Why Justin Bieber Needs Our Prayers, Not Our Gossip

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When controversial videos of Justin Bieber surfaced recently (with a young teenage Bieber spouting off racial slurs), he once again positioned himself in the glare of the public spotlight.

In a previous post, I wrote: “I’ve always felt a compassion for young celebrities, [who], like all young people, are in the awkward transition into adulthood, no doubt making mistakes in the process. The only difference? Celebrities will make their mistakes in the scrutiny of the public eye.” Unfortunately, we treat celebrities not as mere entertainers, but as entertainment themselves. The public places them under continuous scrutiny, and we “regular people” feel entitled to criticize their every move.

The fame cycle is intriguing: celebrities are worshipped one moment, and then become the object of ridicule the next. They live in a constant Catch-22. Placed on a pedestal, they are unable to do anything wrong. Placed under a microscope, they are unable to do anything right.

A deep prayer of mine is that one day, Christians would come to view celebrities as real people who carry their own share of brokenness. Whenever a fellow Christian makes a critical comment about a celebrity, I flinch. It stings especially coming from the pulpit. Gossip is a sin, whether it’s someone you know personally or not (more about that here). As someone once said: “If you spend time praying for people instead of talking about them, you’ll get better results.”

I first considered working for Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) full-time upon learning about its founding. Co-founders Bill Bright and his wife Vonette began reaching out to college students at the UCLA campus in the 1950s. Their main demographic was student leaders, especially members of fraternities and sororities. Bill Bright believed that while churches had plenty of ministries serving Skid Row and jails, they lacked existing outreach towards college students and executive leaders. These were the influential leaders of today and tomorrow. No doubt, Jesus cares for the orphans, widows, homeless and the poor. But I don’t think He ever meant to exclude the cultural leaders (Don’t believe me? Brush up on the stories of Nicodemus and The Rich Young Ruler: both powerful, privileged individuals whom Jesus did not turn away).

Besides the video controversy, Bieber has had a rocky year thus far with his January DUI arrest, criminal vandalism (“egging”) charge, and his high-profile on-again, off-again relationship with Selena Gomez. But soon after the controversial videos leaked, Bieber posted an excerpt from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling devotional book on his Instagram account. Just a few days ago, Bieber and Selena Gomezattended a bible study together.

Someone once said that the Gospel is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread for free. Unfortunately, we Christians are quick to point out the sins and shortcomings of celebrities, yet rarely do we take the awareness of celebrities’ flaws as a catalyst to pray for them. Eighteenth-Century Scottish Preacher Oswald Chambers said that “God gives us discernment not so we can judge, but so we can be intercessors.”

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating that we excuse the wrong behavior of celebrities. I simply want to challenge fellow Christians to choose to see past the fame to the brokenness, and as a result, to extend compassion.

Bieber reminds me a lot of David in the Bible. Both are public figures who committed giant mistakes in the public eye. But even after committing adultery and murder, God still chose to use David as a King. In the same way, I believe God still plans to use Bieber in a mighty way in pop culture, not because he is perfect, or the most well-behaved Christian, but because he is a broken human being desperate for God’s grace.

In my own personal life, I’ve been learning that I don’t give hope to others by having it all together. I give hope by being transparent about my flaws, yet being secure in the love and forgiveness that Christ Jesus provides. It has been my prayer for the past several months that Bieber would have a “Gethsemane” experience. As Christian Author Ken Gire says, Gethsemane is “where we go when there’s no place to go but God” (Source). In other words, we usually meet God at rock-bottom.

It’s my deepest desire to see young celebrities like Justin Bieber to arrive at their “Gethsemane” to truly see their need for grace. I would love to see every young celebrity have a similar experience to what Anthony Evans describes in his song “The Way That You Love Me.”

My way, destroying me / I couldn’t see I was my worst enemy / So You took away till my soul ached / And I knew that it was no mistake / Anything that meant anything to me was gone

You love me so much that You let me fall knowing that / I would lose it all and hear Your call / You love me so much that You chase me / When I ran away You captured me / By letting me run to the end of myself /…This is the way, the way that You love me

QUESTION: Would you join me in lifting celebrities up in prayer, to nudge them towards their rock-bottom, and ultimately towards Jesus Christ?

Resources:Intense Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire

'Once Upon a Time' and the Pitfalls of Dating

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Earlier this month, the popular ABC series Once Upon a Time ended its third season with the protagonist Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) finally getting together with the once-villain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). I have to admit, since the show first introduced the character Hook, I rooted for these two characters to get together. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on why I enjoyed this pair so much. Was it the fact that he was a shameless womanizer and flirt who finally met the girl who resisted his charm? Was it that she was a typical modern jaded woman who slowly put down her walls down for her relentless pursuer? I’m sure those were factors.

Yet, looking back, I realized what made this budding romance so unique: Hook and Emma’s love story had elements of a courtship, not simply a dating relationship.

Most mainstream Hollywood movies and primetime television shows portray the common practices of casual, recreational dating. The music swells as the two individuals share their first kiss. The climax of the plot comes with the couple’s first sexual encounter, with little or no reasons for compatibility beyond romantic feelings and sexual tension. Watching those same movies as a married woman in my mid-twenties,I now find those love stories one-dimensional and lackluster. Filmmakers rarely show us the negative consequences of dating. Here are some pitfalls of casual dating, and how Hook and Emma avoided them. Hopefully, we can all glean some valuable relationship advice from these two.

(WARNING: The following will have plenty of spoilers. Be sure to get caught up on the series before reading on!)

