Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When Animals Attack

Dear Mom and Dad-

Thank you for not getting me a pet monkey when I was a kid, even though I begged and begged for one.


Lately, and I'm not sure why, I have become fascinated with a television show on Animal Planet called "Fatal Attractions". It's all about people who keep dangerous exotic animals as pets. Usually, the pet owner ends up dead by the end of the show, hence the title. It's not a program for the faint of heart.

People keep the strangest animals-- venomous snakes, giant lizards, bears, and, yes, even apes-- despite the fact that they are known to be dangerous. Now, if you grew up in the '70s and '80s like I did, you might remember that there was a spate of movies and TV shows at some point back then-- "B.J. and the Bear", "Cannonball Run II", etc.-- that featured cute little chimpanzees and their human companions. So, you might be thinking what I was thinking the other day when an episode of "Fatal Attractions" focusing on pet chimpanzees came on: "How could those adorable little animals be dangerous?" They wear hats and overalls, give hugs and kisses, and even communicate in a rudimentary way. My parents told me the reason I couldn't have one was that they carried germs and that they would stink up the house.

Well, apparently, chimps are much more sinister than smelly. Even when people have taken them in as babies and raised them as their own children, many chimps, upon reaching adolescence, have turned violent and attacked their owners or others.

Moreover, the way they attack is particularly gruesome. Snakes will bite whichever of your body parts is closest. Bears flail their paws around indiscriminately, mauling whatever is in their pathway. Chimpanzees, however, attack systematically. They focus specifically on severing small appendages (ears, eyes, nose, lips, fingers, toes, and genitals) first, before moving on to a more "macro" assault on their victims.

nterestingly, most of the storylines on "Fatal Attractions" follow the same pattern. The pet owner is somewhat reclusive and secretive about owning the animals-- in many cases, because the species is illegal to own or has been illegally obtained. Some owners have even refrained from calling 911 when attacked out of fear that the animals will be confiscated.

Additionally, the fatal attack usually comes after months or years of much smaller assaults. A nip here, a show of aggression there. Those closest to the pet owner warn him repeatedly that the animal is dangerous, but he refuses to listen, thinking that the small attacks will be the extent of the animal's aggression. He believes he has control over the animal and that the animal respects, loves, and trusts him enough not to hurt him.

And, on this show, he always turns out to be wrong.

When it comes to sin, are we any different than these pet owners? I Peter 5:8 says:

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

At first, sin looks more like a cute, cuddly lion cub. It's small. It seems harmless enough. We have control over the situation. And besides, who could resist a little nuzzle with something so adorable?

We keep the cub a secret because we know we're not supposed to have it, or maybe because others just wouldn't understand how it's really ok to keep it, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Time goes by. The cub gets bigger. It's not so cute anymore, but we still love it and can't let it go. We ignore the warnings that lions are dangerous. It begins to show signs of aggression from time to time, but we still think we're in control.
And then, eventually, comes the final attack.

The extent of the damage depends on one thing, and one thing only-- whether or not we have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Just like the victims who refused to call 911 out of fear that their animals would be confiscated, a person who has never turned away from his sin and cried out to Jesus to be saved from it will die a horrible death. His physical death may look peaceful, but it's in the afterlife of hell that Satan will devour him for eternity.

The person who is saved won't die that eternal death in hell, but he will bear the scars of his sin in this life. Maybe he'll just lose a finger, maybe he'll be horribly mutilated. His ministry might be destroyed, or maybe his marriage, his business, his reputation, or a friendship.

You see, on the episode of "Fatal Attractions" dealing with chimps, the victim didn't die. The chimp tore off his nose, lips, ears, and fingers, and gouged out one of his eyes, in addition to doing other damage. The man is still alive, but he will be horribly disfigured for the rest of his life. He can still function and have a purposeful life, but he will never be able to get back what he lost.

And so it is when we cuddle up with sin and it eventually turns on us. When we repent, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us (I John 1:9), but the scars remain for the rest of our lives. He can certainly still use us, but we can never get back what we've lost.

