Friday, August 31, 2012

Monks to the rescue

(Continued from yesterday...)

The afternoon came and we decided that it was time to finally get somewhat clean.  We took soap and shampoo and towels and headed down to the stream at the base of our hill.  We looked up and down and saw no one around, and cautiously started trying to bathe as discreetly as possible.  The guard who had seen us the first night had checked on us earlier that morning and told us that this was a safer place to camp since on the other side of the stream, behind more trees, were the high walls of the temple monastery where the monks lived and trained.  They were high ranking martial arts monks who competed with other Buddhist monasteries around the country and were well known for their expertise.

Wow, real Shaolin Monks!  I thought that kind of thing only existed in cheesy Chinese movies, but sure enough we were right next door to champion black-belts! He told us that if we needed anything we could call on them and they'd help us out.  Well, we had no intention of needing Bruce Lees of any sort, and we really had no intention of bathing in front of monks either, but knowing that monks had made a vow of celibacy and forswore all worldly temptations, we probably wouldn't see much of them anyway - they were too busy praying, fasting and chopping cinderblocks in half with their bare hands.

At night we rustled up a campfire, cooked our dinner, roasted some marshmallows, and slept under the bright shining stars surrounded by a peaceful forest and the ground seemed much less lumpy and my little orange tent much less pitiful than the night before.  We were all getting along well, and adjusting to life in the wilderness.

The next day after breakfast and prayer and cleaning up in the stream, we decided to go for a hike through the woods and up one of the closer hills.  It was fun and we wondered what we would do in the afternoon to entertain ourselves.  Lunchtime came and we were all feeling pretty good.  My swollen arm was slowly turning from bright purple to greenish-yellow, and I was handling the pain much better.  We had been pretty vigilant about making sure that someone was always at the campsite to watch our things if others went off to wash or hike.  But this time we were in such good spirits, and didn't want to give anyone washing-up duty.  We decided to all go down to the river for each to wash her own plates so we could get it done quickly.  We hadn't seen anyone walk by since we pitched camp there, so ten minutes at the stream wouldn't be a problem.

I was the first to finish washing and head back.  When I came up the hill, I saw a head of black hair bent down behind one tent.

"Sandy?  Sandy is that you?"  I asked, knowing that I had just seen her at the stream a moment ago.

Up popped a face from behind the tent.  A Korean man was staring at me, and I froze.  Then I began to shout.  He tore off running into the woods and I didn't know whether I should chase after him or run for help.  He obviously was up to no good the way he had run off.

"Hey guys!! There was a man at our campsite!  Guys!!"  I ran back to the stream shouting for everyone to come.  They scrambled back and Coach Gustafson told everyone to search their things and see if anything was missing.  Sure enough, about $50 worth of Korean money was stolen from one girl and a camera from another.  Apparently there had been a thief watching us the whole time, just waiting for the moment he could move in and take what he could.  It was a horrible feeling.

So now what?  The monks!  The kung-fu, sunmudo, taekwondo monks!  Beth and I raced over to the monastery to tell them what happened, but just as we got there, we found them in their afternoon prayers.  We waited around, and waited and wondered what the protocol was for interrupting Buddhist prayers.  We didn't want to seem disrespectful, but we had an emergency!  Eventually after a long wait one of the other girls were able to let them know what happened, and our neighbor monks were incredibly helpful.  They told us not to worry, to interrupt them during prayers if we needed anything.  (For future reference, in case any of my readers are in the position that they might need to interrupt a Buddhist at prayer, just go right ahead.  It's okay. Really!)

As fast as a flash, a group of monks gathered and called all of us to split up and follow them to run through the forest and see if we could catch the thief.  Without having a chance to think, I tore off after one who ran like a cross-country racer over rocks and boulders, leaping and climbing and leading me through winding pathways as if it was something he did every day.  It didn't take long before I was gasping for breath, I just couldn't keep up.  I was scared that if I lost sight of my monk, I would have no idea how to get back to camp.  He saw me lagging behind and felt sorry for me.  He gave up the chase and turned back to lead me back to the others, who were also panting from their excursions into the forest as well.

No luck finding the guy, they would have to send someone down to the local town to contact the police.  They had no phone at the monastery - too worldly, I suppose.  So off ran a young monk to report our robbery.  They apologized and were truly sorry for what had happened, and blamed themselves for not having kept a closer eye on us.  We didn't tell them that we didn't really want anyone's eye on us, but we appreciated their concern.

Well after the drama of the afternoon, the sun was preparing to set and we built another campfire to cook our dinner.  As the shadows grew longer and the stars started to appear, no one wanted to go into the bushes to use the bathroom for the last time.  What once had been a very private thing, was now something that we all wanted to do together, holding hands!!

"My gosh, this guy must have been watching us the whole time!  Gross!"

Well, no one can hold the call of nature forever, so we all fearfully did what had to be done and ran back to the campfire as quickly as possible.  As or fire slowly went out, we all bundled together in a tight circle on the grass.  What looked like peaceful trees last night were now menacing arms of shadowy monsters ready to snatch us.  Our imaginations started to go wild.  Where was this guy, is he coming back?  Will he attack us in the middle of the night?  What did he see when he was here?  Does he have other thieves that are conspiring to do worse?  We prayed, but none of us had peace that our prayer would do any good.  Our emotions were far too wild to use faith at that time.

As the fire went out, we huddled closer.  The night was so dark, and the shadows around us were swaying and menacing. No one wanted to go into their tents.  We smashed together.  We were one solid blob of trembling teenage fear, and our fearless coach was just as scared as we were!

And then, all of a sudden we heard a sound.  It was coming from the bushes on the right.  We heard it again, and again.  And then footsteps.  And the noise grew louder.  It was a violent sound, like something slashing through the underbrush.  At first we thought we were imagining things, but the closer it got, there was no doubt about it - there was something or someone coming straight for us.
With one terrified voice, we screamed!

We saw the bushes knocked from one side to the other as he stepped out into the clearing, carrying his long bamboo pole.  It was one of the monks.  Instead of the normal robes, he had on a white tank-top and the traditional grey pants they wore under their robes tied tight with a cloth belt.  He saw how scared we were, and bowed and apologized for frightening us.  He introduced himself politely and asked us if we wouldn't mind if he showed us some of his martial arts skills with the bamboo pole since he was about to compete at another monastery in the morning.

A friendly monk with a weapon?  Ready to entertain us with martial arts on our own hillside?  Of course!! We all shouted yes, huddled together, and enjoyed his performance.  He took his position at the bottom of the hill and we marveled as his bamboo pole twirled and swung around him and up in the air with ease and skill.  We asked him why he wasn't in his monastery, and discovered that he had snuck out past his curfew, dying of curiosity to see the American girls and show off his prowess.  He was the youngest of the monks there.  Well, we didn't want him getting into trouble on our account, but we sure were thankful that he had shown up!

