ruler and a mighty lord–more powerful and mighty than me.  Satan has got my number.  He has figured out long ago that I am not strong enough to withstand his efforts to heap evil feelings in my life.  He can dump loads of anger–but why stop there?  He can pour all manner of other ungodly emotions in my life, too.  And I, I am powerless to stop him.

I have tried the self-help way.

The self-help way stinks.

Count to ten.  Hold your breath.  Think of happy times.  Exercise.  Eat onions.  I mean, whatever it is, it just doesn’t work–not for long.  I can fool myself into holding back from bad feelings for a little while, but it’s like a balloon holding onto its particles for dear life as Satan keeps pumping anger into my heart.  It’s not gonna last.

Because no amount of self-restraint can work.  It would be like an insane person trying to put on a straight jacket.  It doesn’t work.  Of course, an outside authority can “help”–and often that does happen with people who can’t control their emotions.  I’m happy to say I, like most people, am not in that category, but the way I control my emotions, like most people, is by venting them in viciously harmful, but socially acceptable ways.

Telling someone off, gossiping, daydreaming bad things that could happen to someone I’m mad at, cruel insinuations, turning the anger in on myself, or planning out hate speeches in my head I never plan on actually saying . . are not solutions.  Sure, I am not punching someone or saying the meanest of mean things, but that’s like saying it’s okay to smoke because it’s better than meth. There’s still lung cancer to contend with.  And even socially acceptable ways of exhibiting bad anger . . . are spiritually destructive.

So what am I to do?  Keep reading self-help books?  Settle for more popular, but eternally evil, ways of expressing my feelings?  Take drugs?  Give up?

I could.

Or, I could say,

Here’s my bad anger, Jesus.  Please take it away.

If that sounds childishly simple to you, I’ve been there.  I’ve thought there had to be some complex, incredibly me-centered solution to my problems.  But the more I know Jesus, the more I realize that my complex, incredibly me-centered solutions . . are really dumb.  And the more I realize that everything in my life that is wrong is about a deficiency in my trust.

If I really believe God is good–if I really believe it–I won’t have a problem giving God my anger, because I’ll believe He is able to do with it whatever is right.  If I trust God, then I can hand my anger to God in clenched fists with no worries that He might not be strong enough to get it out of my hands.  And if God chooses to throw my anger into the trash can–which, of course, will happen if it’s bad anger–I can trust Him enough to bow my head and say, You are the one who knows right.

It’s simple.

A child can do it.

Because it’s all about trust.

Get me outta my mind and into Your heart
It’s not about me, it’s not about me
So I’m gonna start playin’ my part in Your design
Now is the time
Get me outta my mind
Outta my mind

–Anthem Lights, “Outta My Mind”

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. (Ephesians 4:31, NLT)

Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper–it only leads to harm. (Psalm 37:8, NLT)

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. (Colossians 3:8, NLT)

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:1, KJ2000)

______________________________________________________

Photograph by Peter Shanks, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/botheredbybees/  (What is it?  It’s a bluetongue lizard.)

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.