Monday, May 15, 2017

Sirens and Sin, Symptoms or Sincerity

In Greek mythology, seafarers were enticed by the beautiful music of the Sirens. Half bird, half women, these strange creatures would captivate the sailors with their songs, drawing them off course and toward their island. The sailors, so enthralled by the music, wouldn't notice the deadly shoals surrounding the islanduntil it was too late. Many a ship met its end on those sharp rocks, plunging their passengers into the tumultuous surf and a battered, brutal death.

When passing nearby the Siren's island, the hero Odysseus ordered his men to plug their ears with beeswax and to tie him to the mast of the ship, so determined was he to stay on course and resist the seduction. And yet, he wanted to hear for himself the Siren's songs, so he left his own ears unplugged. However, he commanded his sailors that no matter how he begged and pleaded, they were not to untie him. With these safeguards in place, they passed by the Siren's island. Odysseus heard the songs, and he was indeed enthralled by them. He struggled against his bonds and begged the sailors to untie him, but heeding his earlier commands, they only tied him tighter to the mast. Odysseus and his crew made it. Just barely.

Another fable tells of Jason and his crew as they approached the perilous island. Jason had brought along the gifted musician Orpheus for such a time as this, and the musician played such beautiful music on his lyre that the sailors and their captain passed by the Siren's island without giving thought to their seductive songs. Their ears were not filled with beeswax, but Orpheus's captivating, beautiful music. Why would they need to destroy themselves for the passing pleasure of the Sirens' song when they had something much better and lasting to listen to right on board with them?

In much the same way, I wonder how we deal with the temptations of sin. It is absolutely inevitable that we will pass close by the islands of seduction in our own journeys in life. We pass by them every day! As Christians, we are determined not to be wrecked by the sin, and that's a start. But how will we work this out practically? Will our first response be to tie ourselves rigidly to the mast of our ships? This will certainly keep us from casting ourselves overboard, but does it truly help when we have a heart that still wants to listen to the Sirens calls?

What if instead of first turning to rigid safeguards, we filled our minds and hearts with something much sweeter and purer than sinour relationship with Jesus! If we could but faithfully abide and grow in our walk with our Lord, the Siren song of sin would fade into the background and become less and less of a temptation. As the great hymn says:

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace."

I am absolutely confident that this is truth. I have experienced it in my own lifeand want to experience it more! So what does this "turning of our eyes" look like practically? How do we strengthen our relationship with Christ? An incredible amount of this practical advice is found in Ephesians 5. I would highly recommend reading the whole chapter, of course, and will post a link to the chapter at the bottom of the page, but for the sake of sticking to a concise post I will hit the highlights for you. We are told to follow God's example as dearly beloved children, to walk in love just as Christ did (verses 1-2). We are no longer darkness but children of light (verse 8), and therefore we should find what pleases the Lord and do it (verse 10). Having no part in the deeds of darkness but rather exposing them (verses 11-14), we should make the most of our time and every opportunity we are given (verses 15). With this context in mind, I especially want to zero in on verses 18-20:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Like the sailors aboard Jason's ship, this is the sweet music we should be filling our minds with! Music is a powerful tool, my friends, and it can be used to seduce us to sin or to draw us to a heartfelt expression of worship. Let's use it for God's glory! Also notice the relationship of thankfulness in the latter portion of these verses. We should be in constant, genuine communication with our heavenly Father, thanking Him for all He has given us and done for us! If we can focus constantly on God's blessings, sin loses all it's curb appeal, amen?

Now to clarify, I am definitely a strong supporter of rigid safeguards! For instance, I have accountability software on my computers in addition to an accountability partner to help me in my fight for purity. My contention is not that safeguards are terrible, but that they are insufficient without an impactful relationship with Jesus Christ. Without something other than sin to captivate our attention, we will be like Odysseus in regard to our safeguards. Though restrained, we will be struggling against them, trying to be free of them, trying to lose ourselves in the Siren's song. That is why Jesus equates lustful and angry thoughts of the heart as sin in Mathew 5:21-28. Merely restraining ourselves from the outward symptoms of sin is not enough. We need to dwell on things pure and honorable (Philippians 4:8) and to sincerely love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and might! (Deuteronomy 6:4). 

With this close relationship with God in place, it will be much, much easier for us to find and walk in that way of escape when temptation comes. That is my desperate prayer for myself and for all of you: that we will be faithful to grow deeper and deeper in Christ. The Sirens' calls are loud and so easily able to entangle us in this post-Christian culture we are living in, but we have found a treasure, a lifesong so much sweeter to live in. Let's lose ourselves in the eternal beauty and abundance of life in Christ, not in the fleeting, destructive pleasures of the world! Amen.

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
1 Corinthians 10:12-14


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ants, Boys, and Summertime--The importance of young men's savings

Do you all remember the story of the grasshopper and the ants? One fine summer day, a grasshopper notices a troupe of ants slaving away at carrying food back to their hill. He laughs at the ants, wondering why they are so concerned with storing away food in the middle of summertime, when food can be found literally everywhere! Growing off bushes, falling off the paper plates of local picnickers, growing on tall golden stalks or even taller stout treesthe possibilities for food are endless! So why busy yourself with storing it away when you could so easily partake in a feast and then spend your lazy summer afternoons in song and dance? The grasshopper tries to reason in this way with those diligent, but seemingly miserly, ants. They counter his advice, however, with some of their own: summer is a time of abundance, but winter is coming where there will be no food. One must store up enough food to get safely through that season.

The grasshopper, of course, is too busy with his song and dance and instantly attainable pleasures to listen to the ants' warning. When the winter comes and he suddenly finds the food to be utterly lacking, he has nothing with which to sustain himself and suffers much hardship.

In much the same way, I wonder if we young men are a lot like the grasshopper. In this relatively abundant, carefree season of our lives, we don't have much financial burden. Are we content to concern ourselves with song and dance and pleasure and not to diligently strive to store as much away as possible for the "lean" season of starting our own families? How long will we be content to ride the coat tails of our family's provision before we get serious about providing for ourselves? When should our family make us get serious about providing for ourselves?

If you're anything like me, young men, the incredible feeling of having a sizable bank account for the first time is met with many temptations to spend it. There's so much fun out there to be had, and so many expensive grown-up toys to acquire!

It's not just the big purchases either that can nab us of our savings. How many "small purchase" habits are we getting into? That daily coffee or snack run, the habitual trip to the movies, our carefree attitude towards eating out (and eating out expensively, to satisfy our ravenous appetites), our (sometimes time consuming and expensive) hobbies--all of these can become serious leeches to our savings. Just a $5 coffee habit drains you of $1,825 dollars a year. That's more than what most of us pay for vehicle insurance! Whereas the one huge purchase of a new expensive toy might be compared to the breaking of the dam of our savings, it's the trickle of small purchases through that dam that is just as dangerous--if not more so, since they often go unchallenged.

