Sunday, January 27, 2008

Spiritual Pornography

The following article is by Darin Hufford, and I received it in an email from a sister in Christ. Although she didn't specify where it was from, I'm pretty sure it is an excerpt from his book The God's Honest Truth. I have added my own points of emphasis - the bolded portions - and I have written a few personal notes throughout as well.

"I have a very deep and sincere concern for this generation of Christians. We are truly a unique group with a unique set of problems. Though we're not the first generation to experience the hype and control of institutional Christianity, we are the first to even consider divorcing ourselves from it. This decision alone creates a whole new set of problems that our parents and grandparents never dreamed of facing. They tolerated the religious abuses because they didn't think they had a choice in the matter. Our generation is the first to tap into the possibility that the Christian life could "return to the wild" after being bred and born in captivity. Deciding to leave is the easy part; learning to live in the wild and survive without institutionalized religion is quite another story.

I suppose what concerns me the most is the fact that most of us have been duped into believing things about the Christan walk that are simply not true. And many of the things that ARE true have been greatly exaggerated and embellished to enhance their theatrical presentation. Because of the fact that the majority of our Christian lives were spent watching the Christian play at church, we have grown accustomed to sitting through the show and demanding to be entertained. Every spiritual facet of the "personal relationship with God" has been caked with makeup, airbrushed, pumped with steriods, injected with botox, sprayed with perfume and stuffed with implants. In the end, we're left with a "Glam Shot" perception of "relationship" that is about as real as a fifty dollar blow-up doll. It's perfect for the theater, but when it comes to a real, one-on-one relationship, it's just impossible.

Leaving the Christian Church today and setting out to find your own relationship with God is about as likely as a man addicted to pornography believing he can get married and find similar fulfillment. I have a friend in my life who I honestly believe is a "Christian porn addict." I'm not saying he is addicted to pornography in the sense you might think, but he is addicted to what I call, "Christian Pornography." This type of "pornography" is a version of Christianity that blows up and exaggerates everything in an effort to spiritually arouse the onlooker. People become addicted to these outrageous representations of spirituality because the very idea of them brings excitement and gratification.

The addiction to these spiritually accentuated concepts is almost identical to an addiction to pornography - some people can't get aroused without it.

Every part of the Christian walk has been romanticized and glamorized to the point where we have no concept of what God really wants to offer us.

I know that it would sound lovely and cliché if I told you that sex in the context of marriage is much more fulfilling than watching pornography, but the fact is that it doesn't even compare. If you were to use a "pleasure meter" to identify which act is more physically satisfying, pornography would win hands down. Pornography is like a super sonic dose of pure gratification to the body, while sex in the context of marriage is sustainable and eternal. The same is true with substances like Methamphetamines and Heroin. We would all like to think that a family day at the park would outweigh the high that Meth and Herion offer, but let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. These drugs provide a high that completely blows away anything this life has to offer under normal circumstances. Being a person who came from a life of drug addiction, I can tell you first hand that one of the biggest challenges I faced after walking away from drugs was my ability to find fulfillment in the "every day" things of life. In order to do that, one has to change their thinking altogether. The drug addict seeks total fulfillment in the "here and now," and the non-drug addict looks for overall fulfillment in "the long run" of life. The decision to switch from an extreme lifestyle like that of a addict to a life of normalcy is quite difficult and almost never attained.

It is almost impossible for a Christian who has been raised on a steady diet of spiritual pornography to settle down and be content with the everyday life of REAL spirituality. Every aspect of "relationship with God" has been laced with religious PCP, and the real authentic truth doesn't even compare to the spiked version they grew up with.

It seems that at every angle of spirituality we have been fed an unrealistic and glamorized perception of "how it's supposed to be;" this worries me. These ideas - when put into action - are ultimately impossible to sustain for more than a week or two. It's just not realistic to think anyone could have a "burning passion" for God twenty-four hours a day for the rest of their life! Personal and simple things like prayer are turned into super spiritual and emotional experiences that shake the heavens and the earth. Before you know it, the very avenue through which we communicate with God has been hijacked and turned into a "passionate heart pounding cry to the heavens." Ultimately, when you can't sustain this emotional position, you begin to feel condemned regarding your Christian walk. This extremism has been applied to every single facet of the Christian life. We have an entire generation of people who honestly think a relationship with God is like a Hollywood, "action packed romance thriller." It has been so accentuated and romanticized, that when it's finally compared to the real thing, the lie seems a thousand times better!

The problem is that everything we have been taught about a personal relationship with God is an exaggerated lie and absolutely impossible to obtain. It simply does not exist! It was all smoke and mirrors for the purpose of entertaining and inspiring a congregation. When all is said and done, most people have NO idea what to really expect when it comes to a REAL personal relationship with Him. When the real thing shows itself, it is unappleaing and people are usually uninterested.

