Being a Goody Two Shoes in a Wrong-Footed World

shoes“Hey, Brandon,” she said, bouncing up to the counter – not a coworker, but the girlfriend of one, whom I didn’t know from Adam – and said, “Do you know the difference between a cheeseburger and a [sexual reference]?”

I groaned.

No. I do not know the difference between those two things, and I’ve as much desire to find out as to go dumpster-diving in full view of Main Street on rush hour. Which I suppose is not altogether unrelated.

I looked at them with what I hoped was my (increasingly common) world-weary half-grin.

“C’mon. Enough for one night,” I said.

They relented good-naturedly.

I’m trying to be gracious here. I don’t want to be THAT Christian, the one who gets all stunned and debilitated because unbelievers are acting like unbelievers. You have to let this stuff slide off your backs in environments like my second job.

Plus, I actually enjoy this particular coworker. He’s got a lot of character (other than the one-track mind), we work great together, and I do consider him a friend. Burning bridges over this stuff would not do. Not when I’m called to share Christ with the people in my life.

But this stuff does get tiring. Perhaps you relate.

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The 3 Lies Our Media Tells About Evil

rainI’m almost sick to my stomach right now.

Not from an illness, unless you count human depravity an illness.

No, I’m sick from seeing evil.

For some reason, the evil in this world has really decided to wave itself in my face the last couple days. I just got done telling our students in youth group how their generation was having a harder time escaping anxiety and finding peace than any in human history, and that part of the reason was how easily their Facebook news feeds bring evil right to their eyes. It seems that evil was all too eager to prove my own words to me.

Every evil from apathy to foolishness to desperation to sadism. Everywhere on the spectrum.

The cyclist who runs a red light on his bike, across a corner he can’t see around, and then stops to pick a fight with the motorist who calls him out.

The creep who prowls online dating sites looking for someone to scam out of their entire savings, leaving them to pick up the pieces.

The drunk who gets behind the wheel and barrels down Main Street with no thought to what lives and families he might shatter.

The company who afflicts their workers with terminal disease because they’re too cheap to offer occupational safety.

The mother and boyfriend who torture and kill their child.

The pimps who traffic girls of as young as three months old – yes, months – in the sex trade.

It can get really discouraging really quickly.

And on top of that, we have to deal with three very subtle, almost subconscious lies being told by our media and entertainment industries on the nature of evil.

1. It’s winning.

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“Locker Room Talk” Isn’t Okay, Young Men of God – It Is Your Enemy

wastelandIn light of the heart-rending revelations of sexual assault sweeping our nation this fall, it seemed an ideal time to trot this old post back out.

I’m no better.

I have, in the past, engaged in sexual sin. That I’ve never actually touched a woman or behaved like the celebrities currently under society’s microscope? That’s irrelevant. We cannot boast of “lesser sin”. We can only repent and strive.

Fortunately, God and I are winning. At this moment, lust is being held at bay in my life through his power. Praise be to him. And only him.

It is from this freedom that I write to you, young men of God, for you on my heart, and I want you warned.

I’m no stranger to locker room talk. I spent four years in the Air Force, where I spent time in dormitories, hangars, and launch trucks with rough, hard-living men.

Some things don’t necessarily stick. F-bombs roll off my back now; I barely notice.

But their degrading talk of women – the graphic descriptions of pornographic material, the exploits they carried out in college, their contempt for their wives – has been harder to forget. I remain a virgin, but my ears aren’t. I learned way more about the birds and the bees in that truck than I should have. Then it was three years teaching at a rural high school, where the kids had been raised rough and their tongues rougher. Even they knew more about sex than I (and they weren’t afraid to share, even if it cost them a detention). I’m sincerely glad that the blood of Christ and the passing of time are cleansing those memories.

Now, as a youth leader, I’ve been charged with helping to train young men of God, and part of that is instilling respect for your sisters in Christ.

Does respect sound boring?

It’s not. It is a campaign. 

