Eat and be satisfied

Eat and be satisfied

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Introducing SinWin behavior tracker

LAS VEGAS - CES - February 11th, 2016 - LifeHacker Church, a leader in the spiritual fitness market, today unveiled SinWin, a behavior tracking app, which together with the wearable technology in the SinWinSkin bracelet, make up a comprehensive sin management solution.

Never before has behavior tracking been easier or more accurate. Instead of journals, logs, accountability partners, and the "leading" of the Holy Spirit, SinWin wearable technology allows you to monitor works of the flesh in real-time. When you fail to take a thought captive, SinWin will know and so will everyone else. SinWin technology incorporates sensors monitoring heart rate, speech, core temperature, perspiration level, ergonomic state, and electromagnetic radiation to derive your SinScale - a rating for your depravity.

The technology is complex but the result is simple.

And effective.

Here's how it works:

Each day your SinScale starts with a score of 10,000 points. Every sin detected reduces your score. Lustful thought? Minus fifty points. White lie to a co-worker? Take away twenty-five points. One cupcake too many? That will cost you fifteen points. Micro-transgressions such as pangs of jealousy and Facebook envy subtract anywhere from three to eleven points.

"Before SinWin, you would need to come to church to get your weekly dose of guilt, shame, and condemnation but now you can have  all those functions on your wrist," said Walter BeeBee, lead pastor and CEO of LifeHacker Church. "Before SinWin, pastors would have no idea how well you behaved in the past week but with our social media integration, your followers will know exactly how many times you viewed porn in the past hour because it will show up in their news feed."

In response to concerns that SinWin will make pastors obsolete, Bebe said this: "The beauty of this app is we pastors have always suspected you're sinning more than you think and now we can know for sure. Now we can focus on what we really should be doing - keeping you from tipping the SinScale. We all know the goal of the Christian life is sin management and now we can monitor your sanctification progress better than ever before."

In-app purchases include customized notifications such as "You have exceeded your husband nagging quota for the day" and even preemptive alerts such as "When you go into Starbucks, don't stare at anything in yoga pants".

Customer testimonials include:

"Before SinWin, I only heard 'recalculating' when I was in the car but now I get to hear that British-accented woman every time I do something wrong"

"Unbelievable. I was 200 points down before I even got out of bed this morning because I had a strange dream with leprechauns"

"I got a 1475 last week and earned the 1K crumpled angel wing badge. I'm hoping to get the Donald Trump hair badge for seven consecutive days of avoiding Muslims."

And the benefits of SinWin don't end with you. 

Steve Yang, LifeHacker Chief Technologist and father of twin toddlers, explained: "This app will also revolutionize parenting. We had helicopter parenting before but this will usher in the age of drone parenting. Parents can monitor their child's SinScale using their smartphone and have more time to do more spiritual things than waste time parenting their kids".

Asked how Jesus would have rated on SinWin: "Pretty close to 10K" Bebe replied. "We're still working on how our algorithm rates his death and resurrection on the SinScale but we're confident our programming team will have it down in the next release."

The SinWin app is available free in iTunes and Google Play. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

8 Ways Oprah's Ad Preaches the Gospel

The full text of what she says:
Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be. Many times you look in the mirror and you don't even recognize your own self, because you got lost - buried - in the weight that you carry.
Nothing you've ever been through is wasted. So every time I tried and failed, every time I tried again, and every time I tried again, has brought me to this most powerful moment - to say: 
"If not now, when?"
I feel that way and I know millions of other people feel that way. Are you ready? Let's do this together.

Let me first acknowledge that Oprah does not proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That's the sina qua non of preaching the gospel.

And yet there are more gospel redemptive elements of Oprah's ad than most thirty-forty minute sermons. In addition, Oprah is able to move our hearts in a way most sermons won't - and the fact she can do that in sixty seconds is incredible.
Note: As I've acknowledged before, I own stock of Weight Watchers in my retirement account. I think this company has a great program that applies 12-step recovery program methodology to weight loss. Like this ad, the 12-step is not explicitly Christian but also has strong gospel-redemptive elements.

1) Highlights the deception of the evil one: From Oprah's initial statement, it would appear Oprah's audience is overweight women but the gospel is for every person.  After all, we are all subject to the evil one's attacks. Satan's primary tactic is deception - to make people think they're sinners when they're really saints or saints when they're actually sinners. His ploy is to cause you to look in the mirror and not recognize your true identity.

