Idolatry

Lusting for Comfort… Treasuring Something Greater

 

“The lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.”  Khalil Gibran

I heard this quote on my way in to the office this morning, and was stunned.  And I believe it was no accident that I heard it.  So much of my life has been spent securing comfort in this world… an “eternity on earth” of sorts.  I mentioned in my last post my fear of being exposed as an imposter.  That fear is driven by a deeper fear that I’ll lose my little “kingdom” I’m building, and I’ll have my little comforts taken away from me.  Those comforts I long… no, that I lust for.  And as Mr. Gibran states, my soul’s passions having been murdered by my lusts, they now lie in state while the lust simply grins as I mourn over what I’ve lost.

This can’t be how life is supposed to be lived.  What is the antidote to this vicious disease of lusting for comfort?  John Piper, sheds some like in his wonderful message on Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, comparing our lives to the solar system [emphasis mine]:

So it is with the supremacy of Christ in your life. All the planets of your life—your sexuality and desires, your commitments and beliefs, your aspirations and dreams, your attitudes and convictions, your habits and disciplines, your solitude and relationships, your labor and leisure, your thinking and feeling—all the planets of your life are held in orbit by the greatness and gravity and blazing brightness of the supremacy of Jesus Christ at the center of your life. And if he ceases to be the bright, blazing, satisfying beauty at the center of your life, the planets will fly into confusion, and a hundred things will be out of control, and sooner or later they will crash into destruction.

Jesus Christ encountered a very confident and wealthy man, who desired something he thought Jesus could give him.

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Matthew 19:16-22 (ESV)

I’m that man.  I’m the guy who is looking at my treasures sadly because of what I think I’ll lose.  I’m the guy that lives my life as though my planets are held up by me, all the while missing the strong gravitational pull of the Son Jesus Christ, whose blazing glory and brightness of His supremacy is constantly pulling at me to become the most beautiful part of my life.  I’ve been that guy for so long.  But no longer.  Like the parable of the treasure hidden in the field (Matthew 13:44-46), the antidote to the viral spread of discontentment and fear in my life is to treasure Christ for all he is worth.  It is to find supreme satisfaction in the glory and treasure of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, my Savior.

What do you treasure today?  What do the planets of your life revolve around?  To paraphrase Joshua in the Old Testament, as for me and my house, we will put Christ at the center of our solar system, and live with joy that His pull is so strong!

The Red or Blue Pill… Entering Narnia

I woke up to a new reality today.  Nothing earth shattering.  Nothing that will make headline news.  Just a certain awareness and an inescapable readiness to choose to enter the wardrobe and see what lies beyond… to choose the red pill.  What is it that awaits?  An adventure beyond my wildest imagination.

Lucy - ChroniclesOfNarnia

I love stories.  As a child, I used to read those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen if I chose one option over the other.  As a computer programmer by trade, my earliest memories was of writing a Quick Basic “Choose Your Own Adventure” style program on a Mattel Aquarius computer.  Movies always affect me too.  The Narnia books are a great example (if you haven’t read them all, I HIGHLY recommend it).  As Lucy stands before the wardrobe doors and decides to enter in, she is entering in to the adventure that awaits her.  I was stunned after I saw The Matrix back in 1999.  Watching Thomas Anderson (played by Keanu Reeves) come to a sudden awareness that the world is not as it seems, and there is more going on than he ever realized (but that he always suspected).  And suddenly Thomas Anderson gets a new name:  Neo.  So many powerful stories happening that spoke to me in my own personal and spiritual journey.  It awakened curiosity and desire in me to seek truth… to do great things.  And yet…

So often, I choose to close the wardrobe doors.  I choose the blue pill, remaining in the blissful ignorance of the illusion of my life of comfort as I go about my life.  I imagine what comes if I choose the life of adventure, and my heart begins to sink.  I imagine all the past failures, the obstacles that await me, all the worst fears it awakens in my heart, and I simply turn away.  In The Matrix, Morpheus, the underground resistance leader who offers Neo the choice of facing reality or remaining blissfully ignorant says:

You have to understand that many people are not ready to be unplugged, and many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

That’s me!  I don’t just choose, but I fight to protect my blissful ignorance.  Sometimes by escaping to my closest habitual comforts.  Sometimes by burying myself in work or some other important, but ultimately not eternity-changing, tasks.

