What’s the Point of Purity? Trust in the Delay

Think about a time or place when you chose food from a drive-thru and the service took just a little longer than you expected. How did you feel? Angry? Frustrated? Irritated? Or did you patiently wait, hum your favorite song, and greet the employee with a question about how their day is going? If you chose drive-thru food, you were probably seeking convenience. Part of your goal was likely to save time. So then, when someone had the audacity to slow down your plans, you probably did not like it very much.
Waiting is not easy. But it is worth it. The struggle that we face now is that we need to wait in a time of our history that waits for very little. What is news today will be forgotten tomorrow, what is new today will be out-of-date tomorrow. Facebook gives us instant updates. Twitter tells us of someone else’s thoughts. We don’t even like to spell out our words in text messages. So why should we wait?
There is a very simple answer to that question: because God expects us to conform to His timeline, not the other way around. When you can find out the news in another country in a matter of seconds, it can be hard to wait. When you can see your favorite celebrity’s outfit for today, it can be hard to save your money as you had planned. But if we treat our lives as one giant string of microwave moments, we will feel constantly unsatisfied.
About two years ago, our microwave died. With a notion contrary to most, I decided not to replace it. I chose that for one simple reason: it would force me to cook. Sure, I had prepared meals at home before, but there were times when I simply did not want to bother. But without a microwave, I had to approach things differently. And it forced me to slow down, which is not something I do well. Even when I eat leftovers, I now have to wait.
And I am restless. I feel that there is always something else that can be done. A few minutes ago, my mother called, and I had to make myself stop typing while I spoke with her. Why was that hard? Because I know that even after I finish this writing, there is more that needs to be done. Waiting, for me, is hard.
But what if we trusted that something better was coming our way? Could we wait then? The cheeseburger and fries may satisfy you right now, but how will you feel in an hour? Rice and salad may not sound very filling now, but will you be better in the long run? Consider Daniel and his friends of the Old Testament. They turned down royal food for the sake of vegetables and water! How many of us would do that? Daniel had to go against orders from the king – the king! – and ask for vegetables. And water. I’ll be honest, I have a difficult time going even one day with water as my only beverage. And just vegetables? I think I would rather fast for a day than tease my stomach with only vegetables.
But the Bible tells us that Daniel “resolved not to defile himself.” Our word “resolution” has lost much of its impact because of our weak resolve. We would be better off calling them our New Year’s Wishes; that would be more accurate. But Daniel resolved not to defile himself, and then what? At the end of ten days – just ten days – he and his friends looked better than those eating the royal food. Unfortunately our idea of an “instant makeover” falls closer to ten minutes than ten days.
I believe, though we are not told, that Daniel had been working on his resolve muscle even before this test. God has a way of preparing and rewarding those who seek to do His will. We see this again with Daniel later on in his life. When a decree was issued that forbid prayer to anyone about the king, Daniel continued to pray. Three times a day, by an open window, “just as he had before.” You see, when you work on your “resolve muscle,” your actions are not influenced by a change of circumstances. Daniel knew the decree, he knew the consequences, but thankfully he also knew God’s ability. He did not waver in his resolve. And, when Daniel was thrown in with the lions, God rewarded Daniel’s resolve – Daniel was not harmed at all.
When I lived in a different neighborhood, I often used to see a woman out walking. She must have had some sort of physical limitation, because her walk was always a shuffle. She did not stride, she did not walk briskly. She moved forward inches at a time. After a while I began to notice that I would see her shuffling along in many different places in the neighborhood. She clearly was not going down the block. And I saw her out in cold, in snow, in wind – the conditions did not matter. Her resolve was impressive, especially when I compared it to my own able-bodied motivation. And I always saw her walking alone.
I began to wonder if she went out daily because it was necessary. Maybe it was part of what she had to do for her body, or else. Or else…maybe her condition would worsen. Have you ever considered that the same may be true of your resolve for purity? That purity is a daily choice, regardless of the circumstances, and without that resolve your condition will worsen? Think about it.
This past Saturday morning, more than a dozen men from church gathered to discuss purity. I was impressed at the crowd we could gather at 7am on a dark, snowy, Saturday morning. I was even more impressed with the freedom that God provided for the conversation. The fact that purity is an every day battle was absolutely reinforced. Whether you are a man, woman, boy, girl, married, dating, or single, you are in this battle. And almost every message you hear tempts, “Why wait?” In the recurring form of the Tempter, we are asked, “Did God really say that you cannot have some pleasure, some satisfaction now?” After all, isn’t that what Adam and Eve decided – that they could take of the fruit that was right there? The Bible tells us that it was “pleasing to the eye” and “desirable.” Our enemy is not stupid, in fact he is quite crafty. So we must be wise.
We have to work on our resolve muscle. It is not an on/off switch. It takes work on some difficult decisions. Will you remove your tv rather than be impure? Will you put a filter on your Internet? Will you find others who demand your honesty on the matter? Will you cut off friendships that cause you to stumble? And will you trust God’s timing? Will you trust even when the results seem invisible?
Two weeks ago I sat down to have a conversation with a young man who was experiencing a rough patch. Our conversation wandered to a few different points, points I did not always understand. But I gave him my attention. A few days later, as I was pulling in to work, this same young man was leaving his P.E. class – without permission. A staff member followed the young man who soon broke into a run toward the street. On his way, this young man pulled a wooden marking stake out of the ground. Then he sat down – right in the middle of the driveway. I had been watching and following. I walked up to him and encouraged him to get up. At first he physically resisted, but before long he stood up and walked back with us.
I am absolutely convinced that he chose to listen to me because I had chosen to listen to him. And I am also convinced that we must view purity the same way. We cannot simply do as we please and then expect God to grant our wishes. We must listen to God. Then we can resolve to trust in the delay and expect God’s reward – in His time.
We are not promised immediate results, and we should be grateful. Consider Daniel once again. Even after the others were removed from the royal food and wine, still none were found equal to Daniel and his friends at the end of the testing. Isn’t it nice to know that God does reward our resolve? Isn’t it good to believe that God will provide for us even better things than we can imagine? When we seek immediate results, we give temporary effort. But when we are seeking eternal results, we give permanent effort.
Purity may not be en vogue, and it certainly will not be easy. But it is necessary, and it is good. We live in a time where Christian organizations will teach curriculum that offers “Sex Can Wait.” Where is the message that “Sex Must Wait”? In God’s curriculum. If you cannot find a strong enough reason for purity in your friendships, your media, your church – I promise that you can find it in God’s Word. It is His design. It is His will. And the only way to experience His rewards is to resolve to do His will.
Set your course. Determine what should and should not be in your life. Then trust in the delay, receive the grace God offers, and wait for His timing. It will be perfect.

