Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Unnecessary Roughness

I just returned from our family vacation to the beach. We had a wonderful time. The kids were fun, and my wife and I both said it was the best beach trip we have ever had with the kids. It was truly one to remember.

This year, more than ever before, I was struck by the way worldly values are bombarding us in advertising at the beach. I know we see commercials on television, and endure foul language at the movies, but the barrage of images that was fed to us this week on billboards, building facades, radio commercials, and pamphlets, was overwhelming.

There are certain places where one would expect to find such advertising. If you pass by a bar, you might find a beer sign. If you pass a place of business that sells swimwear, you might see an image of a man or woman in a swimsuit. I understand these things. It doesn’t mean I approve, but I understand the marketing principle.

The problem that I truly have is when the approach is unnecessary. Many times the advertising could be done in a way that does not glorify questionable values and morals, but they are used to get the attention of the consumer. We see sex, materialism, and selfishness glorified in this type of advertising and we follow like rats after the pied piper.

One such example is at Broadway at the Beach. I used to love the Discovery Channel Store. It was a huge store filled with all types of scientific stuff. I don’t think I ever bought much from there, but I loved going in.

This year as I was wandering around I saw where the Discovery Channel Store used to be. In its place was a store called It’s Sugar. This huge building has now been turned into one gigantic candy store.

As I was surveying the outside of the building, and pondering whether or not to enter, I noticed something that truly bothered me. The spacious fa├žade of the store was painted with a number of seductive looking women holding different types of candy. Not all of them were scantily clad, but it was obvious that the owner took the old adage, “sex sells”, very seriously. I didn’t even go in.

I guess the most frustrating thing about it is the unnecessary nature of it. If you call a store “It’s Sugar” put pictures of candy on the outside and people will come in. Why add the graphic artwork?

We as Christians have a huge job. Throughout history, it has never been an easy task to avoid the lure of the world, but today it is more difficult than it has ever been. Now more than ever, we need to arm ourselves with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The morals and values of the world are seeping into our lives and we never see them taking over.

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were three dangerous bird-women, portrayed as seductresses, who lived on an island. It was surrounded by cliffs and rocks. Seamen who sailed near were decoyed by the Sirens' enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast. Satan uses the same techniques. To lure us into thinking we are safe, but he is simply leading us to destruction.

How can we avoid such seemingly harmless and wonderful things? We must take precautions and not put ourselves in situations where we are tempted. There are some things that assault our senses that we cannot control, but in those cases we can be prepared to endure such temptations. In order to do this we must pray continuously for God’s strength, be accountable to other Christians, and arm ourselves with the word of God.

Paul explains in Ephesians 6:10-18 how to arm yourself with God’s armor. Jesus informs us in Matthew 6:22-23 what happens when we allow our senses to be taken in by the world. Surrender these things to God and ask Him to strengthen you to be a light in the world, not another victim of it’s lust.

I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman? For what is the allotment of God from above, and the inheritance of the Almighty from on high? Is it not destruction for the wicked, and disaster for the workers of iniquity? Does He not see my ways, and count all my steps? (Job 31:1-4)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Color Commentary

If you are a fan of Clemson football and have listened, in recent years, to a Clemson football game on the radio, then you have no doubt heard my good friend, Will Merritt. Will was an offensive lineman for Clemson, and now provides the color commentary alongside Pete Yanity’s play-by-play. Will adds a new dimension to the term “color commentary”, with his incredibly hilarious comments.

I’m not really sure whether he means for them to be funny or not, but he is quite entertaining to listen to. For example, a few seasons ago, he was talking about the Clemson defense swarming the other team. He said, “They came down on them like a bunch of banshee Indians.” Now, a banshee is a screaming Irish ghost, and I assume he was referring to Native Americans. I wasn’t aware, until Will told us, that the two had ever mingled.

Sportscasters have a difficult job. We criticize them many times, but who among us could talk extemporaneously for several hours about a sports event? They are special people. For all the crazy things they say from time to time, they have the ability to inspire us, educate us and entertain us, all at the same time.

