Fifty Shades Freed, the movie adaptation of EL James’ last book in her Fifty Shades trilogy, is released this Valentine’s season. In most cultures, Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love, so the movie’s release in this season might suggest that it’s a movie about love.
But nothing could be further from the truth. I urge you to think long and hard about what kind of love is in the movie. The root of that romance is selfishness.
If love is self-centred, it’s not true love. True love looks to the interest and wellbeing of someone else before their own – so where does inflicting physical pain onto a lover come into the picture?
And it doesn’t insist on its own way. It’s not about taking control over someone. Selfish love only leads to more pain for both parties. It is deriving personal pleasure at another’s pain.
Now if you say, “But this isn’t meant to be about love – it’s consensual pleasure!” That might well be so according to society’s rules. But out of love, I must attempt to convince you how destructive such a twisted view of love and sex can be.
Broken relationships, divorces, adultery, fatherlessness and even sexual confusion – these are but the offshoots of selfish love. It’s why I am urging you not to watch this movie or engage in deviant sexual practices – even within marriage.
The kind of selfish love you might witness in Fifty Shades sits upon the spectrum of BDSM pornography. Fifty Shades is a soft-core variant – porn with a marginally better plot.
Also, Christian Grey is portrayed as a man whose child abuse results in his BDSM fetish. If the normalising of BDSM fetishes in mainstream media wasn’t already problematic for me – it is exacerbated by the fact that it is done so while glossing over child abuse.
True love looks to the interest and wellbeing of someone else before their own – so where does inflicting physical pain onto a lover come into the picture?
But there is a better way – real love exists – and I want to tell you all about it.
“For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4)
If God brought us salvation, delighting in us – then I wonder if Jesus experienced profound joy while suffering on His way to the cross.
Fifty Shades is about suffering for mere pleasure – but God suffered for our salvation. Mere pleasure is never the purpose. Love is the end where sacrifice is the means.
So, true love isn’t the eros (erotic) love of Christian Grey – but Christ’s agape love. It is saving love freely given to us when He came to earth to die – wiping out the death this world’s bogus loves bring.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:10-12)
This Valentine’s Day, think about true love. Love God selflessly, love one another sacrificially.
Waiting for the lights to change: My unrequited love
by Anthea Lee | 25 May 2018, 3:46 PM
I stretched my hands out.
Droplets of fresh rain rolled off the edge of the building and danced on my fingertips at a slow, rhythmic beat. The road ahead glistened with puddles of water.
“Looks like it just stopped raining,” my friend beside me commented. “Shall we go?” I looked at the pedestrian crossing just in front of us. “Let’s wait for the green light,” I replied. But as soon as the words left my mouth, the stoic red man on the traffic light turned green with an animated trot. My friend suppressed her laughter. She gestured for us to move and walked off.
I shook my head and smiled – half amused, half resigned – at the impeccable timing. Sometimes I wonder if the universe conspires against me. I crossed the road hastily and caught up with my friend. We walked to the next traffic junction straight ahead and waited for the traffic light to turn green once again.
While waiting, my friend suddenly pointed at my feet. “Your shoes!” she exclaimed. I knew, before looking down at my damp footwear, that my once-white shoes were now muddied. True enough, they were now of a murky-grey colour. My friend continued lamenting how I should have avoided the puddles more carefully.
I wriggled my toes and stared at my dirt-stained shoes, thinking of someone who once taught me that dirt is nothing to be afraid of.
“Hi Auntie, my name is Don. This is my friend, Thea,” Don was speaking to a dishevelled old woman in a wheelchair. Her hair was matted with grease and her clothes were unkempt. He motioned for me to come over.
I plastered on a smile as I reluctantly willed my feet to move. “Hi Auntie …” I greeted as I approached her.
She nodded in response to me and I caught a whiff of something unpleasant as she moved her head. A few flies buzzed around her. I swallowed hard. I tried not to wonder when was the last time she showered.
Don, however, seemed unfazed by the pungent smell. He was busy striking up a conversation with her. We found out that she lives near the hawker centre we ate at, in a one-room flat.
Auntie slowly warmed up to us. Then, as a friendly gesture, she offered us some bread someone had given her earlier that morning.
