Saturday, January 3, 2009

Flipping for Quarters. . .

Originally written April 19, 2007

The following is excerpted from and expanded upon from last Sundays lesson for my 5th & 6th grade boys.

A few weeks ago I had doctors appointment. It was just a regular blood test/diabetes monitoring appointment. Nothing really bothering me, just a checkup. My doctor wasn't very happy with me. My blood sugar has been running quite high and he told me just straight out I had two choices, either change my lifestyle and lose weight or start injecting insulin to control my diabetes.

We all know in theory how to live a healthier lifestyle. Most of us know we don't get enough exercise and we eat pretty poorly, but through most of our lives it is something we can ignore. we know there are consequences to the choices we make at the drive thru window or in the buffet line, but we see them as far removed in the future, and so we are able to ignore them.

In a way I guess that I am fortunate, for years I have been able to ignore the way I ate and my sedentary lifestyle. Since coming to God, I've given up drinking and smoking cigars and have no real lasting health effects from those vices. Cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema, liver problems and on and on are definite possible consequences of living, eating, drinking, and smoking the way I did. I escaped those things, to this point anyway, but I must now contend with and make choices, and then in the future face consequences based upon the choices that I make today in a very real way.

It's funny how when the perspective changes from a vague knowledge of what you should do, to specific instructions as to what needs to occur to prevent a very specific health problem, how much more motivated you become. Now alongside every wonderfully tempting and delicious chocolate frosted, cream filled long john, I see a syringe and a vial of insulin. The choice and the consequence are very near to one another. There is no separation of years or decades between the two. Now it is cause and effect with no separation.

Think about it this way, we touch and see and eat and do lots of things that aren't physically or spiritually good for us because there is so much of a lag time between when we do the thing we shouldn't and the consequence for it. We do not touch hot stoves, run sharp knives over our fingers, or drop heavy weights on our toes because the consequence follows so immediately upon the action. If there were a lag of days or weeks or months between touching the hot stove and the pain you would be far less cautious about touching them.

The heart of the the problem is how we assign value to risk and rewards that are seen as distant in time. We do everything we can to, again avoid touching the hot stove, but we fearlessly play with a much more serious and damaging fire when, as young people, we start dabbling with drinking, smoking, and sex. The perceived consequences of touching that fire and the value of what we are risking with are distorted by the hoped for long time between choice and consequence. 

We make these choices kind of like playing a little game of flipping quarters. You flip a quarter and I call heads or tails. If I'm right it get the quarter. If I'm wrong I give you a quarter.  It surely is gambling, but the stakes are so low and the odds so even that it's difficult to imagine anyone ever getting hurt too badly. That's how we look at these choices we are faced with, just a little gamble. No big deal! I smoked my first cigarette, I thought it was cool. I looked grownup. All I saw was the cigarette. I didn't see, not being a cigarette smoker as of any value. I didn't see the cost associated with smoking for the next thirty years in that one cigarette. Premarital sex, you're only looking forward to the next step, the next half hour. You're not looking at the emotional devastation. You're not looking raising a child as a single unwed mother or having a fractured dysfunctional family for the next 18 years as a non-custodial father.

These choices are a lot like the little game of flipping quarters, but the risks and payback are not quite what they seem. If you win, I give you my quarter. If you lose, you owe a million dollars. The quarter represents the little bit of pleasure that your choice will bring. The million dollars stands for what may possibly lose in your little gamble. Am I exaggerating?

The choice of sex outside of marriage is a gamble of a few moments of pleasure against the entire life of a not ready to be had child. Smoking, looking cool for a moment gambled against an addiction with a huge financial, physical health, and spiritual cost. Alcohol and other drugs are no different, a buzz, a high for a few hours against a lifetime of misery and despair.

What kind of a value do you place on your salvation and relationship with God? In only one aspect, just one aspect, if you only value going to heaven at $1 per year, what is the value of eternity? Please multiply that out for me. I don't think your calculator has enough zeroes on it. How much is a single day of health worth? Maybe when you are twenty years old, thinking your entire life is ahead of you, maybe it isn't worth much. Ask a man laying in bed, struggling for breath, his body wracked with cancer, how much is a day of health worth? Ask James Hill. Ask Butch Longenecker. If you don't know them, they were men, friends of mine, brothers. . . who died at an early age, from a choice made as young men. They flipped a quarter with the devil and lost.

Evaluate your life. Put a value on what you have. How much is a life without addiction worth? How much is a future that has the possibility of a wonderful marriage and a happy home for your children worth? Place a value on living to see your grandchildren have families of their own? How much are these things worth? As a young man I did not place a high value on any of these things. I gambled them away for quarters. I won quarters. I lost things of huge value. The game is just as I described it. The devil puts up a quarter, betting against your lifetime of hundred dollar bills . . . . 

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