When Life Feels Like Too Much

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me~ 2ndCorinthians 12:9

This past Monday was Memorial Day in the United States. 

 Memorial Day is a day Americans set aside to remember those who freely gave their lives in combat for the good of others. The weightiness of the day got me thinking about heady things like sacrifice, honor, nobility and how for the most part the best things in life are hard. It really doesn’t matter if you’re talking about laying down your life for your country, having a healthy marriage, maintaining your integrity in the workplace, raising a decent kid or going the distance in ministry. The best things in life are universally tough to pull off.  

This insight bummed me out for two reasons. 

First, I REALLY hate doing hard things. Like most sane people I prefer the easy option in virtually every situation. The second reason is more personal. I just happen to be deep in the weeds of a bunch of really tough stuff. There are days when I fear that stuff could be the end of me.  I would really love to dump the hard stuff and do something easy.  

Sigh.

 I get that dumping hard stuff is not really a viable option. I also get that I am not alone, all of us go through something tough at some point. So, I came up with a short list of reasons to never give up on doing good (Galatians 6:9).   

Hardness is inescapable in a fallen world- 

Hardness in life is never an accident of fate, nor is it always a result of bad or sinful choices. Hardness in this world came about as a result of sin (Genesis 3:14-19). Until sin is dealt with once and for all (Revelation 19-21) hard things will simply be an integral part of life on Earth. The whole messy mess is complicated by the reality that Christians have an enemy (1stPeter 5:8, Ephesians 6:11) who has a vested in interest in making life harder for God’s people on account of point four. 

Doing hard things prepares us for harder things- 

I am currently reading through the book of Exodus. In chapter five God sends Moses to Pharaoh for the first time.  Moses tells Pharaoh that God wants Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go so they can worship their God. Pharaoh did not respond the way Moses hoped he would. He scoffed at Moses and increased the workload of the Hebrew people exponentially. The very people Moses was attempting to help turned around and laid the blame for the whole messy muddle squarely at the feet of Moses. By the end of the chapter Moses was clearly bummed-out and was what-the-heck-ing God. He says:  

“Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Exodus 5:22-23

Because I have the advantage of knowing how the story ends, I was struck by the thought that if Moses had realized at that moment that he was actually doing the easiest leadership stuff he was ever going to have to do he probably would have laid down on the floor and cried like a tired child. Moses didn’t know it yet, but the mission in front of him was going to be hard in ways he could not even begin to imagine. Moses was going to need to have an intimate understanding of how to deal with both difficult people and intense disappointment. He would also need to know how to deal with the negative reactions intensely difficult people were going to have to their disappointment. Mercifully, God did not tell Moses that his life was about to get much tougher. Instead God just used the hard thing (dealing with Pharaoh) to prepare Moses for the harder thing (leading the people through the wilderness). God often does the same thing with us. 

God has a special place in His heart for people who do hard things- 

The Christians in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) did the hardest things Christians are ever called to do. They suffered and some even died for their belief in Jesus. God had nothing but positive things to say about them and the sacrifices they made. In the text God tells the Christians in Smyrna that He understands their pain and difficulty and then praises them for standing strong in the face of intense adversity. He gently and lovingly encouraged them to continue to stand strong and be courageous as they waited for the relief that would come in time.  Throughout the Scriptures God exhibits a heart of compassion for those experiencing hard things. God has not changed. 

The hardest things in life typically have the potential to impact eternity in some way-

 Sharing our faith, living honorably, speaking hard truths in a gentle way, raising decent kids, having a healthy marriage, going the distance in ministry and laying down our lives for others are hard things. They suck-up our energy, eat away at our free time, cost us money and try our patience. Sometimes those things feel like they will break us.  However, hard things also grow our faith, give us wisdom, make us better people and have the potential to change someone else’s eternity. Changing eternity for others is a very good thing. 

It really is the best thing.    

Seven Really Good Reasons Not to Legalize Drugs

Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities~ Psalm 107:17 NIV

 Over the course of my lifetime, societal attitudes toward drug use have evolved dramatically. Drug use has gone from something shameful that was done in secret to something many are attempting to normalize and legalize.  I, for one have never been able to get on board the whole legalization bandwagon for a whole variety of reasons that I will hit on later.

  I am well aware that my views on this issue are in the minority (even among some Christians).  It’s important to understand that am not opposed to drug legalization because I’m ignorant of the arguments for legalizing drugs. I understand that there are a variety of people advocating for drug legalization for vastly different reasons.

 Politicians who support drug legalization are (generally speaking) money-grubbing pragmatists. Politicians want to legalize drugs (especially marijuana) because they see drugs as a cash-cow of never-ending tax revenue for state and local governments.