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10,000 Reasons

686) An opportunity to share
685) God coordinating a meeting in the store
684) Running prayers
683) The necessary qualities of rocks
682) Provision
681) Trusting God with details – big and small
680) Prayers answered and prayers still to be answered
679) A rainbow in the car wash.

What’s the Point of Purity? The Underneath

I like to have a clean kitchen floor. I might like it a little too much. Ten years ago, I never noticed. But now that it is my responsibility, I notice in great detail. Sweeping the kitchen floor is one of the responsibilities that my sons can choose when helping out around the house. They often choose to sweep, I believe, because they find it to be easier than other chores. But, when they do, I have to fight the urge to go sweeping right behind them. Why? Because I see it at a different level of clean than they do.
Purity is very much the same. We have, for example, our “church image.” We clean ourselves up, announce that we are going to church, and walk slowly past those neighbors who choose not to attend church. From a distance, we look pretty good. Again, this is like my kitchen floor. If you came to visit me on any given day, the kitchen floor would look pretty good. You might not even think it should be swept because chances are it would be less than 24 hours since the last sweeping. But I would know differently.
Take your church image one layer deeper. If you have attended the same church for a while, you have hopefully connected with some faithful brothers and sisters. And, if you have been fortunate enough to engage in authentic friendships, somebody knows your dirt. They know you’re not perfect, and that’s okay. They know that all of us get dirt on our floors, so there is no need to pretend. This is the equivalent of my sons sweeping the floor. They know there is dirt, and they are willing to help. And even though they know that, I know that there is more. I know that there is dirt they do not see. So now I have a choice: point it out, or address it myself.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8
Sweeping the kitchen floor, as with all household responsibilities, has been difficult for me to surrender. I know how to do it, and I can do it quickly and properly. If I surrender the responsibility, it might take longer, and it might not be done properly. I tend to treat my “life dirt” in much the same way. I don’t always know who can handle the mess I have. Who do I allow to get close enough to see? Let’s go back to church, and the kitchen floor. We are reluctant to point out all of our dirt in a church body. That sounds intimidating. But with some, generally the ones we find to be like us, we share. But they don’t see it all, do they? They don’t know about the dirt in the corner, nor of the dirt in the shadows. So now what? Well, now we get on our knees.
The truth is that I don’t see all of the dirt either. I can sweep every day if I want to, but that will not reveal the same thing as if I get on my knees to scrub. I recently gave up mopping in favor of scrubbing. It takes about the same amount of time, and it is more effective. But I don’t allow just anyone to scrub my floor. Someone whom I trust with the task could scrub. Someone that will not mock my mess, but will instead work toward cleaning it up can scrub my floor. The same is true in the Body. Not everyone needs to hear how you spilled all over – again. Not everyone wants to hear. But some do. Or maybe even one. For you this may be a spouse, or a strong brother or sister in Christ. When you engage in authentic, Christ-centered relationships, you may find a scrubbing partner. We often talk of “accountability partners,” but we can just as easily call them “purity partners.” Someone who can not only know your mess, but get down in the mess with you. Someone who will not quickly sweep and leave, but someone who will take time on their knees with you, side-by-side.
That should do it, right? Connect with the Body, share your dirt, and find a purity partner. Clean floor, clean heart..right? Not quite. God, as you may have heard, does not address our outside. Our surface is secondary. Jesus, like his Father, did not address outward appearances as much as he did the underneath. Consider the well-known story of the woman caught in adultery, as recorded in John 8. It is possible that she, like us, had a “church image.” Perhaps she could walk past some and have them fooled. Maybe a few of her closer friends knew of some of her dirt. Maybe she even had a dear friend or sister who knew of her private struggles. It is possible that she, like us, worked really hard to clean up her mess. But it was not enough.
