The Secret of the Bluff: Fooling Yourself

Tick tock – I have 30 minutes to compose this post. Pressure’s on. Do. Act. Decide. Now.

Ever felt that way? Ever been in a high-stakes, cut-to-the-chase ‘death’ match? (Hint: every living breathing soon-to-die one of you should be answering yes.)

I say “answering” because it’s a process we are going through – not yet has the bell completed ringing. And I can assure you, I’m going back and forth, back and forth, on how I will play it out. BUT, I’m pretty damned sure the game is REAL.

I want to present four movie scenes – looks on characters’ faces as they realize they were fooling only themselves:

The Hunt For Red October – the Russian Alpha sub’s captain just before his own torpedo hits

Independence Day – Will Smith’s pilot friend giving up (having just taken off his mask)

Lethal Weapon – both Glover’s and Gibson’s faces inside the store after Mel jumps with the would-be suicide guy

Indiana Jones Last Crusade – Indy’s face as he stands there at the Lion’s head with his foot out, waiting to choose to take that step onto that “invisible” walkway

Classic movie lines. “You’re not trying to draw a psycho-pension. You really ARE crazy!”
“I’m HUNGRY.” “It’s time to ask yourself what you really believe.” “You arrogant ass. You just killed us.”

20 minutes.

Turns out, all these characters were bluffing. Or rather, they’d been fooling themselves –about what they themselves really believed. I sometimes – quite often these days – feel just like that. Except it’s what my senses are telling me is real that is the false belief.

The bluff works because the bluffer has to act or convince himself or be seen as believing that his or her hand is a winner. Despite the “on paper” “face value” “actual” value of the cards. In sports they say “That’s why they play the games.” How many epic come backs (or, from another point of view, collapses) can you think of? What were the players on each side thinking? What were they believing or (as the game progressed) convincing themselves of? I’ve never met a million-dollar lottery winner, but if I did, I’d ask them, “Did you really think or believe you could or would win? Or were you bluffing – just hoping with some kind of reckless faith?” (Should we spell that wreckless?)

Because that’s the thing about bluffing. You have to believe the bluff is going to work – despite the face value of the cards. Despite all this collective experience that says it’s not possible. It can’t succeed. You have to be willing to risk it all on a single play.

Because that’s what you’re actually playing with (or against?) The bluffee’s response. That your opponent will believe that you believe. What you believe. That’s the whole thing about the message of the cross being foolishness to others. To those who don’t believe. I believe. I know somehow that God’s going to make it possible to make that leap from the Lion’s head, but my senses are lying to me, distracting me with a concern about how. The bluff is my experience of “this world’s” reality  vs what I’ve experienced by faith. So I’m not even really sure I’m bluffing or really believing. (And if you’re as confused as I am by that very statement, I assure you, you understand what I’m talking about. Fully.)

10 minutes… Clock’s ticking. What’s your play?

Is God bluffing? After all, we can’t “prove” what we know to be true and real. Think about those epic sports collapses. There’s an’art’ to failing, just like there’s something sacred about hanging onto that belief, keeping that faith that somehow, some crazy incredible, unbelievable way – despite spite all sense – the victory is already complete. Against all the odds.

“Every part of me cries out to be with the Living God.” Psalm 84:2b

“Lord All-Powerful, great blessings belong to those who trust in you!” :12

2 minutes.

“Overcome My enemy. Frustrate his anticipated victories by keeping a steadfast heart with prayers of faith. Yet do not expect Me to overcome through mysterious power… through hidden works as if by magic. I work with power through My Spirit, and My Spirit is within you. I will work in your heart and in your hands. My power is yours to tear down the strongholds of the devil through My Gospel.” – Houge, Refreshed in Christ, Day 30

1 minute.

“And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” 1 John 3:19

I’m out of

I believe I don’t know what this post is going to be about…

I believe I don’t know what this post is going to be about…

I believe I don’t know what this post is going to be about. I can tell you how it all started, and the track my train of thought rode upon – but, as I depart from the station on this morning’s journey, I don’t know where I’m – or it’s – going. And that’s wonderful!

Note: I believe the featured image of today’s journal entry is worth a look, but I don’t know how to rotate it in WordPress. Apologies.

If you, Dear Reader, are at all Savvy (as Captain Jack likes to say), you may be getting an inkling about today’s topic.

