Archive for the Faith Category

Love your neighbor


Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

I’ve been trying to write on this topic for 2 or 3 weeks, but couldn’t find a starting point. The exposure of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder on video this past week – TWO MONTHS AFTER THE FACT – with his killers walking free and uncharged during that time has given me that place to start. I’ve heard several white pastors call racism a sin problem not a skin problem. I agree, but I don’t think it gets to the heart of the problem: what makes an action a sin?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:24 NASB

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40 NASB

Humans have been sinning since the Garden of Eden. Much ink has been spent since that time over whose fault it was despite Adam consistently being named throughout the bible as the representative of humanity and from whom we all inherited our sin. Aside from the most extreme patriarchal Christian sects, this is orthodox across denominations. I find it curious that it was not until Adam ate the fruit that “the eyes of both of them were opened.” I once heard someone teaching on this passage who speculated that since Adam “was there with her” when the serpent was doing his thing on Eve, and did not attempt to stop either of them, that perhaps he was also thinking that maybe the serpent was right and let Eve eat to see if she died. When she didn’t, he saw that as proof that God had lied to him and so he ate. Genesis 3 contains no indication of why Adam ate, but God states that the cause of why He was about to curse all the earth was that Adam listened to his wife. It could have been that Eve handed him the fruit she might have said, “See, nothing happened.” Regardless, Adam took no responsibility for his part at all. Eve blame-shifted, but in the process of saying “the serpent deceived me” she confessed (albeit passively) that God had not lied. Of note, while God was handing out the curses, He did not say to Eve “because you have done this.” There were consequences, yes, but He didn’t attribute those to what she had done as he did with the serpent and Adam.

The next sin we see in Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel – which he avoided owning up to – earning him a curse, but also protection due to God’s mercy. Fast forward to the time of Noah. The corruption of mankind on the earth was specified by God as being full of violence. Fast forward to Abraham’s time and you have Sodom and Gomorrah. There were not even 10 righteous people in them, and all the men of Sodom descended on Lot’s house to rape his visitors (the angels of God). Fast forward to the Exodus, when God gave Moses His law for His people who are called by His name (Isra-el) to set them apart from the other nations. They were to be different from all the other nations and the nations be blessed through them. The essence of the law God gave to his people was to love God and love their neighbors without becoming like their neighbors who worshipped other gods. But, alas, they wanted to be like the other nations, and were scattered among the nations.

Now there is a lot of ceremonial law applicable only to Israel prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. The veil separating the Holy of Holies in the Temple was ripped from top to bottom indicating that the place where God dwells was now open to all. Jesus death, burial, and resurrection made the ceremonial laws unnecessary. “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

God loves us so much that he was willing to set aside deity to become one of us through Jesus, showing us what he meant for us to love others, and let us kill him in the most brutal and humiliating way after he had first been whipped and beaten until he was unrecognizable by us as we mocked him. He faced rejection, ridicule, betrayal, and torture without responding though he had the power to destroy us all. As he hung on the cross, he cried out to the Father not for vengeance, not to save him, but to forgive those who put him there and were mocking him. That is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us and his capacity for forgiveness. His resurrection showed his victory over death and provides the hope we have in him that he will raise us up after death as well.

In light of the sacrifice of Jesus, can we really love God if we don’t understand just how much he loves us? If we don’t just love him but also trust him completely (“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”) can we really love our neighbors? If we don’t love our neighbors – including our enemies (real or imagined) – do we really love God?

The law gave Israel a guide for loving God and loving their neighbor. It wasn’t all-encompassing specific, but it was a strong enough framework to build upon how to love. If we get past the letter of the law to understand the spirit of it, we can still be guided somewhat to treat other people well. There are certainly problematic aspects of it especially with sexuality regarding women, but even those provide protection and care that would not otherwise be given. As Israel slid away prophets were sent to warn the people to repent and what was going to happen if they didn’t.

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?” Micha 6:8 NASB

All of the laws about loving our neighbor either seek to prevent harming them, or provide justice to those who have been harmed. Even the commands to love God provide protection and justice to others because idol worship always leads to oppression. Hence, Jesus fulfilled the law’s intended purpose to show us who God really is, and how to live out paying forward God’s love to us to our neighbors whether they are friend or foe, family or stranger, without exception.

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Jesus, Matthew 7:12 NASB

Revival is happening

I grew up attending revival meetings, and also hated pretty much every one I ever went to. In our Baptist sect, a revival was special preaching service every weekday night. The church would call in a visiting preacher, and it occurred to me as I was writing this that practice brings up a question. Why bring in a different preacher for the revival? Is the local pastor ineffective to lead revival in the church he is leading? The old revivals or “great awakenings” were the birthplace of the modern practice of holding revival meetings once or twice a year, I’m sure. The new revival taking place is a work of the Holy Spirit and does not look like the revivals of old.

It’s a turning away from individual/personal piety to relationship.

