Being Ministry Minded…

When my grandpa called tonight to catch up on how my life has been going, I didn’t really have much to say. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to tell him anything; it was because I didn’t really have anything to say. I’ve gone to work, hung out with friends from time to time, and then gone to bed. Given my day-to-day routine, my life really is boring.

And yet, after hanging up, I realized there are a couple things going on in my life. For one, I’m finally doing the necessary stuff to land a professional-type job (and striking out miserably). For another, I’ve once again felt the tug toward pastoral ministry. In case you’re wondering, pastoral ministry is a profession of sorts, but it doesn’t pay very well… if at all.

Thinking back to what I was doing at Calvary, I actually do miss the Sunday mornings in kid’s ministry – either with the 3rd graders who have a ton of energy or the high school kids who couldn’t stay awake. I loved cracking open my Bible every week and preparing some sort of lesson or message – even if it wasn’t very well put together. It forced me to be more intentional in my every day life. And heck, it was a far better alternative to working 50-hour weeks… Oh wait, I did that, too 😦

A question that is wrapped up with the spiritual tug toward ministry, though, is where do I start? Right now I don’t have a church home – haven’t even been to church in over a month. And even if I had found a new church to plug into, who’s to say they’d need someone to step into a leadership role? And given my views on Scripture, who’s to say they’d want me to lead a ministry even if they needed someone?

Two years ago on Cross Training’s summer retreat, Darrin Ratcliff shared a message out of Luke 9:10-17; an account of when Jesus fed five thousand men. It was a busy day of Him preaching to a ton of people and probably posing for a few pictures and giving a few autographs – you know the usual antiquity stuff. But then His disciples started getting hungry so they asked Jesus to send everyone on lunch so they could eat. Jesus’ words to them, I think, are His words to us all: “You give them something to eat.”

Darrin’s whole message was wrapped around this one verse solely to say that Jesus gives us the power to do great things like feeding thousands of people if we only do two things: Believe and act. Feeding the crowds and even themselves didn’t need to be delegated to another ministry within the church; they were more than capable of doing it themselves. I think it’s the same for ministry.

Actually, I think it’s the same for any particular profession or career or dream or whatever it is you feel your heart tugging you towards. God wants us to know that if He wills it and we believe and then act upon it, then great things are going to happen. Ministry – not just for me, but for everyone serving the Lord – begins with us. It goes with us as we head off to work or school. It’s right there with us when we’re tired and don’t want to do anything. It’s staring at us as we complain about whatever, saying, “Really?” Ministry isn’t just some profession that those Bible-thumpers do to keep themselves occupied; it’s an essential part to the individual’s Christian identity.

Essentially, in my case, the kind of man I wish to preach to others is the kind of man I need to be – that is, the Christ-like man. If I’m going to talk about the poison of lust or coveting or greed or arrogance or anything else that hinders a walk with Christ, I had better be backing it up with a corresponding lifestyle. I can’t be caught up in watching porn when I’m lonely, stealing money from the tithe box because I think I’ve earned it, or thinking myself a better man than most because of a pastoral platform. Ministry, as I see it, is proactively living the repentant lifestyle on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis. No exceptions.

What this does not mean is that as Christians we’re supposed to be perfect in every way, wherever, whenever. We might frequently try to live such a life, but the truth of Christianity is really stating the obvious: Man is flawed. What Jesus promises, though, is something that is rarely found anywhere else: Grace.

Sure, your boss may forgive you for a few small mistakes here and there, but there’s always a limit to that kind of grace. And society may forgive the married celebrity or the married athlete for the occasional drunken night, but when you have a sex scandal involving many women over a long period of time society does not let you go – no matter how hard you work to redeem your reputation. And yet Jesus’ outstretched arms remain… no matter how many times you mess up.

“If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinkin’,” – John Mark McMillan, “How He Loves”

If grace is an ocean, as the song says, then we really are sinking. We’re not treading water at the surface trying to go it alone, be independent, and prove that we don’t need God. We’re sinking. We’re drowning. Spiritually speaking, we’re dying to ourselves – the selves that feed off of lust, pride, greed, or any sin you might think of. It involves humility, allowing ourselves to be corrected, and enduring – no matter how many things trip us up.

