Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Moving!

My blog is moving to a similar, but NOT altogether familiar blog page: Agendo Veritatem

Monday, June 13, 2011

James 1:27

James 1:27 - "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."

I find myself going back to this Scripture time and time again when talking about what we as Christians should be doing with ourselves during our time on this earth. People talk about reaching the lost, about being witnesses to the world, and all those catchy phrases that sound so noble; what the heck are they saying? What does that mean? Denomination after denomination has their own brand of what it means to carry out the Great Commission, but yet so few take in to account what James says in his letter here. This, my friends, is quite sad considering the thing is so small and yet contains so much truth. We cannot discount these words as merely an additional perspective, but instead should base the foundation of our approach on it. Paul writes to the Family with clarifications about what is and isn't acceptable ways to conduct ourselves, but nothing he says contradicts what James writes about in his letter!

Is it not clear then, that we are to be doing this work for the Lord? That we are to look out for the orphans and take of the widows in their time of need, what about that is so challenging? Oh yeah, I remember... It doesn't involve big rallies with loud music and flashing lights, nor does it mean that we're in the spotlight soaking up the attention of our peers and friends. No, this means we'd be in the background. We may not be known by name, and we'll never be celebrities, but that would be so much better than what we're known for now (image). Let's face it, our reputation as hypocritical cloud-sniffing nuts is well-earned. The fact is that we cannot change this image ourselves, but we must further embrace the Christ-like lifestyle which is laid out for us in Scripture and it is only by the Holy Spirit we can succeed at this. We cannot sit back and let things continue the way they have been. Things are not business as usual, unless you want to watch our generation become an apathetic and uselessly numb group of deceived individuals who think they have it all figured out.

The part many of us take for granted is the second part of the verse, "and to keep [one]self unspotted by the world." The greatest deception which many Christians fall into, at least from my observation, is to think that we have this one in the bag. The idea that we could possibly have that concept completely unraveled and applied to our daily lives would be to suggest we are in perfect union with Christ and no longer sin. Folks, I feel like there is so much about the command to keep ourselves untainted by the world that I still don't understand.

For example, I personally have a very rough vocabulary. I drop profanities like the US drops bombs, that is to say quite frequently and without much provocation. This is not something I'm proud of, because frankly it's rather unprofessional and makes me sounds less intelligent than I am in actuality. This Scripture strongly indicates to me that this concept of not being tainted by the world means that I shouldn't talk like the rest of the world. It's hard though, to drop a bad habit when surrounded by people who have that habit themselves. It's like trying to dry a hand towel by hanging it up on a rack at the bottom of a swimming pool. That is why we all need a group of friends who are spiritually running in the same direction as you. Are there others among your group that struggle with profanity? Hold each other accountable! Sometimes it's enough to be in the presence of those you know who don't appreciate foul language, as was the case when I was with my InterVarsity friends; I found myself using profanities a lot less after spending time with them. Other times, it may take a few dedicated friends who will commit to kicking your sorry behind every time you use a word you shouldn't have. It may take some spiritual renewal, get into the Scripture and study it. Often times our language reflects where we're at spiritually in our hearts (Luke 6:45), and I will be the first to admit that I have not been in the best of places the past several months.

We can be more than this. The question is will we follow the Simple Way?

We be forever lovin' Jah-Yeshua,
James

Monday, June 6, 2011

Change

Everyone wants change in everything, except for themselves.

Oi! If only it were as easy to see the things about myself which needed changing as it is to see the things in the world that need changing. Worse yet is that when I do manage to see something wrong with me I don't always have an immediate fix to the problem. So why is it then that we presume to have an immediate fix to the problems in the world and in each other? I know that for myself it seems so easy to look on from the outside and judge the situation too quickly and decide that I know what can be done to solve the problem. This gets me into a lot of trouble and I confess that more times than not, I tend to make more problems than solve the preexisting ones.

Folks, when it comes to relationships, there is one thing that you must not do if you hope to have a healthy relationship and that is try to change the person with whom you are with. Yes, they may have flaws and they may drive you nuts at times. Believe me, I am sure that my friends and family can see my flaws like blinding headlights, but the ones who cared the most didn't try to simply insert themselves into my problems and make me change. Those who have done so failed miserably. For example, when it comes to smoking. Lots of people have tried to intervene and tell me what I should do to quit smoking and think that they're doing right. They mean well enough, for the most part, but nothing good has come of it. Now, others have found more creative and constructive ways of encouraging me to quit, but that was outside the realm of trying to actually change me.

