Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Real Deal

I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me.

-- Philippians 4:13

Want a Rolex watch or Gucci handbag...but don't want to pay full retail? 

Time was that you'd go to a downtown street vendor or flea market to snare one of those too-good-to-be-true bargains. But nowadays with websites like eBay and Craig's List, you can buy just about anything--from computer software to auto parts--for far below sticker price.

Unfortunately, too good to be true is usually just that. The vast majority of these so-called bargains are really cheap counterfeits of the real thing. Worldwide, counterfeiting accounts for more than $500 billion in trade each year, with footwear accounting for nearly 25 percent of all counterfeit or pirated goods seized in government crackdowns.

Is buying a cheap knock-off just another type of victimless crime? It turns out that in 2010, the U.S. Navy purchased 59,000 counterfeit computer chips for missiles and other military equipment from China--an issue with enormous national security implications. Closer to home, it's easy to find websites selling supposedly name brand prescription drugs (made who knows where) at bargain basement prices. And tests conducted by Microsoft revealed that nearly 40 percent of the software purchased on eBay was counterfeit, with another 12 percent either counterfeit or altered. Who knows what damage it could do to your expensive computer and irreplaceable files?

The lesson here is buyer beware. But it goes much deeper than that. Counterfeiting cheapens the value of the authentic merchandise and the ingenuity behind it...and all while robbing the customer through nearly worthless--and sometimes even lethal--products that can end up costing dearly in the end.

Those so-called real deals on the Internet or the street corner are too often cheaply-made junk that can never compare with the real thing available through legitimate establishments. And the same goes when comparing the world's message about sexuality against the true, much richer meaning from the One who created men and well as sex itself. The world markets a gaudy product that's essentially an emotionless, physical act without strings or consequences. If it feels good, do it! But it's a shoddy imitation of God's craftsmanship. Our Father designed sexual intimacy between men and women to involve not only the physical, but also the emotional and spiritual. And rather than being the selfish "me-first" act peddled by the world, real sexual intimacy involves husbands and wives putting each other's needs before their own.

The choice is clear. We can buy into the world's cheap and corrosive product of selfish, physical acts and soulless emotions. Or, we can choose God's brand name masterpiece of sexual intimacy: a mingling of souls.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fighting Fire with Fire

Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!

-- Joshua 7:15

One of the most recognized characters in the history of advertising, Smokey Bear has reminded the public for decades that just a tiny spark from a campfire or cigarette is all it takes to destroy majestic woodlands and kill innocent wildlife. 

Warns Smokey: “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

What distinguishes the gravelly-voiced bruin from other beloved media icons is that Smokey actually existed. The story goes that in May1950, a carelessly-discarded cigarette helped cause an inferno that eventually blackened 17,000 acres of forest and grasslands in the Lincoln National Forest near Capitan, New Mexico. A fire crew discovered a badly singed bear cub--soon called Hotfoot--clinging tightly to a burned pine tree. The cub was sent to a veterinary hospital in Santa Fe and eventually renamed Smokey after a game warden opened his own home for the animal’s recuperation.

Whoever discarded that lit cigarette butt probably had no idea of the death and destruction its spark would eventually inflict upon the pristine wilderness. After all, it was only a meaningless cigarette. Who doesn’t toss their used butts out the window when they’re finished with them? And besides, nobody will know and no one will get hurt.

In so many ways, that’s the same cavalier attitude that today spreads the inferno of sexual sin in our society. Behaviors that were never part of God’s wonderful plans for our lives are now promoted in the media as civil rights and embraced as hallmarks of individualism. Meanwhile, the entertainment industry glamorizes adultery, casual sex and out-of-wedlock births. Pornography is widely available on cable TV and the Internet. What’s more, Hollywood produces entertainment like MTV’s popular reality seriesTeen Mom and hit movies like Juno. And if there’s any question about a real life cause and effect, the teen pregnancy rate in one Memphis, Tennessee high school is between 15 and 25 percent. And recently in another high school, 17 girls made a so-called pregnancy pact because--at least in part--of peer pressure to have a baby as some sort of modern day status symbol (just like on TV). 