"Would you like to see me with num chucks?" He asked eagerly.  He'd brought those with him too, and we cheered him on as he whirled those around with amazing speed.  Korean martial arts do not traditionally use num chucks, but somehow he had gotten some.  I guess he used to watch plenty of cheesy Chinese movies too - before he became a monk! That was the first time I had ever seen them used and we were all deeply impressed. We clapped and thanked him and thanked God for sending him to us to alleviate our uncontrollable fears.

He finally ended the show and had to sneak back into his monastery without being caught, so we reluctantly said good night, and felt a whole lot better about going into our tents to sleep.  We had prayed for God to protect us, and out of the wilderness, He brought forth unto us... a monk with num chucks!  We'd been so emotional, I don't think we had a lot of faith at the time.  I'm guessing that the protection of God had more to do with our moms and dads praying for us back home than anything else, but God took great care of us nonetheless.

So still with a bit of trepidation and worry, we slid into our sleeping bags and fell into deep sleep.  It had been a very eventful day.  And more eventful days were still to come...

More tomorrow:)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

We find Narnia and I question my faith

Bomosa temple, South Korea
(Continued from yesterday...)

It was past midnight and I slept fitfully, uncomfortable on the hard ground beneath my sleeping bag and the closeness of my tent.  I was in my normal state of feeling sorry for myself and wishing that I was a totally different person - the kind that always did things right.  I was convinced there were a lot of those kinds of people around, while I was the odd exception.

But there was a part of me that knew that whatever embarrassment or discomfort I had to go through, I had to do this.  I had to face this experience and believe it would be good for me.  The greatest shame was not what I was going through (which, thinking about it now, was so minor that it wasn't worth all the angst) but the thought of becoming a whiner and giving up and turning back. According to my standards, that would be an unforgivable shame.  Giving up was for losers, and though I might be a mess-up from time to time, one thing I wasn't, was a loser.  I had to make the best of the embarrassment and push forward.

Hours of discomfort had passed, and when it seemed like I finally drifted off into a real sleep, I noticed an intense warm light glowing all around me, even through my closed eyelids.  It was my tent, radiantly orange in the morning sunlight, practically blinding me in my sleep.  I was exhausted, but I couldn't take laying in what felt like a fireball.  I was up and dreary eyed, wanting a nice clean bathroom, but instead having to stumble off to a bush to hide behind with a roll of toilet paper in hand.  Nowhere to brush our teeth, we hadn't showered for over 24 hours and it didn't look like were would get clean any time soon.

Coach Gustafson was up and raring to break camp. "This is the worst camping trip I have ever been on," she said, "There are no campsites in this place, we've got to find a better place to pitch our tents.  This is awful."

No one had eaten since the train trip, but she was determined to find another spot to settle in and then eat our breakfast.  So with our tents folded and repacked, we hefted those heavy bags back onto our sore backs and started hiking again.  My arm was feeling really painful, and was so swollen underneath that it felt as if someone had implanted a baseball under my upper arm.  But I was not going to be a whiner, so I marched.  We climbed higher as the sun shone brighter and hardly anyone talked.

At the time I didn't see any spiritual lesson or revelation from God, but He was speaking and teaching me some valuable things through the trip and many more were yet to come before the week ended.  I was completely unaware that my determination to go through shame, pain and discouragement was an act of faith.  Faith that God would see me through this and that He would work out the rest.  My determination was just a simple attitude, not a great spiritual gesture, yet it allowed God to start turning things around for me and teaching me about what is possible when you step out in faith.  I didn't feel very spiritual, but I was connecting with God doing what I believed I had to do.  I suppose all those Sunday school lessons on perseverance and doing the right thing were so embedded in me that I didn't see any other option.

We finally got to a spot where we decided to pull out some of our food rations and eat a bit of breakfast.  We sat on a hillside with some boulders for seats, and ate.  With a beautiful view of the valley and some food in our stomachs, everyone's mood changed, and smiles came back on everyone's faces.  I was getting hot and decided to use just the t-shirt that was under my sweatshirt.  As I pulled off my top layer, the girls gasped to see my deformed arm.  It had turned an intense shade of reddish purple, and every vein and capillary was visible on the badly swollen spot between my elbow and shoulder.

Coach was the most shocked at the sight - all of a sudden her voice became tender and caring as she inspected my arm.  "Are you going to be okay?  Do you think it might be broken?  Should we take you to a hospital?" She asked with genuine concern.

No, I was fine, I said.  It wasn't broken, just badly bruised.  And anyway, how was I supposed to go to a hospital without my parent's documents or money out in the middle of nowhere?  I saw a look of approval on Coach's face.  I was being brave and she was proud of me for it.  At that moment the whole burden of guilt and embarrassment vanished, and I felt validated that a tough lady like her could be proud of a mess-up like me.

We kept on hiking and looking for a better spot after breakfast, and finally we found it - the perfect place.  It was a grassy clearing on the side of a hill, close to a babbling stream where we could wash our things and ourselves.  It felt private and tucked away far from the noisy temple area.  And then Rachel and Naomi began to shout.

"Look, look!  It's Narnia, we're in Narnia!  Look at those mountains, it looks just like Cair Paravel where the kings and queens of Narnia have their thrones!"

Sure enough a beautiful mountain among many others was directly across from our little hillside, and atop that mountain was a huge rocky outcropping that looked like it could be a palace.  We decided that the next day we all had to climb it and see the rest of our lovely Narnia.

We pitched our tents again, sure that this was the best place ever, and decided to do some exploring.  Coach Gustafson had never seen a Buddhist temple, and was curious to know what it was like.  A few girls chose to stay behind and rest at camp to keep an eye on our stuff, while others of us went with her to look at the ancient buildings with their ornately painted statues.  

Most of us on this trip were raised in Korea, and though our missionary parents were there to spread the gospel and win new converts to Christ, we were all taught to have a respect for the traditional religions there.  Of course they were false gods, but making fun of them or even feeling fearful or disgust with them was not acceptable.  The Koreans worshipped these things according to traditions that had formed over hundreds of years, and many had never known any other god to worship.  Buddhism was all over Korea, as well as animism - the worship of the spirits of nature.  It was so ordinary for us, we didn't even think twice about it. So it was an interesting experience to watch the reactions of our coach as she took it all in for the first time.

The entrance to the temple held huge, grotesquely scary statues on both sides, considered to be "temple guardians" painted with bulging angry eyes and lifting spears and swords as if they were ready to impale anyone who walked through.  They would supposedly scare away evil spirits.  From there we went from one hall to another where different Buddhas and gods stood or sat in different positions, all with incense burning around them and coins of offerings tossed at their feet by their worshippers.  Some had a few silent followers from the local town bowing and praying to them, mumbling and holding prayer beads or throwing a rounded kind of dice like object to determine if the Buddha was giving them a yes or a no to their request. Shaven headed monks in their grey robes hung around, doing whatever monks were supposed to do.

