Posts Tagged ‘Love Month’

Dating isn’t for Kids

February 25th, 2010

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I kissed dating goodbye when Josh Harris’s book came out in 1997. I was 12.

Somewhere around 2007 (actually 2006), I started wondering if I’d kissed marriage goodbye along with dating. I was 21 and I was rethinking my stance on dating.

My conclusion?

Kissing dating goodbye at age 12 was a good decision. Inviting dating into my life at age 21 (okay, actually age 23) was also a good decision.

Because there’s one thing I’ve decided for certain: Dating isn’t for kids.

Please humor me as I discuss this in question and answer format.

What do you mean by dating?
I mean a romantic relationship. I don’t care if you call it dating, courting, or being “friends”–if it’s a romantic relationship, that’s what I mean.

Wait a sec. You don’t think courting is for kids?
Nope. More on that later.

Why not?
Because I think that defeats the purpose of dating/courting/pre-marital-romances.

What do you mean by that?
Well, I think that the purpose of dating/courting/pre-marital-romances–
Are you beginning to see why I want to just call it dating?
–Anyway, I think the purpose of dating is to discover whether you and the other person should marry–so I don’t really think you should do it until you’re ready to get married.

Oh. I see. But I was ready to get married when I was 14.
You might have thought so. But marriage at age 14 is legal in only 7 states without direct judicial intervention. And beyond the legalities, research indicates that couples who marry at a young age (generally less than 20 years old) have significantly less stable marriages than those who marry in their early to mid- twenties (references available on request–sorry, I’m already behind on getting this post up.)

That doesn’t sound good. So dating isn’t smart until you’re 20?
I didn’t say that. I’m not sure that you can set a specific age limit on dating.

Well, then, how do I know if I’m ready to date?
That is a fantastic question (and the one I’ve been waiting for.)

I think there are a number of questions that you should ask yourself before embarking on any romantic relationship. Given in no particular order, those questions are:

  • Am I ready to get married?
    I urge you to soberly consider this question. And realize I’m not talking about “ready to get married” as in “want to have sex”. I’m talking are you ready to take on the roles and responsibilities of a married man or woman? Are you ready to support a wife? Are you ready to keep house? Are you ready to pay bills and deal with landlords (all by yourselves)? Are you ready to potentially have children? If you aren’t ready (or won’t be ready for longer than two years), you probably shouldn’t be dating.
  • Do I know what my mission/calling in life is?
    I’ve heard way too many sad stories of women or men who have experienced the call of God to be missionaries or pastors but have forsaken that call after marrying someone who didn’t share the call. If you don’t know what God wants you to do with your life–don’t go getting married until you’ve got some idea where you’re going. ‘Cause once you’re married, you’re not free to just pack your bags and head out–you’ve got to think about your spouse.
  • Will marriage right now help or hinder my mission/calling/goals in life?
    When I was 20 years old, I was plenty ready to get married (by which I mean, I would have loved to have gotten married)–but getting married at that point would certainly have hindered my mission and goals. I had two and a half years of school and a 6-24 month internship to complete before I could earn my RD. And earning the RD is important to (at least one part of) my mission and goals in life. (One note here: Keep in mind that no matter how you intend to “plan” your family, you need to be prepared to have children within 9 months of starting to have sex. Just sayin’.)
  • What do my parents and/or trusted mentors advise?
    We can’t make our decisions entirely based on what our parents, friends, and mentors say–but we should consider their input carefully. Are your parents urging caution? I’d take that seriously. Have you asked your parents or trusted mentors for advice? Do they think you’re ready to marry? Weigh their input wisely.
  • Is God giving you the green light?
    Have you been entrusting this to God? If so, what has He been saying? Has He said to go ahead? Has He said to wait? Obey. If you haven’t been giving this to God, give it to Him and get His input first. The last thing you want to do is rashly go out without God’s direction (remember the battle of Ai in Joshua 7?)

In my case, at age 12, I was DEFINITELY not ready to get married. I wasn’t really sure what my mission and calling in life was. Marriage would certainly have hindered my mission and goals. My parents didn’t think I was ready to get married. And God didn’t give me the green light. Time to kiss dating goodbye!

At age 23, I was ready to get married–I’d been paying bills for quite a few years, I’d lived on my own, kept house. I knew what my mission and vision was. I was within a year of earning my RD. When I talked about contentment in singleness and how this time of singleness has benefited me, my parents were starting to talk about it being possible to wait too long to get married. I’d been giving the whole thing over to God–and He certainly wasn’t saying no (even if I had a hard time deciding if He was for sure saying YES!) So I turned on the porch light and opened the front door and invited dating to stay awhile.

As I near my twenty-fifth birthday (less than three weeks now!), I am still a single woman. And I’m okay with that. (Of course, that varies day by day, as I’ve confessed already.) But God has me here for a reason and I trust in His sovereignty.

Maybe some might say that I jumped the gun on dating–after all, I opened the door a couple of years ago and I’m still not married (or even engaged). Maybe I did jump the gun–but I don’t think so. I have no regrets from my dating experiences and I’ve learned TONS and grown IMMENSELY (spiritually and emotionally, not physically :-P) through this mini-season of dating in my big-season of singleness.

So, dating… well, dating is not for kids.

Kids? Take note.

But adults don’t need to be afraid of dating, either.

Adults? Take note.

It’s hard to stop a train

February 24th, 2010

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Scripturally, there can be no doubt–sex outside of marriage is sin.

“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man…”
Matthew 15:19-20

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness…”
Galatians 5:19

“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
Colossians 3:5

“You shall not commit adultery.”
Exodus 20:14

Most Christians (at least those who believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God) agree that premarital sex is wrong.

The difficulty comes in when we ask what that means. People start talking “technical virginity” and asking whether this is okay or that is okay.

They’re committed to not having sex before marriage, but they want to know how far is too far.

Helpful Christians give their opinions on where the lines should be drawn. “Keep your clothes on,” one person counsels. Joshua Harris famously decided not to kiss until his wedding day (after “Kissing Dating Goodbye”) sparking a whole slew of no-kiss-courtships.

But in some sense, all these rules are pretty arbitrary. Because, ultimately, except in the case of rape, sex doesn’t begin with intercourse. It doesn’t begin with undressing. It doesn’t even begin with that first kiss.

Physical intimacy between a man and a woman begins with the first touch–and from that first touch, it’s headed in one direction: towards sexual intercourse.

I believe that this is why the Bible says in I Corinthians 7:1 “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”

I liken physical intimacy to a train, set in motion at the first touch and hurtling with ever increasing momentum towards its destination (intercourse). And, as a radio advertisement for heat pumps that’s been running in the greater Omaha area in the last several years reminds us: it’s hard to stop a train (Trane, in their advertisement).

So how are we to keep ourselves pure? Give us some rules. Tell us what to do.

I’ve wished I could just set myself and others some nice, clear, easy-to-follow rules that would make their relationships fool-proof against premarital sex and inappropriate physical intimacy.

I can’t.