On that note, I would change her verbiage to "Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she truly is". The flesh is not who we truly are in Christ. In him, we are new.

2 Corinthians 11:3  But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

2) Highlights the burden of the flesh: Paul's epistle to the Romans talks about how each person is a slave to sin. A person's compulsive relationship with food has all the elements of addiction. Every person is weighed down, lost, and buried by the weight of his own sin.

Psalm 38:4  For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

3) Encourages the value of change efforts: No one who wants to change enjoys failure. That's why we give up. And yet Oprah recognizes the lessons of repeated failure as preparation for the future - a future which has now arrived in the form of the present. The suffering of past trials is the fertile soil in which seeds of victory will bloom. Failure doesn't kill hope but rather nurtures it.

Hebrews 12:11  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

4) Demonstrates vulnerability by sharing her personal failures: The grainy images of Oprah jogging and pumping away on the  stairmaster are poignant examples of Oprah's failed change efforts. We all have areas of sin and addictive behavior that we have repeatedly tried and failed to address. Oprah is saying you're not alone. She has been exactly where you are - discouraged, defeated, ashamed, and fearful.

5) Exhorts us to make most of our limited time: "If not now, when?" When is the best time for life change? Right now. This very moment. Don't keep putting it off. There is no perfect moment when you will have sufficient energy, willpower, support, and resources to transform your life.

Ephesians 5:15-16  Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

6) Speaks to the audience as one person: Oprah does not address the audience as "Are you all ready?" or "Are some of you ready?" or "Are any of you ready?". No, it's "Are YOU ready?" She is talking to you. Not the person next to you. Not a group of people who are better prepared. She is talking to you - the individual. Jesus did that too. 

Luke 13:3  "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." [Jesus speaking to a group of Jews who looked down on Galileans for their offering practices]

7) Makes a clear call to action: "Let's do this together". There are literally thousands of scripture verses where the biblical authors make clear calls to action. In the gospel, no one is simply a spectator. The gospel is a full-contact sport. What I find so genius is that Oprah never mentions Weight Watchers. It doesn't really matter. If you want to lose weight, then do something. Whatever personal change effort you know you need - controlling one's temper, quitting porn, ending a bad relationship - let's do this together.

8) Invites us to participate in her journey: Oprah is running the race and she has invited you to join her. We will pound the pavement together. The gospel is a journey we embark on together - with all the saints who have gone before us and all the saints who will come after - gazing upon the author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 12:1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Marital Readiness as Support

When should one aim to get married? How long should one know his/her significant other before tying the knot?

I often hear these two questions and they have all kinds of problems because each person and relationship is different. Plus, other people have answered better than I will.

Earlier is Better (sort of)

I generally believe opposing the prevailing culture for gospel reasons. The culture of overachieving Asian Americans  emphasizes delaying marriage until career, education, and finances have been sorted. If you're in that category, I believe earlier age-wise is better. I'm biased towards the start-up rather than merger aspect of marriage. Marrying younger has all kinds of benefits - namely building a life together when each of you is the most malleable. A good marriage trumps career, education, and finances. However, for impulsive and short-sighted people, waiting is probably a good thing. What's most important is to become the type of person that is malleable and desires growth. 

Realistic Expectations

What inhibits many from pursuing marriage earlier is high expectations. In the past, marriage was mainly economic and social. Now, marriage is economic, social, romantic, emotional, and self-actualizing. That's a lot to expect from marriage. It is important to recognize the sacredness of the spiritual, lifetime union and yet not expect it to fulfill all your needs. The Cinderella, sweep you off your feet, Taylor Swift fairy tale stuff does not exist. Having realistic expectations is key. We, with fractured bodies, wait for God to show up in unexpected ways in the midst of a fractured world. One way God shows up is through marriage.

Not How Long but How Well

Along with that, I don't think you need to know someone for a long time to get married. The more mature you are, the less time you need. It's helpful to have a sense of the person's character, values, and family background. By that, it's not what the person says, but the track record of the person's actions and behavior and their reputation from family and friends. It's easy to fool one person (you - the significant other) but more difficult to fool one's family, friends, coworkers, etc. In the end though, you don't actually need to know the other person well if you have other resources.

External Support Matters

One perspective of marital readiness is the idea of support. Imagine marriage or marital readiness as a bridge. The length and sturdiness of the bridge is determined by the span and weight of the couple's expectations. A heavy burden of expectations requires a long and well-constructed bridge.