Waiting isn’t about stopping. It’s about running till someone runs at your pace.
I watched as she broke the bread, my eyes transfixed on the dirt and grime under her nails. When she handed the pieces to us, I tried not to scream in horror. I was still scrambling to think of ways to reject her when Don did the unthinkable. He reached out, took the bread, and ate it without missing a beat.
“Thanks, Auntie!” He smiled. And for the first time, I saw the purest form of love that I had only known through the Bible: Acceptance.
I could have been ashamed of my own wretchedness. But Don’s tenderness filled the atmosphere and enveloped me all at once. See, when love finds you, it doesn’t come in thunderstorms or crashing tides. It inches towards you slowly, like the soft waves on your feet along a sandy shore – gentle, comforting and warm all at the same time.
I fell in love with Don that day. And then over and over again, every single day.
It wasn’t too difficult for me to see him on a daily basis. We studied in the same school and once, I caught a glimpse of his timetable and memorised it by heart. Knowing the exact time he would be in the study lounge, I would wait for him there every day.
Sometimes we would talk about random stuff over lunch. Other times we would wordlessly revise our homework together. But every moment I was with Don was time well-spent. I felt like I could wait for him forever – It didn’t matter to me how long it would take for him to notice me.
But by waiting for him, I was simultaneously letting other things slip by.
“Sometimes we think God placed us in a season of waiting when all along, we’ve been waiting at the wrong place.”
I wasn’t able to concentrate on my studies. I would pretend I was doing my work when I was with him, but all I could think about was just how close he was to me. I got distracted in my ministry too. Instead of going all out for God and pursuing Him wholeheartedly, I slowed down and I waited – hoping by human means things would move.
I knew my obsession with Don was crippling me, but it’s not easy to pick yourself when lovestruck – blind to the degree of preoccupation he was taking up in my life.
Until a mutual friend confided me in that she liked Don too.
She talked about how she felt around him: How her heart would flutter, how she couldn’t concentrate whenever he was near – feelings all too familiar to me. She had also begun to lose her focus in life.
Like looking into a mirror at my own reflection, I saw everything with a sudden clarity: I had stopped running after God in my pursuit of Don – everything now revolved around him.
“Thea, we’ve been waiting at the wrong junction! The crossing is up ahead!”
I snapped back to reality. I looked at my friend and then at the junction where we stood. She was right. There was no pedestrian crossing. We had been waiting at the wrong place this entire time.
Laughing, she continued, “Isn’t it just like life? Sometimes we think God placed us in a season of waiting when all along, we’ve been waiting at the wrong place.”
Her words went deep into my soul – there was truth in it.
Someone once told me this: “God just wants you to run after Him. Don’t look to the left or to the right. Run the race that’s set before you. We’re on a marathon of our lives. And when we run a marathon, don’t stop for the guy that’s calling for you in the sidelines. Run until there’s someone running at your pace with you.”
We often think waiting for someone requires a compromise on our other commitments. We stop attending church, stop serving in cell group, stop investing in our relationship with God just to develop a relationship with someone else. All that had once driven us now takes a backseat.
But waiting isn’t about stopping. It’s about running till someone runs at your pace. And I realised I’ve been waiting at the wrong place this whole time.
I should be running instead.
Names have been changed in this article for confidentiality.
by Pastor Lim Lip Yong, Cornerstone Community Church | 25 May 2018, 3:03 PM
Something concerning in the Church today is the attitude where one does whatever is right in his own eyes.
Taking for granted God’s love, grace and long-suffering nature – believers pursue whatever they please, expecting a loving God to condone and celebrate His children notwithstanding.
But this is far from the truth. The fact that God left us 66 books for our study indicates that He’s very meticulous about what He approves of and what He doesn’t. A key misconception that we must deal with is that we can love God however we want or choose to express that love for Him in whichever manner we desire.
Because God is very particular about how we’re to express our love for Him.
In the Old Testament, the Law would show a clear contrast between the prescribed manner of worship acceptable to the Lord and the way pagan worship was conducted. Integral to the pagan worship of those times were the offering of child sacrifices, tattooing, temple harlotry, divination and other reprehensible practices.