It also seems that after stepping away from the hype of the institution in an attempt to experience "the real thing," we usually get bored and run back to our church for a spiritual "porn fix." At the very least, we start feeling like we're dying inside because nothing looks the way they told us it would look. Nothing happens like it's supposed to happen. Worshipping alone in your bedroom doesn't even compare to the ten member band with lights and sound that your church offered. For some reason, you don't break down and cry your eyes out during the experience now. Without all the music and singing to drown out your voice, you're left with nothing but your own out of key tone. What's worse is that now your friends don't sit around and talk about Jesus all the time or sit and do Bible studies with you. There isn't a planned time or praise reports and prayer requests. You become a normal person who works and lives, just like everyone else.

It's kind of like the movie all your friends ranted and raved about. They begged you to go see it because they thought it was the best movie ever made. For weeks on end, all you heard them do was recite their favorite quotes and talk about how great it was. Finally you go watch the movie, and it ends up being a big let down because they'd built it up so much in front of you. The truth is, you probably would have loved the movie too, but after being contaminated by their exaggerated enthusiasm, the movie never stood a chance. It was bound to be a let down.

If I were going to give any advice to this generation of Christians, I think first and foremost I would say to let go of everything. Walk into this relationship with no pre-determined expectations. Forget everything you've heard about the way it's supposed to be. Forget all the embellished testimonies and stories people recited from the stage of your church. Start out as though are are the first person in the world to have a relationship with God. Be open to absolutely anything.

I have found that "true spiritual porn addicts" almost always reject the message I preach. It's simplicity angers and annoys them. It's so unattractive and dull that they can't imagine trading their present erotic spirituality for it. This is precisely why the Pharisees wanted to execute Jesus. He was a disappointment. They were looking for a reigning king and instead they got a dirty homeless carpenter. We're no different in today's institutional religious world than the Pharisees were in Jesus' day. Ironically, we still insist on preaching the "reigning king relationship" to everyone - even though Jesus hasn't returned as a reigning king yet. We STILL can't accept the carpenter. Getting someone to trade in the reigning king perception for the carpenter is nearly impossible.

Just like marriage in the physical realm, true relationship with God cannot be expected to deliever a constant state of passionate spiritual arousal. There are times when this happens, but if you hang your entire relationship on it, you're in for a world of disappointment. In many ways, some churches remind me of the married couple who based their relationship on their "hot sex life". When things inevitably cool off, they have to participate in even more bizarre and wild behavior to just keep it "hot and alive." It certainly explains why so many Christian groups get caught up in crazy spiritual fads. Their spiritual perceptions of relationship demands that things be kept at a spiritiually sensual boiling point at all times. It's like they are open to anything that will rekindle the fire of their spirituality for just another day.

I would honestly encourage everyone to take an honest look at their relationship with God and ask some important and deep questions. When you praise Him, what words do you use? Do you use the same phrases and terms you've heard a thousand other people recite at your church? Do you lift your hands and hop up and down like the people on the worship team? Do you teeter totter back and forth from right to left with your face tilted upwards, your elbows down and your arms extended out, your palms facing up, with a look of painful desperation on your face?"

I believe these same questions can be applied to those who have grown up with more conservative church experiences. Do you frown upon those who do raise their hands and hop up and down like a worship team? Do you do your best to stay away from churches that have worship teams? Do you sing with no facial expression whatsoever, because you don't want to come across as "charismatic"? Do you use the same phrases and terms you've heard a thousand other times at your church?

"My question is this: How would you express yourself if you hadn't watched everyone else show you how? What words would you use, if you hadn't memorized the one's they gave you? What would you say if you didn't already have a script? Would you really "cry out to the Lord" or would you be more inclined to just talk to Him about your life? Would you really lie on your face and wail at the alter, or would just sit quietly and think about Him?"

Would you feel free to express the emotions inside you at all in the presence of other Christians at church? Or would you be content to just take notes, acting like you don't feel anything?

"How would it all play out if you had never observed another Christian in your entire life?

What if God promised you right now that no matter how much money you gave in the offering, He would never give you one red cent for the rest of your life unless you earned it? What if He guaranteed you that you would never receive a healing from Him regardless of the sickness or injury? What if you never saw a miracle again until the day you died? What if no one ever gave you a "word from the LORD" from this day forward? What would become of your relationship with God if these things were to happen?"

What if you were never able to perfectly memorize a passage of Scripture again? What if God took your voice and you could never vocally witness to another person? What if you were thrown into prison and never again able to fellowship with other believers? What would become of your relationship with God if these things were to happen?

