Friday, January 21, 2011

Preferences, Habits & Addiction ...

Can you tell the difference between a “need” and a “want”? Before you answer, consider the level of variations than could be proposed in any question regarding the two. For example, we all “need” to eat in order to live, however, do we “need” the food we are holding in our hands right now, or do we simply “want” this particular piece? Could it be that even more than our actions, our preferences are what defines us, makes us who we are? Is mankind simply a random collection of likes and dislikes, an amalgamation of what we want, translated into the lifelong pursuit of those goals? Perhaps. But that thinking is limited by the blinders of evil; there is a freedom beyond what we have imagined.

There is a reason why our enemy does not simply bribe everyone he wishes to turn from God with untold wealth and riches. It is not the attainment of these things that brings us any peace, or real happiness. So instead, he keeps us focused on attaining them, always in the journey towards the illusion, rather than arriving and determining how big an illusion it really is. We dream of wealth. We dream of riches. We fantasize about what it must be like to have money without end, fame around the globe, perhaps power from our vast resources. And in so doing, we idolize the material things of the world, and make ourselves slave to their acquisition. Never realizing, we will not attain them, we will die in the financial condition we were born to, and our chances of truly being different are only as good as those chances of winning the lottery – slim to none. But like the lottery, our enemy trots out a weekly “winner” making the argument that someone has to win, why not you. He masks the pain and emptiness of the rich, burying it in a flurry of activity, so that the poor see only what they wish to see, not the reality of life with the burden of wealth.

Though most of us will live lives denied the burden of the reality of wealth, we nevertheless seem to place a great deal of trust in our desires. While I may not acquire the mansion on the hill, perhaps I can still find a way to own my own home. While I may not drive the Maserati, perhaps I can find a used sports car within my price range. When disappointed in achieving our more modest goals, we attribute the loss to a lack of real spending money for the original purchase. The used sports car that does not drive how we would have liked, we blame on not having the cash to afford a better one. But what if the issue is not with our car, but with our thinking? What if the reality is … that there actually is NO better sports car out there. Perhaps every other one has even more mechanical failures, cosmetic issues, and engineering design flaws than the one we drive today. Worse yet, perhaps it is a flaw of ALL sports cars that ruins the lives of those who thought to crave them. The long and short of it is, we have been taught to want things that are likely not the best things for us.

So if I cannot trust me, who can I trust? Listening to advertisers is what will have gotten most of us in the condition we find ourselves in. And the theme of modern media makes the whole problems worse. How many times have you turned on your television set only to have the programming you watch be a life affirming drama who’s moral is … you can only rely on yourself? American culture and American media are equally grounded on the idea of self-reliance. The “American Dream” is a variation on a story about how through hard work, innovation, and perseverance anyone can achieve anything. Of course few people personally know someone who has truly achieved the American Dream, absent parental help, or a boost from others. But nonetheless the myth remains, and our culture deifies it.

But the best we have ever been able to say about achieving the desires of our heart, is that the fulfilling effects were temporary. We may want nothing more than to eat a piece of chocolate cake at the moment, but upon eating it, our appetite will grow again. Men put tremendous time, effort, and energy in attempting to make love to a particular woman; but having achieved the goal, they rarely spend as much effort to do it again. Most married men are tempted by the allure of something new, rather than wholly satisfied with what they have at home. Some of the blame can be placed on an incessant marketing media blitz that glorifies the myth, and trashes the truth. But rarely is there any thorough self-examination to see why the achievement of this kind of goal is rarely as permanently satisfying as the quest to achieve it would have indicated.

Perhaps it is collective insanity to believe the outcome will be different next time, when all the factors leading up to achieving our desires are identical to the times before. Perhaps our desires are nothing more than verbal admissions of our more deep seated addictions. Perhaps we believe ourselves to be in more control over our behavior than in fact we are. For if we know what we want will lead us to harm, and we choose to pursue it anyway, have we not lost all rationality? Helpless pursuit of behavior that will lead us only to harming ourselves is the very definition of addiction is it not. And yet we go through our lives, day in, and day out, doing exactly the same things.

