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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Red Light District

The most disturbing thing about the red light district of Amsterdam, to me, is not that prostitution merely happens—it happens in every city of the world—but the public view of the red light district. It is seen as a wonderful expression of personal freedom. It is seen as a utopia of sexuality.

We’re all familiar with the Dutch concept of tolerance. It’s an important part of Dutch culture and history. For instance Catholics were tolerated to worship after the protestant revolution as long as it was done discreetly, it didn’t hurt anyone, and it was profitable.

At some point in Amsterdam’s history, prostitution has moved up several notches from merely being tolerated, to being celebrated. The red light district has moved from being a shameful and hidden thing, to a loud, openly proud culture of hedonism.

Just 2 years ago, they put up a statue in the square of the Oude Kerk, to celebrate the occupation of prostitution around the world. People came from around the world to join in and show their support for this wonderful, woman-empowering trend.

Today the red light district is like a carnival. Every day hundreds of tourists come through the red light district, often with their kids, to have a good time. The atmosphere is like a carnival or a zoo. Women stand in windows all along the streets selling themselves.

Drunk Englishmen stumble around the streets yelling cat-calls and insults at the women. American families walk through, gawking at the ladies, their kids pointing and giggling amongst themselves. Dutch businessmen prowl the streets, their wives waiting at home.

How can something like this still exist in our western society? It is primarily because of a host of lies. This behavior is all the result of a host of deeply rooted lies that are propagated by a few evil men (all those with a pro-district agenda), and then readily believed by a world who is more and more giving up morality for hedonism.

Here are just a few of the lies:

1. Prostitution is harmless
2. All the women are willing participants
3. The women love their jobs
4. Prostitution empowers women and gives them dignity
5. Prostitution decreases rape and sexual abuse

These lies are very strongly propagated to the world, and people very easily believe them, because they want to. They want to believe it is all real.

What will happen if we continue to believe these lies? More and more women will be abused and taken advantage of in the name of freedom and civil liberty. Yes, freedom is what they think it is. The red light district has turned the world upside down and called slavery freedom.

This culture of hedonism is growing and spreading. A new generation is growing up with fewer values than ever. They grow up believing that women are objects, that they are commodities, that promiscuity is normal. What’s more is that the world has its eyes fixated on Amsterdam. Millions of tourists come through every year. They are affected by the culture of the red light district, they don’t see past the lies to what is really going on, and they go home thinking, “What a great place!”

How did this all start? Centuries ago, during Amsterdam’s ‘golden age’, the church of Amsterdam actually condoned the creation of the red light district district, justifying it by saying that it would help protect 'dignified Christian women'. They gave up their authority in the matter when they said, “prostitution is OK.”

Now, as if by prophetic symbolism, the Oude Kerk—the oldest church in Amsterdam—is literally surrounded by prostitution windows as if in the very clutches of the sexual immorality it so long ago condoned.

If things are going to change in this place, the Body of Christ needs to take its authority back, raise its voice and publicly condemn prostitution.

Our task is then two-fold. We have the roots of the issue, or the lies, and the we have the fruits, the women and the men who are sexually broken. Both need to be addressed. Mostly, what we have done in the past is only take care of the fruits.

The problem is that when one woman is 'rescued' from prostitution, there is immediately another woman recruited to replace her! So the answer doesn't lie in merely ministering to the women involved, but it lies in tackling the roots of the problem, and that means addressing the issue of demand, and ultimately the hots of lies.

How can we change the way a nation thinks? How can we expose lies and shed God’s light upon them? How can we make known what God thinks about the issue, when the only voices that are being heard are from those with of a pro-district agenda?

We have a lot of work to do. It is no small task to change the way the public thinks. Tackling this difficult issue will take all the heavenly wisdom, and all the sincere prayers we can get.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Get Started Already!

One tragedy of Christian thinking that I heard David Hamilton speak about once, is the popular mindset of being God’s servants waiting for him to tell us what to do. It asserts that we shouldn’t act until we are absolutely sure it is God directing us, not some other influence. So much value is placed on hearing God’s voice that we often remain idle until he commands us. Or our ministries remain stagnant until he forcefully prunes us.

God wants more than a servant/master relationship with us. Imagine if you had a girlfriend and you never bought her flowers. Finally she was so upset about this that she loudly commanded, “go buy me flowers now!” Now imagine you obeyed and brought her some flowers. Do you think she would be very pleased with this gift? Would it be very special to her? No, of course not, because she had to tell you!

God wants to be in a love relationship with us. In a love relationship you spend lots of time getting to know your partner, learning his or her desires, dreams, passions, and then working to fulfill those things before they have to ask. If, instead, you were to buy your girlfriend flowers before she had to ask you, it might be something that pleased and surprised her!