"I believe that we need to assess our lives and take a close and honest look at what we have. I fear that many people who have come from an institutional mindset really don't have much. What they do have is a handful of stuff that is absolutely useless in the real world. They have a pocket full of spiritual fairy dust that only works when they're inside the walls of their church, and when they try to sprinkle it out in the real world, nothing happens.

Survival in the real world of "relationship with God" comes in finding enjoyment in the little things, and in "the long run" of life. It comes when you commit to being normal and give up your spiritual aspirations of becoming a super spiritual prophet, a preacher, or a miracle worker. The moment you're ok with being just like everyone else and you no longer feel the need to validate your spirituality in the eyes of anyone, you will be well on your way to knowing the real Him. When the words "God told me" don't need to pass through your lips in order to impress the person you're talking to, and when you're willing to admit that you don't know what the heck He's telling you, you are closer than you could imagine. When you're more touched by a warm dinner with neighbors than you are by an emotional church service, you will have swallowed His very heart."

When you are more fulfilled by the love shared between yourself and others, rather than the amount of Biblical knowledge you have stored in your brain, then you are living in the reality of your Father's love.

"When the focus of your life goes from getting answers to your prayers to becoming answers to the prayers of others, you'll know Him like never before."

Darin Hufford

Thursday, January 24, 2008


If I had a steller explanation for the looooong delay in posting, I would give it.

Unfortunately, I can only boast of extreme busyness, as well as an unfortunate writer's block. I've had a lot of ideas floating around in my head, but life lately has made it hard to sort them all out. However, there is one thing I do want to write about quickly, as I try to sort out some of the other things crowding rationality out of my brain.

About a month ago, through the introduction of an anonymous comment on a previous post, (thank you friend, whoever you are,) I came into contact with another blogger who's writing has been a great encouragement to me. Her name is Holly, and her blog is listed along the side: To Know Him More

Through Holly's blog however, I found something that has pretty much jump started all the different things rummaging around in my brain the last few weeks.

The last year of my life has been a very interesting one, to say the least, as my New Year post expostulated. One of the biggest decisions I made last year was to stop attending the church I grew up in, for a lot of different reasons, which I won't go into here. Though lately I have been feeling myself treading close to toeing the depression I was in last year, I still desperately desire to have a relationship with my Heavenly Father above everything, and the process of learning how to have that relationship with Him has been the biggest focus of my soul lately.

Through Holly's blog, I found a book online called So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore. When I saw the name of the story, it jumped out at me for obvious reasons. I started and finished the book within two days, and I was astonished over how true it rang with me. After reading the book, I backtracked the link to find the site for the story, and through that I found Lifestream, the website of Wayne Jacobsen, co-author of the book. (It is usually referred to as "The Jake Book.") 12 years ago Wayne Jacobsen left the institutional congregation where he was an assistant-pastor, and ever since has been focusing on having a real relationship with God - with our Father - apart from attempting to maintain the functionality of any system. The Jake Book is based on the beginning of the journey for himself, as well as many others. While Lifestream has been a great encouragement and resource for me, my family and some of our friends, the most amazing thing I have come into contact with since finding the site is a book called "The Shack" by William Paul Young.

If you haven't heard of this book, I would highly recommend that you at least check it out, and hopefully read it for yourself. (The book website is here.) It's a fictional book, but I can tell that a lot of the author is contained within its pages. It puts forth in a way I never imagined the possibilities available to the son or daughter of God, in relation to the intimate relationship they can have with God. I don't want to give away any of the plot points, so I won't say anything else about it, but it is a book that has completely redirected the way I think about God's love for me. It's kinda scary, ok no, it's terrifying, but it's wonderful at the same time.

That's all I think I should try to get out right now, hopefully later this weekend my thoughts will have organized themselves a little bit better.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Domona Lisa

Ok, this is absolutely nothing to do with anything, it's just REALLY REALLY COOL!


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year and Grief ~ A Study: Part 3

I know most people usually write about their review of the previous year a little bit before the end of it, at least, that is how I would do it myself, if it weren't for certain circumstances that usually entice me to wait until a few days after the New Year to get out my reflections. Mainly the fact that it's my birthday today, and the last few days I've been pondering not just the last year, and how it has changed me since my last birthday, but also how it would feel to be a year older.

I don't feel much different right now, despite the fact that a lot of people really look forward to their 21st birthday. To me, my 20th birthday was more of a big deal, because I was no longer a teenager. Frankly, that birthday scared me to death. I had been so much pain and so many changes while I was 19, that I was not only terrified of growing up, but of what possible pain could come in the next year of my life.

And looking back, it's actually quite amazing. I experienced the worst, most acute pain I have ever felt in my life this last April, but even though this may sound weird, it was also the greatest blessing I received this year.

What I went through actually goes back to September 25, 2006, the day a friend of mine from school disappeared. His disappearance greatly affected the entire college campus, and was one of the main contributing factors leading to my decision to leave school last fall.

