Covered and Healed

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristFor we know, 

brothers and sisters loved by God, 

that he has chosen you, 

because our gospel came to you 

not only in word, but also in power and 

in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. 

(1Thes 1:4-5)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you truly feel forgiven and loved by God?

It is one thing to know that you are covered by the blood of Jesus in your head and it is another thing to feel it in your heart. 

Fear and Anxiety

In 2010, I signed up for a small group discussion at church. A couple days later the pastor’s wife called to inform me that the group that I have signed up for was over-subscribed and asked whether I would be willing to join another group. No problem, I said reluctantly thinking to myself–why would I want to join a group talking about fear? So I bought the book and as I read along, I found my life jumping off the pages–not only had fear crept into my life; it was quietly dictating a lot of my decisions. Through almost no effort on my part, God had directed me to a major stronghold in my life and helped me deal with it.

Max Lucado (2009, 5-6) observed that: ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s. Fear displaces happiness; fear is unproductive; fear is self-defeating. After the storm on the Galilee, Jesus asked: why were you afraid? (Matthew 8:26) In suggesting the destructive potential of fear, Martin Niemoeller observed in 1933 that it was fear that transformed Adolf Hitler into a tyrant (Lucado 2009, 9-11).

Fear of losing one’s children, one’s job, or one’s health can paralyze a person. Who can contemplate Einstein’s theory of relativity when one worries about the roof collapsing? We live in an age of fear. 

Emergency Room

I recently made a trip to Cambridge, MA to visit my daughter and her husband. We had a wonderful time together, but two days before my return home I ate something that set off my stomach and it exacerbated a problem that I have with my prostrate. Unable to urinate, I ended up in the local hospital in the emergency room where they inserted a catheter, which I lived with for about two weeks. Because movement of almost any kind was uncomfortable, I was able to travel home but almost all of my normal activities—writing, exercise, volunteering, church attendance—halted during my distress.

Embarrassed by my condition, I did not advertise my sudden dependency on the good graces of my friends and family. Nevertheless, word got around and I soon found three churches and a lot of friends praying over me. Meanwhile, my wife proved herself to be an absolute angel.

A great peace came over me. For the first time in recent memory, I found myself anxiety-free. I have always felt God’s love; now, I felt loved like never before by the church and my family. Being a lifelong nervous eater, this peace displaced interest in food and I lost more than ten pounds, a healing brought about by this peace.

Loved by God

We serve a God of abundance. The Apostle John recognized the divinity of Christ through his miracles of abundance: wine, loaves of bread, and fish (John 2, 6, 21). The trademark of God’s healing displays itself as healing extends beyond the presenting diagnosis. In my case, I no longer need a catheter and I continue to enjoy a deep peace and weight loss.

References

Lucado, Max. 2009. Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Covered and Healed

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Value Of Life

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Finding Closure

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristJesus said to him, 

No one who puts his hand to the plow and 

looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

(Luke 9:62)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

It’s not how you start, but how you finish that matters to God. Jesus makes this point when he finds himself alone, talking to the woman caught in adultery:

Jesus stood up and said to her, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more. (John 8:10-11)

We all have history. What we share in Jesus Christ is the opportunity to live into a future defined by who God says we are, not what our sins might define us to be. This is the essence of our freedom in Christ.

The Plow

When Jesus talks in Luke 9:62 cited above about putting ones hand to the plow, he is reminding his followers of the calling of Elisha by Elijah the prophet:

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you. And he said to him, Go back again, for what have I done to you? And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him. (1 Kgs 19:19-21)

Here in this story, no one questions the commitment of Elisha to follow Elijah, but Jesus’ ministry is coming to an end and he demands a higher level of commitment as he prepares his disciples for his own death.

Os Guinness recounts the story of one eighteen year-old Jane Lucretia D’Esterre, Guinness’ great-great-grandmother, who distraught over the death of her husband in 1815 in a duel, gave up the thought of suicide through drowning as she stood on a riverbank because she noticed the son of a neighbor plowing a field:

Meticulous, absorbed, skilled, he displayed such as pride in his work that the newly turned furrows looked as finely execute as the paint strokes on an artist’s canvas. (Guinness 2003, 184) 

Mind you, this young man plowed with a team of horses that have a mind of their own!

Guinness’ story not only reminds me of the story of Elisha’s calling, but also of the importance of attending to our daily work as service not only for our supervisors but for the Lord. Imagine what might have happened to the young woman if this young man had abandoned his efforts after only plowing half his field that day.

