Shamelessness commercialized


Over the last 35 years, the commercialization of sexuality has increased with such gradual intensity, and people as a whole have become so desensitized, that societies (particularly in the Western Hemisphere) now offer little resistance. Traffickers in the pornographic desperately wish to drive us those last few steps to the yawning abyss, a world where shopping for sexually debased material is as commonplace and acceptable as shopping for a loaf of bread.

Writing last month in the Financial Times (subscription req'd), Clare Dowdy described the recent arrival of so-called "adult-oriented" shops to London's main retail districts. These stores are high-class, corporate-driven affairs, more in line with Gap than a seedy, hole-in-the-wall X-rated shop. Indeed, they are expecting to attract more women and couples, and profit from the very pervasiveness of debased sex in mainstream media.

Both [Gordon] Lee and Roger Ede, project director of Hustler Hollywood U.K., say the effect of the television series "Sex and the City" on women's behavior should not be underestimated. Sex has become mainstream, the retailers say, so it is now acceptable on high streets.
Harmony, a British retailer of pornographic goods, opened a store In September on London's famed Oxford Street. In Dowdy's article, Harmony director Danny O'Sullivan said: "A visit to Harmony should be as normal and everyday an experience as going to any other chain store in your lunch hour."

A society without shame is a society that does not recognize human limits and has lost its fear of God. The flippant phrase "sex sells" has proven so axiomatic that there is little thought given to its destructive consequences. But history is always keen to repeat itself. The prophet Isaiah warned of impending judgment on Jerusalem and Judah in Isaiah Chapter 3:
8 Their words and deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence.
9 The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.
We tend to keep God out of the decision-making when it comes to sexuality. Yet, the areas in one's life most in need of Him are the ones that are the most personal and locked up in a vault. Jesus Christ is Lord over our entire life, not just the parts of our choosing.

Jesus warned that an act of adultery is committed with an unfaithful and lustful thought (Matthew 5:27-28). The famously wise Solomon, speaking from his own regrettable experiences, had these words of caution for his son in Proverbs Chapter 5:
3 For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil;
4 But in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword.
The drumbeat of Herculaneum-like sexual chaos grows ever louder. "Adult" businesses are eyeing a new market: the introduction of pornographic content providers for cell phones is on the horizon.

The Absence of Conviction


For what they're worth, The Barna Group's surveys offer some soul-provoking glimpses into the state of the Christian church today. One of their most widely disseminated studies (December 1, 2003) found that as few as 9% of American men and women describing themselves as born-again Christians have a Biblical worldview. Another study (February 12, 2002) found that, of born-again Christians, less than half (32%) believe in moral absolutes. Even wiithout the benefit of surveys, however, there should be ample evidence to believers everywhere that post-modern relativism and humanism have crippled a Church that more and more exhibits Laodicean laxity than ever before.

Modern society, by and large, conditions people to reject absolutes and to object to moral convictions. Relativism has achieved widespread acceptance to the point that it is now ingrained. The caricatures of the "holy roller" and "fire-and-brimstone preacher" have had popular cachet for years. From the schools to the popular culture and, sadly, to the churches, sincerity is mocked and irony cherished.

The prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah Chapter 5:

20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
An outrageous example of today's relativism came nearly two years ago when U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D., Wash.) addressed a group of students at Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Washington. The local paper, The Columbian, reported her remarks:
Murray concluded the session by challenging the students to consider alternatives to war.

"We've got to ask, why is this man (Osama bin Laden) so popular around the world?," said Murray, who faces re-election in 2004. "Why are people so supportive of him in many countries...that are riddled with poverty?

"He's been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that.

"How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"
"What is true for one individual may not be true for another" is the gold standard in contemporary philosophy. 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume, among others, popularized these notions of subjective truth which are now accepted whole cloth. The line of despair that 20th-century Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote about so many years ago is clearly evident today.

David Virtue, writing in Touchstone Magazine, explained Schaeffer's argument from his 1968 book The God Who Is There:
In it Schaeffer articulated what he devised and called the “line of despair” (Europe about 1890 and the United States about 1935) in philosophy, art, music, and the general culture, as well as the New Theology. He attempted to show that for modern man, absolutes had died, modernity reigned, and the floodwaters of secular thought had overwhelmed the Church because its leaders did not understand the importance of combating a false set of presuppositions. Young people were being raised on the old sense of what was right and wrong based on absolutes the West had established from a biblical worldview, but on leaving home they were being exposed to “rationalism” and “humanism” that saw man as the center of all things and pushed God to the sidelines or out of the picture altogether.
Proponents of subjective truth and relativism, despite their protestations otherwise, resort to intellectual shorthand and demagoguery to advance their worldview and marginalize believers. Belief in moral absolutes is tied to fascism, fundamentalism, intolerance, hate-mongering, even luddism. Each of these descriptors carry with them a tremendous amount of pejorative baggage. By using these type of buzz words, or talking points if you will, arguments against objective truth can be left unsubstantiated and uncorroborated.