In order to make the marital bridge capable of supporting the weight of expectations, a couple needs support. There are two kinds of support - internal and external. Internal support is the material used to construct the bridge. Internal support in marriage means personal qualities of the two individuals - responsibility, acceptance, work ethic, honesty, integrity, affection, trust, loyalty, gentleness, commitment, etc. When we talk about a couple's readiness to get married, we usually talk about these qualities. When a couple is intimidated by marriage, they're usually talking about inadequacy these areas. 

But internal support is not the only way to add structural integrity. You can externally retrofit a structure to augment its strength - adding beams, and whatever else civil engineers do. 

External support for marital readiness is the support of a community and its cultural values.
Western and postmodern culture is thoroughly individualistic and hence emphasizes internal support. But Eastern cultures value external support and the community surrounding the couple. External support is the culture you're surrounded by and people who are part of your life in the form of church, family, friends, and workplace. One reason I believe marriages fail isn't simply because the internal support could have been stronger but because the couple lacked external support as well. That's vital in a society where people are increasingly disconnected from social institutions.

I've been thinking about how arranged marriage works in India. It doesn't always work well in terms of happiness because the institution is not designed around individual choice and romantic fulfillment. But I've witnessed and heard of arranged marriages that both endure AND have a high degree of marital satisfaction. Were these couples ready when they got married? How well did they know each other? 

Some observations and comments on successful arranged marriages: 1) The couples didn't know each other very well and because they didn't, they likely had realistic expectations about marriage. They recognized the initial years of marriage would be a breaking-in period of getting to know each other and the romantic aspect might take years to develop, if at all. 2) The couples experienced strong external support for their marriage. Arranged marriage is an accepted social institution and there are structures that help guide the courtship process. There's active participation from both sets of parents - who are emotionally invested in seeing the marriage succeed (aka grandchildren). There's also the model of other successful arranged marriages in the community. Lastly, the surrounding culture places value on marriage.  

If you grew up in a broken family, you will lack external support in that area. If you're an active part of a church community, you will benefit from a source of external support. 

People often cite Judy and I as a model of fantastic internal support to have gotten married at 24 and 23 years old, respectively. We must have possessed exceptional maturity and courage to oppose the overachieving Asian American narrative of education, career, and money first.

It's a flattering narrative but not quite the reality.

If you look closer, we benefited from strong external support towards early marriage. We both came from intact families and even though we attended an academically prestigious university, we were heavily involved in a conservative evangelical fellowship. Going on a summer project with Cru was an eye-opening experience. We met predominantly white college students from the Midwest who often married during or immediately after college. Education, career, and finances were distant seconds to marriage. Our staff director introduced me to Josh Harris' Kiss Dating Goodbye and constantly badgered me to get married as soon as possible. A handful of close friends married within a six months of our graduation. 

For couples considering marriage, it's important to evaluate the internal support but don't neglect the external support either. It's not easy to open up one's lives to other people but it's a vital part of living in community as the body of Christ. One thing I've learned after seventeen plus years of marriage is external support is no less vital today than it was when we first married. We need therapists, older couples, both sets of parents, and the body of Christ to continue to model and counsel us through our seasons of marriage and raising children.

Ultimately, the idea of marital readiness is a misnomer because getting married is when the preparation begins. You don't know what you need until you're in the thick of it. It's like your first time playing basketball against a full court press or cooking your first full meal for guests under time constraints. You are clueless on what it's like until you've experienced it firsthand. But once you do, you have a much better idea about what you need to work on and how far you have to go. God is constantly training, molding, and equipping us for marriage, in the midst of being married. And we continually need support, both internal and external, for building a stronger marriage.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The stories we tell ourselves

A fake letter-writing service matching men with "angels" reveals how we value lies over truth and to never underestimate the power of human longing.

As usual, I'm late getting on the podcast bandwagon but I have listened intermittently to NPR over the years so that must count for something. The stuff on Hidden Brain is high quality but the Lonely Hearts episode is Stephen Curry break-the-Matrix-type-of-good. *SPOILER ALERT* If you listen to podcasts, I suggest listening to it first before reading. If there's little to no chance of you tuning in, read on. 

In Lonely Hearts, Shankar Vendatam narrates the story of Jesse who developed a romantic correspondence relationship spanning a decade with Pamala.