 Libertarians tend to take a more philosophical approach to the issue. They connect drug use to personal freedom and believe that individuals ought to be free to decide for themselves what they do or don’t do with their own bodies.

 Humanitarians favor abolishing drug laws because it would relieve some of the burden on the prison system and remove the stigma associated with drug use. They believe this would make drug use safer, slow the spread of diseases associated with drug use, and make information regarding addiction more widely available to a greater number of people.

 Passionate arguments aside, there are plenty of really good reasons to not to legalize marijuana (and other drugs). The most basic and profound reason being that God designed people for far more than the emptiness that drug use ultimately leads to (John 10:10).

 Some other reasons are:

 A person’s “right” to do stupid stuff with their own body ends the moment the stupid stuff begins to hurt others (1stCorinthians 8:9)-

 I am not, nor have I ever been, a supporter of big government or making laws for the sake of making laws. That said, one truly legitimate function of government is to keep citizens from inflicting harm on one another (Romans 13:4). Contrary to popular belief, drugs harm innocent people all the time.  According to the Department of Justice most crimes (violent and non-violent) are committed by people who tested positive for drugs. Nearly all property crimes are committed by people on drugs so that they can get money to buy more drugs. Taxpayers spend millions financing a foster-care system that has become overburdened by parents who are too high to care for their own children.

 Gateway drugs are a real thing-

 Supporters of legalization tend to scoff at the whole notion of gateway drugs. Nonetheless, I have never known a heroin addict who started with heroin. Nearly all drug users start with marijuana and then move on to harder drugs. Legalizing marijuana allows more people easy access to a drug that will make them increasingly more comfortable experimenting with other drugs. Not every person who smokes pot will progress to harder drugs, but enough do to make marijuana a bad bet for any society that values stability.

 We are creating a disadvantaged class of people due entirely to prenatal drug exposure-

 Roughly fifteen percent of all children are born drug and/or alcohol affected (experts believe the number is much higher). These children are burdened with emotional and intellectual deficits they will never entirely overcome (short of a miracle). I predict that society will reap a bitter harvest when these kids reach adulthood.

 Drug use makes people passive and easy to manipulate-

 I am not normally prone to conspiracy theories and tin-foil hat notions. Nonetheless, it has occurred to me that if a government were looking to create a population of docile, submissive, and easy to control zombies, promoting drug use would be the simplest way to make that happen.

 Drugs have a negative spiritual impact on individuals making it harder to reach them with the gospel-

 I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about life, God or the spiritual world. But I do know that Christians are told to be very careful to avoid drunkenness and to only be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18, 1stCorinthians 5:11, Proverbs 20:9, Proverbs 31:4). I assume this is because a spirit of drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18) dulls our spiritual senses, making it harder to hear the voice of God. It only makes sense that drugs would have the same effect. 

 Drugs hurt kids-

 Our youngest child is not our biological child. She is the daughter of a relative and her story is not unique, there are literally millions of children just like her. Her parents believed passionately that they had the “right” to do whatever they wanted with their own bodies. The exercise of “their rights” robbed a little girl of her rights. Including the right to a childhood without fear, loss and insecurity. I know for a fact that her parents never intended to become addicted, they certainly never intended cause their child hurt or pain. They loved their daughter; but ultimately, addiction caused them to love drugs more.  Drugs do that to people. They rob us of the ability to think clearly and wisely. Then they steal our humanity and decency. Drugs rob us of the most basic of human instincts, including the instinct to protect the most vulnerable among us. 

 Anything that can do that is not a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Five Strategies to Keep you Sane in A Situation That Isn’t Changing

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world~ John 16:33 NIV

One of the experiences common to man (and woman) is feeling stuck in a place where circumstances we desperately want or need to change simply won’t change. This typically happens in spite of our best efforts, deepest longings and most fervent prayers.

 There is little in life more challenging than a bad situation that won’t change, and not just because no one sane likes to be stuck in a bad place. If bad situations are not dealt with, they eventually test our faith and cause us to doubt the goodness (and sometimes even the existence) of God.

 The subsequent strategies are not magic bullets, following them may or may not change your situation for the better (sorry). That said, we become what we do. Doing these things will help you put your mess in better perspective, empower you to handle the situation more effectively and enable you to grow in the midst of your trial.

 Stop resenting the situation- Job 5:2, Job 36:13

 Resentment does nothing but cloud our judgment, hinder our ability to problem solve and steal our gratitude for the good things we do have. Resentment is an emotional black hole that sucks up mental energy that would be better spent on problem solving. If resentment is allowed to fester and grow it will eventfully mutate into bitterness. Bitterness is a destructive and defiling force that will prevent us from doing anything good in this world (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). For those reasons (and at least a dozen others) it’s critical we deal with any resentment we may be harboring so we can move on to a healthier way of looking at and dealing with the present situation.

