Thursday, May 19, 2011

Character is more than who you are when you're all alone. It's also knowing when you shouldn't be alone.

This week at Southland, we will continue our series on Living Virtuously in a Virtual World. Such a series would be incomplete if it did not include a discussion about how Christians should respond to the proliferation of pornography on the Web. Pornography is nothing new. My guess is that as soon as human beings figured out how to draw pictures, they started drawing dirty pictures. What’s new is the volume of dirty pictures that are now available with just the click of a button.

While statistics on pornography prove to vary wildly depending upon the source, many estimates put the number of pornographic websites in the millions. One article in Christianity Today noted that 60% of the sites on the Internet are sexual in nature. That same article noted that the danger is not just for men. The numbers of women addicted to pornography is on the rise. I have no idea of knowing the accuracy of these statements, I do know from my experience as a minister and from interactions with other ministers that pornography is wreaking havoc on our marriages, our families, and our souls.

How can Christians be faithful to Christ’s call to honor God with our bodies? We’ll explore that topic more broadly on Sunday, but a simple word to start the discussion today. We don’t do it alone. God gives us his Spirit, who both forgives our sins and empowers us to new life. And God gives us one another. I always heard that character is who you are when no one is looking. While there is some truth to that statement, I’ve come to think there is a needed corollary. Character can also involve knowing when you shouldn’t be alone. Think about it. When an alcoholic says, “I need help in staying sober,” that person has shown character. He or she isn’t weak but wise.

As we’ll talk about on Sunday, God made us with strong sexual desires. Often, if left to ourselves, we will seek to satisfy those desires in ways that pervert God’s intentions. We need help. We need people who can help us stay accountable to one another and to God’s ways. As far as the internet goes, one of the ways we can do that is through internet accountability programs. Programs like Covenant Eyes or Safe Eyes, don’t filter internet use so much as they bring it into the light. You install the program on your computer and then put in a trusted friend’s e-mail knowing that they will get a log of every sight you visit. It’s like having someone constantly look over your shoulder which is what some of us need.

Again, such a move isn’t a sign of weakness, but of wisdom that says a God kind of life happens best when lived via the community of faith.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

There's always more to say - another thought on sarcasm

In last Sunday's (5/8/11) sermon, I spoke about practicing kindness in a world that favors snarkiness. One area of our language that I took particular aim at was sarcasm. This wasn’t the only form of unkindness we spoke of, but rather just one example of our culture’s propensity to elevate oneself by putting others down. This week proved that the topic of sarcasm in our culture probably can’t be covered in a forth of a sermon. As is the case with every sermon ever preached, there is more to say, more to think about.

One, this week confirmed that sarcasm is everywhere. Before the day was even over on Sunday, Alyson had caught me in several acts of sarcasm. Throughout this week, in staff meeting and in conversations with others, it’s been noted time and time again how sarcastic we all are.

Two, this week proved that not every bit of sarcasm feels the same. Some of our sarcasm fits exactly what I was talking about on Sunday – it’s mean spirited; it has a victim; it is meant to elevate oneself above another. Thanks to God’s grace, I’ve caught myself this week before I uttered a phrase like this. I feel better, no mark that, I am a better person for having bit my tongue. But not all sarcasm fits that category. Sometimes what we call sarcasm is just a light hearted comment about a light hearted topic. I’m not sure such comments even deserve the title sarcasm and aren’t what I’m worried about. Such levity can be joyful part of life.

How can we tell the difference between that which tears down and that which lightens the mood? How do we know what kinds of sarcasm to avoid? There’s probably no hard and fast rule, but the actual definition of sarcasm helps – “Harsh or bitter derision or irony; a sharply ironical taunt; a sneering or cutting remark.” In the Latin it means to rend the flesh of something or someone. Compare that to 1 Peter 3:8-9 and I think with a little help from the Spirit, we can know exactly when to speak and when to hold our tongues: “Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that's your job, to bless. You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing” (from The Message).

For an fair and thorough look at the topic of irony and the Christian, read Brett McCracken’s “The Importance of Being Earnest for an Irony-Obsessed Generation

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Love never delights in evil

In a world of technological advances, it is easy to fall into the temptation of forgetting that the greatest wisdom often comes with age. While it’s true that if you need help figuring out how to send a text on your newest cell phone you should probably ask someone under the age of 15, it’s equally true that in regards to the deeper truths of life, age can often give us a perspective of deep wisdom.

Take for instance the preacher Haddon Robinson’s thoughts on what fuels so many websites’ popularity. The 80 year-old recently noted in a sermon, “We often take consolation in someone else’s failure. Doing that is not loving; it is the essence of selfishness. But we live in a culture that tempts us to do that, a culture that majors in looking at other people’s failures. Survey the blog world. You’ll discover that most blogs focus on what a politician or a celebrity or a preacher has done wrong. They’d soon go out of business if they only talked about what other people did well.”

I don’t know how much pastor Robinson knows about computers, but he knows an awful lot about the people who use those computers. He knows how often we, because of envy or insecurities, delight in other’s troubles. He’s, no doubt, been watching people do that for decades. Robinson also knows his Bible well. He knows that love never delights in evil, but rejoices with the truth. If we want to love like God loves, then we won’t delight when other people crash and burn, even if those people are our enemies. Instead, we will be a people who long for goodness and mercy and the love of God to prevail in every person’s life.