Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Standing outside the courtroom with the defendant, I was explaining to him the process of jury selection when a lawyer (not his) walked out of the clerk's office. Thinking we were speaking Russian, he paused and upon learning it was Bulgarian, told us his Russian wife had hired a Bulgarian cleaning lady and they couldn't understand each other. He proceeded to tell us about his house on "Maatha's Vineyahd" and how many Bulgarians are working there during the summer. (My client is reasonably proficient in English and understood him perfectly). He described his housekeeper as a "young girl; very pretty" and commented on how attractive the young, slender, Bulgarian girls are who work on the Vineyard. "Of course, I'm married, so I can't do anything about it - I can only look," he virtuously informed us.
Warming to his subject, the forty-something family man continued, "It's like when I was young, years ago....I used to go to Catholic school. It was an all-boys school, and back then, the teachers were mostly all priests - no laity. Some of the priests would really be checkin' out a couple gals that (sic) worked in the office, and sometimes it was really funny - you could see 'em jus' lookin'. So this one time, this one priest - he's really enjoying the view, and one of the fellas goes up to him: 'Hey Faddah! Whatchu lookin' at -- you ain't supposed to be lookin'!' So he calls all of us around, all together, and he goes: 'Listen, fellas, just cuz you're on a diet doesn't mean you can't look at and smell the food!"
By this time, my client's defense attorney had joined us and groaned at his colleague's priest joke. To clarify both the punch line and his philosophy, the first lawyer emphasized to the defendant: "Just 'cause I'm on a diet doesn't mean I can't look at the food!" He then left for lunch. I said nothing, but his attitude repulsed me - and not because of the sexism. I could care less about stuff like that - it just makes the subject look like a buffoon. What struck me was his cavalier view of lust - not only was he not attempting to put it to death, he seemed to be reveling in it. Boasting about it, while framing himself as a pristine example of chastity, presumably because he had not (yet) given in to adultery.
Let me back up for just a moment and frame my state of mind for you. Recently, a cyber-friend of mine created quite a storm on her blog for having the audacity to say porn is wrong and adds nothing to one's life spiritually or emotionally. Period. Some things God has declared wrong, and we shouldn't do them (or even think of them - Proverbs 4:23; 23:7; Matt. 15:18). I've never seen porn as anything other than a black and white issue, and was frankly shocked that even unbelievers - let alone professing Christians - would see it in shades of gray. This particular blogger is one of several I have seen recently derided and attacked for discernment and passionately following after Jesus - as if our faith is something we should be "moderate" about. Pulling conviction out of our back pockets on Sunday morning while the rest of the week we push it to the side of our hearts results in what is commonly termed "cheap grace". It is not true discipleship. From Genesis to Revelation, God makes it clear that what we allow into our hearts and choose to meditate on will eventually corrupt us.
Was this (somewhat banal) exchange scandalous? Not in this day and age. Nor was it, in all likelihood, the worst thing that was said in court this morning. Lest you think I am holding a probable non-Christian to Christian standards, I assure the reader that is not my point. For all I know, the lawyer might be a nice guy outside of court, if a bit crass. If anything, he did nothing more than point up the world's utter contempt for what the Bible calls true holiness. That's the definition of worldliness and we should expect as much from the world. However, I find his priest story telling, if not surprising.
In my 19 years as a Catholic, I noticed this "how-close-to-the-edge-can-I-get" mentality towards sin as very typical, and it was just this hypocrisy that (in part) pushed me out of the denomination and toward biblical Christianity. (Which isn't to say that apathy towards personal sin doesn't exist in other churches - it most assuredly does.) However, particularly among the clergy (and nuns), there seemed to be a subtle "shell"; an outward form of godliness that was hard to pin-point, even while these same individuals seemed to deny it's power and certainly lacked the Holy Spirit. The idea of a priest so flagrantly violating the principal of Matthew 5:28 ("But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart") doesn't shock me, but that he would joke about it with a group of adolescent boys somehow does.
