Testing Your Purity

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Purity is a hot topic in youth groups and at men’s retreats.  We often associate purity with the conversation about sexuality.  “How far is too far“, the youth ask, and we set up accountability to stay off pornography and faithful to our wives at men’s retreats.  Sexual purity is indeed an important topic and God cares about it greatly.  It is the only sin, in fact, by which a person sins “against his own body”:

“Flee immorality.  Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”

– 1 Cor 6.18

Being free from sexual sin, however, is not the standard by which God measures our purity.  It is only one small facet, in fact, and we do ourselves a great disservice to not consider the full picture.  Paul gives us a much broader consideration:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.  But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.  For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

– Eph 5.1-5

In short, we are commanded to be imitators of God.  We do that by walking in love the same way that Jesus walked in love.  How did Jesus walk in love?  By dying for sinners and giving Himself as a sacrifice to God.  The application of that example is difficult.  How do I love sinners and offer myself fully to God in my daily grind?  Going to work, cooking meals, meeting with friends and colleagues, serving Church or enjoying my hobbies?  Thankfully he boils it down a bit more for us.

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

The word Paul uses for immorality here is the same word he uses elsewhere to refer to premarital sex and fornication (fooling around and/or causing sexual desires to be engaged).  Impurity is the same word that he uses elsewhere to refer to other types of sexual sin like homosexuality (Rom 1.24) and adultery.  So here Paul does draw in sexuality to refer to our overall purity, but he goes much further to bring up greed and also filthiness, silly talk and course jesting.  Do you consider your greed to tainting of your purity?  Because in the next verse Paul lumps the one who utilizes “filthiness, silly talk and course jesting” as impure.  And how often do we consider those innocent jokes (and dirty ones) to be things by which we are disqualified from eternity in Heaven?

“For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

Striking, isn’t it?  No silly talk.  But what does Paul say to do or be instead?  We should replace our sexual sin, our greed and our joking around with thanksgiving.  Say what?  It seems pretty natural to recognize the opposite of greed as thankfulness for what we already have, but sexual sin and flippancy?  Consider this:  sexual sin is lust at the core – longing for something that we should not have sexually.  Sexual drive for our spouse is God-given and good, but to lust after someone to whom we are not married or to partake in perverse or forbidden sexual acts is to give in to ungodly desires that replace God on the throne.  So yes, if we are thankful for our spouse and partake in Godly sexuality then we are pure.  If we are unmarried and are thankful for our sexual drive and pursue purity in chastity then we are pure.  So thankfulness is the appropriate replacement.

Silly talk, jesting and filthiness are also removing God from His throne and placing worldly entertainment (either overtly wicked or not) above God.  It is a form of idolatry, a form of self-pleasure that can be dethroned with thankfulness.  When we turn our attention to God and praise Him for our salvation, for the mighty works He is doing in the world and in our lives, when we focus on Him instead of frivolity and silliness, then those jokes just fade away.  That silliness and worldliness never enters our mind.  When was the last time you sought meaningless pleasure when you were overwhelmed with gratitude?

Notice also that Paul does not bring up commandments to push us on, but he does bring up eternity.  Our primary method of fighting these sins should be to focus on God and replacing them with thankfulness, not duty.  God wants our hearts.  He wants us to love Him and to be driven to love Him by thankfulness, not duty.  He does, however, allow us to be warned by future consequences – like any good father does.

So today, let us remember to be “of sober spirit” and turning to God in thankfulness for everything He is and everything He has done (1 Peter 5.8).  Let us put off the big sins of sexual misconduct – fornication, pornography, adultery – but let us also put off those creeping sins of greed, filthiness, silliness and distraction.  Let us remember that our purity is not simply sexual but of our whole mind and body.  And it is not simply refraining from sin but turning to God.  And most importantly, let us remember that our eternity is at stake!

Does God bring you pleasure?

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There are three ways in which human beings fundamentally respond to our primary problem in the world:  sin.  We either feel shame, guilt or fear.  Some might argue that there are those who enjoy sin or who feel nothing in response to it, and while we understand that sin is indeed pleasurable in the moment, Scripture teaches us that God has given us each a conscience to convict us of sin such that we are without excuse before Him and therefore we know that it is a learned callousness which keeps us from one of those three basic responses (Rom 2.14-16).

