Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Lies of the Enemy, in a Poem

In my opinion, there is no greater evidence for the truth of the Bible in the world around us than the evidence of the spiritual war. As a believer, it's easy to see how human beings are continually led down paths to their own destruction when they buy the lies of the world and reject God's Word. Nearly two years ago, I read a disturbing news article about an abortion doctor in Philadelphia who made a practice of killing newborns with scissors and saving their body parts in jars. I began to meditate on evil, and try to understand how someone could do such horrible things. I had also recently read C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters," and had wondered just how much darker it would have been if the human subject had not been a believer. In the days following, I began composing the following poem, and after all this time, I finally feel satisfied enough to go public with it. I realize this is only scratching the surface of the litany of lies the Devil uses to bring us to our own destruction, but it should suffice to get the point across. Please don't mistake the voice of the "writer" as my own, as he boasts and mocks his victims. It pained me to write many of these lines, but I felt it necessary to approach authenticity. I pray it will disturb you in all the right ways.

Tricks
(From the desk of The Great Deceiver)

I'll tell you the tricks of my trade, if you please,
The ones that have brought every man to his knees,
The tricks that have led to much death and despair,
As they grasp for some meaning and someone to care.

It began in a garden, a most glorious day,
When I asked of the woman, "Did He really say?"
The lie to this date my most clever of all,
For she took of the bait and Mankind took the fall.

Amazing the things you can do with that doubt,
So clueless they are on what life is about.
Just do what you feel like, follow your heart.
So desperately wicked, it was mine from the start.

So easy it is, yes, so easy my dear,
Just tell them whatever their ears want to hear.
Tell them there's nothing above or below,
Imagine that, John! Isn't that how it goes?

And Charles, old buddy, you're in my Hall of Fame.
You taught them that all living things are the same.
You didn't believe it would be such a crime,
But I guess it just kind of evolved over time.

You teach them they're animals, that's how they'll behave,
Just masses of tissue with no soul to save.
A fetus, like fingernails, tossed in the bin.
Don't worry, my lady. They grow back again.

Without any motive to do otherwise,
Their flesh will take over, and feed on these lies.
And then I sit back and just watch it unfold.
Oh, death and destruction, it never gets old!

I'm a master of language, I use it so well,
To slander His faithful, and lure you to hell.
Tolerance, progress, equality and choice,
American idols have such a sweet voice!

See, I've got the best marketing team in this town,
They'll sell you a compass that only points down.
You ask them for bread and they'll give you a stone,
Then laugh as you shrivel and die all alone.

An angel of light, how I come to deceive,
Ain't it funny the things that some people believe?
Oh the look on their faces, I wish I could see,
When they find out the one that they lived for was me!

The image of Him that I seek to destroy,
I'll bring you to judgment by the tricks I employ.
Beloved of your Maker, His favored design,
You have His affection. It should've been mine.

So if I've been fated to go down in flames,
I'm taking you with me, you'll share in the blame.
All mine by default, you're a part of my club.
Sincerely your friend, Beelzebub.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What We Endorse

Something that's been on my mind of late is how I represent Christ in the things in which I show respect, admiration, or approval. As someone who has grown up watching a lot of TV and movies and listening to a lot of secular music, I often want to share my appreciation for such things. However, sometimes those things aren't entirely endorsement-worthy in content, and could send the wrong message to my friends or other observers. I Corinthians 8:9-10 says, "But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?" In other words, as Christians we are responsible to promote the right things to encourage others to walk in righteousness, whether they are fellow believers or not. Likewise, we should stand in opposition to sin, and be careful not to be perceived as endorsing sin. But where do we draw the line in a secular world?

One of the best summaries of the fallen world we live in is found in Romans 1:18-32. The Apostle Paul describes a world where the truth of God is rejected, and men and women are given over to the whole range of evil pursuits. As a believer, the final verse can be quite convicting. Verse 32 reads, "who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them." I have to ask myself, am I lending my approval to sin? The truth is, if we live in this fallen world, it is practically impossible to not contribute in some way to the work of evil. I'll admit, I like to get myself a frappuccino at Starbucks. Now it's a well-known fact that Starbucks gives money to gay-rights causes. Am I approving of their choices when I give them my money? I don't see it that way. I'm giving my approval to their product. If we were to apply that standard to boycott any business that promotes sin in some way not related to their actual product, we'd be left with Chick-fil-A and not a whole lot else. That being said, there may be extreme situations when a boycott is appropriate. If Starbucks were to announce that they will be donating $1 of each purchase to Al Qaeda, I'd guess that most of us would probably take our business elsewhere, regardless of how tasty their drinks may be. The same standard could be applied to movies. Do we avoid a movie that may be perfectly acceptable on its own merit, but one of the actors lives and promotes a sinful lifestyle? Or what if that movie has an overall positive message, but contains a few profanities sprinkled here and there? If I know this ahead of time and still see the movie, am I lending approval to sin? Some of these things are blurry, others are clear. I imagine we all have slightly differing standards. Sometimes I find myself disappointed by fellow Christians who don't have the same standards I do. But then again, others may be disappointed by me. My dad often says, "someday everyone will give an account..." That begs the question: when you stand before the Lord on the day of judgment, will you be able to defend your standards?

