Narcotics for Man's Soul, Part 2


In an article written last year for her Small Business Trends weblog, Anita Campbell charted the steady growth of Halloween-themed superstores in the United States. The most salient statistic she cited was this one from the National Retail Federation: U.S. Halloween sales in 2004 totaled $3.12 billion. That figure was expected to rise 5.4% this year to $3.29 billion. Various surveys report that 50-60% of Americans celebrate Halloween every year. Over the last decade, Halloween has expanded the holiday shopping window so that Christmas, once known as a religious holiday, is now mostly the culmination of two months of hyper-aggressive retail marketing and unchecked consumer spending.

Halloween's fast-rising popularity in the U.S. (and the U.K.*) clearly reflects the cultural trends toward religious/spiritual pluralism, moral equivalency, and the erosion of absolute truth. The occult origins of Halloween are generally well-known to Christians if not always taken seriously. Halloween's speciality — desensitizing children and adolescents to the morbid and grotesque — should be a particular source of consternation for believers.

In spite of all this, Europe — whose descent into the spiritual dark ages predates America's — is still not entirely taken with Halloween. While some of that is due to Europe's ingrained resistance to American cultural exports, the contrast highlights America's unrivaled material wealth. The lusts of the eyes wield a greater sphere of influence than the occult. Ghosts and goblins rather rely on the worship of the modern-day idols of consumer culture. Worldliness opens men up to spiritual attack and can lead them down the road to the occult.

When the occult is co-opted by consumerism (Halloween, Harry Potter), it flies under the radar. The occult appeals to overt spiritual rebellion. The consumer culture, on the other hand, subtly and gradually takes our eyes off of Christ's Lordship and God's Word. Spotting the dangers of materialism can be tricky because it's usually not about the thing itself, but our orientation to that thing.

Material comforts have created an insatiable appetite for constant entertainment and the acquisition of newer and "better" things, and Halloween is yet another link in that chain. It's a chain that's squeezing the truth out of American churches. (See the many frightful examples at Ingrid Schlueter's Slice of Laodicea.)

Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:25) A little perspective: America is the richest nation in the history of the world.

*One columnist for London's Independent laments the Halloween craze.

Narcotics for Man's Soul

The Devil's Bait Box


At the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called Andrew and Simon Peter — fishermen both — to His ministry with these immortal words: "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17)

Lucifer, whose burning ambition was to be like "the Most High" (Isaiah 14:14), has been fishing for the souls of men for thousands of years. Not having God's grace and omnipotence at his disposal, the prince of this world avails himself of the carnal to snag what is beneath the surface — the spirit.

James warned believers of the devil's fishing expeditions (James Chapter One):

13 When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
14 But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.
15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
To the devil, Christians are big fish in a sea of souls. This cunning fisherman knows precisely which kinds of bait work for which kinds of fish. The devil plies souls with bait for the mind and body. These are the three lusts of 1 John 2:16 (KJV): "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."

If a Christian, once ensnared, relies on his own strength instead of God's to break free of the hook, he will find his strength sapping away to the point of spiritual dissolution. Likewise, if that Christian's life is oriented to morals, works, blessings, and guilt rather than to God's Truth and Grace, he will find himself carried away. He can be broken down the same as the smaller fish.

Inside the devil's bait box we can find:

Possessions (the eyes): Materialism. More than ever, the world is filled with amazing things, from the finest of fine arts and food to the highest in high-tech gadgets. This bait performs quite well: big moral issues are seemingly absent (the moral neutrality argument), while material excess can be disguised as blessings. (See prosperity gospel.) Blessings are worshipped; debt and disillusionment follow.

Pleasure (the flesh): Hedonism. Very colorful and seductive. The most obvious bait, yet still very effective on Christians (particularly the weary or worldly). Attached to an especially deadly hook. Aided and abetted by the internet and relaxing social codes, pornography has become the drug du jour of the 21st century, cutting a swath through churches. Drugs, gambling, alcohol, and sexual promiscuity also get their fair share of bites. Cycles of addiction and guilt reel in its victims.

Power (pride): Vanity. Power can be big or small, but is always defined by the illusion of control. It can be based on intellect, looks, ambition, money, or anything that the self can use to its advantage. Subtlest of all the baits. It circumvents danger receptors by turning the victim's gaze onto itself. Christians high on their morality might find themselves on the hook here. Sufficiently weakened, they may succumb to the other baits.

Multiple baits may be required to get that lethal hook in, and the devil will use all of them if he has to.

Schapelle Corby: Year One


On October 8, 2004, Bali customs officers found 4.1 kg of marijuana in an unlocked surf bag owned by Schapelle Corby, a 27-year-old Australian beauty student. Today, a little over a year later, the Bali High Court reduced her 20-year prison sentence to 15. Corby and her family continue to maintain her innocence and plan to appeal to Indonesia's Supreme Court in Jakarta. Her defense has argued all along that drug smugglers planted the drugs in her luggage.