 Learn what you need to learn from the mistakes that landed you in the situation but don’t live in the past- 2nd Corinthians 13:5

 No one is a bigger advocate of frequent self-examination than I am. I believe with all my heart that there is a great deal of value in scrutinizing past mistakes and poor choices. Understanding and owning how we got to a particular place can prevent us from making similar mistakes in the future. However, an unhealthy fixation on the past (ruminating on it constantly) is a pointless distraction that will rob us of our ability to deal with the present productively.

 Control the one thing you do have absolute control over- Proverbs 16:22, Titus 2:11-12, 2nd Peter 1:3-10

 One of the most maddening things about a stuck situation is that oftentimes the person who is stuck has (or feels they have) very little power to change the details of the situation or move things in another direction. Our perception of the situation may or may not be accurate (see next point). That said, it is true that there are times when the only thing we have any control over in a given situation is ourselves. We cannot control other people or the circumstances that come into our lives but we can control how we react and respond.

 Get advice from others and take at least some of it – Proverbs 12:1, Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 13:10, Proverbs 15:22

 Stuck people tend to develop tunnel vision when it comes to their situation. As a result they tend to think there is absolutely nothing that can be done to change or even improve their situation. Typically other people (friends, Pastors, counselors, coaches) can see options and alternatives that the stuck person cannot. This is why it’s absolutely critical we seek the counsel of others. However, simply asking for advice will do nothing if we don’t take the advice we are given and make the appropriate and necessary changes.

 Don’t give up- Galatians 6:9

 Ultimately, staying sane in a stuck situation is all about keeping things in perspective. Perspective is about far more than simply finding a way out of a bad situation. It’s about making a commitment before God to come out of the situation a better person than you were before. It’s about keeping your heart open and free from bitterness, so you can learn and grow in the midst of the situation.

 Keeping things in perspective will enable you to help someone who is going through something similar in the future (2nd Corinthians 1:3-5). Keeping things in perspective and refusing to give up (no matter how tough it gets) will empower you to come out of your difficult situation with a deeper faith, stronger character and more passionate love for God.

 And that’s what life is all about anyway.

Is Being Nice Really What Jesus Would Do?

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all people everywhere should repent~ Acts 17:30 NASB

 My daughter has joined a gym. Her fitness goals are commendable and realistic.  She wants to gain muscle, increase her endurance and best-case scenario: drop a few pounds.

 Last night she confessed she’s run into a bit of a glitch in reaching her goals. The problem lies less with her than with the gym she belongs to. The staff is pleasant, but hands off when it comes to assisting clients.

 The staff does not help with technique or correct the wrong use of machines. There are no scales anywhere in the building. There is an enormous dish of candy at the front desk and the gym serves pizza on Fridays. If a client wishes to munch on a jelly donut while running on the treadmill, the management is perfectly fine with that. They do ask that you wipe the goo off the machine once your workout is completed.

 The goal of this organization is a noble one. The want to create a safe place for out of shape people to get into shape, without even a hint of disapproval or judgment from anyone.

 As always the only hitch is the curse of unintended consequences.  

 The employees are so wary of causing offense that the clients are not getting the help they need to make the changes they want to make. This is a legitimate problem when you consider that any gym anywhere in the world would assert that their sole purpose for existing is to help out of shape folks lose weight and get into shape.

 Her tale of woe reminded me of a blog post I read this week.

 I read quite a few blogs in a given week. Every once in a while I come across one that sticks with me and causes me to think on a deeper level.

 This was one of those.

 The writer (a Christian) shared that one afternoon while she and her husband were out shopping, they ran into a guy she had attended youth group with when she was a teenager. Except the guy wasn’t a guy anymore. He was a girl.

 Awkward.

 The writer handled herself with composure considering the delicate nature of the situation. She did not cast judgment, give disapproving looks or hurl Bible verses at him. Nor did she inform him he was headed straight for hell.

 She went out of her way to make friendly conversation and set him at ease. She asked about his family and inquired about what he had been up to in recent years. She introduced her husband, shared some of her own story, gave him a couple of big hugs and went on with her day.

 It was a nice exchange and frankly it’s probably what I would have done given the same set of circumstances. So, please don’t accuse me of judging her or anyone else, because I’m not. That said, as I pondered her story I was overcome with a deep sense of spiritual conviction and left wondering:

 Is being nice enough?

 Being nice or “showing love” to sinners is bandied about as the latest and greatest in “being like Jesus” and “loving the unsaved”. But again, I wonder is it enough? And is it really and truly “being like Jesus”?

