Not Even Once

If you haven’t heard lately, the latest actually troubling news concerning a drug epidemic is taking place in lower income white families with the advent of increased use of opioids. The things about these drugs is that they are usually prescription, meaning that drugs typically used to control pain are being found and used or traded from inside the house. You know, that old horror movie chestnut: “It’s coming from inside the house!” I don’t write this to create more fear, only awareness that there is an issue. Also to point out that most families do not store these medications properly. Opioids are highly addicting and have caused many problems for those simply wanting to ease chronic pain who end up needing more and more of these substances to achieve the same effect.

I’m not particularly at risk for this issue because of my deathly allergy to codeine, which is an opiate. Having my respiratory system nearly fail again is not high on my list of things to do today… or any day for that matter. So, literally, between my asthma and opiate avoidance, my personal list of drugs I could use recreationally is short… meaning there’s nothing on the list.

That said, I had a thought the other day, about drugs and sin. No, probably not the thought that you just had about how drugs lead to sin or vice versa. More like how sin behaves like a drug. See, sin has this effect of deteriorating our humanity. Sure, it’s not very noticeable at first, but the effects become more pronounced over time. Small lapses of morality pick up steam usually. The picture I always seemed to have growing up was that sin was making holes in the lifeboat to heaven, and only Jesus could fix it. But what if sin had much more immediate, and destructive effects.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis show clearly the dehumanizing effects of sin, and how humanity sank further and further into its own self-glorification and away from God’s order. Romans 1-2 use the context of Genesis 1-11 to┬ádetail how God’s created order is disrupted by sin, how truth and morality become distorted and confused. As sin eats away at how God created us, we can see an analogy in how hard some drugs are on the human body. The body ages, cracks, scars, and decays as the drugs take their toll. Sin twists our perspective, damages relationships, and drives us away from God.

And we all have taken sin. We’ve all fallen short of reflecting God’s glory, we have all given over our loyalty and authority to objects or people instead of God, and we have all felt the sting and decay of sin that leads to destruction. And this is where the new life of Jesus changes everything. God restores us by granting us the life to come now in anticipation of the age to come when God will restore all of His creation. We become truly what we were made to be: the image of God reflecting praise to God and God’s glory and order into the world.

Have you had a conversation with your kids about making wise choices with medication and drugs? How do you model the life to come in the way you forgive, apologize, and show love to your family and others? What does it mean to you to be a restored, complete human made in God’s image for a purpose?

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Your Gossip Problem

Gossip is the quiet kid at the sin table. He makes sure whatever he does is unassuming, deliberate, and phrased in almost admirable terms. He’s the white-collar criminal of sins, if you will. He will quietly rob you of human dignity and smile during the transaction. He’s also considered a respectable member of society, a top-notch fellow who does the dirty work so others can enjoy the results. And he’s the one most people, especially Christians, tend to secretly enjoy keeping company with.

Where does he show up? Well, he can show up during prayer times – “So and so, you know ‘the drunk,’ needs some prayer right now since he got arrested last night,” or “Pray for miss what’s her face since she’s pregnant and not married to that boyfriend of hers.” He shows up on Facebook posts: “Look at what this pastor did!” “Can you believe what this celebrity just said?” “Aren’t those Christians over there heretics, or what?”

Look, we all have a penchant for curiosity, especially of the morbid type, but we need to be honest with ourselves. Are we really posting things because they are bits of information others need to hear, or are we just eager for someone else to smirk smugly alongside us as we deride and chastise others?

For Christians, this is especially important. Let me be clear. In the middle ages, it may have been necessary to publish polemic (attacking) articles in order to defend orthodox (commonly agreed upon truth) beliefs, in today’s communication-rich world, it’s not as necessary. Whoever needs correcting is a phone call, direct message, or email away. (If an idea is being criticized, it’s one thing. However, most of the shared articles are attacking a person, not an idea.) Chances are whoever is being admonished will never see the article you shared about their alleged heresy or weird spiritual practice, which makes that article nothing more than gossip. Why? Because it’s unhelpful (person in question may never see it), it’s divisive (probably not meant for the person in question, but rather itching ears waiting to pounce), and it’s hurtful. (And “being unable to reach the person” is no excuse. If the author truly acted in love, they would persist like the widow to the judge – not sink to the low standards of some modern speculative journalism.)

So before you share that article, ask a few questions:

Is this about an idea or a person?

If it’s about a person, is it an attack or a dialogue?

Is the article helpful for building up faith, or is it tearing down someone else’s?

Am I sharing this out of sincere love for my fellow Christians?