1. Dating focuses on one-on-one interactions, stunting the get-to-know-you process.

In a dating relationship, it is all too easy to put up a façade. After all, it’s all about presenting the best version of yourself. On a typical date, a couple is completely absorbed in each other; rarely do they interact with each others’ families. Hook and Emma went on exactly zero dates–count ‘em, zero–yet somehow, they were successfully able to get to know each other. How? They learned each others’ character traits while spending time with their family and friends. By the Season 3 Finale, Hook has become a part of Emma’s trusted community: Emma allows Hook to babysit her son Henry, and in turn, Henry enjoys Hook’s company. Several times, Emma runs away from family discussions upset, and her parents allow Hook to run after her. Contrast this with Emma’s relationship during the year she was away from her parents (and away from their better judgment). SPOILER ALERT: It ended with an almost-engagement to a flying monkey.

In his book, Choosing God’s Best, psychoanalyst and Christian Author Dr. Don Raunikar writes of the benefits of including one’s community in the dating process: “What people are like within their own families before marriage can be a reliable indicator of how they will act after marriage[…] How people treat others is a good barometer of how they will treat you when the honeymoon is over.”

Keep in mind, Hook and Emma are not officially a couple when Hook starts spending time with her community. This makes it easier to be friends, without the potential temptations to be overly romantic and infatuated, which brings me to my next point.

2. Dating fuels intense romantic attraction at the beginning of the relationship at the expense of a stable foundation of a slowly built-up friendship.

Ask any long-time married couple what has kept their marriage strong and they’ll tell you: it’s not the big romantic gestures or the “butterflies.” It’s the friendship. It’s easy to overlook this important pillar of a successful relationship. But when infatuation and fleeting romantic feelings run their course, what remains is a friendship…or lack of one.

According to Dr. Raunikar, there are four levels of friendship involvement in the courtship process, each leading to the next:

1. Acquaintance

2. Casual friendship

3. Close friendship

4. Intimate friendship

As acquaintances, two individuals discover they have mutual interests. Soon, the relationship grows and they begin to build trust and understanding. Finally, they become friends.

“A solid friendship will be the springboard for beginning a healthy courtship,“ says Dr. Raunikar.

We witness Emma’s emotional wall finally crumble right before their first real kiss in the Season 3 Finale. (Sure, they kissed in Season 2, but Emma recoiled, claiming it was a “mistake” and a “one-time thing”). Hook had just revealed that he gave up his most prized possession, his pirate ship, in exchange for a rare chance to cross realms and get to Emma. According to the Bible, "Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). READ: friendship equals sacrifice. And our dear Hook clearly demonstrates his ultimate sacrifice for Emma.

I love how the producers withheld the big kiss until after a two-season long courtship. This brings me to my next and final point.

3. Dating encourages premature sexual interaction before trust and commitment are established.

Alas, in direct contrast to most movie and television couples, Hook and Emma have never gone further sexually than kissing (GASP!), yet their love story is so likeable.

In most mainstream films and television, the sexual encounter comes before the couple gets a chance to develop trust and establish a commitment to each other. Therefore, we viewers are supposed to come to the conclusion that a relationship is never official until two lovers seal the deal with sex.

In an earlier post I wrote:

Sex without love and commitment is like the life-sucking hell of chemotherapy. Dose after dose, one hookup after another, casual sex seems to be the best antidote for the unbearable cancer of loneliness. But under the surface, the chemo is indiscriminate: healthy cells are destroyed right alongside cancer cells. One’s ability to connect and relate well with others weakens with each “score” divorced from emotional intimacy and commitment. (Source)

Generally speaking, Dr. Raunikar explains, dating “disproportionately exalts physical and romantic attraction” and “emphasizes emotions, lust, and sexual desire–all of which demand a sexual response.“

Therefore, he says, it’s no surprise when singles fall prey to sexual intimacy without commitment. “One-on-one dating is designed specifically for sexuality and physical attraction.”

Hook and Emma have shown us that a simple kiss bears much more weight and significance (1) in the context of a relationship vouched for by one’s community and (2) with the foundation of an unyielding friendship.

For the benefit of those who may not follow Once Upon a Time (but more for the benefit of my fellow #TeamHookandEmma members), I’ll leave you with this gem: a fan-made montage of their love story.

QUESTION: Which aspect of the Hook and Emma courtship did you enjoy the most?

Resources:Choosing God’s Best by Dr. Don Raunikar

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Why I Willingly Gave Up My Dream Career

By Tracy Pierson

This is a guest post by my good friend Tracy. She is a fellow full-time missionary with Cru, serving middle and high schools in Chattanooga, TN. She is also a very talented singer/ songwriter. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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In most cases, you lie down and then you dream. In my case, I dreamt only to find that laying down came next.

From the time I was a teenager, I was passionate about music. A self-proclaimed singer-songwriter from the age of 13, music has been my longest relationship. Even when I changed my major from music to education, my desire to perform professionally never waned.

When I gave my life to Christ in high school, I began to see a pattern develop: God would bring the things I loved to the surface, show me that I loved them more than him, and then ask me to lay them down. That was fine when it was shopping or watching “Friends,” but as my love for Jesus grew, the things that crowded Him out were deeper and more entrenched in my heart. In the back of my mind, I kept saying, “This is all well and good, but I don’t know what I’ll do if God ever asks me to lay down a career in music.” I had judged and resented those that I saw around me that had given up their dreams. I drew a line in the sand and said, “That will never be me.”

