Why is self-control so hard?

I chew gum even though it flares up my TMJ (messes up my jaw and gives me headaches).  I’ll say I won’t do it again, but the next time there’s a slice of gum around . . I just might.

I eat zucchini even though it makes me sick.  Yuck sick.  But it tastes so, well, tasty grilled up . . that I eat it to “test whether it really, really does bother me”.

We all do it.  Things that just plain don’t make sense.  Bulls get mad and charge right at swords.  We lose our self-control and charge right at the thing that hurts us, too.

We all do it.  But WHY do we do it?  Why do we do things that hurt us?  Why is it so hard to lose 5 pounds, stop eating candy, arrive at church on time, workout 10 minutes in the gym, switch to gluten-free, take only the allocated lunch break at work–whatever it is, why is it so hard?

Self-control.

We don’t have much of it.

(When we don’t have to.)

I remember an example from a book many years ago.  The author pointed out how people often feel the uncontrollable urge to cuss and scream someone out who makes a traffic violation.

But these same people, if they got out of their car after a fender-bender and saw a 7′ 6″ tall linebacker step out of his car . . would suddenly remember their manners and be very polite.

Most of us aren’t so out of control that we can’t do what’s good for us when we absolutely have to–that is, most of us don’t want to face immediate unpleasant consequences.

But if there aren’t immediate miserable consequences, if the consequences are delayed even a teenie bit or might not happen at all . .

{Where’s my gum and serve up the zucchini.}

That’s what happens to us.

It’s why people still smoke.  There’s years of delay to lung problems for most.  It’s why people still speed.  They might not get caught, and they probably won’t get in an accident.  It’s why we do all the crazy things we do and think we can get away with it, or just want what we want badly enough that we take the temporary gratification even knowing the long-run disaster.

Why do we do it?

Well, this fact isn’t Self-Esteem 101, but the Bible tells us we’re sinners.  But what is uplifting is that we don’t always have to have one more piece of chocolate.  We don’t have to buy another pair of shoes or cheat on a test one more time or toss in one more poker chip or have one more dating sleepover.  We really, really, really can stop.

Not on our own, though.

Do I have the power to resist the gum that causes me headaches and the zucchini that causes me nausea?  Apparently not.  But God does.  Jesus resisted all evil when He was on earth.  And it wasn’t because He wasn’t tempted!  Even though He was tempted worse than anyone, He said no to it all.  He came out of the grave as a total victor, not one tally mark of sin to His record.

Wish you had a record like that?  You don’t have to.  Jesus Christ is willing to give you His record–and His strength to resist temptation.

Does that mean you’ll never smoke another cigarette?

Maybe.  Or maybe it means you’ll begin a battle that lasts 6 months.  Or 6 years.  But Jesus will give you the power to stop whatever is destroying you, and the more you trust Him, the faster it will happen.

I’ve known for a long time about the back exercises I should be doing, the diet changes I should make, and the conversations of negativity I should stop having.  I haven’t mastered my lacks yet.  But God has given me the strength to do so.  And I’ve already said no to many things I use to say yes to, like bad movies and an addiction to video games.  I’m getting stronger in some of my no’s, like correcting when I tell little white lies instead of letting them go–something that used to be nearly unheard of for me.

My journey may not seem like much, but I can tell a change because I know who I used to be.  And the more I trust in Jesus Christ, the more of a change I can tell.

No more zucchini & gum–soon, I hope by His grace!

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)

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A critical misunderstanding

I’m not saying I have any right to judge you.  I’m telling you there is a Judge.

There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. (Jesus, quoted in John 12:48, NIV)

Published in: on December 2, 2013 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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For the sake of our love

For the Christ-follower, we should keep from sin for the sake of our love for Him.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:14-15, NLT)

 

Sin

We would throw the net of self-control around it, but we are too weak to lift the net off the ground, much less throw it.  Even if we succeed for a moment to throw our trap around its tail, it would only reel around and tear our self-righteousness to pieces.  It has claws that tear all morality, teeth that break all bonds humanity should share, and eyes that entrance us to do its bidding without a whisper of a struggle.