I am, of course, not saying that we should become absolutely miserly and never spend money on fun. Well-earned entertainment or vacation is very beneficial and a worthwhile reprieve from the grind of work. And please, please spend some time and money connecting with your family and friends and building those relationships! My only contention is that fun should never become our primary motivation in spending our income, and it should never rob us of the opportunity--or more accurately, the necessary requirement--to start saving the majority of our paychecks.

I am worried that most of us young men are in for a freezing cold dose of reality when we start our own families. What's more, the bad spending habits we've formed in our carefree summertime won't be easily broken free of when we're independently funding ourselves. There is hope, however, in taking saving seriously right now. There is no more time to waste. If we commit to wisely stewarding our funds even during this season of relative abundance, we can lay a solid foundation to build our own family off of.

This is a Biblical principle, too, found often in the book of Proverbs. We are told in Proverbs 24:27 to "prepare your work outside and make it ready for yourself in the fields; afterwards, then, build your house". It's our job in this season before starting our own household to diligently lay up the necessary resources to build our own home (or buy our own home). What's more, Proverbs also draws us to consider the industrious ant:

Go to the ant, oh sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.
Proverbs 6:6-8

So who will we be like, young men? Will we indulge ourselves like the grasshopper in the pleasures of this summertime and let our chance to save up resources and wisely invest them pass right by? Or will we be diligent like that little ant and wisely steward and store away savings, preparing for when the days of summer run out? The choice is yours, but fair warning: this warm, pleasant summertime will fade faster than you realize. The cold, harsh reality of the expenses of the adult world loom imminently on the horizon, like a bleak winter storm. Will you be ready to meet this storm and not only survive, but thrive? 

Again, the choice is yours, but choose wisely. Like in how the parable of the grasshopper and the ants ends, there won't be any room in the anthill all winter long for a grasshopper who doesn't care to support itself.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Why the Truly Tolerent can't Tolerate the Tolerance of the World

Have you ever been in the same room with a clicker? They sit there, an isle in front of you and three seats to the left, and while you are trying to concentrate on the speaker, they have this strange fascination with clicking their pen. About every second second. Every once in a while they'll break their rhythm and rapid fire a few clicks. Click . . . click . . . click click click . . . click. You're about ready to lunge across the isle and strangle them. That would probably raise too much negative attention though. So you opt for a well aimed spit ball instead.

Your friend on your right places their hand on your arm, digging their fingers into the crook of your elbow, and whispers at you to remain calm. It's a free country, they remind you, and they urge you to live and let live a little. You marvel that someone could be so even-keeled in the face of such blatant annoyingness, and you sigh as you put your straw, with loaded spitball, down.

Meanwhile, the friend to your left catches the attention of the clicker and smiles warmly as the clicker glances over her shoulder. Your left-side friend raises his own pen and starts clicking too, in a touching moment of acceptance that leaves you struck mute with horror.

In this scenario, who is truly tolerant? Is it the friend on your left or right? Before we answer, it might be helpful to look at the definition of tolerant. According to Webster, it means being "willing to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own."

With this definition in mind, wouldn't you answer that it is the friend on your right who is tolerant? He's not a clicker himself, but he's willing to give someone else the freedom to click. The friend on your left isn't exercising tolerance, but rather is converted into clickerhoodism.

If tolerance is really accepting beliefs that are different from your own, doesn't that imply that you disagree with the person your are accepting, or is it wrong to disagree at all? Should we all have the same feelings, habits, or beliefs?

The logical approach is to realize that we can't possibly all have the same feelings, habits, or beliefs. Look around you. We all come from different backgrounds and cultures, and our experiences vastly differ and have shaped who we are in vastly different ways. Isn't that a main tenant of our recent thinking in America, that we are culturally diverse? Isn't it the gospel of Post-modernism that we all have different truths shaped by our experiences?

It would seem, then, that tolerance is allowing for differing beliefs, not trying to conform all beliefs into one. So then, why do those on the liberal left try and force us to not only allow their beliefs, but to accept them? If we don't agree with them that marriage should be radically redefined, for instance, we are attacked as intolerant bigots. But by the same token, isn't their claim that we are wrong and should accept their beliefs on marriage incredibly intolerant and bigoted?

It's not helpful to our society to try and force us all to believe the same thing. What's more, it won't work! Tolerance should focus on how we differ, and how we should differ politely. Throwing around terms like "bigot" or "close-minded" is not helpful, to either side. It is more like the bickering and squabbling of middleschoolers trying to get their way on the playground. We should instead seek for the civil exchange of our different opinions and beliefs, and the common curtesy of allowing people to have different conclusions. In my own life as a Christian, I will definitely share what I know to be true with you, but I also give you the liberty of free will, just like my God does. I won't slander you as a close-minded, Christian-phobic individual if you disagree with me. I only hope you will extend the same curtesy to me, and allow me to have my own beliefs. This is America, after all, where we should have the freedom to believe what we want to believe, as long as that belief is not criminal in behavior. That is true tolerance.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Liberty and Justice for All--Even Suspected Terrorists

Imagine a suspected ISIS terrorist is caught in your neighborhood. Not only do the police find a van full of weapons and explosives, but there is evidence to suggest that he was going to go on his killing rampage the very next day. Your mind flashes to images of other attacks like those in San Bernardino or at Ohio State University, or the terrible attacks abroad like those in France or Sweden. It makes you sick to think that such terror could have happened in your own backyard.

You want this fear removed as far away from you as possible. You want this suspected terrorist to be dealt with swiftly--locked up for life, or even better, eliminated. That way you never have to fear that he will return to your neighborhood. You know how long the courts take to condemn someone. You can't imagine what the hold up could possibly be, though. The man is Muslim. He posts pro-Islam Facebook articles on his wall. And he had a van full of deadly weapons, for goodness sake!

A thought crosses your mind that you wish the lengthy court process could be skipped all together, and that this terrorist could be dealt with some good ole frontier justice. People strung up on a high tree don't have a chance at escaping custody, after all.

Believe it or not, though, I am thankful for that long court process.

Never before has a nation been built on such a fair judicial system. The balance between judge and jury and the rights of the accused to due process and equal representation was almost if not completely unheard of before America. I am incredibly thankful that if I am accused of a crime, I can't be secretly carted away and dealt with behind the scenes like victims of the German Gestapo were. And I am very, very wary of measures to remove those amazing checks and balances in our judicial system for anyone, even suspected terrorists.

Believe it or not, a lot of these privileges have been removed for suspected terrorists, thanks to the Patriot Act. They may be searched without a warrant, have their property seized as "evidence", and they may be detained without access to a lawyer, hearings, or any formal sentencing. Though I understand the importance of having legislation to allow for quickly neutralizing a terror threat, the Patriot Act clearly takes it too far in that it erodes deeply-seated principles in our constitution like the fifth and sixth amendments (right of due process and trial by jury).

No matter how guilty we think a person is, it is imperative that we uphold the fairness of our judicial system! What happens if the sentiments in our nation change (like they already have been) against conservative Christians?  What if it was deemed child abuse to homeschool your own children, or anarchy to own your own weapon? Wouldn't we want a fair trial, as opposed to our rights being immediately violated on the grounds that we are so dangerous or despicable as to be a "special case"?