But aren't you trying to change us by writing about what we shouldn't do?

Not necessarily, I'm trying to provoke you to think critically about the way we all have a tendency to want to fix other people's problems while our own fall by the wayside. If I were to single out a person or a group of people and tell them what they need to do to fix their specific problem, then that might be more akin to the very thing I'm talking about. I can't make you do anything, and I would not presume to know how you should best go about fixing your problems because I don't know them or the intricacies of the ones you face. I can only suggest that there is a better way to handle the problems you see in others and the world by making changes in yourself.

Romans 12:2 says that we are not to be conformed, but transformed by the renewing of our mind so that we may prove that which is good, acceptable, and perfect in the will of God. Again in James 1:27, we are told that the only true religion which God finds acceptable is to take care of the orphans and widows while keeping ourselves uncontaminated by the world. Therefore, I know that for myself I can start with cleaning up my mind. Where are my thoughts going? What do I spend my time thinking about and is it glorifying God? Are there areas of my mind that I've been locking away in a secret place to try to keep God out, a proverbial red-tape so that I don't have to change some of the worst things about myself? God forgive me, because I know that I do. I know there are secrets that lurk in the dark and feed of my unwillingness to surrender them to You. So please, Lord, I'm asking you to cleanse my mind and help me have a change in attitude, a change in heart, and a change in mind so that I may be transparently honest with you regardless of what I do, say, or think.

Send revival, start with me.

Nada para Tu, Senhor,
James

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Masturbation: Ambiguity Abounds

Dear brothers and sisters in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ,

I realize that this subject is often difficult to discuss, much less be transparently honest and open about with each other. I also recognize the level of discomfort there usually is when discussing such a sensitive topic across the gender divide. The problem is that the rest of the world is already out there and talking about it. They are flaunting their new-found sexual freedoms (due to our sexually saturated society) and masturbation is the one subject which we seem to shy away from and for many reasons. As followers of Jesus, we long to be sexually pure, but sometimes we take it to such an absolutist extreme that we forget our own frailty and set ourselves up for failure. What results is an overwhelming amount of shame, fear, and self-hatred. Brothers and sisters, did Christ not die so that we could be free from those things? Weren't we all at one point or another slaves to those things, sometimes even now struggling to surrender and overcome them? If Christ is truly our savior, then we must throw off the shackles of fear and embrace a new kind liberty which is afforded to us through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have written about this subject several times; on occasion I have been too flippant, while other times too harshly spoken. I pray that I do not err on either side of that spectrum. There's is no perfect clarity on the issue, as many cannot seem to agree on the issue of masturbation. I remember reading many an article citing a story in Genesis 38:8-10 as a source of proof that masturbation was a sin. In my own youth group, a young preacher mentored the young men of our group with a quote of Scripture from Matthew 5:30 and for a while I was an adamant believer in this doctrine of zero tolerance for masturbation. Then there was a much heated debate among a community of believers regarding the issue and I was directed to an article from Dr. James Dobson, formerly of Focus on the Family. In this article Dr. Dobson told the story of how he as a boy was guilt-ridden over the the great temptation to masturbate, but his father simply told him that God did not condemn him for masturbating and the guilt was whisked away like dust in the wind. While this was astonishing to read, coming from such a conservative figurehead like Dr. Dobson; it did very little to alleviate my fears that God would send me straight to Hell for masturbating.

Let us back up for a moment and ask why do people masturbate? Many hardline conservative followers of Jesus would probably answer that masturbation has to do with sexual lust. Unfortunately, they're only partially correct. That is one reason why people masturbate. There are many similar, sometimes dehumanizing trains of thought that basically reduce the human being to animal-like comparisons because of their inclination to masturbate. This is nothing but scare-tactics based on the belief that fear of sin will lead a person to live a life of righteousness. This strategy falls short of understanding that true loyalty and obedience comes from a love of God and His righteousness. Scare-tactics only serve to subdue the youth with shame, fear, and self-hatred while festering a growing bitterness towards those who imposed these scare-tactics on them: "The Church". It is because of this vicious cycle of religious right-wing preachers and pastors who have turned away so many already that I feel compelled to write on the subject of masturbation.