 I am not questioning whether or not Christians ought to be kind, respectful and compassionate towards all people, including those people with obviously sinful lifestyles. Jesus was and I believe being kind is a given. If you are a Christ-follower and do not routinely treat all people with respect, you have a serious sin problem called pride and you should deal with it.

Today.

 That being said, I do wonder if simply “showing love” to people who are obviously stuck in a sin spiral is doing more harm than good from an eternal perspective. I’m not proposing we stop being nice. I am proposing we stop helping sinners to feel safe in their lost state. Our compassion and acts of kindness need to be followed up with loving, but truthful conversations about the eternal consequences of choosing a lifestyle of sin over a heart of repentance. We forget that Jesus (arguably the nicest guy ever) made it uncomfortably clear on more than one occasion that an unrepentant sinner is anything but “safe” from a spiritual standpoint (Matthew 4:17, Luke 5:32, Mark 9:47).

 I fear that we have we have traded the hard work of evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) for the path of least resistance: being pleasant and inoffensive. In the process we have become a lot like my daughter’s gym. We are safe and welcoming to sinners, but nothing significant ever really happens and no one ever changes anything that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hardest Question

For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help~ Psalm 22:24

 From time to time I get a message or phone call asking me to share my opinion about a particular issue. Because the issue in question is inevitably thorny, contentious, and well above my pay grade, I generally dread these requests.

Such was the case this week.

 A sweet, mature Christian friend who is deep into the grieving process asked me to consider sharing my views on one of the most controversial issues of our time. She had some very well thought out, heart wrenching questions. The emotion behind them broke my heart.

Following is a summary:

 Why does God allow people to feel pain at death?

Why is it okay to blunt the pain of death with medication but not to use the same medication to hurry up the process of death?

If death is inevitable, why is it wrong to end life and reduce the length of time a person suffers?

Death and pain in childbirth are both a result of the Fall. Why is it okay to eliminate the pain of childbirth and not end a life that is destined to death a little early?

 Death and suffering are deeply emotional issues. No decent human enjoys seeing another human suffer. Suffering becomes even more personal when the person suffering is someone we love. All of this is made thornier by the fact that most of us are isolated from the only two events in this life that are common to all people: birth and death.

 Few of us have witnessed a child being born. Fewer have seen a person die. Most of us obtain our “education” on these subjects from television programs. Anyone who has actually witnessed a birth or death knows that the TV version of these events bears little similarity to the real-life version. The deaths we see on TV are typically swift and painless; the person quietly draws their last breath, closes their eyes peacefully, and goes serenely into the great beyond. This is NOT how death happens. Death is normally a long, messy, painful process that is excruciating to witness. Our reflex is to shorten or avoid any process we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with.

 End-of-life issues are further complicated by the gift of medical knowledge. Our society has been blessed with medical expertise that makes it possible to save people from what would have been inevitable deaths just a few years ago. As wonderful as technology is, it creates some unintended consequences. Doctors possess the knowledge to prolong life but sometimes lack wisdom as to how and when that knowledge should be applied. Prolonging life often means prolonging and even intensifying suffering.

 I am not stupid or arrogant enough to pretend I know everything there is to know about this issue. I do not. That said, one thing I do know for absolute certain is that it’s not wrong or sinful to use medication to ease the suffering of a dying person. Proverbs 31:6 is clear on the issue of pain relief at death.

 Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!

 The use of alcohol is a contentious issue amongst Christians but one fact is clear from this verse: a legitimate use of alcohol is for pain relief at the end of life. If it is acceptable to give alcohol to a dying person then I cannot see any reason why it would be wrong to use morphine for the same purpose. As for the whole childbirth issue, I honestly don’t know whether or not pain relief during childbirth is a sin.

 I certainly hope not.

 Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “assisted suicide is a sin.” However, most Christians believe that assisted suicide falls pretty neatly under the category of “Thou shalt not kill.” This particular commandment is an imperative statement clearly lacking the wiggle room needed to make a well-defined and compelling biblical argument for assisted suicide.

  I had my first experience with death and suffering at nineteen when my beloved Grandmother died of lung cancer. I was not there when she died, but I did spend a lot of time with her in the weeks prior to her death. Those visits were some of the toughest things I have done. As an unsaved teenager, her suffering and the dignity she maintained as she suffered impacted me in ways that are difficult to express. Her death caused me to evaluate my own mortality in a way I had never considered before.

It caused me to seek God.

 Death sucks. There is nothing good or redeeming about it. Death is the most visible reminder of the Fall of mankind (Genesis 3). It makes a sad sort of sense that the single greatest consequence of mankind’s sin and disobedience would be painful and would linger until the earth is fully liberated from the curse of sin (Revelation 21:4). But God, in His infinite wisdom, sometimes brings good things out of death and the suffering of others, when we are willing to submit to the process.