Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The answer to "Is It Enough?"

A few days ago, I asked the question, "Is it enough?" In Isaiah 58, God details how His people can best show Him true worship...and I'll give you a hint: it's NOT the perfect song set (although those are nice).

Reading the passage caused me to look at my life and ask if what I'm currently doing is really enough. Am I doing enough to shine His light and love in our broken city? Our broken world?

After a lot of prayer, scripture reading, and some wonderful feedback from friends, the answer is: yes...and no.

I'll try my best to explain.

I listed three areas of my life in which I feel like I minister to people (writing, Thrive, and volunteering for FamilyLife®. If you compare these things to what some other people are doing, it seems like a lot...and in comparison to others, it's a drop in the proverbial bucket.

And that's why comparing yourself to others is BAD NEWS. It almost always leads to prideful thinking (for more on that, you can read this post I wrote a couple years ago on the Carnality of Comparisons).

However, in this particular instance, it wasn't other people to whom I was comparing myself, but the Word of God. He said we should:

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives that need your help.

I looked at that as though it was an exhaustive list. I can be so literal. I wanted to look at it and say, I'm doing stuff, but if I'm not doing EXACTLY this stuff, then I'm not doing enough.

Ya see what I did there? I made it about me.

Duh...He just has to keep teaching me...over and over and over.

It's not about me. His desire for me is to SEEK HIM: daily, on my knees, in my heart, all the time.

That's really what it's all about. I'm a busy mommy, a pregnant mommy, and my home IS my first ministry. The "list" of my current activities is absolutely fine given my current situation. I have consulted both God and my husband on the matter, and both of them have said to me: this is enough.

And it is...sort of.

My activities "list" is currently enough, but my heart is not in the right place "enough." When I go out into the world, peruse facebook, or spend time with my family and friends, am I praying continually that God will show me how to minister to people in His time and in His way?

No...not nearly as much as I should.

My mind and heart are continually drawn to the distractions of this world, and I often forget to truly SEE people...the way God sees them. In that way, my efforts are mediocre, at best.

Last night in a business call, my wonderful friend Missy said we should have on our "Thrive" ears...always be listening for opportunities to share Thrive with people whose lives could be dramatically changed by it. God spoke to me through that and said: That's what I want from you, Alissa. Except, I want you to constantly have on your PEOPLE eyes and ears.

He wants me to see and hear the needs of people and be open to filling those needs as HIS Spirit leads. Does someone need a word of encouragement? Does someone need prayer? Does someone need something material that I could provide? Does someone need Thrive?

There's an endless list of things people might need, and the only way for me to ensure that I'm doing "enough" is to ensure that I'm constantly tapped into the Spirit of God within me and truly open to and observant of the people around me.

As if to solidify this, God simplified things by showing me this last night:

Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love
will find life, righteousness, and honor.
Proverbs 21:21

Jesus said it and God says it over and over...we just like to complicate it: Love God, Love People. 

Love God: pursue righteousness
Love people: pursue unfailing love

It's really that simple. Love God. Love people. THAT is enough.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Is it enough?

Generally, I like to have blog posts written in my head before I decide to share them with the world. This time, however, we're dealing with more of a jumble. At the suggestion of my dear friend, Alice, I've done a "brain dump" on paper, but it led to more and more questions.

So now...I'm bringing it all to you, dear internet. Make of it what you will. If you have answers, I'd love to hear them.

A couple months ago, I was driving along a nearby stretch of road. I've driven this road many times before and often marveled at the amount of churches that could lie along one roadway...it seems almost every Christian denomination imaginable is represented on this ONE street. There's even a Christian bookstore!

On this day, though, instead of just noticing the amount of churches, I had another thought: why isn't our city different? How can there be this many churches on one road, not even one block between them, representing only a fraction of the churches in the area...and our city not be on fire for God? The "Bible Belt?" The nation?

Then, last Saturday, Josiah and I went to worship at Freedom Life Church (FLC) in Hampton because he had to work on Sunday. We caught the second of a 4-part sermon series called "I Love My City."

I love the book of Nehemiah. Josiah and I were talking about it just the other day. Nevertheless, it was a different passage of scripture Pastor Cyon brought to my attention that totally rocked my world. It's Isaiah 58. Here it is almost in its entirety.