But God can destroy sin with the snap of His fingers, a glance from His eyes, or even the breath from His mouth.

That’s one reason why I’m on God’s side.

One day, He will destroy sin for good.  But first, He is waiting for sinners to come to Him.  He is good!  He is merciful!  He is patient!  He is kind!

And that’s another reason why I’m on God’s side.

Until the day when God banishes sin forever, He will give every believer the power to win every battle against sin, every day, every time.  Every sin will bow down and give up before the power of Jesus Christ, who has come back from paying for the punishment of sin.  Now sin holds no power against anyone who believes in Him.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we can still be tempted and we can still sin, but we don’t have to.

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. (Romans 6:6, NLT)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, NIV)

Industry in anger

Industry Creative Commons License

“There’s a real industry in anger.”

–My mom, reflecting on why there is so much anger in the world

BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. (Ephesians 4:26-26, NASB)

. . let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19b-20, ESV)

Back again so soon?

As a kid it didn’t hurt, but I was warned time and again.  Told to stand up straight.  Over and over.  Again and again.  Forced my shoulders back.  But always dropped them in a few seconds.  Was warned my lungs would crumple up.  Warned about braces.  I ignored.  Offended.

Started popping my neck.  Turning my head around and leaning it from side to side.  Angry.  Angry there wasn’t even a brace to help me.

First time I caught glimpse of myself in a video feed, I thought, I look like Gollum.  I was twelve or thirteen, and I looked like Gollum.  What was I to do with myself after that?  Ashamed.

Carried too much heaviness in my backpack on a trip.  Almost numbing, draining, tingling-heavy pain.  Laying on a bed at night.  Hurting.

Popping my shoulder.  Still sloped.  Then chiropractor visits.  Exercise, but only for a little while.  Back to same old, drooped over me.  Failing.  But hopeful.

Time and time again slipping, slipping.  Failing, failing.

Physical therapy was the first time it sunk in for sure.  Therapist told me no perfect posture in my future.  I’d never be straight up and down.  No matter how hard I tried.  It’d all be damage control.  My shoulders would always be curved.  I’d always be, at the very least, slightly sloped.  Indignant.

Worse pain.  Shooting pains up my neck.  Back to the chiropractor.  On and off, years and years.  Never sticking to exercises.  Giving up even starting another round of exercises I knew I’d quit.  Years and years.  Telltale pains in knee and hip.  Nerve pains at night.  Plurasy.  More reluctance to exercise.  No internet research yielding cure.  Discouraged.

And all the time my neck heavier and heavier.  Harder and harder to lift my head.  Less and less feeling of hope to hold up my head.  Knowing what happens in old age to those bent over, how they look, how they walk.  Fear.

And right now, the same old pain.  It’s my back again.

Born with mild kyphosis, and years of forward neck taking its toll, I struggle to stand up straight.  Posture is illusory.  I know what it looks like to have a beautiful spine; I just don’t get mine to look like it.  It almost feels like my head is a sandbag and my neck is a rope, and my neck is supposed to be holding my head up.

Being told to stand up straight frustrates me.  Seeing other people stand up straight doesn’t encourage me.  I feel a bit like Gollum when he looks at Frodo and Sam, when Sam talks about good in the world, and Gollum’s eyes tell the story of his heart, But it’s not for me.

I feel as though I cannot make my back do my will.  It is too tempting, too easy to slump.  And with a record of strikes in my tries to fight the downward pull, I feel rather hopeless.

But not entirely.

One day, a couple years ago, I went to a man who taught posture in a way I wasn’t familiar.  He taught by relaxing, not jerking, pulling, or tensing.  He taught by gently touching parts of my back.  Within a few minutes of the very first visit, I looked at myself in the mirror and could not believe the transformation.  For the very first time in my life, I was standing up straightStraight.  Without tearing muscle or any great effort from me, there I was, standing up straight as a pin.

I still do not stand up straight.  I feel tense about trying to stand up straight, and procrastinate on when I start helping my posture, or for a short burst I try to force myself upright.  And I fail once more.

But I know it can be a different way.