The Lord made it clear in Leviticus 19 that He would not accept such practices as a legitimate expression of worship and love towards Him.
We must never emphasise an aspect of God to the detriment of other equally valid virtues of the Lord.
Instead, He instituted five sacrifices in the Old Testament. One of them is the Burnt Offering.
The Burnt Offering was a voluntary offering – an expression of love from the giver of the sacrifice to the Lord. Interestingly, the way in which the Burnt Offering was to be offered was given in great detail. In other words, God is very particular about how we express our love for Him.
And we’re told in Leviticus 1, that the Burnt Offering is to be given in four parts: The head, fats, entrails and legs. My interpretation is that these represent our mind, strength, affections and our walk respectively. So the expression of our love for God has to be done through these four aspects of our lives.
Part of loving God comes from knowing Him. The more we come to know the Lord, the more we are drawn to love Him. He’s both merciful and severe. He’s full of grace and also full of truth. We must never emphasise an aspect of God to the detriment of other equally valid virtues of the Lord.
As we give our intellect to know Him and also to know that He cannot be fully understood, we direct our minds and thoughts towards Him more and more. Loving someone also requires for us to give our strength to express that love to them. So loving the Lord requires us to give ourselves to serve Him and to serve others.
One of the fundamental principles in God’s Word is that we cannot say that we love God (whom we cannot see), when we do not love the people around us (whom we can see). How much we love God can be seen by how much we love people – that’s why giving our strength to serve others is such a big part of our faith.
The third aspect has to do with our affections. This relates to our emotions and where our attention is focused on. Affections are often seen through the amount of time we spend with someone. We long to be with the person we’re in love with. Is God someone we desire to spend time with?
Finally, there’s our walk. Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Obedience is the by-product of a loving walk with God. When we love the Lord, we won’t want to displease Him. We’d instead want to find out what pleases Him and walk in the same manner that He walked.
I pray that we’ll not have some fuzzy idea about what it means to love God, but understand that He has expressly shown us a prescribed way to love Him.
This article was first published on Cornerstone’s website, and is republished with permission.
I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. Woke up to find out that my favourite cereal had just been finished by someone else. Found out that the girl I like hadn’t replied the message I sent before I went to bed. Learnt that my investment portfolio had suffered an immense crash overnight. Read on the news that my favourite soccer team had just been kicked out of the league.
We all know that feeling. That feeling of waking up on the wrong side of bed; and the terrible feeling that comes along with it.
I’m an avid soccer fan. A supporter since the tender age of 8. And as I woke up one morning to discover that my favourite team had been knocked out of the Champions League – Europe’s Premier Tournament – I knew I had woken up on the wrong side of bed.
My heart kept sinking deeper with every stride as I headed to work, until a thought flashed across my mind.
Yes, I was disappointed, but could there be a reason why my heart was so despondent upon hearing this news? Why was I even having such an adverse reaction?
At this point, the word “idolatry” floated into my mind. I pondered over it, and as much as it was hard to admit it, I began to realise that idolatry had infiltrated my heart from something seemingly benign – like supporting a football club.
The scary thing is that anyone – not just a soccer fan such as myself – is susceptible to this infiltration. And it often comes from places where you least expect it.
DO NOT MAKE WHAT YOU WANT AN IDOL
Behind almost any sin lies the sin of idolatry, as Tim Keller astutely points out in the Gospel in Life series. It actually does makes a lot of sense. If idolatry is putting something else before God, and sin essentially stems from desiring something else more than our desire to obey God … Isn’t all sin essentially idolatry?
Because it’s easier to put God second as sinful humans; many times we seek to gratify the flesh and its natural cravings – from the physical to the emotional – even if goes against what is written in His Word.
Coincidentally, Our Daily Journey ran a thought-provoking devotional the very same day I mourned the defeat of my favourite soccer club. Entitled “Whose Story?“, it began with a melancholic monologue where the author bemoaned how he’d failed again. Looking inwardly, he lamented about how he’d “given all [he] had, and it wasn’t enough”.
Many times we seek to gratify the flesh and its natural cravings – from the physical to the emotional – even if goes against what is written in His Word.