I don’t typically subscribe to the whole, “Don’t say you won’t ever go to Africa, because that’s exactly where God will send you” mentality that I hear a lot of Christians peddle. I don’t think God’s character is so simple and vindictive. What I do know is that He is jealous. He will never let anything or anyone stand in the place that He rightfully deserves as the object of my affection. In my heart, I knew this would mean that one day, He would approach me and my dream of becoming a musician.

As part of my calling into full-time ministry, I had to choose between pursuing a music career and following God to wherever He was leading. As I sobbed into the carpet of my bedroom, I envisioned my fists clenched tightly around this career that I always wanted—a life married to music. Unfortunately, without opening my fists, there was no room for anything else. A life with what I wanted most suddenly became a life of misery. Simply to ease the pain, I laid down the career in music that I was convinced I was made for.

You may be tempted to call this a moment of weakness. Maybe you’re drawing a line in the sand already and, like me, saying “That will never be me.” It’s tempting to circumvent this process, and truly, a lot of people do. Following your dream is what every American is already doing. But the way of the Cross is consistently one of laying things down. Every disciple is called to Jesus by being called away from something else that has trumped their love for God: whether it’s their livelihood, their father, or their life of sin.

Is it wrong to dream at all, though? According to my logic, God will ask for and take away whatever He finds there, after all. In fear of what we will certainly lose, we can easily be hesitant to unveil our dreams—even to ourselves. As I’ve wrestled with this exact question, I’ve come to this conclusion: Dreams are a gift and so is laying them down.

Only in the process of relinquishing our dreams can we understand the value of what we receive in return: Jesus Himself. In asking for our dreams, Jesus gives us the opportunity to sell everything to purchase the field of treasure. The bigger the dream, the more valuable the treasure must be for us to forsake it. It’s not that our dreams aren’t important to God—they are. In fact, I think He dares us to dream as big as we possibly can, because He intends to surpass them—by leaps and bounds and wild imaginings—with Himself. If we would only loosen the vice-grip on our dreams, then He would fill your arms with the bounty of His presence. I don’t know about you, but that really is a dream come true. 

QUESTION: What is the hardest thing God has asked you to give up for His sake? What was the aftermath? Let me know in the comments below.

(Photo via)

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What Maple Syrup Taught Me About Motherhood

What Maple Syrup Taught Me About Motherhood

By Marilette Sanchez

As an adult, I’ve balanced being a full-time college student, a volunteer for a high school ministry, and a retail employee for 30+ hours. I’ve held two internships and two part-time jobs simultaneously. Yet, never have I felt more overwhelmed and powerless than at my most current career choice. My current job? Being a mommy of two.

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What the 'Noah' Film Taught Us About Fear

By Alyssa Plock

This is a guest post from Alyssa, my dear friend and roommate from college. A talented screenwriter and actor, Alyssa has worked as an assistant to Sally Lloyd Jones, author of the beloved The Jesus Storybook Bible. Alyssa currently works as a radio producer in upstate New York. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

In the Message paraphrase of the Bible, Noah’s story begins: “Noah was a good man, a man of integrity in his community. Noah walked with God.” In the blockbuster Noah, the title character played by Russell Crowe neither walks with God nor hears from him. Without God speaking, the whole game changes. Especially in the second half of the movie, Noah trusts not God, but his enemy.

People who have seen the movie may say, “What do you mean? He prays a lot!” Yes, he prays. Then he acts in his own strength which does nothing to alter the wrong path he has already chosen.

The pivotal scene in the movie is where Noah leaves the ark before the flood comes to go find wives for his two younger sons. He enters the nearby camp of men and sees the fullness of evil in the world: girls are sold; bodies are lined in pits; starving people rip live animals to shreds with their bare hands. Noah watches a man grab a piece of flesh and savagely devour it. The man looks at Noah and hisses before going back to his meal. In horror, Noah realizes the man is him.

He comes back to the ark convinced that he and his family are too evil to survive and their only purpose of entering the ark will be to save the animals. The rest of the movie centers around Noah’s descent into madness as he tightens his grip on those he loves.

A dash of discernment would have alerted Noah that what he saw was from Satan not God.  But Noah does not recognize it as such. Every decision Noah makes after seeing this satanic deception is based on fear, and the more afraid he gets, the more control he seeks. The more control he seeks, the more he abuses his family. Fear is what drives Noah to abandon a young woman to her death, isolate himself from his family and stop six inches shy of murder. Although the Noah movie is not a historically accurate portrayal of the biblical story, it does present a vivid warning to Christian leaders not to abandon faith in their decision-making.

Noah illustrates the procession of a leader’s fear-based decline:

1. God gives you direction for your life.

Noah sees the world covered in a flood and later sees an ark.

2. You begin to walk in that vision and start to get excited about it.

Noah builds the ark and puts the animals on board.

3. Satan pitches an alternative vision.

The Noah look-alike in the camp is sending the message: “You and your family are too evil to survive.”

4. You listen to Satan’s false advertising, which is as ancient as “Did God really say…?” in Eden.

Noah believes the message and starts shutting out everything else outside of that vision.

5. Fear quickly slips into control.

Noah decides his two younger sons will have no wives and his oldest son’s wife (an enjoyable Emma Watson) can only come on board because he thinks she’s barren. When he finds out she is pregnant, he vows to kill the newborn child if it is a girl–a girl could keep the line of men going.

6. Faith-filled people begin to annoy you to the point of hatred.

As Noah’s madness deepens, he can no longer tolerate his sound-minded wife (Jennifer Connelly) and daughter-in-law. He cannot stand to be around his family. And his family cannot stand to be around him.

7. Your prayers seem to go unheard.

Noah asks God if he should kill his grandchild when it is born. Later, his daughter-in-law says the rain stopping is a sign that the Creator is smiling on the child, what I believe to be the correct interpretation. Noah is too deaf and blind to the answer, though, because the control has become such a stronghold.

