Who is my Neighbor?

This summer I’m adjusting to the self-controlled schedule of online classes. I’m taking Introduction to Evangelism. I know, I’m taking an intro. class my last semester of seminary. To share with you a moment of honest transparency and confession, I put it off until the last minute, praying they might change the core curriculum for my degree program. Alas, they did not and, in the words of that well-known singer/theologian, Garth Brooks, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.”

This class has reminded me of the need to urgently and intentionally share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost and dying world that surrounds me all of the time. While living in Seminary World I sinfully and selfishly fooled myself into believing that we lived in such a gospel-saturated area that my sharing would only annoy the people around me. I went to three continents in three years to share the Gospel, but never walked across the street to do so. But God even uses our disobedience and fear for His glory. In His perfect timing, I avoided taking Evangelism until I was back in the “Real World” and was forced to once again face head-on the vast lostness present right here in the Bible Belt of America.

While I was watching Doc Reid lecture this morning, he made a statement that I’m sure I’ve heard before, but it resonated in my heart as it shattered my last remaining excuses for not intentionally sharing my faith. His words were simple: “Play to your strengths.” He was discussing the differences between relationship and lifestyle evangelism. For some of us, the idea of going door-to-door, cold calling people or striking up a conversation with the person in line behind us at the store with the intention of sharing the Gospel brings up images of panic attacks and faking illness to avoid the situation. We are not outgoing people with salesman personalities, and the idea of “selling” the Gospel to a complete stranger makes my head explode.

I am much more likely to develop a relationship with someone, get to know them, share my life with them and then, after a connection has been established, confront them with the Gospel. That works for me and my personality and how I live my life. The problem is that when most of us think of evangelism, we only think of visitation with the deacons from church on Tuesday nights. That limited thinking stymies our desire to share our faith.

While Dr. Reid did encourage us to play to our strengths, he also challenged us to develop our weaknesses. I don’t naturally share my faith with strangers, but I also can’t tell you what part of the Christian life comes to me naturally. Naturally I’m selfish and self-centered and a host of other ailments and sinful tendencies. Just like I have to die to self and discipline my fleshly nature in the battle against sin, I must also die to self and discipline myself to practice evangelism. Consider the alternative: I can die to myself for a few moments and risk the possibility of rejection and ridicule before I go along with my day in relative ease. Or I can choose to love myself and my comfort more than that lost soul, essentially telling them that my personal comfort means more to me than their eternal destiny.

So in an attempt to find ways to be more intentional with those I do not know, I began to pray that God would show me things I can do to create opportunities to connect with the lost around me. Connecting with those around us is the key to being able to share the Gospel with them. How do you connect with your neighbors? According to Jesus, who is our neighbor? That’s right, the guy next door AND the lady standing in line behind us at the grocery store and and the Muslim woman in Afghanistan and the gay guy that works in the cubicle next to you and the single mom on welfare shopping next to you at Wal-Mart and everyone in between. Who is your neighbor? Anyone who comes across your path. The common denominator is the image of God found in every human being. Osama bin Laden and your BFF are equally your neighbor when discussing who you should care for in light of the Gospel.

In an answer to my prayer from earlier this morning, Reformissionary blogger Steve McCoy posted some fun and practical ideas on connecting with those around you in a blog entitled Summerbia:Connection Tools. Check it out, then grab a tennis ball and some kids and head to a local park and have some fun and share your faith. It’s guaranteed to be an evening you won’t soon forget.

Polyamory:The Next Sexual Revolution?

If this is the type of sexual confusion facing people living in Seattle, then Mark Driscoll needs to make his series on the Song of Solomon available to every household in the city. Many people have spent months blasting Mark’s series as being too blatant, too disrespectful, too graphic;I’d like to see some of those pastors counsel someone in a “polyamorous” relationship and see how far they get…

Read the article from Newsweek here.

Is Twilight Emotional Porn?

Much is made today of the devastating effects of pornography in the lives of men. Articles and books have been written by the thousands outlining the emotional, financial, time and relational impact of porn addiction. I work for a ministry that deals everyday with the effects of pornography. We have learned that men are wired to respond sexually to visual stimulation—I have been told by numerous men that, try as we might, women will just never understand the power of lust and the battle they fight against their sexual desires. I believe them.