But as he reflected upon Hebrews 12, which talks about running the race God has set upon him and the calling to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith”, he came to a newfound realisation:“Everything changes when I remember my life has been woven into the one true story of Jesus. My value doesn’t depend on the success of my efforts but on the larger story to which I belong”.
We’ve often been inculcated by a first-world society from young that it’s “all about me”. Life is all about finding personal happiness, an intrinsic meaning for self. And it’s precisely this worldview that often takes a toll on the individual when the we realise we can never find this meaning and happiness in ourselves. Disappointments abound, fears creep in.
Yet, through the Biblical narrative, it is consistent that we are not the main character in this plot. This life is simply not about ourselves. And as the writer of Our Daily Journey confesses humbly: “I self-destruct when I make my family, friends, or career about me.”
GETTING BACK ON THE RIGHT SIDE
Perhaps it’s a concept that’s difficult to grasp immediately. I still vividly remember a story of a wolf who found a frozen mount of blood in the snow. “How nice,” he thought, as he licked the blood curiously. As his appetite grew, he began to lick the blood voraciously, seeking to satisfy his hunger pangs.
However, little did the wolf realise that frozen within the blood was a sharp sword. Soon, the mount of blood stopped shrinking, and instead started growing bigger as fresh red blood dripped from his tongue onto the winter ground. Soon, the wolf lay motionless on the snow.
In this season of life, I confess a deep struggle with social insecurity, a feeling many of us are all too familiar with. It’s the feeling when your friend brushes past you to talk to someone else. Being overlooked in conversations. Getting turned away with a curt answer. It’s these small actions that can mean a big deal and make us feel unwanted.
My identity is not based on how many “good” conversations I can hold or how people view and value me, but on the very Cross where Jesus died so that I could live.
And when this feeling rises up within me, I find myself just like that wolf, my appetite stirred for others’ friendship and approval, as if my identity and worth were determined by them. And time and time again, I’ve only experienced more heartache, pierced deeper by rejection.
But as I meditate upon God’s Word, I am reminded not to place my security in friendships and the approval of others. Remembering that my identity is not based on how many “good” conversations I can hold or how people view and value me, but on the very Cross where Jesus died so that I could live.
Unlike the wolf, Jesus knowingly let himself be pierced for our transgressions. With the Cross, Jesus gently reminds us that our identity is in Him.
Surely, this profound truth is starting to make sense, that the perfect antidote to idolatry is found in Jesus, where our thirst to be fully known and loved is quenched like it was with the Samaritan woman at the well. And I’m on this journey learning that this life is not about me; it’s about the one who loved us so much that He laid down His own life.
Indeed, as the writer of “Whose story?” reminds us: “My value doesn’t depend on the success of my efforts but on the larger story to which I belong.”
When I was in secondary school, my number one ambition was to become a cell leader.
The thought of being able to change people’s lives was something I desperately wanted. Unfortunately, this led me to suck up to my leaders in the hopes of getting on their good side.
Around that time, I responded to a challenge by my cell leader to pray for a friend and invite him to youth camp that year. Joshua, a childhood friend, came to mind. I secretly thought: “Why not? Maybe if I integrate him into the cell, I could get more credibility from the leaders!”
To my surprise, not only did he accept the invitation to attend camp that year – he became really well integrated into the community within a short span of time. Almost too well …
When it was time to pick a new leader, within the short span of a year, they chose Joshua to step up instead of me. I felt betrayed.
How could they! After all I’ve done for the cell, all the contributions I’ve made, how could they deny me the one thing I wanted the most! I have my rights too!
Looking back on those days, I realise that I behaved like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
He had seen his young brother essentially ask his father to die, run away to spend his money on parties, luxurious food and prostitutes – only to come crawling back into the house begging to be taken back as a slave.
But instead of sending him back to the depravity he had left them both for, the father welcomed the younger son home with open arms – even throwing him a big party. I knew well how the older brother felt.
Where is justice? Where is the reward I deserved? What about my rights too?
Because I felt the same: What gave Joshua the right to inherit what I believed was mine? But rereading that parable, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. Just as much as the younger son was lost – so was the older brother.