8. Your ministry crashes as you and those under your leadership get hurt.

Noah does eventually show mercy to his daughter-in-law, but after 9 months of torture, she breaks down in the deepest, soul-crushed shrieks, you wonder if she will ever recover. As soon as the boat hits dry land, Noah, still cut off from his family, finds a cave in which to waste away. Eventually, he begins to find his faith again and repair some damage with his family, but some relationships are lost forever.

Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Christian leaders, we must be careful not to drive away the power of God by choosing fear rather than faith. Acting in fear makes us lose the power we had when we were walking in accordance with God’s truth. And letting fear fill your mind is putting that yoke of slavery over those you lead. The Spirit of Christ is a spirit of freedom–He will not stick around if you are driving your ministry forward in your own cowardice.

Is “fear” the loudest voice you hear when making decisions? Cast off that yoke of fear before it does irreparable damage to you and those whom you lead.

QUESTION: Have you ever allowed fear and control infect your ministry or leadership? Let me know in the comments below.

Millenials and Marriage: Why We Can’t Get What We Want

By Amber Lapp

This is a guest post from Amber, my dear friend from college. She and her husband David are Research Fellows at the Institute for Family Studies, Affiliate Scholars at the Institute for American Values, and co-investigators of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, a qualitative research inquiry into how working-class young adults form relationships and families. Amber’s work has appeared in media outlets such as The Atlantic Online, First Things, and The Huffington Post. She is mommy to sweet toddler Daniel and newborn Peter. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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My husband David and I have spent the past three and a half years interviewing and writing about Millenials (18-33 year olds) and their experiences forming relationships and families. What we’ve heard has convinced us that while young adults are delaying marriage, they still value marriage. Despite spouting off excuses (fear of divorce and few positive marriage models; little trust in the opposite sex; job instability and lack of financial peace; changing norms when it comes to sex, cohabitation, and childbearing; an over-idealized notion of romantic love; and more), Millenials still have a deep desire for marriage.

A recent article at National Review Online tells us that Millenials are “connected to friends, family, and colleagues on the ‘new platforms of the digital era,’” yet are disconnected from “the core human institutions that have sustained the American experiment— work, marriage, and civil society.” Only about 44 percent of young adults aged 18 to 29 are employed full-time. Only 26 percent are married, and almost half of children born to Millenials are born to unmarried women. Only 19 percent of Millenials say that “most people can be trusted.”

As a Millenial myself, these stats strike me as true, but tragic, something David and I wrote about at First Things last month. The good news, though, is that this is not the way Millenials want things to be. When it comes to marriage, young adults are not giving up. 80 percent of us still say that marriage is an “important” part of our life plan, according to the Knot Yet Report.

In one breath they might say, “Marriage is just a piece of paper.” But in the next, they say that it’s a piece of paper they want and that is important. David and I have made sense of this seeming contradiction by noting that it has a lot to do with the discrepancy between what young adults see as the ideal and what they see as reality. Ideally, they’d like to get married and create a stable family for their kids. But they feel that in reality this is hard to do, fewer and fewer people are doing it, and they are not sure how to do it themselves.

“Everybody wants that—it’s their dream,” 20-year-old Julie said of marriage when we interviewed her. Her friend Kelly agreed, tossing her blonde hair before wrinkling her pixie nose and asking, “But is it reality these days?”

Most of us struggle with the disconnect between what we want and what is realistic for us to attain. But with young adults and marriage, the gap seems glaringly impossible to bridge.

That’s why I’m so encouraged by initiatives like I Believe in Love (iBil), an online community of young adults dedicated to helping each other “write a different story about lasting love in America.”  Their “About Us” page explains that the site is “written by real people telling real stories about real love” who are seeking “to understand how to get to love, marriage and family life, and how it to keep it.”

We Millenials must resist the temptation to allow life’s experiences to make us jaded by love. Take Mary, an iBil contributor, as an example. Six days before her freshman year of college, her parents separated. By choosing to surrounding herself with “couples who are in it for the long run,” she was able to move past her skeptical feelings toward marriage, and beyond her thoughts that marriage was nothing but “a hopeless cause.”

Most Millenials may be disconnected from marriage, work, and civil society—but it’s also something that we, like Mary, must take ownership of through creative measures of our own.

QUESTION: Why is there such a big gap between the ideal and reality when it comes to young people and marriage? Let me know in the comments below.

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'Dear Hollywood': An Open Letter from Anthem Lights

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Earlier this month, Christian band Anthem Lights released a lyric video for their song “Dear Hollywood” off their latest album You Have My Heart. The band is more widely known for their acoustic covers of pop songs on YouTube (last year, they won Ryan Seacrest’s contest for best Taylor Swift cover of all time with “We Are Never Getting Back Together”). Still, all of their original songs are clearly faith-based. I always had an inkling that they shared my desire to engage an unbelieving culture for the sake of Christ, and not simply create music that preaches to the choir. I no longer have any doubts.

In the Behind The Song video interview, band member Caleb Grimm says the song is “the conversation that we would want to have…if each of us (band members) could sit down with a celebrity.”

The song points to the spiritual emptiness that plagues many celebrities:

Broken hearted but pretending you’re alright / You’ve lived out every dream / But something missin’ / There’s a bigger picture calling you tonight / You could know your worth if you would only listen

The calling to reach out to these people is urgent, for the Bible says that “the human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14).