We often mirror our response to God with these responses to sin.  God is the judge of sin, after all.  He hates sin and apart from Him we are slaves to sin, therefore we regularly direct our shame, guilt or fear directly at Him.  And this is not a fully bad thing.  Jesus Himself commanded us to fear God (Matt 10.28), and Paul teaches us that it is Godly sorrow that leads us to repentance (2 Cor 7.10).  We should be very concerned if we become hardened and/or oblivious to sin such that it no longer affects our hearts – especially as we approach God in His holiness.

However, it is not God’s primary desire that we fear or are ashamed before Him.  The entire foundation of the Old Testament Law was built on this single commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.5

Jesus affirmed that this is indeed the greatest and first commandment and carried it through to the New Covenant of grace.  Obedience, service, morality, or any form of holiness is are all worthless if we do not love God.

Sometimes, however, it is difficult to understand what exactly it is to love God.  He is not physically present that we would spend time talking back and forth with Him.  We cannot interact with Him in the same way that we interact with and develop relationship with anyone else.  Is our love for God, then, comparable to our love for a person?

We can indeed get to know Him – that is why He has given us His Word.  We can know the heart and mind of God by reading the Scripture.  When we understand and believe the Gospel and repent of our sins, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us so that we can experience the presence of God as well.  We can talk to God through prayer and experience His beauty in creation.  And as we develop these disciplines of getting to know Him, we will find that His Spirit within us establishes the emotion of love and joy.  This is why Scripture actually commands us to enjoy God.

“Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.”

– Ps 37.4

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

– Phil 4.4

In what do you find pleasure?  Television?  Friends?  Adventures?

Do you take pleasure in Bible study, prayer and worship?  If not, we should examine our hearts.  God is the author of pleasure.  He created our very nature which desires pleasure, He gave us the things or the ability to create the things which give us pleasure, and He desires that we find our joy and satisfaction in Him.  If He is the author of pleasure, He can offer us the truest and most satisfying fulfillment of it.  Have you taken the time to get to know Him and fall in love with Him?  Do you delight in Him?  Do you rejoice in Him?  Or is He just something you do on Sunday mornings…is He just eternal fire insurance?

Spend some time with Him today, and let your soul be enriched.  Delight in Him today.

‘He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.’

– Augustine

When You Get Laid Off

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I was recently laid off.  For the past four years I have worked for a non-profit that relied on the generosity of a major donor for our office and warehouse, and the donor could no longer afford to give the space so we had to close down.  This coincided either perfectly or terribly with my first pregnancy – such that our closing day was just days before my due date.  So now I find myself in a brand new life circumstance:  unemployed and a first time mom.  This is extremely unnerving for me.  I have always been a motivated go-getter with a relatively clear “career path” of missions and vision for my life.  But it is exceptionally difficult to job hunt when you are very pregnant and will be in immediate need of maternity leave upon starting a new job, so my maternity leave is unpaid and for the indefinite future.

Did you know that God has a plan, even in seasons of unemployment?  Three fighter verses are good to keep close during such a time:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

– 1 Peter 1.6-9

“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.”

– Is 64.4

We will be tempted to sin during seasons of unemployment in a variety of ways – namely to the unbelief of impatience and doubt, mingled with envy and bitterness.  These sins are sneaky and can be subtle at times, not showing themselves as gross sins which our friends and accountability partners will quickly notice and point out, but growing slowly in our hearts.  We must be aware of them and count them as dangerous sins which will threaten our joy and peace with God:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

– Gal 5.19-21

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

– Col 3.8

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

God has promised to meet all of our needs.  These needs are the ones He has defined that will sharpen our faith, cause us to rely and depend on Him, bringing Himself the most glory and honor through our refinement (Phil 4.19, Rom 8.28, 1 Peter 1.6-9).  He loves us as His children and He will give us every good and perfect gift (James 1.17).  He will meet our needs as the good Father (Luke 7.11).  He will bless and work for those who wait on Him (Is 64.4).  To not believe these promises is to not know God, and to be headed for an eternity separated from Him in Hell (Rev 21.8).

Therefore, we must be patient and wait on the Lord.  Those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength (Is 40.31).  They will not be put to shame (Is 49.23).  And the very quietness and trust will give us strength (Is 30.15).  We must neither give up nor act out ahead of God’s timing.  We must consult God for every decision and wait on His timing and direction.  We must embrace the circumstances in which He has us and we must move at the pace in which He directs us.  We will thus learn the lessons He is aiming to teach us and will receive the blessings He is aiming to give us.