It was only when I received a moment of grace, of something other than what I had in my own strength, and perceived, in the quest for posture, a love for uprightness and me and not just a love for uprightness . . that I found my spine straight.

I find in this a curious metaphor, a little like what it is like to have a sin nature.

Though we can defend it, or ignore it, or make resolutions about what we will never keep, or give up on ever curing it, we find in none of these the peace we seek, and we only grow worse.

Only when we give ourselves over to Christ, who loves righteousness and us, do we have the hope for a holy life . . and the ultimate snapping of our sin nature, by the work of Christ, not us.

The gentle touch of His nail-pierced hand in our lives reflects to us that He has the strength we need to battle our sin nature, and He has the power to destroy it forever . . so we can live upright starting right now.

What a delight to know the biggest weight of my life is already taken care of.  Though I may have a sandbag head, I do not have a sandbag soul any longer.  I am free.

It’s time to stop blaming, hiding, and despairing in our sin nature.  It is time to surrender to the grace of Christ.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4, ESV)

Published in: on January 11, 2013 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Ring

“We put it away, we keep it hidden! We never speak of it again. No one knows it’s here, do they?”

–Frodo, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), New Line Cinema

It all started like paradise.

Twirling dresses, picnic food in heaps, bursting fireworks, jolly dancing, loud laughter, warm-baked pies, wet tousley grass, children streaking past, clapping on the shoulders, grand garlands, and the smell of summer air.

In that moment, there couldn’t be anything terrible on Frodo’s mind.  He had no more concern than nudging a shy friend to dance with his secret crush.

But now–only days later–Frodo’s world has fallen apart at the seams–seams he didn’t even know were there.

From a night of careless chuckles and silly conversations, he enters his home, and the once gentle hove has become a still-as-death mess.  As he staggers to try to make sense of it all, he is grasped on the shoulder by an old friend–who frightens him as an enemy.

“Is it secret–is it safe?” Gandalf asks and commands.

He means the ring.

Up until that moment, the ring had been only an odd curiosity.  A treasure his uncle had once owned.  A page in the tale, perhaps, of his uncle’s untold adventure.

Now it has become the force of madness.

Gandalf teaches Frodo the detestable story of the ring–how it has brought only treachery and torture on its warpath to burn all good with the Wheel of Fire–the Great Eye of Sauron.

One ring to rule them all

One ring to find them

One ring to bring them all

And in the darkness bind them.

[J.R.R. Tolkien, “Fellowship of the Ring”]

And the ring becomes, in the instant Frodo realizes its thirst for evil, a horror.  It belongs far outside the world he wants.  Away, away from all good–and he wants to be rid of it now.

This ring is nothing of summer strawberries and flourishing gardenias and fine-footed ponies and friendly meadows.

This ring is dread.

He must get rid of the great dread.  Of an earth of fiery enslavement, an earth without tree or crop, an earth without quiet creeks or grassy hills, an earth without horses or their riders, an earth without loyalty or love.

Quickly–quickly!  His thoughts fly as he works through a plan to end the dread–this horrible thing, this monstrous thing that has brought upon him.

“We put it away, we keep it hidden! We never speak of it again.”

It reminds me of what it is like to live–to be born, to die–with a sin nature.

Those of us who realize the evil that lies within have been awakened to its presence with horror.  One moment, we had not a care in the world.  The next, we began to feel that something was terribly wrong.  And when we discover what it is: that we ourselves are evil . . we are overcome with desperation.  We, like Frodo with the ring, would hastily bury our sin nature–if we could.  If only we could.

But, as Frodo carries the ring around his neck, as it bruises and burns and tracks the Great Eye everlastingly, as it drives from Frodo the taste of food, even the desire for water . . as it casts out the memories of the sweetness of life . . and finally, even all remnants of love and the loyalty . . so we carry our sin nature, heavy about us, and sometimes fear we will have no better ending than Frodo–who chooses, at the very last, to keep the ring, betray his closest friend, destroy Middle Earth, and rule as its warpath master.  (He does not get away with this, but that is not to his credit.)

Those of us awakened to the horror of our nature want, we long, WE ACHE to “be rid of it” (as Sam says).