In the song, the band also tells Hollywood that “It breaks my heart that you still look away / From the perfect love that’s right there on display.” Jesus Christ is the only one who is able to fill a human being’s insatiable desire to be known, admired, and accepted. Not even the biggest or most loyal fan base can accomplish that.

Besides the celebrities themselves, their fans are spiritually hungry as well. And the artists have the greatest potential to influence those fans for good. Through the song, Anthem Lights also tells Hollywood that “There’s so much good that you could do / With so many eyes watching you /…When all the world is listening.”

Alan Powell, another band member, says that as fellow musicians, the band has an “overwhelming desire to see this medium of entertainment be used in an uplifting way. Tragically,…it’s used to glorify things that are not edifying, that aren’t uplifting to the individual, more specifically, are not glorifying to God.”

To be clear, Alan says, “we don’t mean this in any means like pointing fingers, like ‘Hollywood, you’re stupid.’” Rather, it’s simply to point out the entertainment industry’s potential.

“There’s so much influence that they have,” says Caleb. “In a very real way, entertainers run the world.”

Alan shares his hope for Christians who hear the song. “As a believer, you either feel this way about Hollywood, or you’re like ‘Oh, man I should feel that way,’ or it’s like ‘Yeah, I didn’t know it, but that’s the way I feel.’”

I used to think I was the only person who saw celebrities in this way. But as God once showed Paul, He has “many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). I’m glad to know that I’m not alone.

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Why God Isn't Obligated To Fulfill Our Desires

By Tracy Pierson

This is a guest post by my good friend Tracy Pierson. She is a fellow full-time missionary with Cru, serving middle and high schools in Chattanooga, TN. She is also a very talented singer/ songwriter. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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I’m approaching my 30th birthday and I’m still single.

I was 27 on my first date, the age my mother was when she gave birth to her first child. I honestly enjoy being single, but my journey has also been painful.

I’ve watched friend after friend after friend after friend get married and start families. I’ve had to initiate a breakup because I was being led down a specific path of ministry—and he wasn’t. I’ve suffered through loneliness, questioned my beauty (inside and out), and doubted my sexuality and femininity.

Too many times, I’ve begged God to take away my desire to get married, but He hasn’t. I’ve read every book about being a “happy single girl” ever published (it’s a rather large section at Lifeway Christian bookstore). I’ve had people give me all sorts of advice when they have no clue what my life is like.

When I was in college, several of us were bemoaning our singleness—it was one of our favorite pastimes, right behind mocking our football team and descending like locusts on a Starbucks. In my deep theological wisdom, I cited one of the most misquoted scripture verses in our generation: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

My reasoning went like this:

  1. God gives you the desires of your heart.
  2. I want to get married. Therefore…
  3. God MUST send me a husband” (who played guitar and looked like Vin Diesel—we didn’t have Ryan Reynolds back then).

I’ll never forget what happened next. Like a toddler with a blow dart, my buddy Stephen lobbed the following sentence out into the universe. “You’re not guaranteed to get married.” I didn’t argue, nor did I punch him in the stomach. But I had never been so afraid.

Years later, I was driving home in the rain and I lamenting the fact that I was still UN-married. I started to wonder aloud, What if I never get married?  I heard God whisper back, What if you don’t?

Like during my college days, my immediate reaction was terror.

Quickly thereafter, God began to speak tenderly to me:

Tracy, what if you live your whole life with this longing on earth and you don’t get married? What if I’m the only husband you ever have? What if the only wedding dress you wear is when you attend the wedding feast of the Lamb? Will that be enough for you?

Suddenly, my desire to get married looked pathetically small and lackluster. I remembered the years of walking through the painful and joyful moments of my singleness with Him—seeing Him prove Himself to be working all things together for my good.

I was experiencing what my favorite Narnian, C.S. Lewis, had meant when he said:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased”

(C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses).

Whether it’s to get married, have children, or to “get out of this town once and for all,” the pull of our desires can nearly tear us to bits. We simply cannot imagine anything stronger. We see the invitation of Jesus as a quid-pro-quo business deal: if we follow him, he’ll give us our Christmas list. He extends his nail-scarred hand—the proof of his love and our freedom—and we assume it’s so we can shake on our agreement. We even look at God—the infinite Creator of time and space—and wonder if what He has to offer could match what we can see and taste and touch.

Contrary to my 21-year-old self’s understanding of Psalm 37:4, that verse is not a formula on how to strong-arm God into bringing me what I want (even if it’s something noble and good). It’s a reminder that God will faithfully give of Himself if indeed it is a relationship with Him that I seek. 

QUESTION: Have you ever tried to twist God’s arm into fulfilling your desires? Let me know in the comments below.

How God Redeemed My Broken Dream

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I still remember the day. It was the summer of 2011 in Colorado. Moses and I were two months away from marriage and we sat in a park discussing our future: our pending marriage and my career. The pit in each of our stomachs spoke of the anxiety we were feeling. Unanswered questions flooded our minds. I had no doubt that God was calling us to be married, but knowing that only added to my confusion. God, if You truly wanted us to be together, why would our careers clash like this?

For two years prior to our engagement, Moses had worked at the Christian non-profit organization Cru, developing New York City high school students spiritually via afterschool discussion groups, Bible studies, and one-on-one mentoring. Cru strongly encouraged married couples to become full-time staff members together, because the “job” was not simply a nine-to-five. It required a flexibility to mentor high school students after school, during evenings and weekends. It required swapping a paid salary for a requirement to raise financial support through individual donors. Moses felt an undeniable call to take the plunge. Me? I wasn’t so sure.