That may mean He is teaching us to surrender our self-sufficiency and rely on Him.  That may mean He is teaching us to embrace a new role in our lives [like motherhood].  That may mean He is teaching us faith and submission [by depending on a husband to provide while we care for a child].  That may mean He is teaching us to die to our pride by working a job that might not align with our career goals but will provide for our families.  That may mean He is teaching us patience, perseverance and selflessness which are not optional Christian characteristics!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

As we cultivate faith – or as God cultivates faith in us – we will exemplify these attributes.  We will have peace, patience and faithfulness while we wait on God.  We will work and be responsible to care for our families and we will look to Him for direction for our next steps.  We will live well, and we will ultimately be able to die well.  We will know God’s faithfulness.

“Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole with infinite love; and infinite power enables me—to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father’s hands—all is secure. When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness—and immutability—and truth; and I have the sweetest peace—I cannot have more peace.”

– Charles Simeon

Trusting God in Transition

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We can divide the general population into two groups based on any preference, belief or disposition.  There are those who like ketchup and those who do not like ketchup.  There are those who have children and those who do not.  There are those who believe in the Bible and those who do not.  Here is a good one:

There are those who like change and those who do not.

I have experienced a lot of change and transition in my life.  When I was in the third grade my parents sat my sisters and me down to tell us that we were moving from Philadelphia, PA to the middle of a cornfield in Indiana.  They dressed it up to sound amazing – we were going to get horses (my lifelong dream), live in the country and it would be an adventure.  Of course it was hard to move – to leave church, school and friends – but I was excited.  Moving and transitioning has been a big part of my life ever since:  college, grad school, moving overseas, and finding jobs in different states, and finding churches along the way…  And it is always exciting for me.  Sometimes staying in one place for too long causes me to get the itch.  Other people are the exact opposite.  Some people prefer to stay where they know everyone, where they have deep roots, living in one house and having one job.  For them there is nothing appealing about change and they avoid it.

Our relationships with God take on an interesting dynamic based on this preference and worldview.  Those people who do not like change will pray and cry out to God any time something rocks their world or threatens the day-to-day.  Perhaps a friend is moving away or a job ends.  These things break the routine and people become afraid, sad, or insecure.  Those people who thrive on and love change, however, will experience fear, sorrow and insecurity when life settles into a predictable routine with no change.  Such people love to move, to meet new people, to find a new job, and to not be tied down.  The emotions are the same, however they are triggered by the exact opposite circumstance.

Both experiences, both dispositions, however, lead us to a fundamental truth and necessity:  Trust.  We must trust God.  The essence of the Christian life is sanctification.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3

Sanctification is, by definition, change.  It is the daily fighting of sin, dying to ourselves and learning to submit to God and His will.  This might include a dramatic move to serve as a missionary in a foreign land for some, but for all it will be the daily fighting of temptations, of choosing love and not anger, of putting away bitterness, of honoring other people as more important than ourselves, and of loving and knowing God.  This kind of change is difficult for everyone and is only made possible by the empowering of the Holy Spirit (John 16.8).

But sanctification is built on trusting God.  We cannot be saved unless we trust the promises of God that were purchased by Jesus’ death on the cross.  Salvation is fundamentally believing and trusting God that Jesus purchased our forgiveness and will save us in eternity.  Strangely, however, many of us profess to trust God for our eternity without making the effort to trust Him in our daily lives.  For many God is our safety net for everything that happens after death, but we think we have no need of Him until that point.

And it is this same basic trust that we must learn and practice in seasons of change or routine – whichever causes us distress.  God has promised that He will meet all of our needs:

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 4.19

He has also promised that He will never leave us:

“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”

– Deut 31.6

He has promised a way of escape from every single temptation to sin, and has promised to enable us to fight every temptation that comes:

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

– 1 Cor 10.13

And most importantly, He has promised to use every single life circumstance to work together for our good (read: our sanctification) and His glory:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

If we trust and believe all of those promises, then we can boldly walk into a new phase of life.  We can move.  We can stay put.  We can remain in a job.  We can take a new job.  Of one thing we can be sure.  God is going to put us in situations that stretch our trust and faith.  Otherwise we would never be sanctified!  Thus, if our comfort zone is change, He may leave us in a situation longer than we prefer.  If our comfort zone is the same-old, same-old, then He might shake up our world.  If He does not put us in a circumstance to change, we should be concerned – because He disciplines and chastens all whom He loves (Heb 12.6).

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

– 1 Peter 1.6-9

She is not mine.

