The Church of Cravings: Thirsting for the wrong Savior

pizza-on-firewood-furnace-1506054-640x480I love pizza.  I love pasta.  I love bread.  These three constitute the holy trinity of Italian gluttony, the three objects whose power over me is great.  I have not bowed before a golden calf, but I’ve considered bowing before a Golden Corral or any other dining establishment as long as it has pizza, pasta, and bread.  Oh and ice cream.  I love ice cream.  I’ve been craving peppermint stick (you know, candy cane) ice cream ever since my mother-in-law mentioned it a few days ago.  I fill my thoughts with those things that are excellent and praiseworthy: carbohydrates and sugars.  If you want to see me joyful, take me to Costco on a Saturday.  There is always a cheese sample and this is my communion, shared with a fellowship of those seeking inexpensive yet quality items in bulk.  Baptize me in a bath of buffalo sauce (with bleu cheese nearby, please) and we’ll celebrate with boneless spare ribs from the local Chinese restaurant.  I’ll volunteer to host the Bible study; you bring the Bible, I’ll pick the snacks (which will almost always include an Italian meat and a cheese, except for when I go rogue and spring for some tortilla chips and guacamole).

There are some who are chuckling and others who are offended by my flippancy towards the sacred doctrine and ordinances of the church.  My intention is not to offend, but I crafted this image of gluttony and idolatry when I came across Romans 6:18 during my studies today: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”  I quickly examined my behavior throughout the past few weeks (and you know, decades) and thought of what I thought truly owned me.  We’re slaves to who or whatever owns us, that is how the whole slavery thing works.  If I had to pick one thing I think about the most, one issue I’ve struggled with the longest, and what can take me from success to failure in a matter of seconds, it would be food.  More specifically, it would be my cravings for food.  I pray the armor of God routinely, placing on the shield of faith with which I can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.  When I pray that prayer, I think of spiritual strongholds and active warfare for souls and for spiritual territory; I didn’t consider the the arrows for me have come in the form of pizza and charcuterie.  Yet they do.  And these arrows are everywhere, especially when I’m on duty at dispatch or when I’m on the ambulance.

After following Jesus for nearly seventeen years, I still don’t feel like a slave to righteousness.  I’m grown for sure.  In fact, the Lord has brought me a long way from where I came.  Still, I’m not yet a slave to righteousness; I’m a slave to my cravings.  As I have purposed my heart to journey to the heart of Christ centered masculinity, I see these cravings as a great hindrance to my spiritual formation and personal development.  I also think I’m setting a bad example for my daughter about how to say no to things that are not good for me.

Somewhere along the line (a post for another time), I believed the lie that food would satisfy my needs more than God’s best for my life.  I fashioned cravings for tastes instead of tasting and seeing that the Lord was good.  The journey towards the heart of God involves abandoning the things that hinder us from intimacy with Him.  I’ll be praying that my cravings change, that I would crave obedience to all of Jesus’ teachings and the Scripture’s commands instead of pigs in a blanket (you know, the small little hot dogs with the crescent roll).   This is my prayer as we approach the new year: “Lord, change my cravings from the things this earth offers to the things that you offer.”  He’s faithful.  I’ll relish your prayers (pun intended).

As we end the year, can you identify with my position at all?  Is there anything that prohibits you from experiencing the fullness of life Christ offers?  Is there anything to which you cannot say no? Post below or on social media how I can be praying for you and with your thoughts on this post.  And if you missed my last post, take a look at how I was reading the Bible incorrectly.

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Reading the Bible the wrong way

 

Man-Holding-Bible
image credit: ingodsimage.com

There are times when I feel like I’m fitting in the spiritual discipline of Bible reading as if it were a workout at the gym.  I don’t want to do it, I know I should, but after I do it I usually feel better so I’ll make sure to squeeze it in.  Besides, it makes me feel better and gets my head clear and ready for the day.  This approach, however, has caused me more discouragement and frustration than spiritual growth in recent months (okay, years).  It’s caused me to want to move father away from God than to draw closer to him.  After some reflection, I’ve reached two major conclusions:

  1. The Bible isn’t about me and making my day feel more complete.
  2. The Bible is about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I’m approaching the word differently and I’m finding it to become more satisfying.  When we open the pages of the Bible, God is telling us something about himself.  He is sharing his heart with us so that we may better understand how to relate to him, obey him, enjoy him, admire him, and commune with him.  The Bible is not God’s love letter to us, as it is so often said in evangelical circles.  Love letters are about the recipient, not the sender.  That is not to say that God does not radically love us because he does; his love is so outstandingly profound and he freely and generously lavishes this gracious love upon us.  Yet, the Bible is God’s revelation about himself to us.  It’s his Facebook profile and he truly deserves likes and follows.

