Monday, December 31, 2018

Old Year's Revelations

I am too old for New Year’s resolutions. My mature wisdom tells me resolutions do not work unless anchored in strong emotion.

It’s like the old joke:

How many Psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Only one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.

Even a strong emotion is often not enough. Last year I set it as a goal to exercise more.  I wanted to be healthier and to reduce my risk of falling. My YMCA personal trainer added cardio and weightlifting to my Tai Chi and walking regimen. I faithfully followed prescribed routines.

By the end of the year, I find I have gained weight, my cholesterol is up, I officially have osteoporosis, and I fell and broke my ankle.

Menopause 4

Kim 0

I anchored that resolution in my desire to live a healthy and safe life, but that desire was not enough. In my case, even following through with action was not enough.

I guess I was today-days-old when I learned life ain’t fair.

Common sense tells us we should make New Year’s resolutions because it is not healthy to dwell in past failures. Instead, we should look to the future with optimism.

Just because sense is common does not make it right. Research tells us that when we make resolutions and announce them to people, we are less likely to achieve those goals. When we reveal the decision, our brains produce those much sought after endorphins, and the brain is happy and ticks off that box. We need to go beyond the resolution and train our brain to crave the actual work of change.

A better way to change is to remind ourselves of the flaws and failures that make us want to change. We need to remember our weaknesses to keep our brains from sabotaging our plans. But, the world tells us it is not healthy to sit in the despair of our failures.

The answer is to understand the difference between guilt and shame. Shame tells us our sin makes us unworthy. Guilt tells us our sin makes us unworthy, but there is hope in forgiveness.

In both a worldly and spiritual sense, change starts with failure. The next step is to own the failure. If you are of the world things can get stuck here. If you are a child of God, then there is a way forward.

Guilt leads to repentance which is swallowed up in forgiveness. Our desire to change must start here and must include the power of God. That is the only power to change.

Because of Jesus we no longer have to fear or deny our sin, failure, or weakness. We can see these aspects of our life as a way to move forward, a way to become stronger.

This year, instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I will spend some time with the old year’s revelations of my weaknesses, failures, and sins. I won’t sit in that mess condemning myself – my sin has already done that. Instead, I will look to the mercy and grace of my God and know that He can, and will bring about change in me.

Psalm 32

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Therefore let everyone who is godly
    offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
    they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

May God bless your 2019 with growth!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Lessons from Ireland: Abide

This summer Paul and I had the joy of traveling with good friends to Ireland.  Ireland is a beautiful country with stunning scenery, a fascinating history, and lovely people. We stayed at a B&B on Inch Beach. The view from the breakfast room window was stunning, but when we entered the building the words on this bronze wall hanging caught my eye: “Bidden, or unbidden, God is present.”

I can relate to this idea that God’s presence among us is not dependent on our request.  He does not wait for us to be ready. He does not expect us to clean and decorate our hearts. He does not wait for us to welcome Him. He dwells among us in His love, in His Son, in His Spirit. God abides with us, and because of this, we abide in Him.

To abide is to remain. When Jesus came to earth, He remained for a lifetime. He lived a human life and knew our joys and struggles. He returned to heaven, yet He abides with us through His word. In heaven, or on earth, God is present.

To abide is to wait. Now, we await His return with eager anticipation. We want to abandon this world and one day abide with Jesus in heaven. In working, or in waiting, we have hope.

To abide is to rest. The world careens around us, but in Him, we find rest for our weariness. The peace of a newborn Jesus abides with us, even in the midst of turmoil. In easy times or struggle, God is peace.

As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9

Because of this abiding, this love, this joy, we can look forward to the year to come with eagerness and courage. Jesus came to earth as an infant to abide with us: salvation is won, and our hope is secure. I pray His peace, strength, and love abide with you in the coming year.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Hardwood Floors and a Spirit of Gentleness

A load of hardwood sits acclimating to humidity levels in our front room. We are getting rid of the last of the carpet in our house. Allergies and cat spit-up have rendered carpet untenable. In a week, the installer will spend a day or two cutting and gluing. Then, after we move the furniture back, I will likely go out and purchase an area rug. It seems silly, but I can’t quite live with the extreme of carpet or the extreme of hardwood. 

Years from now, some young couple will buy this house, shake their heads at endless yards of cold, loud, hardwood and cover it up with carpet. Neither is right or wrong. The decisions are just different perspectives on household comfort.

This past week, I saw a mix of perspective extremes on Facebook. The discussion following the post of a liberal friend asserted that the conservatives on a particular issue were the only side that was extreme and divisive. 

Really? Don't you know anyone on your side of this issue who has been divisive? 

Within two days a conservative friend posted a warning to her liberal friends they need to stop promoting violence and extremism because it is not fair to conservatives.

Really? Can you think of no examples of your side promoting violence?

I propose that we all live in glass houses. 

Put down that stone.

Or, if you are a recovering kindergarten teacher:

“I don’t care what you are planning, put down that stone! I said PUT down that stone, not THROW it! What are you thinking? No, I don’t want you to throw sticks either!”

Kindergartners are good at asserting that anything they do to someone else is an “accident” whereas anything someone else does to them was done “on purpose.” They are not so much lying as they are unable to see themselves as mean. And surely, if someone else hurt them, meanness can be the only logical reason. It is a childish logic, but one that works for them.

When we join a political tribe, we tend to identify bad behavior on our side as the exception, and bad behavior on the other side as the rule. It is human nature, a remnant from our younger years. 

Robert Fulghum was right. Everything we really need to know we learned in kindergarten. We just don’t practice what we learned.

And that goes for us recovering kindergarten teachers, too.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2

These verses in Galatians are interesting to me because they seem to run together three different ideas: restoration, temptation, and bearing each other’s burdens. Three great concepts but how do they fit together? I think it is a three-step process.

