Is It Wrong To Want Things?

Sometimes you just have to scrap an entire blog. My original title for this was “Happiness As a Goal”. But I’ve renamed it and rewritten it. And then rewrote it again. And then renamed it again.

So here it is, after a ton of editing:

I have struggled with the concept of wants and needs for a while. God gives us everything we need, so everything we don’t have we don’t need, right? And if God doesn’t give it to us and we don’t need it, it’s sinful to want it, right?

For a long time I felt that contentment meant being completely satisfied with what you have. This means that any desire for something one doesn’t have is discontentment and therefore sinful.

This was my train of thought: It is a sin to be discontent, to be content means you don’t want anything, you are satisfied with what you have. Therefore to want is to be discontent, therefore to want is to sin. Furthermore, God gives us everything we need, if we don’t have it we don’t need it. If we don’t need it we just want it, and wanting anything is a sin.

From the last three paragraphs you can see why my life has become kind of messy. I have shoved down a lot of desires and drives mistaking them for sin. This has made me a bit of a limp noodle. If wants and desires are inherently sinful what’s the point of trying? After all, you’re going to get what you need.

But then I realized that the Bible clearly talks about wants.

“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James 4:2b-3

James does not condemn his audience for asking for things.

In 1 John we read this:
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

One only asks for things if one wants something. Since asking is not condemned, wanting is not condemned. I was wrong to think merely having wants was sinful. God clearly wants us to want things that are in accordance with His will and to ask Him for them. Asking is encouraged, and we are to do it with confidence.

Ultimately I don’t have to feel shame or guilt for wanting things (or experiences, or good feelings). But I do have to ask the question “is this in accordance with God’s will?”

Probably the easiest way to determine this is to ask the questions “Do I want this purely for selfish gain? Does my desire ultimately serve others and/or bring glory to God?” If the answer to the first is no and the answer to the second is yes then I am free to ask and to pursue what I want.

This whole train of thought has further implications, obviously. This is me after all. I can’t keep anything too simple. Keep checking back and I will try to further expound on these thoughts in other posts as I get to them.

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Pre-Posturous Humanity

peacock

Ever see a peacock strut around thinking he’s hot sh-tuff? Ever see a man doing the same thing?

Much of our culture is posturing. I don’t know why I never noticed it before. From rappers to politicians to kids on the playground, we put a lot of value in posture.

The problem is, it’s all a facade. I act tough to make the middle schoolers I drive around behave, but honestly I’m not the ogre I pretend to be. But when you’re getting stared down by three 13 year old girls, you have to out-mean-mug them to gain any semblance of respect.

Pretty much all the “urban” culture I’m exposed to daily is about posturing. Renting a Lambo for your rap video is a cliche for a reason. Being boujee is a lifestyle to so many people you’re almost weird if you aren’t. Those who can’t afford the appearances resort to physical posturing to make themselves larger than the next kid.

Social media and the blogosphere are perfect examples of posture over reality. Nothing is real online. Every post is carefully crafted to give the best impression of the poster. Even humility isn’t real online, we are too good at the humble brag.

Politicians are masters of the practice of posturing. Party squabbles are nothing but posturing. Nationalism is itself the biggest peacock. Everything in politics is about the appearance of being the bigger, badder character on the block. Get the biggest bomb, have the biggest economy, have the biggest army, anything you can do to make your homeland the biggest.

But posturing is silly. You are not that big. In fact you’re probably just as shattered and broken as the next guy. Most of the time the more extravagant the peacock the more fragile the ego. The higher the mountain the harder they fall so to speak. This applies to bullies on the bus, to politicians, and even to nations.

Perhaps the better policy is less posturing and more honesty. Perhaps we should all start admitting our weaknesses and help each other with our strengths. Perhaps we could all posture a little less and be humble instead.

But that, to the world, is preposterous…

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Putting The “Justice” Into Social Justice

If you pay any attention to the modern world you’ll notice a buzzword floating around that might be a bit confusing for literalists like me. When I hear a term I pick apart it’s meaning just to be sure it’s being used correctly. Probably the most overused buzzword floating around right now is “social justice.”