Coach Gustafson was deeply disturbed by what she saw.  She was angry, sad, and felt such agony to see these people praying to carving that they believed to be a god.  I had never seen anyone react like that before.  It was as if her heart ached for their souls.  What I thought would be just a fun trip to see a historic site, turned out to be a sobering time to reflect on what real faith was, and what was wrong with me that I had seen Buddhists worshipping at their statues hundreds of times in my life and had never cared one way or another about them.  What kind of Christian doesn't care? What kind of a faith did I really have?

As we made our way back to camp, I wondered what else we would do, and whether this would turn out to be boring trip now that we had settled in.  I was completely wrong.  There was so much more yet to happen, and so much that God wanted to show me.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The journey goes south

Continued from yesterday...

We all piled into the rickety old train packed with Korean travelers heading to different destinations along the Seoul - Pusan express line.  Families with little kids, farmers, workers, old grandmas going to visit relatives in the countryside, stared at us and laughed as they saw the bunch of American girls with their blond leader heave their heavy backpacks onto the over head racks and settle in for a five hour long ride.

It was spring and the breeze was just right, as our opened windows let us watch the cityscape and then the countryside fly by.  It was easy to forget that once we arrived at our destination we had no idea what we would find or where we would eat or sleep.  We were on a high school camping adventure and we were going to have fun. We had packed sandwiches and drinks for the trip and Coach Gustafson would surely know exactly what to do when we got there.  She was the grown up, we were the kids.  That's the way it was supposed to work.

Hours had gone by, and it was my turn to sit by the window and stare out at the passing rice fields.  I wasn't enjoying school that year, I wasn't happy about myself, I didn't like my teachers, I had a feeling that my friends weren't really my friends, and I always lived in a constant state of feeling guilty for not being good enough.  I never knew why I felt that, but it had become my identity.  I was the girl who wasn't good enough.  So this trip that let me just gaze out and feel the breeze on my face with my elbow resting on the window's edge for hours in silence, was a perfect escape from the awkward unhappiness of my soul.

And then without a moment's thought, the heavy glass train window framed with steel, came crashing down on my arm.  The window was heavy, and my friends screamed and rushed to pull it upwards.  They couldn't budge it.  Some Korean men ran to my rescue and with some struggle lifted it from my arm.  The place on my bicep where it had fallen was pinched down to the bone from top to bottom, as if all the muscle and tissue had been pushed to either side of the injury.  My arm was free, but the shape of my arm looked as if it was in an invisible vice grip.  It was painful, but I was in shock and just grateful that it hadn't broken.  Coach gave me some ice from her cooler to keep it from swelling, but in an hour's time it had swollen quite large.  "Great," I thought, "Not only is everyone going to be mad at me because I have a crummy tent, I'll be an invalid for the rest of the trip."

But there was no turning back.  We were just an hour or so away from Pusan Station.

It was late afternoon when we all piled out of the train, tired, grumpy and in the mood for a bath and a soft sofa to watch our favorite TV shows before our moms called us to dinner.  But home was hundreds of miles away.  We still had to find the temple, hike through the grounds, find a campsite, pitch tents, make our first meal and figure out how we'd be able to brush our teeth and tidy up before we climbed into our sleeping bags.  And then there was... the tent.

We asked around and found a local bus to take us to the temple.  It was packed.  When we got there, we found out why.  It was a Buddhist holiday and the whole area was covered with people celebrating with picnics and lanterns and music and lots and lots of noise.  Coach Gustafson, the avid camper from Minnesota, was not amused.

The base of the Buddhist temple was in a valley surrounded by many rolling hills.  To get away from all the people, we'd have to hike uphill with our full backpacks, as the sun was quickly going down and our bodies were ready to give up for the day.  So we shouldered our burdens and started hiking up and up the windy dirt paths, having to move to the sides as happy singing Buddhists - many of whom were drunk - would be coming down the mountains and passing us with lots of exclamations of "Hello how are you!" Seeing American girls hiking up their mountains was such a surprise and a great chance to practice the little English they were taught in school, that we were bombarded with friendly greetings and curious stares the whole way.

We finally got to the end of one path, only to find many more nighttime picnics going on with lanterns and much singing and dancing.  The Korean Buddhists looked like they were just getting warmed up for the night.

Miss Gustafson was a good coach, but she was a young woman in her early 20's who was feeling the weight of her responsibility pretty heavily.  She was in charge of all us girls, but she had to depend on us to translate and navigate for her. This was not Minnesota - not at all!  Her frustration caused us - me in particular - to feel really insecure.  If she didn't know what was going on, we were sunk.

Eventually a temple guard must have found out about the strange foreign girls wandering around, and he came to find out what we were doing.  Camping?  Here?  Well, as far as he was concerned, we were a liability.  Having daughters of foreigners exposed to any kind of danger on their property could become a serious problem for their reputation.  He insisted that we pitch our tents right where we were standing and not move a step further.  He wanted us to be where he felt we would be safe.  It was not at all a pleasant place to be, but we were all tired and it was pitch black in the countryside.  The only light we had was of the distant lanterns of the partiers and our little flashlights.  Coach found a small flat spot on a nearby hill and guided us there to spend our first night.

The moon came out and it was time to unpack our tents.  Sandy, Alice, Rachel and Naomi and the rest pulled out their dad's tents and started setting them up.  It was the moment of truth.  I pulled out my little orange pup-tent with no floor and bright yellow nylon ropes and did my very best to make it look respectable.  I rammed the tent poles into the ground, stretched out the cheap nylon fabric, pulled and yanked my ropes as tight and straight as I could and hammered my plastic pegs into place.  But no matter how much I stretched, hammered or pulled, my little orange pup-tent sagged and tipped to the side like a sad cartoon.

Everyone was too busy with their own stuff, that no one noticed me.  That is until Coach Gustafson turned around and saw me struggling, just as the moon shone bright through the clouds and asked in a loud, coach-like voice.

"You call that a tent, Sansom!!?  You said you were getting a good quality army tent - what happened?"

And then all eyes were on my disgrace.  I wanted to die.  But who wants to die in the middle of nowhere surrounded by partying Buddhists?  No, I'd have to just grit my teeth and go through the shame. I told everyone the story about the friend who wasn't allowed to take the tent he had set aside for me off the army base, so I was stuck with buying the only thing that resembled a tent that I could find.  I might as well have just brought a sheet and thrown it over a ladder to sleep under.  But Coach was already mad about everything, and all the other girls had claimed the nicer tents they wanted to sleep in.  I would be alone in my orange envelope - so I thought.

Nancy, one of the sweetest, kindest-hearted girls I ever knew looked over at me and said, "That's okay Evelyn, I'll share your tent with you.  It looks just fine to me!  I think orange is a great color!"  That was the most thoughtful, unselfish gesture that anyone had ever shown me in my young life.  So Nancy and I unrolled our sleeping bags and crawled as carefully and gingerly as possible into position, just hoping and praying that our tent wouldn't collapse on top of us during the night.  I prayed, and wished that I would wake up at home and this would all be a bad dream.

