50 Positive Responses to Shades of Grey

Let's try painting a different picture.
Let’s try painting a different picture.

There is a story from a best selling book out there right now about a violent man and a naive woman. He was rich and powerful with a mysterious masculinity and magnetic personality. She was flirty and he took advantage. He used his position to put her in a compromising situation. It’s a sordid story of passion, lust, and power and it’s not Fifty Shades of Grey.

Surprised?

The story is David’s affair with Bathsheba.

I get why Evangelicals are up in arms about the Fifty Shades of Grey movie released this weekend. The movie is one-fifth sex scenes and is uncomfortable. Plus, the sex practices venture into realms that most Evangelicals consider kinky at best and abusive at worst. Such things ought not to be, so blog posts, articles, and books are written to indignantly respond.

But I’m more disturbed by Christian responses to the movie than I am by the movie itself. Some are so condescending and dismissive to anyone seeing the movie that you wonder if they have ever read the Bible.

In case you have forgotten, here is a partial list of Bible stories where sex is a major plot point:

  • Adam and Eve
  • Lot and his daughters
  • Abraham and Sarah
  • Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah
  • Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife
  • Judah and Tamar
  • Dinah and Shechem
  • Sampson and Delilah
  • The concubine at the end of Judges
  • Ruth and Boaz
  • David and Bathsheba
  • Song of Solomon
  • Esther and Xerxes

(To name a few.)  Acknowledge that sex is just part of these biblical stories and then reconsider Fifty Shades of Grey. Is it really more explicit than any of them? And if not, then instead of criticizing, think critically about the movie and how to engage a culture enraptured by it.

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Instead of ranting about the movie, channel your frustration into something positive. To that end, I offer fifty positive responses to Fifty Shades of Grey:

  1. Learn enough about the story to talk intelligently with a friend or coworker about its themes. You don’t have to read it, but check out the Wiki page and some bloggers who have.
  2. Write your own book showing sex in a healthy relationship.
  3. Start a neighborhood Bible study on Song of Solomon.
  4. Volunteer at a shelter for battered women and children in your area.
  5. Donate the price of a ticket and the books to a ministry that specializes in helping abused children.
  6. Hold a screening of the movie Calvary in your home and discuss the issues of child abuse (this film is less graphic but deals with similar themes).
  7. Start a Celebrate Recovery group in your church if you do not have one.
  8. If you have your own issues with sex or abuse (or both) get counseling.
  9. Start or join a book club so you can keep current with trends in literature and discuss them intelligently.
  10. Pray for people reading the book or seeing the film to find the true joy and pleasure of a healthy marital relationship.
  11. Open up to a friend about the shame you feel with regard to sex (this will build a relationship quickly).
  12. Pray that God would break your heart for those suffering from sexual abuse.
  13. Take a missions trip with an organization that helps stop sex trafficking around the world.
  14. Hold a garage sale and donate the proceeds to a ministry that helps abused people recover.
  15. Make love to your spouse in a new or different way.
  16. Practice contemplative prayer in Song of Solomon. (How do you think God would change your view of sex through this?)
  17. Start a same gender group to talk about Biblical sexuality and the struggles it brings.
  18. Subscribe to a blog like Hot, Holy, and Humorous. (This blog is genuine, helpful, and so funny.)
  19. Educate your children about healthy sexuality, including the joys, sorrows, and pleasures of it.
  20. Demonstrate a healthy sexuality in your marriage to your children which may mean not entirely hiding your sexuality.
  21. Write a journal entry about why this film makes you uncomfortable and share it with a trusted friend.
  22. Take someone who does not have a Valentine out for lunch.
  23. Minister to strippers in your town by taking them a meal or other things they need.
  24. Write a thank you note to someone who mentored you in how to have healthy relationships.
  25. Encourage someone you know who is in an unhealthy relationship by listening to them.
  26. Host a meal or play date with a family you don’t know well already. Ask them to tell you their story.
  27. Ask about and listen to the story of someone you feel is angry or downcast.
  28. Hold a family discussion about how to love friends when their family goes through divorce or abuse.
  29. Ask God to help you see people with His eyes and love.
  30. Talk to your children about the problems with pornography (keep it age appropriate, of course).
  31. Have the sex talk with your kids before their friends or siblings do.
  32. If you struggle with porn, ask a trusted friend to be your accountability partner.
  33. Read a book that deals with relationships honestly. Sacred Marriage is an excellent choice.
  34. Make a plan to improve your marriage with regular date night or late night conversations.
  35. Accept your spouse as they are and quit trying to force your relationship into someone else’s mold.
  36. Write a love note to your spouse. Be specific and erotic, verging on graphic.
  37. Mentor a newly-married couple who needs to hear how to overcome early challenges to intimacy.
  38. Read a classic love story like Emma by Jane Austen (or give me a better example…this was the best I could think of).
  39. Ask a godly couple to mentor your marriage.
  40. If you’re engaged, discuss your desires, expectations, and shame with your fiance.
  41. If you’re married, ask your spouse what they wish were different in your relationship.
  42. Teach a Love & Respect Sunday School class at your church.
  43. Write your story of overcoming abuse or shame to show others it is possible.
  44. Moms: take your sons on a date to show and tell them how to treat a woman.
  45. Dads: take your daughters on a date to show and tell them how they should be treated by a man.
  46. Have a family Valentine’s Day celebration and tell each member of your family what you love about them.
  47. Figure out what makes the important people in your life feel loved and practice doing that. For instance, my wife couldn’t care less about flowers on Valentine’s Day but she loves when I do the dishes every night.
  48. If you’re single, host a Valentine’s party for your friends.
  49. Meditate on Isaiah 43:1-7 and let God’s love define how you love the people in your life.
  50. Post 1 Corinthians 13 on your refrigerator or desk and ask yourself who needs you to love them in this way.