It all started when I woke up. (That’s a good figurative and literal first sentence!) But literally, I woke up to a text from my daughter, “How do I know I made the right decision?” Parents, is there a better time for a teaching moment? Ya, to show how little we really know, sure! Like someone once said, “There are known knowns…”

And then, the first verse I read today:

And this is eternal life:
That people can know you, the only true God, and that they can know Jesus Christ, the one you sent.

So, I began with the question, “Exactly what can we know, really, truly know, now? My first thoughts were song titles: The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow Somewhere Over The Rainbow and then we’ll party like it’s 1999. (There’s my Prince reference.)

What’s the difference between ‘knowing’ and ‘believing’? Google that, literally, and you’ll have hours of study available to you. Here’s the best thoughts I found:

Belief is intellectual, knowledge is experiential (Jung, paraphrased)

Believing vs knowing is like
virtual vs actual reality
copies vs originals
fiction vs fact
e-communication methods vs in-person, face-to-face (George Cappannelli)

Belief goes with doubt, it’s a choice, and is pre-experience.
Knowledge is post-experience. (for example, today we can believe or doubt that the Capitals may take the Stanley Cup; but we know the Celtics will not win the basketball championship.)
Belief is second-hand, ‘hearsay’; reading or hearing a piece of news. Knowing is first-hand, actually seeing it happen. (Valerie Mackenzie)

“An element of doubt should be put in between ‘believing’ and ‘knowing’, but doubt with shrewdness or intelligence. … useful information … turns into knowledge, and is then converted into a belief.”
Knowledge is informal experience;  we know useful information and convert it into beliefs; from our beliefs we derive our values; beliefs are convictions we generally hold to be true, usually without actual proof or evidence. Values are concepts we deem important; ideas, or ideals.
Knowing something reduces your fears.” (differencebetween.net)

“[I couldn’t] believe in something that I could not see or touch … [but] momentary experiences of grace … encouraged me to keep searching for a way to have a direcet and personal experience of God.” (Dr Margaret Paul)

Then, I read today’s Utmost.org entry. “Gracious Uncertainty”

1 John 3:2 …It has not yet been revealed what we shall be.

“Our natural inclination is to be so precise [dealing in knowns]… that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing… We think that we must reach some predetermined goal… But the nature of the spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty… To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow will bring (with breathless expectation). … We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God.

Matthew 18:3 …unless you … become as little children
“We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next. [BUT] full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectation.”

Sometimes, other people have already said it best.

But what can we know? Well, what I know is the peace that passes all understanding. I don’t have the peace all the time, though. I do doubt – a lot – from time to time. But doubting doesn’t change what I know, because I’ve experienced that peace. And I surely do know what I am like without Him; when I’m in a period of not knowing Him; when I don’t believe.

“Only believe that I do all things out of love, and the eyes of your faith will see My provision een before it is visible on the horizon.” (Houge, Refreshed in Christ, Day 29)

Then, I googled “define semantics”: “the study of meaning in language, for example, ‘destination’ and ‘last stop’ technically mean the same thing but there are shades of differences. And this is where I’m getting off today.

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Name The (-Tune-) Excuse

Name That Tune- Excuse.

There used to be a TV game show where contestants would ‘name that tune’ in as few notes as possible. Now that I think of it, there was another one where they would ‘fill in the blank’ with a song’s next words. Or how about turning it around and stumping the late night TV show band?

Games shows are one of the biggest ‘genre’ in television. We make a game out of anything: Trivia – what is backwards and forwards. Filling in the letters of cliches and the names of people, places, and things. Savvy product-pricing awareness. Heck, even simply picking the number on a shiny metal case. And, if that’s not enough, we can make a movie about a character trying to get on a game show. (I’m going to insert a link here to my contest for you all to enter the names of the game shows and the movie I just hinted at.)

Today, let’s play “Name That Post Subject in 1 Bible Chapter.” Ready? The answer is Romans 7. If you guessed verse 19 “I don’t do the good that I want to do. I do the evil that I don’t want to do.” Ding, ding, ding! Honorable mention if you were too busy watching a game show or soap opera to respond in the time allowed.

Yes, a game out of anything. Everything. A game out of knowing or not knowing. A game out of doing or not doing. Ah, that last one is my favorite! Not doing what I know I should. What I know is good. When I know I should. When I know I could. Playing “Instead.” AKA Name That Excuse: It’s boring. It’s not fun. I don’t feel well. I don’t wanna get up even. I just don’t feel like it. It doesn’t really matter. It’s “their” fault. I’m stressed out. I’m staying in. I’m hurt, angry, lonely, tired. The devil made me do it. It’s not real – doesn’t really matter. I’m scared it WILL turn out the way God promised.