More tomorrow....

Monday, August 27, 2012

Life lessons learned from camping at a Buddhist temple

Seoul Korea, 1977
When I was 16, I had one of the most amazing camping trips of my life.  I had gone on lots of fun excursions with my family before, but this one sticks out in my mind as one of the highlights of my teenage years.

The background is, I was a missionary's daughter, born and raised in Korea, attending a school built by American missionaries for children of foreigners in Korea.  Most of my friends were other American missionary kids who had been born and raised with me there.  Every spring, our school took a break from normal classes had a week or two of extracurricular activities that were meant to be learning experiences.  There were cooking classes, Chinese calligraphy lessons, archery lessons, tours of ancient Korean burial grounds, sports activities, bike rides to the closest island, and all kinds of fun stuff we could choose from.  In my junior year, our girls P.E. coach, Miss Gustafson, was chaperoning a girls week-long camping trip somewhere in Korea.  Miss Gustafson was from Minnesota and recently employed in our school and had no idea that camping in Korea would be a challenge.  We who were familiar with the country knew it was going to be rough, and we all looked to her and her expertise and great enthusiasm for the outdoors to make it fun.  

We were teenagers, used to our parents planning everything.  If a grown-up said something was going to happen, we didn't really think much about how it would happen, because it always somehow did.  We met after school in the girls' locker room to decide what to bring, how we were going to cook, who had sleeping bags and tents and where our campground would be.  Poor Miss Gustafson was shocked to find out that camping supplies were basically nonexistent, few of us had tents, canned food was expensive, and Korea in 1977 had nothing remotely close to an American or European style campground, anywhere.

Korea had been destroyed during the Korean war, and so much overpopulation kept the country in a state of just trying to find space for everyone to live.  Many people lived in shacks and eked out a living selling seafood, trinkets, coals for cooking, and anything that would keep their families fed.  The first main highway connecting the two major cities had recently been built, and Korea was full of dirt and gravel roads that wound through hills and mountains that were either solid rock faces or terraced into rice paddies.  It was amazing to see how any plot of land could be taken and made habitable by people desperate for a place to live.

So since our fearless leader had no idea how to plan for a camping trip in this strange land, it was up to us girls to figure out where we should camp.  We asked our parents who laughed at the idea of camping in a country still a bit war torn, and with no structure whatsoever to accommodate camping foreigners.  Someone's dad came up with the Buddhist temple grounds that lay outside the city of Pusan, a five hour train ride from the capital of Seoul, where we lived.  "Are there campgrounds there?" asked our coach.  "No, but the Buddhist temple has a lot of land, we could probably find some place to pitch our tents..." Of course no thought was given to getting a permit, notifying anyone, even looking at a map to see where we might be going. Coach Gustafson was clueless, and so were we.   We knew we'd have to catch a train, ride for hours and hours, then find our way to the temple and that was about as far as we could figure.  But who cared - we were going camping!

The day dawned bright and early and we all had our backpacks loaded with cans of food, clothes, pans and plates and forks, flashlights, and everything we thought we'd need.  About 12 of us were meeting at the Seoul Train Station for our train to Pusan.  My dad helped hoist the backpack out of the trunk of the car and set it on my shoulders and gave me a hug good-bye.  I stood there and thought of how unbearably heavy this thing was and wondered how I was going to actually hike with it for the next week.  I had promised to borrow a US Army tent from a GI friend of my parents at the local military post.  Coach Gustafson was counting on that tent.  I didn't have the guts to tell her that the friend didn't come through with his promise.  My mom had taken me to the closest thing that our town had of a camping store and we found the worst looking bright orange tent I had ever seen.  The tent pegs were cheap quality, there was no floor to it, there were tiny aluminum stakes that bent at the slightest pressure, and it was small.  Real small.

"Hey Sansom (my maiden name) you got the tent?" asked Coach.

"Yeah, I got it right here in my backpack," I said as confidently as I could.

I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that when we opened up all of our tents at night, that I would be in big trouble.  But it was still morning and who knows, maybe something amazing would happen before then.  Maybe someone will see us in the train and just hand us a free tent.  Maybe my tent would transform into a beautiful all-weather, high quality piece of camping gear. Maybe everybody else's tents were just as lousy as mine and no one would know the difference.  Too late now, the train had pulled into the station and it was time to board.

More tomorrow...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fill in the gap, anyone?

I've been listening to podcasts about the lives great men of faith in history who impacted the world in powerful ways, from the first men who translated the Bible into common languages, to others who had to fight against the established churches of their time to bring the gospel to the ordinary people of their lands.  It's been fascinating, and yet somehow sad as well.

Here were men like John Wesley who started a revolution, a Great Awakening, or George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon who were considered massive influences in the advancement of the gospel, but practically each one had strange drawbacks in their lives.  Spurgeon had anxiety attacks and severe depression.  Whitefield had painful gout and at times could barely stand.  Wesley had marriage problems that left him miserable and poor.  How could it be that such servants of God could be so plagued with problems?

There's a mindset - a paradigm (for those of you who'd like to add a new word to your vocabulary:) among Christians that fighting the good fight of faith only includes fighting against sin, injustice, unbelief and anything that blocks the gospel from being preached.  No true Christian would argue against any of those things.  But there was a huge gap in their beliefs when it came to confronting evil spirits attacking them in their personal lives.

When Jesus encountered the poor woman bent over double in the synagogue, He rebuked the evil spirit that was in her.  How did He know that a common problem of osteoporosis in an old woman was a spirit?  Why wasn't He just sweet and kind and feel sorry for her like most "good" Christians are taught to do to the sick and infirm?  Why did Jesus speak against the fever that afflicted Peter's mother-in-law?  But the biggest question is, why did this concept of rebuking evil spirits disappear from the Early Church?  Only during the Pentecostal movement in the early 1900's did people begin to believe in healing - and though there were many legitimate healings, a lot of quacks and charlatans came along to create havoc so that now, the idea of a faith healer is nothing but a joke.

The fact that these great influential men had no clue that they were being attacked spiritually and could be healed and set free says a lot about the huge gap that exists in most Christians belief system today.  It's that gap that allows people who don't believe to ask, "Why would a good God allow good people to suffer?"  And the typical Christian answers with, "God works in mysterious ways. We must learn patience and faith through adversity."  And because of these vague and comfortless answers, a good many former Christians have just drifted away from faith completely.  No one could reconcile their life with what they read in the Bible any more.

Is that all there is to it?  Of course God teaches us through adversity, that's basic Christianity 101.  But doesn't He ask us to put on our armor and fight? Aren't we supposed to drive out demons, heal the sick and raise the dead?  How about doing even greater things than Him?