And yet we carry it with us.  And we are afraid, so afraid, that it will be always.

As Frodo says about the ring, It is such a burden.”

It is such a burden.

With every resolve we have, we can vow to hide our sin nature from sight–but that would only draw a quicker victory from evil.

Evil loves the hidden dark.

Unlike Frodo, who is faced merely with “the” hidden dark of his world (darkness he has done nothing to cause), we are faced with OUR hidden dark.

And unlike Frodo, who is unwittingly bound to a nightmare ring, we are not.  In metaphor, we reached out to Sauron’s very hand to ask for the ring.  We may not have known what we were getting, but we were warned by God.  And yet we reached anyway.

From the moment Eve reached her hand for the forbidden fruit, a course and curse of bondage has been set in motion.  And from the moment Adam–responsible for all humanity–ate that fruit, ate that death . . we have been bound for Hell.  It truly was

One cursed choice to rule us all

One cursed choice to find us

One cursed choice to bring us all

And in the darkness bind us.

Adam and Eve were not the only ones who ate of evil.  Since then, every human save One has picked fruits from the forests of sin . . eaten their fill . . and yet never felt contentment.  We are like Frodo but even worse, for if he’d played with the ring the way we play with sin, Middle Earth would have been destroyed before he’d set out of the shire.  As Frodo considers the ring, toys with it, imagines slipping it on his finger, and at last obeys the craving he has fed, so we feed our sin nature until we are utterly overwhelmed by the very thing we were once only fascinated by.

And like Frodo, even when we try, even when we really try, to break out of the bondage . . we do not know how.

Lot chose the nicer land; it turned into ash.  Solomon lavished himself with the finest pleasures; he bought himself into meaninglessness.  Hezekiah longed for a longer life; the extra years delivered him into shame.

Would that we–like Frodo with his map to Mordor–have a map to the place where we can destroy our sin.

. . Suppose we did.  Suppose there was a place we could go to destroy, once and for all, the sin nature within us.

If we could endure the trials to get to that fiery abyss . . would we throw our sin nature in . . or would we say with a slow, entranced, evil-hungry smile, as Frodo did,

“No.”

For, if we were to find such a place, we would realize what Frodo did.  We would see that we would have to burn all that has ever lured us to rebel against God within us.  We would have to throw ourselves in.  Frodo’s life force had become bound to the ring.  To destroy it was to destroy himself.  And he did not choose that.

And neither would we.  We, too, would refuse.  Even if we could somehow be heroic enough to make it to the Gates of Hell, we would not throw ourselves in.  For we cannot part with our sin nature by any amount of willpower.  It is too precious to us.

. . Frodo was not saved from the death that came from throwing the ring in.  And he was not saved from the total disgrace that it was only a mere accident which caused the ring to fall into the abyss.  Frodo lived for the rest of his life knowing he would not have thrown it in.  He slipped away on a ship of death with that reminder–and the hope of peace in another world.

But there is no hope for us that, like Gollum with Frodo, some sin-crazed creature will fight with us and, in that tussle, our sin nature will get thrown into Hell.  Our sin nature is not so easily removed as a ring on a chain.  As hard as it was for Frodo to let the ring go, our sin nature is impossible for us to let go.  It is us.

It is who we are.

We did not worship a ring and place it upon our finger.  We ate the fruit of our rebellion.  We consumed evil.  We brought its existence within us.  Every drop of blood in our body, every pulse of our heart is ruined by sin.

But it gets far, far worse than this.

For we did not just invite the sin into our body.

We ate the sin into our soul.

Were we to commit suicide to try to rid ourselves of our sin nature, we would only succeed in destroying our body.  We would not have removed one fiber of sin from within our soul.

What a horrible plight we share in this world, infinitely worse than Frodo’s . .

Only, our salvation is infinitely better.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b, ESV)

Jesus gave up His body for us and–in the infinite mystery of the crucifixion–He suffered every poison of our soul in His, and He absorbed it.  Only goodness can swallow evil.  And only Jesus, perfect and sinless, could destroy our ring, our sin nature forever.