But I can offer some basic words of counsel. First and foremost among them? Only start the train if you can take it to its destination.

If you’re fourteen years old (four years from even being legally able to marry), you have no business starting the train. Which means no touching. Period. No hand-holding, no hugs, no backrubs. Nothing. “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”

If you’re friends with someone or you’re casually dating them, but aren’t really seriously considering them as a future spouse, you have no business starting the train. Which means no hand-holding (again), no cuddling, no good-night kissing. It means no nothing. “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”

But what if you’re older and you’re seriously pursuing a relationship with marriage as the intended destination? You’re seriously dating or courting–maybe you’re even engaged. What should you do now?

Again, I don’t have rules for you to follow–but I do have some guidelines that might help you to establish boundaries in this area, and to follow the advice to “only start the train if you can take it to its destination.”

First, start slow. You don’t have to rush into physical intimacy. Even though you might want to, it’s better for you to hold off on physical intimacy. Physical intimacy should be the last level of intimacy that develops in a relationship. Take time to develop the other three levels of intimacy before you step into physical intimacy. Because the truth is that once you start the physical intimacy train, it’s going to want to consume the rest of your relationship. You’re going to want to keep on exploring that physical intimacy side–even at the expense of developing head- and heart-intimacy. So hold off on physical intimacy–and hold off on deepening that intimacy. Just hold hands for a while before moving to anything else. Savor the small bits of physical intimacy instead of pushing on–because the closer you get to that end destination, the harder it is to stop the train.

Second, set boundaries. Maybe you’re a bit confused by this. Didn’t I just tell you that I can’t give you rules to follow regarding physical intimacy? I did. But this isn’t about me giving you rules to follow. This is about you personally, and as a couple, prayerfully making decisions about how you are going to handle physical intimacy–and how you’re going to guard against inappropriate physical intimacy. As you set boundaries, you might want to think about what kind of touching is appropriate and what kind is not. Consider what kind of safeguards you can set up to avoid temptation for inappropriate physical intimacy. If you’re still in your teens or in your parents’ household, you might consider asking your parents to help you to set some of these boundaries. Even if you’re not in your teens or in your parents’ household, I encourage you to involve family and friends in keeping you accountable to maintain these physical boundaries.

Third, I encourage you to apply the brakes at the first warning signs. Even the slowest start and the best-laid boundaries are not guarantees that you won’t walk into sexual sin.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
I Corinthians 10:12-13

Even the best plans will not take you out of the way of temptation. We cannot become lax, thinking that our rules or ideals can protect us from sin. Rather, we must continually be listening to and obeying the Spirit of God. God will always provide a way of escape–but if we’re not listening to God or being obedient to His voice, we’ll pass right by the escape route on our way directly into sin.

I love how verse 12 speaks directly to this situation: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” You think you’re in good shape, you’ve got it covered. You and your boyfriend/girlfriend agree that you aren’t going to have sex before marriage. You’ve set some boundaries (maybe even far from the line of intercourse). You have good intentions. You’re both serious about God. Watch out. Take heed lest you fall.

When the Holy Spirit issues that first alarm, hit the brakes and hit them fast. Don’t presume that you’re strong enough to handle the situation.

I was dating a godly man. He and I were both serious about seeking God’s glory with our lives and in our relationship. We’d set some boundaries. I really wasn’t worried about our physical relationship. He was an honorable man. He wasn’t going to take advantage of me. It was all good.

What I underestimated was the power of my own physical desire. We didn’t do anything inappropriate–I am not ashamed of anything we did. But, because of the nature of the relationship, even small touches awakened a depth of physical desire and I become startlingly aware of my own ability to fall. I realized that it wasn’t just a matter of whether I could trust him or whether we had good intentions–I couldn’t trust myself against the strength of my desire. We didn’t do anything inappropriate–but it wouldn’t have taken much for me to have been willing to do something inappropriate. The pace we had set, the boundaries we had established simply weren’t enough. I, at least, could have easily fallen. It was time to apply the brakes.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Listen to the voice of God and apply the brakes at His first warning.

It’s hard to stop a train once it’s started, so exercise wisdom and caution with when and how you start the train–and don’t be afraid to apply the brakes (or to jump out of the train) the moment you realize that the train’s headed to its destination too quickly.

Taking issue with lust

February 21st, 2010

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I was twenty years old before I became aware that lust was something that I dealt with. It’d been drilled into my head that lust was a man’s problem. Lust, in my mind and as I’d heard it discussed, was all about enjoying naked bodies. Since I didn’t mentally undress men as they walked down the street, I assumed that meant I couldn’t have a problem with lust.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I believe this misconception kept me bound for a lot longer than I needed to be.

Which is why I get serious about talking about lust–with both men and women. Lust is an issue for both sexes–even if it might take on different forms.

Merriam-Webster defines lust as “intense or unbridled sexual desire.” Ultimately, lust is sexual desire that has not been bridled or controlled. Let me make clear–all of us experience sexual desire. It is how God made us. But God designed sexual desire to be expressed in a specific way, within certain boundaries. God intended that the sexual desire of a man be directed towards his wife, to give her joy. God intended that the sexual desire of a woman be directed towards her husband, to give him joy. Lust turns that sexual desire inward towards oneself or outward to someone who is not one’s spouse, and makes the goal one’s own pleasure.

Pornography, female and otherwise

My mom mentioned pornography in her guest post a couple of days ago. She talked about porn being more than just sexually exploitative pictures. And she’s absolutely right.

Merriam-Webster defines pornography as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement, material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement, or the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.”

Do you notice the common theme among those definitions? Pornography is something that arouses a sexual or emotional response. Ultimately, pornography is something that is intended to arouse lust in one’s heart and mind.

Check out the etymology of this word. Merriam-Webster says it is from the Greek “pornographos, adjective, writing about prostitutes, from pornē prostitute + graphein to write”. Written prostitution. Sleeping with someone who’s not your spouse through the power of an image or a written word.

Ultimately, I believe pornography is marked by two basic characteristics. First, pornography is like using a prostitute. It is inherently selfish. It is all about fulfilling me, accomplishing my pleasure, without any regard for the other person. Second, pornography involves a fantasy world, whether that fantasy world exists on a page or a screen. It alters the world from the way God intended it to be and instead insists that wrong is right and right is wrong.

This is true of pornography whether it be in the form of explicit photographs, movies, or books. But, like my mom mentioned, we should be aware that directly sexual images and words are not the only potentially pornographic images and words.

Case Study: Movies

For example, the most pornographic movie I’ve ever seen was… (drumroll please)…
“Twilight”.

Yes, that’s right. For me, “Twilight” was downright pornographic. It didn’t have any sex scenes, it didn’t have any nudity. I don’t even remember if there was any kissing. It was a “clean” move.

But I found it absolutely pornographic. It has all the elements of porn for me. It pulled me into an alternate reality, a selfish reality. It awakened in me a lust for an “Edward”–a man whose life centers around me, a man who wants nothing more than to be near me, to see me, to watch me sleep. It awakens in me unbridled sexual desire–focused upon fulfilling me.

