Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Worst Worship Song Ever

Even though we have officially dropped our themes of the month, I seem to have gravitated toward the topic of "friendship" for the month of June. We generally don't get too silly on this blog, but when I came across this video, I could not resist. (I also could not stop laughing.) Enjoy!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When Blogs Get Too Big for their Britches

Early last month, I endorsed a particular blog in the comments section of one of my old posts. I read an excellent article by another blogger in reference to an issue that I am very passionate about. The author concluded the article with the question, "What do you, the readers think?" I replied via comment on the other blog, thanking the author for addressing the topic. I also provided a link back to my own article on the subject, in an effort to foster more discussion from his readers. Mind you, I was not giving a random link back to my own site just for the sake of promoting my own blog -- I was giving a specific link to one specific article I wrote, an article which is dear to my heart, and one which I thought would contribute further insight for people looking for answers.

My comment was rejected.

Before posting my comment, I was careful to make sure that external links are allowed (and they are). I had written nothing offensive. In fact, my intention was 1) Praise for the author; and 2) An offer to help stimulate discussion by linking back to my own article. Yet, my comment was never published. To add insult to injury, the author chose to publish some very offensive comments, including one man's suggestion that men should not get involved with women over a certain age if they plan on having a lot of children. Needless to say, the worldly nature of this discussion, coupled with its selfish, sexist attitude toward sisters in Christ made me angry!

This experience caused me to reconsider my own endorsement of this particular blog and revoke my previous comment issuing a "kudos" to the author in question. Perhaps that was childish of me. Perhaps I should still congratulate this blogger for his choice to address a subject I feel is important, even though he chose to reject my contribution to the discussion. But I can't.

This particular blog is sponsored by a very famous ministry. Dare I assign motive to this ministry? Could it be that they were threatened by my article? Am I conceited enough to think that? Or am I simply too familiar with the sin of pride that I recognize it right away when I see it in others? In any case, I was given no answers, so I am left with my assumptions that the only reason my comment was not published on the site is because I linked back to my own (even though external links are allowed). And if that's the case, I'm going to confess to everyone out there in blog land that I had fallen into the sin of anger over that. While my anger has ceased and my sin confessed, my concern about why I was originally angry has not.

There are times when I suspect that certain ministries become too big for their britches. Instead of wanting to truly foster fruitful discussions that might help others come to a decision about an issue they are struggling with, these blogs are more about keeping certain ideas local to themselves. In other words, "we don't want anyone else getting the credit for these insights, so let's not publish this link. That way, we continue being seen as the experts on this subject."

Are your articles intended to help others see what an awesome God we serve, or are they designed to help your readers see what an awesome writer you are?I have absolutely no reason to believe that this particular ministry falls into this category other than a strong, intuitive suspicion. And yes, I know that assigning motive to someone else's heart is a dangerous thing to do. I realize and acknowledge that my heart is just as deceitful and sinful as anyone else's. Yet I can't shake the suspicion that had I simply lavished praise on the author and left it at that, my comment would have been published. Regardless, this is a large and popular ministry -- one that will never write me back or explain why they chose to reject my comment, and I could go on forever speculating without any real proof. So I am not going to push my accusations further. But I do want to raise the following question to all you Christian bloggers out there (including myself):

Why are you blogging?

Honestly ask yourself that question. What are you blogging for? Is it for God's glory, or your own? Has everything you've published been led by the Holy Spirit, or your own flesh? Are your articles intended to help others see what an awesome God we serve, or are they designed to help your readers see what an awesome writer you are?

I'd like to think that I'm not above the "nobody bloggers" out there. Truly, in the two and a half years that Reformed SHEology has been in existence, I have chosen to reject only one comment. (It was written by a local friend who had a personal issue with me and chose to address it on my blog, which I felt was inappropriate.) I'd like to think that I'm not conceited in that I'd welcome anyone who was gracious enough to comment on what I've written here. Then again, there is another part of me is seriously questioning why I once heralded that other ministry in the first place. And in doing so, I realize that I am not above doing what was done to me. You see, there was a time when I wanted to write for the very same blog that recently rejected my comment. And there is only one reason why I wanted to write for them: because they are a big, famous blog. Shame on me!