[Jesus] said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30b, HCSB)

________________________________

[1]The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  New Line Cinema.  Screenwrite by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson.  Based on the book by the same name by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954.

On Kewpies and grace

broken glassI remember one time (I was in the range of 4 to 7 years old) I was dragging pillows and a blanket through the house and knocked my mom’s giant porcelain Kewpie doll off the shelf.  It fell and had an ugly smash–kind-of how you imagine Humpty Dumpty’s was.  Kewpie broke into two especially large pieces, and dozens of tiny ones.

I can tell you with great assurance that there is not a lot a little kid can do at a time like this.  I certainly didn’t have the dexterity to glue the pieces back together (I didn’t even pass the part of my kindergarten aptitude test where I had to catch a giant ball), or the skill to go on Ebay and buy a new Kewpie for my mom (not that there was Ebay in the 80’s anyway) or the money to pay her back (or, at that age, even any allowance).

I was understandably worried about what Mom would think when she saw her heirloom in pieces.  I did show her, however, and, actually, she didn’t do anything to me.  That was a total “whew” moment for me, because I knew that doll was really special.  As she picked up the pieces, I went back to playing (but without dragging pillows and blankets around anymore).

The way I went to my mom for help kinda reminds me of how God wants us to come to Him after we sin.  We can’t fix the damage our sin has done.  We can’t give God anything to try to pay for what our sin has smashed.  We hurt God and people in ways we can’t sweep up.  So we are totally at God’s mercy.

God is the only one who can pick up the pieces of a sin-busted life.  The reason the Gospels are called “The Good News” is because God wants to put our lives back together!  He doesn’t want to punish us, but wants instead for us to choose forgiveness through His Son.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)

Desire, sin, and reality

“Sin is the surest way for the sinner to not get what he wants.”

–Pastor John

Published in: on November 18, 2012 at 1:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fall: Was it Eve’s fault? Are women cursed ever after to be doormats?

Amidst reading Love & Respect, Ben and I have been having a conversation about how we women fear that men think we are almost totally responsible for the Fall of humanity . . One of the reasons women become bossy and ‘unleadable’ is that we are afraid men will blame us for all the problems of the world and treat us like doormats if we aren’t.  Ben sent me his thoughts in response, as follows . .

I know a lot of people have blamed the woman for the fall, but that’s not what the Bible says about it.

In Genesis 2:17, God told Adam not to eat the fruit.  In Genesis 2:22, God created Eve.  So, first of all, Adam received the instruction from God.  Eve got it second hand.

Genesis 3:6b says, “She also gave some to her husband who was with her.”  The Hebrew word translated as “with” means “side-by-side.”  Adam was right there the whole time the snake was tempting Eve, and he did nothing.  Adam was made to protect her, to guide her, to look out for her.

We see throughout the Bible that man is the “head” of the relationship.  But when he saw her going down a path he knew was wrong, he failed to intervene.  And then he followed her.

Romans 5:12 says, “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”  Paul doesn’t blame Eve, he blames Adam.  Adam received the law first-hand, Adam stood right there and failed to stop her from falling (apparently didn’t even try), and then he followed her in disobedience.

Granted, in Genesis 3:12, Adam began the long and terrible legacy of passing the buck and placing blame.  “The woman You put here with me…”  He blames Eve, he blames God for giving him Eve–he blames everyone except himself.  But that’s a result of the fall, not how God meant for men to be.

In Genesis 3:16, part of woman’s curse is “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.”  I’ve heard it said that the first part means she’ll desire her husband’s position, or authority.  Man was made to guide and protect.  Woman was made to encourage and inspire.  But after the fall, she seeks to rule, and he seeks to dominate.  And so began the most hideous thread of human history.

A lot of people have abused the Scripture to justify their abuse of women (physical or otherwise), but that was never God’s plan.

God wants men to look out for women, to protect them, to guard them as a treasure.

God wants women to encourage men, to build them up–which increases both their strength and desire to protect women.

God does not want men to abuse their authority, nor does He want women to blindly submit to everything a man says.  This notion has been abused a lot and it’s easy to hear the wrong thing in Scripture, especially if that’s what you’ve seen or been taught.