It’s a turning from institutionalism to community.

It recognizes the veneer of holiness from the culture war was just a veneer. Now stripped away, the lust for power underneath the veneer is exposed.

It is taking seriously Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 via Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40.

The revival that is happening is about turning away from seeking “comfortable” lives. It is turning from what’s “comfortable” and “safe” to follow Jesus into self-sacrificing lives in order to love our neighbors. Not just to get them into heaven when they die, but to show them the abundant life Jesus promises if you follow him now in this life.

Trauma and Jesus

I had a small mental crisis last week. I called it an existential crisis, but it wasn’t. Neither was it a crisis of faith though that would be closer to what it was. Experiential crisis would probably be a better term for what I was experiencing. I was listening to a podcast on the way home from work and they were talking about how your body stores trauma during fight or flight events in which you cannot fight nor escape and, therefore, freeze and shutdown. There’s no place for the energy of the adrenaline to discharge so it is absorbed. I’m probably taking a lot of license with that paraphrase. I may even be mixing in something I read this week as well that was related. Either way, that’s what I took away.

During the podcast, the guest said something that triggered a memory which led to me saying, “OH MY GOD!” out loud while beginning to question my salvation experience. I made a connection that a couldn’t see before. See, I was saved during a revival. Not at church, but at home if we are using the “sinner’s prayer” as “the moment.” I was 12, and the dude preaching the revival was an asshole. No, I will not tone that down. He was an asshole. He was so much of an asshole that I refused to go forward the next night of revival and give him the credit for my conversion (remember, I was 12). After all, when I said my prayer – WHICH I MEANT – the weight lifted, and I was at peace. You know, just like so many testimonials I’d heard growing up. What I can’t do is really explain why I didn’t do it after the revival was over. I loved our pastor, and still do. It had nothing to do with him or the church. I told one person within the next 2 ½ years, and it was one of the other kids who asked me point blank one evening before church.

Back to the asshole evangelist, 2 ½ years he was called back to preach another revival. Still an asshole, and I got that same feeling I got during the last one he preached and decided I wasn’t going feel that fear again (and it was absolutely fear) for any length of time and walked the aisle to make my profession of faith. I was baptized a couple months later, we moved a few months after that, and when I was 19, I walked away from the church and wouldn’t really go back until I was 38. And now I’m really digressing.

When my “OH MY GOD!” moment happened, I made a connection. See, I’ve always wondered why in the world God would choose that asshole to speak through to me. Because, of course, all preachers speak for God. I was well indoctrinated with that religious authoritarianism from birth being a deacon’s kid. What I didn’t connect for years is that my dad was also an asshole and that asshole evangelist used a lot of the same tactics of controlling through shaming that my dad did. Naturally, that would produce the same fear sensation but because it happened at church during a sermon, I assumed it was conviction of the Holy Spirit because I didn’t know diddly squat about trauma.

A few years ago, I went through a similar crisis though at that time it was absolutely a crisis of faith. I questioned where I had been emotionally manipulated into “getting saved” and that maybe I wasn’t really saved. There was certainly a good portion of my adult life that I was not following Jesus. I poured over scripture searching for assurance until I finally found the security I was seeking. In hindsight, the fact that I turned to prayer and bible study was a good indication that I was not deceived into a false conversion. But after my episode last week, while I did not question my salvation, as I said, I questioned my experience.

I only wrestled maybe for a day before I found peace with it. While I was hesitant initially at 12 and didn’t completely understand what I was feeling (fear) nor why, after some reasoning out based on other’s experience, I went to Jesus. And anyone I would have talked to at that age if I had talked to anyone about it (which I absolutely would NOT have done because “Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.”), they would have pointed me to Jesus. But the point is, I grew up in church and knew who Jesus was and what He did. At the risk of sounding like a Calvinist (which I’m not, nor am I Arminian), there’s never been a time in my life when I wasn’t a believer. This isn’t to say I haven’t questioned and doubted, but too many things have happened throughout my life that were absolutely supernatural – both external to me and internal.

What I have come to believe is that salvation doesn’t rest in saying an extrabiblical “sinner’s prayer” and “meaning it in your heart” when you say it. Salvation rests in following Jesus. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to “ask Him into their hearts,” He said, “Follow me.”

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

So, my “sinner’s prayer” was not so much about being scared by a hellfire and brimstone (aka “turn or burn”) evangelist as it was believing that Jesus was going to give me the peace I needed. It wasn’t the prayer that saved me, it was Jesus. It isn’t saying a formulaic prayer that gives me the assurance I’m in Christ, it’s the daily dying to self even if it seems I can’t bear my cross and try to run away. The proof is in the fruit. The proof is in the resolve to keep following Jesus and turning back to Him when the Spirit tells me I’m straying. He knows what trauma does to a person and therefore I can trust that He protected then and protects me now from false assurance in His salvation.

