Friday, January 24, 2014

The Pigeon Holes of Fame and Notoriety: How Do You View Famous Sinners?

Here’s something to think about:

Fame or notoriety? 

Most people would choose fame. Most people would want glory. There are, of course, the rare few who aspire to be recognized for evil. Generally, though, positive fame is what appeals to people.

Why do I ask?

Well, look in the newspapers or watch the news for one day. I invite you to look at the people highlighted in the media and try to imagine how it must be for them to be in that state of recognition, whether the recognition is for something evil or something good that they have done. Would they see themselves the same way that we do? Would God see them the same way that we see them?

As soon as a face appears on TV with the caption, “convicted abuser” below it, we subtly--and not-so-subtly--demarcate the figure’s identity within impassable walls of notoriety. People who do bad things and are recognized for it will always find it hard to erase the smear of notoriety.

Then, there are those whom we adore and admire. For instance, we just celebrated MLK day. We see a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and we instantly recognize him as someone admirable and attribute a certain “glory” to him, and rightly so, for people like him are worthy of emulation. 

The point, though, is that it is so easy to demarcate people into boundaries and leave them there without a second guess. When the media presents us with various figures, we plug them into pigeon holes and subtly assume that the media has exhausted all there is to know about them. We say, “Oh, he’s the one who murdered his wife,” and “Yeah, she’s the one who murdered her children.” 

Why do assume that a person’s worst deeds--or their best deeds--are what identify them?

When we see the pictures and names of criminals, they are forever “criminals” in our minds.

When we see the pictures and names of our favorite celebrities, they are forever hallowed in our minds...that is, until they become a “criminal,” or “sinner.” Celebrities and idols who turn sour have a tendency to be forever lost to us.  

Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Paula Deen, Mel Gibson, and Charlie Sheen are a few who come to my mind. They have all suffered the fall from fame to notoriety. 

Why is it so hard to remove stains from a famous person? How come we can never see them the same again?

I wonder how we would feel if we were in their shoes?

The collective consciousness of our society traps the sins of famous people in a perpetual display. Due to this, the mere mention of a famous ‘sinner’ immediately ushers in contempt. The bars of society that lock people away from redemption are too strong. No matter how much progress a famous sinner will make in life, they will always be “that one who....” They will always find it hard to attain the collective forgiveness of society.

Why is it that we admire celebrities and find it hard to remember our admiration once they “sin”? Isn’t it obvious that everyone sins and that these people happened to be the ones who were publicly recognized for it?

What if all of our misdeeds were made public? What if every ill thought of every person was printed in the local paper? 

I think we need to think twice about how we view others and their deeds and misdeeds.

To make matters worse, there are people who we only know because of their misdeeds. Those who I think of are Osama Bin Laden, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Adam Lanza, Casey Anthony, Fred Phelps, Aileen Wuornos, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, etc. How can we possibly think of these people as “good”? They are forever “villains” in our minds because they have always been presented to us as such.

Am I condoning their sins? Of course not. I am not talking about their misdeeds, I am talking about our tendency to hold contempt towards them and assume that our contempt is completely justified. Aren’t we justified in having these attitudes of contempt towards these “bad” people? After all, they have sinned a great deal...

But what would God say?

Are these people entirely unredeemable? 

I invite us all to take a second look at people we admire and people we abhor. There is more to those people than our automatic assumptions towards them. They are human beings who are no less perfect than ourselves. We cannot exalt fellow human beings to the level of worship, nor can we condemn them to the level of satanic abhorrence. Everyone is on the same page; it’s just that some of us have been publicly recognized for our actions and words while the rest of us haven’t--yet.

Are those who have murderous thoughts better off than those who have actually murdered? Do those who keep their sinful desires to themselves have a different kind of sinful heart than those who have actually acted on their sinful desires? 

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Rom. 2:1)

We are all sinful.

I think we need to start trying to see things the way God sees them. It takes effort, and it’s impossible without God’s help, but that is exactly why we have God’s help. 

We are all on the same page, regardless of what the media and society like to feast on.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What Do We Gain by Wearing Masks?

We stood at the counter, talking to the barista. She was an outgoing conversationalist with an explosive willingness to make friends. In the midst of small-talk, she dropped a ball on us.

“You guys are Christians, aren’t you?

We had not talked about God, Jesus or the Church, nor had we talked about abortion, homosexuality, Duck Dynasty, or any other topic that would make a Christian stand out. We were being ourselves, and for some reason, she noticed something different.

“You always come in here and are so happy and friendly! I love when you all come!” She said.

The real shock, though, was the glimpse of how much of ourselves that others notice. This sounds like a dumb question with an obvious answer, but how often do we remind ourselves that were being watched?

Do we sometimes manipulate ourselves to appear better? 

I think it’s tempting to have a disconnect between our private lives and our public lives when we are ashamed of our private lives. This is when facades becomes so tempting. If we don’t like something in us, we like to conceal it with something else--something more pleasing for others. We then parade ourselves as someone else and hide behind the mask as if life is a perpetual Halloween for adults.  

I hate wearing masks. It’s safe and it’s a way to make friends, but I don’t like it at all. I hate my own masks that tempt me daily, and I wish I could dispose of them, but they still remain in the closet of my life, itching to be worn. 