Finishing well

The need to complete what we start, to take risks to advance God’s kingdom, is highlighted in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. In this parable Jesus describes a businessman who, in preparing for a trip, leaves his assets in the hands of trusted assistants, in amounts corresponding to their abilities. The first receiving, for example, a million dollars, another two million, and a third five million.

When he returned from his trip, he asked for an accounting from his assistants. The latter two assistants invested his money and doubled it, earning their bosses’ praise: well done, good and faithful servants. The businessman then promoted these assistants placing them in charge of entire divisions in his company.

By contrast, the first assistant stashed the boss’ money in a vault and simple returned what he had been given. Seeing no gain from his confidence in this first assistant, the businessman criticized him calling him lazy and gave his million to the assistant now holding ten. The businessman then fired this assistant and sent him on his way. (Matt 25: 14-30)

Celebrate the Season

In my own life, I have always sensed that life is short, too short to dawdle. I have learned, however, that rather than running from one task to another, we need to celebrate the seasons of life both by completing them and by marking their completion.

Remember the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. Once they crossed the Red Sea and witnessed the salvation of God in the destruction of the Egyptian army, they danced and sang praises to God:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exod 15:1)

After then spending forty years in the desert, God parted the Jordan River and they crossed into the Promised Land. As they did, God instructed Joshua to mark the occasion:

And Joshua said to them, Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, What do those stones mean to you? then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (Josh 4:5-7)

These memory stones are sometimes called Ebenezers. Modern Ebenezers are things like birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, funerals, and simple things, like keeping a journal of answered prayers and other divine interventions in your life. 

When I have a bad day—get stuck in a moment—and need a good talking to, I often go back and read my own prayers and other writings. Being reminded of where I have been (God’s goodness in my life) and where I am going (our future in Christ) reminds me of whose I am and gives life meaning.

References

Guinness, Os. 2003. The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Finding Closure

Also See:

Value Of Life

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Anger and Murder

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“You shall not murder.” (Exod 20:13)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Sixth Commandment—you shall not murder—seems cut and dry. In case you missed it, the Bible repeats it five times using the exact same words.⁠1 The punishment for murder—death—is given in the account of Noah (Gen 9:11).

When Jesus talks about murder, he compares it with being angry with and insulting your brother or sister. He then makes a curious comment: [if]

“your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt 5:24)

This comment is curious for two reasons. First, at the time when he spoke only priests were allowed to enter the Holy Place in the Temple and approach the altar. Second, this comment appears to make reconciliation with our brother or sister more important than reconciliation with God.

So what is that all about? Jesus is reminding his listeners not of the Temple, but of the first murder story in the Bible—the story of Cain and Abel. He uses it as an object lesson. Cain got angry with his brother, Abel, after Abel brought a better sacrifice to God. For this, Cain murdered Abel (Gen 4:1-8). The lesson is that we should reconcile with each other before anger gets out of control and before we do something that we may later regret (Matt 5:23–24).

Jesus is making two important points. 

First, Jesus teaches us to prevent murder by removing the incentive to murder. This lesson can then be applied to all sorts of situations, not just murder.

Second, asking God for forgiveness (bringing a gift) does not erase the sin that we have committed against one another. If we murder someone, asking God’s forgiveness does not restore the life lost or heal the emotional devastation experienced by the victim’s family. Forgiveness cannot be just about words.

The point is that asking God for forgiveness, such as repeating a prayer of confession on Sunday morning, neither requires a change of attitude towards our sin (Jesus’ first point) nor compensating those hurt by what we have done (Jesus’ second point). True repentance (a real change in heart) answers the first point; making restitution (compensating our victims) answers the second point.

Does Jesus’ lesson mean that we should never be angry? No. Anger has an object. Some objects of our anger are selfish and evil; some are not.

Jesus clearly got angry about injustice, about those doing business in the temple (John 2:14–17), and about the hard-hearted Pharisees who refused to allow good works, such as healing, on the Sabbath. By contrast, the Pharisees got so angry at Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath (because it made them look bad) that they responded by plotting his death (Matt 12:10–14).

Footnotes

 1 Also: Deut 5:17; Matt 5:21; Matt 19:18; Rom 13:9.

Why Not Murder

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Value Of Life

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Transcendence and Identity

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“Then God said, 

Let us make man in our image, 

after our likeness…

So God created man in his own image, 

in the image of God he created him; 

male and female he created them.”