If we start cutting the corners in our judicial system now, who knows where it might lead. This does not mean that our courts are coming to "moral" decisions all the time either. There are some crazy decisions our courts are making. Believe me, I am very aware of that. But at least those decisions were made out in the open, through a fair trial that can be reviewed and hopefully criticized. This post is not about the relativistic liberalism that has snuck into our courts, but the importance of the way our courts were established and how they should be upheld. We need to keep the idea of "innocent until proven guilty" in the forefront of our nations psyche, and we need to make sure that the process of proving someone guilty remains just and fair. Let's not let fear drive us to undermine the very system that protects us. Our nation has been founded on liberty and justice for all; let's pledge ourselves once again to protect those ideals! The integrity of the United States of America depends on it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Lord of the Flies and the Lord of the Universe: a case for reading secular literature

Imagine you are on a ship, just offshore from an island on fire. Black smoke billows from it and stings your eyes and burns in your nostrils, wreathing the scene in a haze. Orange flame towers above you in the tree tops and runs at you like a freight train as it crackles through more and more of the underbrush. Heat shimmers on your face and makes you want to shrink back. You would be terrified if you were any closer to the island, but from the safety of your ship, the fierce scene mesmerizes you. You are awed at the fire's destructive power; you feel insignificant and hopeless as you watch it burn before you.

Then you see them.

Tiny figures burst out of the forest, just ahead of the flames. They run like it's the fires of hell behind them, and to them, that's exactly what it is. They avoid being roasted alive only by putting a safe distance between them and the fire by fleeing across the sand. They're fleeing right at you, and drawn to their plight, you immediately make to help them. You lower your ship's boat and draw in to shore. You run towards them. You are shocked to notice that they are all boys, somewhere between 6-12 years of age. What is more, they are half naked and filthy. They carry sharpened sticks and have clay and charcoal smeared on their faces like war paint. They look like mini savages.

You assume they've been playing and in their fun set off the fire that is now ravaging the island.

"Fun and games," you say.

You look around at the fire and the destruction, and it suddenly strikes you as tragically comical that these little boys had blundered their way into a life and death situation because of fun. You decide to make light of it, since this is a small, deserted island after all, and no real harm was done. So you grin at the foremost of the tiny savages, the one who had burst out of the forest first, and say, "We saw your smoke. What have you been doing? Having a war or something?"

The filthy boy only nods.

You press your joke further. "Nobody killed, I hope? Any dead bodies?"

The boy's answer, though, is without a hint of mirth. It's dispassionate and yet strained, like the last gasp of an animal of prey that has been hunted and harried to the point of exhaustion, to the point of giving up. Suddenly your grin is gone, and a cold shiver runs up your spine.

"Only two," the boy says. "And they're gone."

Suddenly the horror of it all dawns on you. They aren't play-acting. You stare around at the filthy boys. Now you notice the wild look in their eyes. Now you notice the blood on their spears.

This moment you're caught in, this island you've stepped on to, is a real-life nightmare.

This is the scene you will be immersed in at the ending of William Golding's modern classic Lord of the Flies. I had heard some about the book, of course, and had finally found the time to read it. I approached it skeptically, not at all sure what kind of secular mumbo-jumbo I might be stepping into.

When I began to read Lord of the Flies though, I was instantly captivated by a powerful story, an analogy more profound than most. Golding expertly draws attention to the fatal flaw in every attempt secular humanism has made to set up a Utopia on earth: Mankind, even in it's most innocent age of adolescence, is radically depraved.

Golding's outlook of humanity is intentionally brutal and fatalistic. His classic, published in 1954, serves as a warning in the middle of a century fraught with failed utopias. He clearly illustrates the hopelessness of man's attempts at saving ourselves through government or society. When the protagonist, named Ralph, fails to keep the band of boys stranded on the island from doing the one thing that could have saved them--keeping a signal fire going--you fully emphasize with him and are left to reflect on why so many valiant attempts at good ideals have failed. Why didn't alleviating poverty by equally sharing riches utterly fail, for instance? Why does every government, no matter how strong and how secure in their rules, eventually collapse?

In the book, the boys fear a terrible beast is trapped on the island with them. They hunt for it, knowing that if they can but destroy it there will be lasting peace and safety on their island. The revelation, though, is that this beast--this wicked Lord of the Flies--is inside all of us. When we see the boys throw off all sense of government and morality and fully embrace their true nature, they become as terrible as their worst nightmares about the beast. Ralph, the only boy left at the end to try and bring them back to a sense of societal structure and humanitarianism in trying to keep the signal fire going, is ostracized and then hunted by his increasingly savage peers, as if he were the beast! This final hunt, the ultimate culmination of the boy's depravity, is the final scene of the book.

So why in the world do I recommend reading this secular book? It is, as you can see, quite dark after all. Doesn't it fall outside of the things pure and lovely that we are supposed to dwell on in Philippians 4:8? I would counter that even the Bible has what we would consider some really "dark" narrative that is included for us to dwell on. When we see Joshua and his soldiers wiping out whole cities of Canaanites, we are left to reflect on the seriousness of sin to God and on how far men will run from Him. When David commits adultery and than tries to cover it up with murder, we reflect on even how the man after God's own heart was still tragically vulnerable to sin. These reflections are what is right and pure about a story that clearly isn't so.

In the same way, Lord of the Flies gets the problem of human nature right. It is a surprisingly honest secular work that doesn't have any kind of rose-colored approach to our condition. In a world that has embraced secular humanism (the idea that religion has to be kept private and only "logical" steps to save humanity should be considered), Lord of the Flies clearly demonstrates the futility and dead end of any such attempt at humanism. Though Golding doesn't give Christ as the answer to our terminal condition, he does leave his audience groping for something outside of themselves--a void we can seek to fill with the amazing truth of the Gospel!

The next argument goes somewhere along the lines of "Well, you are either for Christ or against Christ." This is very true, but this doesn't mean we shouldn't seek to engage with the other side. We should understand how unbelievers think; we should be able to discern their gropings for truth and be able to respond with the hope of Christ. And one of the most non-threatening ways to do this is to read their literature. Another great example of this is the Unwind Dystology I recently read through. This dystopian series is written from an unbeliever's perspective and it gets a lot wrong, but it does raise serious questions about topics like abortion, the meaning of life, whether we have a soul or not, and what is right and wrong. The author's wings are seriously clipped by post-modernism (truth is relative to human experience), and he wasted a ton of potential due to this. But it is interesting that even with how hard he tried to support Post-modernism, he did come to the conclusion that there were things right and wrong on a universal basis. For instance, dismembering unwanted, helpless young ones is wrong, no matter what you use to justify it. Sound familiar? 