Last night, I watched “Moulin Rouge” with a friend. Despite its PG-13 rating for sexual content and the pervasiveness of sexual scenes, “Moulin Rouge” wasn’t pornographic for me. Not even close. I felt sympathy for Satine, but that movie awakened no untoward desire in me. I did not enter into an alternate reality as I watched that movie.

It’s tricky, because porn isn’t always as easy as checking the nudity ratings of a movie. Yes, this can be useful–especially if nudity or sexual content is an issue for you. But we can’t assume that because a movie doesn’t contain a sex scene that it’s “safe.”

We need to be always on the alert–guarding our eyes, guarding our ears, guarding our hearts. And when the Holy Spirit speaks, we need to obey. Not rationalizing His voice away. Not worrying about what God’s saying to someone else. We just need to obey.

My sisters love the movie “Twilight.” And that’s okay. My job isn’t to judge them because of what God has told me. Nor is it to make excuses for them. My job is to be obedient to what God has told me to do. And God has told me not to watch “Twilight” again.

Maybe God has convicted someone else that “Moulin Rouge” is sinful for them. My job is not to judge that person. Nor is it to try to convince them that it’s all good because I don’t have a problem with “Moulin Rouge”. My job is to be obedient to what God has told me to do–and to encourage them to be obedient to what God has told them to do.

Case study: Romance novels

Confession: I was a romance novel addict. I lived in a fantasy world with a thousand fantasy men–prostitutes engaged to fulfill my desires, sexual and otherwise. I read Harlequin’s “Blazing Hot” novels, Christian romance novels, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. All of them were sinful and pornographic for me at that point. They took me to an alternate world that was all about me and fulfilling my lusts.

You know what? I still read romance novels today. But I no longer live in that lust-filled fantasy world.

When God convicted me about my romance-novel porn, He didn’t tell me to swear off reading. He didn’t even tell me to swear off romance novels.

He did convict me that I was not to read the Harlequin’s with explicit sexual scenes. Period. To read those would be sin for me. End of story.

The other stuff is different. Sometimes it is porn for me–and sometimes it isn’t. I don’t have specific rules for my reading. I have to listen to the Spirit. Believe it or not, sometimes the book that was just fine for me to read a week ago is not appropriate for me to read today. I have to listen to and be obedient to the Spirit. He knows my weaknesses and knows exactly when I should and should not read certain things.

I do have one general principle that I follow when reading that enables me to walk in purity. I vary my reading. I make it a point to read a great variety of books–fiction, nonfiction, classics, children’s, whatever. I don’t let myself read more than one romance novel in a row. One might be entertainment, but two too often becomes a fantasy world of escapism. I can’t let myself escape to a world of selfish sensual desires. I have to stay in reality and focused on pleasing God and serving others. Varying my reading enables me to do that.

Maybe that’s what the Holy Spirit will lead you to do. Maybe He’ll lead you to completely give up romance novels like He led my mom to. It doesn’t matter which (or if He tells you something completely different.) The important thing is that you are listening to and obeying the voice of God.

Studs, Hot Guys, and Sex Objects

One of the primary objections that even the secular world has against pornography is that it objectifies women. And they’re absolutely right. Porn, in its classical sense, turns women into an object whose only function is fulfilling the sexual desires of men.

But porn isn’t the only thing that objectifies women. And women aren’t the only ones who can be objectified. Women can objectify men as well. And that objectification itself is inappropriate and sinful. It is not acting in love towards the other person.

I know women who would loudly object to men carrying on a conversation about how “hot” a certain actress is and how that plunging neckline…

But these same women think nothing of “ooo”ing and “ah”ing over how hot Taylor Lautner is when he takes of his shirt in “New Moon”. (Sorry, I wasn’t intending to pick on Twilight here–it’s just that he’s the latest fellow I’ve heard objectified.) And then there’s the more subtle but no less inappropriate objectification–swooning over Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, for example.

I say I know these women–but it’s even worse. I have been one of these women on more than one occasion. And that’s just not right.

When I objectify a man, I sin against God, against that man, and against all my brothers. What’s more, I (often unwittingly) encourage my younger sisters who look to me as an example to look at men in this same sinful way.

I encourage all of us to think carefully how we speak about the opposite sex (even among our closest friends). They are not sex objects–and we shouldn’t act or speak as if they are.

O Lord, set a guard over my tongue that I may honor You and both my brothers and sisters in how I speak about the opposite sex.

Masturbation

I cannot end my discussion of lust without at least mentioning a topic that has heretofore been taboo in the church, especially among women in the church.

Masturbation.

Masturbation is a pervasive problem in today’s culture and within our churches–but it is a problem shrouded in confusion and secrecy.

There are many different opinions on masturbation–but mine is clear. Masturbation is intrinsically a selfish sexual act. It is taking a pleasure intended to be shared between a man and his wife in the context of marital relationship and mutual submission and instead making it all about fulfilling one’s own lusts and desires.

Just like these other lustful things, masturbation is selfish and creates an alternate world–a lie of sexual pleasure devoid of relationship.

Masturbation is ultimately a false lover. It will not fulfill your desires, nor will it promote healthy relationship between you and your spouse (whether current or future.)

What to do about lust

Lust is sin–and it’s a sin that both men and women deal with. Because lust is often a secret, private sin, it can become a huge stronghold in our lives. Many Christian men and women despair that they will ever overcome in the area of sexual sin.

I come with good news. The cross of Christ is sufficient not only to cover over your sexual impurity of thought and deed–it is also sufficient to free you from the power of sin and death.

I think many who are caught in sexual sin can identify with Paul’s words:

“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”
Romans 7:14-19

We’ve felt trapped, ensnared, prisoner to our own lusts.

But the cross offers hope.

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! ”
Romans 7:24-25

Jesus Christ our Lord has conquered sin–and through Him, we also are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).

So let us begin to walk in freedom from sexual sin. Some first steps in walking in freedom?

  1. Repent

    “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,”
    Acts 3:19

  2. Listen to and obey the Holy Spirit

    “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
    I Corinthians 10:13

  3. Take practical steps to avoid sin
    • Meditate on Scripture

      “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
      Philippians 4:8

    • Flee from temptation

      “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
      II Timothy 2:22

    • Seek accountability

      “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
      James 5:16

Purity of Heart (Guest Post)

February 19th, 2010

And now for my favorite part of Love Month–where the guys go off to talk about lust–and the girls go off to talk about how to keep guys from lusting (modesty). But wait–I already talked about modesty (and why the goal SHOULDN’T be keeping guys from lusting)–

Instead, I’ve asked my mom to write up a little something about purity. My mother is a godly woman, full of wisdom (and with the gray hair to prove it!) I think you’ll learn much from her perspective on purity, sexual and otherwise.