It’s hard to be vulnerable and open, even to those who love us. How can we live vulnerably in the presence of others when we can barely accept our own private selves? Once again, the answer is Jesus. The masks we wear are invisible to the eyes of God, and Jesus looks past our facades. He knows our bluff and our true selves when others only see the mask. 

What do we think that we gain by hiding ourselves when God doesn’t even believe our disguises? We may seek the approval of those around us, but what about the One who seeks to dwell inside of us? Our friends and acquaintances will never know us like God, and that is good because God is filled with true, genuine love; we don't need to fear ulterior motives with him.

Jesus said, “Come to me.” He didn’t say, “Come to me only if you can get your act together....” He sees us as we are and yet he reconciled us to himself without any regrets. He took us, along with our masks, so that we may eventually learn to live without them. Like a counselor, he is patient and willing to work with us to surrender the facades. 

If we already have someone who loves us that much, what drives us to still cling to masks? Why do we care what others think when we already have all that we need with Jesus? 

We all carry masks, but God invites us to throw them off and forget about them. He is the only person who doesn’t get offended by our deepest secrets, so let’s trust him by being vulnerable. No one else can care or love as much as he does.

We can’t let our own relational aspirations replace Christ's love. Wearing masks destroys his love in us, and in doing so, consider our masks to be more effective at meeting our needs.

Why not live with Christ and accept his willingness to work with us as we are? What's wrong with simply letting our own skin be our skin? I don’t want more masks so I can make more friends; I want no masks so I can make real friends. We already have a friend in Jesus, who laughs at our masks because he sees them for what they are: a futile attempt at life. He sees us and loves us

Although masks will always haunt and tempt us, the more we can learn to revel in Christ’s love, the more we will see masks as futile attempts at a satisfying life. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Horrible People: Why We Should Love Them

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

I like that saying because it’s true; there is no need to fix something that is perfectly fine. 

Recently, my dad and I brought two vintage snowmobiles (a 1990 Polaris Indy Trail and a 1981 Polaris TXC) to a family friend’s snowmobile shop to be tuned up. These two particular machines had not been driven much before we purchased them (the combined mileage for the two machines barely broke 1,000 miles, which is incredible for machines that old). Instead of being driven, the two machines had been sitting outside under snowmobile covers for years. Quite peculiarly, there was a hornets’ nest inside the engine compartment on the Indy! So it was safe to assume that the snowmobiles needed a tuneup before we hit the trails. 

When we arrived with our snowmobiles, we noticed another Indy Trail like ours that was also in the guy’s shop. It was obvious that this other Indy--we will call it the “old Indy”--had had its better days and was now in “retirement.” Our friend said he had been working on the old Indy for a month in an attempt to get it running, only to discover that the snowmobile was far more damaged than appearances suggested.

Eventually, after checking and tweaking everything in the old Indy’s engine, our friend discovered that one of the pistons was cracked. It was fixable, he said, but it would cost over one-thousand dollars to repair--that is more than the snowmobile is worth. All that is usually left for snowmobiles like the old Indy is to sell it for parts, since it would be economically inviable to repair it.

Then, on the other hand, there was our Indy. As mentioned above, our machine had hardly been driven (it had 260 miles on it), despite being 24 years old, and it was still in great shape. Fortunately for us, we possessed a machine that was essentially “just off the lot.” Our machine was a far easier tuneup than the old Indy, and after we cleaned or replaced the necessary parts, we got it running within a few hours. Now it was ready for the trails!

From this experience, besides learning some of the basics about snowmobile maintenance, I came to the conclusion that all snowmobiles must be repaired eventually. Our Indy Trail, although being in it’s “youth,” will one day be a pile of scraps like the old Indy--that is, if I ride it.

What about humans? 

Whether we admit it or not, we all need repair. There are people like our Indy that need very little repair, and then there are people like the old Indy that are seen as worthless as a pile of scraps. Repair seems to be a part of life, and even human beings need repair.

Do you know anyone who isn’t in need of a repair?

If everyone is in need of repair, whether it be severe, like the old Indy, or mild, like our Indy, wouldn’t it make sense to acknowledge their repairability on a daily basis? In other words, how often do we see other people’s faults as something that is repairable? Wouldn't that make life a little easier--at least a little more tolerable? I think so.

Instead of seeing everyone as repairable, I think we tend to see only some people as repairable, and see the others as scraps--like the old Indy. 

Why is it that pedophiles, rapists, serial killers, dictators, and abusers are the ones who number our scrap pile? We look at “horrible” people with disgust as if they were only good for scraps, but we gladly forgive easily forgivable people. 

What I see here is a consensus, among “lesser sinners,” that baring oneself against “greater sinners” and horrible people is legitimate. 

I also see something more subtle and equally as dangerous, and that is the failure to see our own selves as repairable. I know that forgiving oneself seems selfish, but it is what Jesus asks us to do. We must accept that repair is offered to all of us, even if we are too ashamed to consider it.

We can bar ourselves against horrible people and “greater sinners,” and we can bar ourselves in and refuse repair ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we ought to. Even if we can build walls, does that mean we should?

