Tag Archives: Addiction

Haunted by a Seemingly Simple Question

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
John 5:6 (NRSV)

As I journey again and again through God’s Message, there are certain words, phrases, and stories that haunt me. Every time I encounter them they impact my spirit in a profound way. I can’t escape them. They come to mind at random times. And, despite the perpetual impact I always sense that the full truth of them continue to elude me.

In today’s chapter, it’s the simple question Jesus asks of a paralytic who, for 38 years, had lain on his mat next to a pool that was rumored to have healing powers.

“Do you want to get well?”

Really, Jesus? Really? Seriously? Are you kidding me? I make my family carry me here every day for 38 years hoping for a miracle. I sit here every day. This is my life. And, you want to know if I want to get well. What a silly question.

But it’s not silly at all. I have learned along life’s road, and from my own experience, that my true motives are often hidden beneath carefully crafted appearances. I say I want healing, but the truth is I am content in my sickness. I complain about our sicknesses, weaknesses, and shortcomings , but I’ve become so used to living with them that I’m secretly afraid of life without them. I complain about my paralysis, but if actually do learn to walk my family is going to expect me to actually get a job. Hm.

Being a victim comes with addictive perks that we don’t really talk about.

“Do you want to get well?”

There’s a lot more to that question than it seems. There are layers of questions in those six words. Many of them are uncomfortable questions I’m not sure I want asked. Today, I’m once again haunted by a seemingly simple question Jesus asked.

Servant of One Master

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.
Romans 8:12 (NIV)

Yesterday my friend, Matthew, and I shared the third of four messages we prepared for our local gathering of Jesus’ followers on the topic of shame. Not coincidentally, Paul’s letter to the Romans which we are currently journeying through on our chapter-a-day sojourn figures heavily in the teaching. Without mentioning it, I chose to read through Romans as it dovetailed nicely with what I’m already pondering and sharing on Sundays.

We have a group of prayer warriors among our local gathering and it is customary for one of them to pray over those who teach after worship. Yesterday as our friend, Vicki, came to pray for Matthew and me she said she had been given a vision for me and wanted to share it.

She saw me on a dark stage. Small lights began to twinkle and swirl around. The number began to grow until they lit the stage. Tear streaming down my face, I dropped to my knees feeling the “freedom and love” God was pouring into me.

Our series on shame largely focuses on the dilemma that many of us feel. Our core sense of shame leads us to feelings of condemnation which then lead us to behaviors and “covers” (think fig leaf) to feel better about ourselves until those behaviors become addictive and deeply rooted patterns to which we become enslaved. Followers of Jesus know we are to be obedient to what we Jesus calls us to do, which is often contradictory to the deep-seated behaviors to which we feel enslaved. As Paul put it in his letter: The things I don’t want to do I end up doing, and the things I want to do I end up not doing! Who will set me free from this?! 

What was fascinating about Vicki’s vision yesterday is that she was describing, in detail, the opening scene of a play Wendy and I attended in Minneapolis a few years ago. The dark stage, the little twinkle lights swirling and growing in number until the stage was lit. Wendy and I often talk about it as one of the most breathtaking experiences we’ve had watching live theatre. The name of the play? The Servant of Two Masters.

Those who follow Jesus often feel the chaos of feeling like we are stuck trying to serve two masters, both the flesh and the Spirit. The point of today’s chapter and of the series that Matthew and I are teaching is that Jesus came to set us free from being “chained” and “obligated” to the flesh. We don’t serve two masters, but One.

This morning I’m thinking about Truffaldino, the lovable and comic trickster trapped by his own devices in Servant of Two Masters as he gets caught trying to serve two very different masters. I’m wondering if God sometimes finds it comical the way we foolishly swear obedience to serve Him and then sneak around trying to serve our own earthly appetites as if we’re being secretive about the whole thing. As Vicki envisioned, I drop to my knees in acknowledgement of what I have come to know: Jesus’ shed blood and resurrection set me free from any fleshly obligations. As Jesus said, “If I set you free, you are free indeed.”

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The featured image on this post is a picture of a Zanni mask (source: wikipedia) used in a genre of historical theatre called “commedia.” Servant of Two Masters belongs to this genre. The Zanni mask was worn by the dispossessed immigrant worker, often a trickster, like Truffaldino who finds himself trying to serve two different masters at the same time.