Now this is of course not a license to go read any secular work you want. There is secular literature that is clearly harmful to us in that it doesn't provide any deeper thoughts other than the exploration of sin. These are books that have no edifying value at all and should of course be avoided! I would place series like Harry Potter (witchcraft, it's main theme, is clearly wrong in the Bible) and The Twilight Saga in the "off-limits" category. I thought of reading the classic 1984, but after reading a synopsis and discovering the reasons the protagonist rebels against the "Big Brother" totalitarian regime, I decided to steer clear of it. I started the Divergent series, because it was supposed to deeply explore human emotions and identities, but I gave it up after the first book, sick of the relativism and Tris's obsessive crush on Four. Instead of raising questions about humanity, Divergent was urging that we are essentially good and need to diverge from oppressive, over-arching stereotypes. The right was vague and the wrong was also vague. It seemed to be just as miserable of a slog through the story for the protagonist herself as it was for me the reader, as she struggled with what was right and wrong but never came up with any more concrete answers other than that she should just accept herself for who she was. So, unlike Lord of the Flies, Divergent pushes us to just accept ourselves as good and further away from the hope of the Gospel, and I believe it is a story that should be avoided.

Basically, we shouldn't read secular literature for entertainment alone, and we shouldn't read it at all if it is going to deliver a message that is clearly anti-gospel. For those secular works that are willing to take an honest approach to the problems of our nature or the flaws in the systems we set up, though, I would encourage a discerning read. The Giver is another excellent example of such a secular work, as it very helpfully explores that question we have in Christian theology about whether we can be human without free will. It's not as simple an issue as "never read secular works", because their are many great insights in secular literature if we are willing to strap on our spiritual armor and approach them with discernment. We should be like discerning miners, sifting through the dirt and casting it aside--but stopping to examine the jewels we find and using them to our advantage and the advantage of others. Let's pursue helpful truths like those found in Lord of the Flies, so that we can use them to build a bridge to our unbelieving friends and share the Gospel!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Facts, facts, facts!

“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

This is a quote taken in the middle of a humorous passage from Charles Dicken's Hard Times, where a school master is railing about the importance of facts, and facts alone, in the training of his little charges. While of course this school teacher probably missed the importance of human emotions like love, compassion, and fear, he got it right that when humans reason, the best course for them is to be well grounded in facts.

No matter what issue we are approaching, whether it be politics, healthcare, social issues, or theology, our viewpoints should be factual and well grounded, rather than vague, emotion-driven responses to life experiences. This flies in the face of Post-modernism, which says that ultimate truth is unknowable and that humans should base their perception of truth off their experiences. If you feel like a woman even though you are very clearly a man, your feelings determine your truth, Post-modernism would say.

We as Christians, however, know ultimate reality. There is absolute truth, and it is Jesus Christ. We don't need to cry like Pilate "what is truth"? Instead, grounded in our firm faith in Christ, we should hunt for truth and speak it boldly to one another:

"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ."
Ephesians 4:14-15

Perhaps this is why gossip and slander are such a big deal to God. We are no longer like the old man who is caught in webs of deception and trickery; we are new creations with an understanding and hopefully a yearning desire for truth. This should be especially true of our theology, but it should leak out into every aspect of our lives. If we really do believe in absolute truth, then we can be absolutely certain that there is truth to be found all around us.

For instance, the topic of vaccines is a blossoming issue in our homeschool circles, and it is time we all did some serious study on the benefits/risks to vaccines, so that we can approach the issue with a factual, well-balanced viewpoint. I would encourage all of us to give a fair hearing to both sides of the debate, but to not accept what either side is saying at face value. Hold them both to the refining fire of truth. If the facts don't back up their claims, then reject their argument.

Don't even accept someone's experience as a way to justify their argument. For instance, in his viral post about the failure of courtship, Thomas Umstattd Jr.'s main argument against courtship is founded on the experiences of his grandparents and their "going steady". It worked for them, so why shouldn't it work for us? He doesn't point to the differences of our grandparent's culture compared to ours and how divorce was not often considered back then--not because the couples were so happily married after their dating experience, but because divorce was still considered a harmful evil. You will also notice in his post that he has a lot of broad statements about how "Each year I waited for courtship to start working and for my homeschool friends to start getting married. It never happened. Most of them are still single. Some have grown bitter and jaded. Then couples who did get married through courtship started getting divorced. I’m talking the kind of couples who first kissed at their wedding were filing for divorce."

His statements are frightening, but we have no basis to know whether they are really true or not. He gives us no specific examples of these divorces or these bitter and jaded singles. While I am sure he has some friends who have been divorced or are bitter and jaded, how do we know if they were really pursuing courtship or marriage in a God-honoring way? Could there have been more at play than just the "failed" system of courtship?

Again, someone's experiences doesn't make their argument automatically true.

This truth-driven approach to every viewpoint you form may put you at odds with people. Like Joel Belz, journalist for World Magazine, says, "Nothing spoils a good story like a whole lot of research." It's way easier to accept hearsay than to search out the truth behind it, especially if that hearsay aligns itself with our beliefs, but let's refuse to compromise and stand unashamedly in our pursuit of truth. We're Christians; it's our calling. I couldn't agree more with Belz's encouragement to us all in the subtitle to his article I read last night: "Let's be vigilant not to spread fake news as fact."

With so much fake or horridly-slanted news out there, let's hold each other accountable to diligently pursue and speak truth into every aspect of our lives, whether that truth agrees with our viewpoints or not. As Christ's representatives, truthfulness should be our witness. Let's live it out!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Does God Call Us to Prioritize Which Neighbors We Serve?

I find my seat against the back wall of the central living room in the retreat lodge. I settled into the hard plastic chair, scanning the cramped room around me. 25 or so of my dear brothers in Christ from our church are gathered. Despite the tight, uncomfortable quarters, the mood is light and filled with anticipation. The men chat jovially, and when it comes time to join in worship, we sing full-heartedly. The excitement and fellowship in the room is so tangible that it surrounds me like a warm, comfortable blanket. Who cares about sitting on this rock-like plastic chair for the next couple of hours. Our church’s annual Men’s Retreat is one of my favorite weekends of the year, and judging from the mood of the men around me, I am not alone in this sentiment. We are all looking so forward to studying God’s Word together and growing in Christ together!

A reflection of this is the group approach to the messages shared. We have not invited a guest speaker these last couple of retreats. Instead, we have men from the church step up to deliver messages. It gives us commonality that way, a close bond of growing together and speaking truth to one another in love. Tonight, it is our dear brother Mike Aust presenting a message. Our theme for the retreat is “Loving Your Neighbors”, and I knew he would tackle that theme head on in his message. Mike is that kind of guy. He is quiet, but confident. A man who seems to think before he speaks, but then speaks with authority what he thinks.

I’m not disappointed as I listen to his message. It flows straightforwardly, if a little sporadically thanks to some technical issues and the heavy amount of scripture he asks for volunteers to read. He asks us, “Who is our neighbor?” And after a pause, thanks to the common wariness of a trick question, Dr. Williams on my right shifts in his hard-plastic chair and says, “everyone.”

Mike nods at this and affirms that that is what he would think too, but then we begin to investigate the heart of God to learn who our neighbor is. We see clearly from verses like 1 Samuel 2:8 and Job 5:11 that God has a heart for the needy and the lowly. We learn in Psalm 12:5 that God will arise and help the needy and set him in the safety for which he belongs.