Did Jesus bar himself against people? What kind of walls did he construct? I can’t remember either because that was not his response to broken people. Building walls and baring people out is something that Jesus will not tolerate. Remember that the very people Jesus had the most trouble with (the leaders of the Law) were the ones who failed to see past their own stipulations and sensibilities? How are those who build walls by differentiating between repairable people and unrepairable people any different? 

Doesn’t Jesus think that everyone is repairable? Will Jesus refuse to pay more for a broken man whose repair cost more than his life is worth?

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Eph. 2:4-5)

Everyone is repairable, and Jesus is able to repair us all. He is able to repair every pedophile as well as every white liar. Having said this, though, I think that it’s too easy for us to superficially acknowledge that it’s true. We may say that “yes, everyone is repairable,” but it’s another thing entirely to live like it’s true. For instance, how easy is it to live alongside a child sex offender and see him as repairable? How easy is it to work alongside a pervert? How easy is it to forgive an abusive parent?

Superficial acknowledgement of everyone’s repairability will not suffice, since once we are forced to live next to a “scrap pile,” it’s too easy to retract into judgmental guardedness. 

Now, I can’t imagine how horrible some people’s lives are, nor am I being overly simplistic by encouraging us all to be forgiving and gracious towards horrible people. It’s certainly not easy to live with horrible people, and I never want to be the one to judge someone for not being forgiving towards another. 

That being said, everyone is still repairable. God is still working; God is still writing everyone’s story. God is not ashamed to pay the price to resurrect a pile of scrap, even when the cost is far more than the pile is worth.

I think if we remember that Jesus paid more for our repair than our own lives are worth, we may be able to see those people whom we call “horrible” as people loved by God. 

Yes, they are loved by God, just like you and me.

We are all enemies of God if we were able to have our way. We would all be like the horrible people we despise if we had our way. If we forget that, then we are no better than the worst of sinners. We would be likened to a pile of scrap that desires to stay scrap instead of being resurrected back to life.

Regardless of how you view yourself or how you view the “piles of scrap” around you, God loves you just as much as those “piles of scrap.” I want to keep that in mind on a daily basis. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"The Outside World" (Part 2)