Recently there was a meeting headed by John MacArthur to come up with a Christian response to the term. The group came up with a 14 part “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel”. I plan on combing through it over the next few days and give a good summary of what I agree with and disagree with. From my initial scanning I will say I am not totally sold on it.

The more I research the term the more nebulous it’s meaning. Just like the term “toxic masculinity“, the definition of the term “social justice” seems dependent on one’s political beliefs.

What’s my definition of “social justice”?

The “social” part is not hard to understand and for the most part I think people use it correctly. It’s pretty hard not to. “Social” just refers to people. The term clearly refers to how we treat people.

The “justice” part is much harder to understand.

“Justice” is defined by the Google as: “just behavior or treatment”, “the quality of being fair and reasonable”, “the administration of the law” which is somewhat helpful, if we can define “just”, “fair”, and “reasonable.”

“Just” is defined as “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair” which seems clear right? It’s also defined as “(of treatment) deserved or appropriate in the circumstances.

So who decides what is fair? Fairness is a rather subjective thing. “Deserved” is also a relative term, especially in this day and age of entitlement nonsense.

These definitions are pretty cut and dry when speaking in legal terms. When a civil violation or a criminal action takes place fairness and a deserved retribution can usually be pretty easy to parse out. In “Social Justice” however, fairness and deserts can mean just about anything.

That leaves us with “morally right” and “appropriate in the circumstances”.

As a Christian, I have a basis for the moral treatment of others in scripture: “Treat others as I would have them treat me” “Love my neighbor” and “love my enemy”. To be socially just I must take pains to ensure I am loving those around me. Add “appropriate to the circumstances” and this becomes a slightly more difficult task.

Social justice as a Christian requires a great amount of discernment and attention to individuals. We cannot approach the subject as the pagan world does with blanket platitudes and government programs. We have to be involved with individual members of all classes, races, genders, religions, and whatnot.

To be just we must know what our neighbor deserves (love, first and foremost) in their individual circumstances. We must treat our enemies with love, understanding that they may deserve different things than our family or neighbors (again, they deserve love, but tempered with caution).

Social justice is a silly term for Christians to use. We have had the golden rule for millenia, why use such a trendy buzzword?

I’m just going to keep on treating others with love and kindness.

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Stabbing Anxiety In the Face With a Soldering Iron, Part 2

Last week I discussed some of the things I do to conquer the physical aspects of anxiety. But what about the thoughts?

In order to kill bad thoughts it helps to understand the motives behind one’s thoughts. Most of my anxious thoughts stem from my severe need to be in control of all things. I am a control freak. When things are out of my control I panic. I begin to think the worst. I lose all faith and go into the selfish cocoon of anxiety.

Knowing what motivates my wrong thoughts helps in creating a strategy to defeat them.

So what do I do?

Well, I take control of the things I actually have control of. Despite my negativity, there are things I actually have some power over. Like my time, my children, and my personal space.

I make a schedule and try to stick with it, understanding that sometimes things happen that make that schedule obsolete for the moment. At the very least I follow a routine and make habits.

I work on establishing healthy boundaries with my children. Kids can be chaos incarnate, but usually only because we don’t put a foot down and make it clear what is allowed and not allowed. Discipline goes a long way towards helping calm that storm. Boundaries are important to all relationships, if there are other relationships in your life that create stress and anxiety it is likely that you need to establish some basic rules regarding it.

By personal space, I mean my house. I have control over the cleanliness and clutter of my home. Part of a good schedule and routine is taking time to organize and clean up. Visual clutter and messes are huge triggers for anxious thoughts. It took me years to figure this out, but it has made a huge difference since.

As for the things I can’t control… (which are far fewer in number than my mind will let me believe) those things get put into my prayers. Only God can control those things.

That may seem like a cop out answer, but I assure you that faith is harder than any scheduling, disciplining, or cleaning. Having faith requires catching my thoughts and correcting them. Taking every thought captive requires constantly telling myself truths to correct the lies that my mind wants to tell me. In order to do this I have to know truths, I have to study and think about truths, and I have to believe truths.