Growth that matters

Among Christian Church Culture “church shopping” is not well looked upon. It’s filed under fickleness for consumerist Christians – people who want their “ears tickled.” Sometimes it’s viewed as what “troublemakers” do who just cause some kind of issue and move on when they get run off or after having a public tantrum on their way out. To be fair, these are broad-brushed generalizations I’ve gleaned over the years of reading blogs and books and tweets by predominately evangelical Christian leaders. There may or may be that much truth to it, but it’s the understanding I picked up whether or not that was the intended message. So it is with this in mind that I struggled with the question: Is 4-5 years the most I can stay in a particular church?

I think so far, I have stayed about a year after I start feeling it’s time to move on. It seems as though I reach a point where I realize something is missing. And I wasn’t sitting there just absorbing and consuming. I was giving. I was serving. And I grew, but only to a point. I am so done with Baptist churches, and having gone through some of the literature and minutes from meetings my parents kept, I’m even more averse. (That’s a story for another day.) I don’t want any more modern “seeker-driven” church built on megachurch patterns of motivational speeches (“relevant” sermons) bookended by a rock concert creating an atmosphere of emotional experience but never getting beyond a series of how-to’s for living the American Dream to its fullest.

I was talking to a friend one evening a few months ago about that “something missing” feeling. He felt it, too, though we’ve never gone to the same church. I’ve had similar conversations with other friends. It isn’t just me. I’m reading it in books and blogs also. This disillusionment with a lot of the modern church here in the United States. I think we’ve been focusing on cultural Christianity without Jesus.

I can find just as much right as wrong in every church I’ve been in. I’m not out to find the “perfect church” because I know that doesn’t exist. I know that having so many choices of churches is, of course, going to feed Christian consumerism. But just maybe it can provide something else.

I spent about 2 years with my first therapist and went as far as I could with that therapist. She helped me see a big issue I’d acted on for many, many years and cut me no slack for my excuses. I learned and I grew. But there was something deeper I needed to work on and it’s not an area she specializes in. So I found another therapist who does, 2 years later. And there will come a time when I will have gone as far as I can with her, though I feel nowhere near that point yet.

By using this analogy of going to a different therapist, it comes across on the surface as consumeristic shopping to meet my needs. But, the 2 years I spent with my first therapist enabled me to heal enough to break some destructive behaviors. My current therapist is helping me identify and correct other thoughts and behaviors that are destructive. Each of them helped and are helping me to grow with my current one building on top of what the first built.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9a

Maybe this whole church search will continue to leave me still wanting more than there is. It all boils down to this: I want the focus to be on Jesus. Who Jesus was. What Jesus did. What Jesus taught. And considering that, how to love my neighbor. How to hear and surrender to the Holy Spirit and lay aside my self-focused desires and fears to do good to others especially the poor, the outcasts, the marginalized, and the despised.

I want teaching and fellowship that transforms me more into Christlikeness than whatever the current popular cultural church growth movement is. I don’t want to be entertained, I want to worship. I want to worship Jesus, not a system.

The Word became flesh

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14, NASB

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6, NASB

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2:8-14, KJV

Joy Beher and hearing God speak

I have not heard directly what Joy Beher said. I don’t watch The View, nor do I follow it because I don’t care. I don’t watch any talk shows nor do I listen to talk radio. They don’t entertain me. If what I keep reading about on Facebook is true, Joy Beher is wrong in her assessment that Mike Pence hearing God is mental illness. But I’m not about to go on a rant against Joy Beher in defense of Mike Pence.

While I think she is wrong, and not solely because of my belief in God and having heard from him myself, but because I have a little bit of knowledge about mental illness, I refuse to call for The View to be canceled because I’m offended that she is wrong. She has every right to say that. She is entitled to believe it and to say it. I will wholeheartedly support that right because I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That includes the 1st amendment that her opinions are fully protected under. Just as I will support the right to speak of the opinions of the outraged Christians who are too thin skinned to handle criticism of the world. But to them, as a follower of the risen Jesus the Messiah, I ask you this:

What do you think you signed up for when you decided to follow Jesus?

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:18-20

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:7

How are you going to stand firm in the face of true persecution when you can’t handle being offended? Is Jesus not enough? How do you expect to lead a nonbeliever to Jesus when you can’t quietly go about doing the works that you were called to do according to Ephesians 2:8-10?

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. James 3:13-16

For far too many generations we have been indoctrinated into a false christianity. We have been taught to look at the sin of the world around us and fear the consequences of the sins of the other without ever being taught to look at ourselves and whether or not we are following Jesus or following the world. This led us to following “bold Christian leaders” who stand against the world to save us from destruction, which was always to keep us “safe and comfortable.” And so we turned to political leaders to save us. But putting our faith in the world system (even a “good” one) instead of putting our faith in our only true hope which is in Jesus Christ is antichrist. Jesus says in Revelation, “I am making all things new.” This is the fruit of the Gospel. Not that we will be saved by the world’s system, but that only Jesus saves. Not that the world provides the “safety” and “security” to follow “religious conscious,” but that Jesus provides us the faith to follow Him against the wisdom of this world.