--------------------> Click Here For Part One <-------------------
        The decision weighed on Sam's mind. He did not want to upset Mr. Schull, and investigating the source of the voice would surely be something that would upset him. Then again, Sam really wanted to see who made the voice. The more he listened to it, the more appealing it became; the soft delicateness of it gave him a peace that quieted the strange feelings inside. The strong desire to see the voice’s source continued to weaken Mr. Schull’s warnings, and after a few more vocalizations from the voice, Sam had made his decision.
        He went back to the front of the house and went through the hole into his room again. He walked around the pile of rubble and went to the door. Mr. Schull always opened the door from the outside because there was no doorknob on the inside “so it does not distract you” as Mr. Schull always said. Unsure how to get to the voice, Sam went back outside. He thought that maybe he could yell through the wall to the voice, but he then thought that maybe it would be better to see whose voice it was before he talked to it. 
        He went to the porch again and decided to go through the front door. Having never opened a door in his life, Sam only guessed at how it worked. He remembered how Mr. Schull always grabbed the small, round device off to the side of the door whenever he closed the door to Sam’s room. 
        With that in mind, he grasped the small, circular knob on the door and tried pushing in, but the door did not move. Confused, he tried pulling the knob out as well as pushing it in, but neither worked. Then, he accidentally rotated the knob while pushing inward and the door swung open. He now knew how doors worked.
        Once inside the house, Sam began taking in the details of the room. There was a dark red rug on the floor in front of him, a brown couch and chair immediately to his right and a mysterious black box on the far side of the room with a flat, glossy surface that faced the couch and chair. There was a large grandfather clock in the corner opposite of the black box, and the walls in the whole room featured paintings and other miscellaneous decorations that only confused Sam. To the left of the room was a mahogany table with three candles in the center, and six funny-looking wood chairs surrounding it. Straight ahead of Sam laid a corridor that piqued his interest.
        He walked across the room towards the corridor. The voice continued to scream, and Sam knew he was getting closer since the voice became clearer and louder. After a few steps down the corridor, he came to a closed door that seemed to house the voice, since it was now at its loudest. Sam’s heart was beating hard in his chest as he listened intently to the voice on the other side of the door. 
        The voice was soft, as Sam knew from before, but the quality of the voice was far purer and less muffled now that he was inside the house. For the moment, he was content just listening to the voice because of how different and gracious it sounded. It was not deep like his or Mr. Schull’s voices. It was high-pitched and fair. Sam began to wonder what kind of person made such a peculiar voice that differed from his and Mr. Schull’s. 
        After enjoying the voice for a few moments, and desiring to see how different the person was, Sam decided that it was time to open the door and see the mysterious person. He brought his hand towards the doorknob, but hesitated.
        This is the second person, besides Mr. Schull, that I will meet, he realized.
        In all the books Sam had read and perused, he could not remember seeing even a single picture of a person. Most of the books were about animals, nature, logic, mathematics and English. 
        What will this person look like? 
        The enormity of it all almost made Sam change his mind about opening the door. He waited there, staring at the doorknob while he continued to listen to the voice and weigh his decision. After a few more vocalizations from behind the door, curiosity and desire won out, and he made his final decision to see who the person was. With his heart pounding harder than ever, he grabbed the doorknob, rotated it and pushed the door open to see a person inside. 
        Upon the sound of the opening door, the person inside stopped mid-sentence and looked over at him. The person was a little shorter than Sam, and had much longer hair and fairer skin. It had a face that made Sam’s heart jump in an odd, but pleasant, way. 
        Sam examined the figure standing before him. He noticed how the person had a shape that was more curvaceous than his own and how it had wide hips and two, odd-looking lumps protruding from its chest. Sam did not know what to do or say, so he kept staring.
        After a moment, though, he began to have even more unwelcome feelings that he did not understand. They were altogether strange, unwelcome, and powerful. The feeling consisted of a strange tension in his abdomen and groin that he had experienced when he was around the age of twelve and thirteen. Mr. Schull had taught him that those feelings and bodily reactions were the greatest hindrance to his growth, and that they must be ignored. What intrigued Sam about the feelings this time, though, was that they seemed to serve a purpose; when we was younger and had experienced the same feelings, they didn’t seem to serve any purpose. Although all the feelings and sensations were unwelcome and took him by surprise, Sam found them pleasant and not discomforting as the earlier feelings caused by the loud noises.
        After a long pause with the two staring at each other, the other person said awkwardly, “Umm. Hello.” 
        Sam paused slightly before answering. “Hello.”
        More silence. 
        “Who are you?” Sam asked the figure.
        “My name is July. Spelt like the month, but sounds like ‘Julie.’”
        “I like that name, July.” Sam said with more confidence. “My name is Sam.”
        “I like yours too.” July said.
        Another pause.
        “Do you know Mr. Schull?” Sam asked.
        July looked confused. “You mean Mrs. Schull?”
        Now Sam was confused too. “No, his name is Mr. Schull.”
        “His?” July asked, looking even more confused. “What is ‘his’?”
        “His name is what his is.” Sam said with a hint of irritation.
        “But what is ‘his’? Like what kind of a word is that? It’s new to me.”
        “It’s a pronoun for a person. Didn’t you learn about that from him?”
        “I learned about pronouns from her--Mrs. Schull.”
        “Yes, the pronoun for people.”
        There was another pause. They looked at each other for a bit, each trying to make sense of the confusion.
        “It’s Mr., and the pronouns for people is ‘his’ and ‘him.’ Sam said after the pause.
        “No, it’s Mrs. and ‘her.’”
        Sam was getting frustrated, and he could tell that July was too. He took a breath and asked another question. “So what non-possessive pronoun do you use?”
        Even though Sam had never learned about this word either, he felt like they were getting somewhere. “So either we are wrong, or Mr.--or, Mrs.--Schull is wrong.” Sam said.
        July thought for a moment. “How can Mrs.--or Mr.--Schull be wrong?”
        “You’re right,” Sam said, “Schull--we should call him or her, ‘Schull,’ from now on--has taught us everything we know. Shull is trustworthy.”
        “Then maybe we just heard wrong.” July said.
        There was another pause.
        “We should wait for Schull to return so Schull can clear this up. If you ask me, it’s interesting that Schull taught us two different things.” July said.
        “Yeah, what if Schull purposely taught us differently?” Sam replied.
        “But what is also interesting,” July said, “is that Schull kept us separated from each other for the past 19 years--”
        “You’re 19?” Sam interjected. “I’m 21.”
        “We look to be around the same age.” July said awkwardly, not sure how to respond.
        “Why would Schull do this--keep us apart and teach us different things?”
        Sam thought for a moment. “I don’t know.”     
        July voiced an idea. “Maybe Schull thought we would be distractions for each other? You know, in our personal growth?”
        “Possibly.” Sam replied as a pang of realization swept through him. “What about our personal growth now? How can we return to our former lives after seeing each other? Wouldn’t that make it worse?”
        “What do you mean?”
        “Well,” Sam began, “If we each end up back in our rooms to create our worlds, how could we possibly keep each other out of our memories?”
        “Don’t you see? I was outside, walking around, and now I saw you. I now have all these memories of the outside world. How could I forget them and you?”
        July thought for a moment. “Maybe Schull will be able to extract them somehow.”
        “Even if he could, would you want to forget me? Because I don’t want to forget you. I like seeing you.”
        July gave Sam a peculiar smile. Her face crinkled under the pressure of her puckering grin, which gave her an irresistible image for Sam to behold. He felt the abdominal tension return. 
        “No.” She replied with a pleasant tone. 
        “Well then, while we wait for Schull to return, want to explore with me?” Sam said with a smile that matched hers.
        She hesitated, and lost her smile for a moment.
        “You can trust me. I’ve been outside. It’s safe.” Sam pleaded.
        “OK.” July answered as she stepped towards Sam.
        Sam watched her every move as she walked to him. Her gliding steps held a gracious ease that made his heart flutter. The way her hips pivoted and the way her legs delicately took their turn prompted Sam to smile once again. He liked July.
        He turned to leave. “Follow me.” He said while taking another glance at her frame.
        Wow, he thought.
        The couple gradually made their way out of the house with Sam showing July the items in the room that he previously examined. After she was satisfied with her perusal of the room, she followed Sam out the front door into the world beyond. 