I always had a love for helping teenagers develop spiritually, but my deepest desire was to get to the root of the false ideologies force-fed to them via popular music, movies and television. Pop media are the poisoned wells from which teenagers drink their beliefs. Therefore, in college, I made it my life goal to be an entertainment magazine writer.

I’ve also felt a compassion for young Hollywood stars like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers. Young celebrities, like all young people, are in the awkward transition into adulthood, no doubt making mistakes in the process. The only difference? Celebrities will make their mistakes in the scrutiny of the public eye.

As a mainstream magazine writer, I hoped to call out the falsehoods of pop media, and eventually befriend celebrities, helping them form personal relationships with Christ. Many teenagers will also emulate celebrities, oblivious to the discontentment and spiritual emptiness lurking beneath the fame, money and glamour–it’s a vicious cycle.

Soon, I landed internships with a Manhattan television production company, an online fashion magazine and the marketing department of a board game company. I had a growing network of media professionals in New York City; God seemed to be opening doors for me to reach all of my goals.

Yet here I was, weeks before my wedding, anxious instead of excited. I applied for the job at Cru, but grudgingly. Frankly, I was mad at God. All those years of praying, of crying out on celebrities’ behalf, would they all go to waste? Would I even get to meet them, to get a chance to be their friends and really invest in their lives? Why would You tease me by allowing me to progress in my media career just to pull the rug from under me?  

My life verse has always been Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” But at that point in my life, I truly doubted whether or not God was out to harm me. Despite how I felt, out of sheer obedience to God, I decided I would take the job at Cru.

I realized that like God testing Abraham with Isaac (Genesis 22), He was asking me to put my career on the altar. Like the Israelites and Baal, I had forged my own idol to replace God (Numbers 25). Making a name for myself as an entertainment journalist, even with the noble intention of using it as a ministry, was nothing short of prostituting my God-given gifts for my benefit–it was not worshipping God. Nineteenth Century Scottish preacher Oswald Chambers put it this way: “Our Lord calls to no special work: He calls to Himself” (My Utmost for His Highest). I became obsessed with my ministry at the expense of my relationship with God, and it took a toll on the health of my spirit.

In retrospect, I can see God’s sovereignty and foresight; He knew that three years later,  I would be a mom of two. The flexible schedule that Cru allows, especially to moms of young children, would no doubt be absent for a full-time journalist. With this blog, God has provided me with the platform to call out the false claims of Hollywood. Not to mention, if I had worked at a mainstream magazine, I would not have the freedom to be as vocal about my faith.

Hebrews 12:2 admonishes us Christians to look to Jesus Christ as “the author and finisher of our faith.” I know God is far from finished with developing my faith. I still haven’t befriended any celebrities. But after that ordeal, I’ve grown to trust God’s character. I can stand firm on the truth that no matter the circumstance, God always has my best in mind.

QUESTION: What dreams have you left behind in pursuit of following God? 

My First Valentine

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, I decided to post this gem: an old letter I had written to my husband Moses on our first Valentine’s Day as a couple. Little know fact: technically, he was also my first Valentine.

February 2009

Dear Moses,

Once again, I stand in awe of God’s faithfulness in answering a prayer that I have had for years, namely that He would lead me to a genuine and godly man who can be my spiritual leader. I know we definitely have our differences in personalities, tastes, and sometimes differing (though not contradicting) theological beliefs. But what can I say? God works in mysterious ways. I prayed for someone who would continually stretch me in my faith (and in all other aspects of life, for that matter), and only God’s providence could have predicted that this “someone” would come in the form of my complete opposite. It took me a long time to realize, but I’ve finally come to the conclusion that our inexhaustible series of “debates” and “discussions”–far from tearing us apart as a couple–are the very means which bond us more closely as a single unit. What’s more, they are what bond us as a couple to our Savior.

Love,

Marilette

QUESTION:Who was your first Valentine? Let me know in the comments below.

Kellan Lutz Used ‘The Passion of the Christ’ to Prep for 'Hercules'

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Actor Kellan Lutz is mostly recognized for his minor role as Edward Cullen’s vampire brother Emmett in the Twilight franchise.

But this week, Lutz is set to star in “The Legend of Hercules,” in which he plays the mythical warrior demigod.

To prepare emotionally for the role, Lutz says that his Christian faith allowed him to connect more closely to his character Hercules.

“There’s a scene halfway through the movie that’s the crucifixion, where I ask my father Zeus for help. I’m a man of faith, so I would just religiously watch ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and I’d use that,” he tells Variety.

The Legend of Hercules” hits theaters TOMORROW, Friday, January 10.

Buy your tickets HERE.

Don Jon Reveals True Purpose of Sex

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UPDATE/ DISCLAIMER: It has come to my attention that some readers are interpreting my publication of this article as an all-out recommendation for everyone to watch the film. Make no mistake, this film is not for the weak-hearted. The filmmaker transports the viewer into the mind of a pornography addict, and forgive the gross understatement, it is NOT pretty. Watch at your own risk. Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

In 1997, a company called “Cherry Blossoms” found success in the poverty-stricken Philippines (the country from which my parents immigrated). For a fee, Cherry Blossoms provided “matchmaking” services between older American males and young Filipino women. For some of these women, a rich American husband was the only way out of the densely populated and filthy squatters’ towns populated by makeshift houses made of scrap metal.

One customer wrote to a potential bride:

There are two young ladies…who have written that they would do ANYTHING for me…if only I gave them… the opportunity to come to the United States with me. Tell me, Vilma, how do you feel about that?…Would you do anything I ask?“ He describes a particular sexual activity, then writes, "My preference is [for a] partner [who] would be willing, able, and skillful enough to perform that activity for me, at any time.