Ever play that last one? It’s where you intently squeeze those eyelids shut tight, and ignore God’s signs and Psalm 56:3 “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” I’m really good at it. I always seems to start by playing – again – that seemingly-harmless “Let’s see if my life is truly unmanageable and I’m still powerless over my addictions and compulsive behaviors. (Step 1 of the 12 Steps.)” AKA It’s not that I can’t start but that I don’t stop. Playing games. Doing the evil (or the idle) that I don’t want to do. Reading fiction all day. Sleeping. Watching TV (sports games, for me). Busy work. Analysis paralysis. Even being so heavenly minded that I’m of no earthly use. Playing a pointless, meaningless video game for an entire day.

How about James 1? If you answered verse 8 “double-minded and unstable in all his ways”, ding again! This one is where “It’s not real – it doesn’t really matter” creeps into my thinking. We can make a game out of everything and we can make light of everything. Just not taking life seriously. Missing opportunities to be God’s hands, feet, and voice. Or worse, the sick game of “I don’t deserve God’s good stuff” or “Because I can (Cheap Grace)”.

But.

Perhaps I’m being too negative. I do, after all, have one sort-of game that is positive: how soon can I dig into the word today? The answer is usually “just as soon as the coffee is made.” Another name for it is “Name that Child of God, and watch God pick him/her up AGAIN.” The Bible chapter for this game? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, it is not selfish and it cannot be made angry easily. Love does not remember the wrongs done against it. Love is never happy when others do wrong,but it is always happy with the truth. Love never gives up on people. It never stops trusting, never loses hope, and never quits. Love will never end…  (ERV)

I could write more, but now it’s time to play “Mission Impossible (aka Your mission for today, if you decide to accept it, is this to do list…)”

PS I deleted the shortcut to the game off the desktop. Maybe I’ll forget it’s there?

The 7th sense: “Or else…”

“In a dark, dark world
On a dark, dark continent,
In a dark, dark country,
In a dark, dark town,
On a dark, dark street…”

When I was a kid, we used to sing-song this chant all the way down to a house, a room, a closet, a box, a smaller box… It was creepy-scary for the age I was at, full of suspense and not a little bit of fear but it would end in a bright light. And I felt better.

My default mode is to hide-away, to self-entertain and self-satisfy in many, many ways. “Isn’t fun the best thing to have?” (Name that movie). Taking my time, eating and drinking, sleeping, casually spending time and money, talking myself up, playing games, zoning out, enjoying in all comfort and leisure. There’s no rush or urgency, no need, no diligence or persistence. I just “go with the flow”, with pseudo-patience, ’cause “nothing really matters to me”. (Name that song.)

Sure, at times, I’ll have manic moods or moments of worry about the future, finances, and God (usually in that order). But they pass- tomorrow has never, never come.

But always, in the way, way back of my mind and heart, there’s a nagging and persistent sense (the 7th sense?) A sense that I’m missing something – like I’m forgetting something. Like there’s something more. Something extremely important. Like something that needed to be done yesterday. Like something someone told me recently and I just can’t remember who or what. But it’s very, very relevant. Something I knew – I know I knew – like the details of a bad dream with a happy ending – I just remember it was a happy ending, so why worry? YES, BUT there’s this foreboding, like the haunting, suspense-building chord of music fading in over an idyllic and peaceful, playful scene. Something someone doesn’t want me to remember, to think about, to act upon. Something wicked coming this way. Something very, very real.

I knew this chilling sense as a child. It was in the presence under my bed, the shape in the shadow in the corner of my room, the rattle (of bones?) from the dark, dark closet. And… it… keeps… creeping… back into my mind.

“They” tried to calm my fear, to convince me nothing was there, to keep me from worry. “All is well.” Here’s a shiny thing. Life, the dark, dark world, and the hearts of men are good. “Trust me. I’m here to help.”

But there was a look in their eyes they tried to hide. I saw it. At first I didn’t understand what it was. What it meant. But slowly, ever so slowly, it dawned on me, like the bright light I could see coming at the end of that dark, dark story. There was something they knew they didn’t know. Or knew they knew. I don’t know. But it was something they did not – would not – believe they believed.

I believe we’re all the same.

And we know.

We know we can be sure the dream, the nightmare ends well. We can trust that, without knowing how or why. We really, really don’t need to worry. We can be saved and be safe. Like watching the replay of last night’s game. We win!