Meanwhile, it’s par for the course for professional athletes--the role models for millions of impressionable youths--to have multiple out-of-wedlock children with different women. But a casual check of our community’s vital statistics reveals that this matter-of-fact behavior isn’t confined to the NFL and the NBA.

Smokey Bear was scarred for life by the inferno started by one tiny spark. And an untold number of other animals died in the flames that destroyed thousands of acres of wilderness. Likewise, the victims of sexual sin--often innocent spouses and children--are just as emotionally scarred and callused. And that’s not even considering sin’s collateral damage of broken marriages, damaged relationships and even shattered careers and reputations.

Perhaps--like Smokey says--we really can prevent forest fires. But the truth is that we’re helpless to conquer the rapidly-spreading flames of sexual sin. The first step toward extinguishing the fire is for us to recognize the problem and admit to God that we’ve broken His laws. We then need to ask for the flames of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and minds to the truth and consume what fuels sin’s deception. As any good forest manager will tell you, it’s all about fighting fire with fire.

Does this sound difficult? By our own strength, it’s futile. But there’s always unlimited hope when we accept Jesus’ encouraging reminder: All things are possible with God.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fatal Attraction

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing,
but the flesh is weak.”

-- Matthew 26:41

One of God's most remarkable creations is the Venus flytrap. Native to the swamplands of North and South Carolina, it's one of the world's few carnivorous plants. Rather than water and a little Miracle Gro, Venus flytraps get their nourishment from the flies and other unsuspecting insects that land on their hinged, claw-like leaves. When a fly lands and the plant senses movement, their leaves snap shut and eventually dissolve the helpless prey with strong digestive juices. The victim's empty skeleton is the only remaining evidence of the flytrap's savagery.

Another meat-loving swampland terror, the pitcher plant, catches insects in a similar manner. Bugs are attracted by the scent of sweet nectar and crawl into the plant's deep, gel-filled cavity. The sides of the pitcher are also slippery, which helps prevent the prey's escape. With no way out, the insect eventually drowns and provides the ravenous plant with yet another tasty meal.

We should all learn a lesson from the Venus flytrap and pitcher plant...or rather their victim, the hapless fly. How often do we read the headlines and watch the news covering the shameful escapades of politicians, sports stars and entertainers? We discuss their exploits at home, in the office and on Facebook, and wonder aloud how they could be so foolish and cause so much hurt among their friends and family. But maybe many of us should be looking in the mirror instead of People Magazine. Destructive elicit behavior isn't confined to Hollywood. Sin flourishes everywhere.

And it's no wonder. God created us for intimacy, which should be expressed through marriage between men and women. But His plan for us has grown warped through the lens of our unrealistic, sex-filled society. The media--particularly movies, television and the Internet--are packed with images and messages promoting a destructive feels-good-do-it mentality. Adultery and various sexual perversions are not only marketed as natural and fulfilling, they're also deemed worthy of equality with healthy monogamous male-female relationships. Anything else, the world tells us, is no more than a bigoted hate crime.

Can anyone be surprised by our nation's high rates of divorce and one-parent households?

Like those hapless flies contemplating the temptations of the flytraps and pitcher plants, every one of us is surrounded by seemingly innocent attractions that aim to destroy. It could be an attractive co-worker, a website, a magazine or maybe a so-called gentlemen's club. Also dangerous is society's assurance that even if we don't touch the goods, it's OK to window shop. But even that's an opening to potentially deadly spiritual behaviors. Jesus didn't mince words when he called it adultery.

God's answer to these fatal attractions is wonderfully simple: turn around and RUN! In other words, we need to avoid those people, places and situations that tempt us into doing the unimaginable. It's one time that being a so-called coward (at least in the world's eyes) is not only brave, it's the smart, life-sustaining thing to do.

"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear," the Apostle Paul assures us in 1 Corinthians. "But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."