This morning I read a verse that I’ve read several times before.  “By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down” (Proverbs 11:11 NASB).  Another translation reads, “The good influence of godly citizens causes a city to prosper (Proverbs 11:11 TLB).  I’ve typically read this verse as follows: if I do good things, God will bless the place I live.  I’ve then applied this verse by thinking, “If I can only pull myself up by my bootstraps and get to doing some good works, then my community will be better.”  And because we know I am a sinner who cannot be saved by his own works, we can rightfully predict that I am quickly discouraged by my own ineptitude and give up.  I then think, “I guess this is why our nation sucks morally.  I can’t even get through the day without messing up and I know the God of the universe.”  I hang my head in shame and retreat from God.  I was happier before I read the Bible.

 

self centered
All arrows don’t point towards me.  Image credit: buzzle.com

I committed a rather large interpretive error during my Bible reading.  In my self-centeredness, I focused on myself during my study rather than on God.  Instead, I now ask, “Father, what are you telling me about yourself when I read Proverbs 11:11?”  The Lord then brings to my mind so many other passages.  He reminds me of Jeremiah 29:11, where he tells us that he desires to bless, prosper, and provide hope.  The Holy Spirit guides me to 1 Corinthians 12:27, where I am reminded that I am part of Christ’s body, and to 2 Corinthians 5:20, where I am described as Christ’s representative to the world.  He directs me to Romans 3:22, where I see that I am only upright because He made me so through Christ Jesus.  His holiness demands my righteousness; I am unable to meet his demand so he provided the way for me to know him through Jesus.  I’m counseled by the Spirit to reflect upon John 15, where I am told to abide in Christ if I would want to see any good work accomplished.

God is not telling me to do better so my city can be blessed.  He is telling me to abide in Christ, to be filled with his righteousness, and to allow that righteousness to flow freely into the places I live and work.  In doing so, God will bless those communities, even if the blessing is simply having his ambassador point the way for broken spirits to find wholeness in a wonderful savior.  God is telling me he desires to bless others through the salvation and righteousness he provides to me.  Proverbs 11:11 does not feel so legalistic and self-defeating anymore.  It excites me.  It’s an evangelical call to intimacy with God that results in works spurred on by faith.  A verse that once discouraged me now provides me with joy.

If I want to thrive, I’ve got stop focusing on me when I read the Bible.  It’s not my memoir, it’s God’s.

Compassion is competence: the key to successful patient care

compassion in medicine
Image credit: sintef.no (not an endorsement)

As a field training officer and adjunct EMS lecturer, I have the opportunity to work with both rookies and seasoned professionals.  While their levels of expertise are obviously different, there is something that matters to both groups: competence.  Those who are new to the field are so focused on demonstrating their practical skills to themselves, their colleagues, and their patients that they forget the urgency of bedside manner.  Experienced providers, no longer feeling the need to prove themselves, often work quickly and diligently as they easily navigate their protocols and algorithms yet they forget to explain procedures to the patient or to communicate their expectations of how a scene should be managed to their lesser experienced partners.  EMS professionals on both ends of the spectrum have forgotten that competency alone will not guarantee success.

Psychologists and sociologists have learned that professional success is not solely determined by competence, but also warmth.[1]  In only milliseconds, our patients (and also, our partners) will develop their impressions of us and those impressions are based upon the warmth we demonstrate to others.[2]  Our concerns may be scene safety, proper performance of our skills, rapid transportation, and ending our shifts on time, but our patients are concerned about how they are being treated and the outcome of their care.  When citizens call 911, they believe that the government has dispatched providers who are highly qualified.  Our uniforms, emergency vehicles, and equipment already imply competence.  If we want our patients to have a positive experience during our care and simultaneously display our proficiency, we must first integrate warmth.  When we are perceived as pleasant, polite, and concerned, we open the door for others to trust that we are competent.

What are three steps that we can take to introduce warmth to our care?  Firstly, practice active listening.  When we are able to reflect upon what others have said, ask open ended questions and then respond to specific answers, summarize our patients’ concerns, and affirm their needs and desires, we will be much more effective practitioners.  Secondly, we need to start smiling.[3]  Many of us arrive on scene as if we’ve arrived at a funeral, but our patients are not dead yet.  Even if the patient’s condition is critical, we can still offer a smile.  Their situation may be serious, but we can bring calm dignity during grave moments.  Thirdly, explain the procedures and processes that are about to happen.  I cannot tell you how many unsettled faces I’ve seen when the electric stretcher starts going up in the air without warning.  Minimize surprises and clarify what may be unknown to the patient.  If we can do these three things on our calls, our competency will rarely be called into question.

Dr. House may be great entertainment, but in the real world of medicine he would have been assigned to the lab a long time ago.

___________

[1] Christine Horvath, Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Work Place (New York: Grand Central, 2016), 71.

[2] Ibid., 72.

[3] Ibid., 72-73.