What to do?

But resist him {the devil}, firm in your faith... I Peter 5:9

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
James 4:7

Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. II Timothy 2:22

Run. Run for your life.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The "Merry Christmas" Melee

It's that time of year again. Time for love and good cheer. Peace on earth. Joy to the world.

And war.

Over the last several years, there's been a sometimes quiet and respectful, sometimes loud and obnoxious battle raging between conservative Christians and merchants over whether said merchants use the term "Merry Christmas" or the more general "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" in their advertising and in greeting customers at their stores.

I don't know about you, but it's driving me bananas.

Would I prefer for everybody to say "Merry Christmas"? Sure. But on my list of things to have an aneurysm about, it falls somewhere between my dentist telling me I should floss more and deciding where to get the dog a pedicure. I just really don't care that much. And I'm wondering, in the grand scheme of things that should be pressing upon Christians' hearts, should something this minor even register on the scale of issues that upset us?

What do we expect?

Speaking strictly numerically and statistically, genuine Christians-- not just people who say they're Christians and/or go to church, but people who have actually been regenerated by the blood of Christ --are a very small minority. Despite what you may hear to the contrary, the United States is not a Christian nation. It may have been founded on Biblically inspiried principles, but in practical societal terms today, this is a nation mostly made up of lost people.

This means that it's a safe bet that the majority of the people at the helms of these corporations are lost. And guess what? Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and lost people gotta act like lost people (Romans 8:7). What this means is that their decision whether to use "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" has nothing to do with Jesus or respecting the "true meaning of Christmas". Their decision is going to be based on what's going to make the corporation the most money. If saying "Merry Christmas" will get more customers in the door, that's what they'll do. It doesn't mean they're honoring Christ, it mean's they're pandering to Christians.

When we exert pressure on these corporations to say "Merry Christmas", what real change are we effecting? Are we not just creating more people who honor God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him (Isaiah 29:13)? Are we not sending them the subtle message that external behavior, rather than a reborn spirit, is what counts? One day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). One day. But that day is not today. We can't force change in people's hearts by coercing them into saying "Merry Christmas". And, to God, a change of heart is the only thing that matters.

Where should our passions lie?

I used to belong to a Christian "social issues" organization. In many ways, it's a great organization. I got frequent e-mails from them regarding which social issues various corporations were investing their profits in, where politicians stood on the issues, and lots of other helpful information and resources.

But every autumn they would begin their annual "Merry Christmas" campaign. They have buttons you can order that urge people to say "Merry Christmas". They have leaflets and stickers and videos you can order for your church to promote saying "Merry Christmas". They publish a "Naughty and Nice" list of merchants who use "Merry Christmas" (nice) or some other wording (naughty), so you'll know which stores to shop and which to boycott.

And it made me stop and think-- how many manhours go into that campaign every year? How much money does the organization invest in it? How much money do churches and individuals spend on their materials? Is investing that much time and money in promoting "Merry Christmas" good stewardship?

We have brothers and sisters all over this planet who would give anything to own a copy of the Bible. There are crisis pregnancy centers that operate on a shoestring trying to help women and their babies. There are missionaries who live in poverty in third world nations taking the Gospel to those who have never heard it. There are people starving. There are children who have been kidnapped by human traffickers.

And "Merry Christmas" is what we want to get all worked up about?

What's more upsetting to us, the fact that someone says "Happy Holidays" or the fact that the person who said it might die and spend an eternity in hell? Where do our passions truly lie? Are we passionate about the same things God is passionate about?

This Christmas, can we just focus on what's important? We have a God who loves every person so deeply and so violently, and whose mercy and grace are so unfathomable, that He came here personally to redeem us.

And there are people all around us who don't know that.

And they desperately need us to love them enough to tell them that in Jesus there's hope. A way out of their sin. A way to get clean. A secure eternity. Peace.

God and sinners, reconciled. Oh, what a Merry Christmas!