“I have told you this things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Following Jesus is NEVER about fighting for our rights or security or safety or comfort. It has always been and always will be about loving God with everything we are, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It’s not a fight against people, it’s a fight against the demonic whose mission has always been to turn us against God. And we are to accept being outsiders to the world with joy.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14

Anyone claiming that God is saying something different than that, isn’t hearing the voice of God as revealed in Jesus.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! Galatians 1:8-9

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air (Elvish translation). Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember it. It began with the forging of the great rings: three were given to the Elves, immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings. Seven to the Dwarf Lords; great miners and craftsman of the mountain halls. And nine, nine rings were gifted to the race of men, who above all else desire power. For within these rings was bound the strength and will to govern each race. But they were all of them deceived, for another ring was made: in the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, the dark lord Sauron forged, in secret, a master ring to control all others. And into this ring he poured his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life.

One Ring to Rule them All.”

What is Addiction? – A response (It’s not just a sin problem)

Paul Tautges posted an article January 5 on his blog titled What is Addiction?.

He got some things not quite right. In his attempt to show the disease model of addiction is false, he singled out alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, and Alcoholics Anonymous specifically, only he didn’t quite tell the whole story about AA.

It is true that Bill W began his journey to sobriety with the disease model. William D. Silkworth, M.D. had a theory that alcoholics have what can be described as an allergy to alcohol that most people who drink do not have, and shared this theory with Bill W. Bill thought he had the solution now that he knew what his problem was, but self-knowledge was not enough. He was unable to keep from taking that first drink until after he was visited by an old friend who had “found religion.” This friend had been part of the Oxford Group which was a Christian organization. (Summarized from “The Doctor’s Opinion” and “Bill’s Story” in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, and Pass it On, Chapter 5.)

Bill W wrote the initial text of the Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book” and does not reduce alcoholism to simply a physical disease, but understood that “we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, page 64.) Now I am not going to write an entire response based on AA, but I will point out that it is not a “self help” program, nor is Narcotics Anonymous, or any other 12 Step based groups that help people find a way out of addiction, obsession, and co-dependence. AA developed the 12 Steps that every other 12 Step group is based on. Each of the 12 Steps is done in the order they are because each builds upon the previous step. Step 1 is admission of powerlessness, step 2 is coming to believe in a higher power for restoration to sanity, and step 3 is the “decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand him.” They have been written such that nonbelievers as well as believers can find sobriety, but while I didn’t go through the remaining steps, they model the process of coming to faith in Jesus, and growing in sanctification. (The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous) In fact, the AA Big Book quotes the book of James on page 76, “Faith without works is dead.” That marks the beginning of the description of making amends. After all, the alcoholic who wants to be free of his “spiritual malady” must take full responsibility for all of his or her actions that caused harm to others, and not hide behind the drink. It is not a program of “cheap grace” or “easy believism.”

One last thing before I move on. From page 60 of the AA Big Book:
“Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:
(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if he were sought.”

And Step 12, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Paul quotes from Ed Welch’s book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, “The Bible says that we first choose our addictions, and only then do our addictions choose us.” I own a few of Ed’s books, and have read 2, and found them very helpful. But that statement is not entirely true. The reason I say that is because I became an addict when I was 8 years old, and it was through absolutely no choice I made. I became an addict at my first dental appointment. Our family dentist gave me nitrous oxide (laughing gas) before he began to work on my cavities. I was not given a choice to go to the dentist. I was not given a choice whether or not to have laughing gas. But from that point on, I looked forward to going to the dentist because I loved how the laughing gas made me feel. The hallucinations didn’t even bother me.

I was 8 years old. I didn’t really know what addiction was even though I knew one of my uncles was an alcoholic. But I didn’t understand what that meant except that it involved drinking, and that was wrong because the Church Covenant hanging prominently on the front wall of the church auditorium said it was. I knew absolutely nothing about drugs. I also had a very limited concept of sin which was really just a matter of following rules so as not to get in trouble. Despite being a deacon’s kid and accepting religious teaching without question, at that point, I had no tangible concept of God. Even after coming to know Jesus at 12, I had a hard time with seeking out things that made me feel good because of a complex mixture of rigid legalism, outright false teaching, abuse, and a good dose of genetic disposition. That combination resulted in a “Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.” approach to life while seeking anything that would bring relief from my inner turmoil. (I did finally find that peace in Jesus, but it took me until I was in my 40s, but it took a lot of “environmental” change.)

Last semester I took a course called Substance Abuse Overview. I felt we only scratched the surface, but it is just a freshman level overview. It isn’t designed to be that in-depth. However, between it and a general psychology course, I learned quite a bit about the physiological affects of drugs in the brain. I’m going to post portions of a paper I wrote where I compared the addictiveness of marijuana to alcohol and opiates.