Personal Captivity

Source: Doug Floyd
Source: Doug Floyd

Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Psalm 142:7 (NIV)

The key to understanding David’s “prison” is by reading the liner notes to this particular song’s lyrics: “A maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A prayer.” The fact that the note is specific in mentioning “the” cave means that it refers to the Cave of Adullam which was a secret fortress and a bandits hideout. David was on the run from King Saul who unjustly wanted to wipe him out. There was a price on his head. For David, as time passed, the cave transformed itself from a place of refuge into a personal prison.

One of the definitions of “prison” is “any place of confinement or involuntary restraint.” Our prison can be any number of places that have nothing to do with steel bars and razor wire. Our prison can be a house or a room within a house. For a weary traveller, an airport, airplane or auto can become a prison. Relationships can become tortuous places of confinement. For those struggling with addictions, disorders, disease or handicap, our very own bodies can become our prison cell. Any who have struggled with the weight of guilt and shame know that our very soul can become our personal penitentiary.

David’s song is a wailing blues number and a desperate cry for salvation from his intensely personal problems. Each of us experience our own places of confinement. Sometimes we have been placed there involuntarily. Other times we find, like David, that a place we once ran for refuge has become a source of torment. Crazier still, we sometimes choose to stay in our personal prison because the torment we know seems less fearful than the freedom that is available to us.

I am reminded this morning of the quote from the prophet Isaiah which became the core of Jesus’ first public teaching:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [emphasis added]

Today, I am praying for myself and all those who know the pain of captivity in all of its diverse and personal manifestations. My prayer is rooted in Jesus’ words: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

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Confession of an Ex-News Junkie

from Mickeleh via Flickr
from Mickeleh via Flickr

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return.
    Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.
Proverbs 9:7 (NLT)

I used to be a news junkie. I grew up in a time when the television had four channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, & PBS) and my hometown of Des Moines had two daily newspapers. One newspaper came in the morning (The Des Moines Register) and the other newspaper was delivered in the afternoon (The Des Moines Tribune).  News was delivered on a specific schedule each day and you had to wait to find out what was happening in the world. Even as a kid I was anxious for the newspaper to come and the nightly news to begin.

With the advent of cable and satellite television, my natural cravings and curiosity could feed its appetite 24/7/365. The news was always on. When there wasn’t any actual news worth talking about then talking heads emerged on both the radio and television to perpetuate and regurgitate old conversations and keep viewers or listeners sucked in. At first, I gorged myself. Talk radio was always on in my car while news channels were always on my television at home.

At some point I began actually listening to the discourse of the conversation, or lack of conversation, that I was hearing. Intelligent opinion gave way to ideological rants. Objective analysis morphed into slanted perspective. Brash personalities with big mouths and bigger egos began a relentless mocking of anyone who didn’t agree with them. Depending on your interest or persuasion you can find the mockers on the left, on the right, and in the sports arena. They act just like the mockers in Solomon’s proverb who insult and injure anyone who dare stand up to have a civil conversation about an opposing view. One cannot surf through the news and sports channels without hearing a steady stream of people yelling, interrupting, and insulting one another.

When I first began imbibing a steady stream of non-stop news I reacted with equal brashness to what I was hearing. I raised my voice. I shot back. I quipped and cajoled. I traded barbs and insults. I screamed at the television to those who disagreed with me and cheered on the mockers from my team. Eventually I found myself strung out and numb. The mockers in the media entrenched themselves firmly in their own positions and raked in the fortune and fame. I began to realize that I was the one getting hurt by all of this. My own mocking alienated others and isolated me from people I was called to actively love. I didn’t like what I had become from my non-stop binge of news channels and talk shows.

That was when I remembered that both my television and my radio had buttons which changed the channel. There was even a button to turn them completely off! I quietly put myself through private rehab for my news junkie addiction. I walked away from mockers of all persuasions cold turkey. Now I’m on a healthy news diet that is mocker free. I choose my news intake wisely and digest healthy portions from a select menu. My spirit, my heart, my mind, my relationships and my life are in better places because of it.

Let the mockers mock. They will always be on. I simply choose not to subject myself to them, nor follow their example.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 24

1998ish - Clint's room - screens & clutter - 1
1998ish – Clint’s room – screens & clutter – 1 (Photo credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL))

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
    The world and all its people belong to him.
Psalm 24:1 (NLT)

My brother has lived what I would describe as a nomadic life. Having spent most of his adult life going to and living where the work is (which for him has been all over the world) he has by necessity scattered the stuff of life around at various places. There are a few things of his that are in my keeping. In some cases, they have been in my keeping a good long while. I use the phrase “In my keeping” deliberately because while they are not mine I am responsible for them while they are with me. In my keeping implies that I’m taking care of them for him.

