Monday, December 15, 2008

The Perfect Gifts To Give This Season


"Everybody says they need just one thing. What they really mean is they need just one thing more." -Rich Mullins



It's that time of year again: time for decorating the Christmas tree, hanging lights outside the house, and stress for hours over gifts for loved ones that more than likely will be completely forgotten by this time next year.


So here's your chance. Your chance to give the perfect gift. One that is meaningful. One that is a "one size fits all" kind of gift. One where the color will be okay, and even if you decide to go cheap, it still can change someone's life.


Where can one find such a gift? Go check out http://www.worldvisiongifts.org/.


World Vision is a Christian organization that helps people in need all around the world. Through them you can "adopt" a child with monthly donations. And I know what you're thinking....that this is another charity that wants a bunch of money to feed the hungry, but your money really might not even go to that purpose. Let me stop you there. First, 86% of all proceeds go directly to the humanitarian efforts World Vision is involved in across the globe. That means 86 cents of every dollar goes to help tsunami victims, orphans in Europe, single mothers in Africa, and children all over the globe.


Kathryn and I have been blessed to be a part of adopting a child through World Vision for over 4 years now. Her name is Stacy, a young girl from a village in Kenya. Every 3-4 months we'll get an update on her, how her education is going, how her family life is, and what she enjoys doing in her free time. We also get pictures of her every now and then. It's truly awesome to actually see the face of the person you're helping even though they're thousands of miles away.


And starting a few years ago around Christmas time, World Vision came out with a really neat idea: a catalog of various gifts you can give to help those less fortunate around the world! Just to give some examples:


-For $75 you can give a goat to a family. Goats produce milk, cheese, and yogurt, all of which are essential to the nourishment of young children in places like Kenya and Zimbabwe.


-For $225 you can get a donkey, which helps transport firewood or other products purchased at village markets.


-For anywhere from $20-$200, you can donate to the Orphan and Widows Fund, which helps meet neds such as food, shelter, education, counseling, and job training.


-For $70 you can send an orphan to school for a year.


-For $60 you can purchase 10 fruit trees for a community.


-For $100 you can help bring safety to a child rescued from child trafficking and prostitution.


-For $85 you can purchase a bicycle for a girl so she may get to school and back home safely.


-For $16 you can buy 2 basketballs to help bring fun and healthy exercise to a child.


The amazing thing about World Vision is that it goes beyond just the hunger needs. You can help build a home for a single mother ($2,000), provide a business loan for a woman ($100), help provide wheelchairs and prosthetics for disabled children ($25-$75), or help protect a family from malaria-bearing mosquitoes ($20).


Clean water, job training, newborn immunizations, school supplies for poor children in the U.S. The list goes on and on.


I know there's a lot on our list this Christmas. We have things we want and things we want to buy others. But really, don't we have what we need? Think about waking up, not knowing where your next meal was coming from. Think about walking 10 miles to a well to get clean water. Think about not having the many opportunities we have here.


Then think about how you can help people who face these realities every day.


God Bless guys, and Merry Christmas!





Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lemonade, Apple Pie, and Porn


Before hopping on a plane recently on a trip to Florida, I followed my typical airport routine of finding a newsstand close to my gate to pick up reading material for the flight. I decided upon the latest issue of Esquire. I've never read Esquire before, and for all I knew I had just completely wasted 5 bucks on a magazine full of "artsy" Hilfiger ads and directions on how to have your best abs ever.

I found the mag to be pretty good overall, ads included. However one article really stuck out in my mind after I read it. It was titled "What's With All The Ugly People Having Sex?" and was written by Stephen Marche. Needless to say it warranted my attention.

This wasn't a write-up blasting the porn industry. Nor was it, to my pleasant surprise, a piece glorifying the sex industry as is often the case in our secular world.

Basically what the piece discussed was the growing trend of what is essentially "do it yourself" pornography. Apparently two major sites spinning off of youtube.com have been created for the sole purpose of regular people to post their own sex tape.

This, while not surprising, is scary. There was a time where sex was considered a special thing, intimate, between a man and wife alone. That day has passed. Now it is no more special than shaking hands with a stranger, no different than rush hour traffic, no more out of place in the culture of America than apple pie and lemonade.

But shouldn't we have seen this coming? After all, the porn industry isn't going to turn away from any possible money-making outlet. Over 40 years ago a man named Hefner happily began exploiting young women by distributing magazines with their naked pictures in them.
About 10 years ago, a man named Joe Francis began touring around to different spring break locations videotaping drunk girls who, for a little money and 15 minutes of fame, got naked on camera.

Now, in the 2000s, we have websites dedicated to amateurs wishing to post videos of themselves having sex. As any remaining privacy goes out the window, apparently any sliver of shame does as well. As the article so matter-of-factly states "Pornography, like every other type of expression available in contemporary life, has been democratized." Sad, isn't it?

Certainly, there are two sides to this. There are those people who feel the need to share their sex lives with anonymous people. There are women who, beginning as young teenagers, are pressured into looking sexy. Some even to the point of wearing Playboy attire like it was a fashion statement. Those who also willingly post soft-core porn images onto sites like facebook and myspace.

Marche interjects with an interesting point of view later in the piece. He describes these DIY porn people as persons not wanting to be viewed for the sexual aspects, but for the attention and fame it can bring. "Homemade pornography is do-it-yourself celebrity, and in a world in which just about anybody can get a reality show, the homemade sex tape is the closest most civilians can come to feeling like a real star." Quite a price to pay, isn't it? 15 minutes of fame, and all you have to do is be completely naked and vulnerable in front of the camera having sexual intercourse with another partner.

However, these people would never view themselves as porn actors or actresses. That seems, like Marche puts it, as "a gruesome example of a menial laborer". Again, it's the fame that brings them in, not the sexual activity itself. These people view the Paris Hilton on the red carpet with the cameras flashing, not the Paris Hilton ashamed and disgusted at the whole world being able to view her having sex at any time they want.

The other side is the people (mostly men) who pay money, time, and attention to pornography. Men who are willing to risk marriages, families, jobs, and self-respect for a little self gratification. And we're suckers for a pretty lady taking her clothes off. See, that's the double-edged sword we were all born with: a strong attraction to visually appealing women.

When discussions of lust come up, of all the various verses the Bible contains that fit perfect into the conversation, I keep thinking back to the story of David. A man considered to be "a man after God's own heart". Yet a man also tempted, and failing miserably at resisting it. Check it out for yourself in 2 Samuel 11.

I don't think the question is relevant at this point "how do we stop porn?" Porn is sin, and a temptation, and we can't stop either of those ourselves. The question then must be how do we as Christians react to porn? How do we resist it's allure? How do we teach young men about respecting women? How do we teach young women about respecting themselves?

I'm not here to answer those questions. I simply want to bring awareness to the church about a growing epidemic that is eating away at the fabric of America, and as the bride of Christ, we must no longer be silent regarding it.

Thus when a movie comes out called "Zack and Miri Make a Porno", we as Christians, instead of just shaking our head and turning away can use it as a springboard for discussion. Instead of being appalled at the xxxchurch.com ministry, we can embrace it as necessary and use it as a resource to help Christians break the chains of pornography. Instead of pointing fingers and condeming a generation of promiscuity to hell, we can be actively praying for America's youth, that they'll maintain a lifestyle that is pleasing to Christ.