No, I’m not suggesting we take a plunge into the ocean, a river, or even our bathtubs and drown ourselves. I’m saying that in order to enact the Christian life and thereby bring into being God’s kingdom “as it is in heaven,” then we must start with ourselves. We must call ourselves out before anyone else does – regardless of whether or not we’re pastors or congregants. We must be well practiced with admitting our own faults and failures – not with the tone of guilt and shame, but with sincere honesty. And every time we make these admissions of ourselves, we must immediately allow Him – God, Hope Eternal – to speak into our own hearts and revive our souls.

I’ve said all of this to simply say that while I am again feeling the tug toward pastoral ministry, I can start living out that lifestyle right now. I can start training myself spiritually as an athlete training for a race. I can start disciplining myself to remain humble and self-controlled, lest whatever I might preach or write become void (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

As I said earlier, this is not limited to pastoral ministry. Whatever you’ve felt within your heart that you’re called to do, whatever your tug may be, that will be your ministry. And as Jesus implies to us in Luke 9, He’s given us all that we need to do great things: Himself.

God bless.

Breathing Deep This Sunday Morning…

You’ve probably seen the billboards or TV ads or internet ads or maybe you’ve seen their street preachers passing out flyers and whatnot about May 21st, 2011. If not, then you should know that this Saturday is the day when the world is supposed to end and Jesus Christ will return to bring judgment and condemnation on the earth. At least, that’s what Harold Camping has predicted.

Normally I poke fun at predictions like this. I personally deem it impossible for us to truly know when “the end” will come or how it will arrive. But I do know that Jesus didn’t know. And if He didn’t know, then how could any of us? Not only that, why should we know when He’s coming back and not Him? In fact, Jesus explicitly says that no one knows except the father (Mark 13:32). He goes a step further in Acts to say that we aren’t supposed to; “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority,” (1:7). And while I’d like to bash this belief about Saturday completely, I think Sunday morning will speak for itself.

And devastate the faiths of many.

What do I mean? Harold Camping and his fellow campers (those who believe his prediction) are going to have their worlds rocked when the sun rises on May 22nd. Everything that their beliefs were founded upon will be torn apart and ripped to pieces. Like many who were raised by fundamentalists and yet felt cheated later in life after discovering the “truth,” these believers might not know how to function Sunday morning – or they’ll continue believing in Harold Camper’s words and think that they apparently weren’t good enough and were subsequently “left behind.” No matter what happens, these believers will probably feel terrible about themselves and their beliefs Sunday morning.

But what if it happens?

Good question – in fact, that’s the question I’ve had in my mind these past couple of days. What if Jesus does return to bring His judgment upon the earth? The very next question I immediately think of is: Am I truly ready to stand before Him? Have I run this race of faith as well as I possibly could or have I been really good at carrying the image or façade of it all? When Jesus looks at my track record – even if He isn’t going to pour out His wrath on me (whatever that means) – is He going to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?

Herein lies the one benefit I’ve found from this Judgment Day belief about May 21st: On some level, it compels one to reevaluate their life to see whether it has been Christ-like or not. No, I’m not going to subscribe to the “Camper” theology about this Saturday; but I have done some thinking about how I’ve been living. And honestly, I haven’t been doing well.

I’ve cursed. I’ve slandered. I’ve wasted time on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, YouTube, or just the internet in general. I’ve wasted time watching countless hours of TV. I’m glad I don’t have a TV in my room otherwise there’d be even more time wasted playing Tiger Woods ’04. I’ve lusted after women who aren’t my wife (not married, so really any sexual urges about any woman is wrong). And I’ve simply disregarded the work God has called me to do: Write like crazy; invest in relationships; and be vocally honest about myself.

If Jesus does return Saturday at 6pm, I don’t think I’ll be standing to face Him.

And yet here’s another problem I have with the “Camper” theology; it gives strong guilt-trips to all subscribers – at least, indirectly. Repentance isn’t self-deprecation; it’s feeling a God-given conviction that leads one to change, to spiritually turn around, and follow after the Way of Jesus. It’s not beating yourself up for all the sins you’ve committed in your entire lifetime; it’s accepting that you’re wayward and in need of correction. And what the cross of Christ offers isn’t simply a “get out of jail free” card; it’s the opportunity to truly make that turn-around of repentance.