Christian Author Gary Thomas mentions this story in his book Sacred Marriage, and likens it to "lifetime prostitution.” For these men, sex is something they expect to receive, not what they expect to give.

Ask anyone to describe the purpose of sex, and you’ll get varying answers. Is it individual pleasure? Connection to another person? I would argue that true sexual fulfillment comes from giving up of oneself in body, soul, spirit and will; not taking and using someone as an object of satisfaction.

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In the film Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, the protagonist Jon Martello (also played by Gordon-Levitt) attempts to satisfy himself not only with a series of one-night-stands each weekend, but more so with his pornography addiction.

In an interview with RogerEbert.com, Gordon-Levitt, who is also the screenwriter of the film, gives some insight on his character.

Everything in Jon’s life is…a one-way street. He is not connecting or engaging with anyone…He doesn’t listen; he just takes. At the beginning of the movie, he is finding that dissatisfying because there’s the sequence where he brings a young lady home from the bar and he is comparing her to this checklist that he has got of what he likes to see in a pornography video. Obviously, a real human being is not going to map onto that because there is a fundamental difference between a human being and an image on a screen.

What follows are “unrealistic expectations that…lead [him] to objectify people or to not connect.”

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When Jon meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a “dime” on his buddies’ rating system, he expects to find a cure for his pornography addiction. He finds his viewings decrease, but somehow even real sex with “the most beautiful thing [he had] ever seen” doesn’t compare to the beloved women on his computer screen.

When an older woman and classmate Esther (Julianne Moore) befriends him, she offers him advice that takes him by surprise: “you have to lose yourself in another person. It’s a two-way thing.”

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Pastor Nate Larkin was married with three children when he became addicted to hardcore pornography. He shares his story with the Christian organization I Am Second.

“I think we’re all made for intimacy,” Larkin says. “But intimacy carries its risks. People can reject us. People can disappear. They can die. Pornography offers this artificial intimacy with no risks. Every day I said hello to the woman who wouldn’t laugh at me, or who found me attractive, engaging. And every day, I gave a piece of myself away. It left me emptier and hungrier every time.”  

Contrary to what most movies and pop songs purport, others do not exist to please me. Too often, we use each other as mere objects of satisfaction, instead of treating others as individuals made in the image of God. Each of us are human beings with intrinsic value, who deserve to be appreciated and accepted, apart from what pleasure we can bring to another person.

In The Gift of Sex, sexual therapists and authors Clifford and Joyce Penner (Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and R.N., M.N., Clinical Nurse Specialist) offer an alternative view to sex.

Lovemaking cannot be just physical…If there is to be a fulfilled relationship, there must be more to it than meeting physical needs. The total person–intellect, emotions, body, spirit and will–becomes involved in the process of giving ourselves to one another.

The Penners narrow down the root cause of sexual addictions like Jon and Nate’s to a lack of true intimacy: “Neither the Internet nor magazines demand a relationship. The images cooperate completely with the needs and fantasies of the addict, who never has to give of himself and his own needs.“

Although the average person may not struggle with pornography addictions like Jon or Nate did, many of us are still plagued with the temptation to use others as a means to satisfy ourselves, especially when it comes to sexual actions. Like Nate, we may avoid true connection in an attempt to experience “artificial intimacy with no risks.”

There is always a risk in putting yourself out there, always the possibility of not having our love reciprocated. But losing oneself in another person is the only way to connect and have a truly fulfilling sex life. We must be willing to lose ourselves in another person in the sexual experience, to be totally open and vulnerable.

As with most Christian principles, the biblical purpose of sex is paradoxical. If one pursues individual pleasure, he soon finds himself unsatisfied and lonely. Yet if he pursues a total connection of emotions, body, spirit, and will, he finds contentment.

The Penners summed it up perfectly: "Sex is not something we do to someone, neither is it something we do for someone. Rather, sex is a with experience.”

Resources:The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner

[All images from RogerEbert.com]

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Boston Marathon’s Aftermath

By Katherine Devorak [GUEST POST]

My sister stretched her pudgy little fingers against my cheek. We both snuggled in my big girl bed counting the minutes until Dad came to tell us it was “really” bedtime. As a six year old, I was not always happy to have an adorable redheaded attention-monopolizing two year-old sister. But at twenty-five, I have come to think of her as the dearest thing to me on this green earth.

My sister lives in Boston. Moments before she called me today, I stood waiting for the door to my workplace to open and I prayed that God would teach me how to live in thankfulness. With a lot of very stressful and seemingly important ongoing events in my life, I had reasons to be unhappy.  That is why I prayed that God would help me to live in thankfulness. I didn’t think I could do it on my own.

“I’m okay,” my sister said to me over the phone. And then she told me what happened. An explosion just outside of the hotel in Copley Square erupted as the first wave of the Boston Marathon runners crossed the line. The blast instantly killed three people, wounding more than one hundred, and within seconds changing the fate of families and friends across America.

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My sister lives about a mile and a half from Copley Square, the scene of the explosion. Her college campus is home to a section of the course of the marathon. Overcome with timely errands, she did not go to the marathon today, thereby very possibly saving her life.

It may have happened to you before today–the realization that we have so much to be grateful for–but for me, it sunk in hard today. It pressed down on my heart like a weight, causing me to cry on both trains I take home from work.

In the few hours on the train home from work, I continued to hear from loved ones who live in Boston.  They were all grief-stricken, but able to hold the phone and speak clearly enough to tell me they were all right. I cannot say the same for the friends of my fellow coworkers, family, and neighbors. I have friends who still have not heard from their loved ones. They are uncertain, still, if they are one of the runners who lost a limb or were wounded in another way.