Anxiety is ultimately the antithesis of faith. Faith is ultimately the solution to anxiety.

Daily Thoughts #15

My temporal comfort is way more important to me than it is to God. He knows exactly where to poke me to get me moving towards Him and away from my sinfulness.

Even the YouTube school of mechanics can’t teach you everything.

I’m tired…

Dressing well is surprisingly good for one’s spirits. It’s amazing how wearing clothes that fit and look good can make you feel better about yourself.

All You Need is Love

“Love…is a many splendored thing.

Love… Lifts us up where we belong.

All you need is love…”

While Moulin Rouge might have been more of a lust story than a love story it at least gave us some memorable medleys about love (and was a darn good movie).

What is love? (Baby don’t hurt me)… Love, biblically is: patient, kind, not arrogant or boastful, selfless, forgiving, truthful, strong, trusting, hopeful, enduring, and everlasting… All the things that we as sinners seem to have such a hard time being.

Why is marriage so difficult? Because we aren’t loving. As soon as we lose our patience, or distrust our spouse, or hold onto a grudge about something s/he did, we are no longer loving. As soon as we decide we would rather selfishly sit on the couch then get in the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, garage, home office, or nursery and lend a hand we are no longer a loving spouse.

Why is parenting such a hardship? Because it is hard to be patient with three year old tantrums or a nine year old’s backtalk. It is hard to be kind when you have been working your fingers to the bone and your six year old demands some attention. It’s very tough as a finite creature to give endless amounts of discipline and instruction to little people.

Love is tough, it does not come naturally to most of us. Movies make it seem so easy. All you have to do is kiss and say some sweet nothings and your life will blossom with joy. Not so with reality.

In reality love is holding your pregnant wife’s hair while she loses her breakfast for the third time that day (for the record my gag reflex was too much. My wife was gracious enough to let me out of this halfway through her second pregnancy). Love is sitting down and helping your nine year old figure out her feelings or giving your six year old a much needed piggy back ride. Love is making your spouse lunch every day. Love is getting up and going to work every day (or staying at home to take care of things there) so your spouse can live out their gifts and talents (at home or in a workplace).

Love is ugly sometimes. It forces us to confront our own narcissism. It makes us crush ourselves so others may rise to greatness. Love frequently leaves us feeling spent and used. There is not always an immediate or even short term return on our investments.

But in the end (the love you take is equal to the love you make), love is worth every struggle and hardship. Every pain will be counted and rewarded.

God rewards our good deeds, and those done in love all the more.

Judging A Book

Oh no, it’s that long haired hippie freak and his beard again…

What does your style say about you? Can someone really tell much just by what you wear or what you listen to? What do the various decorations you put on say to the world around you?

I walked into a country western store the other day. Everything in there was country, from the boots to the hats to jeans and the accessories. They even had redneck wine glasses. There was a guy in there with his son and they were both dressed to the hilt with rodeo garb. Needless to say my sandals, t-shirt, and long hair didn’t exactly fit in.

My wife works with a guy covered in tatoos. If you didn’t know him you would probably make an assumption that he has spent a bit of time in prison. Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a hard worker who loves his kids.

I crossed paths with two guys in Wal-Mart who could have been drug dealers, but the well put together type. They were nothing but cordial when one of them almost ran into me. Definitely not the kind of reaction I would have expected if I had been judging them by their looks.

Even in church you meet some wiley looking characters. I grew up in a fairly well-to-do area where people dress up for church, and our church at “home” is filled with good-looking, tan, well dressed folks. It was a bit of a culture shock attending a mountain church. Mountain people live in a rough area, and they look the part. People come to church in jeans and graphic tees. They have mullets and scruffy unshaven faces. Some of them even smoke (gasp) in the parking lot. Yet they worship with sincerity and love God with all their hearts.

I love all these folks, from the tatooed characters in Wal-Mart to the well dressed folks in my home church. I may feel very conspicuous around many of them, and they may not always know how to talk to me, but every one of them is a person, created in the image of God, and worthy of love.