I will never subscribe to a belief like Camping’s, but I’m compelled to engage this life that I’ve been given a little more intentionally. I don’t know if there’s a chance to turn around after I die, but I know that this life does matter. Sunday morning will be different for a lot of Camping followers, but I think it should be a check point for all Christ followers. In all probability, Saturday night will come and go just like any other night. But perhaps we should take the time to reflect. Perhaps, if we haven’t already, we should turn around.

God bless.

***I could write a lot more, but I think this blog sums up this Saturday.

Baptism Part 4: Common Judaism and Qumran…

After a month-long hiatus from baptism postings, I’ve decided to start them up again. Below is a condensed version of the second section of my Dead Sea Scrolls paper on ritual immersion. This is a long read, so I recommend you take it bit by bit. And as always, feel free to ask questions. Enjoy!

P.S. In case you haven’t yet read the other posts, here they are: Introduction, Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Below is Part Four and I’d recommend reading it a while before and/or after lunch… Just sayin’…


In order to see just how different the immersion practices at Qumran were, we must first understand the context surrounding the Dead Sea sectarians. During this time period (referred to as the “Second Temple time period” or “Second Temple Judaism,” which dates roughly from the 6th c. BC to the 1st c. AD), there was a great diversity of Jewish groups in and around Jerusalem and yet, there was something held in common. E.P. Sanders, a prominent figure in this field, calls this “Common Judaism.” To him, it was an era in which ordinary Jews “worked at their jobs, they believed the Bible, they carried out the small routines and celebrations of the religion, they prayed every day, thanked God for his blessings, and on the Sabbath went to the synagogue, asked teachers questions, and listened respectfully,” (Practice and Belief, 494).

A better way to understand Sanders’ words is to depict a group sitting around a camp fire. These people, all Jews, are from all over the Roman Empire sitting at this one camp fire. What Common Judaism asks is: Could there be common ground found amongst these Jews – even though they grew up in very different parts of the Empire? Or, specifically dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls, could a regular Jew come across the practices at Qumran and understand what was going on? We come to find out that the existence of the Qumran sectarian depended upon a common understanding of Judaism.

To help outline what seemed to be common in regards to purity laws, I follow an outline given by Hannah K. Harrington in her book, The Purity Texts. Calling them the “Levels of Impurity,” she gives three main points: sources, contagion, and purification. Following these three points, we’ll see how the Yahad (“community”) distinguished themselves from “Common Judaism” in their ritual purification practices.

Sources:

Although not a very popular read, Leviticus 11-15 outlines the main purity laws, which Jews in the Second Temple period made an emphasis to follow. From this section alone, we also see three main sources of impurity; death, leprosy, and bodily discharges. Sources of impurity at Qumran, however, have two more; excrement and outsiders. Rabbinic Jews regarded excrement as indecent (Deut. 23:12-14), but it wasn’t technically a source of impurity. Likewise for the treatment of outsiders; the Torah does not explicitly state that outsiders are impure, but as we shall see in certain scrolls, they certainly were treated as impure at Qumran.

Excrement

Three major passages within the Hebrew Bible that highlight the indecency of excrement are; Deut. 23:12-14, Ezek. 4:12-14, and Zech. 3:3-4. It is likely these passages inspired the Qumran sectarians to regard excrement as impure, but what’s necessary here is the tone each of these sets. Deuteronomy requires Israelites to relieve themselves outside the war camp because God was present amongst the camp; excrement would be “indecent” in the eyes of God (v. 14). Ezekiel was commanded by God to eat bread baked on human dung, which repulsed Ezekiel on the grounds that his mouth had never been defiled. In Zechariah’s example, Joshua is standing before the Lord in a “filthy” garment and is changed into a clean one. It isn’t surprising for a common Jew to regard excrement as indecent, but the Community at Qumran went a step further.

Following the example from Deuteronomy, the Yahad had an area outside their camp designated for relieving oneself – and the only place to do so. And with a miqveh located at the entryway to the camp grounds, one who needed to relieve himself would go through the ritual purification process to re-enter back into the community, which seems to follow Zechariah’s story. Harrington says this designated area was located no closer than 4500 feet from the camp. Not only is that a long walk, but on Sabbaths, one could not walk more than 3500 feet (4Q265: 7), which means no one relieved themselves on the Sabbath (that’s when I’d stop being part of the Yahad, I think).