I'd say that it's time we close this gap.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Diligently doing less

Hey, howya doin'?

Busy, real busy!

Yeah, I know how that goes... Later!

That's the common interchange among friends these days, more so than, "I'm fine, and how are you?" as  taught to our parents or grandparents generations ago.  To announce how busy you are is cool. It sounds like humble complaining while actually being a pronouncement of your awesomeness.  You are in demand, indispensable, and therefore important.

These qualities are definitely virtuous - being diligent, hard working, a good steward of time and resources, productive and fruitful.  We associate all of those things with a good person who fills their life with lots and lots of things to do.  Busy people walk fast, talk fast, give orders, keep lists, redo lists, rehash old decisions, keep up production and micromanage.

Not only that, they need to be mentally and emotionally pushed to the edge every day.  Because they are people of great responsibility, they have to be anxious and worried, slightly angry and frustrated, otherwise nothing will get done right.  Right?

But like I mentioned a post or two ago, we are commanded, not just urged, to be anxious for NOTHING.  No anxiety, no worry, no obsessive compulsive behavior.  Nada.  So if you are now entertaining visions of unemployed, unwashed laid-back hippies, you're not quite there yet.  Keep reading.

So we're supposed to be diligent and fruitful, yet simultaneously forbidden to be anxious or worried.  The only way to do that is to understand the power of living in constant connection with God.  We're under His grace.  Not a cheap grace where we can pass off our selfishness with the excuse that God forgives us anyway, but knowing where our limitations are and trusting Him implicitly for the things that need to be done beyond those boundaries.

Understanding grace is knowing that God wants to bless us so much more than we do ourselves.  We may agonize over how small the return is for our work, that we're doing it for God, that we have the right motives, that we're working soooo hard and trying our very best, so why doesn't God bless it?  Do we need to work more?  Sacrifice more sleep? No matter what we can end up feeling so guilty that we are letting God down, that we're being unproductive and bad people, and go into panic mode.  If not panic, at least self-condemnation mode.

We want so much to be fruitful, but all our focus is on ourselves.  Fruit is borne naturally, not with grunts and gasps.  There is hard work that goes into the bearing of fruit, which is caring and nurturing a tree until it is ready to bud and bloom.  But the real work is often in the patience, care and faith that the tree will indeed bear.  There is a life force outside of the farmer that bears the fruit.  His reward comes from his nurturing, and nothing more.

When we just listen to God and have the courage to do the scary things He often asks us to do, we are given the task of nurturing and caring for something that He fully intends to bear fruit.  But when we get carried away with worrying and micromanaging everything that we imagine might go wrong, we're trying to do God's job.  We want to bear the fruit ourselves and get frustrated when its not happening the way we wanted according to our convenience.

Joseph Lampier knew that God wanted to revive souls in New York City more than he did.  But the revival wasn't his business.  In fact the bringing of people to the church on a Wednesday afternoon wasn't his business either.  It was his business to diligently invite, pray and care about the millions who were in need of God.  He was just asked to nurture the miracle with his faith and obedience. God did the rest.    

Sometimes we get so busy being proud of being busy, that we mess up all that God would rather have us do.  Sometimes less busywork and more nurturing of our faith is all that God needs for us to get out of His way to finally answer our prayers.  Less is more.

So when you're next asked, "Howya doin'?"  You can say, "Fine, just fine!"

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Extraordinary change that comes from ordinary people

New York City, 1857, a businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier wanted to do more for God.  He volunteered his free time to help his church, evangelize, give out flyers and talk to the many unemployed who loitered in the streets every day.  He'd go to the poorest neighborhoods and give his best to save souls.  But the exhaustion would wear on him, and he knew he needed to be revived.  So he'd stop in the empty church and sit and cry out for God's Spirit to renew his strength and vision.  The thought came to him that so many other men in that city were probably feeling the same thing.  Overburdened at work, full of anxiety and worry about their jobs, families and responsibilities - they needed to be revived as well.

So Jeremiah printed up 20,000 flyers announcing a noon-day prayer and handed them all out by himself throughout the businesses and offices of Manhattan.  It was September 23, the day of the first prayer meeting.  He walked into the same empty church, and sat down alone.  He waited and wondered if anyone would come.  Eventually five other men showed up, and they prayed.  The next week, twenty came, the next week 40 came, and each following week, more and more joined them.  It was nothing more than men who were confessing to God with their simple act of coming to that meeting that they needed Him.  Hearts and minds began to turn to God more than Jeremiah ever expected, and the weekly meeting became a daily noontime prayer that didn't just fill the church where he was, but over 100 churches in New York were packed every day at noon with men and women crying out to God.  This even spilled over to other major cities around the US.

Who knows if the statistics are correct, but it is said that there were over 10,000 conversions a week in New York at that time.  Along the Hudson River north of the city, some Baptist churches had so many people asking to be baptized, they even had to chop holes in the solid ice of the river to baptize them then and there in that freezing water - talk about dying to your flesh!

When we listen to the voice of God and simply obey, He moves.  A fruit tree does not bear fruit with grunts and agonizing effort, just naturally as God intended.  I believe there is so much more fruit that we could be bearing for God's Kingdom if we stopped running around trying to force things to happen by our own strength and just simply obey and have the courage to take the risks that He asks of us.  Read tomorrow - I'll explain more of what I mean.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Fulfilling the Unmet Need

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” 
― C.S. Lewis

Every human need has a corresponding thing or experience to fulfill that need.  We get hungry, food exists to satisfy us.  We're thirsty, and water and drink is there to quench it.  Our bodies and minds feel tired, and sleep solves the problem. We feel cold, and clothing warms us.  But what about that deep yearning to be loved, forgiven, and to know our purpose in life?  Family and friends, education, even falling in love and marriage can attempt to fill that void, but the yearning never stops.  There's the yearning to know that all the evil and wrongs that we see around us will be made right somehow, that the pain we experience and see in others can be healed.  What amount of human justice and activism can solve all of that?

Why would this deep yearning exist if there was nothing to satisfy it?  The most popular solution is to just ignore the yearning.  Pretend it doesn't mean anything, or throw that yearning a few scraps of human effort to feel good about yourself that you're making the world a better place.  There are plenty of people walking the earth who have convinced themselves that their yearning is a waste of time to dwell on, or that it's nothing more than boredom that's crying out for something to do.  That's why entertainment and distractions have such a strong hold on us, they drown out that inner cry to be fulfilled.

Mr. Lewis said it so well, we were made for another world.  We were created to be fulfilled, filled and overflowing with a life force that comes from outside our physical existence.  And not just to feel good about ourselves but to be used to start healing and fighting evil.  To reveal the power and goodness of heaven to all the world through the new creation that we can become.

Look at your typical crowd in any given shopping mall.  Everyone has that yearning, everyone has that void. But because the world has become so shiny and slick and fancy, loud and artificial. their yearnings becomes drowned out.  They are there in each heart, ignored, but there.