We were all wounded in one way. Though our hearts are stunned with just a sliver of grief in comparison with others who lost their loved ones, we hurt for those who are hurting.

When things like this happen, I told my mom, “it seems like senseless and pointless grief.” And it does. There exists no discernible reason for what happened today in Boston. What does exist is a call to pray for the loss and suffering of every family and friend who lost a loved one today, or heard the news of their injury.

Though it seems like such a small offering in an ocean of suffering, join me today in lifting up in prayer those who have lost much today. The verse that God has been giving me lately is, “do not mourn like those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). For the Christian, this is key.

Today, God reminded me through a horrible, senseless, catastrophic event that I have so much to be grateful for every day.

It is my prayer that we who were not directly affected would be of use to those who were. May we make ours a shoulder to cry on, and our hands folded ever fixedly in prayer for comfort, hope, and in God’s good time, healing. 

Katherine is my dear friend and college roommate. She is a freelance journalist who has been published in World-New York Online Magazine and national Australian and Papua New Guinean magazines and newspapers.

3 Things I Learned From My Almost-Break-Up

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“I think I’m falling in love with someone else,” I told Moses, my then boyfriend, over the phone.

“I can’t talk to you right now,” he said with a trembling voice. Then he hung up.

It was one week before our first dating anniversary.

It had been a draining year for us. I was a full-time college student in Manhattan and worked 30+ hours per week. Moses was a first-year teacher in Queens, whose schedule was eaten up by never-ending lesson planning. We talked on the phone as often as we could, but we carved out very little time to see each other in person. The few times we did meet up lacked the depth, intensity and excitement of earlier days.

Hungry for companionship, I found myself confiding in another man. I knew it was wrong, but I was lonely, and I missed being needed. Upon hearing Moses say that he couldn’t talk to me, I braced myself for our inevitable break-up.

With swollen eyes, I woke up early the next morning to write an email.

Moses, I’ve made promises to be a committed and loyal girlfriend and I haven’t kept it. I have not given my best to you; I’ve only given you the leftovers. I’m sorry.

As I hit SEND, I realized that an email from Moses was already waiting in my inbox.

Marilette,

I didn’t expect to feel all the pain I felt last night. I felt that I was immune from it, but man, last night was tough. As much as I say I’m strong and secure and could be okay without a relationship, it is impossible for me to think like that anymore. I’m weak for you. I need you. And I want to be with you, struggling together, rejoicing together, honoring God together.

Babe, more and more, I realize that love is a climb, not a fall. I want to continue climbing with you. I wasn’t a good steward of this relationship, and ultimately, I’ve failed God in this. My personal failure has caused hurt and pain to myself, as well as to you. From this moment forward, I want to be a better boyfriend for you.

I know thoughts have entered your mind these past couple of days, thoughts of “What if things were like this? What if things were like that?” Babe, let me erase those thoughts from your mind. I want to be that person you always wanted. I may not be perfect, but when I say I am committed to you, I mean ‘committed.’

I learned three things about love from that whole ordeal:

1. True love is a risk.

Moses and I each had walls up that stunted the growth of our relationship. But behind every wall is a fear and lack of trust. It is not only selfish but stupid.

Emotional walls are paradoxical. “I fear heartache, so I put up a wall of protection. I have a wall, so I don’t fully trust. I don’t fully trust, so the relationship stagnates, or worse, implodes.” As the trite, yet true, saying goes, “relationships are built on trust.” And there is no trust without risk.

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis says it best: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”

2. True love forgives even in the harshest circumstances.

Never in a million years would I have expected myself to be on the giving end of infidelity. I know some of you will not justify my “emotional cheating” as such. I would disagree. While I was never involved physically with another man, my time, emotions, and attention were given to someone other than Moses. These were parts of myself that should have been reserved only for him. As a result of my careless actions, feelings of jealousy and a loss of self-confidence erupted in Moses.

Moses had two choices: become angry and resentful, resulting in our bitter split, or forgive, resulting in a strongerrelationship.

It took a lot of humility for Moses to recognize his own faults. It took maturity to refuse to dump all the blame on me, the unfaithful one.

But Moses’ decision to forgive not only saved our relationship, it allowed a newfound sense of trust in each other to blossom and gave our relationship a fresh start.

3. True love needs constant, laborious effort to survive.

Moses and I got a wake-up call that day that a relationship is never stagnant. It is either moving towards oneness, or drifting towards isolation (Source). Moses and I had always prided ourselves in not being one of those “clingy” couples. But those days of not prioritizing the other person and “doing our own thing” allowed an emotional and spiritual distance to creep into our relationship. Then, at the first sign of loneliness, I attempted to compensate with another person.

It took almost losing each other to push Moses and I to take our relationship seriously. Since that day, we’ve realized the amount of vulnerability and effort it requires to have a relationship not only survive, but thrive.

What did you learn from your biggest mistake or hardest life circumstance? Let me know in the comments below.

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Resources:The Four Lovesby C.S. Lewis

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Lecrae: Engaging Culture or Forsaking Christ?

Lecrae: Engaging Culture or Forsaking Christ?

It’s not often that mainstream media show interest in a gospel artist. But at this year’s Grammy Awards, MTV and XXL Mag took notice as Christian rapper Lecrae won “Best Gospel Album” for Gravity.

“[He] has done well to exist within hip-hop’s secular sphere” said MTV, highlighting Lecrae’s past collaboration with DJ Don Cannon and rapper Big K.R.I.T., and his participation in BET’s Hip-Hop Awards Cypher in 2011.

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