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I am a new mom.  A “FTM” (First Time Mom) as all the bloggers and texters say.  Most of my friends back home in the midwest are years ahead of me, sending their kids to preschool and gradeschool, but here in Denver we do things a little more slowly and I am 33 with a baby two weeks old today.  These last two weeks have been a whirlwind, including unexpected medical diagnoses, hospital stays, and a three week early adjustment to parenthood – but some of the most amazing moments in my and my husband’s life.  One thing, however, that is rocking my world Spiritually is the new “opportunity” to die to myself.

There are many truths out there that circulate so rapidly that they sound cliche.  “Marriage is a mirror” and such, but in two short weeks I am beginning to learn anew what it means to die to myself and to surrender my selfishness.

The Christian life, the path of salvation, is often called the fight of faith.  We are engaged in a Spiritual battle for holiness.  We are killing our sin so that it will not kill us.  We are pressing on towards the goal, we are dying to ourselves, we are fighting for sanctification.  This is Biblical.  This is right.  This is honoring to God.  And it is indeed God’s plan to sanctify us:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3

Our sanctification is a process, and God reveals our sin and our depravity in bite-sized pieces.  He asks/commands/enables us to fight our sin one day at a time.  If God were to reveal the depths of our selfishness and pride as well as confronting our sinful habits all at the moment of conversion, we would become overwhelmed and give up.  But graciously He gives us the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin, empower us to fight it and when we begin to live by His strength and overcome it, He takes us to the next battle front.

My new battlefront is selfishness and possessiveness of this tiny baby girl.  Children are indeed a treasure from the Lord (Ps 123.7).  They are a blessing, a gift, and a joy.  They also provide heartache, pain and uncertainty.  But fundamentally, they are not ours.  They are God’s and He has entrusted parents as stewards of them.

We learn quite quickly, at least on a superficial level, that everything we have is God’s and that lesson is usually focused on finances:

“What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

The church at Corinth was caught up in an internal battle arguing over which teacher was the greatest and factions were forming accordingly.  Paul spoke out against this sin, encouraging even those who claimed to follow him to be humble and remember the Gospel.  Nothing that they had, no Spiritual insight or wisdom was of themselves – he said – but only a gift from God.  This reality is true about everything.  Everything in the world is God’s, and He has given of His abundance to us as stewards to care for and utilize everything unto His glory and honor.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.”

– Ps 24.1

This includes not only our physical possessions, our faith, and our Spiritual gifts and abilities – but children.  My daughter is God’s.  He has given me the remarkable privilege and responsibility to function in the role as her mother, but she is not mine, she is God’s.  He knew her before He formed her in my womb.  He has a perfect plan for her entire life.  He knit her together and He loves her more than I ever can or will.  He knows the hairs on her head, and He knows every single thing she will ever think, feel and experience.  She is His.

That is a difficult thing for a FTM to remember.  Yes, it is good and wise to set up relational and emotional boundaries.  Just because I am a steward and not an “owner” does not mean that everyone has equal say and equal access to my daughter.  I have been charged to protect and care for her, to teach her the truths of God, to love her.  But it also means I die to myself and get up in the middle of the night to feed her – even when I am exhausted – and I allow friends and family to enjoy her and be part of her life.  It means we partner with the Church to commit to raising her up in the ways of the Lord.  It means my husband has parenting rights and together we bring her before God and surrender her to Him and to His plan.  It means we trust God for today and for her future.

Fighting the battle of selfishness and control means fighting the fight of faith.  It means dying to self in order to trust God.  Martin Luther said it well:

“Faith honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard since it considers him truthful and trustworthy. There is no other honor equal to the estimate of truthfulness and righteousness with which we honor him whom we trust . . . When the soul firmly trusts God’s promises, it regards him as truthful and righteous, and whatever else should be ascribed to God. The very highest worship of God is this, that we ascribe to him truthfulness, righteousness, and whatever else should be ascribed to one who is trusted.”

– Martin Luther

What do you have today over which you boast, or on which you base your confidence?  What do you have today that you claim as your own, that you seek to control, that you hold too tightly?  Let us remember that nothing we have – no financial success, no skill or ability, no wisdom or social status, no relationship and no child – nothing we have was not given to us.  Everything is God’s, and He has given us access and ability to utilize all of those things to glorify Him and to make much of Him.  Let us therefore seek to surrender all of those things to Him.  Let us remember that He is sovereign over all of them.  Let us trust Him and His plan, and fight the fight of faith – thus laying hold of eternal life.

“Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

– 1 Tim 6.12