So what is going on with those who say they have finally found the answer to their yearning are too busy or embarrassed to share it, and they fall for the lie that no one really wants it.  If what the rest of the world has found to stuff into their empty hearts is really satisfying them, then evil would have no room to continue it's destruction of lives, and the world would become a wonderful place.  Any evidence of that going on?

This morning I loved the message of John 7:38, that we'll be more than satisfied, we'll be used to pour God's Spirit and power out to everyone else around us.  If you've really found the answer, found God and found His new life, nothing can hold you back.  Like a tidal wave or a tsunami.  A life that's just better, more in order, more spiritual is not even close to what Jesus was saying.  Your yearning is not yet satisfied.  Keep looking.

"He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Letting it grow on you...

They walked into the class and took a seat.  Twenty or so minutes had already gone by and my husband was well into the topic of the day.  I didn't recognize them from the first session, but then again, I hadn't had a chance to get to know most of the people that had signed up for that particular marriage course.  About fifteen minutes later, she whispered to her husband who had been sitting and listening, and out they both went. Later I found out that she felt confused and lost, didn't understand what was being taught, handed back their workbooks and demanded their money back.  So much for the Succeed in Marriage course for them.

There is probably much more to their story than just feeling out of place, but it reminded me of what can distinguish people who learn, from people who remain stuck in their ruts.  This goes beyond school or the courses that we offer, just life in general. Funny how common sense, logical conclusions can make all the difference.

If I want to learn, I have the choice to tell myself:

  • Showing up on time always helps, but even if I don't, there's a good chance that I might eventually catch the drift of what's going on if I'm patient.
  • If a large number of other people have benefitted from learning this, there is a good chance that I may benefit as well.
  • Learning to fix a serious and ongoing problem (like a marriage, or a broken relationship with God) will require the use of tools and approaches that I probably have not yet considered.
  • This fix will also require that I put aside my preconceived assumptions and listen first before judging.
  • If I don't get it the first time around, I have the option to ask questions and seek out specific advice
  • The fact that I don't quite get what's being explained is not a personal attack on my intelligence.  In  other words - I'm not stupid because I don't understand, and I can't assume that others see me as stupid either.
  • My problem already humiliates me - what's the harm in humbling myself to learn how to solve it?
  • I traveled long and far to get here, I paid, and I'm sticking around to really see if this will help me!

Learning new information or a new teaching is rarely like a giant light bulb that switches on in your head - a blast of illumination.  It's more like a creeping moss that grows on you over time.  First it's strange and different, then after you hear or read about it a while, your imagination begins to piece together how it could function for you.  Then real life situations unfold that present the chance to test out this information, and know for sure if it's true and viable.  Only then does it really make sense.  And even so, this new revelation can easily be forgotten over time and with plenty of distractions.  The moss can recede. That truth will need to be reinforced and rediscovered many times over to really stick.

A group of young ladies, eager to be inspired, rushed to buy the book that had been recommended.  A week later they gave me their scathing review.  "Mrs. Evelyn, it was weeeeeiiiirrrd.  I didn't like it at all.  It was boring."

"No," I reply, "it's very deep, you have to give it some time."  But their heads were already shaking in disagreement.  Conclusion: if they, of sound mind and stellar intelligence, deem a book to be weird, it is therefore weird for eternity, no matter what anyone older or more experienced may tell them.

*Sigh*  I remember that I have been just as guilty of using the same logic on others - what goes around comes around!

So though our impulses look for the lightbulb, those rare moments of brilliant inspiration.  But when they happen they are often found at the tail and of a long slow period of looking, seeking, and asking.  A lot of asking.  Lightbulbs are fun, exciting and flashy, but the wise know how to let things grow on them.  Like moss.

For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7:7

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Grow Up and Go Home!

I'm sure this is making its way around the internet, but even so, I thought it deserved a special post.  Written 53 years ago, these words of wisdom from a judge in Denver, Colorado, ring just as true today.  

In our age of extremes where parents either ignore their children or overindulge them, few public figures today have the courage to stand up and give it to them straight.  Judge Philip B. Gilliam of Denver Colorado wrote this in his local newspaper in 1959.  If you have kids, maybe you'd like to frame this and hang it on their walls!

Open Letter to Teen-ager
Always we hear the plaintive cry of the teen-ager. What can we do?...Were can we go?
The answer is GO HOME!
Hang the storm windows, paint the woodwork. Rake the leaves, mow the lawn, shovel the walk. Wash the car, learn to cook, scrub some floors. Repair the sink, build a boat, get a job.
Help the minister, priest, or rabbi, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army. Visit the sick, assist the poor, study your lessons. And then when you are through - and not too tired - read a book.
Your parents do not owe you entertainment. Your city or village does not owe you recreational facilities.
The world does not owe you a living...You owe the world something.
You owe it your time and your energy and your talents so that no one will be at war or in poverty or sick or lonely again.
Grow up; quit being a crybaby. Get out of your dream world and develop a backbone, not a wishbone, and start acting like a man or a lady.
You're supposed to be mature enough to accept some of the responsibility your parents have carried for years.
They have nursed, protected, helped, appealed, begged, excused, tolerated and denied themselves needed comforts so that you could have every benefit. This they have done gladly, for you are their dearest treasure.
But now, you have no right to expect them to bow to every whim and fancy just because selfish ego instead of common sense dominates your personality, thinking and request.
In Heaven's name, grow up and go home!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Need some comfort?

I came across some interesting research on how stress and feeling depleted of mental and emotional energy causes people to make unhealthy choices.  One group was tested by having to memorize large series of numbers, and another group memorized only two-digit numbers.  They were then given the opportunity to choose whatever snack they'd like from a table of fresh fruit that also had a large platter of rich chocolate cake.  Without fail, the majority of the people who had gone under more stress to memorize the harder numbers chose cake more frequently, and those with the easier tasks chose healthy fruit.

That simple experiment illustrates why some people continuously make harmful choices that they know full well are wrong - sometimes illegal, and sometimes even deadly.  Those of us who see their foolish mistakes, stand back in amazement and wonder why they keep on taking those drugs when they see how destructive they are, or why she always goes back to that abusive man, or why the homeless guy won't accept the help that others are willing to offer him to get off the streets and live a normal life.

People who are emotionally depleted are stuck in a state of emotional starvation.  They are starving for something or someone to soothe and erase that feeling of emptiness, and will do irrational things.  Their sense of starvation drives them to hurt themselves, and in so doing keeps them even more emotionally depleted than ever.

Why do so many come home from a stressful day at work, with aching backs and high blood pressure, only to soothe themselves with a whole pint of ice cream eaten straight out of the container, and a large delivery pizza while laying on the sofa staring at the TV?  Their blood pressure suffers more, the back pains from their lack of exercise and lack of healthy eating has worsened, and once they wake up in the morning with the TV still blaring, covered in pizza crumbs, they'll look at themselves in the mirror and feel depressed with who they have become.  Their emotions, their health, and sense of self-worth have just been depleted even more.

