Category Archives: Countering (and encountering) Spiritual Drift

Transgression

It’s easy to feel remorse for a transgression—a sin—the morning after you’ve spent a long night thinking about how stupid you were, how foolish you were when you, at the time, envisioned yourself so clever, so stealth. It’s easy to ask for God’s forgiveness in the midst of this remorse. You know, the old, “I’m so sorry that I screwed up. Please forgive me. It will never, ever, ever happen again.” You might even add, “. . . and this time I’m serious.”

You already know what’s going to happen; usually within days of your “great regret”.

During the temptation, during the “build up” to the actual transgression itself, that’s when it becomes the hardest. That’s when, even though your rational mind says, “maybe you shouldn’t be doing this”, emotion, desire, or good old-fashioned addiction takes over. The still, small voice gets shoved aside by the raging tide of excitement, desire and craving. You can surround yourself with helpful platitudes, little sayings that remind you of how you feel afterwards. It doesn’t matter. They’re just noise at that point. Your craving is in full force. The addiction rules.

Then it’s over. The craving is satiated, the desire fulfilled.

And the remorse sets in.  Almost immediately.  As you knew it would.

Yet you gave in anyway.

Remorse leads to regret. Regret leads to grief. Grief leads to self-loathing. Self-loathing leads to beseeching. Beseeching leads to buoyancy. Buoyancy leads to self-assurance.

But time passes . . .

Self-assurance leads to complacency. Complacency leads to boredom. Boredom leads to craving. Craving to . . .

Transgression.

Then you sit up for half the night wondering when this stupid, vicious cycle is ever going to end. Wondering why you cave into these useless temptations knowing full well there is no good within them. Wondering where your inner-strength is. Wondering where is, or if you even have, self-will.

And inevitably, if you’re a believer, wondering where God is.

It’s called the cycle of addiction.

Believers get the added bonus of the God card at no extra cost.

How do you overcome it?

You can’t.

Not on your own. And it’s more even than just God. You need people. You need to trust someone, anyone. You need to tell someone of your struggle. Odds are the person you tell will say, “Yup. Been there, done that.”

That’s what happened with me. It was actually surprising how “normal” my own addiction was. Here I thought it was just this big, secret thing that only I had ever struggled with. Yet someone else had gone through it before me . . . One of my pastors.

So, find someone, anyone.

One caveat . . .

I’d also like to tell you it goes away, but it doesn’t. You’ll struggle, you’ll stumble, and occasionally you will fall.

And with that fall will come another voice, different from the still, small inner-pleading that came before. This voice will tell you you’re not strong enough to overcome; that you have no willpower to resist; that you’ll always fall . . .

. . . that there is no one there to help you.

Giving in to that voice is the true tragedy in this whole vicious cycle. This struggle is even more difficult, at times, than the addiction itself; and easier to surrender to . . .

“You’re right.”

Two little words and the losses are so much greater than the remorse and grief of falling to temptation.  For with this little utterance you’ve lost hope.  Hope in yourself, hope in your overcoming, hope in finding relief, hope in a future and, ultimately, hope in God.

You see, you’re not just fighting an addiction here. You’re at war. Whether you believe in any kind of higher power or not, every soul that fails in hope is a casualty.

And that is a true, total and final loss indeed.

Job 6:11  What strength do I have, that I should still hope?    What prospects, that I should be patient?

Romans 5:3-5  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

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God’s 2X4

con·vic·tion  [kuhn-vik-shuhn]    noun
1. a fixed or firm belief.
2. the act of convicting or convincing.
3.the state of being convicted or convinced.

I feel as though, over the last couple of weeks, I’m being convicted. I’m being asked to relent to a state of mind that goes against every fiber of my being.

Here’s the situation. Currently our homegroup is studying “40 Days of Love”, wherein we’ve been discussing the need to find ways to show patience, kindness and gentleness towards everyone we come in contact with. In other words, being a conduit of God’s love. This is an area I find particularly difficult for three reasons:

  1. For reasons I’m totally putting down to a mistake in timing and genetics, I’m not God; I’m human;
  2. For pretty much the same reasons, I work in retail;
  3. Although some would probably argue this point, the people I come in contact with on a daily basis are also human—with issues. (Not that they all have personal issues, although many in fact might. Just that, when a customer needs to “speak to the manager” (me), there’s usually an issue.)

Let me put it in mathematical terms for you:

My position + the current economic climate (workload X workers / amount of hours cut) + a constant flow of necessary “problem solving” = an unfavorable environment for growing one’s patience, kindness and love towards one’s fellow man.

It’s an issue.

Yet, here’s where the conviction comes in . . . In addition to the current study our homegroup is undertaking, I have heard, on three different occasions and from three separate people over these last couple weeks, the phraseology, “Fake it ’til you make it.” All within the context of conversations revolving around my aversion to embracing a phony “happy-happy-joy-joy” attitude I sometimes find myself “faking” in order not to totally piss off the person standing in front of me.