At the same time, we learn of the opposite category to the needy in other verses: the arrogant. What is God’s heart towards these neighbors? We see a prayer in Psalm 72:4 to “vindicate the afflicted of the people, save the children of the needy and crush the oppressor.” We see clearly in Psalm 138:6 that “God regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.” What is more, the wounded man on the side of the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan is clearly needy and the one who is provided for, while the arrogant Priest and Levite are nothing more than a sad footnote in the story—an example of who not to be. God exalts the humble, but opposes the proud, is the main sentiment buzzing in the room at this point.

The challenge Mike leads us to as a result of this study is: does loving our neighbor include service to the arrogant? If we are made in the image of God and should seek to portray him, do we serve our arrogant neighbors the same way we serve our needy neighbors?

Now people are shifting in their seats, as if it has just occurred to them that they are, in fact, very uncomfortable. The anticipation has swung to a growing feeling of tension, of confusion in the eyes of the men. As Mike’s presentation winds to a close, it is Stephen Johnson, a man I have worked for and respect a ton, who sparks the conversation we all have been left wanting. As if the tension in the room was a gas vapor that had just found a flicker of flame, the conversation explodes among us men.

“Who then is our neighbor?” Stephen asks.

That is the question in all our minds. It would seem, mistakenly or not, that Mike just asked us to seek to reach those who are needy rather than those who are arrogant. The response this provokes is varied and quite possibly volatile, if it weren’t for the committed love and commonality we men of Shoestring Valley Community Church have for one another. The first response that grabs my attention is from Monte Bainbridge, a worship leader in the church, who points out that we all are arrogant, to varying degrees. It is not a question of reaching out to the needy over the arrogant, for such a notion would force us to split each other in half, to try and minister to one side of us while ignoring the other. We are all both needy and arrogant.

Jeff Oien, a logger and self-described “simple man”, chimes in, agreeing with that sentiment. Everyone around him is his neighbor, obviously, and should be reached out to the same whether they are arrogant or not. In fact, the arrogant are very needy, just in a different way.

Mike responds that “okay, well if you want and that is what God has called you to. But I’m warning you, you won’t have a ton of success.” He shares a couple times he has tried and “failed” to reach the arrogant. The men of the church are quick to point out that when you share God’s Word, it is never a failure. You can plant seeds in the heart of the arrogant even if it doesn’t look like they have responded in any meaningful way.

I watch my dad. He keeps raising his hand to speak—but not far enough to be obviously seen. He gets about as far as ear-level with each raise of the hand, and then usually ends in scratching the back of his head. My dad, ever cautious to create a scene, clearly has something to say. I think at first that he is going to confront Mike’s line of reasoning, but I am surprised by what he says when he gets a chance to speak.

It is in context with Forty Days for Life, which is to be expected since our world has kind of revolved around the campaign this spring. My dad shares how though we pray for the arrogant Cecile Richards, leader of Planned Parenthood, to come to faith in Christ and would share the Gospel with her if we ever got a chance, it is the needy women being victimized by abortion that we are primarily seeking to serve. It’s the needy that deserve our devoted attention.

Mike agrees, “I heard once,” he says, “that the arrogant deserve our prayers, while the needy require our service.”

Jim, who has a last name I can’t attempt to spell out correctly and who is about as quirky as his last name (in a good way), shares how Jesus spoke to all, the Pharisees and the tax collectors and sinners. This strikes me as untrue, because Jesus clearly responded in a different way to the arrogant Pharisees, saying some pretty harsh things to them and veiling the truth from them in parables. As I have listened to the back and forth, my thoughts have slowly formed around another example in Jesus’s ministry.

I finally get a chance to speak up near the end. “What I hear Mike saying,” I say, “is that we are to have priorities in who we seek to reach. As much as we would like to reach the world, we can’t. I was thinking about how when Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs to share the good news of the Kingdom, he told them to shake the dust off their sandals in towns that wouldn’t receive them and move on. God doesn’t call us to keep wasting our energies to reach people who won’t receive us. We should primarily serve the needy who actually desire our help.”

There are some nods of agreement, and Mike says that was a great example of what he was talking about. I feel weird aligning myself more towards the “priorities” side of the aisle—because honestly, I agreed whole heartedly with what Jeff had said about everyone being our neighbor. And I can see some brothers disagree with what I said. Is there a way to love everyone as our neighbor, I wonder, while still recognizing our specific calling to serve the needy?

Pastor Dean closes the discussion time by emphasizing how much he appreciates that our church can have these discussions. It’s a sign of a healthy church to seek out truth together, and to express our opinions in a way that will not cause division, but to help us grow. I can’t agree more. While the conversation was tense, it never became divisive. We all appreciated the chance to wrestle with this interesting perspective on loving our neighbor. It is a great way to start the retreat, and the lodge’s living room is still a comfortable place of fellowship and anticipation. I find that I don’t mind at all the soreness from sitting on the hard-plastic chair for the last couple of hours. It was well worth it.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Debunking Planned Parenthood's Propaganda

Care. No matter what.

That is Planned Parenthood's latest slogan. It begs the question, though: What kind of care is Planned Parenthood talking about? You can care for a lot of things. You can care for people: Woman's health, humanitarian aid, government subsidized healthcare that can make care affordable for even the poorest in the community. Or, you can care about Money and Gain: Immense profit, no matter what the cost to society;  monopolizing the abortion industry; finding ways to make more income . . . even if those ways would be considered unconventional, illegal, or evil. Or maybe it's your appearance you are the most concerned about: A shiny veneer of Woman's Rights and Freedom to Choose as you dodge calling your service what it is--abortion. Less controversial that way. Less deprecating.

So what kind of care is Planned Parenthood driven by? They would, of course, say option number one. They care for people! But what you say is oftentimes meaningless. It's your actions and the fruit they produce that define you, not the words you say about yourself. So let's take a look at some of the things Planned Parenthood claims about themselves and see if their actions back them up.

Being "pro-choice" suggests that you evenly expose all options for a woman's unwanted pregnancy. However, you are 160 times more likely to have an abortion than be referred for adoption if you visit Planned Parenthood. This testimony of an atheist woman shows very clearly the priorities of Planned Parenthood. They are pro-abortion, not pro-choice.

Ultrasounds and Prenatal Care
Along those same lines, Planned Parenthood claims extravagantly that they are vital to women because of not only the option to terminate their pregnancy, but to receive prenatal and ultrasound care if the woman decides to keep her pregnancy. This is the fair and balanced approach Planned Parenthood claims to have. Their name even suggests it! However, two investigations by Live Action showed that only 5 out of 97 Planned Parenthood clinics contacted around the nation offered prenatal care, and that only 3 of 68 Planned Parenthood clinics contacted offered ultrasounds to check on the health of the baby, rather than to abort it. You can view those revealing investigations by clicking these links: Prenatal Care Ultrasounds

3% of our services are abortions
This is a desperate "cooking of the books" statistic that is completely false. A left-leaning news blog like Slate called it "The most meaningless abortion statistic ever" and the Washington Post's fact-checker gave this statistic "three Pinocchios". It is completely false.