Or who he thinks Pamala.

Rather, it was a chain-smoking, middle-aged, snake oil salesman in Moline, Illinois named Don Lowry. And unbeknownst to Jesse, Lowry was sending copies of the exact same letters Jesse received to men all across the country. The amazing thing wasn't that Lowry was so incrediby skilled as to pull this off; the amazing thing is that men bought into it. Even after the fraud was exposed.

In the early 1980s, Don started a subscription letter service where men would pay $10 a month to have a correspondence relationship with "angels". For those of you under thirty years old, "correspondence" means exchanging snail mail. Pamala was "Angel Pamala". For each wave, Don would produce typed copies of a generic letter - the only distinguishable difference in each one being the name of the recipient, enabled by a simple "find and replace" function. Angel Pamala would write about the mundane details of her everyday life - going to the bank, getting upset because the grocery line was too long, etc. There were other "angels" as well but the letters were all the same.

In response, Jesse wrote hundreds of letters  back to Angel Pamala. And her letters never referenced anything he wrote. Instead, she might write something like "I know you're lonely. . ." or "I know life is hard right now" - something that would have been true for every man Don was writing to.

Don was a master manipulator. He would make up accidents and injuries for his angels. He would ask the angels' pen pals to send funds to help cover the hospital costs. He would send cheesy tokens of remembrance and hope. Don once mass mailed little wooden replicas of a lighthouse accompanied by letters that had something incredibly cheesy like "May this be a beacon that I am looking out for you".

While I was listening to this story, I thought in disbelief: How does someone fall for this?
And yet the portrait of Jesse was pretty compelling. In the 1980's, Jesse was single guy living with his parents. He was overweight and by his own admission, physically unattractive. His mom passed away. He had to stay home and care for his ailing dad, all the while toiling at his parents' restaurant. He had few opportunities to meet people and it must be have terribly lonely.

So I went from disbelief to pity. Here's a pathetic guy who is in a bad situation and I can see why he would need this. After all, Pamala's letters gave Jesse purpose, meaning, hope, and a sense of fulfillment. He would come home after a long day of work and unwind by laying on his bed and reading her letters.

But then things got even crazier. After some incredible events, Don finally got caught in his scheme. He and "Pamala" were arrested and charged with mail fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering. There really was a "Pamala", her name was actually Pamala, and she was one of Don's employees but never wrote letters to any of the men.

Jesse heard about the trial and was one of the men who testified IN DEFENSE of Don Lowry and Pamala. Even though he knew Angel Pamala was a lie, he still felt compelled to stand up and defend her. This is where my view of Jesse began to change. I went from pity to outrage. I could not understand how Jesse could still keep up this facade even after everything came crashing down.

At the end of the interview, years after the trial, a producer asks Jesse what gets him up in the morning. Jesse responds that it's Pamala's words - they have power and it doesn't matter who wrote them. Jesse's belief in Pamala's words over the years had produced a tangible, undeniable, positive result in his life. He could not deny this evidence any more than he could deny his own existence. 

It was around this time I finally reached a point of compassion and empathy for Jesse because I realized he and I are not so different. It got me thinking. Do I have any relationships that give me meaning, hope, purpose, and fulfillment but might not be based on reality? 

Of course I do. My relationship with God. The slipper fits quite well actually. People in crisis find religion. They begin correspondence with an invisible being and receive words that are never precisely specific to their situation. They send money. They receive big promises. There is a lot of symbolism. There are differences though - God doesn't promise an exclusive relationship with us, quite the contrary. But in a real sense, religion may be the greatest correspondence relationship con ever. 

The big question is if it were possible to expose God as a lie, would I still believe?
I don't know.
Although truth is precious, I am likely to continue believing the lie because so much of my life is invested in the idea of God. After all, seeing God as a lie would wreak havoc with my world view, relationships, and lastly but not insignificantly, my job. 

I can only think of one person who is willing to pursue truth at any cost. He is a good friend who used to be a Christian but became an atheist during seminary. He knocked the screen over and discovered the Wizard of Oz is just an old man from Omaha. The journey towards truth has been costly for him and his quest continues but I'm not sure I could pay that price. I also still believe the Wizard has magic. The power of the myth points to something true.