I don’t feel it. And, if I don’t feel it, I’m relatively sure the other guy won’t feel it either.  If I’m continually faking my kindness, patience, gentleness and so on, when I really don’t feel any of it, won’t the person I’m interacting with see that I’m faking it? Won’t that, in fact, make the situation worse?

And, yet another person I’m taking with about this issue will say, “just try to fake it ’til you make it!”

Alright then . . . as I’m looking at my wristband with “Philippians 4:13” stamped on it . . .

“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”

. . . I find I might be coming to some sort of conclusion about this whole thing.

Maybe it’s not about them.

If I “fake it ’til I make it” and they see right through it all, I need to take comfort in the fact that I’m not doing this for them. I’m working out. I’m building muscle. I’m building character muscle. I’m building the ability to no longer have the need to “fake it”.

I need to rest on the strength of God to help me through this.  Then as I grow, to rest in my own strength, and in my ability to show kindness and patience so that the strength of God can be moved on to other areas of my life and character that need to be worked on, or worked out. Soon, I hope to find that my own inner strength of character is enough to not only thrive in the wild jungles of retail but be a light that shines the way for each person I encounter towards the One who gave me that strength in the first place.

I’ve spent the last several weeks convincing myself that I can’t do it.

God, on the other hand, has spent the last several weeks putting people in my face with this whole, “fake it ’til you make it” stuff until I finally understood what He was really trying to say. I really believe it was yet another example of how, in my mind, God is saying, “I’m not interested in you building up or tearing down other people. I’m interested in tearing down and rebuilding YOU. Then, and only then, will you be an accurate compass for me; pointing those people towards me so that I can then build on them as well.”

God speaks to us in many ways; through that little voice in our heads, through the voice of that singer on the radio, through the voices of our friends and loved ones; especially if it concerns issues of character and morality. If you hear it once, it’s usually His little nudge urging you in the right direction. If you hear it over and over and over again, that’s usually His 2X4 whacking you upside the head.

. . . you should listen to that.

You’d hate to have Him get out His monster truck!

When Showing God’s Love Means Walking Away

My wife and I are participating in a bible study home group. I’m having a hard time getting motivated into the topic, though. You see, we’re studying a series entitled, “The Forty Days of Love” facilitated via video by Pastor Rick Warren and based on the book, “The Relationship Principles of Jesus” written by Tom Holladay. The book spells it out that our model for how to love the people around us is shown in how Jesus loved the people around Him.

Okay, I get that. No problem there.

But it keeps hammering home how God, through Jesus, showed His love to everybody, and how He asks us to do the same.

See, that’s my problem.

If by “showed His love to everybody” the writer means that through Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross He died for all people’s sin everywhere for all time then yeah, I can understand that. But that’s a bit of a lofty goal for us mere mortals to undertake . . . the whole laying down our life for both our friends and enemies alike.

But if the writer meant “showed His love to everybody” in that Jesus was the ultimate example of how to show love then there’s something I’m missing.

If you were poor, afflicted, a child, a disciple, and so on, then yes, I see how Jesus was a definite example to be emulated. Even if you were but a mere face in one of the many crowds that yearned to hear the words spoken by this Messiah, I can see the connection. But what of the Pharisees?

How can calling an entire group of what were at the time highly influential men within the Jewish society a “brood of vipers” and “hypocrites” in any way construed as love? How is overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple showing love? I could see that Jesus’ anger towards these people was borne out of their displays of pompous superiority towards the rest of society, or in their taking advantage of the very poor and less fortunate that Jesus cared for so deeply. But I still don’t see how those examples is showing love to them.

According to this study, I’m to show love to everyone I come in contact with. Not out-and-out affection, but grace, acceptance (a topic I’ll dive into more deeply later), and kindness.

I hate to keep bringing this up, but I work in retail, and there are some definite Pharisees in that lot if I’ve ever seen any. Ask anyone who has spent any time in the restaurant or retail game about that customer who takes the term “service” literally. Who makes no bones about the fact that you’re presence is a nuisance even though you are trying to help them; and the fact that they need your help at all is yet another annoyance. To this day, my wife and I still talk about the man we encountered at a wine tasting event that made us literally feel like fourth-class citizens. If you’ve ever seen “Caddyshack” he was the Ted Danson character . . . to a tee (no pun intended). “Some people just don’t belloooonnngg.” I thought people like that only ever existed in movies!

How do I show love to that?

Maybe it’s just the biblical examples my wife and I were reading, but quite often within His encounters with the “Pharisees and the teachers of the law”, Jesus was more acerbic than loving. For example . . .