So what do we do about it? Give up? Yes actually. But instead of just giving in to our desires and running hog wild until we invariably die from them, perhaps we should simply give our weakness to a Savior who has asked for nothing more than this “gift” from us. For us to escape the pain that is coming in our future, we must change what we want now. In order for the addict to fundamentally change his addiction, he must find outside help. This is our situation. We need our Savior not just to forgive what we do wrong, we need Him to stop us from doing it, and even more importantly to help us to not WANT to do wrong in the first place. Changing what it is we want, is the beginning of our Salvation. Nothing can force us to do what we do not WANT to do (short torture). Our problem is that when all is said and done, we still “want” to sin, and so we do. The only remedy for this is to change what we “want” to do, and the only hope to implement that change is from Christ.

Some hold to our analogy of comparing evil with poo. They would say that like poo, we will commit evil again simply because we do not have a choice in the matter as long as we are alive. As long as we live, we poo, and we commit evil. This is true, from a human perspective. In our own strength, we are as powerless to stop committing evil as we are to stop going to the bathroom. However, Christ is not bound by human limitations. He did not create us with the intention of having a waste disposal system, rather He enabled this when it became necessary for our survival in a world of evil. So too, now that we realize our condition, and come surrendered at the foot of the cross, we give Him our entire lives including our desires, and He changes them. It is a miracle in our lives that He performs. And while it is humanly impossible to stop going poo, with God all things are possible. We can cease to do evil, not because there is something special about us, but because there is something special about what Christ does in our lives when we let Him.

It is our pride that keeps us from experiencing these kinds of victories in our lives. We do not surrender fully to Christ because we believe we can do it on our own. After all, few of us will admit to being an addict of any kind. We cherish our cultural ideas of self-reliance and believe whatever short comings we have can be managed and worked out over time. Many believe they are in partnership with God, as if God needed our help in any way. He does not need our help, but does need our permission. If we have to rely on our own “faithfulness” to see us saved, we are surely doomed. Rather we can trust in His “faithfulness”, He has yet to break a promise. Everything He says is truth.

It is time for us to know the rest in coming to our Lord. It is time for us to know the peace only He can restore in us. It is time to enjoy a level of freedom we have not even begun to imagine. And it is time for us to allow Christ to do His work in us fully, trusting in Him to save us completely …

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fart Jokes ...

George Carlin once did a hilarious routine centered around one of the oldest sources of humor known to man, the fart joke. George had a unique ability to take human weakness or uncomfortable situations and by meticulously examining the strange behavior humans do, he could make humor from it. It is not so much that expelling gas is funny (though infants seem to find this the height of humor), it is the commonality all humans share when it comes to uncomfortable situations. What to do in a crowded office party when the urge suddenly strikes and there is no bathroom available. George postulated the idea of omitting what he called “a test fart”, just a small sample of what was to come, you know, to see how bad it might be, and judge whether allowing more would be acceptable or would melt the wall paper and cause permanent chemical damage to the folks standing nearby.

One of the chief ploys of our enemy is another tactic he likes called desensitizing the effects of evil. By making light of evil, we can sometimes gloss over the pain it causes. We can treat it less, like the chemical warfare agent it is, and more like simply an understandable social faux-paux [sp]. Much like finding the humor in something that is otherwise disgusting, we can elect to change our reactions to evil and begin to treat it on more a scaled system. Murder would top the evil severity list, Rape just under it, theft under that, perhaps gossip or lieing under that, and at the bottom of the list – George’s test fart; after all the impact of evil on us personally is scaled in this way. Our justice system treats offenses in this way, and is supposed to meter out punishments – to fit the crime. This is our sense of fair play at work. This is our sense of eye-for-an-eye that leads us to believe punishments should fit the severity of the crime. Only in backwards, third world countries, do they mete out the most severe punishments for least offensive crimes, right?

So why does our God see every evil on the same scale? Why is His punishment for evil always death, no matter what the severity of the crime committed? How can we call Him a fair and loving God, when only the slightest sin results in the penalty of death – even one – even something seemingly innocuous – if test farts were a sin, they would merit the death penalty the same as genocide does. How can this be?

The truth is, our justice system and God have very different ideas and agenda’s when it comes to “crime prevention”. Our justice system looks to insure compliance with the laws by widely publishing the punishments that will occur if the laws are broken. Yet despite the threat of these punishments, men and women still break the laws with regularity. Some believe they will not be caught. Some are not. Some believe that even if caught, they may get off on a technicality, or through the mercy of a judge, or through the overcrowding of our prison system. Some do. But some get punished anyway, they “do the time”, serve their sentence, return home – and many fall right back into criminal activity once again. How effective is a penal system in reforming the nature of a person? At best, the threat of punishment, is enough to deter the timid, and the satisfied.