        Hiding on the edge of the forest beyond the farmstead, Mr. Schull watched Sam and July with binoculars. He was able to confirm that they were physically safe, and judging by their smiles, he knew that they were psychologically safe as well. The dynamite he had planted around the grounds of the farmstead had even convinced him that there were mortar strikes. His main concern with his plan was that Sam may have gotten injured during the explosion that opened his room, but judging by Sam’s current actions, he was unharmed. He took out his tablet and wrote:
        “Phase 1 of New World Experiment: Success. Date: 6/15/2018. Dynamite ruse a success--no physical or psychological injuries indicated, and Sam and July are free to roam within the confines of the farmstead.”

        He smiled and put the tablet away. The rest of Sam and July’s story was now up to fate, but that would not stop him from watching them from afar. He had no intention of visiting them, nor answering the questions he knew they would have. He had placed the survival booklet in the barn, and all he had to do was make sure they would explore the barn and find the booklet. After that, he would watch them from afar and survey their progress. He knew they would eventually explore the forest beyond the farm, but the electric fence which he constructed would keep them maintained and safe--safe from exploring beyond the confines of the farmstead.
        He sat back against an oak tree and sighed with relief. Seeing his two “children” (as he called them) break free, he now found hope for the new world. Although the current world was riddled with an incurable disease, Sam and July were safe. Together, they would build a new society and a new world, and it would start here.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wanting Life: The Call to Selfish Desires

Do our desires reveal a heart for God? Or do we fear desire altogether? These are important questions because desire is what compels us to behave, and if we are compelled wrongly, our behavior goes awry.

Following one’s desire often sounds selfish, at least it does to me. I am surprised by how “selfish” the sayings of Jesus and the Apostle Paul call us to be. For instance, in Matthew 10:39, we read, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Similarly, In Romans 2:7, Paul says, “To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”

Those who desire glory, honor and immortality are the ones who find eternal life? 

Is it OK to have such a desire for life?

Is it just me, or does this sound like Jesus (in Matthew 10) is calling upon a “selfish” desire for life (I know it says, “lose one's life,” but the fact remains that Jesus is tapping into a desire that is self-seeking--life)? 

On the surface, it sounds like it’s good to desire life, but why do I have such a problem with desire in general? My problem with desire seems to infect every good desire I may have, including how I view these statements of Jesus and Paul. I’m sure that I’m not alone. It feels like desire is what leads to sin, not life, and it’s hard to apply our desires to something good while housing this “distrust” of desire.

Why do I have such an issue with desire? Why does desiring life sound selfish? Why does it feel so sinful to desire, even when it’s something good?

Maybe it’s because it’s so easy to confuse good desires with bad ones. Murder is a bad desire, but  justice is not. Sex is a good desire, but lust is not. Greed is bad, but provision is good. It’s easy to blur lines with desire, and we end up being confused. It’s also easy to fear the bad desires in us that we throw the good desires out with them. That could be why I feel like the desire for life is selfish and why I tend to reject all desires altogether; I have mixed up the desire for life with the desire for the maintenance of my pride--this is my ambivalence with desire.

If we feel ambivalent towards our desires and have a difficult time navigating them, it’s a relief to remember that Jesus himself prompts us to desire. He says:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Navigating the desires of our hearts requires something more powerful than our own consciences; we need divine help. That is why Jesus invites us to desire because he invites us to desire life his way. His way of living life is going to be the appropriate outlet for all our desires. With Jesus, our bad desires get transformed into good ones. He knows that any sinful path that tempts our desires will eventually destroy us, and so he provides us with an alternative route to reroute the bad desires.

For example, if our good desire for sex is not surrendered to God, it’s only a matter of time before it bursts out into something sinful. If, however, we apply it to God’s will, we end up applying sexual desire to the expectant hope of a spouse. Even when God’s ways feel debilitating, they end up being the best path; they satisfy us to the point of spontaneous thankfulness because they rid us of desire’s pressure. When we develop a relationship with God where desires are freely given to him, we have peace with our own desires.

So do our desires reveal a heart for God? I think the more we learn to see all our desires as fuel for spiritual growth and bring them to God, the more satisfied we will be with the results. God ultimately satisfies the good desires and redeems the bad ones, and bringing every desire, great or small, before him is the beginning of satisfaction. Let God navigate your desires.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

(I owe a great deal of thanks to John Eldredge, author of Desire, for this post)

Monday, January 6, 2014

"The Outside World" (Part 1)

       In 1997, a man by the name of Friedrich Schull developed an idea to rid the world of conflict. His idea: raise a new Adam and Eve. He hypothesized that if two individuals, a man and a woman, were to grow up with minimal interpersonal contact--seeing no one but Schull himself, they would be able to fully develop into their own, unique characters without the impediments and infringements that society would put on them. After Schull judged the time to be right, however, they would meet one another and develop a pure, unadulterated, fully-innocent relationship. Hence, a new generation, a sinless legacy, would be born.
       All went well, until war was imminent in 2017. Schull had good reason to believe that where he had housed his subjects, who were named Sam and July (pronounced Julie), would be in danger of the repercussions and collateral effects of war. In addition, his status in the government required his departure from Sam and July and the housing complex that held them. Knowing his priorities would be split, he decided it was time to release his twochildren,” albeit earlier than previously intended.
       This is the story of Sam and July.   