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We often think of purity only in a sexual sense. This is an incomplete look at purity. Purity, like any other sin, is a matter of the heart. When Jesus spoke about the commands of the Old Testament, He made each one a matter of the heart even though the Jews had made them a matter of rules (i.e. Jesus called hating your brother murder.) Purity is no different. We’d like to reduce purity down to a bunch of rules – you can go this far, and still be okay. Col. 2:23 tells us that rules, even though they appear wise, have no value against fleshly indulgence.

“These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”

Why is that? It is because, as James 1:14 tells us, sin is conceived of our own lust. It originates in a desire within our own flesh.

“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.”

Rules only deal with the outside things. But a person can “obey all the rules”, and still not be pure because of the condition of the heart. Rebekah defined purity for us a few days ago.

Purity: the quality or state of being pure

Pure: unmixed with any other matter; free from dust, dirt, or taint; spotless, stainless; free from harshness or roughness and being in tune; free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes; containing nothing that does not properly belong; free from moral fault or guilt; marked by chastity;

Notice the phrase “containing NOTHING that does not properly belong.” Lusts and comparisons don’t belong in a pure relationship.

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
I Timothy 1:5 NASB

We know that, in general, apart from Christ, we are not pure yet He makes us pure by faith in Him. But let’s get practical and look at the part we all think of when we talk about purity – sex.

What about sexual purity?

Let me ask this: Is sex completely a physical thing, with no link to our emotions or our spirit? If your answer is yes, you’re an animal, which has no moral code, so this whole discussion is irrelevant. If your answer is “no, it’s not just physical,” then it makes sense that sexual purity would also not be just physical.

Anything that brings an element of wrongness to a monogamous marital relationship is a part of sexual impurity. If my only thought is my own pleasure, I bring selfishness into it, and I am not pure. You may say that’s a little extreme. But is it? Purity is not just an idea for singles (usually when we say purity we really mean abstinence). Purity is a cleanness of heart and motive in a relationship acted out in what we do and say.

We know the obvious things that bring impurity into a marriage bed – a literal other man or woman from an affair or premarital sex that we are comparing our marriage experience to. We hear a lot about pornography in relation to men’s sexual sins. But I think that women also have their form of pornography–but because it’s not pictures exploiting someone else, we don’t recognize it as such.

I’m speaking of romance novels. Some have explicit scenes that can give a physical image that brings an element of comparison, but I think the emotional pull of a storybook man is far more detrimental to a relationship with a husband. “My man doesn’t make me FEEL like that!”

Women have a God-given desire to be emotionally joined to a man, not just physically joined. We dream of having him understand us, and be tender toward us. We want him to be sensitive, yet masculine, etc. All these things can be rolled into one storybook man, where it’s easy for us to see it (usually because the book is written by a woman, so her men think and speak like women) and the woman doesn’t have to draw him out or even quit acting like a selfish jerk herself. I’m not saying men like that don’t exist. It just takes a lot more effort and self-sacrifice on our part to see it in a real man that also has faults.

In real life, we have to invest in a relationship in order to see the things we want come out of it. So this fiction may give a sense of dissatisfaction in our man, or may awaken feelings that shouldn’t be stirred yet. (Song of Solomon tells us not to arouse or awaken love until the appropriate time.) How can a woman be content in singleness if she constantly stirs this up? So even though the reader isn’t physically committing adultery or fornication, she is doing so emotionally, and she brings this baggage into her marital relationship. That’s impurity.

I think the pressures toward impure thoughts and actions from external things are greater than they were when I grew up. More things are openly explicit, and accepted by society as a whole. Opportunity for impurity may be greater. This means it requires more boldness to stand against impurity; but, because sin originates in the desires of our flesh, I would say the struggle is the same.

The victory is also the same. You have a conscience that is alive to God. Listen to His voice. He will show you what makes you sexually impure, if you will allow Him to. Respond to His voice with repentance and trust and He will lead you down a path of purity.

“For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you shall be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.'”
Isaiah 30:15 NASB

Fulfilling our roles

February 18th, 2010

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It’s all well and right to encourage men to be masculine and women to be feminine. But what exactly does that mean?

Does masculinity mean that men should all hunt and own big trucks and not wear deodorant (a la Matthew McConaughey)? Does femininity mean that women should all bake cupcakes and quilt and wear skirts? Sure, these are things that we might associate with masculinity or femininity. But these do not define our masculinity or femininity.

So what does define masculinity or femininity? What should define masculinity and femininity?

Feminine is defined as “characteristic of or appropriate for or unique to women”. Masculine is defined as “characteristic of or appropriate for or unique to men”. So what we are looking for when we refer to masculinity or femininity is characteristics that are appropriate for and/or unique to either men or women.

Are hunting, owning big trucks, and not wearing deodorant appropriate for men? We probably all have our own opinions about those. Are hunting, owning big trucks, and not wearing deodorant unique to men? Definitely not. Are baking cupcakes, quilting, and wearing skirts appropriate for women? I doubt many would disagree. But are those activities unique to women? No. Not at all.

So then, how are we to understand the ideas of masculinity and femininity?

We must look to the One who made us, who made men and women unique from one another. We must look to the One whose nature determines what is appropriate or inappropriate.

And, as I mentioned yesterday, He has created men and women to fulfill different roles. He has created men to fulfill the roles “leader” and “servant”, and women to fulfill the roles “helper” and “lover” (or “nurturer”). So, then, we can judge individual actions by how they help us to fulfill the roles that God has set as appropriate and unique to man or to woman.

Inasmuch as shooting a gun or owning a big truck enables a man to lead and serve, it is masculine. Inasmuch as baking cupcakes or quilting enables a woman to help and nurture, it is feminine. But a man can shoot a gun and own a big truck and still not be masculine. A woman can wear skirts and cook all day long and still not be feminine. True masculinity is found in fulfilling the role God has given men. True feminity is found in fulfilling the role God has given women.

This demands that we broaden and deepen our understanding of femininity and masculinity. Because ultimately, femininity and masculinity are not about externals–what we wear or do–but about internals–why and how we do what we do.

Masculinity in practice

Masculinity is defined by the roles God has given men, namely leader and servant.

In the role of leader, masculinity means taking initiative. It means determining where you’re going and taking initiative to move in that direction. Masculine men seek God and desire to glorify Him–and they take steps to lead those around them in the same direction. This means they’ll direct conversation towards God-honoring topics, they’ll take initiative in romantic relationships (I’ll talk more about this next week), and they’ll serve others.

Because, after all, Jesus includes the “servant” role within the “leader” role:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:25-28

Serving means looking for what’s best for the other person. These are those things Joshua spoke about in his Code of a Gentleman.

I think we all know what I mean when I talk about a gentlemanly action or offer. This would be like getting the door or helping someone carry their things.

I think one of the biggest no-nos we can do as men is flatter. There is a fine line between a compliment and flattery and I don’t think I’ve discovered it yet. The hardest thing is to find that balance. Complementing is something we’re encouraged to do (Hebrews 10:24-25), but flattery is a swindler.

You as a gentleman are responsible for the lady’s safety, so always be alert. Again, like I said before, many can “act” like a gentleman, but being a gentleman is a continual practice. Be intentional about it, pay attention to every detail.