There are times that we don't do what we should because we are constantly looking for that thing or that experience that will soothe our depleted egos.  We want to find that person who will make us laugh, that sense of well-being to overcome us, that feeling of being wanted or praised or thought of as worthwhile envelop us, just someone to give us a long lingering hug before we decide to tackle what we imagine are very stressful tasks.  And most of the time, those instant fixes don't appear.  Or we resort to manufacturing our own little "rewards" to motivate us, which end up backfiring like the chocolate cake that makes us so drowsy and bloated, instead of being fired up to work harder, we just want to take a nap!!

Based on 25 years of counseling experience, there are a vast number of people who live in constant search of anything to soothe their depleted egos.  And a huge amount of them are Christians, who claim they want to make a difference for God in this world.  But they don't.  They feel disappointed in themselves, and they think it's humility.  They feel afraid to act, or feel that they need to wait for a clear direction from God before they do anything radical.  So they try to comfort themselves with music and fellowship and friends and busy-work in the church.  But they don't like themselves very much, and they don't believe in themselves at all. They're impotent Christians.

Meanwhile God looks down and sees us as pitifully confused as the drug addict who keeps returning to his destruction.  But as always, God has given us an antidote for this debilitating problem.

Philippians 4 says, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

This is God's protection from becoming depleted.  This is not a suggestion, it's a command.  THINK ABOUT SUCH THINGS.  Whether you feel like it or not.

Allowing the feeling of always being mistreated at work and that no one will ever appreciate you, does not fit the description of "whatever is lovely or admirable."  Deciding that you are undesirable as a mate and will live out your life in loneliness is not "excellent or praiseworthy."  Deciding that cleaning your house will only stress you out more, you'll do it later when you feel happier, is neither true nor noble!

When we make a rule that our thoughts will conform only to this list that God gives us, there is no more room for self-soothing behavior, because in fact, God's mode of thinking immediately begins to heal our troubled souls.  There is no room for self-pity, only for joyful thanks and praise that God is working and will lead us to overcome our problems.  Before we know it, His Spirit soothes and comforts us (He isn't called the Comforter for nothing!)

I have nothing against ice cream or chocolate cake, or enjoying a good laugh or allowing a friend to inspire me.  God brings wonderful pleasures our way when we first seek His Spirit, but His Spirit does not follow the other way around.

"Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life." (Philippians 4:6-7  The Message - of course!)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mimi Williams wins the Gold!

Today there is a massive celebration in heaven, and the agony of defeat in hell.  One more soul has lived for God up until her last dying breath and left this miserable planet earth to be with her Father in Heaven - a place where she always wanted to be.

Mimi Williams was a member of our church on Shepherd Drive, and loved - absolutely loved coming to services.  Well into her 80's, she'd climb the long staircase to attend the week-day services and would pray and listen as fervently as anyone.  When an odd prescription by her doctor caused her diabetes to go off the charts, she was sent to the hospital and before anyone knew what was happening, both her legs were amputated.  Her daughters were in control of her finances and medical treatment, so very little was made known to us, her church family, about her treatment.  Mimi still prayed, still loved the visits that we and the Caleb Group made to her nursing home.  She missed her church dearly.

We encouraged her, prayed for her, but life was not enjoyable any more, even though the staff was kind, and for all we could see, cared for her well.  I remember the last time I saw her sensing that it would be better for her to go home to God rather than just endure an existence where she could no longer read her Bible well - her eyesight had begun to fail - to walk, to cook her favorite meals, to visit her myriads of grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Houston and Louisiana.  Was it mean spirited of me to think this way?

C.S. Lewis has a funny line about hell promoting it's own propaganda that the world has fallen for: that a successful life is living in comfort well into a ripe old age, and that dying young is a tragedy.  But not in God's eyes. A true tragedy is when hell gains one more soul to devour in eternal suffering. On the other hand, living in faith, in submission to Jesus as Lord until the last moment of life, is the definition of success.  If it ends during youth, in wartime, in a sudden accident, or in a nursing home, all heaven rejoices to welcome the victor.  And conversely, all hell is writhing in pain, in the knowledge that it lost one more soul to the Enemy.  Now that's a resounding success!

So for sweet Mrs. Mimi, I shed no tears.  Why should I cry along with hell when I could be rejoicing with heaven?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Heroines and Pioneers

When I think of my childhood, some of the women I was taught to admire most were the pioneers of our country.   They had a hardscrabble life, worked their fingers to the bone, knew how to knit and sew, plant and raise livestock, chop wood, handle a rifle and hunt, skin and prepare game for their families, gave birth at home and teach their children to read the Bible and to love and honor God to the best of their abilities.  They were tough, and stubbornly determined to make a good life out of what they had.  They and all the other romanticized stories of the Wild West and the frontiersmen and women, formed images in my mind from the time I was young about what it meant to fight for what you believed in and succeed.  Of course in my mind all the pioneer women were beautiful too!  I suppose they have always been my heroines.  They fit so perfectly into the mold of the tough uncompromising heroes of faith in the Bible.

Heroes like Elisha who sees a huge army of enemy soldiers surrounding his house, and he doesn't even bat an eye.  "There are more with us than with them," he tells his panicking servant.  And sure enough, there was - a vast army of angels in chariots of fire covering the mountainsides as far as the eye could see, once those spiritual eyes were opened.

This has to be one of my favorite passages, because I use it often when I feel backed up against a wall.  When I feel the impending sense of doom creep into my emotions that everything is about to go wrong, I remember this.  I love being radically unafraid in the face of evil.  It honors God and it sure takes up a lot less energy that getting depressed, crying or having an anxiety attack.

I used to think that this kind of faith was reserved only for the spiritually superior, to the super holy.  But thankfully it's available to anyone at any time they're willing to use it.  The toughest part is killing off the negative emotions.  That's what messes up the whole thing.  Once you rid yourself of emotionalism, God provides the rest.

There is something so invigorating about being powerful against enemies.  When evil tries to defeat us, being able to send it running back where it came from makes me so very happy.  This is a kind of emotion I could get addicted to, the joy of fighting for what God wants of me, and overcoming.

I'd love to meet more Christians like that.  There are plenty of women who think they're being tough and strong by not conforming to traditional roles at home, to sleeping with whatever man attracts them and then acting like being a single mother has turned them into heroes.  That's so far from strength, not even close to being intelligent.  I'd like to see more pioneer women when it comes to faith. Not the part about butchering bear meat - I mean being uncompromising and tough when it comes to enemies and unwelcome intruders in their lives and families.  I'd like to see a new class of women come together to fight and overcome problems with unflinching faith.  A group of women who determine that they're not going to live in emotionalism any longer, but by the rational truths of God.  Anybody with me?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

By the very act of arguing, you awaken reason...