Ownership and possession are interesting concepts. If you’re like me, you don’t take time to think about them very often. Perhaps it’s because as a people we’ve become so addicted to owning things and possessing things. We enjoy the luxury of ownership for so much that we easily dismiss irresponsibility and as both a right and privilege.

Throughout God’s Message we are reminded that possession and ownership are an illusion of this life. In God’s economy we own nothing. It all belongs to Him – every thing – everything. In God’s economy, I no more own any single thing I possess than my brother’s guitar which is in my keeping. But, like my brother’s guitar, every thing I possess is in my keeping. I am responsible for it.

Today, I’m grateful for all of that God has allowed to me have in my keeping. I am humbled to think how irresponsibly I have handled much of it. I am so blessed that the amount of things in my keeping is almost entirely up to me. I am reminded that the responsibility of having too many things in my keeping can take up so much time, energy and mindshare that I neglect more important, personal and eternal matters of my soul.

Day 10: Your Views on Drugs and Alcohol

A photo of a cup of coffee.
Image via Wikipedia

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 10: Your views on Drugs and Alcohol.

I find that people’s views on drugs and alcohol are largely shaped by their early experiences in their family of origin. In my family, adult beverages were consumed regularly but never to excess. My Grandpa Spec always enjoyed a “beer and a belt” at the end of the day referring to a glass of cold beer and a shot of Old Crow or whatever cheap whiskey he had in his shelf above the refrigerator. My Grandpa V enjoyed a tall little cordial of his favorite Cream Sherry before bed, and was known to make a Christmas fruit cake each year that was so doused in different liquors that it weighed about fifteen pounds and was inedible to everyone but the most adventurous souls. My folks would drink beer with certain meals and wine on special occasions. Moderation, responsibility and self-control with alcohol were modeled for me as a child and I have tried to model the same for my children.

I’ve never really been tempted by illegal substances. Drugs were never my deal. But I think that “drugs” has a much broader interpretation than we typically apply to it. I wonder at the hypocrisy I occasionally encounter with those who would zealously prohibit certain substances while refusing to acknowledge our addiction to others.

Sugar is a drug. It is a chemical to which our society is addicted. It creates a chemical reaction within our body leaving us with a false sense of pleasure and well being and it easily leaves us craving more and more until we are overweight, unhealthy diabetics. We scoff and criticize those who drink alcohol or those who would legalize pot while we snarf down another chocolate frosted sugar bomb at the church potluck. I don’t hear a lot of outcry about that.

Caffeine is also a drug. It is a stimulant that has a chemical effect on our body. It easily lures us into an unhealthy, even addictive cycle of being so stimulated we don’t rest well. We’re tired and strung out from not sleeping well so we return to our sugary caffeinated coffee or “energy” drinks . Not only do we refuse to acknowledge this, but we culturally promote it and celebrate it.

I’m reminded of the words of St. Paul when he said all things are permissable, but not all things are beneficial. All things are permissable, but we should not be mastered by any of them. Responsibility, moderation, self-control.

Would you like cream and sugar with that?

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Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 5

“When you are guilty, immediately confess the sin that you’ve committed and bring as your penalty to God for the sin you have committed a female lamb or goat from the flock for an Absolution-Offering.” Leviticus 5:5 (MSG)

A guilty conscience is a killer. It robs you of sleep. It ties your gut into knots. It gnaws at your thoughts. A person may be able to keep a lid on a guilty conscience for a time, but it will eat away at your soul until the guilt starts oozing out of your life in unexpected, often unhealthy ways.

When those burdened by addictions walk through the Twelve Steps, they are really walking through a systematic process of confession and atonement. The Twelve Steps are rooted in the understanding that our addictions are unhealthy ways we’ve habitually and ritualistically tried to medicate and cope with deeper guilt and pain. Through introspection, admission and making amends, we deal with the deeper issues which led us to our addictive behaviors.

The cool thing about the ancient law of Leviticus is that it presents and attempts to deal with core spiritual, relational, and personal issues with which we continue as human beings to struggle today. The prescription may look very different on this side of history, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the empty tomb, but the issues with which we silly humans grapple at the root of it are the same ones they were wrestling with 3500 years ago.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and evilerin