Masculine men choose to lead and serve the women around them by 1) pointing them to Christ, 2) protecting them, and 3) providing for their needs. This can take the form of physical gestures–Joshua mentioned opening the door for a woman, helping her carry her groceries in, watching out for dangerous situations. I can’t say how blessed I have been by the masculine men in my life who walk me home when it’s late so that I don’t have to be walking through the dark. Sometimes this service can be immensely practical–shoveling snow or pulling a lady out of a ditch. Sometimes it means talking with her mechanic to make sure she isn’t being cheated, or giving the guy who definitely ISN’T leading and serving her a talking to.

Masculinity, then, is not a set of rules, nor is it a collection of hobbies. It’s a choice to deliberately seek out ways to fulfill the roles you as men have been given by God.

Femininity in Practice

Just as masculinity is defined by roles, femininity is defined by the specific roles God has given women: helper and nurturer.

Don’t you just love that term helper? It places women in an interesting situation. It means that our job isn’t necessarily to set the agenda–but to assist in accomplishing it. Much of a woman’s role–and therefore her femininity is framed by her response to man’s leadership.

A feminine woman responds to man’s leadership, enabling him to fulfill the leadership role he’s been given. This means responding to his gentlemanly offers of assistance by accepting them–even if she can get the door by herself. This means taking it seriously when a brother warns you against jogging alone on a secluded bike path.

Joshua put it well when he said:

“Encourage each act that is offered by accepting as many as you can. This is where your sacrifice comes in, because I know it goes against the culture of feminine independence and appears to be an admission of need, but it is needed if you want to encourage a consistently gentlemanlike man.”

A feminine woman responds to the leadership of man by following. When he arranges something, the feminine woman participates and asks how she can help. Note that I said “help”. Too often, we females hear a guy’s idea and then take over. But a feminine woman doesn’t jump in and take over–a feminine woman offers assistance but lets the guy continue to lead (even if she thinks she could do it better!)

The nurturing role of woman is never more clearly seen than during pregnancy–when she is quite literally her child’s sustenance. But women were created to be life-givers–not just in a physical sense, but in many ways. The “feminine arts” (cooking, sewing, home crafts) are called “feminine” because they can be used to fulfill the role of woman as “nurturer”–providing food, warmth, clothing, sustenance, a sense of belonging, a sense of beauty. But these are only the tools of a feminine woman; they are not feminine in and of themselves.

Sometimes a woman can get so caught up in the craft or the project or the joy of creating that she fails to use these things to fulfill her role. In that case, these hobbies are just hobbies–not feminine at all.

On the other hand, when a woman uses these or other things to fulfill the unique roles she has been given by God, she is a truly feminine woman.

So what might nurturing look like? It means bringing comfort. It means investing in relationships. It means seeing and meeting physical needs and beyond. It means speaking words of encouragement rather than words that tear people down.

I think this (words) is one of the biggest forgotten arts of femininity. I Peter 3:4 encourages women to adorn themselves with a “gentle and quiet spirit”. This pleases God–and brings nourishment to those around us. But too often, we are strident and self-seeking. Even our “fun” has barbs. We find fault with everyone–and especially with men.

I think Joshua’s comment on how women can encourage men to be gentlemanlike is pretty insightful:

“First, don’t comment on or berate a man for not being a gentleman. If he’s really one of this fraternity of gentleman, he already knows when he doesn’t act like one and is probably beating himself up over it. It is my experience that this form of encouragement is not helpful nor constructive. For those caught in that situation, I would just give him another chance or ask him to do the gentlemanly act for you.”

When we “comment [on] or berate” a man for not fulfilling his roles, we are not fulfilling our roles as women. We are not helping him to lead and serve us. We are not nurturing his heart or soul. We’re tearing him down.

So maybe instead, we women should make it a point to a) respond to man’s leadership and service by following his guidance or accepting his service and b) encourage man’s leadership and service by pointing out his actions and complimenting him when he fulfills his roles.

Femininity is not Emily Post etiquette (just like Joshua said gentlemanliness is not about etiquette.) It’s not a set of household chores or home-making hobbies. Femininity is a choice to deliberately seek out ways to fulfill the roles we as women have been given by God.

Encouraging the opposite sex to fulfill their roles

A friend and I were having a discussion about–well, it started out with headcoverings and moved on to the roles of women in the church. And somehow, we got to talking about women teaching and having authority over men–and what that looks like. I’ve often heard the argument made that if men aren’t taking leadership, then the women have no choice but to lead. And I’ve rarely had a response for that except that the Bible teaches otherwise (which is sufficient, of course, but not exactly mentally satisfying). But as my friend and I were talking, it suddenly became clear to me why that argument is a fool’s argument.

Women can’t encourage men to fulfill their male roles by forsaking their own female roles. The woman who claims that she has to be a pastor because the men just won’t take leadership (fulfill their role) is proposing that the solution to men not fulfilling their roles should be women not fulfilling theirs. What a crock!

Instead, the way we can encourage others to fulfill their respective roles is to fulfill our own roles.

Men, this means continuing to lead and serve–even when others aren’t following and your every attempt to open the door for a girl meets with a rebuff. Women, this means continuing to help and to nurture–even when the task you’re helping with seems small and the opportunities for encouraging far between.

So study out what it means to be a man. Take a look at what it means to be a woman. Dig deep into the Scriptures about roles of men and women. Apprentice yourself to a masculine man or a feminine woman. Take a look at some Biblically-based resources. For general study, I recommend Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Click on the title for a pdf file of the hefty and comprehensive volume–or borrow a paper copy from my dad!) For married or engaged men and women, Robert Lewis and William Hendricks’s Rocking the Roles is a great resource. Both married and single ladies can benefit greatly from Barbara Moser’s Five Aspects of Woman (The link leads to the publisher’s website, where, among other things, you can listen to free audio lectures from the Bible study.) And men may enjoy John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart (I wish I had a more theological/Bible study-ish book to direct men to, but, alas, my reading experience when it comes to Biblical masculinity is rather slim. So, men, help us out if you know of some better resources.)

Make it a goal to fulfill your role as a masculine man or a feminine woman.

Ladies and Gentlemen…

February 17th, 2010

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We live in an androgynous society, where feminism’s cry “anything you can do, I can do too” echoes and resounds.

It echoes in the workplace, where women crunch numbers, run businesses, and fight wars alongside the men. It echoes in the public place, where a woman coldly refuses the proffered hand with her luggage–insisting that she can handle it herself. It echoes in the home, where men and women wrestle for 50-50 but somehow always feel that they’ve come out on bottom.

Some of feminism’s advances have been good. Thanks at least in part to feminism, I can attend a four-year university, pursue a master’s degree, and expect to earn a decent wage to support myself (or at least I would have if I’d chosen something other than community nutrition to specialize in!) Thanks to early feminists, I can have a say in how my country is run, something that as a single woman, I would not have been able to do in an earlier day.