I know: some of these suggestions are hokey, or maybe too similar to others.  But I’m sure there are things I’ve missed, too. Comment below and let’s fill out this list!

3 Lovely Truths About God’s Love for People Looking in All the Wrong Places

Love for the Broken Hearted

Valentine’s Day is at the end of this week complete with it’s mad rush of chocolate boxes, packed restaurants, and overpriced roses. Is there any hope of real love in the midst of a manufactured holiday like this? After all, we celebrate St. Valentine’s martyrdom not necessarily his romantic heart.

For many love is more like martyrdom than romance novel. We all want love. We all offer love in one way or another. And sometimes we offer it in exchange for something else looking for love from people who cannot or will not give it unconditionally.

So often, I find that I try to do the same thing with God when I feel unworthy of His love. I want to do something to earn it back. But, of course, it never left; an important lesson during the season of love.

Let’s look at a famous interaction Jesus had with a random woman at a dinner party. His tenderness with her reveals us how He responds to humility and repentance if we’ll just come to him. And it teaches us so much about love.

1. You are welcome with Jesus

The story goes that Jesus was invited to a swanky uppity-up party at a real mover and shaker’s house. This guy was respected and successful. I don’t know why he wanted to hang out with Jesus but he extended an invite and Jesus showed up.

As sometimes happens when Jesus shows up it wasn’t long before things got weird.

Luke 7 just says “a woman” also came to the party. Apparently she “had lived a sinful life” as if that distinguishes her from anyone. Probably she was the town prostitute and Luke was too polite to say so.

Before I tell you what she did, I want you to put yourself in her place for a moment. Have you ever wondered what leads people to prostitution? It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out that the circumstances must be desperate financially, emotionally, or relationally. I do not know if this woman simply reached the end of her rope, was forced into a lifestyle she couldn’t get out of, or simply thought she had nothing left to give but herself.