Dependence is defined as a physiological dependence on a drug that is marked by withdrawal symptoms when the drug is no longer taken. Addiction can be defined as both physiological and psychological dependence resulting in compulsive use of the substance. (Van Wormer and Davis, 2014). Dr. Kevin McCauley looked at the neurological factors that play a role in dependence and addiction. The frontal cortex is where our conscious selves reside with the reasoning and logic that govern our morals, spirituality, socializing, etc. His research has shown that drugs do not affect that portion of our brains, but operate on the midbrain, which is the survival portion of the brain that contains the instincts to eat, kill, and have sex. The midbrain gets sensory information before the frontal cortex. (Fifth Direction, 2015). The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is thought to modulate and dampen the amygdala (which is the portion of the midbrain that is the center of the base survival emotions) as it communicates with the frontal lobe. (Rhodes College, 2012). In the Olds rodent experiments, they used cocaine to discover two spots that trigger addiction in the midbrain, the ventral tegmentum and the nucleus accumbens. When the drug was administered in either of those two locations, the mice would do only the task(s) that would give them the drug. The drug goes to the top of the survival hierarchy, and they will do it to the point of death. (Fifth Direction, 2015).

Once THC is in the bloodstream, it is carried throughout the body, to each organ including the brain. (Yacoubian, 2007). Its greatest influence on addiction is due to its affect in the mesolimbic system (rewards area) of the brain much like other drugs. (Miller and Oberbarnschiedt, 2017). Once in the brain, the THC attaches to cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells (Yacoubian, 2007) due to its similarity in structure to an endogenous cannabinoid called anandamide. (NIDA, 2017). It is believed to act on the receptors much like endogenous opioids (Miller and Oberbarnschiedt, 2017). An endogenous opioid is a substance like an opiate that the body produces, such as endorphins. (endogenous opioid, n.d.) The endogenous cannabinoids, also called endocannabinoids, are produced by the body as well. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for the synthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids. They are named such due their initial identification as the neurotransmitters that activated the same receptors as the cannabinoids in marijuana, of which THC belongs. Endocannabinoid synthesis acts as “on demand” synthesis because they are not synthesized in advance and stored in vesicles the way other neuromodulators are. (Mackie, 2008). Because many of the receptors are located in the area of the brain that control pleasure (the midbrain), THC stimulates the reward system to release dopamine (Yacoubian, 2017), but at much higher levels than normal. (NIDA, 2017). THC also binds to receptors in the cerebellum and basal ganglia which affects coordination and balance. (Yacoubian, 2007). Additionally, it disrupts the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex which are areas that are associated with memory formation and attention. (NIDA, 2017).

Most drugs increase the level of dopamine in the rewards center of the brain (Alila Medical Media, 2014), and alcohol is no exception. It interacts with the endogenous mu opioid in the brain similarly to opiates. Alcohol also increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity which is instrumental in the feelings of euphoria, disinhibition, anxiety reduction, and sedation with drinking. (Miller and Carroll, 2006). Interference with the neurotransmitter glutamate is believed to be a cause of “black outs,” or not being able to remember what a person did after drinking heavily. (NIAAA, 2015). Alcohol lowers the glutamate activity in the brain particularly in the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. (Gilpin and Koob, 2008). Alcohol causes increased levels of serotonin which helps regulate emotion (NIAAA, 2015), but the increase is temporary, and results in later serotonin depletion. (Gilpin and Koob, 2008). The brain adapts to the disruption of the balance, but these adaptations lead to alcohol tolerance and dependence, which result in withdrawal symptoms. Abstinence over time reverses many of the negative cognitive effects from heavy drinking. (NIAAA, 2015).

Each of the opiates, once they reach the brain from the bloodstream, attach to mu opioid receptors on opiate-sensitive neurons. Similar to THC in marijuana, opiates operate heavily in the mesolimbic (midbrain) reward center which produces more dopamine than normal. This increases the desire for the drug even in the absence of pain. With increased usage and dosage, the brain functioning is altered so that the brain functions normally when the drugs are present, but abnormally in their absence similarly to the brain’s compensation for the disruption caused by alcohol leading to tolerance and dependence. (Kosten and George, 2002).

Opiate dependence and some withdrawal occur from changes to the locus coeruleus (LC) which is located at the base of the brain. It produces a chemical called noradrenaline (NA) which when distributed stimulates many of the activities of being awake. Opiate molecules in the LC suppress NA, producing the intoxicating effects of opiates. After times of repeated presence of opiates, the LC will compensate by increasing production of NA. When the opiates are no longer in the system, the LC will continue to overproduce NA resulting in withdrawal symptoms such as jitters, anxiety, muscle cramps, and diarrhea. This is in addition to the disruptive activity in the midbrain. (Kosten and George, 2002).