When I came back home, and eventually moved in with my dad and stepmom, the LORD was finally able to start reaching out to me slowly, pulling me to my feet as I began to realize - for the first time - that I was safe in His hand.

I had been in a severe depression for most of the following year, and last winter -January through April - was a time of much learning for me, and much rest. I can see the plan of God so clearly now in that point of my life. He first brought me to a place, physically and spiritually, emotionally, where I could learn to truly trust Him. Where I could have ground under my feet again.

As I grew in Him, and began to realize how much He loves me, and that my Christian walk has nothing to do with how well I'm 'performing,' but in how much I trusted Him on a daily, moment by moment basis, more and more I saw His work in my life, and was therefore able to understand more about Him, and trust daily even more. I can see God's great provision for me in this, because it meant that when April rolled around, I was for the first time in years at a place where I was secure and peaceful. And perhaps for the first time, experiencing the true joy of the LORD.

A few weeks into April, I found out through the private blog system kept up by students at the college I went to, that a body had been found a few blocks from the campus in a swimming pool that had been covered since Labor Day. Up until this point, there had been no news at all from what might have happened to my friend that disappeared. Since the body had been there for several months, they had to do an autopsy to find out who it was. I spent a very anxious two days, but I don't think I really believed that it could be my friend.

A day or two after the body was discovered, it was released that the body was indeed Paul Shuman-Moore, my friend that had gone missing so many months before.

When I heard the news, through reading the school blogs online, I completely broke down, and for the first time in months I felt so much pain that I didn't know what to do with it.

If this had happened a few months, or even a few weeks before hand, I don't think I could have handeled the news very well. I am so thankful that the LORD was able to bring me to the point that He did by the time that day came, because somehow, and I still don't know how I knew to do this, I was able to completely rest in Him, and trust Him that it was His will, no matter how painful.

The knowledge that everything is always under God's control was something I had been taught my whole life, but this was the first time I had ever claimed that truth for my own in order to comfort me through the strength and love of the Holy Spirit, to give me strength to bear the pain.

The night afer I found out, I was sitting at the computer, just playing solitaire, trying to get my mind off of things, and I had some music from the Gaither Vocal Band playing as well. As I sat there, I couldn't help but think about what had happened, about what I had learned, and I started crying again; but silently, not the sobs they had been earlier.

As I cried, I started listening to the music that was playing, or more specifically listening to the words, and as they began to sink in, I realized something amazing.

The song "Let Freedom Ring" was playing, and for the first time, I realized that despite the song sounding like it was talking about freedom from sin, it was also talking about freedom of any kind, because that's how capable and powerful our God is. I started crying in earnest at that point, because I realized that despite the fact that I knew that my grief wasn't a bad thing, that God expected it, and even wanted it so that He could bring me closer to Him, it didn't have to keep me in bondage. Immediately, I felt wellsprings of joy bubbling up inside my soul, completely seperate from the pain and grief in my heart.

That joy did not come from me, it was the Holy Spirit within me giving me His joy, keeping me from despair despite the horrible pain in my heart.

This truth is something that I have clung to ever since, because now I know that truly, I can be content, and even filled with God's supernatural joy, no matter whatever cirumstance I am in, no matter how grieved I am, no matter how much pain I am experiencing. He is always faithful, and His power can cut through any chain.

Dear believers, do not let past hurts and wrongs and griefs keep you from experiencing the love and joy of the Father. For that, along with anything that keeps us from drawing closer to Him, is bondage. That love and joy is always there, just waiting for us to accept it, so we can experience the freedom and blessings our Heavenly is just waiting to give us, and give us abundantly.

Let Freedom Ring
By Gloria Gaither

Deep within the heart has always known that there was freedom
Somehow breathed into the very soul alive
The prisoner, the powerless, the saved have always known it
There's something that keeps reaching for the sky

Even life begins because a baby fights for freedom
And songs we love to sing have freedom's theme
Some have walked through fire and flood to find a place of freedom
And some faced hell itself for freedom's dream

Let freedom ring wherever minds know what it means to be in chains
Let freedom ring wherever hearts know pain
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key
We can be free and we can sing --- let freedom ring

God built freedom into every fiber of creation
And He meant for us to all be free and whole
When my Lord bought freedom with the blood of His redemption
His cross stamped pardon on my very soul

I'll sing it out with every breath, I'll let the whole world hear it
This hallelujah anthem of the free
That iron bars and heavy chains can never hold us captive
The Son has made us free and free indeed

Let freedom ring down through the ages from a hill called Calvary
Let freedom ring wherever hearts know pain
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key
You can be free and you can sing let freedom ring
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key
You can be free and you can sing let freedom ring
You can be free and you can sing --- let freedom ring --- let freedom ring!