Frisky Business

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I was reading an article recently called The Christian Porn Star.
I know what you’re thinking. Actually, I don’t know what you’re thinking and that’s probably a good thing. The article spoke of a certain lady who worked as an actress in pornographic films. Nothing earth shattering about that. But what I find somewhat shattering to the earth is that the lady calls herself an “Evangelical Christian.” She even attends church occasionally and carries her bible under her arm like any good evangelical Christian would do.

Right off the bat two questions spring to mind. 1. Does she actually read the bible she carries? 2. Does the church she attends actually preach the bible she carries? Or do they preach something else? Feel good messages would be my best guess. A dose of self-help perhaps, sprinkled with some prosperity mumbo jumbo. I would consider myself an utter failure as a preacher if somebody heard me speak week in and week out and still felt it was okay to fornicate on TV. Or even to fornicate off camera. To be fair, I rarely talk specifically about sexual immorality in church. When the average age of your congregation hovers around the 70 mark you tend to assume it’s not much of a problem.

The word fornicate in the bible actually comes from the Greek word “porneo” which sounds awfully familiar doesn’t it? If you live in Los Angeles, California you should be familiar with the word, given that over 90 per cent of all pornographic movies produced in the world come from that city. No wonder they call it the porn capital of the world. Is that something to be proud of? Or is it something to be ashamed of? I’d cast my lot with the latter.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say because I hail from a little rock in the Atlantic Ocean known as Newfoundland, Canada. As far as I know there isn’t much porn produced here. Most of the fornicating in this neck of the woods happens off camera. But it still happens. Perhaps just as much or more than anywhere else. A week or two ago, according to local news reports, officials at Memorial University of Newfoundland sent out a memo to students that basically said: “Please stop having sex in the business school.” The students were taking care of business alright. Mostly frisky business. Apparently the study rooms were being used for extracurricular activities. Suffice it to say, we’re probably no better than our neighbours to the south, even those from the legendary city of lost angels. We just don’t film our sin as much. I don’t know if that makes us smarter or dumber. It depends who you ask.

From a biblical perspective sin is never smart. Sin is always dumb, no matter how you slice it. Making money from it doesn’t justify it or remove the dumbness from it. The aforementioned celebrity is seeking to fund her college education. A noble end to be sure. But the means to the end? Far from noble if you asked me. There are plenty of legitimate ways to make money in this world. There’s no excuse for anybody to turn to quick fixes or shaddy ventures.

Perhaps there’s an element of laziness in the whole thing. Why else would a young “Christian” girl in college start engaging in sex for pay? Let’s break it down. She needs money and lots of it. By some estimates the average cost of attending college full-time in the US is around $25,000 per year. One would have to flip quite a few burgers at a fast food joint to come up with that kind of cash. She needs quick money too. Who doesn’t? Legitimate jobs often require hard work. So why not take the easy way out? Why not get paid to do something which other girls on campus are doing for free?

In the final analysis isn’t sin really just about taking the easy way out? Isn’t it easier to stroll down the broad path of pleasure and self-seeking then it is to walk the narrow road of commitment and fidelity? The problem with sin is that it’s often packaged so attractively. It promises freedom but ultimately delivers pain and regret. Sin pays. That much is true. But it’s wages are not what they initially appear to be. Romans 6:23 contains both a warning and a promise: “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The choice before all of us is between life or death. Sin produces death. Jesus gives life. We can’t have both. It’s one or the other. I hate to end on what may be construed as a condemning note but I feel compelled to allow Hebrews 13:4 to have the last say on this one: “Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

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One God Many Species

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By some estimates there are more than 900,000 different species of insects in the world.

As the snow melts and winter morphs into spring (be it ever so gradually) we’ll likely see the occasional member of that odd looking creeper known as the spider. Apparently, there’s only about 50,000 different species of these little monsters, which is more than enough if you asked me. I’d be much more comfortable with a number in the vicinity of zero. Trust me, I do my part to reduce the spider population. I have adopted a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to spiders in the house. Or any type of creeper for that matter. I kill them whenever I see them.