BUT we have a part to play. Something very, very small, like flipping a switch or turning off the gas oven before we left the dark, dark house. Very urgent. Very, very necessary. Or else

Oh, how we want to believe. To know without doubt. To speak what is hiding from me… on the tip of my tongue.

“If the spirit of God has stirred you, make as many of your decisions as possible irrevocable and let the consequences be what they will. Obey the light from your mountaintop experience, but put it into action.”
– Oswald Chambers

The night is almost finished. The day is almost here. …prepare… FIGHT [now] evil with the weapons that belong [in]/to the light.
– Romans 12:13 ERV

But the day when the Lord comes again will surprise EVERYONE…
– 2 Peter 3:10 ERV

“Work” is a 4-letter word; “sin” is not; neither is “faith”

“Work” is a 4-letter word; “sin” is not; neither is “faith”.

So, what do you do? I fear this question. I hate it. It’s the 4-letter word of questions, four simple words that have the power to cause decades of guilt and shame to rear their ugly, little heads in my mind. There’s nothing little about these words.

OK, ok. I confess. I played a video game yesterday! First time in over a year. Truly, I have sinned. And I state that in all earnestness and honesty, especially after my time in the word this morning. The morning after. Still. In the word. Still in faith.

Let me try to explain. (Of course, why else would I be blogging?) My faith is strong, but I do doubt sometimes. Well, a lot of the time. (See James 1:8 – I surely do have that verse memorized.) It’s like this: Yesterday, I plugged in one of those pseudo-candles (a light bulb heats up some fragrant wax.) My wife, Barb, asked me to turn it off, because, although it’s nice, eventually “it overwhelms.” Doubt is like that. Sin is, too. Or maybe it’s temptation that’s like that, since temptation is taking something good (or not-necessarily bad) and letting it over-whelm and lead to sin.

And all sin is sin. Even though we all sin differently. Because it’s not the thing we do (or don’t do) that is “sin”, but our wanting, desiring that thing more than God. More than God’s happiness. More than hanging with Christ on the cross. (Cause that’s what he did for us. He hung in there.) More often than not, that’s where I fail when I fall. It’s just not pleasant to be crucified. I just want/need a break, I think.

I can’t do it. I’m not capable. Literally. I’d behave like the last to die of the three hanging from the crosses in the movie Risen. (Good movie, but I liked War Room better.) And you’ll have to watch the movie if you want to know exactly what I mean. (That is, after all, my purpose for Sharing God’s Story – to encourage you all to read God’s word, see God movies, listen only to God music, be focused on God all day, every day.)

Where was I? O right, work. Do-ing. Not-doing. Sin. “What do I do?” I enjoy what I do. I want to be happy. Is that wrong? Why do I have guilt about this? Here’s a paraphrase quote from C. S. Lewis about addiction (In the Screwtape book – ya, you should read that one, too.)

Addiction is taking the pleasures God has made
in ways he did not intend
at times that are not appropriate
to degrees he has forbidden.

Before Christ saved me, that’s exactly what I did in my sin, whether it was time-wasting (time-killing) or sexual brokenness or over-use of mood/mind-altering substances. I’m quite sure that some of you can enjoy a drink or some time with a video game or other pastime quite responsibly. That is, you get your responsibilities done, appropriately. You work, then play. I used to just play. ‘Cause “work” is a 4-letter word.

I looked up “pastime” – (google “define pastime”). “An activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby, diversion, avocation, entertainment”. I thought, wait a minute – what about “find something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life?” “All work and no play, makes Johnny dull?” Define work: activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result… as a means of earning income… something a person has to do. “The world needs ditch-diggers, too?” As kids, didn’t we all love playing in the mud? Why is work supposed to be unenjoyable?

I think, it’s not. And this is something I’m just learning. One of the definitions of ‘work’ is “everything needed, desired, or expected; as in “the works.” Like what you get on your pizza. Pizza is good. Unless it’s all I eat. Or when I eat it Saturday and have to wait Til Tuesday for my next dialysis treatment. I don’t mean to say that everything, anything in moderation is good, either. There are some things that are sin, plain and simple. But I find my guilty conscience can take everything, anything enjoyable I do – or allow myself to do – to drastic interpretation (“it’s sin”) because that’s how I was in the past. Because I’m stuck on “don’t do that“. Thou shalt not. The law.