Furthermore, his analogy was stupid and defied common sense: if you are on a diet, does it make sense to go out, buy a cake, put it in the fridge, and then sit down cross-legged in front of the fridge? Exactly how long do you think it will be until you succumb? As I recently counseled an eating-disordered woman, the further you remove yourself from temptation, the more likely you are to have victory. Don't buy junkfood and have it in your house; then you can't eat it at night. Buy healthy food. Do you see a spiritual parallel here? Philippians 4:8 tells us: "...whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
Likewise, many who know Christ see lust as "no big deal", yet Christ's warning was unambiguous: it is a big deal to God. Therefore, shouldn't it be to us? Repeatedly, Paul warns us to "be on the alert", yet rationalizations and banal joking about our baser instincts seems to be so socailly acceptable that even Christians don't blink an eye. The other day, I read that it takes 3 seconds to decide which way your thoughts are going to go: whether you'll pursue a thought until it becomes a meditation, or whether you'll hit the mental "delete" button. The notion that we cannot control what we think about is a fallacy. Even if we're thinking about it, the correct course of action is to recognize it as rebellion against Christ and to repent immediately - not to joke about it. Tolerance toward sin (or even seeing it as cute, daring and nothing to make one blush) is neither endearing nor funny. There is a growing trend within the professing Church to drag banality into the pulpit, which is worse. Wherever it's displayed - by a lawyer, priest or Reformed pastor in a Che Gueverra T-shirt, it's still annoying and tacky.
"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." - Psalm 51:10
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
"Watertight Scripturally" - I like that. A LOT. Would that more CCM writers would take heed.
He had to mention the other song that makes me wince.....John Wimber's "Isn't He Beautiful"...he just HAD to mention it......
Monday, July 20, 2009
I really couldn't think of anything to call this post. Insights while in Walmart? Caffeine-induced vain imaginings? Contemplative life when kids are at VBS?
Clever, witty titles escape me at the moment. This morning, I actually was able to spend some time in the Word and talking with God - granted, it was in the parking lot at Walmart - but if I'd gone home I would have just logged back onto the laptop and gleefully sparred over at DefCon or 4Simpsons.
Nope. All four kids were safely deposited at VBS this morning - which I am NOT teaching this year - and I had three hours to figure out what to do with myself (other than grocery shop, which was a no-brainer).
I have not been blogging much lately, mainly because I have had nothing particularly edifying to share. Trying to trace my growing cynicism back to it's roots, I glanced through my prayer journal in the car to determine when, exactly, I had joined the JCC (Jaded Christians' Club). There were a surprising number of entries with Psalm verses and other passages God had quickened to my spirit over the last year, all of which spoke some encouraging or reassuring message of His faithfulness. One common theme has long been the nagging fear that no matter what I do or fail to do, for some reason at virtually every moment of any given day, God is mad at me. This is literally a tape that loops through my conscious mind. It really annoys me of late. (Imagine how God must feel about it, if I even manage to annoy myself).
Now, technically I do believe it's possible to make God mad. God gets angry, and contrary to what many Christians believe, He does sometimes get angry with His children. (John Macarthur devoted most of a chapter in "Forgiveness" to that subject, and how God's discipline can, in fact, be punitive.) Jesus got ticked off sometimes with His disciples, although with good reason. So it's not as if God couldn't, theoretically, get mad at me. However, I think God has a much longer fuse than I tend to give Him credit for. The Bible says He is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18 and a whole bunch of other places) and gracious and merciful (Psalm 145:8). Deliberate rebellion and stubborn unrepentance angers Him.