I’m aware of the fact that more humane methods exist. It’s possible to capture the little terrorists alive and then escort them safely to the great outdoors. But it’s much too dangerous for my liking. The risk of losing them enroute to the door is far too great. I can hardly bear the thought of it.

At this point it seems appropriate to ask the question: Why?

Not only, “why” do I seem to be writing a blog about spiders? But “why” did God create insects in the first place? He probably didn’t do it just to torment us. So I have to say, my deep and insightful answer to the question is a big fat “I don’t know.” I’ve heard it said that a healthy dose of agnosticism is good for your Christian faith.

I probably should have focussed on the fact that there are thousands of different species of trees in the world and left the insects out of it. The point is the same. God loves variety. Just look at the different species of people. I hesitate to get into it. But there are quiet ones, loud ones, fat ones, skinny ones. Short, tall, weird, normal, white, black, brown, red, yellow, stern, stoic, jovial, bubbly and so on.

The good news is that we are free to be ourselves. We don’t have to squeeze ourselves into someone else’s mold. God lays out a unique track for each of us and bids us to run our own race. I can’t run yours. And you can’t run mine. We can help each other. We can lift each other up when we fall. We all trip and stumble along the way. And if you’re too tired to run then walk. If you’re too tired too walk then crawl. If you’re too tired to crawl then rest. And when you’ve rested sufficiently then start inching forward again. That last part about running, walking and crawling should be credited to someone. I read it somewhere but I can’t remember the source. Hence, the lack of credit.

One thing I have discovered is that life is often a game of inches. It reminds me of the saying: “Inch by inch everything’s a cinch.” I would credit that saying to somebody as well but I have no idea who came up with it. I only know that it wasn’t me. But I think the point is that life is more doable when we tackle it piecemeal. Houses are built one nail at a time. One board at a time. One wall at a time. I’m not a carpenter so I really don’t know what I’m talking about here but the point is still valid.

The inch by inch approach to life works well for me. It fits my innate abilities. Others may like to live foot by foot or yard by yard. Runners might prefer to live mile by mile. It all comes back to the variety thing mentioned above. We’re different. Some people are good multi-taskers and then there are people like me. One thing at a time. Here a little. There a little. Walking, plodding, plugging away at the work that God has called me to do.

I don’t know how else to live. My to-do list may not get cleared out as fast as others but at least I have one. And I’m picking away at it, hour by hour, day by day. Actually, there are times when my to-do list seems to behave like the population of the world. Many people die every day yet the population keeps increasing. So it is with my to-do list.

I suppose I’ll get to everything on it eventually. At least I got this blog wrote. The only problem is that it doesn’t have much to do with Easter so the timing is not great. My bad.

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Heavenly Horses

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How would you feel if your town or city was surrounded by an army poised to attack?

Of course, that is unlikely to happen. So I’ll ask a more relevant question. How would you feel if you knew the world contained nearly 15,000 nuclear warheads, which were located in 9 different countries? This is relevant because it’s true, which makes it all the more disturbing. I was going to mention China’s massive army of a few million active military personnel but that information almost seems anti-climatic in light of the news about the nukes.

Most people don’t worry about any of this. They’re more concerned about bills, babies and back problems (a personal favourite of mine). I wasn’t worried about the nukes either until I read about them. At this point I must apologize. I just realized that you probably weren’t thinking about global catastrophe until you read this blog. Sorry.

But when you think about it, there’s not much we can do about the nukes. Bills, babies and backs are more within reach and seem more controllable. Yet, there’s usually not much we can do about those either. But we worry about them don’t we? Should we though? Much has been written about the uselessness of worry and I suspect most people are aware of the fact that it accomplishes nothing. Yet, we still do it. It reminds me of my relationship with sugar. I know I shouldn’t eat too much of it, but I do so rather consistently. I do what I know I shouldn’t. Can anyone relate?