See if you can read it without it rocking YOUR world, too.

"Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.
Shout aloud! Don't be timid.
Tell my people Israel of their sins!
Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
pretending they want to be near me.
'We have fasted before you!' they say.
'Why aren't you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
and you don't even notice it!'
"I will tell you why!" I respond.
"It is because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the Lord?

"No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives that need your help.

"Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
'Yes, I am here,' he will quickly reply.
"Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.
Isaiah 58:1-12, HCSB

Church...people of God...'Merica...did you hear that?

Did you FEEL that?

God says he sees us coming to church, entering and serving every time the doors are open, offering ourselves up as a sacrifice, showing him how much WE do, but our hearts are prideful and our offerings are rejected.

We act like pious, godly people, but we're still fighting and quarreling and name calling on the internet.

OUCH, right?

He wants us outside the walls. 
He wants us ministering to the lost and lonely.
He wants us feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.
He wants us to free the oppressed from their bondage.

He wants our hearts, not our paltry sacrifice.

Then, He will hear us.
Then, He will heal us.
Then, He will guide us.
Then, He will shower us with streams of living water.
Then, He will make us rebuilders of walls and restorer of homes.

God is speaking to us Newport News, Hampton, Hampton Roads, United States...church.

He wants our hearts to reflect His, and His heart is broken for the lost...is yours? Is mine?

Here's where I get more personal, though. I have a lot of questions that have been building for quite some time. 

It's been months since I've written...and longer than that since I've written much of consequence, with fire and passion. A couple years ago I wrote a series on passion, vision, mission, and goals. What has happened to mine? And is my writing "ministry" even enough?

I love reaching out to people and seeing their lives changed through Thrive and Le-Vel, but it's not really reaching the lost and feeding the hungry is it? I supposed you could call it "freeing the oppressed from the bondage" of their own fatigue and constraints, but is it really enough?

We're volunteering with the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember team in Williamsburg. That ministers to the lost and broken, but once again, it's not sheltering the homeless or clothing the impoverished. It doesn't feel like enough. Is it enough?

Futhermore (and this is truly my core concern, I think), how many passions and missions can one person really have and still be effective? 

Can I minister to my family AND marriages AND write AND help people with Thrive AND sing eventually (because, honestly, that's been on my heart a lot lately, too)?

Can one person do all those things and really do any of them well...with 6 children? Is that a thing?

I know some would say that my main ministry right now is fulfilling my roles as wife and mother. They're not wrong. Biblically, I know how the priority list is supposed to work: God, husband, children, etc.

But that's not enough either, right? I mean, if everyone only concentrates on what's going on in their own homes and families, then nothing is getting done outside. Wouldn't that give half the body of Christ a "free pass" not to do much of anything in the world?

I want to feel a passion and a purpose again, but instead I feel a little torn and twisted. I want God to light a fire in my soul, but I'm almost scared because...really? One more thing?

And, finally, at what point does all this business on my part turn into me looking at God and going "See? Look at everything I'm doing! Look at all MY WORKS."

Faith without works is dead (James 2:17), but it would seem works without a passion for the heart of God are useless.

There's a fine line somewhere...I'm just looking for that line.

So, dear, wonderful friends who have gotten this far: what's the answer? How do you find the balance? Was your heart moved by the passage in Isaiah as much as mine was?

I want desperately to hear from you. This is one situation where I just don't feel like I have the answers: a missing page in the blueprints of my "Life Under Construction."

I'm praying hard for answers, and I'm praying for YOUR hearts, too! 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Why do I do these things?!

For I do not understand my own actions. 
For I do not do what I want, but do the very thing I hate.
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.
So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.
For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
For I do not do the good I want,
but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
Now, if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it,
but sin that dwells within me.
Romans 7:15-20 (ESV)

Don't you just love this passage of Scripture? I feel like it's the most vulnerable we see Paul. He seems to be saying, "Why do I keep jacking things up?! I HATE SIN!"


Often, I think we try to control our behavior without really analyzing the root causes. We just try to strong-arm ourselves into acting "properly." What's the real crux of the issue, though? Without addressing the sinful motivations behind our behavior, even if we change ourselves outwardly, it's just acting.