Father, forgive me for wanting to write for a big, famous blog, when You have given me a voice right here. Not only have You given me a voice, but the freedom of creative control over this site, and the liberty to write as You direct, and not as some editor-in-chief directs me. May I never grow prideful of the following You have given me. May I never write for numbers, but for Your glory. May I always realize that there are millions of others out there with good things to say -- things You have placed on their hearts, and that I am not the only one with a voice to proclaim Your glory. May I never shut down the voices of those to whom You have given similar insights. You speak through all of us, not just me.

I would humbly like to thank our readers, our followers, our supporters, and our God for allowing us to have this blog at all. I thank you all for your kind words of encouragement over the past two and a half years. You inspire me to continue sharing for your edification, and not my own. My prayer is that I may continue to encourage you, the person I have never met, whether you have made yourself known to me or not, and that I may see myself as your servant whenever I push the publish button. That has not always been the case, but if you see new articles here less and less often than you used to, please know it is in an effort to place emphasis on glorifying God, rather than catering to our readers.

God be praised.

Monday, June 15, 2009

For Jason on His 34th Birthday

What is a friend? It is common for us to define our friends based on how nice they are to us, how much we have in common, the things we do together and how much time we spend doing those things, as well as how trustworthy they are with our most intimate secrets. But our definition of friendship is much different than the Bible’s definition. Joe O’Day, author of The Art of Friendship, writes, “Our preoccupation is usually with having friends. The Bible’s focus is on being a friend.” This simple but profound statement adequately describes my friendship with a dear man named Jason.

I first met Jason twenty-one years ago, in the Fall of 1988. At 13, Jay had an uncanny ability to put 100% of his effort into a friendship. At first, I wanted nothing to do with him. But I soon found I was no match for the irresistible pull of a boy who demonstrated unwavering patience, kindness, compassion, and sacrificial love on a continuous and persistent basis – especially when I did not deserve it. Looking back, I can’t point to a single time in our friendship when I was deserving of his loyalty and trust. But he offered it anyway – unconditionally – simply because he wanted to. I didn’t understand it then, but I now see that Jay was primarily concerned with being my friend.

I, on the other hand, was not as forthcoming with my contributions to the friendship. There were many times I would selfishly evaluate whether or not the relationship would truly benefit me. I spent most of that season of my life in a deep existential depression – a secret I worked hard to keep hidden from Jay – and as a result, I regularly bucked against his expressions of friendship toward me. Because he is not Almighty God, there came a point where Jay simply gave up. Of course, our decision to part ways was far more complex than I am making it sound. Although do I credit most of our problems to my existential crisis, Jay was not without his faults, either. Things disintegrated until we had a blowout argument and simply stopped speaking one day. We each spent the last 18 months of my high school career pretending that the other person did not exist, except for those special occasions when one of us was presented with an irresistible opportunity to hurt the other party. I will confess I hated Jay. I hated him with all my heart. I wished I had never met him. I wanted to forget every memory I had of him. But when I became a Christian, everything changed.

One night in December of 1994, I decided to break my silence. I attended a holiday music concert at my high school when I spotted Jay talking to some students. Craning my neck so that I wouldn't lose sight of him, I made my way over to him. He caught my gaze, and turned his back on me. Nevertheless, I walked up to him and said I had something very important to tell him. I announced that I had become a Christian, and no matter what he thought of me, it would not influence my opinion of him. As far as I was concerned, he was my friend. I made a commitment to him that day – that I would start being a friend to him – and that was not contingent upon whether or not he'd accept my offer.

Our preoccupation is usually with having friends. The Bible’s focus is on being a friend.By God’s grace, I have kept that commitment. Over the next several years I witnessed to him whenever possible, through greeting cards at Christmastime and on his birthday. My attempts to contact him never received any response. Although Jay held me in extreme contempt (and most likely still does), I never stopped praying for him. But at the Lord's prompting, I eventually stopped sending the cards. It was hard to let go of the feeling that I needed to "do" something in an effort to prove that I had kept my word to this person. But I know I don't need to continue demonstrating my word in order to keep it. My ultimate wish is to see my friend saved. And I can still remain faithful by praying for him.