It is not enough for us either. You see, if you came over today, you would think that I have a clean kitchen floor. You would be right, but I could prove you wrong. No matter how much we clean ourselves up, there is always something underneath. When I moved in nearly five years ago, the kitchen had, as it does now, those peel-and-stick tiles in the kitchen. In case you did not know, those don’t stick as well when they sit on a floor that rests over a Michigan basement in winter. Some have come up at the edges. Some have caught on something and broken. What that means, then, is that I have a mess. You will not easily see it, but I know it is there. In fact, I recently peeked under the edge of one of the tiles and was horrified at the dirt underneath. Every time that I, or anyone else, has swept, more dirt has gone underneath.
Sound familiar? You get another ticket, but you quickly take care of it before others find out. You go to a website you swore that you wouldn’t visit again, but then you clear the history to make it “go away.” You promised not to text him anymore, but you do, and then clear your texts. Or your email. Or your messages. You try to clean up your dirt….but it’s still there.
The woman in John 8 had her dirt exposed. She had been caught in adultery and could legally be stoned to death. In keeping with my kitchen floor example, it would be what you would see if I ripped up half of the tiles right before you visited – a filthy mess. But Jesus is not horrified. Not at all. In fact, the picture that is given is one of Jesus’s most calm moments. With a hostile crowd around him and a woman facing death, Jesus draws on the ground. He sees the mess. He knows the consequence. But he also knows this: we all have dirt underneath. So he reminded the crowd of that, and one by one they went away. Jesus knows how we try to cover ourselves; it has been happening since Adam and Eve. But, regardless of the covering, there is an underneath. And it’s a mess. And it belongs to him.
Now, let’s suppose that I want to get serious about having a clean kitchen floor. There is really only one option at this point: strip it all away, expose the mess, and put in something new. That’s it. And that’s it with Jesus, too. You see, if I am selective about who scrubs my floor, I am going to be very picky when it comes to installing a new floor. I want an expert, a Master, if you will. That is Jesus. That is what he did for the woman, and that is what he will do for you.
The woman stood before him, her covered-up mess uncovered. Jesus sent the crowd away to confront their own mess, and remained one-on-one with the woman. It is a classic “Now what?” moment. Jesus saw the underneath, swept it clean (“Neither do I condemn you”), and gave her a new covering (“Go now and leave your life of sin”). Jesus did not come to simply clean us up. Anyone can clean the outside. But who can clean the inside? Only the One we allow in, only Christ.
The verse from Matthew 5 speaks about the “pure in heart.” I believe that, when this woman walked away, she knew she had seen God. She had become pure in heart not because she had done everything right, but because Jesus had transformed her.
Neither will you nor I get everything right. We will sin. That leaves us with a mess. So now what? To truly get at our underneath, you don’t make a prayer request within the Body. You don’t confess to your spouse or accountability partner. Not that you don’t do those things, but in doing those things you should be pointed to, and found standing by, Christ. Only he can make you pure.
You put on a nice covering; it looks good. But I know, and you know, what is underneath. You don’t need to wait until your mess is exposed in public. Please don’t. Jesus loves to transform lives. He was not sent to condemn, but to save. If you have been covering up your dirt, stop. If you didn’t even know it was there, get down on your knees and look. Trust me, it’s there. Expose your heart to Christ. Let the Master not just clean you up but also place a new covering on you. Allow him to present you as one who is pure in heart, with a new underneath.