How much do we ultimately value truth? Some of you will feel  uncomfortable at this point with this line of thinking. You may question whether I'm a Christian to explore these kinds of questions. I get that. I believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead but I'm not averse to imagining it was a hoax. I doubt, therefore I am. I also believe, and therefore I am. 

So before you judge Jesse and me, please recognize we're hardly alone in being tempted by lie over truth. We all have stories we tell ourselves. And those stories wield power over us. God may indeed be the greatest lie ever but He certainly doesn't have a monopoly on fiction. And in case you're wondering, yes, Jesse still has the wooden lighthouse on top of his bedroom dresser.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A view from the grave

I did the memorial service of a friend in our church recently. He was seventy-three years old and died after a two month battle with cancer.

He was a faithful servant in our church but my feelings towards him would often alternate between fear and frustration. He had a gruff demeanor that could be quite brusque and unapproachable. 

A couple weeks before he died, I visited him at a skilled nursing facility in Saratoga. I was late finding him and caught him during his physical therapy session. I walked in and he looked up at me. He didn't say "Hello" or "It's great to see Fred" or even crack a smile. Instead, he said sternly: "I'm not ready for you right now. You can come back later." In anticipation of this kind of response, I did some work on my laptop while I waited for him outside his room.
My frustration with him concerned his lack of vulnerability. He wasn't open about his weaknesses, wasn't expressive with his emotions, and he was very difficult to read. He was the most reliable, self-controlled person I have every met and his staunch uprightness often made him feel inaccessible as a human being.

And yet after his death, I discovered an untapped reservoir of positive feelings for him. It was like I finally saw him the way God does. After all, he and his wife had opened their home to dozens of people over the past fifty years - a list including foster children, exchange students, two sisters from Mongolia (who referred to him as their father), and now a woman from our church and her two college-aged daughters.

Back in Saratoga after finishing his physical therapy, he would only talk with me about the good accomplished because of his suffering. He expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support he had received from family and friends all over the world. He shared how his illness had facilitated a family reconciliation. He talked about how his wife's character had grown through his suffering. He was prepared to meet the Father. His faith was not a show he put on for Sundays. It wasn't a hat he wore. This who he was through and through as a person. 

As I prepared for the memorial service, I had this sense that I finally understood the gift of who he was as a person. I know I'm not alone in the timing of this kind of realization. I hate falling victim to the universal phenomenon of gaining a new appreciation for someone only after he/she is gone. I also understand it's inherent to our fallen human condition. But after this experience with my friend, I thought - wouldn't it be awesome if I could view people alive today as if they died? How amazing would it be to view people from the grave? 

That must be how God sees us. He gazes on all of our flaws, weaknesses, and pain and yet is able to fully appreciate and enjoy the gift of who we are as His unique and beloved children. He has a perfect perspective of exactly who we are and celebrates every little detail that makes up our being. In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul talks about how each believer is a new creation in Christ. And God is making everything new - we no longer see anyone from a flawed perspective - we see people from the grave - as if their old, tainted nature is gone and something new and good and amazing has taken its place.

I tried putting on this perspective while I was arguing with my wife. It's weird to imagine someone dead who is sitting, breathing, and making noises in front of you. And not surprisingly, I did not happen across a large untapped reservoir of positive feelings I have for my wife. Well, I did find compassion but it was more like baby pool-sized.

It's easy to feel guilty and defeated after this kind of attempt. It's tempting to feel inadequate because I can't manufacture the necessary passionate outpouring that I feel should be triggered with this kind of thinking. But the victory wasn't the emotional outcome but the act of imagining an alternate possibility of seeing my wife and others - the view from the grave.

Thank you, Richard, for the lesson.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Why I Enjoy Halloween

A friend in my church asked recently "What is our church policy regarding Halloween?"

As this is my personal blog, I will speak for myself. My family enjoys Halloween. It doesn't mean other Christians should. In fact, we have the freedom in Christ to participate as we choose.

We participate by dressing up. I attend Halloween costume parties. We take our kids trick-or-treating in the neighborhood.

Why do we do that?

I understand Halloween has roots in the past as a pagan holiday. I haven't researched its full history but I know there's some evil and occult stuff out there. Halloween also has roots as a Christian holiday - somehow the two traditions became mixed together over the years.

I also recognize there are overtly disturbing elements of Halloween - demons, zombies, witches, ghouls, skeletons, and other gory, goth, and decidedly non-Jesus-y type things. I know the purpose of a haunted house is to scare people. One of our neighbors builds one with pop-up tents in their front yard. It's always pretty scary.