(Gen 1:26-27)

 

By Stephen W. HIemstra

For us as Christians, our identity is secure—we are created in the image of God. If you want to know who you are, look at Jesus, God’s son and our role model or, as I have said colloquially, Jesus is my denominator. Jesus is the measure of all things human.

So why the interest in identity?

If God the father seems illusive and Jesus is just a man, then the whole denominator analogy falls apart. Like it or not, Americans have a problem with the transcendence of God. The fascination in the identity question is therefore a mirror image of God’s evaporating transcendence or, in other words, if God is not real, neither are we.

The Problem of Dysfunction

Being created in the image of God (Gen 1:27) may sound quaint to postmodern ears, but it becomes terribly important in understanding the implications of idolatry, the worship of images other than God. Think of idolatry as a hierarchy of priorities. 

The First Commandment makes this point: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exod 20:3) The Second Commandment reinforces the point of the first one (Exod 20:4-6). Centering our living on the one who made us gives life meaning and stability. Not doing so, leads to many flavors of dysfunction.

Idolatry and Priorities

The focus on carved images in idolatry suggests pagan temple worship, as the Psalmist makes light of:

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. heir idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. (Ps 115:3-8)

The key verse here is the last one: “Those who make them become like them.” Image theology implies that we grow to become like the god that we worship, even if we worship idols. Our number-one priority, which is a question of identity and attitude, is effectively our god (Hoekema 1994, 84). Giglio (2003, 13) writes:

So how do you know where and what you worship? It’s easy. You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your loyalty. At the end of that trail you’ll find a throne; and whatever, or whoever, is on that throne is what’s of highest value to you. On that throne is what you worship.

Idol worship threatens all that we are because over time we become like the god that we worship.

Idolatry Hampers Spiritual Formation

Focusing only on time, how much time do you spend each week in activities contributing to your spiritual formation as compared with other activities? 

Many men spend much of their free time in shoot-them-up video games, often developed by the armed forces for training soldiers. Is it any wonder that, in spite of the fact that automatic weapons have been available since the 1920s, it is only in the last decade that we have seen a rise in mass shootings in public places in the United States unrelated to any political or economic agenda? Intensive activities form us and become part of our identity—spiritual formation is not the only formation that takes place.

Poor formation leads us to worship idols that let us down. When our idols crash, we experience an existential crisis because we must completely reorganize our priorities, which is never easy (Hos 8:4).

The Problem of Suicide

Consider what happens if your number-one priority is work and you lose your job. In spite of record low unemployment, anxiety, depression, drug addiction, and suicide are at record levels in the United States, and have contributed to a decline in life expectancy (Bernstein 2018).

Amidst the high level of suicide (Tavernise 2016), two age groups stand out: young people under the age of thirty and older white men, a group not historically prone to suicide. Among young people, the typically reason for attempting suicide is a broken relationship (idolizing a person); among older men, the typical reason is a lost job (workaholism). Both problems suggest a tie to idolatry.

Death by suicide is just the tip of the iceberg according to Mason (2014, 28):

Based on large national surveys, for every fourteen suicides per hundred thousand people each year, approximately five hundred people attempt suicide and three thousand think about it.

If psychiatric problems, such as addictions, anxiety, and depression, have a spiritual root, then talk therapy and medication can only ease the pain; they cannot solve the problem. A solution requires dealing with the root cause.⁠1

God’s Love

Because we are created in the image of God and are commanded to love him and only him, God’s jealousy is part of his care for us. The Jewish daily prayer, known in Hebrew as the Shema (the name), goes like this: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5) Loving God above all else serves to vaccinate us from some serious problems.

Reclaiming Lost Transcendence

The problem of lost transcendence arises because the world screams at us and attempts to drown out the still, small voice of God. Although God has created us and, in sending Jesus Christ to die for ours, has saved us, we need to make room in our lives—both mind and body—to hear God’s voice. 

The whole point of the spiritual disciplines is find space in our lives for God. It is possible to “fake it until you make it” with spiritual disciplines, but this is actually a fool’s errand because God stands outside of time and space—he can approach us but we, being limited in time and space, cannot bridge the gap on our own. Bridging the gap is the work of Christ.

In some sense, our faith in Christ gives us the strength to pursue the spiritual disciplines. The Apostle Paul writes:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9)

When we express faith in this way, the Holy Spirit enters our hearts and bridges the gap through out faith in Jesus Christ. Transcendence becomes a reality when we experience salvation and we find a firm identity in Christ.

Footnotes

1 May (1988, 14-16) defines addiction as: “A state of compulsion, obsession, or preoccupation that enslaves a person’s will and desire” and specifically relates it to idolatry.