10,000 Reasons

673) Offers to help
672) Unlocking doors
671) Friends who intercede
670) A neighbor keeping his promise
669) Time to listen to a friend
668) Joshua’s willing approach to homework
667) Jonathan adding secret ingredients to our breakfast

Finding God in Gum, Part 2

If you read Part 1, you read a censored view behind-the-scenes of my day. No one would have known it unless I shared it. And I never would have shared it if there wasn’t a part 2. Within 24 hours, I went from being thankful for nothing to seeing how God uses everything. We pick up where my sons are dropped off at school:

*The mother of my sons calls me back about Joshua being sick and at school. She thanks the Holy Spirit for prompting her to bring medicine to the school for Joshua. She is already on her way.
*In my spent and worthless state, I remember the principle of praise anyway. I pull out the new cd that I picked up.
*I stop at a gas station, where I never stop but always pass, to buy gum. I always hope for one particular kind, but I have not found it in months. As I walk in, I consider looking to order the gum online (seriously).
*The first words of a song that play on the overhead speakers are, “I found God..” (Song “You Found Me” by The Fray).
*I scan the gum rack and…find my favorite! I buy 3 packs; 2 for me and 1 for a coworker who shares the same favorite and difficulty finding it.
*I gush to the clerk about my excitement at finding the gum. He said that he is glad they had it for me.
*I put in the new cd, Wow Gospel 2013. The first words are, “Today’s a new day, but there is no sunshine. Nothing but clouds..” (Kirk Franklin’s song “Smile,” one of my favorites. I turn it up and sing.)
*At a stoplight, I notice a scratch of sunshine in the clouds. I make a comment out loud. The song that begins to play starts like this: “I know you’re praying for a change, To see a sunny day, Nothing good has come your way for so long.” (Song “Hold On” by James Fortune)
*The song ends when I am at a stoplight. I turn it off and simply say, “Thank you.”
*As I try to turn left for work, I skid on the black ice and go past the intersection. As I try to stop at the next side street, the same thing happens. I continue on until I can turn right into a church parking lot.
*As I return the way I came, I notice three wild turkeys next to a house.
*As I pull into work, my “sister” texts, “You ok?” I respond with “I am now.”
*Following a student out of the classroom, I encounter a young man, “Frank,” becoming physically aggressive. We engage to keep him safe. He fights, kicks, curses, and spits.
*When back in the classroom, a lady from Nursing calls me out. She offers me a caramel latte that they had in the office. I’m not much for coffee, but I partake and delight in the thoughtfulness.
*I learn that a friend is incarcerated. I text an attorney friend about it. I get back, “I already have his case.”
*During lunch I found a coworker who shares my affinity for this favorite gum. She told me that I made her day.