Outsiders

According to the Torah, Gentiles were allowed to live amongst the Israelites, but the daughters descending from Canaan were forbidden as wives to the Israelites. This was not for the sake of purity, but rather the belief that Canaan’s daughters were thought to persuade the sons of Israel into idolatry. This is possibly the influence for the Qumran Community to regard all Gentiles as inherently impure. The Damascus Document says that no member of the Community could send a Gentile to do his business on the Sabbath (11:2); spend the Sabbath near pagans (11:14); or sell animals, slaves or produce to Gentiles (12:8-11). And yet, as Harrington carefully points out, “Jews [were still] admonished by the Scrolls not to treat Gentiles unfairly so as not to give them a reason to blaspheme the God of Israel (12:6-8),” (Purity Texts, 114).

With two additional sources to the original list, the Scrolls indicate that the Qumran sectarians had a sort of “better safe than sorry” theme in their day-to-day conduct. An example that might shed a little light onto what this might have looked like comes from Luke 11: 37-38; “While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And yet, the Qumran sectarians weren’t about sheer avoidance from impurity; there was a purpose, a direction they had within all of it.

Contagions:

In regards to ritual purity, contagions are not the same as sources. According to the Leviticus chapters on purity laws, sources rendered one impure while contagions were whatever that impure person touched or came into contact with in that state of impurity. If someone had come into contact with death, they would be considered impure as well as everything they touched (clothes, household objects, other people, etc.). In Common Judaism, a dead man’s house was considered impure along with everything in it – except for sealed containers (i.e. food or wine). But at Qumran, such a qualification did not matter; sealed or not sealed, if it was in the man or woman’s house, it was impure.

Along with a more extreme treatment of contagious objects and items, the Temple Scroll indicates certain camps designed to house the impure; “And in every city you will make places for those afflicted with skin disease, plague, or a scall who are not to enter you[r] cities and defile them,” (11Q19 48:14-15a). Ian Werrett says these quarantine camps would include “those with skin diseases, bodily discharges, women who were menstruating, and those who had recently given birth,” (Ritual Purity and the DSS, 153-154). The hemorrhaging woman in the Synoptic Gospels, if a part of the Essenes, would never have been healed; she would never have been allowed to leave her quarantined spot.

Purification:

As was already indicated in Part Three, repentance would make or break the sectarian’s experience and pursuit of purity. In many ways, it was the added element that truly enabled one to enter the “highway” preparing the entrance for God into the world. To the Qumran Community, ritual purity was not a system to be worked; it was a lifestyle to be lived. It was a gradual alteration of identity hinged upon one’s repentant heart and mind. As some scholars have speculated, the group at Qumran was out in the wilderness partially due to what they believed as the erroneous treatment of the Temple by the chief priests and “seekers of smooth things,” which was a rhetorical way of referring to the Pharisees (4Q169). Practicing ritual purification intertwined with a repentant heart and mind was everything to the Community at Qumran. As Harrington says, “[W]ithout repentance, immersion was meaningless,” (Purity Texts, 23).

Here is where we begin to see the similarities within Qumran’s literature and the personality of John the Baptist – as depicted in all the Gospels. I’ll save this comparison for the next post on baptism, but what’s important here is the emphasis on the necessity of a repentant mindset and state of heart before ritual immersion could affect anything in a person’s purity. Unlike the Rabbinic Jews, who sought to “interpret the gaps in Scripture [in order to create] a workable system,” the Qumran community saw purity as more than a system; it was the pathway to God’s kingdom (Harrington, Impurity Systems, 115). And this pathway required an “upright and humble condition of the heart during immersion,” (Pfann, 2).

Rebuking My Self-Righteous Nature…

We never discussed this at length in class, but there have been several lectures with Dr. Falk wherein the Book of Jonah has come into the discussion. I’ve read the book only a handful of times, but I’m familiar with the basic storyline: Jonah is called to preach to the rebellious city of Nineveh, doesn’t want to, gets swallowed by a fish, pops out three days later, and then preaches to Nineveh and sees them repent at his message. Of course there probably some details I’m leaving out, but what caught my attention today was a mixture of things: Luke 11:29-32 and Dr. Falk’s interpretation of Jonah.