And then there are days where I REALLY want adventure.  I get caught up in the intoxicating feeling of thinking about what the adventure will bring.  And I start thinking about what I need to do to bring that adventure to reality in my life.

Neither approach is the path I believe God has carved out for me.  I was thinking about this as I read an excerpt of John Eldredge’s The Sacred Romance (emphasis mine):

We are faced with a decision that grows with urgency each passing day: Will we leave our small stories behind and venture forth to follow our Beloved into the Sacred Romance? The choice to become a pilgrim of the heart can happen any day and we can begin our journey from any place. We are here, the time is now, and the Romance is always unfolding. The choice before us is not to make it happen. As G.K. Chesterton said, “An adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.” Lucy wasn’t looking for Narnia when she found it on the other side of the wardrobe; in a way, it found her. Abraham wasn’t wandering about looking for the one true God; he showed up with an extraordinary invitation. But having had their encounters, both could have chosen otherwise. Lucy could have shut the wardrobe door and never mentioned what had happened there. Abraham could have opted for life in Haran. The choice before us is a choice to enter in.

Today, I am going to choose the life of adventure that God has planned for me, and accept those challenges and difficulties that come as part of that as the training God needs me to go through to continue.  This is difficult.  I have to fight to take back that which has held sway over my heart for so long.  I have to fight to see the greater reality of the desire of my heart to pursue God and His adventure in my life.  What will you choose today?

Kicking Habits and Taking Names

I love turning chaos into organization.  There is something very satisfying about walking into a room of people who are looking down at their pile of issues, and they look to me and ask “what do you think?”  One of my favorite movies of ALL TIME is Apollo 13.  There is a scene in the movie where they engineers have to figure out how to create a CO2 filter from one size that fits in the hole for another size.

http://youtu.be/C2YZnTL596Q

The reward is SO great when these obstacles are overcome.  You look around and just want to high-five anyone standing there.

group-high-five-12001063

However, I am a creature of habit.  Well, a creature of many habits to be precise.  Some of these are good habits.  I eat right (mostly).  I exercise some.  I read a lot.  You get the picture.  Then, some of these habits are not so good.  In fact, some of these addictive behaviors can become quite harmful and destructive if gone unchecked.  One such habit that I’ve fought on and off through most of my life has been especially challenging.  And until last month, I thought I’d never kick it.  However, God has been working on my heart over the past few months to slowly (on my part, not God’s) help me understand just how great the truth is that Jesus not only died for my sins, but came to “set the captives free.”  This freedom extends into areas of habits and addictions, where the pull is so strong, and the feeling is you’ll never get out.  When I fully understand how beautiful and treasured Christ is, that joy and satisfaction in Him will expel the sinful habits from my life.  Sometimes this is slow, sometimes much more quickly.

So, last month, I began experiencing a measure of freedom in this area.  It was nothing spectacular at first.  No visions or bright lights or crazy dreams.  Just a growing realization that I’m not craving that which I had craved before.  It was wonderful.  For about 6 weeks, I experienced complete freedom.  My awareness and presence in life was sharpened, my relationships with my wife, children, and friends grew stronger.  It was incredible.  While it lasted.

The other day, I found myself thinking about this habit and how nice it would be to experience it again.  So… I did.  And, of course, it wasn’t as exciting and enjoyable as my brain tells me it will be.  In fact, it was quite miserable.  Though that did not stop me from partaking, God definitely used it to remind me once again that He is the ultimate answer.

So, it left me wondering today:  Now what?  Have I suddenly lost all that ground I had gained?  Am I suddenly “back to square one”?  I used to count the days, weeks, and months.  But that led to widely oscillating cycles of despair and pride.  No good for me.  Now, I just focus on each day and enjoy the freedom Christ has given me.   So, today, I look upward to God for the strength He gives, and I give that habit the equivalent of an MMA-style knockout kick.