The point is that she showed up knowing she was one of the least reputable people in the house that night. She was not invited and did not belong. She had done everything wrong and probably felt deeply unloved. She was looking for love in all the wrong places and it gave her a reputation.

Is that so far off from your story or mine?

Okay, so maybe you’re not a literal prostitute but what about all those things you do to try and feel loved?

Some people eat their cares away. Others distract themselves with endless levels of Candy Crush (BTW – no invites on Facebook, please).

Some turn to pornography to fill a need. Others destroy relationships as quickly as they get into them.

Some people binge watch on Netflix. Others volunteer to assuage their guilt.

We are all represented by the prostitute in the story. We offer ourselves to the gods of food, lust, greed, and distraction. We think there is nothing else to give and offer ourselves up.

Knowing this about ourselves can make us feel like we don’t belong, like we have a reputation, unloved. We bring this baggage into our relationship with God. We wonder how God could forgive us. How could He see me more fully than I do and still love me? So we hold off. We keep God at a distance. We disbelieve.

2. You are treated with kindness

The woman in the story does not stay far away. She was a pariah, no doubt. You can tell by the reaction of the host. He didn’t even have to express his disgust because it was written all over his face. I imagine the woman was ready to accept the scorn she knew was coming.

But as she approached Jesus something happened. A tear welled up, rolled down her worn cheek, and splashed on the Messiah’s feet. After it followed many more to the point that she began to wipe his feet – dirty, unwashed feet – with her hair. Can you imagine having nothing to clean up a mess you just made but your hair?

At this, we get our first glimpse into Jesus. If a random woman I’d never met started shedding tears on my feet the first thing I would do is move them. For one, I’m ticklish. For two, it’s just kind of weird. But not Jesus. He let her continue without saying a word. At least now we know that Jesus wasn’t ticklish.

Jesus was not repulsed by this woman’s past, her reputation, or her social awkwardness. He could tell where she came from and that she didn’t belong and he treated her with kindness anyway.

So why do we think Jesus will judge us harshly if we come to him?

3. You are forgiven

Finally, looking at the woman Jesus forgives her sins. The room filled with incredulity. Who was this guy to be forgiving people? But the woman knew. She accepted.

To the incredulous Jesus told a story about two debtors who could not repay. Who would be more grateful, Jesus asks his wrinkly-nosed host? The obvious answer was the one who owed more.

Jesus went far beyond mere kindness. Jesus defended the woman, shaming his host in the process, and made her look like a hero. You don’t do that for someone you don’t love. Jesus could see past the sin, past the misdirected efforts at love to see a heart that longed for the mercy and grace he was from the Father.

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace” Jesus said.

His Love is Peace

Most love stories are drama. Wouldn’t it be nice if love were peaceful?

Jesus offers peace.

So here’s the call to you and I this Valentine’s Day: Believe and do not doubt that Jesus loves you.

He knows you have been rejected. He knows you look for love in other places.

He also went to a bloody death to accept, defend, and forgive you.

The Equal and Opposite Forces of Faith and Fear

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Newton’s Third Law of Motion

What if faith and fear are equal and opposite forces?
What if faith and fear are equal and opposite forces?

I only took physics because of a pretty redhead. You should know up front in this post that I wasn’t really paying attention in that class. If on the off-chance you read something physics related in the post below and it is wrong let’s follow standard internet protocol where you leave me a nasty comment, I call you a troll, and we all move on.

End credibility-destroying rant.

As mind-numbing as the mathematical aspect of physics is there is actually value in understanding the subject. Physics tells us that there are forces in the world. For instance, forces within your car’s engine allow you to go and other forces in your brakes allow you to bring the car to a complete stop at a stop sign. Or in my case a “California stop.”

As humanity has learned to harness, use, and overcome those forces we have taken great strides forward. I mean, have you ever stopped to consider the wonder of a metal can defying gravity to carry you to a palm-studded beach? Physics makes that possible.