It was during my freshman year, taking his Intro to the Bible class, that I first heard an alternative outlook to Jonah. Up until that point my understanding of the text had been very surface level; Jonah’s three days spent in the belly of a fish was to foreshadow Jesus’ three days spent in the tomb. Nineveh’s repentance was to likewise foreshadow the repentance of the Gentiles (at least, as far as I understood it anyway). What Dr. Falk suggested in one lecture was quite surprising to my surface-level understanding of the text. What he suggested was that Jonah’s book may have functioned more rhetorically than literally. It’s central message? It was telling the people of Israel that if God so chose to forgive such a nation as the Ninevites, then Israel had no option but to be okay with that.

Honestly, Falk’s perspective isn’t necessarily a contrary opinion of Jonah; all of these elements could be there in the text at the same time (i.e. foreshadowing of the 3-days in the grave, repentance of the Gentiles, and – what I got from Falk – rebuke of religious self-righteousness). It just came as a significant difference, though, when the only interpretation I had been exposed to was the foreshadowing of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (the 3-days thing). When I was reading through Luke 11 earlier today, I tried to think of Jesus’ reference to the “sign” not in terms of the 3-days’ thing, but in terms of the rebuke of religious self-righteousness.

Last night I watched a small video clip from one of Mark Driscoll’s latest sermons about heaven and hell. Yes, he and Mars Hill are currently working through the Gospel of Luke verse by verse and it just so happened that the topic became heaven and hell. But clearly – at least indicated from the video clip – this was in response to the Rob Bell drama. In the wake of watching this video clip, I wrote out a blog post. I read a lot of Scripture (specifically dealing with heaven and hell language) and was ready to argumentatively dismantle certain comments on the video. And then I read through Luke 11 in light of Falk’s view. I deleted the 1,500-word post.

Perhaps Jesus isn’t just referring to His death, resurrection, and the repentance of the Gentiles. Perhaps He’s also saying, “Take a lesson from Jonah; his self-righteousness hindered him from having the heart of God.” Whether we’re right about hell being an eternal place of conscious punishment or not is irrelevant; what is relevant is whether or not we’re willing to subject ourselves to God’s sovereignty. If He decides that certain people are righteous even though we don’t think they are, who are we to really say anything different?

Like the ancient Jews reading through the book of Jonah, perhaps we need to be reminded that – especially with the often heated discussion of heaven and hell – it’s God who has sovereignty; not our doctrines, dogmas, and systematic theologies. Christ didn’t die so that we could be Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes all over again; He died to liberate us from that pathetically-religious mindset. He came so that we could truly have abundant life.

God bless.

Water’s Washing Power: An Introduction to Qumran Immersions and Christian Baptisms…

On May 12th, 2002, I was baptized into Christianity. I awkwardly stood at the front of the congregation in my swim trunks and cut-off t-shirt while everyone else watched in their Sunday best. It wasn’t any regular Sunday either; it was Mother’s Day. Lots of perfume, flowers, and girls sitting with watchful eyes. You see, I grew up in a congregation of roughly 15 people that came every Sunday. On that particular day there were close to 50 or so in the small little church. I was a bit nervous.

After I was dunked, people cheered and thus began my walk with God. For a long time I didn’t think much of my baptism; I thought it was just something one is supposed to do in order to be a part of the group. Mere paperwork for attaining membership. And now, almost nine years of walking with God, I suddenly had an interest in the meaning of getting dunked for Jesus.

This winter term I took two classes from Dr. Daniel Falk (my favorite professor): Early Christian Religion and Dead Sea Sectarian (REL 414 and 412 respectively). In the first week of classes I immediately caught on to one major similarity: Isaiah 40:3. It says, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” For Christian readers, we immediately think of John the Baptist as this voice in the wilderness (Mark 1:2-4). But what I found remarkable about the Community at Qumran was that they also refer to this verse:

“And when these [initiates] become members of the Community in Israel according to these rules, they shall separate from the habitation of unjust men and shall go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written, ‘Prepare in the wilderness the way of… make straight in the desert a path for our God.’ This (path) is the study of the Law which He commanded by the hand of Moses, that they may do according to all that has been revealed from age to age, and as the Prophets have revealed by His Holy Spirit,” – Community Rule, 8:13-16a (or 1QS 8:13-16a – I’ll explain in another post).