Sometimes we give direct approval or disapproval with our actions. As November 6 approaches, most of us are probably thinking a lot about politics. If ever there were a case of us giving a clear endorsement, how we vote is it. I would like to remind my fellow Christians of the Romans 1:32 standard. As I look back on history, I often wonder how people in certain situations of great injustice were complacent. The most obvious example is Nazi Germany. How did the people of Germany vote the Nazis into power when they clearly held such hatred for the Jews, and desired to rid them from their society? Or how did so many Americans support and even die for the cause of slavery in the Civil War days? Couldn't they clearly see how they were giving approval to evil? The truth is, it's easy to judge from a distance, but in the moment, people are easily confused. The German people were prospering under the Nazis after having gone through enormous economic hardship following the first World War. The American South was also benefiting greatly from the system of slavery that was the cultural norm at the time. Long story short, in both cases, people were taking the easy path and looking out for their own self interests at the cost of others.

Forgive me if I come across as preachy, but I feel that our culture is just as guilty today. There are many ways we have given approval to sin, but none more egregious than the legalization and acceptance of abortion. To date, the lives of over 50 million children have been taken. That's roughly five times as many lives as the Holocaust. I believe, just as in the cases above, morality has been blinded by self-interest. In his hit song, "What it's Like," the rapper/singer Everlast describes a woman facing abusive (straw man) protesters at an abortion clinic: "God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes, 'cause then you really might know what it's like to have to choose." Abortion thrives on fear, and fear is an emotion that blurs clear thinking on issues of morality. I wonder how Americans at the time of slavery would view us and our cultural acceptance of abortion if they could see into the future? They, being distanced from the emotions of it, would no doubt recognize it for the evil it is, just as we easily recognize the evil of slavery. It sickens me to see opposition to abortion painted as evil by the other side, as if it is hatred of women. Statistically, at least half of the victims of abortion are female. Those women born since 1973 should consider themselves fortunate.

As Christians in a secular society, we may feel powerless to do anything about abortion. Not being personally threatened, survivors that we are, we may silently condemn it, but still become complacent about it, accepting it as a matter of fact and here to stay. But that doesn't have to be the case. We, like all other American citizens 18 years and older, have the right to vote. Every time we vote, we give approval or disapproval to someone or something, depending on the issues at stake. What standard are we using to make our decisions? Do we vote what is best for our pocketbooks, our employer, our culture, our race, our friends, or those in our immediate surroundings? As followers of Christ, we are to identify ourselves first and foremost with Him. What this means in application is that we do not look for any interest but for what is beneficial to the growth of the knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord, which re-directs us away from the characteristics of the fallen world. We should love what He loves, and hate what He hates. We know He hates sin, and we should never give our approval of it. While there may not be any perfect candidates, we are morally responsible to vote for the ones who will do more to promote good and less to promote evil. I happen to think that one political party is routinely on the side of approving and enabling the sinful and destructive behaviors described in Romans 1. Others may disagree, and if they can stand confidently before the Lord and defend their choices in good conscience, then who am I to tell them otherwise.

(Recommended link: "180" movie)

We are representatives of Christ. The secular world will put us under the spotlight to expose any hypocrisy. While we won't always demonstrate love the way we should, and we will continue to struggle with sin, we can make choices to promote good and oppose evil. Let us not compromise, as many have. Remember Romans 1:32. My name is Steve, and I approve this message.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Advice for Christian Singles

Recently, I've had a number of conversations with friends about dating. Not dating in the casual sense, but from the Christian perspective, looking for the one we will spend the rest of our lives with. While I'm certainly no expert, I have learned a lot from my own experience, and do have some thoughts to share.

The big question everyone has is, "how do I know who is the right one for me?" There's no easy answers, and though we pray for God to make this clear to us, we're still confused by our own desires or fears, and have trouble distinguishing his voice from our own. The world tells us to just go with the flow and follow our hearts wherever they lead us. But as Christians, we know that we are not of this world, and should therefore act more wisely. Our hearts should be governed by our minds. We should know ahead of time (as guided by the Spirit) what we are looking for, and not compromise our standards. Then we should wait for God to provide someone who fits that profile. If we do this, we will not allow ourselves to be manipulated by our emotions, but will be able to clearly assess whether someone has the potential to be "the one." If you have this standard from the outset, you won't waste time (yours or theirs) dating the wrong kind of people and should be able to narrow the field significantly. Dating is really only necessary as a latter stage in the weeding process.

So how do you know who is the right one? I suggest prayer for guidance in combination with adherence to the following guidelines. There are, as I see it, three key ingredients to a successful match. They are as follows: physical attraction, chemistry, and values, but not exactly in that order. In a successful relationship, the three will feed off each other, and the relationship will grow stronger with time. Allow me to explain how I believe this process should work, and the order from which they should follow in the selection process.