But here's what the Holy Spirit revealed to me today: constant concern that "He's mad at me" is self-centered. It's rooted in an attitude of self-preservation and is the logical antecedent of self-pity. It belies a certain concern for my own welfare - how I am seen in His eyes. (This applies to human relationships, as well). God is a Person, and can be grieved according to the Bible (Genesis 6:6; Matt. 26:38; Mark 3:5; Ephesians 4:30). There is a difference between worrying that "He's mad at me" and "I've grieved Him". Feeling conviction for a particular sin or general un-Christlike attitude should cause us discomfort if we belong to Him. But if my default mode is "He's mad at me", I'm still worried about me. Godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:11) will be concerned first and foremost that "I've grieved the Lord".
Frankly, that's a much stronger motivation for true repentance and inward change. I hate that I grieve God. I probably pain Him about a million times a day, and I'm only vaguely aware of a few thousand offenses. And the amazing part is that He keeps forgiving me. Who wants to hurt a Savior like that?
Here's another interesting thing I was reflecting on while looking for boys' socks in the Stuff Mart. (I'm telling you, I need to go shopping without my kids more often!) I was thinking about how gosh-darned neat it is that while God, (being God and all), doesn't need any of us, He sees fit to keep us around anyway. Sort of to humor us, if you will, as we await our adoption as sons (or in the case of half of us, as daughters). A line in a Casting Crowns song underscores the doctrine of God's completeness and need of nothing outside Himself:
"How refreshing to know You don't need meThen the donkey popped into my mind.
How amazing to find that You want me.."
(from "The Power of Christ in Me")
"Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.' "(Mark 11:2-3; cf. Luke 19:31).
Now, TECHNICALLY (my son's favorite word), the Lord didn't really "need" the baby donkey in order to complete His Messianic entrance into Jerusalem and thus fulfill Zechariah 9:9. God's sovereign plan for the redemption of mankind wouldn't have been thrown into a tailspin if the donkey had refused to cooperate. Jesus (being God and all) could have instantly created another donkey if He wanted to, or have pre-determined the prophecy to have Him in a Corvette. But He chose to allow Himself to "need" the donkey. In a similar way, He "needed" the prayer support and fellowship of His (fallible) disciples in Gethsemane. Jesus allowed Himself, in order to fully identify with our humanity, to experience the "need" for human intimacy. As God, the Trinity was (and is) completely satisfied and in perfect fellowship with Itself. Yet as Christ was (and is) fully human as well as divine, it seems He deliberately made Himself vulnerable by soliciting human help in His humanity. This demonstrates the humble nature of Christ (Matthew 11:29).
In a sense, He does the same thing with His followers today, although He's in His exalted state and doesn't have the same immediate "needs" as He chose to experience on earth. But think about it: what's God's plan for the salvation of His elect? The Gospel must be preached. By whom?
That's why it's called "The Great Commission". I've heard it said that Matthew 28:19 is God's plan for the world, and He doesn't have a Plan B. So while it's true God doesn't technically "need" us, just as He chooses to call us His friends, He deems to "need" us in the sense He gives us the privilege of "helping" fulfill His grand plans. (Kind of like cooking with a 5-year-old. You let them "help".) Bad analogy, but remember that even if we mess up our calling, God's sovereign will can't be thwarted. I often sweat that we're not giving enough to GFA and people are going to hell because we went on vacation, or if I had just been more convincing at the missions meeting the orphans in Belarus would have more sponsors, medicine, and Bibles. But as my KGB-monitored friend in Minsk once said to me, "Marie, God is not in some sort of trouble that He needs our help." Allowing us to be part of the plan is clearly for our blessing, not His.
And yet...there is a deep need (or strong desire, if you prefer) in all of us to be needed. This is true of all people, male or female. God programmed that need into us, and He understands our souls better than we could ever hope to ourselves. He made us to need (Him) and be needed. In a paradoxical yet tenderly paternal way, He has allowed Himself to "have need" of us, corporately and individually, even while never really needing us at all. Just because He loves us.