In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller writes that both sons wanted the father’s possessions rather than the person. Both were far from their father, but while one ran away from the father’s love by being extremely bad – the other did so by being extremely good.
I, too, was undeserving of God’s grace. When all I deserved was death, He ran to me and welcomed me with grace.
The cell leader position was just a symbol. Like the fattened calf at the feast, it masked an underlying issue: My devotion to God wasn’t founded on delight in Him but on trying to curry favours out of Him.
I have done so much in Your name. You owe me.
That was what my bitter heart was actually saying. But regardless of which son we resemble, God’s response to us is still the same. Like the father in the story, God runs to welcome wayward children back into His arms and joy. He desires his children to lay down their pride and reenter his joy.
The older son couldn’t do so because he held on to his rights – what he felt he rightfully deserved. And just like him, by clinging onto what I thought I deserved, I denied myself the joy of seeing one of his sons come home again – of witnessing a warrior of faith rise up to expand God’s kingdom.
The solution was ultimately simple but painful: I had to lay down my rights and all the things I thought I deserved to reenter God’s joy. But I couldn’t do it. I felt God had been unjust and that his mercy to one person had come at my expense.
How is it that when God is unjust I was the one to pay the price for it?
That was what I actually thought! Eventually I gave up my rights not because I had to – but because I finally realised that I had been the younger son many times as well. I’m all too guilty of running away from God and laying waste to my life.
I, too, was undeserving of God’s grace. When all I deserved was death, He ran to me and welcomed me with grace.
The one who paid the price for my redemption was Jesus. He was what an elder brother should be. My redemption came at His expense, but he never once complained. He simply and completely obeyed his Father and took on the expense so I could be restored to the family.
Growing up as the middle child, I always felt that my parents favoured my brothers.
I wasn’t as good as they were in both my studies and swimming, and I would feel pangs of jealousy whenever my parents praised my brothers for their achievements and gave them first pick of all the food and presents.
I also felt the injustice of being scolded the most and forgiven the least whenever we made mistakes together.
Though I may have unfairly judged my parents as a child, this perception of being unfairly treated had significant negative effects on my emotional well-being—my self-esteem took a blow and I often felt inferior to my brothers and unloved.
It was not until I became a Christian in my youth, that I gradually started to recover my self-esteem. I was convicted of the truth that regardless of how I performed, God loves me unconditionally.
Admittedly, I have also been a perpetrator of favouritism. In school and at my workplace, I have treated certain classmates and colleagues better because I liked their personalities more than others.
In doing so, I never stopped to consider what effects my actions had on those around me. When we are the ones being favoured or the ones perpetuating it, we are likely to trivialise it.
James, however, reminds us that favouritism contravenes the royal law of Christ to love our neighbour as ourselves. He even mentions favouritism in the same breath as murder and adultery, placing them side by side as violations of not just one component, but the whole law of God (James 2: 8-11).
When I look back at my past experiences, I realise that at the heart of favouritism is a glaring lack of brotherly love toward another. Isn’t that essentially at the heart of all sin? As Galatians 5:14 tells us, “the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
Let us examine our lives and turn to God in all humility.
When we show favouritism, we do not consider the feelings of the one who has been victimised and and how he has been impacted. Instead of loving them, we are hurting them.
This not only reduces that person’s self-worth – it leaves a scar on his heart. And it denies him his identity as a much-loved child of God, negatively shaping his character and future actions.
In the Bible, we read of accounts of favouritism which led to resentment and ultimately, undesirable outcomes. Sarah’s preference for Isaac and her ill-treatment of Hagar and her son Ishmael led to a break-up of Abraham’s family. Isaac’s unequal treatment of his two sons, Esau and Jacob, drove a wedge between them. And Jacob’s favouritism toward Joseph led to his older brothers resenting him and selling him off as a slave.
Are we also guilty of trivialising this sin of favouritism? Do we cast a blind eye to this hideous sin when we commit it, not realising how grave its consequences really are?
Let us examine our lives and turn to God in all humility. Let us ask Him to help us attain an understanding of His law and remove this subtle sin from our personal lives, so that we may live a life of authentic faith with the genuine love of Christ for our neighbour.
This article was first published on YMI.today, and is republished with permission.