I haven't seen or spoken to Jay in nearly a decade. Most people are surprised to find that I haven't given up by now. We are easily tempted to stop sowing when we don't see fruit. But the Lord reminds us to make our petitions to Him with persistence. Why is Jason my friend? Not because of anything he's done for me, but because I have chosen to be a friend to him. Sure, it's an uncommon choice to make, but I've got the best role model to emulate:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8).

We love Him, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19).
While we were still His enemies, Christ demonstrated His love for us by initiating friendship toward us first.

Happy Birthday, friend. May you feel this prayer tonight, where ever you are . . .

Heavenly Father, You alone are mighty to save. I lift up my dear friend Jason to You on this anniversary of his physical birth. For sixteen years I have brought this man before Your throne. My steadfast prayer all these years is that You have planned a spiritual birthday for him. I so look forward to that day, Lord. Will this be the year You are gracious and kind toward my dear friend, and grant him eternal life?

Father, I thank You for Jason. I thank You for giving him a heart of generosity. I thank You for blessing him with so many talents. I pray earnestly that those talents will no longer be wasted on the mere praises of men! Oh dear God may he worship You with his music one day. Lord, show him the glories of Calvary - give him the faith to understand the sacrifice You have made to reconcile him unto You. Father, You said in 1 John 5:14-15 that if we know You've heard our prayers, then we know we have the petitions we've asked of You. I thank You for the evidences of grace You have already demonstrated in Jay's life, as a sign that You have heard my prayers, that You are watching over my friend, and that someday I will have the petitions I've asked of You, and see my friend in glory.

Thank You for the honor of being this man's friend. Thank You for the privilege of having numerous opportunities to share with him directly. Please continue to reach out to him through other faithful Christians who are dedicated to preach the gospel. I thank You that his fate rests in Your hands. Please ensure that he is safe over the next year. Comfort him in times of trouble and grant him peace and strength to endure various trials that he may encounter this year. I pray this for him as well as his family. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is It Any of Our Business?

I am a very relational creature by nature. I love to talk. I want to know and be known. I do this primarily through sharing my business with other people, and wanting to know what's going on with them. Sometimes, I get into trouble when I attempt to know everybody's business. It is not appropriate for me to know everyone's business. When I try to get in the middle of business that isn't any of my business, I usually fall into sins like gossip. "Business" is a delicate thing, and can in many ways be so private and personal, it is only to be shared with select individuals. For this reason, I am very private about whom I share my business with. I don't share my business with just anybody. You have to be a close, trusted friend for me to share my business with you.

A few years ago, someone recommended I read a book called The Five Love Languages. For those of you unfamiliar with this title, the book basically describes five ways in which people give and receive love. They are 1) Gifts, 2) Words of Affirmation, 3) Acts of Service, 4) Quality Time, and 5)Physical Touch. I was intrigued as I read through this book. As it turns out, my primary love language is Quality Time. But for me, "QT" is not about just being in my presence. Going to a movie where we don't talk to one another is not my idea of quality time. No, quality time for me would actually involve some type of interaction, particularly it would require a willingness on my part to share my personal business with you. No wonder I am so particular about my privacy! It is the primary means by which I achieve intimacy and transparency with others.

I tried to think of all the ways in which I could show The Lord how much I love Him using all five love languages. For example, I could offer tithes and other offerings as gifts. I can offer up praises as words of affirmation. Serving others would obviously fulfill the acts of service. Offering a hug to someone who is hurting would be an expression of physical touch. And spending time in the Word and in prayer would be a good way to spend quality time with God.

I then did the reverse and tried to think of all the ways in which God demonstrates His love for us using all five love languages. For example, each of our blessings are gifts from The Lord. There are many examples in the Bible where He offers us words of affirmation, by assuring us that He will never leave us or forsake us, and that our sins are forgiven. We see His love for us through others who offer us acts of service or physical touch in the form of a hug. But I was stumped when it came to quality time. How does God offer us quality time?

This bothered me quite a bit, especially since quality time happens to be my primary love language. Naturally, God is always with us. But when I'm sleeping, and He's there, is that really an example of quality time?