Knockout Kick

Is this easy?  NO, NO, NO!  In fact, I suspect the guy delivering this knockout blow had probably been hurt pretty badly during this fight.  No, kicking these habits is never easy.  But the process is very simply defined.  I cling to truth.  Winston Churchhill once said “The Truth is the most valuable thing in the world. Indeed, it is so valuable that it is often protected by a bodyguard of lies.”  My habits and addictions tell me lies about who I am.  My only solution?  I take names like

Child of the One True King

Chosen One

New Creation

Co-Heir with Christ

Mighty Warrior in Christ

Yep… Kicking Habits and Taking Names…  So, go look at those nasty habits in the face, and rather than rely on our own strength, give them over to the one who has given your very meaning in life.  And kick those habits right out of your life!  Join me!

Stiff-arming God

I really enjoy watching football.  I can tell myself on a Sunday afternoon that I have a number of other things to do, and like a moth to a flame, if that TV is on with football, I’ll stand there in one spot for 30 minutes watching without moving.  The sheer force of will and strength these guys show, week in and week out, is something to behold.  I think one of the greatest displays of this strength is the stiff-arm.  Most reading this will know what a stiff-arm is.  But for the benefit of those that don’t, a stiff-arm is when a runner who has the ball is about to be tackled. The would-be tackler is starting to wrap his arms around the runner, when suddenly the runner extends his arm with full strength straight into the facemask (or neck) area of the defender.  The defender seeks to keep his grip on the runner after the initial devastating blow to his head, and meanwhile, the runner continues pushing into the defender’s helmet, further contorting his neck and head, in what has become a severely disfigured looking posture.  One of the best I’ve seen is this shot of LaDanian Tomlinson administering a pretty brutal stiff-arm.
tomlinson_stiffarm
So, I found it intriguing Sunday when our pastor began talking about how we sometimes “stiff-arm” God.  That is an immediate word picture for me and helps me get what my pastor is saying.  Later that day I heard a message on Desiring God from John Piper where he too spoke of stiff-arming God.  OK… 2 times… I think God is trying to get my attention!  Now, removing those images of football players dropping guys like flies to the ground with their stiff-arms, I start to wonder… what does it mean that I stiff-arm God?  Clearly, I cannot apply some kind of force to make God go away from me.  I am not more powerful and more wise than God that I can somehow keep Him from doing something.  No, I think it is when, over a series of choices, priorities, and idols, little-by-little, I push God away from that innermost part of my life… you know… that most vulnerable part of you that feels pain, sadness, joy, ecstasy, delight, desire, anger.  It is that part of me which fears God coming close to me because of who and what He’ll see.  Not wanting God to see the “inside of the cup,” which would reveal all manner of sin and idolatry.  So, I push Him away.
Now, picture for a moment a small child… maybe a 2-year old… running down a football field and suddenly a large, athletic football player like this guy below comes running up to tackle this 2-year old and suddenly from out of nowhere, the 2-year old stiff-arms the would-be tackler and drops him to the ground.
gholston-bigguy
Seems absurd, doesn’t it?  Of course!  And this is not the way of God.  Like this large fellow with the 2-year old, God could easily force me into submission, if He chose.  But He doesn’t.  God is interested in our heart, not our blind, loyal, resentful obedience.  He wants me to know and love Him.  He wants me to desire Him above all other things of this world.  So, when I stick my “arm” out to prevent God from interfering with my life, something peculiar happens.  He sometimes lets me experience my intended result.  But my “stiff-arm” has a sort of “Corsican brother” affect, where the only one I end up stiff-arming… is myself.  I experience the pain and agony of that loss of “felt” closeness to God.  I feel the longing in my heart that there must be something greater meant for this life.  So when I finally drop my stiff-arm, God reveals a wonderful promise to me:
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…
2 Corinthians 4:16-17 
God is continuing to work in me, shaping me to be made into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. So, about the only stiff-arming I can do is to stubbornly attempt to refuse the love God has poured out on me so lavishly through Jesus.  And He will make it miserable for me during that time.  For His commitment to me is to keep me in His grip.  To “not let one of them fall”.  For that, I am ever grateful.  And it makes me fall in love more and more with Jesus each day.
In case that first stiff-arm picture was not enough for you, enjoy this youtube video shows a compilation of NFL stiff-arms.  There are a bunch of these out there.  I picked one.  Good stuff.