But along with feminism’s great triumphs have come its greatest tragedies. We have achieved (for the most part) equality, but we have lost our identities. For in saying that women were not just equal but the same as men, we have lost those things that make us female–we have lost our femininity. And in saying that women were not just equal but superior to men, we have lost those things that make men male–we have lost their masculinity.

In a genderless society, the only distinction between men and women is their sexual organs (and sometimes not even that with the advent of sex changes). Women don’t need men–they just need a penis and sperm. Men don’t need women–they just need a uterus and breasts. We all become sex objects.

We lose the beautiful differences that God created between men and women. We lose the roles He created us to fulfill. And we cheapen and degrade the one difference we allow to remain.

This need not be. This should not be.

Because the truth is that while man and woman were created equal in God’s sight–

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:28

man and woman were created different.

From the beginning (pre-fall), we were created male and female–and God said that it was good.

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Genesis 1:27

“Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”
Genesis 1:31a

Both male and female, created in the image of God, but created to be different, distinct.

Man was created and given a task.

“Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.”
Genesis 2:15

Man was to tend and to keep creation. We read on to see that God further gave him the task of naming the creatures.

Woman, too, was created for a specific task.

“And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.'”
Genesis 2:18

Woman was created to be a helper to man, comparable but not the same.

The fall changed a lot of things, but it didn’t change God’s intended roles. The curse over both man and woman’s domain reinforces their tasks–the man’s to work the ground (and to provide), the woman’s to help (and to tend the home).

I recently read the book Rocking the Roles by Robert Lewis and William Hendricks–and I thought it was a fantastic discussion of the roles of men and women. I highly recommend it. One of the things that stuck out to me the most from my reading was the way Lewis and Hendricks described the different roles of men and women as revealed in Scripture (and particularly in marriage). They said that the man’s role was to be a servant and a leader; while a woman’s role was to be a helper and a lover.

Now, this book was written to speak specifically to the roles of men and women in marriage. Obviously, the role of women in general is not to be a lover of just anyone. But if we replace the word “lover” with the word “nurturer”, I think we can see how these roles play out in other (non-marital) relationships.

Men are called to lead within the church and within the home. Men are called to serve, not just their wives but others as well. Women are called to help within the church and within the home (responding to and encouraging the leadership of man). Women are called to nurture, to bring physical, emotional, and relational life to those around them.

These roles of men and women do not change depending on whether a man or woman is married or single. Because you are a single man (who must cook his own meals and wash his own clothing) does not mean that you are not called to lead and to serve. Because you are a single woman (who must change her own oil and “bring home the bacon”) does not mean that you are not called to help and nurture.

Let’s reject feminism’s falsehood that would say that men and women are the same and embrace the differences between ladies and gentlemen. Ladies, let’s embrace our femininity. Gentlemen, embrace your masculinity.

My brother wrote a FANTASTIC post called The Code of a Gentleman which speaks to both men and women regarding encouraging masculinity. You really ought to check it out–especially because I plan on responding to his post tomorrow (which means you’ll be somewhat left out if you haven’t read his original!)

Temple ornaments

February 16th, 2010

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I don’t like most modesty talk for a simple reason: I think it puts the emphasis in exactly the wrong place. It tells women that they should dress for men. Now, admittedly, I’m not too fond of this world’s way of dressing its daughters like whores, either. That too, tells women to dress for men (for their most base side).

I, on the other hand, would like to propose a new focus. Instead of dressing for men, why don’t we start dressing for God?

Here’s how I see it. Scripture says that we–you and I–are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”
I Corinthians 3:16-17

Specifically, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
I Corinthians 6:19-20

What is the purpose of a temple?

A temple is a dwelling place for a god. A temple is a monument to a god’s greatness. A temple is a place to worship a god.

And if our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, then our bodies are His dwelling place, our bodies are a monument to His greatness, our bodies are a place to worship Him.

Haggai tells of God’s purpose and desire for His temple:

“Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,” says the LORD.”
Haggai 1:8

In the book of Haggai, God desired to take pleasure in His temple and to be glorified in it. I believe His desire is still the same today. And if your body is His temple, then His desire is to take pleasure in your body and to be glorified in your body.

This brings the whole concept of modesty into perspective. Our goal in dressing should be to bring God pleasure and to glorify Him. Nothing greater and nothing less.

So what brings God pleasure and what glorifies Him?

If we take a look at the tabernacle of Moses, built according to the specific instructions of God given on Mount Sinai, we can get a glimpse at the kind of adornment God enjoys. God was pretty picky about how the tabernacle was to be designed:

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.”
Exodus 25:8-9

The tabernacle was made with only the best materials: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet cloth. It was decorated with finely worked metalcraft–with flowers and cherubim. The cloth was artistically woven, specially dyed, and elaborately embroidered. The tabernacle was seriously ornamented.

I am convinced that beauty brings God pleasure. Why else would God have so carefully specified that the linen was to be finely woven, the area artistically embroidered?

Despite the bag-wearing tendencies of my early teen years, I do not believe that God intends or desires that we be frumps.

The Proverbs 31 woman, universally held up as an example for Christian women, was far from frumpy. Instead, she was dressed in the best–fine linen and purple.

“She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple. ”
Proverbs 31:21-22

God takes pleasure in beauty. I believe that He is glorified in beauty. It’s okay–it’s GOOD–that you be beautiful and dress beautifully.

A temple is a dwelling place for a god. A temple is a monument to a god’s greatness. A temple is a place to worship a god. But what happens if the temple is so packed full of stuff that the god can’t dwell there? What happens if the temple begins to proclaim its own greatness instead of the greatness of its god? What happens if the temple cries out for worship instead of offering worship to its god?

That is not good.

If our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, then our bodies are His dwelling place, our bodies are a monument to His greatness, our bodies are a place to worship Him. But what if we took our focus off of the God whose temple we are and placed it on ourselves? What if others looking at our bodies were encouraged to worship US rather than Him?

That would not be good. That would not glorify God or give Him pleasure.

And I believe that is exactly why God commands modest apparel for women.

“In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.”
I Timothy 2:9-10

According to Merriam-Webster, modest means placing a moderate estimate on one’s abilities or worth; observing the proprieties of dress and behavior, unpretentious. Basically put, modest dress means dress that doesn’t glorify itself.

Our goal in our dressing should be GOD’S glory, not our own. Which means that our clothing should not distract from revealing God’s glory–especially God’s glory as revealed in our character.

I Timothy speaks of women adorning themselves with good works. I Peter speaks of adorning ourselves with a gentle and quiet spirit and with submission.

“Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.”
I Peter 3:3-6

This gentle and quiet spirit is precious, valuable to God–it’s something He takes pleasure in. I Peter 5:5 encourages all younger people (male and female alike) to “be clothed” with humility.

“Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for
“ God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.””
I Peter 5:5

And that Proverbs 31 woman? Fine linen and purple wasn’t all she wore. She was also adorned with strength and honor.

“Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come. ”
Proverbs 31:25

So my questions to you, ladies, is: Who are you dressing for? Why do you wear what you do? Does your clothing glorify God by being beautiful? Does your clothing glorify God by allowing Him to be seen?