       Another loud noise startled Sam as it sent tremors through the room. This one sounded much closer than the previous dozen. Amidst the quakes, he was struggling to identify this new emotion that he felt. In twenty-one years, Sam had never experienced this strong of a feeling before and the emotion seemed to be getting stronger as the noises grew louder. His main problem with the feeling was how foreign it was. Along with the strangeness came an enormous amount of discomfort--but it was more then simply “discomfort.” This feeling felt deeper and more basal.
       The previous day, Mr. Schull had told Sam that there might be some unusual noises in the imminent future. Currently, however, Sam began to wonder why Mr. Schull didn’t warn him that they would be so loud and discomforting. Sam always trusted the word of Mr. Schull; for the past 21 years, Sam had been taught by him and he never once doubted him. So when he came to Sam to tell him that he was going to be away for a few days, Sam trusted his word and eagerly expected his return. He knew that when Mr. Schull returned, he would explain the loud noises and the mysterious new feelings that plagued him. 
       Sam continued thinking of words to describe what he was feeling inside, but no words could describe the foreign feeling in his heart. The closest feeling he could equate it to was when Mr. Schull failed to feed him one time. He remembered that Mr. Schull called the feeling, “hunger,” and that the feeling came about because Sam’s body was in need of the essential sustenance to function properly. Sam knew that the current feeling was stronger and different than hunger; his stomach was full after eating all the food that had been provided for him before Mr. Schull had gone away. This was something else--something new.
       Another loud noise rattled the walls in Sam’s room--this time much closer than before. He backed as far away as he could from the wall from which the noises were originating until his back rested against the knob-less doorway of his room. He stared at the wall opposite which was covered in his paintings and wondered what those noises could be. He could feel his heart beating inside of him and he noticed that he was breathing like he did when he went running on the treadmill. The longer Sam felt and thought about this strange feeling, the more it grew. He grew increasingly frustrated that he could not put words to it and he wished that Mr. Schull was there to explain everything to him. 
       His instincts replaced his pondering as the loudest noise yet thundered outside the wall opposite from him. In unison with the noise, the wall burst inward, hurtling its fragments toward Sam. He crouched, put his hands up and shut his eyes. Sam’s room was covered in soot before he could grasp what had happened. His eyes struggled to comprehend the image before him: one of the four walls he had lived behind for 21 years was now shattered before him on the floor. 
       A large amount of light streamed through the gaping hole. He had never seen such a light before, but he was more concerned with discovering how and why the wall had broken. His room was a mass of gray matter filled with dust, plaster and his scattered belongings. Sam had no idea what to do; Mr. Schull had never prepared him for anything like this. The plaguing feeling returned, this time, though, it seemed to make his whole body shake. He sometimes felt this way after an exceptionally long run on the treadmill, but this feeling was much stronger and came from no physical exertion, so he considered it to be a different feeling altogether.
       After the dust had cleared, Sam remained against the wall, staring out of the large opening. His pulse was still racing and body was still shaking. He continued to hear the loud noises in the distance, but they were softer than before and seemed to now originate from behind him. 
       Did something pass by?  
       The plaguing feeling was still there, but it was not as strong as when the wall had come down. Despite this, it did not make it any less confusing for him, and the mystery of the foreign noises and feelings continued to frustrate him. After a moment to let his heart and nerves calm down, he decided that it was safe to take a step away from the wall and towards the opening. 
       This would be the first time Sam had ever looked outside of his room. He was not curious about what lay beyond since Mr. Schull explained to Sam that he was perfectly able to create his own world within the confines of his room and that everything, and everyone (except Mr. Schull), outside of his room was a distraction to his “personal perfection,” as Mr. Schull had called it. For Sam’s entire life, Mr. Schull provided him with books, writing utensils, paper, paint, canvases, exercise equipment, food, water and just about anything that Mr. Schull believed to be beneficial for Sam. Sam had painted pictures of the animals and landscapes that he had seen in some of the books that Mr. Schull had given him. Some of them were of monkeys riding on the backs of lions as they climbed trees together, while others were of magnificent winged bears jumping off waterfalls. Mr. Schull told Sam that his imagination was limitless and that his paintings were where his imagination could be captured, so Sam thought that he could combine images and ideas to make his own, unique world. Painting was what he enjoyed doing the most, although he did enjoy reading and playing his guitar too.  
       Now, all those paintings were destroyed by the loud noise and broken wall. Sam could see the shattered remnants of some of his favorites beneath the debris. He knelt down and picked up the fragment of the painting he had done of Mr. Schull. All that was left of the painting was part of his left eye and the top of his head. Sam tossed the painting down because he did not see any reason to keep it. He stood there for a moment and looked at the mess. This was his world and his life, and it was now covered in chunks of sheet rock, wood fragments and shattered paintings. One again, the plaguing feeling sent those uncomfortable feelings throughout his body.
       Trying to ignore the emotion, he glanced out the large hole in the wall to see the outside world for the first time. He had seen pictures of places in books before, but this was different. The outside did not look anything like Sam would have guessed. It was not flawless or beautiful. It was covered in grey dust, and there were many large holes in the ground including one right outside his room. 
       Sam took notice of the large light outside. He knew that it was called “the sun” and that it provided energy for all the plants, animals and people, but he also remembered Mr. Schull’s warnings against being exposed to it.  
       The grey matter outside, however, made him confused; he had never seen any pictures of anything like it before. What he saw through the large hole only confirmed what Mr. Schull had said: everything outside is a distraction from personal perfection. Sam knew that all his paintings were far more beautiful than the grey and lifeless matter he was beholding. 
       Something, however, made him want to venture out of his room, despite the danger of being exposed to the sun. He knew that this feeling was called, “curiosity,” and that it should be handled with great care, as Mr. Schull had told him. Sam considered that leaving the room for a short while would be a safe decision. The only thing that made him hesitate, though, was what Mr. Schull would think. Would he be disappointed with Sam for venturing out of his room by being curious? Was this a legitimate way to express curiosity? Sam thought back to the only time Mr. Schull was disappointed in him: when Sam had been unconfident about his abilities. Sam assumed that since he was confident in his decision to leave the room and explore, Mr. Schull would not be disappointed. Sam made his decision.