References

Bernstein, Lenny. 2018. “U.S. life expectancy declines again, a dismal trend not seen since World War I.” Washington Post. November 29.

Giglio, Louis. 2003. The Air I Breathe. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Publishers.

Hoekema, Anthony A. 1994. Created in God’s Image. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Mason, Karen. 2014. Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains, and Pastoral Counselors. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

May, Gerald G. 1988. Addiction & Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions. New York: HarperOne.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High.” New York Times. April 22. Online: https://nyti.ms/2k9vzFZ, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

Transcendence and Identity

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Value Of Life

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A Worshiping Community

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristObserve the Sabbath day, 

to keep it holy, 

as the LORD your God commanded you. 

(Deut 5:12)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The divine origin of the Sabbath is well-attested in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, it is the only commandment that appears also in the creation account and it is also the longest commandment—an indicator of emphasis. In the New Testament, Jesus refers to himself as the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8; Luke 6:5) and performs several miracles specifically on the Sabbath. Why all this attention to the Sabbath?

A Biblical Understanding

A key to understanding Sabbath is found in Hebrews 4, which list four aspects of Sabbath rest: physical rest, weekly Sabbath rest, rest in the Promised Land, and heavenly rest—our return to the Garden of Eden.

Physical rest is underrated by many Christians. Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) How are we to love God and love our neighbors when we are physically exhausted all the time? Sabbath rest allows us to build the physical, emotional, and spiritual capacity to experience God and to have compassion for our neighbors.

We see a clue to this interpretation of Sabbath when we compare the Exodus and Deuteronomy renderings of the Fourth Commandment. Deuteronomy adds the sentence: 

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” (Deut 5:15)

Free people rest; slaves work. Sabbath rest is a symbol of our Christian freedom.

The Promised Land, promised rest (Ps 95:11), heaven, and the new Eden (Rev 22:2) all display and reinforce Sabbath imagery. The image of our Divine Shepherd is one who gives heavenly rest: “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (Ps 23:2) Sadly, this poetic image of rest only seems to come up at funerals.

The 24-7 Culture

Postmodern culture refuses to rest. Sunday is fast becoming just another day where the malls are open and employers seldom offer overtime to those required to work it. So why does Moses insist on honoring the Sabbath?

Under penalty of death (Num 15:32-35), the prohibition on work on the Sabbath provided a cultural alternative to Pharaoh’s relentless pursuit of wealth. Brueggemann (2014, xiii-xiv) writes: YHWH governs as an alternative to Pharaoh, there the restfulness of YHWH effectively counters the restless anxiety of Pharaoh. Sabbath rest appears in the creation accounts because God balances work and rest. Egyptian gods, by contrast, never rested.

By honoring the Sabbath, Moses created room for the Hebrew people to reflect on their lives and on God, the gateway to keeping all the other commandments.

Sacrificial Worship

The link between rest and worship goes beyond occurring primarily on Sundays. Marva Dawn (1991, 1) observes: “To worship the Lord is—in the world’s eyes—a waste of time…the entire reason for our worship is that God deserves it.” To see this link, consider the ancient practice of offering burnt animal offerings in the temple rather than human sacrifices. Listen to the words of Aaron during the Golden Calf incident:

“And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exod 32:4)

No doubt Aaron was simply practicing worship in a manner that he had learned in Egypt—worshiping a Golden Calf (think of the Wall Street Bull) could be thought of as an ancient form of the prosperity Gospel! 

Sacrificing a bull (or some other animal) on the alter could therefore be another way for a Jew to demonstrate his allegiance to God, not to foreign gods. Because many of these foreign gods were crafted in the form of animals, sacrificing those same animals on an altar would be a gutsy, in-your-face type of activity for a Jew.

For us today, devoting our Sundays to worshipping God is to pledge our lives to him alone and not to the god of 24-7. In the same way, donating money to the church’s work is to worship God, not the god of money. Jesus speaks plainly on this subject:

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt 6:24 KJV)⁠1

Because time and money are the reigning deities in our culture, offering God our time and money is our sincerest worship.

Footnotes

1 The King James Version transliterates the Greek (μαμωνᾷ), while other translations simple say money loosing the inference of deity more accurately that honors the text.

References

Brueggemann, Walter. 2014. Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of Now. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Dawn, Marva J. 1999. A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor fo Worshipping God and Being Church for the World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

A Worshipping Community

Also See:

Value Of Life

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Misplaced Affections

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

The radio silence today on discussions of morality is killing people.