Secular (and theological) polemics against believers, conservatives, and others espousing belief in moral absolutes involves subtle and disingenuous tactics. Though fascism, by the very nature of totalitarian rule, requires the absence of moral absolutes, conservative Christians are often labeled "fascists." Though cursory comparison of Christianity and Islam would reveal serious incompatibility, Christians with a Biblical worldview are labeled "fundamentalists," i.e. suggesting that there is as much to fear from Christian fundamentalists as Islamic fundamentalists. Christians who believe in the inerrant Word of God and display the sincerest forms of faith are mocked and/or patronized; they are by turns portrayed as hypocritical, overly emotional, unctuously spiritual, or worst of all lacking education, intellect, worldliness, and the capacity for rational thought.

The absence of conviction in the inspired and infallible Word of God has dealt a serious blow to today's Church, from which it will not soon recover. The Church, in short, is undergoing a sinner's rebellion. Relativism and subjectivity, for all their high-class pretense, appeal to the natural man. Man resists (futilely) his own mortality, his culpability for that mortality, and most especially his inability to atone for that culpability. The prevailing feeling in churches today is that an individual's sin prevents them from having moral conviction regarding that sin, and sin in toto. The travesty here should be obvious: it represents a complete loss of faith in the transforming power of Jesus Christ. If a Christian cannot believe that Jesus has the power to change their life, then how can they possibly have any conviction whatsoever?

We naturally empathize with other people's troubles -- an ostensibly sympathetic gesture, to be sure. The truth is, as sinners, we empathize in order to make up (or buy favor) for our own shortcomings. Some Christians call this "good works," others call it "karma." But it is not Biblical. Christian action must derive from love of the Lord, not love of the Self (humanity). If there are none to stand up for Godliness and the faith, to declare the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, then humanism will continue its soulless march unimpeded. The tragic consequences should already be evident. As Edmund Burke famously said, "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."

Jesus warned in Luke Chapter 6:
39 "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?"
At the very highest echelons of the Church today, leaders are under an intense spiritual onslaught, and the worst thing is, they're not prepared for it. Many have failed to put on the armor of God and are defenseless. As a result, the Church has been terribly hurt. Those who've abdicated Biblical conviction for "tolerance" and ecumenicalism do so because they are ruled by personal shortcomings and doubt, rather than the Lord. Christian churches are becoming cults of religiosity where situational ethics and emotion rule the day. When the Church proudly wears the filthy rags of its own righteousness (cf. Isaiah 64:6), there are certainly darker days around the corner.

We've all heard a lot of talk about "faith" of late. Yet, as surely as there can be no conviction without faith, there can be no faith without conviction.

Prayers Answered


In the October 9 entry, the story of Alice Mowatt and the international prayer circle that formed to save her life was highlighted to illustrate Jesus' powerful words from Matthew Chapter 18:

19 Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.
From Redmond, Washington today there comes a similarly compelling news story. Laura Hatch, a teenager who'd been considered missing since October 2nd, was found Sunday in a crumpled car that had sailed into a deep ravine, not far from where searchers looked for her a day earlier. Sha Nohr, the woman who found Hatch, explained she'd had several dreams Saturday night, directing her to a wooded area. Nohr, a friend of the Hatch family and a member of their church, said that her prayers with others (in an online prayer group) precipitated the dreams and finally led her to Laura Hatch, who is now in serious condition at a Seattle hospital.

Please read the full story here. A side note: some news outlets are completely ignoring the prayer/church angle and instead are primarily focusing on the dreams.

Everything is Connected


A few weeks ago, print advertisements were touting a new television program with the following slogan: "Everything is connected." From the fascination with all things Eastern to the digital explosion, it's a phrase that's seeing a lot of currency. Yet acolytes of the New Age and dot-coms ought not to be the only ones co-opting its meaning.

For the Christian, however, there is this major difference: God is in control. In Proverbs Chapter 15 (KJV):

3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.
The question that often follows is, if God is in control, then why is there evil and suffering in the world? It's because God is in control that we live in a fallen world. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God in the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 3), there were not only physical consequences (death and disease) but spiritual ones, as well (separation from God, i.e. sin). A fundamental Biblical law is that all action and thought have consequences, as Jesus reinforced when He said a man commits the sin of adultery in his heart when he looks at a woman lustfully (Matthew 5:28). The inner mind of man is not hidden from God, and He is a true and just judge.