We have to change from the inside out. I don't know if you know this, but that's HARD and messy.

Yesterday, I wrote about our Ministry Preview visit with FamilyLife®. As part of the "wait" process, we've been asked to continue working on learning how to fulfill our God-given roles as husband and wife. Kind of a life-long task, right?

For me, this means, learning to reign in my natural inclination to charge forward and let Josiah lead. The fact that I need to work on this isn't exactly news. I've been trying for some time. However, the trip to Arkansas really made me look at WHY I'm having problems doing it.

I REALLY want to let Josiah lead. It's something I've always wanted. Why, then, do I find it so difficult in some situations? Why do I jump in front of him?

Paul's message above is pretty clear: we do things we know we shouldn't because of sin. Duh.

But sin is a pretty broad term. What sin, in particular, is causing me to take the proverbial wheel in many situations, even though I really want Josiah to drive?

I would love to say that I found the answer through deep thought, but with me, God has apparently found that's not what does the trick. I, apparently, learn best when I've made an ass of myself. That's when I do my best self-analysis.

I've found 2 main culprits in this "why do I keep doing this?" dance: what people think of me and anxiety. Actually, when I feel anxiety, it's often because of what I feel people are thinking of me...sooooooo, maybe it's just one root thing:

PRIDE

To address this, I've just finished kind of a self-guided study through what it really means to have a gentle and quiet spirit. As a basis, I've been using Characteristics of a Meek and Quiet Spirit by Kimberly Wagner (which she actually adapted from writing by Matthew Henry).

At first glance, I looked at that list contrasting the meek spirit vs. the fretful, I thought it was sort of self-explanatory. Plus, I have a tendency to think of myself as pretty low on the fretful scale....

WRONG.

The more I looked, the more I realized that, while I might not be outwardly anxious, I often try to control or manipulate people or circumstances, depending on my own "wisdom" or personality traits, and thereby, refusing to trust God to do His job. 

Each day, I've looked at one of the contrasts, written the scriptures out, and written out what I feel God is saying to me about it. 

The study has shown me SO MUCH sin in my life, Now, I'm actually going back through it again to analyze some of the Greek and Hebrew words in the Scripture, and I'm going through it with the girls.

At first, I thought I would share it with them just so they could learn to have gentle spirits. However, it's revealed so much of my own junk, now I've found I want to share it with them simply so they can know why I fail so often in my parenting journey, and what struggling spiritually really looks like.

I would love for you to come along with me on this journey. Sometimes, it's nice to come alongside friends, even if it is a journey through the land of exposing spiritual junk!



Saturday, April 9, 2016

Josiah, Me, and FamilyLife®

It's amazing how quickly time flies...and how quickly we can get behind.

As soon as we got back from our FamilyLife® Ministry Preview weekend, I promised on facebook I would post an update about what happened around March 25th...and today is long after that. However, I also brought the flu home with me from the trip, so I basically lost a week!

Being so late, I started to question whether I needed to share about it at all, but the trip and outcome has REALLY influenced me spiritually; thus, I've decided to "bite the bullet" and write a quick post.

If you missed my other post about this, Josiah and I traveled out to Little Rock, AR last month in what was (sort of) the final process of our application process to work full-time in ministry with FamilyLife®. It was a HUGE step for us.

And a blessing...every single part of it. The whole experience was immersed in prayer, from our end and the ministry staff. We sincerely felt the Holy Spirit moving in the process the whole trip, and therefore, we knew when they arrived at a decision, it would be God's will.

We just trusted. And we weren't wrong.

In the end, the evaluation staff decided we should wait 10-11 months before tentatively joining them. If all goes as we hope, we will attend training for ministry partner development (raising support) next May.