In my annual physical this year, my doctor indicated that Baby Boomers are now considered at risk for hepatitis C and require routine screening. The key justification for this recommendation was:

“There is increasing HCV [hepatitis C virus]-associated morbidity and mortality, as annual HCV-associated mortality in the US increased more than 50% from 1999 to 2007 [currently 3.5 million cases]. People born 1945-1965 with hepatitis C face increasing hepatitis C-associated morbidity and mortality.” (CDC 2019b)

What stuns the heart is how hepatitis is usually contracted. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports:

“Although transmission via injection drug use remains the most common mode of HCV acquisition in the United States, sexual transmission is an important mode of acquisition among HIV-infected MSM [men having sex with men] with risk factors, including those who participate in unprotected anal intercourse, use sex toys, and use non-injection drugs.” (CDC 2019a)

While one might contract hepatitis in a third-world country through exposure to unprotected water, in the United States one generally needs to engage in high-risk behavior to contract the disease. In this context, thoughtful teaching about the morality of avoiding high-risk behavior can save lives and reduce much suffering.

Public Health Crises

High-risk behavior has become a public health hazard in the United States . Given our recent experience with Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), this conclusion should come as no surprise.

Roughly 675,000 people have died in the United States from AIDS according to the CDC (2016).  In addition, there were 1.1 million people in the United States infected with AIDS in 2015. Two-thirds of them were gay men. Most of the rest have been intravenous drug users, although spouses of victims can also contract the disease. The average lifetime treatment cost in 2010 dollars was: $379,668, which implies a drug market of roughly half a trillion dollars, one of the nation’s largest (CDC 2017, 2018a).

On top of HCV and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)  infection, the number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs—chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and chancroid) have growing rapidly over the past decade, especially among millennials and the elderly. A thirty-one percent increase between 2012 and 2017 (2.3 million cases) reported STDs cases reversed a downward decline in reported cases that began in the 1940s (CDC. 2018b). Today’s sexual liberality bears much of the blame for these outcomes.

Taking Stock

You may be thinking, why do I care? Isn’t using a condom sufficient caution and isn’t there a pill for every one of these diseases? The answer today is a qualified yes. Yes—if you are diagnosed early, then these diseases are treatable and there may even soon be a cure for AIDS.

The trouble is that not everyone has a health plan and gets a prompt diagnosis—sex has an addictive quality that often leads to taking more risks. More troubling is the observation that diseases often mutate into new, more viral strains—twenty years ago no one had heard of HCV and before 1980 no one had heard of HIV.

For those that want to limit this conversation to the realm of personal freedom and conversations with their doctors, the opioid crisis raises the specter of conflicting incentives in the health care system.⁠1 Treating AIDS is expensive and it may also be more profitable than treating other illnesses. What happens if drug companies and other health care providers become complicit in promoting alternative lifestyles motivated by their economic interest rather than concern for those afflicted?⁠2

Who exactly can you trust when a lot of money is changing hands?

Toward a Christian Perspective

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Before any conversation about moral behavior, know that God loves you because he created you and sent his son, Jesus Christ, to die for you. God’s love is extended unconditionally, irrespective of your health care status. But God’s love is a gift that must be accepted. The consequences of rejecting God’s love (or holding it lightly) can be severe.

The teaching of the church on the question of human sexuality has been clear since biblical times (Fortson and Grams 2016). Sex is reserved for married couples in a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman. All other sexual activity is sin, something that Christians are advised to avoid (Gagnon 2001).

The focus of a disciplined life is ideally on God. Extramarital sex leads to other priorities and denigrates the image of God that we should normally look for in other people.⁠3 One pastor I know makes the point that he always knows when kids start having sex because they soon drop out of church.

Doing Better

Knowing that the health care consequences of sexual immorality in this world can be severe, the critical question for those wavering on their response: if by your words you lead someone else into risky behavior, are you okay with the pain and other consequences? Are you okay, for example, with the problem that rising health care costs mean that more young mothers cannot afford care for their kids?

One of the most tortured women that I ever met was an HIV-positive prostitute who lost custody of her kids back in 2011. At one point she considered herself a consenting adult. Now, her kids have lost their mother. We cannot anticipate all the consequences of our decisions—the best we can do is to rely on God’s help to make better decisions.

If it is too late to worry about the above question, remember that we worship a God of second chances. Turn to him and find forgiveness, remembering Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery.⁠4

References

Campbell, W. P. 2010. Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christlike Response to Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. (review)

Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2016. “Today’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic.” CDC Factsheet. Online:  https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/todaysepidemic-508.pdf. Accessed: 8 January 2019.

Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2017. HIV Cost-effectiveness. Online: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/programresources/guidance/costeffectiveness/index.html. Accessed: 8 January 2019.

Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2018a. Basic Statistics [on AIDS]. Online: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/statistics.html. Accessed: 8 January 2019.

Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ). 2015. Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Health and Human Services (HHS) Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data. (Cited: 18 October 2018).

Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2018b. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2017. Online: https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats17/2017-STD-Surveillance-Report_CDC-clearance-9.10.18.pdf. Cited: 24 September 2019.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2019a. Epidemiology and Prevention of HIV and Viral Hepatitis Co-infections. Online: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/populations/hiv.htm. Cited: 24 September 2019.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2019b. CDC Recommendation: Adults Born from 1945-1965 (Baby Boomers) get Tested for Hepatitis C. Online: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/populations/1945-1965.htm. Cited: 24 September 2019.

Fortson, S. Donald and Rollin G. Grams. 2016. Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition. Nashville: B&H Academic.(review)

Gagnon, Robert A. J. 2001. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon Press. (review)

Pope Paul VI. 2014. On Human Life (Humanae Vitae). San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (review)

Washington Post (WP) 2019. “Follow The Post’s investigation of the opioid epidemic.” Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/2019/07/20/opioid-files/?arc404=true. Cited: 24 September 2019.

Wener-Fligner, Zach. 2015. “Every US company arguing for the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage.” March 10. Online: https://qz.com/359424/every-us-company-arguing-for-the-supreme-court-to-legalize-same-sex-marriage. Cited 24 September 2019.

Footnotes

1 More than 200,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses. Many of these addictions began with prescription painkillers known to be addictive and very profitable for the companies producing them.. (e.g. WP 2019)

2 Among the 379 companies filling an amicus brief before the Supreme Court on Obergefell v. Hodges were some of the largest drug companies in the United States. (Wener-Fligner. 2015)

3 Mary Eberstadt cites four prophecies made in the Pope encyclical that appear to have taken place: “a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.” (Pope Paul VI 2014, 11)

4 See John 8. A good book on ministering to homosexuals has been written by Campbell (2010)

 

Misplaced Affections

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/ID_2019

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Sunshine and Exercise: Monday Monologues, October 28, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on Sunshine and Exercise.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Sunshine and Exercise: Monday Monologues, October 28, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Run_2019

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Sunshine and Exercise

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christwe rejoice in our sufferings, 

knowing that suffering produces endurance, and 

endurance produces character, and character produces hope 

(Rom 5:3-4)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In April 2019 after I published my book, Simple Faith, I was burned out. Physically and emotionally exhausted, my motivation also flatlined. I thought to myself, take it easy a couple weeks and you will bounce back. Weeks passed; no bounce back. Clearly, in my writing and editing this time I had pushed myself too far.

Burnout’s Physical Component

In June I returned to my usual swim routine of swimming half a mile a day. During my eight months of editing, I had often cheated on my routine swimming only a quarter mile to make more time to work. Besides, I thought, I am too distracted to concentrate on or enjoy my swim. 

Returning to my routine did nothing to relieve the burnout, but I noticed that my burnout was more pronounced in the evening, much like sunset dementia—a condition where Alzheimer’s patients manifest dementia more clearly when tired at the end of the day. At first this observation really bothered me—am I beginning to manifest Alzheimer’s disease, like my father or my grandmother? In prayer, I found the strength to take another interpretation. If burnout has a physical component, then a physical solution is warranted.

Negative Self-Talk

Initially, this insight helped little. I said to myself, what good is this? I barely have the energy to complete my workout, let alone step it up. One day in the gym, I even made fun of myself joking with a friend—what am I going to do, buy a pair of running shoes and start running intervals? Later, I was so embarrassed at myself. Then I thought, why not? I haven’t had a knee problem since the 1990s. Perhaps, I could cross train and avoid knee injuries.

Physical Training

In July I ordered a pair of running shoes online. The days after placing the order I was so uncertain about my ability to jog again that, when they arrived, I hid the shoes from my wife, thinking she would ridicule me for wasting my money on such a foolish idea. Still, I put on a new set of shorts and new tee-shirt and started jogging every other day. All along hoping that no one would see me.

To keep things easy, I began running intervals. Jog a hundred paces, then walk a hundred paces. Days became weeks. Now, three months into jogging I have abandoned running intervals to jog continuously at a slow pace.