Luke 20: 1 One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”

 3 He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: 4 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

 5 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”

 7 So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”

 8 Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

This example, at least to me, doesn’t show making an effort towards grace, acceptance or kindness. He certainly doesn’t answer their question. He, in essence, tells them to go to . . . Sheol:

One of the participants in our group brought up that this may be an example of Christ showing love towards these people the way a parent, at times, shows love towards their children through discipline. Jesus’ intent was towards love, but his actions were towards discipline and correction; “Tough love” so to speak. Yet, also brought up was that along with the discipline applied to a child often comes a later time of explanation, teaching, and understanding. If such a time were afforded to Jesus and the Pharisees, it’s not revealed within scripture. One is left to assume that Jesus opens up the verbal can of smackdown on these Pharisees, and simply walks away.

There is for sure no small amount of peace that comes from the knowledge and example of Christ; a peace that includes no small amount of confidence and self-respect. Being a Christian does not equate to being walked over, but there may involve a certain amount of walking away.

Maybe too, “showing love” for these types of people involves occasionally speaking up, in a loving way of course, that their actions or words are insensitive and unnecessary. The people you speak to won’t like it of course, but maybe, just maybe, they’ll think twice about their next encounter with a “server”.

Unfortunately, I’m still not above telling them to go to . . . Sheol.

Alright Devil; You Wanna Dance? Let’s Dance.

New highs and new lows were explored at work today; mostly lows. But I had an epiphany on the way home tonight that I think merits sharing. (Gotta love those back road drives to unwind.) But first a little background . . .

Well, for detailed background you probably should start with “Dear God, I’m Tired of Growing”, but I’ll fill you in from there . . .

We’ve started up with a home group to begin a series of studies entitled “40 days of love”. It’s a study on how to build or improve relationships using the biblical principles of love: You know, “Love the Lord with all your Mind, Soul, Heart and Strength . . . and love your neighbor as yourself”, the teachings of Paul in Corinthians, and so on. Well, at the end of each get together, we’re going to be given an informal “homework” assignment to help us establish or build on relationships with the people around us. This week we were asked to pray to God to help us show love to those people we come in contact with on a daily basis. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

Those of you who’ve spent any time reading this blog already know where I’m heading with this . . .

Yup, I had one of those days.

Not only one of those days, I had possibly the worst day of work I’ve had in a very, very long time. It made the days leading up to “Dear God, I’m Tired of Growing” look like a cake walk.

At one point, I had to stop right in the middle of work and post a quick Twitter text (kind of a prayer-chain hotline):

In a crappy-ass mood @ work. So sick & tired of it. Lord, move or move me!

All night I was thinking, “Why do I do this to myself? I should know better than to pray something like that.”

What is it about those types of prayers that lead into those types of days? I’ve touched on this before with, “Whatever You Do, Don’t Pray for Patience” and I got to thinking about the whole, “God doesn’t grant you patience, He grants you opportunities to practice patience” adage.

I’m not so sure it’s Him at all.

You see; what if it’s not God giving us opportunities to practice patience? What if, instead, it’s the enemy seizing an opportunity to undermine our confidence and faith, not to mention any prospect to be an “accurate reflection of Jesus” to the world? Look at it this way: Not only does he get us into a season of doubt; he also uses our frustration and anger in ways that, to those people around you who look to you as a “Christian” example, would make them go, “Is that what Jesus looks like? No thanks.”

Trust me, I know. I wouldn’t want to be like me during these times, why would anyone else who has to be around me?

So here’s where I’m at . . .

Alright Devil; you wanna dance? Let’s dance! (I have the biggest urge to let my inner Samuel L. Jackson come out . . . anyone who’s seen “Snakes on a Plane” knows what I’m talking about!) ‘Cuz I’m gonna be praying it again tonight. And tomorrow. And the day after.

I have a hard time believing my job could get much worse, but hey, bring it on! I don’t think it will. I think that would be too noticeable and the enemy is more about stealth and subtleties. I also don’t think it will get better anytime soon. That too would prove me right and why would he give me the satisfaction.

Of course one may ask why God would let any of this happen in the first place.

Three reasons I think . . .

First, because this is the world we’ve created and we need to learn to navigate it. It’s about free will; about the choices we make. We can give in to the emotion and frustration of the moment and severe any chance to truly show love, now or in the future depending on the person you act out on; or we can continually choose to listen to that voice of strength and reason within us; placed there for the very reason to help us through circumstances just like this (pick a Psalm, any Psalm. David knew a thing or two about these situations).

Second, at least in my own case, things will eventually get better, and afterwards I’ll have a more thorough understanding of the “what’s” and “why’s” so that maybe I can help someone else chart these waters in the future. This would not only be a chance to show love, but empathy and understanding as well.

Third, because when I do get through this, it won’t be because of any of my own doing. I’m fully aware that I have no control of the surroundings of my life at the moment. Any success will come only through the grace and timing of God and so to Him will go all the glory: In His own timing, as it should be.

I know I can’t do this. That was abundantly clear weeks ago during, “Dear God, I’m Tired of Growing”. But, at least now I’m beginning to gain an understanding of why and, at least for tonight, it’s helping to ease the frustration and helplessness. I’m actually kind of jacked; I’m ready for a fight!

I’m a-gonna go pray now . . .

Let’s dance!