Or does your clothing obscure Him by glorifying you? Does your clothing fail to reflect Him by being frumpy, poorly cared for, and unattractive? Does your focus on clothing and fashion keep you from cultivating the apparel that God says He takes great delight in–good works, gentleness, quietness, humility, submission?

My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit–and I want to ornament it in such a way that He takes pleasure in me and is glorified. I pray that will become your goal too.

Men are pigs, don’t encourage them

February 15th, 2010

*I’ve struggled with what order to do these next couple of week’s worth of posts in. They don’t have quite as logical a progression as the first half of the month’s posts did. But my decision has been made for me by a late night of research and not enough time to perfect any of my other posts–so, here you have the very first Love Month 2010 post I wrote!*

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I once read a book, purportedly a Christian book, purportedly a book about modesty, whose thesis could be summed up in six words: “Men are pigs, don’t encourage them.”

I’ll be honest with you. Most of the time, modesty talk rankles me. It drives me nuts. It leaves me gnashing my teeth, but (hopefully) biting my tongue. I hate it.

I hate it because most modesty talk I hear says one of two things, neither of which is true.

How many times have you heard one of the following:

Men are visual. They can’t help it. You need to dress modestly because you don’t want to cause your brother to stumble. (Translation? If a man looks at you and lusts, it’s YOUR fault.)

OR

All men want is sex–and when you dress immodestly, you’re giving them what they want. (Translation? Men are pigs, don’t encourage them.)

I’ve heard both of them too many times to count. And I’m frankly sick and tired of hearing them. BECAUSE THEY’RE JUST NOT TRUE!

Let me walk you through these statements.

Statement 1: Men are visual. They can’t help it. You need to dress modestly because you don’t want to cause your brother to stumble. (Translation? If a man looks at you and lusts, it’s YOUR fault.)

Men are visual. They can’t help it.

That’s true. Men are visual. They are aroused by visual stimulus. They can’t help that. God made them that way. And it’s GOOD that God made them that way.

What isn’t true is that men are visual and therefore can’t help it if they’re lusting. Just as with every other sin, the stimuli (the temptation) isn’t responsible for our sin. We are responsible for what we do with that stimuli. When a man sees something that arouses him, that is not sin. Sin is when he takes what he sees and lusts after it–craves and desires what is not his to have.

So, men are visual, they can’t help it. But men can choose not to lust, regardless of the temptation to do so.

You need to dress modestly because you don’t want to cause your brother to stumble.

This injunction comes from a couple of Scripture passages.

“Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.”
Romans 14:20-21

“But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
I Corinthians 8:9-13

Both of these passages refer specifically to eating food sacrificed to idols–a practice which some believers felt was sinful, and others felt was permissible. Paul affirms that this eating food sacrificed to idols is a liberty that believers can enjoy BECAUSE they know that those idols have no power. But for the weaker brothers, to eat food sacrificed to idols wounds their conscience.

Paul encourages the brethren to think beyond what they must or must not do (indeed, they had perfect freedom to eat meat–which Paul affirms). Instead, he encourages them to have a different mindset towards their liberty. Instead of worrying about being “right”, the believers are encouraged to do what is best for their brethren.

Far from laying down a new law of “Don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols” (or, for that matter, “Don’t dress immodestly”), Paul instead reaffirms Christ’s second greatest command: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

So, the issue here isn’t dressing modestly or dressing immodestly–it’s loving our brothers. Which is where the tricky part comes in, because loving our brothers often DOES mean dressing modestly. But that’s an act of love, not a rule for proper behavior.

Bottom Line: If a man looks at you and lusts, it’s HIS fault. But you have the opportunity to serve your brothers by dressing in a way that would not tempt them.

Statement 2: All men want is sex–and when you dress immodestly, you’re giving them what they want. (Translation? Men are pigs, don’t encourage them.)

All men want is sex.

Most men do want sex. So do most women–I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want sex. The desire for sex is a good desire, a God-given desire that most people (male or female) have.

But to say that sex is ALL men want? That’s just plain wrong. While men do desire sex, they also desire companionship, intimacy, significance, respect, love… In fact, they desire a lot of the same things you desire.

God created us to desire sex–but beyond that, He created us for relationship. He created man and woman in such a way that they were to be complementary–physically, yes, but even beyond the physical. God designed us such that in marriage a man and a woman become one–not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well. This is what both men and women want. Oneness in a relationship.

When you dress immodestly, you’re giving [men] what they want.

If you were paying attention to what I just said, you can probably see the problem in this statement already.

Sex isn’t all that men want–so dressing immodestly doesn’t give them what they want. It feeds one part of their desire for oneness, but does nothing for the other aspects. In fact, it degrades that desire for oneness by promising physical oneness without fulfilling the desire for respect and honor.

By dressing immodestly, we might be encouraging men to act as pigs–to lust after our physical bodies while denying the desire for true oneness as God intended it–but that doesn’t mean men are pigs.

Sex without relationship isn’t what men want–so dressing in a way that promises sex without relationship isn’t giving them what they want.

Bottom line: Men are human, with the same desires as most humans. We can encourage them to desire whole relationships by not over-emphasizing our sexuality by the way we dress.

Now that you’ve heard all that I think is WRONG with the way we approach modesty, be sure to come back tomorrow to learn about how I WISH we approached modesty.

Absolute purity

February 14th, 2010

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Four days ago, I opened my tap and learned a lesson in purity.

I’ve been drinking tap water from Lincoln’s Municipal Water supply for most of my life–and I consider it to be the best tasting water imaginable. It’s hard water, with lots of minerals–not so nice when it comes to cleaning, but fantastic when it comes to flavor.

But four days ago, I took a swig of water from the tap and almost retched. The water tasted… dirty. There isn’t any other way to describe it.

I almost dehydrated myself that first day, drinking only when I was about to faint.

The second day, I took my water bottle to campus and filled it with the tap there. Surely, it would be better. But it wasn’t. I got some water from the residence halls at lunch–it, too, tasted dirty. I asked others if they felt that the water tasted funny. I got mixed responses, but general consensus was that I was going crazy.

By Friday, I was almost completely dehydrated and I knew I had to do something about it. So I drank massive quantities of hot tea–the tea covering up the dirty flavor of the water.

Saturday morning, I got a call from one of lecturers I TA for. She said she didn’t know if I got the Lincoln Journal Star, but there was an article in the Saturday edition that explained my weird experience.

Lincoln started using a new well recently and that well had unusually high levels of “organic matter”. Apparently only those with super-sensitive taste buds have been able to detect the impurity in the water–but I happen to be one of them.

Purity: the quality or state of being pure

Pure: unmixed with any other matter; free from dust, dirt, or taint; spotless, stainless; free from harshness or roughness and being in tune; free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes; containing nothing that does not properly belong; free from moral fault or guilt; marked by chastity;

Maybe you’re living in Lincoln and haven’t noticed anything different in the water. But if you think my taste buds are sensitive, you should see God’s!