As I write at the end of September, I have never felt better. Although my workout leaves me physically exhausted, the burnout has gone; my head is clear; and many of the old-age sorts of complaints have vaporized. 

Heart, Mind, and Body

The New Testament assumes that heart, mind, and body are inter-related parts of an undivided, unified whole that I have often described as Hebrew anthropology. The alternative is Greek anthropology where heart, mind, and body operate independently. 

Why did Jesus need to experience bodily resurrection after the cruxifixction? Jesus was not a ghost, that is, a spirit without a body, and he was not a zombie, a body without a spirit. Jesus rose from the dead—re-created whole—retaining physical scars, but displaying no emotional scars, as might be expected of a resuscitated body. Bodily resurrection exemplifies Hebrew anthropology because heart, mind, and body are interrelated, not separable in a complete, healthy person.

Sunshine and Exercise

I have often been chided for my advice to people depressed to get more sunshine and exercise, both natural anti-depressants. In my own burnout narrative, this advice worked but only after several months of effort.

The spiritual principle at work here, other than recognizing the importance of Hebrew anthropology, is that pain presents us with a Gethsemane moment. In our pain do we turn to God and give it over to him or do we turn into our pain and have a pity-party? (Matt 26:39) Elsewhere, Jesus says plainly: “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:38) 

In a world of chronic problems and endless ways to avoid pain, this teaching sounds harsh. Many friends and family members when hearing of my burnout have advised me to find a good counselor or simply to get my doctor to prescribe anti-depressants. Is sunshine and exercise a harsh response? Yes, it is harsh, almost masochistic. But if God communicates with us through our pain and we medicate our way through it, what have we learned and how has the experience transformed us?

Many answers can be given to our Gethsemane moments, but our responses ultimately define who we are as Christians, as the Apostle Paul suggests in the verses cited above.

Sunshine and Exercis

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Run_2019  

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Storytelling

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“let your light shine before others, 

so that they may see your good works and 

give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” 

(Matt 5:16)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus told a lot of stories.

The importance of storytelling has been long recognized among clinical psychiatrists. Child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim (1991) saw fairy tales as playing a key role in child development because the stories offered children a template for understanding their own emotional struggles. Biblical stories serve the same function rehearsing events from the past with current emotional and relational relevance.

Another psychiatrist, Milton Erickson, was famous for his ability to reach particularly difficult psychiatric patients through hypnosis. Still, even under hypnosis when presumably he had more leverage to offer patients suggestion, he preferred to tell them stories of healing rather than issuing directives. These stories of healing allowed him to step around the problem of patient resistance while giving the patient a template for resolving their issues on their own (Rosen 1982).

Recognizing Stories during Pastoral Visits

Savage (1998) suggests using stories to identify emotional content in the context of pastoral visits. Savage cites five classes of stories as particularly helpful to recognize:

1. Reinvestment stories where our loyalties change dramatically, as in switching careers—economist becomes pastor is one of my stories.

2. Rehearsal stories where events from the past have current meaning, such as Bible narratives.

3. “I know someone who” stories which oftentimes mask the true storyteller.

4. Anniversary stories which occur regularly at a particular calendar time, such as Christmas.

5. Transition stories which are three part stories, such as a trip to the hospital (why, what happened, and what comes next) (Savage 1998, 95).

Savage makes the point that we cannot help but tell our stories. It is particularly interesting when you catch yourself telling a story, perhaps one that you have told for years, and suddenly realize that that story captures a painful experience that you had either forgotten or suppressed.

The Parable of the Sower

Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, which is found in three of the four Gospels accounts, stands out because after telling the parable he explains its meaning to the disciples allowing Gospel readers the benefit of both left-brain and right-brain versions of the story.

Jesus’ use of this parable provides a template for preaching. Hearers of the Gospel not only have different responses to the message, reflecting the different types of soil that seeds can fall on, they also learn differently. Some respond to allegory and metaphor; others just want to have things explained. A sermon can accommodate each of these needs through use of prayers, personal stories, scripture readings, and didactic lessons. If the sermon’s theme is also reinforced in the music, then the worship service can be a highly integrated means of communication.

The Good Example

Bad examples litter the landscape of the postmodern world where drug use is being de-criminalized, prostitution is being promoted as just another vocation, and shoot-them-up gaming has become a competitive sport. Even our news, kid shows, and prescriptions are subject to advertiser’s narratives. Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they are not out to get you, as the saying goes.