In the next 10-11 months, they've given us a few specific things they want us to accomplish and report back on our progress:

  1. Have my baby. Duh. LOL Starting the training and MPD process right before I have a baby, or even within a couple months, is a little insane. We need some time to get settled and, hopefully, move into a new house before we start.
  2. We need to work on filling our God-given roles as husband and wife. Josiah and I haven't been married all that long, and while we're about as compatible as a couple can be, we also still have some adjustments to make. For Josiah, this means continuing to step into the role as leader of our family. For me...it actually means trying to step back some and letting Josiah lead.
  3. Finally, we also need to read and study The Peace Maker, by Ken Sande. This is something they have everyone in their organization do, but for us, they'd like us to use it in relation to a specific situation we spoke with them about. 
Aaaaaand that's it. It looks pretty easy, right? You would think.

In particular, I've struggled with the second part, but not for the reasons you might think.

In the weeks or, let's face it, months to come, you'll probably see this journey on the blog, and maybe even some of Josiah's perspective, too! I always like when he shares.

All of this ALSO means, that we'll be continuing to promote Thrive for Le-vel until we our officially on board with FamilyLife® (February, approximately). It has just impacted our lives, physically and financially, far too much not to share for as long as we can. However, once we start with FamilyLife and the MPD process, we'll need to focus all our energy in that direction.

We'd love for you all to continue praying for us and our ministry journey. Thanks for following along!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What is going on with you people?!

This post isn't going to contain a ton of remarkable life's lessons, but it will give some insight into what's been going on in our neck of the woods lately, and why you may or may not have heard from us a ton.
First, we're very excited to be taking Destiny on a cruise soon to celebrate her 18th birthday and graduation!! I think I've avoided posting anything about this anywhere because I get REALLY bothered by what other people think.

What if they think we're wasteful because we're going on a cruise?
What if they think I'm being irresponsible because of the Zika virus?
What if they think....

Fill in the blanks. I've thought of them all.

In the end, though, we have decided to take Destiny on this cruise because she's an AMAZING young woman, and we're grown-ups, and YES I'm taking every precaution to avoid Zika, including staying on the boat in Cozumel.

When we get back, Josiah will work almost 40 hours in 3 days because on Wednesday, March 9th, we'll be leaving for Little Rock, AR for our NEXT adventure....

Since the end of November, Josiah and I have been working with FamilyLife to determine whether God is calling us to work with their ministry full-time. It has been a long, somewhat trying, and very rewarding process. Going out to Little Rock for their ministry preview is one of the last steps in that process.

This DOES NOT mean that we've been offered the positions, nor does it mean we will be. It's sort of like...a 4 day, in-depth, in-person interview. Josiah and I strongly feel like we are walking in God's will by going through this process, even if the final result IS NOT working full-time with FamilyLife. 

As you can imagine, though, we're pretty excited!

If FamilyLife does offer the positions, and we decide to take them, then we are looking at embarking upon the challenging process of raising financial support. Just like foreign missionaries, many people who work full-time in the ministry field HERE are supported by partners who invest in the vision of the ministry.

Josiah and I would be embarking on that journey together. 

Because of that impending possible change, many of you have probably noticed that I haven't been mentioning or posting about Thrive or Le-Vel as much lately. I want to make this part VERY clear, we still LOVE Thrive, and use it every day. It's a product line Josiah and I TRULY believe in.

Nevertheless, it's difficult for me to promote and be super involved in the business with this other stuff in the back of my mind. I don't do things "halfway" very well. I like to be committed, or not. Black or White. Gray areas aren't really my thing.

Therefore, until we get back from Little Rock, we're kind of in business limbo. If we are offered the positions, we'll have to stop actively promoting for Le-vel.

If full-time work with FamilyLife is NOT God's path for us, we will still greatly enjoy volunteer opportunities with them, and yes...we will again promote for Le-Vel wholeheartedly.

So, Josiah and I are asking for your prayers. Please pray for divine guidance and wisdom for us and the FamilyLife staff while we all attempt to work this out. Please also pray for health and safety during all the travels! More than anything, we want to walk in God's will. We want whatever decision is made to bring Him glory. 

So, that's all for now! Thank you for your prayers!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Slaying Sarcasm





This post is probably going to be a hard pill to swallow for some people, including myself and some of the people I care about most.

I feel like there's a clandestine killer entering a lot of our homes and relationships. But we don't look for the murderous beast and try to eradicate it. We treasure, coddle, and prune it.

What's the name of the beast?

Sarcasm.

I know. Shoot me now.