The truth is that masturbation is more than something that is simply gratifying, but also a biological device to release certain chemicals into and out of the body. Looking at the science of our reproductive cycles there is a certain point at which the body releases semen (males) or lubricates the vagina (females). There are mixed opinions in the medical and science communities about why our bodies do this, but there is one strong correlation between masturbation and nocturnal emissions (wet dreams). It has been found that those who masturbate have fewer nocturnal emissions than those who do. It has been further theorized that the body expels excess semen or vaginal lubrication through the nocturnal emission process, but those who masturbate would not have an excess of semen/vaginal lubricant. I should point out that one of the last great researchers into the correlation between masturbation and wet dreams had evidence that showed the correlation could be seen but not proven as a cause and effect relationship. For men who have experienced the embarrassment and possible confusion of having a nocturnal emission and waking up to the mess of it can see how the idea of having fewer of them through masturbation is nearly incentive enough. Women are lucky because vaginal lubrication during a nocturnal emission can occur and go unnoticed. Another reason is that masturbation is a natural means of stress relief, however I would like to point out that sex experts and therapists are beginning to agree that this is not necessarily a healthy practice and can damage your sexual health later on in life.

But what about those Scriptures you quoted above which had you so adamantly convinced masturbation was sin?

Yes, yes, well those Scriptures had a very young boy scared senseless. That boy couldn't think critically about his own choice to have Cheerios or toast for breakfast. Let's look at those Scriptures together, shall we? The first is Genesis 38:8-10 which tells a brief story of how Onan had sex with his brother's wife after the brother had died. What's the big deal here? The big deal is that Onan was supposed to have sex with his brother's wife so that she could have a son, but Onan enjoyed having sex with his brother's wife and instead would let his semen drop to the ground so that she would not get pregnant and he could continue to have sex with her. Preachers and pastors have tried to twist this story to their fundamentalist view that masturbation is Devil's play and that God will strike you dead if you do it. What Onan did was disobedient and adulterous in God's eyes. He abused a duty of his tradition in order to get cheap thrills out of his dead brother's wife. A far cry from condemning masturbation when looked at in this light.

The next Scripture mentioned was that of Matthew 5:30 in which Christ says that if our hand offends us (or "causes us to stumble") that we should cut it off. Now, in case it needs saying, there are many other things our hands can do that are evil; stealing, killing, blaspheming, and cursing just to name a few. Folks, trust your hardline conservative pastors and preachers to be on the "God kills those who masturbate!" bandwagon if for no other reason than to scare your vulnerable and insecure adolescent self into trying to abstain from masturbating. It's no use arguing with them the merits of masturbation, or to even suggest that it can be anything other than a sexually gratifying act. You can try, but when you find yourself arguing with someone who invokes God's authority you will find yourself fighting an uphill battle that is better left un-fought.

I'm almost done folks, now others still will point to lust as being the source of need for masturbation. To this I say, yes, but only in part. While masturbation definitely can follow from lust, it does not always follow from lust. If one masturbates out of an erotic desire for someone, we are trying to bring to fruition a fantasy of someone else with ourselves. This is lustful and is in fact sinful, rather the most base use of masturbation. If, however we can contextualize masturbation as a biological device for non-sexual purposes, then we can properly apply its use outside a lustful context. Too wordy? If you've got a fever for some young guy or gal you know and you're imagining yourself in some romantic encounter with them and that fuels your masturbatory experience, then your masturbatory experience is based on lust. But let's say you have fantasies about your future spouse, not anyone in particular; that is not a "lustful fantasy" per se.

Finally, I would like to say that if you don't masturbate and don't have any need for it then great. I don't want people to read this and think that I'm encouraging people to do it if they have no need for it. However, if you're like many who simply do but live in fear and shame of God's wrath then I ask you to consider whether you are a victim of scare-tactics or if there is some legitimacy to what is being said about your habits. You should not live in fear of condemnation or Hell simply because you masturbate. You should take care to learn what is healthy and what isn't, as well as what is and isn't lustful, but beyond that there is no shame in it. If you masturbate because you feel a compulsion to, there are many things that could be happening to you which you should consult a proper physician or licensed therapist about, but aside from that masturbation should not be something we shy away from in honest discussion and private practice.

If you've survived to the end of this and want to learn more about proper technique for masturbation that will not damage your sexual experience with your future spouse, then I suggest you read on here: Healthy Strokes. For the most part, this guy has very level-headed advice about the subject, but you should read what is there with a grain of salt. Note that this is a secular source and some of his advice is not in line with the few guidelines I've provided, and to my sisters I caution you about internal masturbation.

Sincerely yours in the name of our Lord Jesus,
James

P.S. - If you have questions, concerns, or comments which you do not feel you want published for the whole world to see you are free to e-mail me: vladimirsokolovresurrected AT gmail.com (remove AT and replace it with the @ symbol).