With our eyes on Christ, each of us as Christians should strive to be a good role model. Much like good writers try to “show rather than tell” their stories, good Christians work to act out their faith on life’s stage where the lights never go out. Hypocrite is the Greek word for actor, who steps in and out of roles. Our role extends from birth to death. This is why we strive to improve our characters and habits with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Showing rather telling becomes particularly important in witnessing to people afflicted with pride, who refuse all straightforward attempts to offer advice much like Erickson’s psychiatric patients. Extremely intelligent and wealthy people often view themselves as too clever for everyone else, much like many teenagers. This implies that they need to learn for themselves, reflecting on the examples of others or stories told through film, theatre, conversation, or a well-chosen book.

References

Bettelheim, Bruno. 1991. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (Orig Pub 1975). New York: Penguin Books. 

Rosen, Sidney. 1982. My Voice Will Go with You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson. New York: W.W. Norton.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Show Don’t Tell

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Run_2019

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Downward Mobility

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“There is neither Jew nor Greek, 

there is neither slave nor free, 

there is no male and female, 

for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

(Gal 3:28)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

My first ministry involved organizing a summer program for students in my parent’s new church home in McLean, Virginia in the late 1970s. The high school students loved this idea and I continued to organize the summer program throughout graduate school. Over these years, I saw one cohort of students after another progress through school, graduate, and move away, a process that I described as downward mobility. As a doctoral candidate with good prospects, I was one of the few able to live and find work in affluent Northern Virginia.

The Downwardly Mobile

This downward mobility is actually a phenomena facing most young people today. Studies show that real income in the United States has been relatively flat for college graduates since about 1980. The average student has a couple years of college before dropping out and, like high school graduates, has suffered a decline in real income since 1980. Only students with postgraduate work—maybe 10-20 percent of the population—have seen an increase in real income since 1980, generally associated with their ability to take advantage of changes in information technology—the hamburger helper of today’s professionals.

This downward mobility has placed economic pressure on many people making it hard to purchase a home or have a family. The disappearance of pensions and healthcare are a related problem. In the midst of this economic pressure, American society has increasingly been stratified by economic class. Throw in gender, race, and ethnicity, and you have a highly combustible mixture because no one feels better off. The decline in life expectancy over the past three years, due in part to record suicides and drug overdoses, is testimony to the stress that people feel.

Being the Church

In the middle of a chaotic social situation and pressure on budgets, how does the church resist the temptation to serve only the wealthier economic classes rather than the entire community? This is not an idle question.

Churches, like the Roman Catholics, that operate on the parish model are better able to serve the entire community than those that differentiate themselves based on their theological heritage, like most Protestant churches. A parish is defined geographically that should ideally serve both rich and poor neighborhoods equally.

A theologically defined church can attract one or another social group, depending on particular concerns. A church promoting the prosperity Gospel, for example, is much more likely to attract the economically-disadvantaged while the work-ethic of traditional Calvinist denominations, like the Presbyterians, is more likely to appeal to professional groups.

Irrespective of structure or theology, we are called as Christians to minister to and evangelize the entire community. Just because a stressful economy has raised the stakes, does not mean that we can neglect the mission.

The Special Problem of Immigration

Massive immigration from Latin American countries, particularly in Central America, has exacerbated class distinctions in America. Hispanic immigrants often speak no English and lack documentation that allows them to work in the United States. Political deadlock has led a humanitarian crisis at the border and the development of a rigid underclass in virtually every American city.

What makes this crisis interesting is that policy changes in the United States helped promote this immigration. Illegal drug use in America has prompted the growth of narco-trafficking and the development of drug gangs in Central America that has made life difficult in these countries. Meanwhile, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) lowered the price of grain in Central America undermining the rural economy (where most of the immigrants used to work) after 1994.

Complicating matters, the lack of population growth has created an urgent need for workers in the United States in low wage industries, such as janitorial services, hospitality, construction, and agriculture.

Role for Churches

While immigration has met the need for workers and promoted economic growth, the Hispanic immigration has proceeded too quickly for immigrants to be legally and socially integrated into American society. Churches need to intervene to assist with both problems.

The biblical mandate to assist immigrants is obvious. In Exodus, we read:

“You shall not wrong a sojourner [immigrant] or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.” (Exod 22:21-23)

From a practical perspective I remind people that about a third of the children in the United States under the age of twenty share an Hispanic background. Another third are minorities. Learning to serve these groups today while the kids are young is an important investment in the future of congregational ministry that we dare not neglect.

Downward Mobility

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Run_2019

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