1. Values (part 1: the basics)
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14). As a Christian, it is of primary importance that you seek only other Christians in dating. If a marriage is to survive, it must be built on a solid foundation. Therefore, Christians must be "yoked" only with Christians, so their marriage can be built on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ. I would take it one step further and say that Christians have no business dating non-Christians. From my own experience, I know where it leads. We cannot expect to change someone through the dating process. Any "changes" that occur could merely be one's attempt to save the relationship, and not a genuine change of the heart. If one is genuine in their faith, it should be evident in how they live their lives. And if you are friends first, you have time to observe their character in action, and see how that person interacts with others outside of a dating context. It may not always be possible due to how you meet, but if so, I recommend this approach.

2. Physical Attraction
I know some of you are saying, "C'mon Steve, looks aren't really important!" Besides, they fade away eventually, right? Well, that's not how God designed us. Physical attraction is part of His plan to bring us together with the right person. That's not to say that it's the most important ingredient for success, but it is the starting point in differentiating between interest in casual friendship and something beyond that. Besides, what woman wants to be with a man who doesn't find her beautiful? Looks may fade with age, but in a healthy relationship, you will always find beauty when you look into each other's eyes.

3. Chemistry
Every once in a while, you may find yourself interacting with someone who you find attractive, but who also makes you feel at ease in their presence. You feel like you can talk about anything and everything, and when you're apart, you wish you weren't. You might also say that it feels like you've known this person all of your life. Some would pre-maturely call this love. I'd call it chemistry. It is absolutely essential to a successful relationship to be with someone who makes you feel better about yourself, and even transforms you into a better version of yourself. While physical attraction occurs quite frequently, this kind of personal connection is much rarer (at least in my experience).

I would suggest that if you've cleared these first three hurdles, it might be time to start dating. But it's absolutely essential that you've cleared all three. Many people, Christians included, have skipped step 1 and married someone based on steps 2 and 3. Many more have married after all three, but before the next. Step 4 is probably the most important in the long run, and the one that is best dealt with in the one-on-one dating context.  

4. Values (part 2: the specifics)
There's certainly nothing more essential in the mechanics of a serious relationship, especially in marriage, than to have shared values. By "values," I not only mean your basic worldview, but also how you view things like money, work, children, and so forth. Of course a shared worldview will largely affect those other issues, but there is plenty of room for significant disagreement in the particulars of how each individual would like to live their lives together. It's also very important to be close on the particulars of your beliefs as Christians. That doesn't mean that you must have the same interpretation of the seven bowls of judgment in Revelation, or even agree on the exact number of kids you'd like to have someday, but the implications of your beliefs on how you are to live your lives should be very similar. This will help to bring you common goals for your life together, should you marry. You will still have conflicts, but so long as they're relatively minor issues, you'll be able to work through them. If you are too dissimilar on the particulars, you will in time find yourself in constant conflict, and your relationship will deteriorate. Many couples don't deal with these things before marriage, or they wait until they are just weeks away from their wedding and going through pre-marital counseling. At that time, they're already too excited about the wedding to be derailed by any conflicts on significant issues. Every couple should deal with these issues before they commit themselves to marriage, and allow their engagement time to be devoted to nothing more serious than the details of the big day. Unfortunately, I fear that very few couples properly complete this stage in the dating process, and wind up divorced in the end.

I pray for all of you that you don't make that mistake. It's very easy to get caught up in the feelings brought up in points 2 & 3, and look past the warning signs that suggest significant differences in values. When you're just dating, you don't have to live with the full consequences of those differences. You won't be able to escape them in the context of marriage. And don't think you'll be able to change the other person later on. Though marriage is designed to bring two people together as one, you each retain your own individual free will. So I reiterate: don't compromise your standards!!! Have in mind the kind of person you are looking for beforehand, and wait on God to provide. When you find the right person; someone who you find attractive, you have a great chemistry with, and, most importantly, who shares your values, each of those individual elements will grow stronger in time as you learn to trust, respect, and ultimately love that person like no one else you've ever known. And then you will know your love is not a passing whim, and has a solid foundation to grow stronger as you live your life together.

As in all things, we must wait on God and allow Him to do His work in our lives. That's easier said than done, and we hate being alone. Not to mention that sometimes we may find someone who seems like the right one, but that person doesn't feel the same way about us. Talk about frustration! Then the temptation is to just want to be with someone, even if that someone isn't the best one for us. But we must be patient. God may want us to mature a bit and work out some issues in our own lives before he provides the right person. Besides, it's better to wait your whole life and die single than to wind up in a bad marriage. We must use our time as singles to become the men and women we would want to be for the women and men we would want to be with. Just as Jesus warned us in Matthew 7:1; “Judge not, that you be not judged," we should not put a higher standard for our future spouse than we would place on ourselves. If we want to be with someone of the highest character, we need to be that ourselves.

My prayer for all of us (myself included) is that we are wise and discerning in our singleness, and that we allow Him to provide in His timing if and when He sees fit. God's plans for us are far greater than our own, so let's not get in the way. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (Jeremiah 29:11)