So how did Planned Parenthood come up with such a wildly distorted stat, and why? Watch this helpful video to find out. Like the video points out, to be a business whose greatest income is abortion would create a huge public relations problem for Planned Parenthood, so they found a way to make abortion look relatively small--despite the fact that they provide 30% of our nations abortions every year. They divided abortions by the amount of so called "services" which they self-described as a "discreet clinical interaction". So, for instance, they would count administering a pregnancy test as a service--the same pregnancy test they offer to woman to confirm their pregnancy before terminating it. Counting such miniscule services like a pregnancy test or STI test as equal to a much larger and more costly procedure like an abortion is clearly dumb math. It would be like if Burger King claimed that burgers were only 3% of what they offered--by counting each fry and ketchup package as equal to a burger.

PAP Tests and Breast Exams
Planned Parenthood does not have an essential part in administering these services like they claim. They provide only 0.97% of PAP Tests and 1.8% of Breast Exams nation-wide. America would clearly do just fine without them in these regards.

Washington's Post's Fact Checker found the claim that Planned Parenthood provides Mammograms completely bogus and worthy of three more long Pinocchio noses.

As far as their PAP Tests (cervical cancer screenings) go, this may be Planned Parenthood's greatest claim that they provide vital services other than abortion. They claim to do as many PAP exams as abortions. However, a PAP Test is a routine procedure that can be had for free or at a very low cost thanks to the National Breat and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Again, Planned Parenthood provides a tiny fraction of the PAP Tests around the country. Even if they were to go completely out of business, we wouldn't have some huge cancer crisis on our hands. The few patients comparatively speaking that they see for cervical cancer exams would be easily absorbed into other state health care providers.

I hope this information has helped give you a foundation to base your own study of Planned Parenthood off of. It's time we refuse to accept claims by Planned Parenthood at face value and do a little fact checking of our own. It wouldn't be advantageous for Planned Parenthood to say, "Abortion. No matter what", so they've chosen instead to hide behind the false claim of "Care. No matter what." It's time to hold them accountable to their claims. It's time that we force them to discard all their misleading propaganda and be upfront in what they are really all about: Abortion.  

Monday, April 3, 2017

Planned Parenthood: A Real Life Dystopian Regime?

Have you ever read a dystopian tale? If you have, than you will know that central to any Dystopia is a regime that offers a perfect society to the protagonists--but is in reality weaving a terrible web of lies and destruction. In these Dystopians, society isn't helped. Instead, it is de-humanized and oppressed. The regime rules securely, because either the public is unaware that they are being deceived or are unwilling to risk their safety to stand against the lies.

But then a tiny handful of heroic characters dare to stand, like Jonas from the Giver or Katniss from the Hunger Games, and expose the lies of the regime. And the world is shook to its core. It's because of the courage of the few in the face of overwhelming odds that I love a good Dystopian story. They inspire me to stand strong against the lies in my own world.

And's it's because of the courage of a few in my own world that I bring you this article today to get the facts out about a regime that demands our attention, a regime that demands we take a stand against.

Planned Parenthood.

In 2015, the Center for Medical Progress exposed a practice of Planned Parenthood's to rival the most dreadful of Dystopia ideas: Planned Parenthood was selling aborted babys' organs for profit. Their undercover videos are abundantly clear about this. Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's Senior Director of Medical Services, specifically talks about the high demand of hearts and livers, and how abortion doctors use ultrasound-guided "procedures" to make sure they don't damage these sought after parts as they extract the baby they just killed. This and many other videos, which can be found on CMP's website, should chill us to the bone.

They are very clearly talking about human organs here, people. It's not "fetal tissue" being discussed, but human body parts. Planned Parenthood should have been immediately closed down and prosecuted. At the very least they should have been defunded by the government!

Instead? Planned Parenthood continues to have widespread support and is given about $500,000,000 annually in government grants. What is more, David Daleiden and Sandra Merrit, the journalists who exposed this inhumane brutality, have just been charged with fifteen felonies.

Planned Parenthood has become a practiced expert in deceit. They can dodge each shocking reveal about their atrocities with practiced ease because of the incredible network of propaganda they have built around themselves. Propaganda, though, is easily combatted if we are willing to actually do the hard work of pursuing truth, like any good journalist or involved citizen should be doing (and not being charged fifteen felonies for). That work has been done; the truth is out there about Planned Parenthood. We just need to share it, to do our part to expose Planned Parenthood. Decency demands we act and give voice to the defenseless who cannot speak for themselves in their mother's womb. We can no longer claim the safety of the sideline in this struggle to save these tiny babies from being cut into pieces. Let's speak out!

And when we do, Maybe--just maybe--America will regain it's conscience again. We have before. Once in our history, 4 million African Americans were held in bondage and treated as sub-human. It took us nearly two hundred years, but slavery was abolished throughout our land. As I have studied American History recently, I was shocked to realize that abortion is approaching or at its own two-hundredth birthday in our nation. It has claimed untold millions of lives, making the 4 million slaves held in bondage--but at least allowed to live--a comparatively piddling statistic. It's more than time for abortion to be abolished. And what's more, I believe we will be the generation that sees an end to abortion in America, if we are faithful to stand for the unborn.

Look for a post tomorrow that will combat each facet of Planned Parenthood's propaganda with fact-checking truths. May it help you in your fight to stand for truth and for the unborn!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Sun Bather, Nineveh, and Us: Why We Need to Share the Gospel

"In 1928, a very interesting case came before the courts in Massachusetts. It concerned a man who had been walking on a boat dock when suddenly he tripped over a rope and fell into the cold, deep water of an ocean bay. He came up sputtering and yelling for help and then sank again, obviously in trouble. His friends were too far away to get to him, but only a few yards away, on another dock, was a young man sprawled on a deck chair, sunbathing. The desperate man shouted, “Help, I can't swim!” The young man, an excellent swimmer, only turned his head to watch as the man floundered in the water, sank, came up sputtering in total panic, and then disappeared forever.
The family of the drowned man was so upset by that display of callous indifference that they sued the sunbather. They lost. The court reluctantly ruled that the man on the dock had no legal responsibility whatever to try and save the other man's life. In effect, the law agrees with Cain’s presupposition: I am not my brother's keeper, and I have every legal right to mind my own business and to refuse to become involved."

When you hear a story like this one, what does it stir inside you? It’s so hard to imagine someone so indifferent towards the suffering of another human being. How could a man prefer his warmth and comfort sunbathing rather than lending a hand in saving a human life? It reminds me of another man, a man from the Bible, the prophet Jonah. He, too, was content to sit by and watch men die. He was more preoccupied in his own comfort while sitting under the shade-giving plant than in the salvation of a whole city. What’s more, he wanted the city to perish.
It’s easy to look at these two examples and be indignant. There’s something wrong about it. It’s a given, we think, that if you see someone drowning, you should want to save them. The fact that a prophet of God would rather see a whole city perish than come to repentance is almost unthinkable.
But are we guilty of such callous indifference, in much the same way? There are people drowning in their sins all around us. Our cities and towns are turning from God and heading headlong towards destruction. And yet, how much are we doing to save them? Are we safe and warm inside our own little worlds, or are we stepping outside of our comfort zones to share the Gospel? Do we care enough to actively seek to transform our communities?