Once could argue that God’s death penalty for every crime might do better at deterring crime. But states with death penalty laws seem to have per capita as many murders as those without them. In fact, in order to insure the guilt of those condemned to die, we often spend more money on death row inmates than on those sentenced to life in prison without parole; so even the threat of death does not seem to stop the determined murderer. Although one could argue, it might put a real dent in say shoplifting. And let’s be honest, having an executioner standing at the door of the Walmart, might give even the bravest and most skilled thief a reason to stay honest.

But there is a problem with looking at the penalty of sin as being something God instigated. God Himself is life. He is love. He is the source of all that is good. To deviate away from that can only lead to what is opposite of God. It is more like this, imagine sticking your tongue into the place you would normally put a light bulb inside a lamp, with the lamp turned on, and power cord plugged in. You would be electrocuted would you not? Is that the “punishment” for putting your tongue in a socket, or is that merely “the result.” When your toddler reaches for the hot stove burner, and you remind him that he will hurt himself if he continues on his present course, are you threatening him with punishment, or revealing to him the impending nature of his actions, and the results that will occur if he continues?

So in essence does every sin result in death? Yes. But the process must be understood a little better first. Take something we might call merely annoying on our scale of sin, say “pride” for example. A proud or arrogant person is at worst obnoxious right. We tend to avoid them if we can, put up with them if we have to. But they are generally not well liked, and have few true friends, as no-one really wants to spend time with someone who always reminds them how much better he is than them. How does pride result in death? Look deeper. In an effort to maintain the illusion of superiority over others, the proud person must take steps to prove his point. Ever been usurped at work for a promotion by that guy that only thinks he works harder than you? Ever been targeted by the “cool kids” in school and put down for being “less” than they were in some way? Ever been discriminated against because you belong to minority group, or hold a minority opinion? Wonder why? Because superiority or pride is only an illusion at best, so to be proven, actions that hurt others ensue. Sometimes those actions make enemies of those who are belittled, or robbed of their due. Sometimes the proud are the enemies, say Hitler for instance.

It does not take long for sin to escalate. It does not take long for the innocuous sins in our scale to move up to the next steps, all of them eventually leading to murder, and ironically enough eventually to suicide. Ever wonder why after a life of getting away with it, some serial murders are finally brought to justice? Most cops will tell you that they “wanted” to get caught. At some point they realize the monsters they have become and with that realization know they need outside help to be stopped. So while they will not surrender, they begin to make subconscious “mistakes”. And to reinforce the point of where pride can lead – Satan’s first sin was pride – it led him all the way to the cross of Christ putting our God on a tree of torture and death. That could not have been the first thought Satan had, when he turned from serving others and began to serve himself. But it is where those thoughts eventually led him to commit a murder of God Himself.

The biggest problem with poo, is that we are never really done producing it. The problem with sin, is that once we embark on it, no matter how seemingly small, it leads us down the scale of escalation until murder itself seems reasonable, and suicide as our only hope to end the pain. When tortured enough, every human will begin to crave death over pain. Most rational people never believe they would ask someone else to kill them, let alone beg for death. But those people have not endured torture without mercy, or without end. When hope leaves, the goal of death itself becomes plausible. And how funny is that? Where is the humor in our desire to cease to exist? The only one laughing is Satan himself, who alone finds joy in our demise.

This is the truth he wishes to cover up. He does not want you to know, that ALL sin results in death. He does not want you to see, that ALL sin is addictive and destructive and is only a mile marker on the way to the grave. He does not want you to believe that death is a RESULT but rather only a punishment by an angry God. So he lies about everything. He makes what seems disgusting look funny. He covers up the effects of our evil, and tries to mask the pain we cause, so we will feel freer to spread even more of it. The nature of evil is pain and death – having deviated away from God it had nowhere else to go but that.