Which brings me to my time in the Word this morning. Because God speaks in unexpected ways. (See Men of Integrity.) Today’s excerpt was from “Breaking The Rules” by Fil Anderson.

“…shift away from frantic striving to achieve intimacy with God toward simply opening yourself to receive God’s gift of intimacy… from what you feel you must do [or not do – me] to what God has already accomplished.”

The accompanying Scripture, Galatians 5:

:4 If you try to be made right with God through the Law, your life with Christ is finished – you have left God’s grace.
:5 I say this because our hope of being right with God comes through faith. And the Spirit helps us feel sure as we wait for that hope.
:6 When someone belongs to Christ Jesus, it is not important if they are circumcised or not [if they never play video games or not- me]. The important thing is faith – the kind of faith that works through love.

:13 My brothers and sisters, God chose you to be free. But don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do what pleases your sinful selves [to go back to playing video games all the time– me]. Instead, serve each other with love.
:14 The whole law is made complete in this one command: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. [and loving your self means proper care of yourself, including some downtime- me]

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. The fruit of the Spirit (verse 22), is not from self-ish-ness but from self-less-ness. Not from self-care-less-ness, but from self-forget-ful-ness. It’s not myopic – seeing not beyond the self, but being other-centered, God-focused.

:26 We must not
– feel proud and boast about ourselves,
– cause trouble for each other
– be jealous of each other

6:2 Help each other with your troubles. When you do this, you are obeying the law of Christ.
:4 Don’t compare yourselves with others. Just look at your own work to see if you have done anything to be proud of [if you do to be good, beneficial, responsible; including to yourself- me]
:5 You must each accept the responsibilities that are yours.

Like I said, God speaks. The entry for Houge’s “Refreshed in Christ” 30 Day Devotional, Day 21: “Study My Word” 2 Timothy 2:15:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing (accurately or correctly handling, or cutting-straight) the word of truth.

So, what do I do? You just read it. And today, dialysis and then a nap. I’ve been up since 1:30 am, after all. I don’t expect I’ll play that video game.

…the empty old

Ya, I still find myself sitting and staring at the TV screen for hours, or looking in the app store at the latest rpg games, or distracting myself in book n of some fiction sequel. Then I stop and wonder, wtf? Why do I ever consider going back, crawling back – even for a moment – to these proven empty old habits, when what I have found – what God was shown me, given me just a taste of – is so much more joy-filled and intense?

Look, I’m sure [insert any out-of-market hockey team in round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs] needs my support, and those in-app purchases might be worth it if recreation is desperately needed, and Bernard Cornwell appreciates my reading yet another Saxon Tales story (they are very good!), BUT, frankly, too much of a good thing is still a bad thing.

I’ve spent so much of this life – and I really don’t consider it wasted time – searching hard for the path God set for me. It’s like Bilbo and the dwarves traveling through Mirkwood. “Don’t lose the path, or you’ll never find it again.” Except, of course, God put me back on it – at the bottom of a cliff, so to speak; like when the hobbits fall down the hill in Fellowship. (Is mixing LoTR movie scenes like mixing metaphors?) (Speaking of which, how many times have I watched those six movies?)

But, getting back to the point of this post… In Step 11 (“we sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God…”), the first part of Colossians 3:16 is the associated verse: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”. But for me, the rest of that verse is key:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

And Ephesians 5:18-20:

And do not be drunk (any more, for me) with wine…; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

I spend time in God’s word. I sing and worship and praise God at church and Celebrate Recovery up to 3 times a week. I write for Sharing God’s Story several times a week. I’m trying to put together a book of recovery tools. I fellowship at small group and step study and individual contacts. I offer to share my testimony and thereby give hope to others. I schedule interactive time with my wonderful wife and otherwise love just being with her. And God provides. Yet, my eyes and attention still wander to the shiny things and past-times of this world – the empty old, and I have to draw them away with great intentionality. One moment, one day at a time.

I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do the good I want to do, and I do the evil I hate.

In my mind, I am happy with God’s law.

But I see another law working in my body. That law makes war against the law that my mind accepts. That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and that law makes me its prisoner.

So now anyone who is in Christ Jesus is judged not guilty.

…God did what the law could not do: He sent his own Son to earth with the same human life that everyone else uses for sin. God sent him to be an offering to pay for sin.

But if your thinking is controlled by the Spirit, there is life and peace.

But if you use the Spirit’s help to stop doing the wrong things with your body, you will have true life.

– verses from Romans 7 and 8, Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)