With that much neurobiological interruption, the claim cannot be made that there is no biological factor to addiction and that it is purely a sin problem. The neurobiological affects strongly affect the psychological functions. The brain is a very complex organ, and it stands to reason that it would be since it is the central core of how the rest of the body functions together and how information received via our 5 senses are processed. Sin is a result of conscious choice. Not all addicts are addicted because of a conscious choice they made. Not all people who use or abuse drugs or alcohol become addicted. Regardless, addiction won’t be thrown off just because someone tells them they are just being sinful. To reduce addiction exclusively to sin can serve to burden an addict or alcoholic with shame whenever he or she is tempted to drink or use because that temptation has a biological component to it.
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References
Alila Medical Media. (2014, September 10). Mechanism of Drug Addiction in the Brain Animation [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxHNxmJv2bQ

endogenous opioid. (n.d.) Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. (2009). Retrieved from https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/endogenous+opioid

Fifth Direction. (2015, June 25). Is Addiction Really a Disease? Dr. Kevin McCauley [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2emgrRoT2c

Gilpin, N. W., & Koob, G. F. (2008). Neurobiology of Alcohol Dependence: Focus on Motivational Mechanisms. Alcohol Research & Health, 31(3), 185–195.

Kosten, T. R., & George, T. P. (2002). The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment. Science & Practice Perspectives, 1(1), 13–20.

Mackie, K. (2008), Cannabinoid Receptors: Where They are and What They do. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 20: 10–14. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01671.x

Miller, N. S., & Oberbarnschiedt, T. (2017). Current medical and legal status for smoked “medical marijuana” and addiction. Psychiatric Annals, 47(6), 335-340. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3928/00485713-20170424-01

NIAAA. (2015, October). Beyond Hangovers: understanding alcohol’s impact on your health. NIH Publication No. 15-7604. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Hangovers/beyondHangovers.pdf

NIDA. (2017, August 1). Marijuana. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana

Rhodes College. (2012, October 9). Steven Schlozman – “How to Inadvertently Learn Some Neuroscience…” [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sM2oUPgymJ8&t=1s

Van Wormer, K., & Davis, D. (2014). Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective (4th Ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Yacoubian, G.S. (2007). Assessing the relationship between marijuana availability and marijuana use: A legal and sociological comparison between the United States and the Netherlands. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 51(4), 17-34. Retrieved from https://login.proxy033.nclive.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/217439225?accountid=9994

New blog series #NaBloPoMo

I am considering a series for November for National Blog Posting Month (NoBloPoMo). Every November for the past few years I have said I’m going to blog every day in November and I never get beyond 5 days. This would also be the perfect time to work on my fiction that I just left hanging. But life happened, and then school happened. Now I’ve got bunch of papers and projects to do between now and semester’s end, so what better time than now to commit to something I probably won’t finish. Haha!

I’ve probably mentioned this before (possibly more than once), but over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time revisiting all the Christian doctrine I was taught. I was taught some contradictory stuff, though it wasn’t much and most of that was my parents teaching something different than the official doctrinal statement with the caveat, “It’s not a hill to die on.” I still find it out of character for my dad to have a point to argue about, but to not find it important enough to argue. Because he seemed to love to argue. But I digress. My point is, I had to own my faith as an adult by reevaluating what I believed by asking myself, “Do I believe this just because it’s what I was taught, or is this really what the bible teaches.”

But this series isn’t going to be me picking apart denominational doctrine. It’s going to be more cultural and political, but that many American Christians have conflated with the Gospel. I’m going to look at some issues from the standpoint of, “Where is Jesus in that.”

And maybe this will turn out to be more than just one post.

Why do you go to church?

“Why do you go to church? What is your main purpose of showing up? (not collectively, you personally)

I was asked this question sometime before Christmas, and my initial reply was, “Way to ask me a question I’m not sure I want to answer.” This was following a discussion where I vomited out my distrust of Baptist churches, megachurches, and celebrity pastors (and other celebrity Christian leaders ie James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr, Franklin Graham, Mike Huckabee, etc).

So why do I?

“But I know if I don’t go, I’m going to drift back out into the wilderness riding on my self-righteousness. Still, if I wasn’t serving, I don’t know if I would go. Even though I don’t ever regret going.”

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV

I went to church during the Christmas season even though I wasn’t serving. But in full disclosure, it was largely because my friend Stacey was singing again and I was NOT going to miss her first Sunday back with the worship team. And our campus pastor was preaching, so it was like a double bonus. And I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience from arrival to departure. Pastor Trent mentioned early in his sermon about our campus feeling like home, which the sermon series wass “Home for Christmas,” so it stands to reason. But as I thought of it, I thought, “Yeah, this church has always felt like coming home.” I have always felt welcomed. I have always felt “a part of.” I have made many friends there, some very close.

