Doing Life Together

ice-crystal-1065155_1280Last Sunday morning I was listening to the sermon in church from the book of Numbers. I had this thought, “Have we Christians become a bunch of snowflakes?” Here is what led to that question.

In Numbers 20 and 21, the children of Israel are finally moving towards the promise land. The first challenge at this point in the story is that they want to take a direct route. This seems logical, but there was a problem. The king of Edom was not thrilled with having the Israelites pass through his land. Even though he was not their enemy, he flat out refused to let them pass and threatened them with attack if they tried.

OK. first point of the passage–the direct path of our lives may be diverted. The Israelites were forced to change direction, but they trusted the Lord. Now the application. How many times in our lives have we had to change directions because of challenges and difficulty? When this happens, do we trust God? When we take a road we didn’t plan, do we believe God is still in the path of our lives? More importantly, do we surrender our plans for what looks to us like a circuitous route? I want to be like the children of Israel on this one. Obey when God redirects my path and trust that he knows why and what he is doing with me.

Second point: As the children of Israel continue, they run into all kinds of conflicts with other kingdoms. This time, they don’t retreat and understand the importance of taking territory for the Lord. Application: When the powers of the culture come against us, do we retreat? Or do we stand tall and refuse to give in –it cost John the Baptist his head and Jesus his life. It is costing Christians overseas their heads and lives. Do we Americans, who stand by the truth of the Bible, retreat when the culture opposes us. I want to be brave, to see the kingdom of God advance. There is a spiritual war being fought against spiritual darkness. We can’t retreat. Do we trust the Lord in conflict?

Third point: The children of Israel had a long road to reach the land of promise. It was a slow, monotonous journey that was taxing. But they stood. They went forward. They didn’t give in and melt like snowflakes. They were grabbers of the impossible! And trusted the Lord to fight for them and win the battle. How easy it is to melt away when the journey is long and difficult. A little heat and we are done! How easily we complain and grumble.

The life of the Christian is not easy and requires effort, work and yes, spiritual battle or the kingdom of God will not advance. I’m challenged by this ancient story of a people who didn’t give up despite so many difficulties. Perhaps it is a lesson for us today. Let’s not melt away at the sign of conflict and trouble. Let’s not be Christian snowflakes when it comes to standing for our faith.

cannabis-2186917_1920Recently, I attended a conference on chronic pain and treatments. A woman in the audience made a passionate case for the use of marijuana for pain relief. Her source was friends who used it and reported that it helped. The conference leader, associated with a major university, responded to her question about the effectiveness of marijuana for pain by saying, there is currently no evidence to support this.

If you listen to a people talk about the help they have received taking medical marijuana, you might be convinced that it works great for chronic pain. But, in the medical world, we judge the effectiveness of a treatment based on the evidence, not personal stories. Right now, we lack that evidence. There just are not enough studies to say whether or not cannabis is effective for pain relief.

Medical marijuana is legal is 30 states and Washington D.C., but is still illegal on the federal level. It is rated as a drug (Schedule 1) that has high potential for abuse with “no currently accepted medical use (Medscape, April 24, 2018). After reviewing seven  studies, the National Academies report found that cannabis worked best for nerve pain (neuropathy),  cancer-related pain and improved muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis. However, a European Academy report noted downsides to use–more car accidents, unintentional overdose injuries among children, increase in bronchitis when smoked, increase in schizophrenia and depression, low birth rates and more.  Use can also  affect heart rate, blood pressure and balance.

At the conference we were also told that overall, there is little research with chronic pain as noted above, showing little benefit, with it possibly helping sleep and reducing anxiety. However, 10% of users become addicted, and those who use it because they have opioid use disorder, don’t reduce the use of opioids–39% of people who are long time opioid users also use pot. And where use is legal, teen ER visits related to use have increased by 170%. The conclusion of this section of the conference was that exposing people to marihuana without evidence of its effectiveness for pain may increase the problem of abuse.

Clearly, this is an area where more studies are needed. The jury is still out on the effectiveness and the cost-benefits in terms of the science. Yet, I know this is an area that people feel passionate about one way or another. Usually, this is based on stories from friends or personal use. For me, it is important to follow the data and look at the science. And that will take more time.

IMG_4220 2This Father’s Day, I am visiting my 97-year-old dad. He is hard of hearing, in a wheelchair but still clear in his mind. We are blessed! Despite the setbacks of aging, his mood is remarkably upbeat. He rarely complains and knows that when he dies he will be with the Lord and joining all those who have gone before him. Knowing my father is closer to heaven than earth seems harder on me than on him. The thought of losing him brings tears. Even with the hope of seeing him again, physical loss of parents is palpable.