I actually read a blog post years ago in which the author tried, in vain, to convince the readers that sarcasm really has no place in the Christian home. I balked and pushed it aside.

Whatever, I thought. People who don't appreciate the beauty of sarcasm are humorless half-wits, right? What kind of spineless Christians are we growing if they can't even handle a little sarcasm?

But obviously, the Holy Spirit kept it in the back of my mind. He knew I'd come to a point in my spiritual growth where I'd see the truth...and now I'm the crazy blogger trying to convince you of the evils of sarcasm.

Fantastic. God be with me.

First, let's define sarcasm for the purposes of this post. See the line right above this one? The one where I said, “fantastic”? I obviously did not MEAN that was fantastic. I actually meant, “this is probably going to be crappy and hard.” That, my friends, is irony.

Simple irony hurts no one. It's merely saying the opposite of what I actually mean.

Then, there's sarcasm, and the definition alone may convey my point better than the rest of this blog post:

sar·casm
ˈsärˌkazəm/
noun
the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.
    "his voice, hardened by sarcasm, could not hide his resentment"
synonyms:
derisionmockeryridiculescorn, sneering, scoffing; 
"well, it's easy to see that she got her biting sarcasm from her mother"

OUCH. Did you see that example? That, my friends did NOT come from me. Google the word, and that's what you get: Well, it's easy to see that she got her biting sarcasm from her mother.

Sarcasm isn't just irony. It is NOT just saying the opposite of what you mean. Instead, it's using that device to mock or convey contempt. OUCH.

Now, let's look at how we use this in our homes?

Mom to son: Well, THAT was smart.
Translation: That was really stupid.

Father to daughter: As always, we can depend on you.
Translation: You are not dependable and incapable.

Mom to Dad: Great job, genius!
Translation: You are a moron!

These are simplified and obvious examples, but they're powerful. Children understand this at a very young age. Are these really the messages we want to send to them?

You're stupid. You're incapable. Your other parent is moronic.

Now, if you need more proof, let's take a look at how scripture says we should and should not be speaking to one another.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21

Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths,
but only such as is good for building up,
as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart,
and this defiles a person.
Matthew 5:18

The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Colossians 4:6

But I tell you that everyone will have to give an account on the
day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.
Matthew 12:37

These are just a few among so many. While we may dismiss our words as unimportant, God has seen fit to address the issue time and time again in His word. HE says our words are of extreme importance.

God says our words hold either life or death.

In essence, when we use sarcasm, what we're really doing is placing ourselves above the person we're speaking to. We're talking down to them.

Sarcasm, at it's core, is haughty and prideful.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourself.
Philippians 2:3

I think the reality of the situation is clear. It's a hard pill to swallow, though. There's no doubt about that.

I also want to clearly state that, while I have been convicted about this, I understand some of you may not share this conviction...yet. I think this one takes time, and I'm not judging anyone who isn't on the same timeline.

Nevertheless, unlike my clothing convictions (that I've SO poorly kept to since pregnancy), I do feel this lesson applies to everyone. The Bible is clear, but the question is this:

Will we heed the words of our Creator and slay sarcasm before it has left our tongues, or will we continue to use this weapon to slay the people we love?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Let's Talk About Sex: The Purity Principle


Apparently, sex has been on my mind A LOT lately. (You can go ahead and insert your own joke about me being in my sixth pregnancy here).

About a month ago, I posted about Cheap Sex and How It's Killing US, but for some reason, that didn't quite get to the heart of what I wanted to say. Something keeps lurking in my head and heart.

I am an analytical person. I want to know why. I look back on my past, the sins and failures, and I desperately want to try to take apart WHY I made the decisions I made because maybe, just maybe, I can understand the WHY, I can help the next generation make better decisions. 

I don't think it's enough just to tell them where we went wrong, but for them to understand WHY.

So today I want to talk about The Purity Principle.

The Purity Principle constitutes a large portion of our youth group time and discussions. At least, it did when I was younger. Maybe it's because that's at the forefront of most teen's minds, or maybe because it's one of the major temptations they'll face as they forge their way into adulthood.