Well, if you’re like me, I begin to get uncomfortably close to that sun bather or Jonah as I exam my own life. I seldom go out of my way to share the good news of Jesus Christ with my neighbor. I am often too caught up in my own busyness to give it much thought.
What’s more, I shirk away from the uncomfortableness of sharing the Gospel. What will people think of me? Will I look weird? Will they fire questions at me that I don’t have the answer to? Will they never want to talk to me again? I have been profoundly changed by the hope and joy I have found in Christ, but I would almost rather keep it a private faith for safety’s sake.
This is a holdover of the old man inside of me. It’s still inside all of, compelling us to seek our own desires above those of sharing the Gospel with our neighbors. But, as Christians, it’s time to live up to our calling as Children of the King. As this wonderful passage charges us:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
Ephesians 4:17-25

It's time for us to renew our minds and put on our new self. We need to grow in righteousness and holiness, so that we can boldly proclaim the truth that is in Jesus to our neighbors. The world is in desperate need for us to do so. Like the passage says, they’re not learning about Christ from the sin they are trapped in. They will never learn about Christ as they go about living their lives as gentiles. It’s time for us to be unashamed about the gospel like Paul was, and to boldly proclaim it whenever we get the opportunity to!
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Romans 1:16-17

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why you can't use the statistics about the high rate of depression and suicidal behavior among the LGBT community

I set out this morning to find a lot of statistics on the frighteningly high levels of depression, suicidal thoughts, and mental disorders among the LGBT community in an attempt to form an argument for why even non-believers should be wary of accepting the homosexual or transgender lifestyles with open arms. I thought it would be a quick 30 minutes of rounding up the statistics and then organizing them into a reasonable argument that the LGBT lifestyle does present much higher risks to a person's health and mental stability than living a heterosexual lifestyle.

Well, the statistics are all there from non-Christian, "un-biased" (everyone has a bias) researchers that can do nothing else but point to these high risks among the LGBT community, but I quickly found that it would be almost counter-intuitive to use these statistics, based off the researchers conclusions. Basically, they universally pointed to homophobic bullying, discrimination, and intolerance of the gay lifestyle as the reason for the high rates of depression and suicide--not the lifestyle itself.

Is such an analysis fair though? For example, smoking is a great evil in our society today, because it has been proven to be unhealthy. It can lead to lung cancer, and you will die on average 1 to 7 years earlier than your non-smoking peers. However, research shows that those who engage in the homosexual lifestyle on average die 24 years earlier than their heterosexual peers! (more on that argument by following this link)

We wouldn't say that discrimination against smokers has caused them to die earlier. Their lifestyle is unhealthy and is the cause! So why can't we even dare suggest the same with the immensely more dangerous lifestyle of homosexuals or transgendered people? After all, LGBT teens are somewhere between 2 and 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than "straight" teens, homosexual men account for 2% of the population but 67% of all new HIV diagnoses according to the CDC, and 35-40% of transgender or sexually confused people struggle with suicidal thoughts, to name a few statistics.

Another interesting point: "White" people are almost three times as likely to commit suicide than "black" people, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which noted:

"In 2015, the highest U.S. suicide rate (15.1) was among Whites and the second highest rate (12.6) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives (Figure 5). Much lower and roughly similar rates were found among Hispanics (5.8), Asians and Pacific Islanders (6.4), and Blacks (5.6)."

African Americans are actually at the bottom of this list! This would seem to fly directly in the face of the argument that it is discrimination rather than lifestyle that leads to suicidal thoughts and depression.

It's time for researchers to be honest about their findings. We need to be able to use these statistics to help avert the growing crisis among the LGBT community. As this study of the accepting culture of Denmark vs the less tolerant USA pointed out, more support and acceptance of their lifestyle will not help the levels of depression and suicide among homosexuals or bisexuals. There has got to be a different alternative that will help the LGBT community.

As a Christian, I believe that we are hard-wired to live the way God created us to. When we try to live outside of God's design, it is detrimental to us. It can only lead to unfulfilled, wanting lives. Homosexuality is clearly a lifestyle apart from God's plan. It won't fulfill you; It will leave you empty and depressed. There is hope, though, in Jesus Christ. If He becomes the center of your life--if He becomes your Lord and Savior--you can find healing and joy! He offers life, and life abundantly! As He says in John 10:10: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

We as Christians need to lovingly confront the world with the Gospel. It may be counter cultural, but how could we see the high rate of depression and suicide among any group and not seek to offer them hope?

So take heart, and stand for truth.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous[will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Movie and Music Piracy

Many of my friends see no problem with piracy. They argue that it is okay to copy music off those library CDs. They argue that it is okay to watch that copy of a movie that has been leaked online illegally. Some of them just don't know that this is, in fact, a crime. Others know it is technically considered "piracy" but don't seem to mind aligning themselves with the likes of Jack Sparrow.

Guys, this is a serious issue we as Christians should take note of.

Pastor Dean had a very good message a couple of weeks ago on 1 Peter 2:11-17. He spoke of submitting to government not because their laws always make sense or are convenient, but because we as Christians are called to live lives above reproach! Pirating movies and music definitely falls in this category. The argument that "Hollywood is making billions of dollars, and they don't need my hard-earned money to watch this one film. And I don't want to support them anyway" is against the point. If it is truly a crime--which it is--to copy, listen or watch pirated content, then we as Christians should have nothing to do with it. We are to keep our behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that they have no reason to slander us!

For those of you who may not know what is considered piracy, here is a great article that will allow you to educate yourself on it so that you can keep the law. As the article lays out:

"There are very clear laws about what people can and cannot do with purchased content. Generally, purchasing content means you are allowed to listen, play, read, or use that content yourself. It does not give you the right to copy it, share it, trade it, let others download it or make money off of it for yourself, like buying a movie and then charging people to come see it."

Also, here is an article about library cds or dvds and the illegality of downloading them onto your device or burning them onto a disk. It is very clear that this, too, is a crime. We are in effect producing copies of someone else's work without the permission to do so.

Finally, there are some online sites that are actually licensed to show movies for free, because they have bought the rights to do so from the movie's producers and because these online sites in return make their money off of ads--kind of like a radio station that plays songs for free. However, there are also a lot of sites offering pirated films. Please do careful study on the online sites you use to make sure that they are completely legal. You can find some legal sites to watch free movies on as well as information about why to avoid the ones engaged in piracy by clicking this link.

To circle back to the arguments people make about why piracy is okay, I find it both amusing and sad at the same time how people say on one hand how Hollywood with all it's egregious sins doesn't deserve their money, while on the other hand they skirt the law so that they can watch something that they just described as egregious. We lose our ability to stand strong against Hollywood, guys, when we break the law. If you truly don't want to support Hollywood, than stop watching their movies all together. Invest your money and time elsewhere. Don't use your moral objection to Hollywood as an excuse to do something morally objectionable.