Pretty cool thought.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
There's this general ED recovery support group thing in the area, and once a month they bring people in who are 'recovered' to share their story of 'hope and inspiration'. So I found out about it, talked to the director by phone, (very nice lady, btw) and she had me send her my story/testimony by e-mail. I told her about my book project (mentioning the fact I am a Bible-believing Christian who counsels online), and tentatively I'm going to speak to the group. If you know anything about me, you know that Jesus is kinda important in my life...oh yeah, and He's the one who freed me of all those nasty addictions. I'm always one to give credit where credit is due.
I just g0t the following e-mail back from her:
Thanks so much for sending this along. It sounds like you’ve had an amazing journey, one that will surely impact so many people positively.
One thing I wanted to ask, though, given that we have people from all different faiths and walks of life, if there would be any way you’d consider using the term spirituality vs. strictly Christian. While we recognize that each person’s story is unique, we also want to be sure to offer stories that will allow people to connect as fully as possible.
I’m willing to talk with you more about this, if it would be helpful.
Thanks, again, for sending this along. Let me know what you think!
Now, I already know what I THINK, but I'm trying to figure out how to respond honestly, graciously, while explaining that while I have no intentions of proselytizing - but my testimony loses it's point if I delete any mentions of Christ. It sounds like that's the "real deal" - I'm sure there is no objection to the fact that I am a Christian, just so long as I keep quiet about it.
Interestingly, this organization carries adds for Remuda Ranch (a "Christian" inpatient center) on its website.
Comments and advice...please. I am going to run errands to clear my head before responding by either phone or e-mail. Not sure which is more appropriate.
I just responded:
Thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly. Let's see....
First of all, I understand your concern. Speaking in a secular setting always demands an objectivity and different tone than (for example) to a teen youth group who all know each other very well. However, I honestly don't think substituting spirituality for Christian(ity) would work here - because my entire recovery hinged on what I allowed God to do in my life. "Spirituality" is a very broad term, which encompasses occultism, panentheism, and wicca - but I wouldn't want to imply that tarot cards or a tree or bush would be able to do anything about someone's addiction. Even the 12-Step programs started out being Christian, recognizing the individual's need of God. Many of the key incidents mentioned in my story occurred in or in relation to a church...so even if I didn't specifically mention the fact that I am a Christian, the listeners would figure it out by implication.
If what you're asking is to eliminate any mention of God (or, more specifically, Jesus Christ) from the presentation, I honestly couldn't do that because there'd be nothing left to tell. Seriously - we'd have no story. :-) I seek to give credit where credit is due, and in my personal experience, He gets all of it. I totally get where you're coming from - wanting to avoid offending anyone - but leaving His name out of my recovery story would leave a watered-down (or at best, very incomplete) version of events. I don't have an agenda to condemn or convert anyone - just to share hope through relating my experience of restoration. Folks tend to take or leave it, but I don't believe in shoving anything down anyone's throat. I noticed the advertisement for Remuda Ranch on ****'s website, so I figured Christian perspectives were okay. If this group is not an appropriate venue for my particular story, I completely understand and as they say, no harm no foul! But I hope my explanation makes sense and you can understand why, while a few details may certainly be omitted without affecting the thrust of the story, I cannot eliminate all references to Christ and still have it be an accurate rendering of my journey to health.
Thank you so much for your kind time and attention, and have a great weekend!
That'll probably go over like a ham at a bar mitzvah, but it was the best I could do. Sigh. Oh well.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
A bunch of other Americans were pretty dismayed, too. Then, I clearly remember the Editor in Chief of my local newspaper (himself an immigrant from Hungary) offering wise perspective on our celebrity culture in a piece called "Let's Be More Blase about Nadia". The problem with us Americans is that we worship media-generated images (and I say this as someone who has lived abroad and can attest that other cultures do not, by and large, ascribe the same demi-god-like status to their celebrities as we Yanks do). Then, we have the nerve to be disappointed when those celebrities do not turn out to be as perfect as we believe, but turn into flawed adults with clay feet just like everyone else.