There’s a reason why I mentioned angry men, armies and nukes. It has to do with a story from the Old Testament involving a prophet, his servant and the nation of Syria (see 2 Kings 6). The king of Syria at the time was not Bashar al-Assad. It was Ben Hadad. Now this Ben Hadad was in the habit of making raids on the territory of Israel. So when he planned a raid God would tell Elisha the prophet about it, and Elisha would warn the king of Israel. Ben Hadad thought there was a traitor in his midst but he was informed by one of his servants that the problem was the prophet. The servant said, “(Elisha the prophet) tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” (2 Kings 6:12)

So Ben Hadad’s brilliant solution was to eliminate the prophet. To accomplish the task at hand he sent one of his military units to the city of Dothan to arrest Elisha. When Elisha’s servant looked out the window and saw the army surrounding the city he did what you and I (or at least I) likely would have done. He panicked. He basically said, “OMG we’re toast. It’s lights out for us. Elisha, what in God’s name are we going to do?” (Smith Paraphrase Version)

Elisha’s response was basically, “what are you worried about, it’s just a bunch of angry men who want to kill us?” (SPV). Elisha’s actual words, according to a more traditional translation, were: “Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (NKJV) Then he prayed.

What would you pray in a situation like that? Elisha could have prayed that God would give his servant peace of heart or calmness of mind. But he didn’t pray any of that. Instead, he prayed that God would open his eyes. Not his physical eyes. These were already wide open. They were probably open a little bit too much. But his spiritual eyes were closed shut. He couldn’t see beyond the immediate physical threat.

So God opened his spiritual eyes and allowed him to gaze into the supernatural realm. There he saw that the hills and mountains were full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. In God’s sight Ben Hadad’s troops looked like a bunch of kids with Nerf Guns. God wasn’t concerned about the Syrians. Neither is He concerned about 15,000 nukes or armies of millions. Incidentally, Revelation 9:16 speaks about a last days army that will number 200 million. Is God concerned about that? Nope. Should we be anxious about it? Not according to Philippians 4:6.

It doesn’t matter how many troops are in the enemy camp. There’s always more in the camp of God. Even if there weren’t multitudes of heavenly horses and chariots of fire we’d still have God Himself, and one + God is always a majority. If you’re not an avid student of the Bible you’re probably wondering how Elisha and his servant fared against the Syrians. Well, they did quite well actually. The same God who opened the spiritual eyes of the servant also closed the physical eyes of the Syrian raiders. All in answer to prayer of course.

By way of summary then, Elisha led the enemy into Samaria, where the King of Israel desired to kill them. Elisha had a better idea. Prepare a hot meal for them and send them home bewildered. Elisha’s plan worked. The raiders never returned. All of which shows that one act of kindness is much more effective then one act of revenge but that’s another blog entirely.

We might say that Elisha did indeed kill the Syrian raiders, just not with swords or slings. He killed them with kindness. Not your typical response to a hostile army but the results spoke for themselves.

Restless Souls

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I’m currently being tested for a sleep disorder. I’m hoping for good results but I have my concerns.
Rest for the body is important. If you don’t rest the body bad things happen, not the least of which is crankiness and irritability (at least that’s what I’ve heard). Bodily rest is not the only consideration though. We also need to find rest for our souls.
I’m sure we’ve all had the wonderful experience of being tired and yet unable to sleep. The body is horizontal, the head is on the pillow, but the mind is racing like a stock car at the Daytona 500. The body is screaming for rest but the mind is reaching speeds of 200 miles per hour.

Sadly, you don’t get paid for mind racing. Too bad though. I’d be a multi-billionaire by now. No guarantee this would cure my racing mind but with that kind of money, sleepless nights would be slightly more bearable. Actually, I can’t really say that I have sleepless nights. I don’t have a lot of trouble sleeping. The problem is that I wake feeling like I never slept. Hence, the sleep test alluded to above.