Gossip is often listed alongside things such as adultery, lying, and murder. And, yet, we often tend to overlook it. God doesn’t. God expects unity among his people. Gossip divides.

Do you discuss people or ideas at home? When you talk about others is it in context of prayer or genuine concern? When you think about your conversations or Facebook posts, do you sense gossip in them? What example are your kids seeing in regards to gossip in your home?

Laundry Theology

I came across an idea today that is distinctly Jewish, but it bears some thought. The author made a point that the central Jewish religious consciousness is the mistvah – or the doing of what God said, in overly simplified definition. He makes a contrast to what he, being Jewish, sees as the central Christian idea of avoiding or washing away of sin. I found it an interesting contrast.

So, in effect, do Christians seem to be focused on the job of taking off dirty clothes and getting them washed? Do we focus overly much on the “do not’s” rather than the “do’s?”

I have seen so many Christian Facebook posts and heard so many sermons on the idea of sin. And, as Ecclesiastes points out, there is a time for everything. But when do we ever get to the doing? When do we get to the praying continually, giving thanks in all circumstances, giving with a cheerfulness, walking the extra mile, shrugging off insults, and welcoming the stranger, outcast, widow, and orphan?

Mitzvah is considered, again simplified, as something to be acquired, something to put on, like clothing. Heschel, the author, points out that Jewish tradition describes sin as “losing mitzvah” which is one reason why Adam and Eve felt naked, because they had stripped off the one mitzvah (rule) they had.

Also, as Christians, we’re called to a much higher standard than “keep your new shoes clean.” If we go through our day focused on, “Don’t mess up,” we are ultimately missing out on the joy of Christianity. Our goal should be to go out and do the good deed, be charitable, be kind, be sacrificial in our giving to others. We don’t hear that enough. We serve a King, and he has commanded His people to love, to get out there and take risks on behalf of others.

What is the focus in your home? Do you and your family focus on the do not’s or do you focus on the do’s? What is your standard for living life: keep clean while avoiding sin, or take risks in kindness and generosity? Are you shooting for the curb or aiming to shine like stars in a crooked and depraved generation?

Sin Ain’t Fair

I can remember a few times growing up where either my brother or I would make the choice to misbehave. It’s shocking, really, but confession is good for the soul. Anyway, so we would be given the option to straighten up or risk losing the opportunity to participate in the family activity that day, whether it was bowling, mini golf, a movie, or whatever. The problem with having two kids involved is that if one child is unable to go to the activity, the whole family ends up staying home… And that happened a few times. Is that fair? Should the whole family be punished for the actions of one member?

Our justice system, in theory, is designed upon individual responsibility. Whoever does the crime does the time. For the most part, this is absolutely right. I mean, it wouldn’t make sense for a whole family to end up in jail because one member decided to run down the main thoroughfare robbing food trucks wearing nothing but his skivvies.

But is the family free of consequences? Not really. I mean, how many families have you seen broken and suffering because a family member has been convicted and sentenced. How many children wonder where a parent has gone and has trouble understanding their situation? How many children deal with abuse, alcoholism, the effects of drugs, or neglect?

So in Exodus 34, when God’s traits are listed, He is called forgiving, compassionate, blessing families to the thousandth generation. We like that part. We don’t like a little further down where God is described as not acquitting the guilty and punishing to the third and fourth generation. But what does it mean?

It means sin isn’t fair. The consequences of sin aren’t just individual. Western Culture (an academic term which you can probably read as “the way Western Europe, Britain, the US and Canada think”) has bought its own story that if a person makes a mistake it is his and his alone. “You do you,” is a common phrase. This is where we get the idea of relativistic morality, another academic term that roughly translates to “I get to decide what’s right and wrong for me.”

The problem with this type of morality is that it leaves off how our actions affect others. Sure, we generally only see the effects of our actions on ourselves, but that just means we’re horribly nearsighted. An abusive parent has much further reaching consequences than just one child. Addiction slowly wears away at relationships and health, which affects more than the addict. Racism and hatred are more far-reaching in their consequences than heated dinner table arguments. Children pick these things up, figure they’re the way life works, and adopt them into their own lives.

Children of addicts can become addicts themselves. Children of abusers can become abusers themselves. Children exposed to hatred can adopt that hatred themselves. Many don’t, but they have to fight hard to keep away.

Sin is like a virus rather than a punch. A punch affects one person and can heal quickly. A virus infects others and takes time, and often outside help, to recover.

On the other hand, good deeds aren’t fair either… blessings go to the thousandth generation, benefiting those years down the line! The whole system may not be fair, but it’s actually more skewed toward blessings than sin.

What are you handing down to your children? Are you handing down sins or blessings? How are you escaping the pain you might be carrying?