This striking similarity began an interest in baptism because John was baptizing and Qumran, as I would later discover, had a lot of ritual immersion pools – either 10 or 11, which Hannah K. Harrington (a scholar on the purity laws in the DSS) indicates that given the small size of the community (big enough for about 200 people) is the greatest number of miqva’ot (Jewish term for immersion pools – plural; miqveh – singular) in one condensed location. This said to me that the Qumran sectarian group was stringent about purity laws, even adding their own (Harrington–The Purity Texts, 19).

Digging a little deeper, I found ritual immersion to be already extremely important in Judaism. Boaz Zissu and David Amit note 220 ritual baths that archaeologists have discovered in the Judean Hills and in the Land of Benjamin (Common Judaism, 49). So what made Qumran so different? And since the Qumran community existed roughly around the time of Jesus, then we can begin to ask the question, what made the Christian baptism so different? As I argued in both my papers from this past term, Qumran utilized ritual immersion to keep themselves, as God’s “highway,” clean and clear for His kingdom to enter; early Christianity utilized baptism in order to signify one’s death to the old life of sin and rise to new life specifically in the name of Jesus.

There is a lot of information regarding these two directions, so I have no idea how long of a series this is going to be; I just know it’s going to be several posts. For those who aren’t familiar with the Dead Sea Scrolls or Qumran, don’t worry; I’ll explain. Teaching on that subject alone will take two, possibly three, posts alone. But what I think first needs to be explained is the major emphasis on ritual purity in what scholars call “Common Judaism,” – a time period in which a familiar system to all Jews was in place. This is the time period that the Qumran sectarians distinguished themselves from the “common Jew,” and from which Christians would also come to distinguish themselves. “Common Judaism,” as already indicated, had a major emphasis on ritual purity; so I find it to be a foundation for understanding both Qumran and Christianity.

What’s also important, especially for early Christianity, was the importance of ritual purity in the Greco-Roman society. I did not realize this before, but apparently it was extremely important to the average pagan to be cleansed with water in a ritual purity act before dealing with “sacred” things (i.e. entering temples). This requires an explanation also, but I won’t get to that until after I’ve explained both Judaism and Qumran; Greco-Roman purity pertains a little more to early Christianity than to Qumran.

My tentative outline for this series is as follows; Judaism’s ritual purity, Qumran’s ritual purity, Greco-Roman paganism’s ritual purity, and finally Christianity’s baptism. Looking through both my papers, it should be between 8 and 10 posts, but we’ll see. I may add more or take some parts out. Nevertheless, I’m actually excited (in a nerdy sort of way) to revisit what I’ve spent 10 weeks studying to share with those who might not be otherwise interested in this material. Baptism is so incredibly important in Christianity (and religions throughout) and I’m not sure if we’ve really understood that level of importance. Heck, even after immersing myself in this stuff for an entire term, I’m not sure I fully grasp the stuff.

Finally, at any point please comment on the blog if you have any questions about this stuff. I recommend doing so specifically through the blog site so that other people may ask questions about your questions; essentially I would like a central location for any possible discussions. You can “like” it on Facebook (or on WordPress, too), but I’d prefer comments to be on the site itself. I really hope all those who read enjoy the material as much as I have. It makes for a greater thirst of God’s knowledge.

God bless.

Making A Genuine Change…

About a week ago, I removed the filter from my computer. That means that if I want to, I can watch porn. Throughout most of my life, I’ve struggled with the internet and all the nasty stuff that it provides. Most of the time it’s not really a desire to see the stuff because of its content, but more so because I feel like I’m getting away with something. When I had the filter up and running, I found loopholes and certain keywords that the filter didn’t block and was able to watch what I could through those few words. Eventually, like the baby who figured out how to escape his crib, I figured out how to disable the filter altogether, which opened the door to whatever. And what I realized through it all is that after eight years of struggling with the stuff, I have not made any kind of genuine change.

That’s why I removed the filter.