In Matthew 11:29 Jesus promised rest for our souls. This sounds like good news to me because the mind is part of the soul. So Jesus is really promising rest for the mind. Great stuff. But there’s a condition.

He said previously in verse 28, “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The condition is that we much come to Christ. Of course, there are other options when it comes to calming the soul. Watching pornography causes a surge in dopamine in the brain, which helps increase sensations of pleasure. The problem with porn is that is actually shrinks the brain, which essentially makes you dumb. Alcohol depresses the nervous system making the drinker feel calm and relaxed. But the key word is “depresses.” So if you want to be depressed become an alcoholic, or at least a heavy drinker. The time fails me to speak of the effect of drugs.

Sleeping pills can work but there are various possible side affects, one of which is premature death. Seriously, I read that somewhere online so obviously it’s true. We all know everything you read online is true right? Anyway, we won’t get into that here. Suffice it to say that there are many counterfeit ways to achieve a semblance of rest for the soul. But there’s only one way to get the true rest that stretches from time into eternity.

The problem with temporary solutions for the problem of internal restlessness is that they’re temporary solutions. They don’t help beyond the grave. Most of them don’t help much before the grave, much less after it. Christ is the Only answer that covers both time and eternity. But we must come to Him. What in the world does it mean to “come to Jesus?” Isn’t He in heaven? Yes, He is. But He’s also present on earth in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

On a practical note I would like to offer two ways in which anyone, anytime, anywhere can come to Jesus and receive rest for their souls. First, we come to Christ through prayer. Second, we come to Christ through the bible; reading it, studying it, and even meditating on it.

As for the prayer part, Paul said in Philippians 4:6-7 that we should be anxious for nothing and pray about everything, so that the peace of God would act as a guard over our hearts and minds. As for the bible part, Psalm 119:165 says “Great peace have those who love your law (Word), And nothing causes them to stumble.” These are a mere sampling of scriptures that speak of the benefits of prayer and the Word.

Of course, there are many other things we ought to do as Christians, but the main thing is coming to Christ. We ought to do it on a daily basis. Nothing less works for me. To that end I try to do those two basic things each and every day of my life. Pray and read God’s Word. Everything else is secondary. Or at least I try to make them so. I’m not perfect in this but I’m working on it.

Kumbaya My Lord

Some things in life are easier than others.
Changing a light bulb is easier than sky diving or zip lining, especially for somebody who suffers from Acrophobia (otherwise known as the fear of heights). Likewise, some things in the bible are easier said than done. In particular, I’m thinking about the words of Jesus where He talked about loving your enemies.

Most people love their friends. Your friends love you and you love them. Kumbaya, my lord, Kumbaya. It’s relatively easy. Atheists, agnostics, quasi-spiritual, unspiritual and carnal Christians can even do it. Anybody can be nice to the nice and friendly to the friendly. Jesus said, “if you greet your friends only what credit is that to you?” (Matthew 5:47)

In other words, if you’re only kind and friendly to people who are kind and friendly to you then you really haven’t done anything more than the average heathen would do. The challenge is to be kind and friendly to those who are mean, nasty or indifferent. We all know people can be heartless, selfish and even cruel. Should we return the same? Not according to Jesus.

Now you might think. That’s easy for Jesus to say because He’s……….Jesus. True, but there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind. Firstly, it might help to remember that Jesus certainly practised what He preached. From the cross He cried out to the Father and asked Him to forgive the very ones who put Him there. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Secondly, as Christians we are called to be like Jesus. Obviously, this doesn’t mean we have to go around wearing long robes and sandals. But we are to strive to be like Him in our character and conduct.

Jesus provides the ultimate example of non-retaliation. He could have smote His enemies in an instant with the help of thousands of angels. But instead He overcame evil with good. He calls us to do the same.