So it makes sense that if we understand a few basic rules of physics we can really do some good.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion

Above is Newton’s Third Law of Motion which, as it turns out, I completely misunderstood until today. For the longest time, I assumed that “equal and opposite reaction” meant something more like cause and effect. That is, one action happened and then something else happened because of it. This is not what Newton meant.

The Third Law of Motion actually means this: one action happens and at the same time another action counteracts it.

It’s probably easier if I just quote someone here so check out this explanation I found:

“The statement means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object. The direction of the force on the first object is opposite to the direction of the force on the second object. Forces always come in pairs – equal and opposite action-reaction force pairs.”

That last part should catch your attention. Forces come in pairs. Consider for a moment how this law about physical forces also applies to the movements of your heart. Physics teaches something about following a God who asks us to believe and not doubt.

What if faith and fear are equal and opposite forces?

I have these experiences from time to time – maybe you do too – of believing that God called me to something special so I get involved, hit publish, or reach out to someone. Within minutes fear washes through my being and regret lays its icy grip on my heart. No matter how good or profitable the experience was I fear it was a failure. Or, more specifically, that I was a failure. Does this happen to you, too?

That feeling is fear’s equal and opposite push against your step of faith and you may as well get used to it because laws of physics almost never go away. You can expect fear to stalk you every step of faith you take. Fear is mentioned over 400 times in the Bible because God knows that the biggest impediment to our faith is fear.

By now you might be wondering if this strange application of Newton’s Third Law applies in the other direction. What about those times when you let fear take the lead? Is there an equal and opposite reaction by faith? This one is harder to answer but I believe faith pushes back, too.

I have this theory that deep down all of us are seeking our true selves in Christ. Some people’s true selves are buried under pain and brokenness so they flail about trying to find it. Others bury it under discipline. Still others are too lazy to ever look at all. But, eventually, a moment comes when you have to risk and if you choose fear a twinge of remorse hits in the back of your spirit. I call that twinge faith. It knows who God made you to be and pushes back against fearful decisions. Faith is subtler than fear but pushes back anyway.

So, fear is not going away.

Faith isn’t either.

I’ll leave you with this question: In the thing that matters to you most, are you acting in faith or fear? Are you going to let fear stop you even if you step out in faith? Or will fear get the upper hand? The choice is yours.

Why I Stopped Believing in Myself

I remember the moment fear took over. In high school I was a drama nerd who acted in plays and even did a commercial that played in a local movie theater. The job paid so I fancied myself a professional.

One day sometime senior year I wanted to audition at the local playhouse and on the appointed day drove there with my girlfriend and best friend. Butterfly flutters tickled my stomach as we drove which only grew worse as we approached the theater. When we got there I was surprised at how many people were there. The parking lot was crowded but we found a spot eventually.

We exited the car and took a few strides toward the playhouse when I was overwhelmed with fear. The butterflies were getting serious now. I suggested that we did not have to audition and after small debate everyone agreed the audition was off. When the car doors slammed it was like the jaw of fear sinking into my heart.

That day, I gave up believing in myself.

My 20 year high school reunion is in 2015. (Hold on…had to catch my breath a second. Okay, let’s keep going.) How many fear-based decisions is that? Too many.

What I Believe in Now

I could point to a number of Scripture passages that encourage us to believe and not be afraid. As much as I’d like to do that none of them speak deeply into my spirit.

Instead, I want to share a passage with you today that gets overshadowed by its more famous context but if you are making decisions from fear like I have it might be the most important thing you read this year.

The famous passage is Ephesians 2:8-9:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

You probably know this one. What a beautiful truth it contains, too! You and I do not have to try to earn God’s love, prove our faith, or somehow obtain our salvation. It’s all been given to us because of His grace. Amazing!

But the gift is even deeper.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The gift is more than God wanting you while you were a sinner. It’s why He wanted you. He wanted you because He created you to do something. Something good.