In a couple weeks, I turn 23. That means I’m a year closer to dating, a year closer to marriage, and a year closer to fathering a son or daughter. This train of thought has actually scared me. Not only are those things going to demand so much of me, but they are going to be a million times more difficult to deal with if I’m still struggling with pornography. Something that crossed my mind a while back was the thought of what will my kids think if they were to walk in on daddy watching naked women on his computer? If I have a son, will he suddenly think that kind of behavior is okay? If I have a daughter, will she think that she has to do those things that I’m watching in order to be loved by a man? Even though I don’t have kids, the thought of having them has stirred a deep desire to change.

And what kind of change would I be making if I still had the filter on my computer, if I was still leaning on my crutches long after the broken leg has healed? At some point during the rehab of the Christian life, we have to walk under own strength.

The filter is helpful, no doubt, but only for a while, like crutches. At the peak of my struggle with the internet, it was oftentimes helpful to have the filter blocking easy-access sites and sending an email to my pastor informing him that I’ve done something I shouldn’t. But not only am I sick and tired of him receiving emails, I’m tired of depending upon the filter to keep me from sinning. Jesus says that adultery, that lust, is something of the heart, something within one’s intent, which means before I even open my web browser, if I’m thinking about watching the stuff, I’ve sinned already.

Therefore I arrive to the ultimate conclusion that the problem I have is not the internet, but with my heart. And while the filter was beneficial by keeping most of the stuff out of my sight and out of my mind, to some extent, I was still giving in to my carnal desires to watch it. And this means that filter or no filter, I sinned before I even looked at the stuff. So why pay $50 for a filter that doesn’t make that internal change?

The damage that I might do to my future wife, to my future kids, to my whole future family might be devastating, at least on the psychological level. Like I said earlier, my son might think that’s just something guys do while my daughter might think that she has to flaunt her body to be loved by a man. And those are heresies I refuse to let them believe.

I wrote a blog sometime ago about the true beauty of a woman and how it is worth fighting for, worth resisting the temptation to watch porn, but I have failed to live up to that belief. For several days in a row I’ll be going strong, but then all of a sudden, if I’m tired or bored or both, which is a very dangerous combination, I’ll open the browser to see what I could get away with. The intent to watch the stuff remained the same. Even though it’s been seven months since that post, I have yet to make that genuine change.

We seem to live and exist with the belief that this life will never end. Heck, that’s why we procrastinate; because doing it tomorrow sounds better than doing it today based on the belief that tomorrow will always be there. But Jesus seems to have thought differently about tomorrow. “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect,” – Matthew 24:44. By being “ready,” I would have to imagine that Jesus is referring to whether or not we’re living Godly lives, if we’re acting as Jesus did here on earth. Refusing to make a genuine change with the urges of my body and the intents of my heart makes me not ready for when Jesus returns. Therefore, I have no better time to make that deep and difficult change than right now.

It is never easy to make a genuine change. Removing a sinful habit from one’s life is like removing a cancer from our soul, a tumor growing within our hearts. It’s an exceedingly delicate and painful procedure, but the good news is that God is the physician of our souls. He knows the human remedies are a bunch of scams and He means to steer us away from them. Like a father instructing his children not to look to their peers for wisdom and guidance, but to the actions of their elders, God steers us towards His wisdom, His law, His love. In that process of following after His ways, and only in that process, is the only possibility of making any kind of true, genuine change.

After our spiritual wounds have healed, our broken legs mended back together, the bandages are removed and the crutches are tossed away because it is now time to rehabilitate and redeem that wound and that broken leg. It’s time, under God’s guidance, to walk on our own strength, to make that internal change by choosing not to sin.

God bless.

Rising From the Mud…

When I think about the things troubling my heart, I realize that they are, to some degree, self-inflicted. Not long after I was alone and bored yesterday, I slipped again. I closed my door, flipped on my computer, disabled the filter, and watched something I wasn’t supposed to. This has been the struggle I’ve had since the seventh grade. It was old years ago. And what I’m having a hard time to get over isn’t the sin aspect of it, but rather the embarrassment of it.

The shame isn’t there primarily because I sinned against God, but because what I did was just so disgusting that I don’t really want to tell anyone, ever. Truth be told, though, it’s necessary to tell someone about the things we’re ashamed of. Not only does Paul tell us to, but it’s also good for the heart and soul. Emotionally and spiritually there is a release when one confesses one’s sins. “Venting” is what it’s often called. And it’s also what it feels like.