Sometimes I wonder if the damage done by pornography is felt more by the women in the lives of these men than by the men themselves. Porn gives men an unrealistic expectation of how women should look and behave. Because men tend to be visual creatures, they respond to what they see. When what they have in real life doesn’t match up to what they have trained themselves to respond to on TV or the computer screen, they turn to those images for satisfaction. The problem is that no woman meets those expectations; not even those women themselves. They are airbrushed actresses, playing a part in a fantasy that cannot come true in real life. There are few things more damaging to the self-worth and emotional well-being of a woman than to feel like her husband is more attracted and sexually connected to an image on a screen than he is to her.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with the book series Twilight? Just like men tend to be stimulated visually and crave sexual connection, women tend to be wired emotionally and crave relational connection. In the past couple of years, I have watched middle and high school girls become obsessed with this book series and its characters. Recently, I have begun watching my friends in their twenties and thirties become equally caught up in the lives of the characters on the pages. More than any other character in the series, the obsession really lies in Edward Cullen, the teenage vampire heartthrob that loves the heroine, Bella Swan. Not only is Bella the heroine, but the books are written in first person from her perspective– as you read, you become Bella. You read her thoughts, you feel her emotions, you are drawn into the story in a way that is next to impossible in a book written in the third person. Fantasy becomes your reality, and Edward is set up as the perfect gentleman—he loves Bella at first site, sacrifices himself in an attempt to protect her, gives himself up to make her happy. He becomes a Messiah figure in her life, and because you are so attached to Bella’s character, he becomes your messiah, too. Deep down, we are all wired with a desire to be saved. That’s what makes the “knight in shining armor” story stand the test of time.

There is nothing wrong with desiring a man who will exemplify the standard of sacrificial love; after all, Scripture tells us that our husbands are to love us as Christ loved the church, which means he is willing to lay down his life for his wife (Ephesians 5). But in becoming obsessed with this fictional character, are we placing a standard of fantasy perfection on the fallen, sinful men who God has called to both serve and lead us? Just like pornography sets an unrealistic visual expectation for men, is Edward setting an unrealistic emotional expectation for women, particularly teenage girls?

Don’t think I’m picking on Twilight; it’s just the latest in a long line of things I would consider emotional porn. If you aren’t sure what I mean by emotional porn, have you ever been dumped by a boyfriend or been disappointed or hurt by your husband in some way and comforted yourself on the couch with a night of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan “chick flicks”? Have you ever read a romance novel or watched a movie and thought, “If only he would treat me this way?” Have you watched The Notebook at least a dozen times and still sob like an infant, wondering if you will ever have a Noah Calhoun? The expectation has been set that men should sweep us off our feet—but then never put us back down.

And that is the crux of the issue—we are looking for a fulfillment in the creation that can only be found in the Creator (Romans 1:22-25). When a man seeks a woman who is a “real life porn star,” one who was created in the mind of a man instead of in the image of God, he is ultimately worshiping himself and his desires and he will always be disappointed. When a woman begins seeking a man who will meet her every need, satisfy her every desire, she has set herself up as an idol to be worshiped both by herself and by those around her, and she will always be disappointed. Only One is described in Scripture as “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).

While fantasy and fiction are fun, when we become so caught up in them that we begin to expect our fantasy in reality, a line has been crossed. So if you’ve read Twilight, has it altered the expectations you have set for the men in your life? Do you think it has created a fair expectation? And, does that expectation line up with the expectation laid out in Scripture of a godly man?

Leaving, Cleaving, and the Idolatry of the Ex

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.–Genesis 2:18-25

Throughout Scripture, God uses the picture of marriage as the image to describe the covenant relationship between Him and His people. I’ve spent a lot of time the last couple of years studying this connection as I have attempted to put the marriage relationship in proper perspective in my own life. The purpose of marriage is not to make me happy. It’s not about my security, provision, protection or personal fulfillment. It’s not so I can have a piece of paper declaring my right to engage in sexual activity. It’s not designed to be the normalizing event in my life. It’s not merely the secure relationship that is best for bringing children into this world. It’s not even the defining relationship required to make me the most effective for serving God.