But...I can't help but think we may be doing them a disservice in HOW we communicate about the subject. Here, I'll address some of the issues I think we, as the Christian body, face when communicating about purity. You might agree, you might not, but at least hear me out...

Let's Talk About "Sex"

When I said, "purity" earlier, let's face it, you immediately knew I was talking about "sexual purity." That's how we talk about it right? Because who wants to talk to kids about "sexual purity" in church. Nah. We can just  be general and call it "purity" right? Slap a "purity" ring on that finger and talk about being "pure." We don't have to say "sex" to them...it's implied.

Um...no. And let me tell you WHY....

You can be sexually pure, and still be impure...thoughts, speech, actions. Actually, according to Isaiah 64:6, we're ALL impure. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of the NLT, but I think this REALLY gets to the heart of it:

We are all infected and impure with sin.
When we display our righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags.

Harsh. But accurate.

If you want more evidence of our impurity, read through Romans 1-3 for a bit. No matter who you are, you fall into a pretty "unclean" category. We're dirty. We are never pure apart from the blood of Jesus Christ. That's why we NEED a Savior. That's why God gave the Law, to show us how much we need him, how much we CANNOT do it on our own:

Therefore, most of Romans 1-3 sets up how dirty we all are, but then:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law,
although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
For there is no distinction:
for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,
and are justified by his grace as a gift,
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
whom God put forward as a propitiation through his blood,
to be received BY FAITH.
Romans 3:21-25a (emphasis added)

If you're pure, you better sing praises to God because it is ONLY because you have been given that GIFT through FAITH in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing you can do on your own to be pure.

So, if we're going to talk about "sexual purity" with teens, or anyone else, then let's just bite the bullet and us the word "sex" because that's what we mean. 

Why is this important, you ask? Because we have a whole slew of self-righteous Christians flaunting their "sexual purity," but wallowing in the muck and mire that is sin: gossip, lying, haughtiness, lust, wrath, crude talk - you name it and they got it. But they're blinded by that because they grew up in church believing if they hadn't had sex outside of marriage, they hadn't lost their "purity."

The lust in that list leads me to my next point...

Purity ≠ Virginity

I first kissed a boy at the ripe, old age of 14...and in that, I was somewhat of a "late bloomer," according to my peers. Now, as my Emily prepares to turn 13 in a couple days, the thought sickens me, not because of the kiss necessarily (although it was AWFUL), but because of what followed. Ironically, I was saved and baptized at 14, as well. 

A kiss led quickly to making out, and that led to some pretty heavy petting. It was allowed though, right? Part of growing up? And everyone was doing it. It's what the guys wanted, and the guys in youth group were no exception to that rule.

Nevertheless, we all clung to our "purity," knowing that we had kept safe the golden crown of virginity. We were safe.

Closer and closer I crept to edge of the cliff, just knowing my belief in Christ would keep me from jumping, But dear friends, I'm here to tell you, the cliff is an illusion. It's not a plummet when you lose your virginity, but a slow, steady, dangerous decent into sinful behavior.

And that's where Satan has us all fooled. God, on the other hand, is not confused in the least.

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
"I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give to every man according to his ways,
according to the fruits of his deeds."
Jeremiah 17:9-10

He knows your heart and your mind. He sees the lust in your heart. By the time the virginity is lost, before or after marriage, a whole host of sins has paraded through the mind and, thus, the heart. 

Jesus said this:

You have heard that it  was said,
"YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,"
but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her
has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Matthew 5:27-28

Before our bodies have ever gotten to the deed, our hearts are drenched in it.

Once again, why is this important? Because our thoughts lead to our actions, so if we're going to talk about sexual purity, we need to be discussing our thoughts first...renewing our minds, taking every thought into submission.

And also..because some will make the mistake. There are some who will give into temptation, and if virginity equals purity then they are lost.

I was.

I kept the illusion of purity from ages 14 to 16, until I finally convinced myself that the only way to keep the man I was dating at the time, the man I thought I "loved" was to give every part of myself to him. That's what we do with the people we "love," right?

So, I gave into temptation...just once. The next day, when guilt set in, I refused him...and didn't see him or hear from him for months.

But, I thought, it was too late. I had fallen.