Through the course of the sermon on the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, Trent pointed out that we can do all the right things, but if we are doing it for the wrong reasons, it’s just as much of a sin as the “obvious” sins. (I greatly paraphrased that.) I can attest personally to that as the “good little Baptist girl.” Though I was just really good at hiding the “obvious” sins. Anyway, as he wrapped up he said, “If the only place Jesus has led you is to church, you might be following religion and not Jesus.” That didn’t complicate my attempt to answer why I go to church at all. (That was sarcasm which doesn’t always come through in written form.)

When I was a kid, I went to church because I had to. My parents’ rule was, “As long as you live under our roof, you will go to church.” Because they did not further qualify that statement at the time, and because I was already a master at finding loopholes (when I began writing this, I had just had a convo about that with one of my blunt friends), this good little Baptist girl went to Roman Catholic mass with her best friend for several months. Granted, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to church, I just decided I didn’t want to go to the one I thought I wanted to go to when we moved to town. (That’s a whole story in itself that I’ve probably written about before.) But I eventually found a Baptist church where I felt “a part of,” and that’s where my relationship with church started going wonky.

I loved that church. I went on my own without coercion, though a lot of that was because I had a couple of good friends there. But I felt “at home” beyond that. There was no “air” in the air there. Just a bunch of ordinary folks. Until we moved into the new building. I don’t know if there is a correlation. That’s been many years ago, and I was just a teen. But it was after we moved that I heard the thing that caused me to leave. I don’t remember how long it was after we had moved to the new building, but I vividly remember the openly racist sermon. That was the Sunday that church was no longer home because if ALL of my friends were not welcome there – white AND black – then neither was I. I walked away for many years. When I started going back to church it was for a lot of wrong reasons. But I found a church that felt like family, that wasn’t lily-white, and was Baptist. I got burned again because there was so much dysfunction due to factions with control issues. And when a faction tries to control a control freak who hasn’t yet learned that a controlling nature is a character defect, there’s going to be acting out. And I acted out. And then I quit. And I think I have been to a certain degree shunned.

I went into the next church search leery. However, it wasn’t a long search before I found another church that felt like home, and I went all in. I did it because despite all the issues at the previous church, I had a fresh encounter with Jesus, and it changed everything. Slowly though, because I still have a lot of issues.

I still have a lot of religious resentment. I don’t know for sure if that is why I am having such a hard time answering that question. I’m not entirely certain of my motives. I love my church. I love serving there. But sometimes I question if I made the right decision in choosing my church. I know I don’t have to go to church to worship God. I can worship Him anytime because He isn’t confined to a gathering of believers nor a building (and a church is the people, not the building). I have believing friends outside of church who are blunt and have no problem calling me out for my self-righteousness, so I don’t need church for accountability. I can listen to sermon podcasts anytime. Every “good” reason I can think of for why I would go to church can be accomplished outside of church.

So at this point, I have pretty much talked myself out of going period. I mean, why go at all when I don’t have to go? I occurred to me that there is something that I can only participate in at church. Communion. Generally all Christians believe that there are only 2 sacraments that are instituted by a “local, visible” body of believers, and that is baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion). I could argue the baptism with the accounts of Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, but it is not relevant. Besides, I’ve already been baptized – twice. But communion was always done in a context among a group of believers gathered together to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice as the once for all Passover lamb. Yeah, I could show up at a church just for that (and I’m not going to go into the whole open/closed communion debate), but from Jesus instituting the practice at Passover before his crucifixion to throughout the epistles, communion was done among a group of believers who knew each other. While I just popped off with the argument for closed communion, I don’t think the point of commemorating the Lord’s Supper with a local church you are a member of was to be implemented as a legalistic requirement. Because my dad and I are living proof that you can go to the same church every time the doors open and still be covering up sin. But I digress. I believe the point of doing it local with folks you know is for the community aspect of it. Communing with fellow believers in commemoration of the one thing we all share in common: Jesus, and Him crucified.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 19-20, 24-28

If I make going to church about what I get from it, I make it all about me. This is not what Christ calls us to. Following Him is not a self-centered, self-focused endeavor. If we are to be followers of Christ, if we are being remade into the image of Jesus, then our lives should reflect a desire to serve others. And since I am a member of the body of Christ, it stands to reason that I have a role to play that benefits the entire body. I have been uniquely gifted, just like my brothers and sisters, to serve the body. This is perhaps why I love to serve in the capacity I do. And so I guess ultimately, this is why I go to church.

“…on a break”

I didn’t intend to go on a 3 month hiatus. However, I probably should have started that hiatus intentionally about 3 months or more before I stopped writing. Or I should have just stuck with fiction. Because I was not well.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

I was in a funk for a while. Okay, to a certain extent I still am, but I am no longer the “batshit crazy” I was. And it was one of those things I saw coming, but not entirely clearly. I let a couple close friends in on what was going on with me to the extent I knew because there was a certain aspect of it that I have been through before. I know that after a period of high stress, when I start coming down, I’m going to have panic attacks followed by depression. I have not ever been through that cycle since getting sober. So when I started having the anxiety, I started reaching out. It didn’t seem as bad as the panic attacks of the past, but I have not forgotten how bad that depressive period I had 5 years ago was. Never before nor since has life been that dark. Thank goodness.