When we start judging people or expecting people to be just like us we risk alienating those who most need love. Christians stop spreading the Gospel. Imagine if Christ had avoided some of the people we do.

Now, this doesn’t mean we embrace sin. We shouldn’t be “inclusive” for the sake of political correctness or trying to make our church bankrolls bigger. Outright unrepentant sin should not be accepted by any true church.

But judging people by how they look and by their style is something no one should do.

Imperialism and Hobbes

Yes, I am bringing up Hobbes again. Since we have decided to drop bombs on Syria (again) it seems apt to point out that Hobbes would blame us all for the deaths of innocents abroad. In fact, Hobbes would also blame the Syrians themselves for whatever their dictator did. Come to think of it, in the world of Hobbes there are no innocents.

Over the past couple of days I have seen people saying that Trump voters have blood on their hands, only to be told that they, as non-voters, also have blood on their hands.

Isn’t it great to live in a world where no matter what you believe or do, you are “responsible” for the deaths of thousands and millions?

Thank you, Hobbes, for planting in our heads this ridiculous idea that just because we are born in a certain geographic region under a certain tyrant we are somehow not only subject to his whims but responsible for his sins. Thanks for giving us this preposterous idea that tyranny is legitimate as long as it is passed down successively under a set of rules laid down two hundred years ago.

Why Join a Cult?

21 JUMP STREET
From Texas Monthly

One of the Facebook groups I am a part of was invaded last week by two cult members. At first it seemed like a troll, since the posts were almost too ridiculous to be believed. But as the posts piled up it became apparent that these people were serious. They sincerely believed what they said.

The question came up, “Why would anyone want to join a cult?”

Well, my answer was this: “Anxiety and depression mostly. Some of us are prone to believing that our horribleness requires penance in the form of self depreciation and asceticism. The Gospel is sweet, but the bitterness of the law is strong and guilt can be hard to shake. By doing something, like fleeing alcohol or anything pleasant, it feels like we are actually doing something towards our salvation. Being confirmed in our thinking is a comfort, and our ability to deny ourselves gives us assurance. It can be pretty ugly. I have to stop talking to people like that because it can be quite alluring. I have to flee and preach the true Gospel to myself.”

Basically, people join cults because they doubt the promises of the Gospel. They deny that the Mercy of God is a free gift, not something they have worked to earn. The want to have their salvation based on their works because it gives them a sense of assurance. And they frequently have a very negative view of the world.

Interestingly enough, the same week my wife sent me this video and asked “why don’t I like these people? You would figure it would be right up our alley.”

It is a great question. We are very much a part of the “unconventional” crowd. Why are these people so offensive? Why are cults so offensive?

Immediately I thought what makes these people so unfriendly is their attitudes of judgment and anger.

Conservatives and liberals have this in common: everyone should be like them. They want a homogeneous culture. The consistent ones go and cloister themselves into little communities in the woods or small towns.

They aren’t really living happy lives, despite their claims. They want to claim that they are untangled with the culture, however, they are completely engaged with it. But instead of helping it or changing it, they vomit all over it. They throw all their judgement at it and yell at it.

They are not making the world a better place with their opposition. They are just making it uglier. Those that sequester themselves into enclaves out in the boonies focus entirely on the bad of the world, never on the good things. They are pessimists. They constantly talk about “when the shit hits the fan”. They make plans to completely cut out of the world when it does. Frequently, they are already living in cardboard huts anticipating it.

I don’t care if you want to have the situational awareness that tells you it might hit the fan. There is always the possibility things in society could go south. But to live with the assumption that it will? Why does it have to? Why assume that the world will ultimately collapse and leave you as the lone group of nutcase survivors?

Why not take an optimistic view that the world will at least be a neutral place?

There is evil in the world, but there is also Common Grace. And if we are Christians, we should definitely be optimistic.

I’m not saying we all adopt a PostMil worldview and assume the world gets better and better and when we finally have a Christian State, Jesus will come rule it. Nor should we take the negative approach and assume it all just goes bad and worse before Christ finally returns and makes it all better again.