Clearly, Adam and Eve's actions had consequences for the whole of the human race. Despite modern "me"-oriented philosophy to the contrary, both an individual's private and public actions affect others -- known and unknown, directly and indirectly. There are consequences. "The Butterfly Effect," the popularized notion explaining chaos theory in meteorology was summarized thusly: "Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?" (Edward Lorenz) Setting aside its deterministic (and therefore non-Christian) underpinnings, chaos theory at the very least appreciates causality. In spite of the great complexity of the world and its inhabitants and the limitless variables, God is still in control.

As the Sovereign Creator, God enforces His laws unfalteringly and immutably. Again, everything is connected. Nowhere is this more evident than in prayer. As the Apostle Paul wrote memorably in Romans Chapter 8:
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Lest there be any confusion regarding prayer, the God spoken of here is the Triune God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God who sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for the sins of those who believe upon Him. Jesus specifically instructed believers to pray to their Father in Heaven (Matthew 6:6) Prayer is not supposed to be any old supplication addressed to "whom it may concern," "Mother Earth," "the gods," or some other entity. When a believer hears someone say that "their prayers are with them," that believer ought to wonder, "prayers to whom?" Even when we're using the right words, God knows when we're praying to Him or to one of our idols (Self, fear, desire, and so on). In other words, prayer must be taken seriously.

Keeping in mind this essential qualification then, the Bible tells us that prayer can have a powerful and righteous effect, especially when more than one believer is involved. Jesus said in Matthew Chapter 18:
19 Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
Remember King Jehoshaphat leading the nation of Judah in prayer and fasting before the Lord (cf. 2 Chronicles 20)? God spared them from destruction at the hands of their enemies. The devil constantly strives to make man doubt God's promises. There is, however, in the midst of today's negative news, an occasional nugget of inspiration. The following story was in the news again last month, and it not only affirms that everything is connected, but that God is in control.

On September 23, 2002, Alice Mowatt, a 19-year-old British tourist, was struck by an SUV in Los Angeles. Her head injuries were so severe that doctors induced a coma and several times considered taking her off life support. Sgt. Dan Horan, the investigating police officer, prayed for her, and over the next few days asked others, by phone or e-mail, to do the same. In a few short weeks, an international prayer circle had formed. Ten weeks after her accident, Mowatt had recovered enough to return home to England, where she was greeted by hundreds of letters and e-mails. Nearly two years later, Mowatt reunited with Horan, once a complete stranger who simply took the time to care about someone else.

It should be noted that in the articles, there were no direct references to God or Jesus Christ, but then there rarely ever are in the positive "spirituality" stories from the mainstream media. (Had the story been a negative one, say, involving a church scandal, then there almost certainly would have been.) In any case, even the most cynical among us must acknowledge the selfless motives behind Horan's actions and the fact that, among the hundreds of those praying, surely there were believers among them.

Stories like these have additional meaning. "Personal faith" is an oxymoron. "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." (James 2:26) Jesus calls individuals into a personal relationship with Him not only for their own salvation but for the salvation of other people's souls. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) The selfless agape love that Christians are to exhibit cannot be man-made; it can only come from the Holy Spirit.

When an individual follows Christ, they are not giving up their individuality but rather the (love of) Self. While believers are indeed commanded to love one another, their greatest responsibility is as an individual before Christ. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "let your light shine before men," but he added that "when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen." (Matthew 6:6) An in-depth article on this subject can be found at Pilgrim's Post. The contrast of these two verses clearly indicates that faith can neither be isolated nor used as a show of personal holiness. A believer's close walk with Christ must eventually, sooner or later, have an affect on others, not through proclamation, but by action. The light of Christ will shine from the believer as a result of true faith and obedience rather than ritual. Jesus also said at the Sermon on the Mount: "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting....But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting..." (Matthew 6:16-18)

Prayer is action but not a substitute for all action. Private and public actions have an effect, whether we are aware of it or not. David wrote in Psalm 139:4, "Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O LORD." But our lives are not predetermined simply because causality and order operate in this world. One cannot be both deterministic and a Christian. In His great mercy, God stays His judgment so that more may come into a saving knowledge of His Son Jesus Christ. If we allow ourselves to become fatalistic, to convince ourselves we know the exact timing of the final hour, we are hardening our hearts and deluding ourselves into a spiritual isolation. Reality will be all the more brutal if we do so -- the quickening downward spiral of the culture today painfully reminds us that we already have.