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Life is not like an NHL hockey game. The unwritten rule of hockey is that if somebody slams you into the boards, trips you up, or does anything deemed dirty or dangerous then you have to “send a message.” Usually the message is given via a similar type of dirty or dangerous play or by “dropping the gloves” (which means fisticuffs for those of you who aren’t acquainted with hockey talk). But it’s okay to retaliate because “they deserve it.”

In Jesus’ system we don’t get to say who deserves retributive justice. And it’s certainly not our place to administer it. The settling of accounts is God’s prerogative. We must leave the doling out of each man’s pay in His capable hands. Somebody has rightly said, “God does not pay at the end of each day, nevertheless, He pays.” Our problem is that God refuses to repay according to our timetable. We want Him to pay after each day, or at least after each week, or month or year. But sometimes God doesn’t pay until eternity.

Indeed, we ought to be thankful that God’s payroll system is not entirely fair. If God suddenly fired up the printing press and cut us a cheque for what we deserve there’d be no numbers on it. There’d be just one word written across it. DEATH.

Why? Because all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It’s only by God’s grace that we are permitted to draw our next breath.

Let’s face the facts. Some people have adopted the following mission statement for their lives: “I will endeavour to cause as much trouble and pain for others as I possibly can.” They’re like ministers of misery, hucksters of hurt, or peddlers of pain. God will repay them according to their works, unless they repent. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. (Ezekiel 33:11) He would rather that people repented and lived. But alas, many don’t. Their blood is on their own hands. Sorry if I sound harsh, but these are not really my words, they’re from the bible.

As Revelation 13:10 says: “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.” All people will eventually reap what they have sown. The only thing that can stop the process is the grace of God.

We’re all going to need grace in the days ahead, not to mention patience. Judging by current trends in North American society and throughout the world, it seems like the enemies of Christianity are piling up like snow banks during a Newfoundland blizzard. What are we to do in with such blustery conditions?

We are to do as the old hymn says: “Trust and obey, trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

And that includes Matthew 5:44: “love our enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

Lessons from a Hot Tub

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Despite our chronic financial challenges my little family and I (me, wife and boy) occasionally treat ourselves to a night in a hotel.
This we recently did. The hotel in question had a warm pool, a hot sauna, and hot tub that was just a few degrees shy of boiling. Myself and the boy started out in the pool. It was like swimming in an overgrown bathtub, which is exactly how I like it. So pleasant was the experience that we decided to try out the hot tub. That’s where things starting going downhill in terms of the pleasantness.

I felt like a lobster being lowered into a boiling pot. After my body got over the initial shock it was actually quite relaxing. The water was so hot that the boy decided to merely dangle up to his knees, while I sat there fully immersed. After the boy commented on the redness of my skin I felt it was an appropriate time to exit the tub.

But then company showed up and since they were complete strangers we had a lot of catching up to do. The two elderly ladies of the group of three were quite impressed by the outgoing personality of our boy. He did most of the talking while I sat there boiling to death, so they likely deduced that he got his personality from his mother. And they would be right. A short time later the boy engaged in another conversation with a young lady on the elevator. Meanwhile, I stood there speechless unable to muster as much as a simple hello. Then again I was still reeling from my extended stay in the boiling pot.

In any case, our long foray into the hot tub led yours truly to develop feelings of sickness. I self-diagnosed myself with dehydration and wrote myself a prescription for two advil and eight to ten glasses of water.

But the hot tub experience got me thinking about the general experiences of life. Firstly, I entered the hot tub of my own free will. Nobody forced me into it. Also, I choose to stay in the hot tub longer than I should have. And I couldn’t help but wonder. Do we sometimes stay longer in situations than we should just because it’s comfortable? I could have exited that hot tub any time I wanted but I choose to stay in it. It was my choice. And I suffered for it.

Who could I blame? The eight-year old? The company of complete strangers? Ultimately no (tempting though it was). I could only blame myself. Of course, the consequences weren’t overly terrible – exhaustion and a headache. Both were remedied fairly easily (see prescription above). However, consequences for life’s bigger choices are not always so easily remedied.