First, we are to restore each other in a spirit of gentleness. This idea tells us that while correction is necessary the emphasis is not on finger-pointing and accusations, but on the restoration of our relationship with Christ and with each other. Too often we are more concerned with being right than with anything else. Being right is about law and law does not restore.

Next, we are to keep watch on ourselves lest we are tempted. I know it is human nature to find our faults in other people. We seem to be on the look-out for the very behaviors that cause us shame. I suppose when we judge someone else our brain ticks off the self-examination box. But, if we seek restoration, our self-examination is a necessary step. And, if we put on the robes of a political tribe, we need to check those robes for holes and stains. We cannot assume our tribe is not mean.

Thirdly we are to bear one another’s burdens. I have always thought of this verse in regards to helping each other through stress and grief. But, when we look at it as a step in this process, we can understand these burdens to be sin. This understanding completely changes our perspective on correction. If I think you are wrong because you are ill-informed, I will present my arguments with a tinge of contempt. If you see my wrongness as being a burden, you will correct me in a spirit of gentleness.

When I taught young children, I thought of the burden of sin in another way. With many sins comes an emotional burden that led to the sin. If a child hurts someone, it is essential to consider why the child acted that way. It is true that we hurt people because of sin, but if we don’t consider the reason behind the sin, the sinner is more likely to be a repeat offender. For instance, the behavior of a brokenhearted child who hurts another child will not be corrected by a time-out. The original pain needs to be addressed, too. I think that is part of the spirit of gentleness.

Think what a different world social media would be if we would follow these steps in our discussions. We might learn from each other. We might understand a different perspective. We might learn to have empathy. We might even find solutions. There are many ways for God to shower us with His grace when we don’t walk away from it in a spirit of self-righteousness.

For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Romans 3:22-23

Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. Psalm 86:6

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

What is Your Moral Requirement?

It was a classic spit take as I sipped my tea and read the article. No this wasn’t some social media meme intended to misrepresent. It was a quote from a pharma executive when asked to explain the price increase on an antibiotic by 400%. The executive insisted the company had the moral requirement to sell at the highest price to make the maximum amount of money.

I have heard some smarmy excuses for the excesses of capitalism before. 
“The stockholders demand it.”
“I deserve it.”
“People will pay it.”
“This is how capitalism works.”

But I have never heard someone claim a “moral requirement.”

Most organized societies have survived interactions with each other through a common legal code. A moral code would extend beyond that, covering for situations not addressed in the legal code. People tend to assume that a moral code is religious, but it can also be cultural. It is an agreement on what a society deems to be important and how that dictates proper behavior.

A moral code always points to an underlying value.

If your moral requirement is to set the price for a life-saving medication as high as possible regardless of any person’s ability to pay, your underlying value is wealth.

The pharma exec is living an example of the Heinz Dilemma. 

The only difference is that this pharma exec is not likely to be robbed. Although, it is entirely possible that someone might die because of the price of this drug. Furthermore, not even the pharmacist in the Heinz Dilemma claimed a moral requirement to charge so much. This claim seems to be a new low.

The thing about a human-created moral code is that it can be ambiguous.  It is wrong to cause a death, and it is wrong to steal. The moral code does not say which is worse, or when it might be acceptable to steal or look the other way when you could prevent a death. Your decision in this dilemma depends on what you value.

What is your moral requirement regarding money?

It is easy for me to condemn this executive, but should I be pointing the same finger at myself? How often do I put the value of money over the value of others: decisions about charities, complaining about taxes, voting to restrict spending on missions because our church budget is too tight? What if, in the name of self-discipline and stewardship I am acting against God’s will by putting money ahead of love?

What is your moral requirement regarding safety?

It is easy for me to justify political decisions that promise safety. Both sides of the political spectrum have supported military spending, guns, fighting the War on Drugs with little more than jail cells, and concrete (or legal) walls to prevent immigration. It is essential to have a strong government interested in promoting safety, but perhaps I am making decisions that fool me into trusting the government, or a weapon, or a policy, over my trust in God? When does God want me to take risks in the name of ministry? 

I do not want to leave the impression that God’s truth is pliable or ambiguous – it is not. God does not have values or laws that change to suit situations. Nor does He promote that as a solution for us. The world has both right and wrong. But, for us humans the challenge is found in discernment and application.

It is easy for us to say that the pharma executive has the moral requirement to put a reasonable price on his drug, but the law says he has the right to put any price on that drug. When we look at laws to restrict this right, we run into the possibility that such laws would cause more trouble.

This decision is way above my pay grade – on so many levels.

As people of Christian faith, we have two sides to the idea of moral requirement. There is the law side that tells us what is right according to what God requires. There is also the grace side which tells us what is right according to what God shows us.

Yet, we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. Galatians 2:16

As children of God, we are in a strange and wonderful situation. We are no longer under a law requirement. The law no longer condemns us. It can no longer leave us hopeless and certain of death. We have not lost our need for the law, but it has lost its hold on us, and that makes all the difference.

The law is still our curb, mirror, and guide, but instead of sentencing us to death it points us to our need for the Salvation of Christ.

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2: 19-20

We still live under a moral requirement. We live under the moral requirement of love and grace. In judging a situation, we must use both law and grace.  We apply law as it is needed, but always in the spirit of grace. If it weren’t for this grace, we would have no hope. With grace, we have every hope.

We likely need more laws about drug prices, safety, drugs, and immigration. At the very least, these should be challenging and complicated discussions not left to social media memes. I do not know what the moral requirement for each situation is, but I do know that love and grace must be a part of the equation.

We are not people of the law, but people of the cross and the empty grave.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5: 13-14