You are His “handiwork,” which literally means poetry. Have you ever written poetry?

The only piece of poetry I ever published was in a high school journal which I probably still have around here somewhere. I worked for days on that piece. How did I want it to read? What feelings did I want to convey? What words would best express this feeling?

Friend, when God created you He did the same thing. He intentionally created you to do something. Lean into that truth and fear disappears.

All those years ago I started believing fear and stopped believing in myself. In light of Ephesians 2:10 I think I also stopped trusting God. The way back to self-respect is not through fear but faith that what God says about you is true. That’s why I keep writing about trusting Him even when He doesn’t make sense.

The picture above is of me holding a framed quote given to me by my son. It says “Let your faith be bigger than your fears. – The Bible.” I love so much about this picture. It now hangs in my office to remind me to stop believing in my fear and start believing God.

Happy New Year, my friends! And here’s to a faith larger than your fears in 2015!

The Gift is Him

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Each year Christmas has a different theme for me. Some years it is gratitude for reaching Christmas again. Some years it is sorrow left over from the year’s grief. Others, it is just a blur of busyness.

I want to share with you my theme for this Christmas because I think it just might change your life.

Braggadocios?

Keep reading and let me know in the comments.

Christmas can be about many things depending on your disposition, upbringing, and faith. Children are notoriously interested in the presents and toys they receive. Growing older the meaning changes to giving generously. People of Christian faith point to the birth of Jesus as the “reason for the season” while people without faith avoid the holiday altogether or use it to celebrate family and thankfulness.

This year, for me, the significance is God. That may seem trite but hear me out.

The other day I spent an hour trying to remember enough Hebrew to look up a word used in Lamentations 3:24 used for “portion.” I had to use Strong’s to find the right word then looked it up in BDB (for the uninitiated, BDB is a Hebrew lexicon…language nerd stuff).

It turns out the Hebrew word for “portion” means “portion.” Learning that the word means exactly what you think it means happens in word studies sometimes. But this was not a total loss because seeing the other uses of the word sparked a question.

The other uses refer to land, food, booty (the spoil of war kind not that other kind) and people. And, of course, God. This is where it gets interesting.

In each case one’s “portion” is what they receive, possess, or own. Your portion is your piece of the proverbial pie. It’s what you get out of life.

Like the sun rising over the Eastern plains, this question dawned on me slowly:

What if God is what I get out of life?

The light is dim at first but suddenly shines in your eyes too brightly to let you see anything else for awhile.

Man Delivering Christmas Presents
Everyone you know is trying to get something from life. You probably know a shallow person who insists life is merely about sex, drugs, and rock and roll or however people are putting it these days. You probably also know a wise person who tells you that relationships are most important.

People pursue many things in life but they fall into three categories:

  • Money – Poor and rich alike pursue money. One to make ends meet; the other to make their mark.
  • Relationships – Everyone desires to love and be loved. Sometimes it’s the absence of love that drives people to craft unhealthy relationships.
  • Power – Some people just want influence. They want to control and they are not satisfied with anything until they get it. They manipulate. They lie. They ruin anyone in their way. This probably does not describe you, though, because most of these people are in Congress.

Christmas is the perfect time to consider what you want out of life. No other holiday has the dynamic of Christmas with it’s strange blend of malls-to-the-wall materialism, don’t-want-to-be-there family gatherings, and that-one-relative-who-just-won’t-be-satisfied power plays.

Contrast it all with the meekness of a baby-burrito in a common feeding trough and you may wonder if it is enough.

Seems easy enough. If you’re like me you know the “right” answer but deep down you prefer the other stuff.

Still, the question burrows into your heart and makes you wonder. How would your life be different if all you wanted out of it was God? What decisions would you make differently?

This brings us back to that baby. He was born to bring us back to God. He was born to restore a relationship between God and humankind.

He was born to make God your portion, the best gift of all.

Merry Christmas, friends!