In the meantime, I just wasn’t snapping back. One of my friends told me that we didn’t necessarily have to search real deep to find the cause, and I told her, “I’m not afraid of going deep, but I don’t know where to start digging.” Granted, this was my first holiday season since my mom died. Naturally some of the funk was grief, and I was on a heavy stress cycle for several months following her death. I got emotionally involved in the election, feeding on fear and outrage and what I viewed as hypocrisy that I felt was my duty to expose. (It’s not.) And then the election did not turn out as I expected leaving me to eat a lot of the words I was saying.

I sat down and tried to write just after the New Year. I have no idea what prompted me to write the following, but I am sure it was to point out something I saw in someone else rather than taking care of my own side of the street.

I can abstain from drinking, but if I am miserable, desiring the escape that drinking gave me, I’m not sober. Without the “spiritual awakening,” I am just a dry drunk going through the motions and never finding peace. With that attitude I can never do the 12th step because I can’t carry a message I haven’t really received.

Ironically, I got a call the following day from a friend who was checking on me, and she asked me if I thought I might be on a dry drunk. I answered that the thought had crossed my mind, because that was about the point the light start to flicker as if it was about to come on. After we hung up, I texted one friend and asked for prayer for the digging I was about to do, and another to see if she noticed anything glaring from my behavior that might indicate a blind spot. Within a day or 2, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was indeed on a dry drunk and had been for quite some time.

Dry drunk is a slang expression infamously known in the sober community. It describes a person who no longer drinks or abuses drugs, but continues to behave in dysfunctional ways.

I’ve been known to spout out the statement, “I’d rather do hard stuff now than to do the work of figuring out why I drank again after the fact.” I still stand by that statement, but I was so far off track with my program that I went right back to Step 1. I looked at what happened, and I had stopped doing most of the things I did at the very beginning. Not all at once, but one thing here, another thing there, until I was barely working a program at all. I went back and started doing the basics again, and it’s getting better. I still backtracked the progression, and identified the first cause: I decided that I got it. I thought I had the program figured out, I had my alcoholism defeated, and I could chill and coast. Well, once I think I’ve got it is when I’ve lost it. And it happened not long after I had a year’s sobriety. It became complicated when life started happening and hitting me with major life changes like a separation and death of a parent. Because I wasn’t doing the everyday basics, I started running out of steam because I was no longer operating on a firm foundation with the help of my Higher Power. I was white-knuckling and had more than once incident where I was just about to drink.

I’ve looked at those instances where that obsession to drink returned, and I’ve wondered how I was able to not drink. Like that last Thanksgiving with Mom when she was in the hospital. If I’d had to drive by Petit Jean Liquor one more time, I was going to stop. I had already planned it out and knew I could pull it off without no one knowing. No one would have known. But the thought occurred to me, “I’ll know.” Despite the fact that I called no one under such “noble auspices” as not wanting to interrupt anyone’s Thanksgiving, I didn’t drink. Note: I should have called someone. About a week and a half before this past Christmas, I was on my way to work on a Friday morning when I recognized that feeling I used to get when I was drinking and I knew I was going to drink that day if I didn’t do something. I made a call that day and answered the greeting with “I want to drink.” But I didn’t. I know that may or may not make sense. I didn’t want to drink more than I wanted to drink, but I was craving that escape. That numbness. I didn’t drink, and I made it to my 3 year anniversary a couple of weeks ago, if by the skin of my teeth.

Just this week I was telling a friend about my first drink. How I was given that “way of escape” in the verse I quoted at the beginning. A big, wide door that I could have walked through without drinking, and without losing a friendship. To this day I don’t know why I decided to participate. I don’t know why I kept drinking when that first drink tasted so bad. I eventually came to love the effect of alcohol more that I cared about any moral implication of drinking the way I drank. What I do know, though, is why over those months when I wasn’t putting forth much effort towards working my program is how I kept from drinking in spite of myself.

God’s mercy and grace.

There is no other explanation for why I didn’t drink. Because I was half-assing the program (if that much), I had no mental defense against that first drink. I’m a firm believer in free will. I don’t believe that God forces anyone to do anything against their will even if it is in their best interest. But at the same time, I have no doubt that when I took that 3rd step the first time, surrendering without reservation, turning my will and my life over to the care of God, that even when I tried to take my will back, He kept me sober by doing for me what I could not do for myself. Or perhaps the better way of saying that is that he kept me dry while my life got more and more unmanageable knowing that the unmanageability would eventually hurt enough to take action to get the serenity back.