You must be set against the world from an early age, for the world does not play nice. It all may start subtly, a quiet normalization of the sexually charged talk about women. The camaraderie of men in a “safe environment” can grab at you like a riptide, pulling on you before you realize it, especially in a new setting – a new sports team, a new college, a new job where you need to make inroads. Loneliness only intensifies the pull.

It’s harmless, you might hear, because of course those guys would “never” actually do anything to the women they know. Why make a big deal of talk, they may ask? Especially if it takes place outside the hearing of any women (insert joke about tree falling in the woods here)?

The Word shatters the apathy with its answer.

If Jesus tells us that even anger towards your brother is no less destructive than murder (Matthew 5:21-22)…

If Jesus tells us that even looking at a woman lustfully is the same in his eyes as adultery (Matthew 5:27-28)……

If Jesus tells us that what comes from within is what defiles a man (Matthew 15:18-20)…

…then our words have no place in God’s universe.

 

There is a vast operation underway in the spiritual realm. A coordinated effort by our Enemy to destroy the very image of God in the world.

“Now his heart for revenge is to assault beauty.  He destroys it in the natural world wherever he can. Strip mines, oil spills, fires, Chernobyl. He wreaks destruction on the glory of God in the earth like a psychopath committed to destroying great works of art.

But most of all, he hates Eve. Because she is captivating, uniquely glorious, and he cannot be. She is the incarnation of the Beauty of God. More than anything else in all creation, she embodies the glory of God. She allures the world of God. He hates it with a jealousy we can only imagine. (John and Stasi Eldredge, Captivating)

Shall we dirty and sully this reflection of God, young Christian men? Would we tarnish it, treat it as an object for our fulfillment, callously ignore the heart and soul of these precious sisters?

We shall not.

… Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Timothy 5:2)

Timothy was a young man, tender-hearted, possibly feeling out of his depth as pastor of the Ephesus church. Paul assigned him a dizzying standard: absolute purity. It was a standard that would cost him:

…they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:4-5)

Purity would cost him. But Paul knew immorality would cost him more. So he charged him, without apology, with a high but holy calling.

Was this standard unfair? No. It was an honor. We cannot be party to the activities of the enemy. The beauty of woman is under assault, and so is our righteousness as men. The days are short. Life and death are on the tongue.

My refusal to leap into the dissipation in that launch truck wrought a cost upon me. I was mocked, dismissed with a chuckle and a shake of the head. We all know virgins have a stigma in the world.

But I fought. As the jokes rolled on, I fought the corners of my mouth as they tried to raise themselves into an accommodating tweak. Every day. Sometimes I faltered, to the grief of God. But I kept fighting.

I do not say this to brag – merely to offer hope that victory is possible. God can master us, if we let him.

Locker room talk is Satanic. There’s just no other word for it. Look around you at the hearts of women, at the state of marriage in this world. It all looks like Mordor. Desolation everywhere. Did you think locker room talk plays no part in this? Whether it ever permutes into actual sexual assault or not, this talk is unjust, destructive, and sickening in God’s eyes.

I have known young men who brought courage, character, and conviction into their locker rooms. They became leaders there. Sure, they paid a price at first. But they also shone. Do the same. Quietly, grudgingly, but undoubtedly, the world will see you shine, and it will draw them towards Christ.

Let us instead be defenders of our sisters. Let us pay the price in their defense. You want to play the knight? Be prepared to bleed.

Do Even Harder Things

shovelThere’s a book called Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. I’ve heard it cited by a number of hopelessly inspired teenagers who have been drawn out of their comfort zones, I’m intrigued. But I haven’t gotten a chance to read it.

So perhaps it is redundantly that I ask –

Are we really doing hard things?

A young man from our youth group preached a sermon from Acts 10 last night. I hope I’m not simply regurgitating what he said (is that illegal?), for something fell together for me in my own words as I listened, and I’ve got to get it out.