I finished the book, my question still unanswered. Then about two days later, I needed to reference a verse in John over an unrelated issue. The only Bible version I had handy at the time was an NIV. Imagine my shock when I read the following passage, worded exactly as follows in the NIV:
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15, emphasis mine)

Incredible -- The Lord Himself considers me to be an intimate friend, and has chosen to share His business with me!Incredible -- The Lord Himself considers me to be an intimate friend, and has chosen to share His business with me! Immediately I began to cry as the depth of this realization set in. He has called me friend, why? Because He has made His business known to me! Just as I am selective about whom I share my business with, He is the same way, choosing only to reveal the secrets of the universe to those He has called friends. We know His plans for the future, that He goes to prepare a place for us, and that He is coming back soon. We know His likes and dislikes. We know when He is pleased and when He is grieved. We know His will! The Almighty Maker of the entire universe has chosen to share His business with us! Isn't that amazing?

So many times we enter times of prayer and tell God everything in our hearts, but rarely do we ever stop to listen to Him share what's in His. We then walk away from our quiet times disappointed, wondering why we don't ever hear an answer from God. Could it be that we don't truly believe that what He has planned for us is any of our business? After all, He is God. Who are we, that we should ask Him to reveal Himself to us? Is it any of our business? Why yes, according to John 15:15, it is!

There is no Friend more powerful and influential than Jesus. Think about that the next time you are trying to impress someone of high status who has perhaps snubbed your offer to get close. When you are confused about which direction to take next, or when times are lonely, turn to Christ, be still, and listen. He is waiting to share His business with you!

Friday, June 5, 2009

My Dog Skip

Man's best friend. We all know who that is! There's nothing quite like the joy that comes from raising and bonding with a treasured pet. This month, we will examine the concept of friendship - starting with our film of the month, My Dog Skip. This is the story of a boy named Willie (Frankie Muniz) and his best friend in the whole world.

Year: 2000 (Rated PG)
Directed by Jay Russell, based on the novel by Willie Morris.
Starring Frankie Muniz, Kevin Bacon, Diane Lane, and Luke Wilson.
Setting: Mississippi, World War II era.

Content warning: Mild profanity and a few uses of the Lord's name in vain by the "villains". There are also some uses of words I personally find offensive, as well as some mild violence. This may appear to be a children's story on the surface, but once you are into it, you will discover it is actually a very mature film that takes a profound look at the topics of friendship, war, death, change, and racism. It is a very emotional film - I was an eyewitness to a grown man, 6'2", 230 lbs., bursting into tears while watching this movie. Be forewarned!

1. The extraordinary and profound mystery that is friendship. Even if the friendship in this film is between a boy and a dog, the relationship between Skip and Willie demonstrates that unconditional love overlooks a multitude of shortcomings, real or perceived, and even those prescribed by society. Our friends provide the support we need when life is tough, but they are also there to partake in our joys. They give us the confidence we need to carry on through each day.

2. Poignant scenes surrounding death. One scene in particular involves a deer hunt, immediately followed by Willie's narrative about the changing seasons in Willie's life. We all should reflect upon the seasons of life as reminders of all the beauty that surrounds us.

3. Role models. Children look up to their older counterparts and aspire so much to be like them. Titus 2 describes the importance of these older/younger relationships. But even our childhood heroes are subject to fall into seasons of despair. We often feel confused when someone who once appeared so strong suddenly shows signs of weakness.

4. Not-so-subtle messages about racism. The film is set in the segregated town of Yazoo, Mississippi in 1942. The racial hypocrisy is clear: Dink Jenkins goes off to fight World War II, but back on the home front, there is still so much animosity toward people for the color of their skin. But Willie reminds us that Skip is colorblind, as most dogs are. And he's so much smarter than people.

5. A Canine Christ Figure. Skip essentially makes a new creature out of Willie. He teaches him about life and death, forgiveness and repentance, joy and sorrow. Willie denies Skip and experiences true repentance when he thinks he's lost the dog for good. But Skip has a "resurrection" of sorts. And he forever lives in Willie's heart.

This is based on the true story of American writer Willie Morris and his dog, Skip.

You can visit the official website by clicking here.