Fast-forward a couple of years. I greatly admired (then) Christian singer Amy Grant, and bought all her albums. When she had the affair with Vince Gil and lambasted her (Christian) fanbase for having the AUDACITY to note that both adultery and divorce are....um,...morally wrong, I was disappointed. Not devastated, mind you; but disappointed. I'd expected more from a woman who'd made a career out of being a Christian. While I'd never truly "idolized" Amy Grant, I genuinely believed she was far more spiritual than I. Then I read some of the interviews, in which she revealed herself to be an immature woman with no moral compass.
Lately, this Michael Jackson media circus has brought to mind the absurdity and very real spiritual danger of idolizing celebrities. Leaving aside the fact everyone seems ready to canonize a man who denied the very deity of Christ, who wasted his life and sought only earthly glory; whose narcissism stretched the bounds of credulity and whose greed left him $400 million in debt; masses of people are weeping for the image of a man they never knew. As Fred Sanders wrote last week in "Why I Don't Pray for Celebrities",
"Celebrities are such odd phenomena. They are these personas that are presented to us, carefully packaged by a publicity team and then transmitted through a vast system for the dissemination of their images. We know nothing about celebrities except what they want us to know. They and their handlers project a public image by sending a set of coordinated signals: posed and retouched photos, bits of biographical information, sound bites, reports of how they feel, and of course their own artistic productions or performances....People have been weeping, hysterically and publicly, professing undying love for a man they never knew. That, dear readers, is idolatry; not compassion. Do these folks weep so profusely for the 24,000 souls who starve to death in Africa each day? The one person every eleven seconds (a conservative estimate, by the way) who dies apart from Christ? Perhaps some of them do. If so, good for them. But the endless fascination with Michael Jackson, coupled with a desperate attempt to construct him into something he was not is morbidity at it's worst.
I also don’t pray for fictional characters. I don’t ask God to send rescuers to Robinson Crusoe, or to get Gilligan and his friends off that crazy island, or to make things work out right for the people on Lost. Those are not real people or real islands.I know that somewhere behind the persona of any celebrity, there must be a real person. Tom Hanks lives somewhere, has a mom and a dad and loved ones. Jennifer Aniston might have pets, and they probably love her. Even Jack Black must be an actual human. If I actually knew any of those people personally, I would pray for them. But I would not pray for a life-sized cardboard cut-out of them, and what I have available to me in their celebrity personas is essentially an elaborate cut-out."
As has been pointed out elsewhere in the blogosphere, Jackson was by all accounts a deeply disturbed individual who wore his brokenness on his sleeve. He desperately needed Christ, but instead chose to deny Him (first in the cult of Jehovah Witness; much later as a self-professed Muslim). As his fame grew, his bizarre behavior seemed to increase. Public fascination turned fickle - he was the scapegoat everyone loved to hate. Except those who were obsessed with him, and believed they loved him. Ironically, the family that for most of his adult life distanced themself from him now somehow can't seem to say enough good about him.
Michael Jackson was certainly deserving of pity, (and is even more so now), but the Bible is clear that we reap what we sow. A life lived in utter carnality without regard for God's moral order (or basic common sense) will ultimately come to ruin. See Proverbs 11:18; 22:8, Psalm 36: 2 and Romans chapter 1, for starters. I am not singling out Jackson as I see this principle at work every day in the courtroom, but his behavior was lived out very much in the public eye. And now, of course, many would like to re-write his story. With all due respect, God gives everyone enough revelation to turn to Him. A literate, American celebrity, familiar with the Bible, the claims of Christ and the commands of God, has literally no excuse.
If this post sounds a bit more cynical than usual, forgive me. It's not that I'm oblivious to the fact Jackson was a tormented soul. However, much of it was (whether the ever-fickle media now wants to admit it or not) of his own making. I have seen enough real tragedy between the courtroom and the hospitals where I interpret not to have a lot of misplaced sympathy left over for the rich, pampered and idolized. Idolatry is still wrong, no matter who the star is.
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God". - Hebrews 12:2