This is why our hope is based on a Savior God who does the work of saving us from the monsters we have become. This is why allowing Christ to change our nature is so important. It is not just our deeds that need alteration – it is our thinking, our motives, and our desires that must be reformed. We must become new creations, of a creator God. We must die to what we are, and be reborn to what He intends. In order for this to happen, we must let go the illusions of superiority, and self-control. We must abandon the idea that we are capable of helping. We must learn to be still, and KNOW that He is our God, and our Savior. That His will alone can live in us, and that our will must die, if we are truly to be saved from slavery of evil. Our hope and our salvation rest in our Savior Jesus Christ. This is why only our religion and our God offer a plausible way of escaping pain and death. It is not a threat, but a singular ray of hope, that anyone is free to grasp and realize.

Friday, January 7, 2011

What is Evil ...

And then there was poo.  In all the universe, for all time, there had never been anything before like poo.  No being could have ever imagined it.  How could something exist that could indeed be so utterly offensive.  Yes, poo may well be the most offensive substance in existence.  It smells bad.  It looks horrible.  It’s texture is repulsive.  One can only speculate at how horrible its taste must be, and even that thought is enough for some to throw-up (ironically producing possibly the second most offensive substance).  So why does poo exist at all?

Imagine for a minute your most favorite food, imagine it cooked to perfection, prepared by gourmet chef’s using only the freshest and highest quality ingredients – now imagine eating this delicacy until your heart, head, and stomach are completely content.  You are not overfull, you are not hungry.  You are completely satisfied and cannot even imagine eating again for at least a few hours from now.  This was normal life in heaven, before evil existed.  The food you would have consumed would have been converted into pure energy.  There simply was no waste.  There was nothing your body needed to separate and excrete.  100% of what you consumed was used and processed in your body, and provided exactly the nourishment you needed.  This was life in Eden.  This was the norm for Adam and Eve.  Poo, and waste byproducts, were a concept unknown.  No need to study something so offensive, when it was also completely irrelevant.

But with evil’s entrance to our world, came the inevitable entrance of poo.  The knowledge God would have Adam and Eve blissfully ignorant of, was on the topic of waste byproducts such as the entire digestive cycle including poo.  As the human body lost its perfection, it would now produce a number of toxins derived from its surroundings and diet.  No longer would perfect food from the tree of life be our daily supplement.  Instead we would have to “toil” or work to contribute towards our survival.  Our efforts would not yield perfect results, and the imperfect results would be what we subsist on.  All of this pain, heartache, and its link to evil – was the knowledge of Good and of Evil, that God would have kept our parents ignorant of.  It made no sense to compare perfection with what was not perfect.  They would have no basis to understand the comparison while they remained true to God.  But the devil knew, that experience would open their eyes to the addictive and destructive nature of evil.  He knew that a single bite of that forbidden fruit would immediately allow them to fully understand the concept of poo.  He did not lie when He said this was a knowledge only God had previously understood, and that like God, they would gain it too.  He simply omitted the fact that understanding poo is a level of information most people would choose to avoid.

There are those who say God created poo, just like God created evil.  He did not.  God created a method of dealing with both.  Poo, or waste byproducts, was a result of evil, it had no origin before that.  As disgusting as that substance is, it makes an excellent comparator for the nature of evil itself.  Evil is not just repugnant to God, it is naturally on its own – ugly, painful, smelly, disgusting, and something all of us should wish not to ever encounter.  Evil is the result of deviation away from all that is perfect.  Evil, as a logical matter has no place to wind up, but to become poo.  If God is the embodiment of fulfillment, love, and joy that brings life – evil by contrast will embody insatiable emptiness, hate and contempt, and pain that leads to death.

So how could something so horrific be embraced by so many, and then thought of as a good thing?  After all I have only ever heard of Alice Cooper actually eating poo in one of his concerts and that story could be the substance of urban legend.  If evil is so bad and so repugnant, and so painful, why do so many embrace it?  At least when you see poo on the ground, you take care not to step in it.  Not so with evil, people seem drawn to it, captivated by it, unable to escape its grasp.  The reason is marketing.  The first step in getting logical people to adopt something that is wholly repugnant is to lie about its features and nature.  We must distract people from the truth about evil, and make evil sound and look very good.  The second step in getting people to adopt something so horrific is to separate for as long as possible, the consequences of adopting evil from the actual act of embracing it.