Every year, I think, “Could this be my last Father’s Day with my dad? My mom has already left us and he is next.” When moments of that reality hit, sadness wells inside of me. I know he has lived a long life and that I am fortunate to still have him around, but parent loss is still loss. The sound of their voice is no more when they leave us.

So this year, like every year, appreciate your dad. We really don’t know how long we have them in our lives. Don’t get caught up in what he did or did not do for you. Rather find a way to honor him. This is our biblical mandate. One of the best ways to do this is simply to listen to his life story. What made him the man he is today? What life lessons can you learn from him? Knowing your dad’s story brings empathy and understanding.

Acknowledge your dad in your own achievements. How did he contribute? In my case, college was not optional. He didn’t have the chance to go to college and truly believed his children all needed to go. We all did and are grateful for his push to education.

Your dad may not have done everything right. Some of you may even feel failed by your dad. But this one day a year, be merciful and full of grace. Give him honor and model this for your children. Find a positive memory and focus on it. Choose the path of grace.

And perhaps the biggest gift you can offer is the gift of forgiveness. Don’t wait for him to acknowledge wrong, instead choose to forgive. It will give you freedom. Then engage him in something pleasant or fun in order to create a good memory. Get him to laugh, relax or enjoy his grandkids. I’ve never had a patient tell me that they were sorry they chose the road of forgiveness. On the contrary, they report  a lifting of a weight after doing the forgiveness.

Maybe your dad is elderly like mine and can’t give back much at this stage in his life. This means we step up and give back to them. So this weekend, love on your dad, tell him you appreciate him, pray for him, forgive and extend grace. The promise is that as we honor our father and mother as God commands us to do, it will go well with us. This Father’s Day, be a model of grace. Live in the blessing of honoring your dad.

emotions-2764936_1280Another week and another report of a celebrity suicide. In case you didn’t hear about it, celebrity chef and TV star, Anthony Bourdain, joined the growing numbers of people who take their lives by suicide. According to the CDC, suicide rates have been rising in almost every state. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and one that is preventable.

The question is why? Why do so many people feel hopeless and despairing?  We know mental illness accounts for less than half of the cases, so what is going on with people not suffering from mental health issues? When researchers study causes of suicide, they find relationship loss or problems, substance misuse, physical health problems and stress related to work, money, legal issues or housing to be significant factors. And while it is important to learn the warning signs, pay attention to those who are depressed, and reduce lethal means, this isn’t the entire story. Something prompts the flash flood of negative emotions that creates a tipping point.

Roy Baumeister, a Florida State University psychologist, once described suicide as an escape from the self. There is something intolerable going on inside a person to make this choice. According to Baumeister, a person can live a better than average life which can create unreasonable standards for happiness. When the going gets tough, they have a harder time coping with failures whether that be financial difficulties, going from married to single or adjusting to a new state in life. This “fall from grace” is humiliating when you don’t have a spiritual foundation to understand grace.

When grace is missing, the suicidal person often becomes self-loathing or self-blaming. Other people may be good the suicidal person sees himself as bad. From this low opinion of the self comes feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, inadequacy and rejection. Something is rotten to the core. And while we are all sinners, the inability to receive God’s grace and be a person of worth just because we belong to God, is difficult or missing from the mind of someone so self-loathing.

For some, comparisons are frequent and the person is highly aware of his or her shortcomings. This awareness of falling short leads to loneliness and distance. And when you are alone, the mind can easily go negative.

Anxiety from all the self-blame and guilt is on-going. It is as if suicide is the end of psychological pain, a sort of loss of consciousness from the pain of living. Present moments seem interminable. The future is hard to picture and looks hopeless. There is an emotional deadness that develops over time and ends with the act.

One theory regarding people who actually go through with the act is that they have been exposed to pain–physical, emotional or relational. This tolerance of pain lowers the fear of death and enables the person to do what physically hurts. The exposure to pain coupled with heritable traits of impulsivity, fearlessness and pain tolerance, in part, explains why suicide runs in families.

Now place those people in a culture of superficial connections, constant comparisons and expectations to succeed, with no meaning or purpose in their lives and no  spiritual solution to rise out of  desperation. They have not found the place of  rest, peace, and contentment. Perhaps we should not be so afraid to talk about the spiritual life that can bring hope and healing. People need t a place to trade their pain and sorrows for hope and healing. They need the Great Physician-the One who gives value, grace and unconditional love.