Bali has found itself at the center of the news of late. Nearly two weeks ago, terrorist bombs ripped through this small Indonesian island, killing 19 and injuring scores more. Popular with foreign tourists, particularly Australians, Bali is also known for having a mostly Hindu population in a predominantly Muslim country. Today is also the third anniversary of terrorist attacks that killed 202 people in Bali. Both incidents are linked to al Qaeda.

In a prison interview given a few days before today's sentence reduction, Schapelle Corby revealed that the apostle Paul's instruction to "be not conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2) has been a source of comfort and added, "It means you can be born again." She went on to say:

I was never a believer at all. I always thought it was just rubbish. But now it has made a big difference to me. I pray first thing in the morning. I pray at night. I pray for the other people in here.
Prison conversions are often met with skepticism. When people say, "we must make the most of the time we have," paraphrasing Ephesians 5:15-16, we usually think of death. But lengthy or harsh imprisonment, like a terminal illness, strips away the cares of this world and reduces life to its barest essentials, i.e., the big questions we do our best to avoid on a day-to-day basis.

For those believers enjoying relative freedom and health, Schapelle Corby's terrible fate should underscore the importance of focusing energy on Godly purpose, before it's too late to do anything about it.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner


The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is the title of an Alan Sillitoe short story, published in 1959 and later adapted into a motion picture of the same name (pictured left). Much like its American counterpart Catcher in the Rye, this tale of nonconformity often finds itself on the reading lists of university professors. The story's humanist credentials notwithstanding, the words of the title form an evocative metaphor for Christian living.

Many a sermon have touched upon the Apostle Paul's use of racing metaphor to illustrate God's purpose in his life and in the lives of believers. In Acts 20:24, he told the Ephesian elders, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."

To stress the importance of Christian maturity and perseverance to overcoming life's difficulties and temptations, Paul invoked the training and discipline required of an athlete: "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air." (1 Corinthians 9:25-26)

The 1981 film "Chariots of Fire," which chronicled the true story of Scots Olympian-turned-Christian missionary Eric Liddell, famously employed Paul's metaphor for dramatic effect. In the movie, Liddell says to a group of people, "One day, like the Apostle Paul, I pray I will be able to say, 'I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.' May that victory be yours as well."

In real life, Liddell revealed a deeper understanding of Scripture and Godly purpose when he wrote:

My whole life had been one of keeping out of public duties, but the leading of Christ seemed now to be in the opposite direction, and I shrank from going forward. At this time I finally decided to put it all on Christ. After all, if He called me to do it, then he would have to supply the necessary power.

In going forward, the power was given me. Since then, the consciousness of being an active member of the Kingdom of Heaven has been very real. New experiences of the grace of God, sense of sin, wonders of the Bible have come from time to time. All these fresh experiences have given me fresh visions of our Lord.
Born-again Christians feel a keen sense of isolation, for no longer are they enslaved to the spirit of this world. The world cannot understand a believer's struggle between the carnal and the spiritual — a struggle which Paul so eloquently summarizes in 2 Corinthians 12:10: "For when I am weak, then I am strong." The world may comprehend the Law and the breaking of the Law, but it does not comprehend the Holy Spirit and the grieving of the Holy Spirit.

A.W. Tozer perceived the profound loneliness that born-again believers can feel, even in the company of nominal Christians:
The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share his inner experiences he is forced to walk alone. The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way....

In 1492, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue...


Come the second Monday in October, the United States still celebrates — albeit nominally — Christopher Columbus. The iconic explorer from Genoa has become something like the eccentric relative no one talks to at family gatherings. This is a great success for secularists who view Columbus as the point man for European conquest and disease, Manifest Destiny, and worst of all, the spread of Christianity.

More accurately, the conquistadors who followed Columbus brought Catholicism to the New World. (Credit the English Puritans for bringing Biblical Christianity to America.) The marriage of Catholicism with the indigenous religions of Central and South America continues to hold an entire region in spiritual bondage.

Secular historians do not condemn Columbus solely because he ushered in large-scale bloodshed and military and religious oppression — both sides were guilty of that. Besides, the European colonizers actually failed to sever the spiritual bonds of the native heathen religions. No, they hate Columbus for what he represents: Christianity's predominance in the Western hemisphere and the ephemeral nature of man's civilizations.

Academics rue the fall of the Aztec and Inca civilizations to the European invaders. But the Bible presents lost civilizations — from Egypt to Judah to Babylon — as examples of man's innate waywardness and the workings of Divine Judgment. The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) is the primary example of man's misguided attempt to substitute worldly accomplishment for God. The facts of history fly in the face of the modernists' progressive theory of man. Secular historians ignore the inherent shelf life of sinful human societies and blame other factors such as Christianity ("superstition" they call it).

The last thing secularists want to blame for the downfall of a pagan society is paganism itself. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, Incas...the list goes on. The practice of human sacrifice and the worship of idols and demons sealed the fate of many of these grand ancient cultures. Sounds not unlike a certain powerful nation of today, doesn't it?