When you hold onto your sin, when you let it fester inside of you, it poisons the heart. From personal experience, when I’m lording my own sins over me, I tend to be more emotional about the littlest of things. You can see this especially when I’m driving. When someone cuts me off, drives insanely slow, or simply doesn’t use their turn signal, I get irate. I’m not proud about it because most of the time I’m not the impatient driver. My grandpa has taught me a lot about patiently driving; you’ll get there when you get there and if you’re late, you’re late. But when I’m constantly kicking myself for dropping the ball with God, patience is the last thing I have.

It’s probably the hardest thing we can do as Christians; forgive ourselves. There have been nights where I’ve called myself names, believed that I would never change, and even thought about giving up entirely by simply not trying to fight the temptations any more. But even within our most extreme guilt-trips, we can sin yet again.

I’ve often thought about what God hears when we kick ourselves for dropping the ball. And although sometimes I imagine Him agreeing with whatever I say about myself, I’d have to think that in reality, He disagrees with every point we make. I imagine myself talking to God in like a coffee shop or at a diner. The place is usually empty, save for the random old guy reading the paper and the nice waitress who’s working a double. God sits across from me in silence for some time before, with my voice trembling, I tell Him what’s going on.

“God, I watched naked women on the internet today.”

“I died for that.”

“Jesus, I lied to my pastor.”

“Hm, yup, I died for that, too.”

“God, I’m pathetic…”

This would be the point in the conversation where He takes a deep breath, grabs my hand, and looks straight in my eyes and says, “If you’re so pathetic, why would I dethrone myself, cloak myself in a human body, surrender my all-powerful nature, receive insults from the people I created, get the forty lashes minus one, get spit upon, beaten, bruised, nailed to a ‘God-forsaken’ tree, and die by the worst death possible, asphyxiation?”

Tears would form as I desperately try to avoid the answer.

But then He says it anyway; “Because I love you.”

John Mark McMillan is famous for the song “How He Loves.” It’s a beautiful song and I first heard it two years ago when Calvary’s Christmas choir sung it. I thought it was a very cool and powerful song then, but hearing the story behind it, I no longer can sing it or hear it without getting misty-eyed. There’s a YouTube video about McMillan’s story behind the song and there’s something he says that just breaks me every time I hear it; “The love I’m singing about in that song… is not a pretty, clean; it’s not a Hollywood, hot pink love. It’s… a kind of love that’s willing to love things that are messy… difficult… and kind of gross.” I don’t think there’s a better way to describe God’s love; something that’s willing to love even the things that seem impossible to love.

“He is jealous for me… Loves like a hurricane/ I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy,” are the first lines from the song. If you’ve ever seen photos or videos from the aftermath of Katrina, it’s not a pretty or clean sight. And yet, there are survivors. And yet, there are still people there praising God. That’s the kind of love that He pours out onto us on a daily basis. And that’s the kind of love that He poured out on the cross, with every drop of His blood.

What does this mean, then? That we can go on as if nothing ever happened? That we can continue to sin and live whatever kind of lives we want to? Although I could cite the numerous times Paul exclaims, “No!” I think the message is already perfectly clear; when we see just how deep God’s love is for us, when we feel the Spirit’s convicting power and then God’s merciful love, it’s hard for us to want to remain the same. It’s hard for us not to want to change when we truly see God for who He is. Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the grave both took the punishment that we deserve and gave us the ability to choose not to sin anymore.

If living is like riding a horse and sin is what knocks us off, then guilt is what buries us in the mud. What Christ does is dive into the mud, digs through the dirt, the mess, grabs us and then pulls us up. It’s then when we have the choice to either fall back into the mud or get back on the horse. The former is probably the easiest option while the latter is the most difficult. But we must decide which we like better; drowning in the mud or straining to ride a horse. Of the two, one takes away life while the other – though we have to do something, though we have to work – it gives life. We struggle and strain to receive the life that Christ freely and graciously gives us.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of drowning in the mud.

Here’s the link to John Mark McMillan’s story behind “How He Loves”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NXWE6AC8ao