It was not ten chapters into the era of the church, the era of salvation through Christ, that the gospel went from being “just for Jews” to open to all nations. You’d think this turn of events would have been obvious from “and Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth” (1:8). But to get his message across, God orchestrated an encounter between Peter and a Gentile – a centurion of the hated Italian Regiment, natch – and brought the Spirit upon him in full view of Jewish believers. After that, there could be no doubt that the gospel was for Jew and Gentile alike – anyone who would hear the Word and respond.

What’s crazy is that God had to send Peter three visions to get him into position.

Would Peter have gone with Cornelius’ messengers without the visions coming immediately beforehand?

That the visions were needed first – and evidence from his own life – implies that Peter was ready to take the Gospel to his own Jewish countrymen before the Gentiles.

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4 Ways to Glorify God in a Dead End Job

fryerAs long as the lost are working in dead-end jobs, God will be sending his people there.

That should be encouragement – and an alarm bell – for those of us who think that God’s “callings” end in cushy white-collar jobs, or even in sweltering, malnourished foreign nations. You want to get out of your comfort zone? Some of us are far more bugged working the Taco Bell drive-thru than building houses in Mexico. At least Mexico feels like a mission. Service-sector jobs feel like a waiting room at best. Leftovers. And for those who somehow keep circling back around to the same jobs, they can start to feel ominously like destiny. Like the best it’ll ever get.

The glorious reality is that they’re an opportunity. Fertile ground for the gospel of Jesus.

Dead-end jobs are stacked with struggling souls. Some of God’s most inspired evangelists are needed in dead-end jobs. The debt-wracked, the terminally ill, the criminally marred, the addicted, the newly divorced, the ostracized…there are booming, famous preachers who couldn’t begin to understand this stuff. They make their money at a safe distance from the streets. But you’re a different story. You could reach where they couldn’t dream of reaching – and don’t really want to.

Here are four things that a Christian can do to bring the light, and please, don’t let me overstate my own success in these areas. I’m still learning.

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Bloggers As a Church; Are We A Welcoming One?

church3As you know, some Christian blogs contain a “Community” section where other bloggers who follow them can be seen in their “face-tile” form. This human kaleidoscope provides a wonderful portal for surfing WordPress and discovering new blogs.

But it can also throw you for a loop. Some of the blogs you visit are distinctly un-Christian in their content. Sometimes it’s flat-out erotica (flee, men! Not even a hint!). Other times it’s coarse language and brazenly worldly talk. Other blogs are very gracious and gentle in tone, so much so that you feel guilty criticizing, but they do promote pantheistic “many ways to God” and “positive energy” ideas, or simple “inspiration” that’s ultimately empty and powerless to save.

Whatever the case, not all of WordPress clings to the stark, dirty beauty of the cross of Christ – or the glory of his empty tomb. Yet these unbelieving bloggers follow, and consistently like posts from, Christian bloggers whose Bible-derived beliefs leave virtually no room for theirs.

I’ve often wondered what’s going through their minds. Some of them are just hoping for a follow back. But not all of them.

For the past season, I’ve had an unwritten post draft directed towards those unbelieving bloggers. It was a challenge. “Why do you stick around? Do you understand how directly and entirely these Christian precepts contradict your own?” it was going to say, basically. “What are you going to do about these ideas? Why do you keep following and liking when you don’t seem interested in believing?”

And then – and I can only credit the Holy Spirit for breaching my foolishness so eloquently – a question surfaced in my mind in response.

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Never Assume

When I read that Robin Williams had died of suicide, a thought went through my mind that is probably shared by many.

“I had no idea”.

Perhaps at some point I’d fleetingly read that Williams was in rehab from substance abuse, but I had no idea that his addictions were an attempt to fight off depression.

I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest people-reader, and 99% of what I saw of Williams was a performance of some kind. But I have trouble connecting the manic, happy-at-all-the-wrong-times boom of “Aladdin”‘s Genie to a depressed soul. The man’s calling was to cheer people up. He was so gifted at it. He had so much admiration from people. It was hard to guess what was under the surface the whole time, that the great well of humor and compassion from which he enriched others belied a different internal reality. I so wish I’d known him; I wish I’d had a chance to build him up.

It’s a reminder to me that we must never assume.

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