I went to youth group one time after that, but my I was overcome with my own guilt, and I was sure my "pure" friends would never understand if they knew. Overnight, I had become an outsider; so, I drifted away.

I found friends who would never think I was dirty because I had failed. Heck, in truth, I found "dirtier" friends, people by whose presence I could be comforted because while I might have fallen from grace, they were FAR worse.

All an illusion of course; no one is any better or worse (see the verses above). But misery loves company, so eventually, I decided to just wallow in the mud with rest.

I was saved by grace, but living in the flesh. Lord, forgive me, I grieved the Holy Spirit inside of me.

But what if...what if I had been given a different perspective? 

Goodness knows, I'm baptist! We definitely preach grace and mercy through the Lord, Christ Jesus (AMEN!), but somehow we're missing all that in our "purity preaching," treating it like the unforgivable sin. As a consequence, we're leaving behind any poor soul who falls down, in the name of trying to keep safe the rest. We're abandoning the lost in our flock.

How NOT like Jesus is that?

Last, and probably most importantly, let's really get to the WHY...

It's a Beautiful Life

I have a tendency to be a bit of a "because I told you so" parent. Probably, one of my biggest flaws. I don't know if it's because of how I was raised or a result of a good deal of just trying to survive parenting the first decade or so, but I often find myself skipping the explanation of WHY, and simply expecting compliance through dictatorship.

Sometimes, that's necessary. When there really isn't time to explain "why," but serious consequences will follow if the child isn't compliant, then  "because I said so" must prevail. Nevertheless, if children can begin to understand the "why," then it becomes easier, at times, to comply.

God is the Heavenly Father, the only perfect parent. He doesn't just give a command and a "thou shalt" or "shalt not" because he likes to control what we do. He gives us boundaries because they are good for us. 

And sure, let's face it, there are a ton of ways we can be hurt by sex outside of marriage. Did ya'll see the pictures of STDs in high school "family life"?? EW. Did ya'll watch the films on teenage pregnancy, too?

But, like men trying to build the tower of babble, society decides it's going to be smarter than God, so it creates ways to skirt the physical consequences: condoms, the pill, etc.

But we're so obtuse.

God, alone, knows our souls, and as much as we might try, the damage we do to our souls through sin, in this case sexual sin, is TRULY the tragedy.

But why? Why does it kill our souls to give away our bodies?

Because sex is not just a physical act.

And Adam knew Eve his wife; 
and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said,
I have gotten a man from the Lord.
Genesis 4:1

Now, let's face it, none of us are under the assumption that they had a baby because Adam became cognitively aware of his wife. They got it on. That's what "knew" means in this context.

Oh...but it's so much richer than that.

When I was reading Sacred Sex, by Tony Evans, he revealed that the word, "knew" there is the Hebrew word, "yada," and it means SO MUCH more than just a cognitive awareness OR having sex.

Over and over in the Old Testament, "yada" is used by God to show us how we're to KNOW Him and His commandments, and how deeply He KNOWS us.

It's a deep, intimate, spiritual connection. It's sharing your SOUL with someone.

And THAT, my friends, is the WHY.

That's why it's something that God says we should only share with someone with whom we have entered into the holy covenant bond of marriage. 

SEX IS HOLY. It is good, and set apart, and we are to set ourselves apart for because of its beauty.

Cosmo is not teaching this to kids. They're certainly not learning it in school.

The only place they can get this knowledge is from the body of Christ. Now, hopefully, their parents are part of the body, but maybe not. So the body is going to have to up its game.

The Bottom Line

Look, I'm not saying that we shouldn't be teaching that sex before marriage is a sin. That's some namby pamby, wishy washy nonsense. It is sin, so let's call it that.

However, what I am saying is that it should be taught to our youth as what it is, one sin in a sea of many, and often one leads to another. Let's teach it context of the bigger picture of the great and glorious gospel. Let's teach them about the beauty of sexual intimacy in the context of marriage.

Then, I think, we may start making some headway into the hearts of our youth; they may begin to understand their worth, and we might begin to communicate their value, to us, and more importantly, to the God that created them.

I really want to hear your feedback on this. How was sex presented to you? In the church and outside? Did you understand its beauty? What were you taught about The Purity Principle?