A neutral view is far more Biblical. In the end days there will certainly be wars and rumors of wars (bad stuff) but people will be marrying and giving in marriage (good stuff).

“Post”-apocalyptic is a funny term. Christians should understand that after the apocalypse comes the new heaven and the new earth. Why be pessimistic about that?

We are put into a box in this world. God drops us in to a specific place and time in the universe, we have to engage with what we are given, not wish that we were somewhere or sometime else. Many have tried the ascetic way of pulling completely out of the world, and all of them have failed at bringing about any positive change on the world.

Instead of denying Christ’s promise of deliverance from the Law, and hiding in fear from the world, let’s be in the world but not of it like Christ described us.

Why join a cult? I have no idea. Enjoy the world that God has placed you in. Engage it and make it a better place.

Love Your Wife: Love Yourself

Simpson Selfie
Sometimes I see myself as a Simpson, apparently…

From stay-at-home moms being called bad moms for wanting an hour to themselves, to husbands and fathers who just want some time away in their “mancaves” being called irresponsible, self-care gets a bad rap.

In blogs and books and sermons, folks are told that they should give up everything and give themselves to everyone else’s needs far above their own. People are beaten to death with the line that true happiness is only found in complete and utter self-denial.

But the Bible implies something very different, especially to husbands, in Ephesians 5:28-30:

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

In order for a man to properly love his wife, he must first love himself.

But… This is not the selfish, narcissistic, self serving “love” that many men demonstrate through cruelty, waste, disrespect, slovenliness, and misplaced passions.

The self-love spoken of in these verses is informed by a proper perspective of self. The man who practices this self-love is enlightened by Gods own view of him. This man sees himself as God sees him, frail and sinful, fallen and weak, but loved, saved by grace, imperfect, but being sanctified daily and made more holy. God is pleased to see us as image bearers reflecting His glory back to Him. Instead of wretches clothed in rags He is pleased to see us in the robes of His Son.

A man who loves himself will care for himself, he will take pride in himself. He will understand that his value and loveliness is not in his success, his wealth, his looks, or his health, but simply in his createdness. Only when he understands this will he be able to take care of those things. When he properly loves himself he will be able to properly love those things and care for them.

And when he cares for those things he can care for his wife. Only when he cares for himself will be able to care for her. When he takes care of his health he is able to care for her. When he tends to his wealth he is able to care for her. When he is successful in any number of other areas, he will be able to care for her.

A man who eats too much, sits too long, and invests far too much time in pursuit of wealth and “security” is not a man who is able to care well for his wife. A man who hates himself and takes no pride in the fruits of his labors is most often married to a miserable woman.

Christ cared for Himself, He took time away from the crowds, the disciples, and from healing. He knew enough to rest, because His humanity was frail like ours. By taking the time to care for Himself, Christ was better able to care for His bride, the church.

About a week ago I was forcefully informed that my self-hatred was killing my marriage. My life to some degree has been falling apart because I have been refusing to take pride in my own life and worth, and refusing to care for my responsibilities (because what’s the point?). Even what I learned back in February seemed to be going by the wayside.

I tried to take care of everyone, tried to make everyone else better, but neglected myself.  I shut myself down, never expressing feelings thoughts or emotions. I never had an opinion that didn’t agree with someone else.

I became a nothing. And my wife despised it.

She wants a man who loves himself, who takes charge of himself, who disciplines himself, who prioritizes himself. She wants a man with a voice, opinions, thoughts, challenges to her daily life. not a lump of flesh. Certainly not the weak-willed mumble I was quickly becoming.

I am learning, slowly, to love myself. I’m figuring out how to to do the things I want, to make time for me, to refresh my soul and take care of my body. I’m making sure to take care of my appearance as well, as this is important.

And for the first time in my life I’m learning to take some pride in what I do, instead of loathing the silence from critics or friends, I’m taking it as a sign to improve and keep striving. Eventually I’ll get someone’s attention. At least I’ll know my capabilities.

It’s refreshing and terrifying all at the same time.