Another argument I've heard is that "I wouldn't watch this movie anyway if I couldn't get it for free, so at least by being able to watch it, if I like it, then I can recommend it to my friends or even buy the DVD myself." As always, the end doesn't justify the means. Piracy is still piracy. You can very cheaply rent those movies you are not sure about buying. For like a dollar at Redbox.

As someone who has made a fledging attempt at publishing a few works of my own, I know how terrible I would feel if someone took one of my stories and started copying them. That is my work, that I've spent countless hours on!! That story has my blood (a paper cut or two at least), sweat, and tears stamped in it! No one has the right to make themselves a copy of my hard work without at least asking me first.

It doesn't matter if it is on a much, much larger scale with Hollywood. They have spent millions and millions of dollars on each movie they make. Thousands of people have poured their blood, sweat and tears into each movie. Recording artists do the same with the music they make. Regardless of whether we think they are rich and can afford us ripping them off or not, if we appreciate their work enough to participate in watching or listening to it, we should pay the proper fee to do so.

Now, for those of you who have engaged in piracy without realizing it till now, I want you to know that I am not trying to throw you under the bus. The last thing I want to do is label you as some criminal for innocently downloading music that you didn't actually purchase. I know I have engaged in piracy myself unwittingly. But now we know, and now we are responsible to responding to what we know. Let's keep the law. Let's be above reproach. And let's reject being pirates any longer.

After all, it's not "yo ho you ho, a pirates life for me" that we sing, but "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me."

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
1 Peter 2:9-15

Monday, March 27, 2017

God Can Use You to Reach the World: The Inspirational True Story of my Sister, Caroline, and Forty Days for Life

Do you ever doubt that God can use you?

Maybe you are shy or insecure, like we all are at times. Maybe you cave under the pressure of your peers too often. Maybe you think sin has too much of a grip on you. You admire the Christian heroes all around you, but you know you can never be one of them.

Well think again, because my sister Caroline is living proof that God will use you if you will only commit yourself to Him!

The beginning of this year, Caroline said "yes" to God in a way that would stretch her way outside her comfort zone. She decided to run a Forty Days for life campaign--a peaceful prayer vigil to pray for the end of abortion outside our local Planned Parenthood clinic. While I really appreciated her heart to stand for the unborn, honestly my first thought when she told me she was going to coordinate a vigil was:

"Say whaaat?"

You see, I have grown up with my awesome sister from the womb onwards. I know her very, very well, and so, I knew leading a public event wasn't exactly her forte. She is a sweet, smart, over all very beautiful young lady, but she is most definitely an introvert. She hates making phone calls. And public speaking. And confrontation.

And those thing were kind of what being a Forty Days for Life local coordinator was all about.

Caroline knew all this. She knew how much it would stretch her, and yet the burning desire to serve God and stand for the defenseless compelled her. Her desire launched her into orbit in the vast unknown outside her comfort zone like some crazy, brave NASA astronaut trying to reach the moon. There was no aborting (pun not intended) the voyage, only strapping on her spacesuit--or in this case, her spiritual armor--and getting right down to work.

She had said "yes" to this journey because of her faith in God What else could she do?

Now make no mistake, this courageous step of faith did not mean that suddenly she became an eloquent, gifted public speaker and prayer vigil leader. It was almost painful to watch her worry about her first few phone calls and meetings with local pastors. She would always take a sibling along to her first few meetings, not to be an "Aaron" for her like Moses, but to at least provide some much needed moral support. She was still naturally timid--to the point where even speaking in front of our own church was too scary at first. She had our dad give the first few announcements about Forty Days for Life. At one point, after a particularly hard morning, the stress and worry overwhelmed her, and she cried in one of the back rooms of the church.

I was almost tempted to be mad at God for putting my introverted sister through all these struggles. I appreciated her heart so much, but still, didn't God see that she was not naturally gifted for a leadership role like this? Didn't He see that it was making her cry and breaking her down?

And yet, even at these low points, I started catching glimpses of the work God was doing, not only in the heart of my sister, but in the heart of our community. Caroline met fellow Protestant and even a few Catholic friends who vastly encouraged her and helped her to stand strong. The prayer vigil schedule started filling up with eager prayer warriors willing to make a stand for life. Caroline started giving the announcements at our church. She started reaching for the phone as soon as it started ringing, shouting, "I'll get it!!". She spoke for forty-five minutes in front of the small army of prayer warriors she had  gathered at the Forty Days for Life kickoff rally.

The prayer vigil started. Caroline trekked out to Planned Parenthood almost every day to get the vigil off on the right foot and to encourage her troops. She became known affectionately as "The Little General" as she kept her prayer warriors on track and committed to praying to end abortion.

She started meeting the "unfriendlies", those who thought she and anyone praying to end abortion were anti-woman bigots. She didn't shrink from the challenge to show them differently. After long, emotionally-draining days in front of Planned Parenthood, you could find her back at the house studying up on the facts about Planned Parenthood, Abortion, and the devastating effects both have on women. I have gotten to see this knowledge in action several times as we have been approached by "pro-choice" people in front of the clinic. She demonstrates her love for them, while at the same time standing strong for the truth and debunking a lot of the false pro-Planned Parenthood, pro-abortion arguments thrown at her.

This was the most demonstrated when a fledgling counter rally was organized against Forty Days for Life by several young ladies of the local college. They stand on the same street corner with us in front of Forty Days for life, holding signs like "Pray to end Judgement" and "Jesus didn't shame woman, and neither should you". They often stand right in-between all of us prayer warriors holding our "Pray to End Abortion" signs. It is almost a comical scene, though without Caroline's leadership and encouragement to love these ladies, it could have been potentially a very volatile, emotional one. These ladies expected us to respond in a negative way. They assumed we would try to kick them off "our" corner. They were completely caught off guard by our appreciation that they were there and our desire to engage in friendly discussion about our differing viewpoints. They've thanked Caroline for being so "chill", as they put it.

And soon, Caroline and our family will be meeting with the woman who is leading the counter rally and a pro-abortion man running for senator to talk more. We hope to be able to plant more seeds of truth in their hearts.

Then, on Friday, God took it one step further. Caroline got a call from the national leader of Forty Days for Life, the Shawn Carney as she put it. He asked her to speak in front of the national rally of vigil leaders, to share her testimony. This would have probably struck Caroline mute with terror but a couple of months ago, but last Friday she answered immediately, "Yes". No, "Let me get back with you" or "Let me pray about it". Just yes.

Talk about a transformation.

"I've learned that you just have to say 'yes' to God, wherever He takes you," Caroline told me yesterday. "He will be faithful to uphold you and see you through."

That's really what it all comes down to, isn't it? Can we trust God enough to lay our lives in His hands, to allow Him to do whatever He wants with them? Can we trust Him even as He launches us into orbit outside our comfort zones? Can we dare to dream that He can use us in mighty ways? Yes, yes, yes! I would say. I've seen it happen right in front of my own eyes. I've seen the way God has used my sister Caroline in mighty ways when she submitted her insecurities and fears to Him and took that leap of faith. It inspires me!

Someday when I grow up, I want to be more like my sister Caroline. Don't you?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6