If you study the concept of marriage in the whole of Scripture, I believe you will come to the same conclusion that I did: marriage between a man and a woman is to be a picture of the nature of God (unity in community, a complete image of the nature of God) and an image of the Gospel displayed before a watching world. There is no relationship more intimate, more precious, more trying, or more sanctifying than marriage. There is no human relationship that is more difficult, but also not one that is more unifying.

While God has a lot to say about marriage and how it is a picture of our relationship with Him, I have also learned that how we view marriage says a lot about how we view God. I have read more than one article about the current phenomenon of the “starter marriage.” It has become quite common to see a couple in their early to mid-20’s get married only to be divorced within a few short years. Sometimes the cause is immaturity, sometimes it is infidelity. Most of the time it seems they give up on the marriage before it ever really gets started. But the overarching cause is a fatal misunderstanding of the purpose of marriage. Instead of viewing marriage as a human example of our relationship with God—as the crowning relationship of our life—it is viewed as just one of many relationships. Marriage is supposed to be good all the time. Our spouse is always supposed to do exactly what we expect them to do. Marriage is just like single life, except now I will be living with my boyfriend and we get to have sex—or at least we finally get to without being sneaky and feeling guilty about it.

When the marriage relationship gets tough, we don’t cling tightly to it, committed to work it out. We don’t remember the vows made, we aren’t committed to promises we made. Instead, we behave just like the adulterous Israelites; when the going gets tough, the weak return to the idols of their youth. A tell-tale sign that there are problems in a marriage is when one spouse or the other establishes an emotional relationship with a member of the opposite sex; sometimes it’s a new friend. Often it is an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. But regardless of where they go looking, they find what they think they are missing in someone other than their spouse. The “leaving” of the former life and the “cleaving” to the new that is prescribed in Genesis 2 is replaced with “returning” to the comfort of the past and “separating” from the challenge of the new.

We generally don’t “leave and cleave” in our society anymore. Marriage is just added to our lives. We attempt to keep our lifestyles, keep our friends, keep our habits, our self-centered schedules, our relationships with those of the opposite sex; and when the marriage gets in the way of my life, I don’t sacrifice the single life, I sacrifice the marriage on the alter of self. Marriage today has been reduced to having a roommate whose purpose is to meet your emotional, financial, and sexual needs with minimal investment on your part. Problems surface pretty quickly when even one partner is expecting maximum return with minimal investment. And that’s when it becomes very convenient that “leaving and cleaving” never took place. When you never separated yourself from your single life, it’s pretty easy to return to it.

How much is that a picture of how we often treat God? We like the benefits of a relationship with God—after all, no one wants to go to Hell when they die. But we aren’t always so quick to appreciate the sacrifices required to establish the relationship on a foundation that will make it intimate, secure, and persevering. We in America like to add God to our already full shelf of personal deities. We like the idea of Jesus, but we want to keep our money, our sex, our families, our recreational activities, our jobs, our old friends, our old hangouts, our old habits. Instead of denying all, taking up our cross, dying to self and following Him, we just add Jesus to our lives. Jesus made the maximum investment– His very life– and we still expect the maximum return on our minimal investment of Sunday mornings at church and blessing the food before we eat.

And then one day the going gets tough. Jesus calls us to come and die, and we don’t like that idea. Jesus asks us to count the cost of our commitment to Him, and we don’t like what it will cost us. He asks us to put away something that, in and of itself is not a bad thing, but we have made it an idol in our life. If we have truly left our former lives and are cleaving to Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will respond to Jesus like Peter did in John 6. Jesus issued a similar challenge to the multitudes who followed him, and we are told, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?'” Peter gave the answer of one who understood the concept of leaving and cleaving. So often though, like the multitudes that abandoned Jesus, we discover that following Christ is not what we thought it would be, and we return to our old lives, because in reality, we never left.