On Monday night, Josh Hamilton hit 28 home runs in the opening round, to break Bobby Abreu's record of 24 set in 2005. This is a great feat in itself, but the story behind Josh’s achievement was the talk of the night.

Josh was a drug addict. He was hooked on both alcohol and several kinds of drugs. He became drug free in 2005 and after a dream in which he saw Jesus helping him fight the devil with him, he realized he didn’t just need to quit the drugs, but he also needed Christ in his life. He accepted Christ back in 2006, and is very vocal about his faith.

After Josh Hamilton's feat on Monday night, it was Rick Reilly, a sportscaster for ESPN, who made quite a statement. He simply said, "It's a lousy night to be an atheist". With all of the crazy things these airtime professionals occasionally say, sometimes they get it right. Indeed it was a testament to the power of God, to see a changed man accomplish something like that.

Mr. Reilly has been criticized for his words by some. However, what he said was true. Why? Because God was not putting on a show Monday night through Josh Hamilton’s home runs. (If He had been, then Justin Morneau wouldn’t have won the whole Derby.) No, the testament to God’s power wasn’t in the bat, but in the man standing at the plate. The new Josh Hamilton, who God changed with His love, grace and power, was there for the devil, the atheists, and all the world to see.

Our lives are a living breathing testimony to God’s all powerful love for us. His power is not shown in our blessings, accomplishments, achievements, awards, and accolades. It is shown in the fact that we have been given eternal life in heaven with Him, and life “more abundant”, here on earth. If we have Jesus Christ in our lives, then we are not just a changed person, but an entirely new creature.

Thanks for the reminder, Josh!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

To Forgive and Be Forgiven

No doubt you have seen the photograph to the left. It is perhaps the most famous photograph taken during the Vietnam War. It is not easy to look at the images seen here. It brings to mind the horrors and innocent lives that are affected by war. However, the story I heard the other day, made me take another look at this photo, and see it in a different light.

This picture, taken in 1972, shows South Vietnamese forces behind injured children as they run down a road near Trang Bang. They had been in a temple when an aerial napalm attack was launched on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. This photo earned a Pulitzer Prize for photographer Nick Ut.

Why am I showing this to you? Is a rant about the horrors of war about to begin? No. I want you to read an essay. I want you to take the time to read the words of the girl in the picture. Look at the photo. She is the one in the center. She is naked, because her clothes were burned off. She is running, because she is terrified. You may have seen this picture before and thought, “Poor girl. I wonder what happened to her.” You are about to find out, but not in my words; in hers.

I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR this week. They have a series called This I Believe. As the essay was introduced, I knew right away what photograph they were talking about. I had seen it many times and turned away. Now, in my truck, I was hearing the actual voice of this little girl, whose name is Kim Phuc who is now 45 years old.

I was moved to tears, as I thought about how petty and spoiled we are. When the boss yells at us, or we can’t park close to the mall, or we are inconvenienced by someone’s lack of professionalism, we think we have problems. We have minor bumps in the road compared to what this little girl went through. How did she make it through? Read the essay. I think you will find inspiration, and maybe a new way of looking at your problems.
By the way, if you would like to hear her read the essay, just go to http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91964687 .

All Things Considered, June 30, 2008 · On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam; I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down. I saw fire everywhere around me. Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm. My clothes had been burned off by fire.
I was 9 years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way. My picture was taken in that moment on Road No. 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh. After a soldier gave me some drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness.
Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent 14 months and had 17 operations.
It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital. Our house was destroyed; we lost everything and we just survived day by day.
Although I suffered from pain, itching and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor. But my studies were cut short by the local government. They wanted me as a symbol of the state. I could not go to school anymore.
The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.
I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.
In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn't happen in a day and it wasn't easy. But I finally got it.
Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.
Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.
If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?


This essay was produced by Anne Penman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. NPR's This I Believe is independently produced by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.