We are to seek God out and know him. We need to be familiar with his dreams, his desires, his passions, and then work to see those things come true! Let's get started before he has to specifically tell us! I think God waits and waits for us to do something that will bless his heart. He has made his dreams very clearly known to us through his word. But we sit idly for so long, trying to divine his voice that finally God has to command us to do something! It shouldn’t be like that.

Isaiah overheard God asking the question out loud, “Who will go?” The question wasn’t a command, it wasn’t directed at Isaiah. Isaiah simply became aware of God’s desires, and he jumped at the opportunity to bless God. He stood up and declared, “here I am, Lord, send me!”

Of course we are to remain mindful of God’s specific direction. He will reveal strategy to us once we get started. And if our heart is to bless God, and we unintentionally start down a wrong path, we can be sure he will redirect us! In this way we partner with him.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Defining Faith

People tend to think of faith and doubt as mutually exclusive. It is typically said that one either "has faith" (in or for something) or they are "doubting". In this way of thinking, faith is reduced to a state of mind.

Christians continually feel guilty because they don't "have enough faith", and by this they seem to mean they don't "believe strongly enough." When they encounter things in life that cause them to experience doubt (wether in small or large matters), they usually see that as something bad.

I would define faith differently. I would even say that faith requires the presence of doubt. Faith is not just a state of mind, but an act of will, which by definition requires exercising. Faith is not the absense of doubt, but it is what you choose to do when faced with doubt.

Were I to tell you that flying elephants exist, you would not naturally believe me, nor could you choose to believe me because you cannot force your mind to accept something that is contrary to what it knows to be actual. Again, faith is not a state of mind. You could, however, choose to trust me, and make decisions based on what I have told you. In this you would be exercizing faith; not in flying elephants, but in me and in my character.

The above example is absurd. But in the same way God calls us to have faith in him and in his character through making decisions based not on what we naturally perceive, but on what he has said.

Taking all this into account, I would say that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear. God has spoken clearly that he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exo 34:6). God has spoken clearly that he is our provider (Gen 50:21). In fact, the most repeated command in the bible is, "do not fear," or some variation of that.

When we are confronted with doubts or situations that cause us to doubt, we can either choose to be afraid and to worry, or to exercise faith by trusting in God's characteristics, and continuing to live in light of what God has said about himself.

This also releases the Christian from the guilt associated with doubt. Doubt is natural to the rational mind and is very healthy. Instead of trying to ignore it, avoid it, cover it up with endless religious activity, or feel guilty about it, we should engage it, wrestle with it, and allow it to send us seeking for answers. After all, an unexamined faith is not worth having.

Seeking truth should be any person's foremost agenda. By wrestling with doubts we obtain much understanding, and ultimately more solid grounds for our faith, and also the things we believed that turn out to be groundless, we can leave behind.

Why is God invisible? There would be no need to exercise faith were he not. But God enjoys being sought after.

So my friends, do not be afraid, take advantage of your doubts, and remember, we are to live by faith, not by sight.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cigarettes & Prostitutes

Following the trend of the rest of the European Union, smoking was finally banned in all public buildings in the Netherlands last year in July. Many neighborhood cafes around the country are going out of business because of the new regulations.

Many people were understandably outraged. What right does the government have to make such bans and take away our civil liberties? People should be free to do as they please, unless of course they infringe on the freedom of others. Non smokers are free to avoid smoke-filled cafes!

Of all the EU countries, the Dutch have been the most resistant to the new law. One cafe owner went to the extreme and moved his "bar" into a small storage closet, so that the rest of the building could officially be the smoking room!

In my thinking, such matters should not be up to government, but up to the free market. Were there enough people who disdained cigarette smoke, then more restaurants would open that do not allow smoking. The smoke-free restaurants would make huge profit, while smokers would still be free to acquire cancer in the locations that catered to them!

Some try to play the moral card; that smoking should be made illegal because it is bad. But I would say that people cannot be forced to be good. One can only be good when he has the freedom to choose. It's the government's job to establish justice, not to enforce a set of morals.

However, the argument that finally got me was the public health factor. Not the health of the public mind you (they can choose whether or not to expose themselves to a smokey environment), but the health of employees who have no choice but to be exposed to smoke all day because working in a cafe is the only job they can land.

Protecting the rights of cafe workers who don't smoke is what finally pushed the legislators into action, I think. And it makes sense... Peoples' freedom to smoke had begun infringing on other peoples' freedom to breathe clean air.

Well, Dutch government, I'm smelling some double standards here. It seems a bit funny to me, considering your new and intense concern for workers' well being, that prostitution is still legal and smiled upon!

What about the rights of women to work in an abuse-free environment? What about all those women who who cannot land another job?

If citizens are so helpless and incapable of making good decisions that the government needs to ban smoking to keep them from hurting themselves, why are they not banning prostitution? People should be free to do as they please, unless they infringe on the freedom of others.

Prostitution harms women as surely as smoke causes cancer.

Oh, but Sean, we must protect civil liberties! After all, we have an image to uphold...