I won’t drink water that’s been tainted with “organic material.” God won’t abide in the presence of sin.

“Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive blessing from the LORD,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
Psalm 24:3-5

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
I Corinthians 6:9-10

God can’t stand sin–and He’s not going to let anyone with sin enter into His presence. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). What He doesn’t say–but what is made clear by the verses quoted above–is “Damned are the impure, for they shall be barred from the presence of God.”

Which pretty much damns everyone, because we’re all by nature impure.

And we can do nothing to make ourselves clean. The Bible says that all our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We are impure. We can do nothing to to make ourselves pure. Impurity cannot abide in the presence of God. Therefore, we can not abide in the presence of God–and we can’t do anything to make ourselves able to abide in the presence of God.

Yet there is hope. God has made a way for the impure to become pure–a distillation process, if you will.

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
I Corinthians 6:9-11

Through Christ, the impure can be made pure.

“For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
Hebrews 9:13-14

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I John 1:7-9

Jesus Christ is in the business of cleansing and purifying the unclean.

There are three potential responses to an awareness that God cannot abide impurity.

The first response is to try our hardest to be pure. But, as I’ve already mentioned, we can do nothing to make ourselves pure. Any attempts to purify ourselves are only dead works–more of the very thing we must be saved from.

The second response is to recognize and accept Jesus’ cleansing work on the cross and its sufficiency–and to continue to sin however we like. After all, Christ has made the impure pure–and His work covers all our sins (past, present, and future)–so why not keep on walking in impurity? Romans 6:1-4 addresses the folly of this response:

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? – Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

The third, and appropriate, response is to recognize and accept Jesus’ cleansing work on the cross and its sufficiency–and to desire to walk in purity out of love for the One who has made us pure. This love compels us to ask not “how impure can I be and still be acceptable” but “how pure can I be?”

The Christian should be serious about purity because God is serious about purity.

As we begin to discuss the “practicalities” of male/female relationships, lust, and the like, we need to establish our goals.

Is our goal to keep the “organic matter” low enough that most people can’t taste it? Maybe our goal is to trick our own taste buds into accepting impurity by covering it up with something else (like my making tea out of impure water).

But in the letters to Timothy, Paul makes clear that our goal should be absolute purity.

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
I Timothy 5:1-2 (NIV)

The words “pure” or “purity” occur six times in the two epistles Paul wrote to Timothy–and each time, it was an injunction to Timothy to be pure, keep himself pure, or act in purity.

Resolve today to glorify God by living a life marked by absolute (complete, unquestioned) purity.

Skills in Singleness

February 13th, 2010

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If God does indeed have a purpose in my singleness, then it probably follows that the best use of my time of singleness is NOT moping over my lack of a husband, a boyfriend, or some other “significant other”.

But what should I be doing while I’m single?

The love months of my youth gave some advice: pray for your future spouse, prepare to be a good spouse yourself. Good advice, but incomplete (in my *humble?* opinion.)

I would propose that while singleness can be used as preparation for marriage, the primary goal in singleness should not be preparation for marriage but… well, glorifying God by being conformed to His image.

You can learn skills in singleness that can bless you, your friends and acquaintances, your family, your church–and ultimately God–whether you remain single or eventually marry.

What are some of these “skills in singleness”?

I think Paul’s letters to Timothy are a good starting point.

  • Learn to be a person of prayer (I Tim 2:1-8)
    Too few of us, myself included, have established strong prayer lives–yet Paul states that this is essential for living a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
  • Learn modesty, good works, and submission (I Tim 2:9-14)
    Women are encouraged to adorn themselves with modesty, with good works, and with submission. This is a skill we can grow in, even as single women.
  • Learn discernment (I Tim 4:7-8, 6:20-21, II Tim 2:15-19)
    Paul commands Timothy to “reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise [himself] toward godliness.” So we too, would do well to develop discernment in doctrine and practice.
  • Learn to walk in purity (I Tim 4:12, 5:22, II Tim 2:21-22)
    Contrary to the depraved world in which we live, where singles are encouraged to do whatever they like, Christian singles are called to live lives of purity.
  • Devote yourself to the Word of God (I Tim 4:13,15-16, II Tim 1:13-14, 4:2-4)
    I believe single adults have a unique opportunity to dig down deep into the Word of God–both reading it, speaking it, and doing it. Paul says singles are not distracted–what better time to “give attention” to the Word?
  • Learn to walk in your giftings (I Tim 4:14, II Tim 1:6, 4:5)
    Singleness is also a great time to learn what your gifts are and to begin to practice them. Don’t sit around and wait until you are married to get involved within your local church and your community. Ask God what role He would have you play–and get doing it. Don’t waste your singleness by living only for your own pleasure.
  • Develop healthy relationships (I Tim 5:1-2)
    Paul encourages Timothy to develop healthy relationship with older men and older women (treating them as parents) and with younger men and women (treating them as brothers and sisters). We can learn how to glorify God and honor others in our relationships.
  • Learn to take care of your physical body (I Tim 5:23)
    Of course, I’d add this part–but Paul says it: “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.” We can (and should) learn good health practices while we are still relatively young. Learn good sleep habits. Learn to eat well, to exercise, to get regular medical care.
  • Learn to be good employees (I Tim 6:1-2)
    This is a biggie. We can, and should learn to be good employees within this world. Remember that your reputation as an employee can either bring God glory or blaspheme His name. That’s a big deal.
  • Learn contentment (I Tim 6:6-10)
    I’ve spoken already of contentment with being single–but contentment goes further than that. We can learn to be content with our circumstances, with our possessions, with our relationships.
  • Be discipled and disciple someone (II Tim 2:2)
    Paul encourages Timothy to take what he (Timothy) has learned from him (Paul) and to teach it to others. Timothy is one link in the chain of making disciples. In the same way, we ought to be links in the chain of discipleship. Seek out older believers who can mentor you. Don’t wait until you have kids of your own to begin to pass along what has been entrusted to you. Find a younger man, a younger woman, a child, that you can commit the word of God to. I promise you won’t regret it.
  • Maintain your focus (II Tim 2:3-7, 4:5)
    Endure hardship. Resist temptation. Look forward to the prize. Don’t let either the trials or the pleasures of this world distract you from the treasure that is Christ Jesus.
  • Learn humility (II Tim 2:24-26)

    This one gets me every time. Learn humility–avoiding worthless disputes. Being gentle. It’s tough, but it’s necessary.

Recognize that singleness is not a sit-on-your-hands-until-something-better-comes-along time. Singleness is a time when we should be fully focused on God and on advancing His kingdom. Singleness is a time when we can develop our relationships with God, with His body, and with the lost. Singleness is a time to grow in godly character and to be conformed into the image of Christ. Don’t waste your singleness.

(A few extras I might add from my own experience to the list above: learn to hear the voice of God, learn to trust God with everything, learn to resolve conflicts, learn to serve one another with love, learn to budget your time and money, learn to give sacrificially of time and money, learn to be a member of the body.)

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