My husband and kids and I just saw the Screwtape Letters yesterday afternoon in Houston, performed onstage by a theatrical group from New York.  The book, written in the 40's, is amazingly relevant today, but unfortunately many people I know struggle to understand C. S. Lewis' literary language, and miss the very profound and really funny details of the story.  Seeing it with all the energy and drama of a play brought the whole thing to life.

A chief demon gives advice to a less-experienced demon, sent to the world to destroy the life of his first human victim. It doesn't go well, as the victim keeps getting closer to "The Enemy" and experiences true salvation.  Through Screwtape's advice to his young nephew, we can see into the inner workings of a demon's strategies.  So funny, so sad and so very real.

Evil exists and thrives where there is no faith in God, and lack of faith thrives where emotionalism is the driving force behind people's decisions.  Don't let them think or reason, just make them feel - the effective mode of operation for demons.

“Whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out...” (Screwtape)

It's true that our generation puts far less importance on thinking and reasoning than generations before.  (I know all old folks complain about the youngsters today and how much better it was in the old days.  I sure hope I don't sound like one of those!)  But look at the vast amount of pure garbage there is to dwell on and obsess about available on TV and the internet today compared to in the past.  Celebrities, totally devoid of talent, can devour a large percentage of media coverage whenever they appear in public, even it it's a trip to the local coffee shop.  Why does anyone care, and why do we even bother to gawk and their pictures?  The emotionalism of the moment makes us look, and they know it.

But there is a wealth of learning, of inspiration, of wisdom, of challenging old assumptions and character building writings and teachings - from both the Bible and just history itself - that an overwhelming percentage of young adults will only touch if forced to by a teacher, and then just enough to pass a test.

And then there is just plain thinking that doesn't require an advanced education or even exposure to good literature, just simple common sense.  The reasoning of Abraham, a sheep and goat herder in the desert.  The reasoning of Gideon, threshing wheat in a wine-press or young David, bringing lunch to his brothers.  They looked at the stars, the promises of God, the lions and bears they had killed with their hands and reasoned that great things could be done through them because they believed in the power of rational thought.

There are plenty of people who love to argue, but argue about how things make them feel.  Healthy debate and argument about logic or truth is as foreign to many people as yak butter (look it up).  Good arguments are done for the sake of really wanting to learn and understand.  Have you even experienced one of those?  Good arguments that I've been blessed to be a part of have been some of the greatest motivators and life changers I've ever experienced.  

For the next three weeks I'm disconnecting from the world of media and entertainment and cutting myself off from all the information that is just there to dull my senses and dull my faith.  I want to rediscover the power of thinking, reasoning, and listening to my Creator speak to me as clearly and wonderfully as He wants to.  This is not one of those painful fasts that you keep wishing were over because of the great amount of self-denial that goes into it (lunch, please let me eat some lunch!!).  Rather it's a chance to nourish and renew that part of me that I ignore far too much.  My mind.

I challenge you to join me.  Keep reading this blog, as I'll be posting more frequently than usual during these next three weeks.

"The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy's own ground. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?" - Screwtape


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Emotionalists Anonymous

Cravings, urges, impulsive indulgence, self-destructive choices, flirtation with death, inflicting pain on loved ones - the common characteristics of an addict. But throw in one more addiction into the mix, far more destructive: emotionalism.

Emotionalists surround us every day.  They may have steady jobs and appear to be rational and intelligent but when confronted with a choice to go with their feelings or their head, feelings win out big time.

They know that they’re making poor choices, just like the alcoholic knows the dangers of his problem.  They’ve been steeped in a culture of emotion, and most have come from generations of emotionalists.  Choosing not to make emotional decisions is a monumental effort. Gut instincts tell them to go with what they feel over what they know, and their gut is their moral compass.

As drug addicts can hand down their tendencies to their children, emotionalism can be instilled in a child from the womb and reinforced well into adulthood when they procreate a new generation of emotionalists.

Lana is just one of many who I know.  Her mother was a prostitute and raised her among very corrupt and unscrupulous people.  She was raped as a child by a few of her mother’s business acquaintances. Lana was starved for love and affection, and found that the attention gained from men gave her a fleeting feeling of being loved, so she allowed herself to be taken advantage of frequently.  She knew that it was not the same thing as love, but the emotional facsimile that these relationships produced was close enough for her to accept.

Lana came to church wanting to clean up her life.  She knew she needed God.  She cried multiple times during each service.  She came forward for every prayer.  She gave her life to God over and over.  But Lana was an addict.  Emotions had her in a choke hold.

When it came to listening and agreeing with what she was taught, Lana was all for it.  But when she walked out the church’s doors and faced her daily attack of doubts and fears of abandonment, she relied on her feelings.  To some women, the question of “should I sleep with this strange man because I’m mad at my boyfriend,” doesn’t even cross their mind.  It’s a disgusting and laughable thought.  But to Lana, it was a struggle to resist.  She believed in the Bible.  She wanted to love God.  But her addiction is overwhelming.

But emotionalists don’t just come from the fringes of society.  They fill every class on every level.  The well-to-do intellectual who suffers bouts of depression doesn’t enjoy church because the music is hokey, and the church experience doesn’t appeal to his sense of coolness.  Forget the fact that many in the church have overcome depression and worse, he doesn’t want to sacrifice his appearance of independence for the sake of healing. He claims to be independent, but needs his anti-depressants and can’t fall asleep at night without music blaring in his ears.  Going to God just doesn’t feel like it will fit into his lifestyle.

The doting mother who wants her children to grow up and get a good education, can’t understand why they rebel and disrespect her.  The more she shouts at them, withholds privileges, scolds and lectures, the more they roll their eyes and block her out of their lives.  The older ones who have left home barely ever come around to see her.  She wants intelligent children, but her own intelligence takes a back seat to her demanding, controlling, fearful nature.  Her addiction is killing her children’s love for her.

The high-earning husband who can’t understand why his wife keeps asking if he still loves her, feels badgered and irritated in his marriage.  She complains that he doesn’t spend enough time with her, but the rest of her words turn into a blur of nagging that feels too painful to listen to.  He decides that if she’s unhappy with him, rather than do what she asks, he’ll do what he feels is best - work harder and earn more money to provide for their home.  He comes home later, goes to work earlier, doesn’t complain with her incessant chatter, and believes himself to be a hero, only to find that she doesn’t appreciate any of it and leaves him for another man.

The infiltration of drugs and the plague of alcoholism had been destroying our nation one soul at a time.  But the addiction to emotions is the worst kind of plague.  It’s the foundation of all other addictions, depression, broken homes and failed relationships.  It is the giant barrier that blocks people from truly finding God and truly experiencing freedom and power in this world and salvation in the world to come.  If Christians fall into this addiction, then what hope does the world have?