Archive for the ‘drinking’ Tag

TEMPTATION IS NOT SIN

Jesus was tempted. Jesus did not sin. We know it, sure, but do we always see the distinction in our own lives? Maybe it’s just me, but I have always had trouble separating the temptation from the sin. It matters because, if you already feel guilty and defeated as a result of having been tempted, then you are far less likely to stand resilient in the face of the sin itself. In fact, I have come to think there is more credit in having resisted temptation than in never having been tempted at all…

 

I give an example (and no I’m not going to wheel out the oft-used analogy of the second look at a girl being the sinful one – much as it’s a good’un): Person 1 hates the taste of alcohol, can think of nothing worse than drinking it in significant amounts, perhaps hangs out with other tee-totallers, and, would you believe it, has not recently succumbed to drunkenness! Person 2, on the other hand, loves a beer, is surrounded by drinkers, but has managed to limit him/herself to a couple of pints – an amount at which he/she knows by experience is safe in terms of conduct implications. In this case, I think we’d agree, Person 2 has showed rather more resolve; rather more evidence of godly decision-making. Person 1 hasn’t done anything wrong, of course, but he/she will have other battles to fight – this one was a breeze! Yet I suspect our gut reaction may be to see Person 1 as the ‘better Christian’ – as the godly stand-out more worthy of praise.

 

Anyway, enough intro – time to apply this to myself. I very nearly fell right into this trap. A month ago, I began my much-blogged spiritual retox and, you know what, I was bang up for it! I was ready for it, enthusiastic, motivated… there was nothing I wanted to do more at that point than to fix my eyes on God. I had little else on my mind… It was easy, to be frank. And, on some level, I’m sure I congratulated myself for the standards I set. Fast forward to last week, and some of the steam had run out of my drive for godly endeavours. My brain was not fixing upon the things I wanted it to fix, I was not half as keen on getting up to read the Bible, there seemed better ways to spend my time than reading about or discussing Christ. It has been a struggle, even a chore upon occasion. Following the loss of routine with Monday and Tuesday’s snow days, I had to drag myself kicking and screaming back into where I should be for the rest of the week in mind, motive and deed. It’s been a right old struggle, to be fair. And I felt as if I had failed. I felt as if I was a bad person!

 

On occasion I may have been right. I am a sinner, and I have been a sinner this week, just as every other week. BUT my issue was with the temptation as much as with the sin. I was far more comfortable, like the non-drinker above, doing the right thing when that was the easy thing to do, than when it went against my every sinful instinct. That’s why I write to remind myself this Christian life is not MEANT to be easy! If it was, why would James write ‘blessed is the man who resists temptation’? (James 1:12). Jesus didn’t brush off temptation with a nonchalant shrug – I’m sure it pained him as it pains us. There are many biblical ‘40’s to choose from in comparing his 40-day stint in the desert. The one that springs to mind however is the 40 days spent by Israel in the Valley of Elah, facing Goliath, the fearsome enemy of God. Sin is meant to be imposing, intimidating and is meant to take courage to face down. There is an inevitable tension in the Christian life. Even Paul cried out ‘What a wretched man I am!’ as he struggled to walk the Christian walk. If I give up defeated every time the wrong thing feels like the appealing thing to do, I’ll never get anywhere beyond short-lived bursts of enthusiasm.

 

The Christian life is meant to be toil, a race demanding stamina, and is characterised by the joy that tells us it’s worthwhile because Jesus died for our sins – not joy because it’s easy. I will be tempted this week, in any number of directions, but I will, God willing, whilst picking up a couple of sprained ankles along the way, keep on running this race of ours…

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THE LOW POINT

Posted 5/1/09

(I don’t come across great here – but it’s a cop-out that most confessionals get written in hindsight once the author feels OK again…)

Written Christmas Eve 2008.

OK – it’s time to say it out loud… I’m struggling with it all at the moment. There are times when you have to ask… Is my spiritual slump down to circumstances, or are my circumstances down to my spiritual slump?? That’s the question I bring to the table today – should we treat our occasional misfortune as divine discipline?

So what’s been going on? Well circumstantially – the month has seen us have to spend thousands we don’t have on kitchen repairs as we continue to battle the damp (having had to unpleasantly fire the man we initially hired to sort it), has seen my car stereo stolen from the car, has seen colds, injury (I’m currently on crutches) and a generally miserable mood on my part, leading to a greater incidence of marital tension. Now I’m not here looking for sympathy – Nina’s insistence that I should count blessings more is very true. Looking at the above for example – we are indeed able to get the necessary kitchen work done (albeit on credit!), the car stereo will be replaced by one better by virtue of a Christmas gift from the wife, my foot is not broken when it could have been etc etc. Perhaps above all, the church community has really shown its value – people have selflessly agreed to tend our cat over the holiday period, to drive me to casualty as soon as I asked and are generally brilliant whenever called upon to be so…

More to the point has been the worrying slump in my Christian life. This is literally the first time in a couple of years that I have totally failed to carry out quiet times in a week; that I have felt taken over by a feeling of ‘enough already! Whatever…’ in terms of the standards I seek to maintain. Now it’s not terminal – my faith is secure, as is my salvation, and I’m dead keen to jump back on the boat after my little period of wallowing. However, neither is it out of the blue – the year has been marked by taking things for granted; a lack of engagement with ‘church life’ and a lack of passion for the issues that matter. Sermons aren’t being listened to, paperbacks aren’t being read and, worst of all, blogs aren’t being written! Thus, as I have said, I am interested by whether a recent run of bad luck can be viewed as a case of ‘get your act together’ from on high. I don’t for a second think this is always the case, but Hebrews 12 makes very clear that we do sometimes receive a rap over the knuckles for our own good:

5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
   “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
      and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
      and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”[a]

7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

When I read that I am mightily and heartily encouraged. It is worth the loss of any number of car stereos or ankle ligaments (don’t worry, mine are still there!) if to benefit my relationship with the God of all creation. Perhaps things do just happen to us in this life, everything evens out in the end and we shouldn’t read too much into it. However if we truly believe God to be lord and sustainer of this world then clearly he did allow, or even predestine, a relatively tough old month on my part and I am accountable as to how I respond. This is not to say that those typhoid-riddled Christians of Zimbabwe are particularly sinful. Neither that they necessarily feel particularly removed from God’s blessing anyhow; accounts from any number of impoverished or persecuted churches – indeed even my grandfather’s wartime reminiscences – are full of reminders that often in the midst of hardship God’s children are most aware of His kindness and mercy. Anyway, back to the point…

So, back in the saddle. I must repent, and with it I must change. And my New Year’s Resolution is to work a little harder at all this, even whilst understanding that my salvation is by grace and by no effort on my own part. I want to put in a better shift in order that others may know my God is one worth putting in the hours for, and because He deserves that and infinitely more from me in 2009! And if this car stereo survives a little longer, well all the better…

PS Written 5th January:

In a spirit of honesty I have to say that having written this, things didn’t get better – they got worse. The mistake of me calling my repentance a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ was one my sinful nature latched onto, implicitly granting me permission to completely let things go to seed for the remainder of December… I can’t justify my ugly thoughts, my sudden strange aversion to picking up the Bible, or the inappropriately full-blooded seasonal celebrations I have engaged in. However, it is reassuring that I feel utterly worn down, fed up and damaged by it. The greatest lie of all is that the unsaved have a life to envy. The truth is I desperately miss the thrill of letting my light shine. I just wish I wasn’t such an idiot. Good thing I have such a saviour in Christ…

FRIENDSHIP AND A SERIOUS SUNDAY

Posted 12/2/07

Yesterday began with a sore head and ended with tears. So tidily packaged were its themes and lessons that, were I writing a diary, the historian within me would question the credibility of that day’s entry. By way of example, I spent most of the day noisily informing anyone who’d listen how blessed Nina and I were in our group of friends, before unexpectedly spending the evening discovering the true cost of that friendship – surrounded by people preparing for the death of a young man they very much cared for.

Let me backtrack – to my 28th birthday celebration on Saturday night– the source of my aforementioned sore head. Now this isn’t one of my angst-riddled confessions. I actually did quite well. This was always going to be a challenge; my first birthday outing since unofficially recommitting to the Christian faith. It involved 6 straight hours in a bar, at least 25 non-Christian friends, all of whom vowed to buy me a drink, and a precedent for considerable merriness. With this in mind, I took along Tom Stanbury – known by most who may read this. He was there as a tentative first bridge between my fledgling Christian community and the outside world, as well as because he’s starting to feel like a proper mate. However, unbeknown to him, he was also there to induce in me a sense of accountability – I wanted to be able to look him in the eye the next day during the sermon. And so the evening rolled by, everyone was late but got there in the end. Fun and profound conversation was had by all and I drank more than a model churchman probably should – but considerably less than the Bishop of Southwark. Above all, I kept to beer, drank it relatively slowly, kept control of my tongue (Cursing, bitching, stupidity and flirtation being among the common drunkards’ worst vices) and, some dodgy dancing aside, steered clear of utter foolishness. Stanbury, on the other hand, was definitely slurring his words…

So I awoke Sunday feeling blessed. I still do. It is great to have people who care for you and wish you well – people who will think nothing of travelling to central London (despite the Tube all but packing up) and spending lots of money for the sake of little old me. But I am aware I owe them more than that in return. If my friendship is true and sincere, then I will endeavour at least to get them to an evening service and to speak to them honestly about the gospel. It’s easier to write than do, but the events of Sunday night were a chilling reminder that time is not unending, and neither are the opportunities to save my friends from a death far worse and more permanent than that awaiting James Meagher.

James is a guy I met a few times, had dinner with once as part of a group, and turned down an invitation from to spend New Years’ Eve at his party. Those memories will never be added to, as cancer is claiming him (perhaps by the time I write, perhaps a little later in the week) before the age of 30. He is married, like me, to his childhood sweetheart, who will never have children by him, nor grow old alongside him. These facts, more than any other, did sting my eyes when Perks shared the news of his demise and dedicated the evening service to him. All around me, however, were people who could truly call him a friend. Some of the congregation weren’t present – his wife and best friend Sarah was by his bedside, whilst her friend Audrey was alongside her, offering support. That’s the real deal and the real blessing of friendship. The difference between it happening to James, and it happening to someone among my Saturday night crowd, is that among the sadness in Sunday’s congregation – and it was a real choking sadness – was the assurance that James was going somewhere amazing, and that they would meet him again. That’s when you realise, as Perks stated, that church is so much more than hobby – it is indeed a matter of life and death. By the time James crosses over, his faith in Jesus better be well-placed, everything depends on it. Much to my relief, forced to consider the grim reality of death, I find myself genuinely believing that it’s very well-placed indeed.