       He continued to hear the distant sounds of those noises, but they were far too distant to cause any more of those plaguing feelings from earlier to return. He meandered around the pile of debris, past his sink, and towards his toilet and shower stall. He reached the edge of the large hole in the wall before he slowly crept towards the gaping hole in the wall. 
       Once he reached the edge of it, he felt his heart beat again, but this time with the positive emotion of excitement. He plucked up the courage to poke his head farther out into the opening to get a better look at the outside world.
       The air was what first took Sam by surprise; he had never felt such a thing before. It seemed to brush his face in a far more graceful way than the fan in his room ever could. It seemed so natural and easy that it made him smile. The next thing he noticed was how large the outside world really was. He had known about the size of the Earth from books, but he never fathomed what such a large area actually looked like. The air made him smile, but the magnitude of the world made him laugh. 
       He closed his eyes, taking in the experience. The distant rumbling of the noises no longer bothered him, and he could enjoy the sensation of the outside world with no uncomfortable feeling. He reopened his eyes to see that he was in what he knew to be called a “farm.” The barn was off to his right, and a few smaller, unknown buildings were scattered around the property. 
       It then occurred to him to look behind him and see what the outside of his room looked like. He stepped out into the gray hole outside his room before he turned to look back towards his room. Sam now realized that the room was a part of a house, and it was all taller than Sam would have guessed. There seemed to be another room on top of his own since there was a window in the wall above his head. The building was white and made of wood. It was medium-sized house (at least compared to the pictures that Sam had seen in books), with a covered porch to the right and a deck to the left, behind the house. Sam looked down to see that he was standing on rocks and sand. 
       Gravel, he thought to himself. 
       He knew that he was standing on what was called a “driveway.” The driveway had a few large holes, like the one just outside his room, and they each had a large black mark within them. 
       These must be what those noises were, or at least the result of those noises, he thought.
       The sun above had grown brighter and the surrounding premises became more visible as the grey dust from the holes had dissipated. The farmyard was now more fully lit and Sam could feel the heat from the sun beat down on him. This made him smile again. With the dust gone and the sun shining brightly, he began to second guess his original belief that the outside world was grey and unattractive. Even with the grey and black holes in the ground, Sam could see how the world around him would normally have looked. 
       He began to ponder to himself. Why did Mr. Schull keep me in that room all these years? What is so bad about all this? He looked at the holed in the ground again. I wonder if he knew about those noises and these holes and how they would have distracted me from my paintings. And if the sun is so bad, why does it feel so good and shine so beautifully? He still trusted Mr. Schull, but he was definitely going to keep him busy with questions upon his return. 
       Sam continued to explore the farmyard, often gazing across the field to the trees in the distance. 
       Forest. I wonder... Sam resisted thinking about exploring anything beyond the farmyard, and he reassured himself with a supposition, Mr. Schull must have not wanted me to experience anything beyond the farmyard, and he took great care in protecting me from all the distractions that lie beyond by keeping me safe in my room. 
       This guess was good enough for Sam as he continued to walk around the yard, taking note of everything that he recognized from books and reminding himself to ask Mr. Schull about everything else that was foreign to him.
       The sky towered above him, and he stood for a long time trying to fathom it. The clouds moved slowly and Sam could only stare. No amount of books or pictures could have prepared him for the enormity of the world. He began to wonder how insignificant his own world in his little room would have been if it was compared to the glory he currently beheld.
       After exploring the yard for an hour, Sam came back to the house and sat on a chair on the front porch. Next to the chair was a table with a small piece of wood on it. The piece of wood was round and thick on one end and curved sharply before it tapered off to a significantly skinnier end. The large, round end had a large hole in it and the skinny end had a smaller hole in it. This was another thing that Sam could not identify. He picked it up and smelt it. A strong smell of something like sweet herbs came from the large hole. 
       This is what Mr. Schull smells like! I wonder what it is. 
       Before he could examine the object further, he heard a new noise. It was soft and muffled, but distinct. It came from around the house to the left; it sounded like it originated on the opposite side of the house from where his room was. The sound was like his own voice, but softer and higher. Sam knew it wasn’t Mr. Schull’s voice, either, because it wasn’t deep enough. He thought that maybe the noise was spoken words like Mr. Schull and himself use, but if the originator was speaking with words, he could not understand what the voice was saying. 
       Is it an animal? 
       He got out of his chair and walked around the side of the house to get a clearer sound of it. When he came to a stop, he could now tell that the noise was indeed a voice and it was speaking words like he and Mr. Shull use. 
       “Mrs. Schull! What are those noises?” it was yelling.  
       Sam was unsure what to do. Another person is here! 
       “Mrs. Schull! Where are you?!” The voice continued to holler.
       Why is he saying Mrs. Schull? It’s Mr. Schull. 
       He had that plaguing feeling again, but this time it was because of the realization that there was another person that he had never met before. Growing up, Sam had always wanted to meet other people, but Mr. Schull always told him that everyone except for Mr. Schull himself was a hindrance to Sam growing up into the perfect man that he was meant to be. He was always taught that the more people he would meet and get to know, the more he will lose himself and never be the same.
       Sam thought that maybe he should leave the voice alone and ignore it until Mr. Schull returned. 
       I cannot risk this. Not without Mr. Schull. 
       But the voice kept hollering through the wall, and for the first time in his life, Sam felt a deep feeling of desire that was hard to disregard. He desired to see this person. In a single moment by a single desire, everything that Mr. Schull had taught him growing up was brushed aside. 
       Who is this person? I want to meet him! Sam thought. 
       The plaguing feeling returned shortly after this desire came, and Sam found himself with a difficult decision: ignore the noise and continue to desire, or discover the source of the noise and never be the same?