Lastly, I understand that as a Christ follower, I am called to be in the world but not of it, to live counter-culturally, and not to be conformed to the thinking of this world. I also understand that as a Christian leader, I am a role model for others.

In light of the above, I believe one's participation in Halloween is a matter of conscience. Our motivation matters just as much as our behavior. There is no absolute right or wrong, there is a wide range of permissible options, and above all, there is freedom in Christ (this also happens to be our church policy).

Here are some possible options for how Christians can celebrate Halloween: 1) No participation in anything Halloween-related: no dressing up, no listening to ghost stories, not even attending Halloween alternatives. 2) Halloween alternatives such as a "Harvest Festival"; "Trunk-or-Treat", and other opportunities to reach out to the community 3) Limited, non-compromising participation: Handing out candy to neighbors, dressing up and acting in ways that are honorable to Christ.

I choose the last option. My wife and I see Halloween as an opportunity for our children to enjoy our neighbors and for the children in our neighborhood to enjoy us. We brought our dog, Kodi, trick-or-treating with us and one neighbor, upon seeing him dressed up as a pirate, gave him a dog treat. There is something gospel-redemptive about neighbors walking around greeting each other. 

As far as the occult and pagan history of Halloween, I have not discussed this with my kids nor do I feel it important to do so. At least not yet. In the limited way we participate, I don't see any linkage with idolatry or pagan rituals. There may be a connection but I would rather help our kids respond well to the messages popular culture sends 365 days of the year through social media, music, movies, and gaming. I understand Halloween is representative of popular culture but the holiday itself is towards the bottom of the list when it comes to deconstructing the secular worldview. 

However in the future, I would like my kids to think through the gospel implications of Halloween - how can this holiday be an opportunity to love others? Keep in mind I don't view Halloween as a major outreach opportunity. It's simply one way to join my neighborhood in community. Here are Tim Challies' words:
I think Halloween is a time that you can prove to your neighbors that you care about them, that you care about their children, and that you are glad to be in this world and this culture, even if you are not of this world or this culture.
Additional reading:

Monday, October 19, 2015

My happiness is dependent on circumstances

A friend emailed me that Weight Watchers stock, which I own, jumped 80% today because Oprah was announced as a board member. The news gave me a distinct feeling of pleasure. Like I just won something. Like I had just accomplished something worthwhile.
Up to that point I wasn't feeling so great because Mondays are typically tough for me. Like many preachers, I felt like my sermon the day before could have been better. It's the same as the Monday morning quarterback syndrome - I review game decisions that I wish I could do over again. 

As a preacher of the gospel, I tell people their happiness is not dependent on circumstances but rather God's unconditional love expressed through Jesus Christ but most of the time my emotional life does not respond that way. I'm happy when things go my way and I'm unhappy when they don't. 

I know I'm not alone in having my personal satisfaction depend on my surroundings but it's disturbing when it violates what I stand for as a believer and a minister.

As a man, my happiness is dependent on expressions of masculinity and physical health. I'm fairly healthy right now but have been having some joint problems and that's depressed my mood somewhat. 

As a father, my happiness often depends on the behavior and accomplishments of my children. It's easy to go on an emotional roller coaster based on well our kids are listening to and obeying Judy and me. I also wonder for parents whose highest goal for the children is "to be happy" if they are consigning them to an idolatry of control - to pursue the utmost influence over circumstances so that no event would threaten their personal satisfaction. I fear I implicitly communicate that to my kids when I derive greatest pleasure over positive events and sadness over negative ones.

As a husband, my happiness often depends on the emotional well-being of my wife. As they say, "happy wife is a happy life". Truthfully, I'm probably most affected when she's unhappy with me but otherwise her moods don't affect me that much.

As a pastor, it is easy to spiritualize bad moods because they reflect my commitment to preaching the gospel well. But it is really just a thinly veiled excuse to place worth in my performance. Apart from my performance, my emotional well-being also feeds off others' perception of me. When I discover I may be disliked, things become very stressful.

I'm not saying that my life should be this constant, steady upward trajectory of contentment but there does seem to be some basic level of peace and joy that is missing.

What's exciting about these realizations isn't that I have so far to go. That's a humbling realization I always need. Rather, I have a tremendous opportunity to believe the gospel for myself.