The problem is that we don’t always feel the full extent of staying in certain situation until we’re out of them. I didn’t have a headache while soaking in the boiling pot of water. The headache came afterward. In fact, I felt pretty good while in the tub, which explains my reluctance to get out. The sickly feelings came once the ordeal was finally over. And that’s often how it is in the steamy situations of life.

It’s only after we leave a situation (or relationship) that we begin to see the damage that it has done to us. Perhaps I should not have entered the hot tub in the first place. What was wrong with the pool? Nothing. It was the perfect temperature. Not too hot. Not too cold. But alas the hot tub kept whispering my name. “Surely, you’re not going to leave the pool and fitness area of this fine hotel until you’ve dipped your weary frame in my swirling, soothing waters.”

Perhaps I should have applied Proverbs 23:31-32 to the allure of the tub.
“Do not look on the wine (water) when it is red (clear), When it sparkles in the cup (tub), When it swirls around smoothly.
(32) At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper.”

The scaling water bit my hydration level. It stung my head causing an ache. Not the most exegetically sound interpretation of the above verses but it works for me.

All about the Kid

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Now that Christmas is over, I’m tempted to start shopping for next year. I see no other way to avoid the year end financial and mental crisis that assails me year in and year out. I used to love Christmas when it was all about getting instead of giving and my parents paid all the bills. Christmas was a blast in those days. But now I’m the parent and everything has changed.

My problem is that Christmas is all about the kids and I’m not a kid anymore. Those who know me might wish to argue this last point but I’m speaking in terms of chronological age, not my current maturity level. Don’t get me wrong. I love kids, especially my own. But sometimes it’s just hard to be an adult.

Interestingly enough, Jesus told the adults of His day that unless they were converted and became as little children they would not enter the kingdom of heaven. It’s one of my favourite verses (now that I think about it). But I can’t bring myself to believe that Jesus was advocating for adults to become more childish. It seems to me He was speaking of certain childlike traits that adults should strive to have.

Also, He was reminding us that you can’t have a father without being a child. Father’s don’t have fathers. Children do. If we don’t become spiritual children then how can God become our spiritual Father? Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven….”

I hope you know God as your Father. Santa Claus comes and goes. You can’t really depend on Him. He swoops in, drops a few presents, shows up at parades and parties and then he’s off to the North Pole for a 12 month sabbatical. He’s sort of a cross between a visiting relative and a birthday clown. But a loving father? Not so much. Conversly, God promises to be with us all year, every year. Whether it’s 2017. or 2027.

The blow-up snowman, lighted candie canes, and lazer lights may be removed from the front lawn. The big fake tree with its bulbs and garland may be stuffed back into the cardboard box. But it’s comforting to know that our Father in heaven is too big to be stored away in a plastic container. He can’t be confined to my storage room and I’m most glad about it.

Our relationship to Him is not yearly. It’s daily. It can be just as vibrant during the cold dark chills of February as it is during the glitter and pomp of December. Whether you’re labouring with a scoop to remove a sudden dump of wet snow from the driveway or sitting on a padded chair in a heated sanctuary. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing. You may be hungry. You may be full. You may be sick. You may be well. You may have reached the pinnacle of financial freedom or you may be crushed beneath a load of debt. Either way, God loves you and He promises to be with you always. That’s the message of Christmas.

So the lights may be dimmed. The living room may look a little bare. The spirit of Christmas may have slipped away to another realm. But the Spirit of God doesn’t leave in January. He’s not afraid of the cold and there’s no post-Christmas blues with Him.

As John said: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) So if darkness and gloom seems to be circling around you like a swarm of mosquitoes on a hot summer day, then you might consider approaching the Father of light. You don’t need to write Him a letter, or speak to Him through an elf. He’s as near as the mention of His name.

Commercial Christmas may be over but it’s not too late to become a child again.