For instance; if I were a salesman attempting to market an evil idea to you I could tell you the following … You sir, can I interest you in a guaranteed way to insure you will never really know the joy of loving someone else with your whole heart?  That woman you once thought to love completely will be so hurt by you, that over time she will seek comfort in the faithful arms of another guy.  I can add to that, you will lose everything of earthly value to you as it will someday be taken away or divided in half?  If you had kids, get prepared to see them only once in a while, while they learn not to trust or rely on you ever again – probably filling the void of your loss with drugs, prison bound behavior, or just loving some other dude more than you.  And the kicker is, enough time with this little evil and you are for certain guaranteed to die old and alone, after a meaningless life of emptiness and regret.  What’s more a trip down this aisle, and you won’t ever be able to say “no” again.  That’s right, your self-control will cease to exist (as if it ever did), and you will be a complete slave to very behavior that insures your doom, and you as the cause of pain to literally everyone you come in contact with for the rest of your life.  Interested?

Instead … the devil is smart.  He attacks you when your weak, after an argument about something meaningless you can hardly remember.  He puts in your path a sympathetic, caring, and attractive individual who’s own loneliness drives them to make bad decisions.  And there you have the makings of an affair.  At first it is considered risky, exciting, the lure of the forbidden and doing what you know you should not.  There is absolutely no pain involved immediately.  But it is coming.  The damage however is immediate.  Trust disintegrates.  The ability to maintain intimacy is destroyed.  The ability to truly love, is warped only into self-love.  All the destructive elements of evil are hard at work, long before the perpetrator is even aware of it.  And then, when evil has done a sufficiently good job at tearing away the fabric of a person, the pain comes.  And the pain ripples out, hurting those you would not expect, did not anticipate, and cannot prevent.  For the truth of pain is a constant for evil.  There is no escape.

Yet despite the facts of the damage done by evil, millions still choose to embrace it.  Part of the reason for this is that even limited exposure to embracing evil robs one of the self-control to cease future participation in it.  It only took a single bite of the forbidden fruit for Adam to degenerate from loving Eve so much he would share her fate, to blaming God for Eve’s existence and her participation in his fall from grace.  Adam lost his nobility, and he lost his power to choose.  When he lost his dominion over the earth, his most important loss, was that of self-control.  He was now slave to evil, bound by its chains.  It would take a savior to save Adam from himself, and us from ourselves.

There are those today, who have discovered the poo-like nature of evil, and desperately dream of relief from it.  They are sorry for their behavior, but unable to stop it.  They long for freedom, but lack the will to find it on their own.  But for those who see evil for what it truly is, they fall into two camps.  One group believes if they just try harder, they can free themselves from this evil, by their own sheer will.  The other group is aware of their addiction and has no answer for it.  Those who trust to removing evil from themselves on their own, or in partnership with Christ, fail.  They fail, and fail, and fail again.  They find themselves only able to seek forgiveness.  They become protective and begin to think the only way they will ever become pure is by controlling their environment including others around them.  They begin to focus on the sins of others, trying desperately to point out the error of other’s rather than face the failure in themselves.  They begin to think themselves better by comparison with other sinners.  And they completely lose sight of their condition, still locked in sin, with no way out.

The group, smart enough to realize they suffer from an addiction and are powerless to stop it face a choice.  They often rationalize that since there is no apparent way out, God will have to forgive them, for how He made them, and save them in heaven despite who they are.  They think themselves free of any religious restrictions or laws, and able through grace to do anything they please.  But what they forget is the poo-like nature of sin and evil.  Thinking yourself free to eat as much poo as you want, is no kind of freedom any rational person would ever want.  The whole point is to find a way of escape from the pain, not a highway to embrace more of it.

When one realizes they can do nothing to remove the sin from themselves, they can choose to allow Christ to do it for them.  In effect, to finally let the Savior of mankind, save them.  This is what it means to be saved, to be MADE free from sin.  12 step programs can manage behavior, but they cannot remove the underlying desire for the sin.  Christ can.  He can change how we think, what we want, what we like, what we enjoy, and what we do.  All we have to do, is let Him.  Our part in this is not to work harder, it is to stop working at all, and let Christ be the savior He is.  Our part is to learn through experience what it means to trust Christ with your own salvation.  This is what we are meant to do.  This is how we avoid poo, and the pain of all evil.  We quit wallowing in it, and allow our Savior, to clean us up, and free us from playing in it again.