------------> Read Part 2 Here! <----------------

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Light and Darkness, Jesus and Pornography

I love how brief statements can have such an impact. In the Gospel of John, we have such a statement:

“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:10)

This is dense, theologically. How could the Creator (“made through him”) infiltrate his own creation and not be recognized? What does this say about the perceptive ability of “the world”? 

Another statement, mentioned by John a few verses earlier, establishes the groundwork for the one above:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Darkness attempts to overcome the light. This verse implies that the light coexists with darkness--at least in the same way that two opposing forces coexist on a battlefield. What an accurate picture of the spiritual climate of Planet Earth.

Since the Creator himself has infiltrated a world that is said to be under the power of the Devil (1 John 5:19) for the sole purpose of overthrowing his works (1 John 3:8), it makes sense to say that such a move would incite war.

War is thus upon us, yet how often do we consider our daily trudging in life to be tactical? How often do we prepare for the onslaught of darkness?

What about the darkness that looms and lingers inside our minds and desires?

I certainly know how irritating it is to “coexist” with darkness. My worst nightmare for many years was not found while I slept, but in my own desires. Addiction sounds psychological, and perhaps even clinical, but the basis for all addiction is rooted in spiritual darkness; my addiction was no exception. 

The digital age comes with many blessings, but my early years of swimming in its possibilities consisted of finding its curses. Pornography is not a pleasant word, and it is commonly seen as a taboo subject, but it is just as dangerous to one’s well-being as methamphetamine, self-infliction, or drunkenness. Porn takes the craving for physical intimacy and mutilates it with its facades to create a monstrosity that destroys all appreciation, honor and love for the opposite sex. Instead of a selfless offering, there is a selfish vacuum. There are no positive aspects to pornography, despite what “experts” may say. 

While I was dating the woman who is now my unforgettable wife, my fascination with the fabricated beauty and vicariously euphoria of pornography had effectively poisoned how I viewed her. It took a great deal of spiritual and mental readjustment and letting God change my eyes before I could see things clearer. Although I have been removed from its clutches and find my bride more beautiful than ever, I am still in “detox,” since the poison of pornography is the type of disease that will always stay with us--like Lyme Disease, where an infected individual will always carry the disease with them, even when they recover back to health. Indeed, the same holds true for anyone after a season of habitual sinning, but that doesnt make them unredeemable and unable to recover.

Even though sinners, like porn addicts, are redeemable, that doesnt give one license to keep sinning (Rom. 6:1-2). I beg men and women who can’t stop looking at it to stop looking at it because it really is that simple. Stop making the problem into a religion. Jesus made you free, so be free. Darkness cannot change into light; it must be cast out by the light. 

This is indeed a difficult truth to learn.

Jesus has already saved us from the bondage to “self.” Paul calls us “slaves of Christ” (Rom. 6:22), which is the best possible way to say, “you are free.” The more we submit ourselves to his lordship as obedient slaves, the more we can see how free we really are.  We will no longer feel compelled to bow before the throne of “self”; instead, we bow, live and thrive at the throne of Heaven (Col. 3:1).

As we abide there, we discover that our enslavement to God is far from oppressive or tyrannical. For those who have suffered the oppression of sin and all that is corrupt in the world, Jesus says:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

We will find rest for our souls only when we give up trying to do Gods work in our lives--when we try to rid ourselves of our own sinfulness. To say we must rid ourselves of darkness is akin to commanding a corpse to live. Let us simply live as light, for that is what we are in Christ.