Thursday, December 27, 2012

Resolving to be Holy

It's New Year's resolution season. This year instead of resolving to lose weight or quit clipping your toenails in the living room (not that those aren't good resolutions), let's try for something more substantive.

We all say, I want to be more like Jesus. But how do we do that? It's easy to get overwhelmed and do nothing. We need to get specific.

Identify the problem
Everyone commits the "little" sins — things like lying or selfishness — and we should fight against those, but we also all have one or two sins that are a particular problem for us. Some might call it your favorite sin, but more likely it's the one you feel is kicking your butt. It's time to do something about that. The sin that so easily entangles has to go.

We say that we struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The flesh is usually our biggest problem, but the world definitely teams up with it, feeding and encouraging our worst impulses.

You may have heard the analogy that the flesh warring with the spirit is like two dogs fighting, and the one you feed will win. We need to cut off the flesh's food supply.

Identify the source
Here's an example: Covetousness. At it's core, coveting is about being dissatisfied with what you have. But you can't be dissatisfied with your lot unless you're aware of the options. You feed your covetousness every time you take in all the things you don't have — whether it's window shopping at the mall or driving by the new car lots or simply browsing the sale ads in the newspaper.

You're fine with your coffee maker until you see the one that will get up off the counter and gently shake your arm to wake you while percolating coffee to a jazzy tune. You're fine with your car until you start contemplating the unending comforts of "rich Corinthian leather."

You can cut off the food to your covetous heart by cutting off the flow of information about things you don't need. Don't look at sales ads to see what's out there. Check out the new coffee pots only after yours dies. Stay away from car lots until it's actually time to replace your car. By removing the things you don't have from your mind, you give yourself fewer things to be unsatisfied about.

Oh, covetousness isn't your problem? How about lust? Cut off the supply. No, I'm not talking about pornography. That's an effect, not the cause. Our society loves to feed our lust — on billboards, on tv, and, of course, as we walk down the street. Guys, if that's your problem, you might need to change gyms. Ladies, perhaps you need to change reading material.

Maybe it's cursing. How do the people you spend your time with talk? What about your entertainment choices?

Make a specific plan
Whatever it is, figure out the sources of the food and cut them off.

Make a plan. A specific plan. "I will covet less" will get you nowhere. "I will stop driving by the car lot" is specific, and it's easy to tell how you're doing.

Figure out how you can stop feeding the flesh: "I will stop loitering outside the aerobics class." "I will stop watching movies with bad language." Whatever it is, do something concrete.

Keep it going
Then do something else concrete. Whatever change you make is just a drop in the bucket. You stopped driving by the car lot; now excuse yourself when your friend starts talking about his new car. You stopped hanging out watching women in spandex; now stop watching the LFL games.

Then continue. This is a process. Keep looking for things you can change, ways to cut off the food. As you progress, hopefully the beast will get weaker. 

I suggest making a list. I'll bet you can think of five things you do that feed your problem. Surely you can name three. In Dave Ramsey style, start with the easiest one to cut out. Then move down the list. By the time you've finished the list you should be able to name other habits that contribute to your problem. Make a new list and start down it.

Watch out
Back to the world, the flesh, and the devil: Most of the time I think the devil is the least of our problems — until you try to make some real changes. This is spiritual warfare. Expect to be attacked. Look for it. Plan on it. Be on your guard.

A lot of times we should resist the devil. We need to fight and we can win. But not in this. If you were any good at fighting on this issue, it wouldn't be an issue. Run. When temptation springs up, head for the hills.

It's going to be a long road. But by this time next year you will hopefully be a lot more like Jesus than you are today. And hopefully I'll be there with you.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Mayan Doomsday

"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." And the Mayans. Really?

I'm not terribly worried that the world will end today. (I am worried the slightest little thing might set off the nuts, so be watchful out there.)

But honestly, looking at the world around us, it's hard to think it would be a bad thing. Not Quetzalcoatl's end of the world but Jesus'. We look forward to a day with no more sorrow, no more pain, when every tear will be wiped away, and we are saved from even the presence of sin.

No, that doesn't sound bad at all.

"Come, Lord Jesus."

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Most Important Question

Following the Newton school shooting, people are asking all kinds of questions, and they are important. What can we do to prevent these shootings? How did this man's family and friends not see this coming? How can we prepare our kids in case this happens in their schools? Should gun laws be changed?

The hardest question is also the most important one: What is wrong with us that we're creating these people?

Even though some gun laws have been relaxed over the last decade, guns are still much harder to get than they were 40 years ago. But this kind of thing didn't happen then. Certainly not in the numbers that it is happening now.

So what has changed in our society that we are producing these monsters? 

That's the question we've got to answer. The guy with the knife in China, the guys with the box cutters on September 11, and Timothy McVeigh didn't need guns to kill lots of people. Evil will find a way. We have to find a way to stop the evil.

What are we doing wrong? That's the question that has to be answered.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: Oxygen

The first manned mission to Mars. An explosion en route leaves the four astronauts with only enough oxygen for one. NASA's solution: Put three of them in a coma and let the fourth take care of them all the way to Mars. But one of them is probably the saboteur....  

Oxygen, first published in 2001, wraps a thriller around some powerful theological reflection on the nature of faith and its relationship to doubt and uncertainty. It also deals with the science-versus-faith dance and attitudes toward "fundamentalists" (a term as ill-defined in the book as in our society).

It's also a fun, nerve-racking ride.

I highly recommend it to any and all believers, particularly those dealing with doubt and skepticism. I would also love to get it into the hands of non-believers, especially scientists leery of being pigeon-holed if they're open to Christianity.

Unfortunately, Oxygen was put out by a Christian publisher and is unlikely to end up on any shelf not in the "Christian fiction" section of a bookstore. It's the problem of the Christian Ghetto (or Country Club if you prefer). There's nothing wrong with in-focused works to help fellow believers, but those things will have little to no impact on the rest of the world. I'd give anything for this book to have been put out by Bantam instead of Bethany.

But that has no bearing on the book itself. Oxygen is a great story and would be a great gift for just about anyone.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Perspective links

* A different perspective on the culture war:
"I want to suggest that hospitality is a radical alternative to both the language and practice of culture wars."
Read why and how it would work in The Culture of Hospitality.

* A different perspective on the poor:
"[T]he historical evidence is in, and it is quite clear: over the last 200 years, free markets, not government programs, have created wealth that has brought general worldwide benefit to the poor, lifting multitudes out of grinding poverty."
Paul Copan explains in The Poor and Free Markets.

* A different perspective on assisted suicide. A very different perspective:
"As a good pro-choice liberal, I ought to support [assisted suicide]. But as a lifelong disabled person, I cannot."
Read his story and concerns in Suicide by Choice? Not So Fast.