What proceeded throughout the remainder of the day was a barrage of people crossing my path at precisely the moment that they were needed. A list that I could not even begin to write down, keep up with, or fully explain. But I could see it. I could see God moving, and weaving, and answering my question.
My question had been “What do I have to have to be thankful for?!” What God was revealing to me was that God uses everything. Everything! In ways that we cannot see nor comprehend. We can only trust and participate. The events of this day I never could have scripted, never could have planned. At the end of the day I realized that I could take credit for one thing – showing up. Everything else was a fluid, unscripted dance. That includes my encounter with “Frank” later in the day. He looked at me and smiled, saying, “I’m better now.” The same young man who tried to kick. The same young man who screamed threats and obscenities. The same young man who spit.
An hour or so after the second encounter, I was struck by this thought: I am Frank. I fight the protection God tries to give. I kick and punch against His grasp. I curse when I do not get my way. I get lost in rage against the way things should go. Then, in time, I hope God has forgotten my mess and say to Him, “I’m better now.”
As I was winding up my adventures of the day, I pulled up to my son’s youth group. I was there because he had twice forgotten his payment for a retreat. I met one of the adults who helps out and she twice told me, “Oh, we just love him!”
Do you see it? I saw two mistakes. She told me twice how he is loved. My son, who I felt inadequate to care for at the beginning of the day, must be pretty awesome. I simply told her, “I love him, too.”
I wish that I could always say that I see God’s movement in my day. If you read Part 1, you know that I don’t. At least not in the way that I did on this day. I feel as if God gave me a special glimpse, a special treat, on this day. A reminder of truth. As if to punctuate it, the song that took me home was called “Every Moment.” It speaks to God holding every moment in his hands, even the moments of finding my favorite gum.

Finding God in Gum, Part 1

I would like to invite you behind the curtain on my private thoughts. I wish to share some of a recent 24-hour stream-of-consciousness / stream-of-activity so that you can see God working. That is, after all, why we choose to expose our weaknesses; so that God’s strength can be revealed. Let’s start with a failure, a perfectly normal place to start:

*I leave work only to discover that I did not bring the forms for the Secretary of State as I had hoped. Instead of completing that errand before I pick up my sons, I will have to swing home for the forms, pick up my sons, then do the errand.
*I begin to wrestle with dinner plans. If the errand goes too long, I don’t really want to spend money to eat out. But..
*My sons come with me from school. I tell my oldest son “No” when he asks to use his iPod in the car. His homework is not done.
*I hope for a quick trip at Secretary of State. My boys want to stay in the car, but I remember a past trauma involving police that took place right around the corner. They grudgingly come in with me.
*The line in Secretary of State is almost out the door – and that is just to take a seat with a number.
*I am given the number 46. The counter is on number 90.
*My oldest son expresses frustration that he does not have his iPod to occupy him.
*My middle son expresses frustration that he has not brought in his homework.
*My youngest son is “starving.”
*I go numb.
*When I am finally called up, 75 minutes later, the clerk tells me that the VIN on my insurance is wrong. We discover that he was looking at the old registration.
*Because the form sent to me reflected my last vehicle, and because I bought milk and bacon on my way home, I am $3 short.
*The ATM in the SOS will not work because it is out of receipt paper. The clerk sends me out into the mall to use that ATM and tells me to come back to the return line.
*Although this ATM is of a bank that I use, that is not the debit card I have with me. I have to pay a $3 just to get my own money.
*The second clerk sees the notes on my insurance now. She questions it, then realizes the first clerk’s error when I explain.
*We leave SOS 90 minutes later. Tired, hungry, and with less than an hour before Cadets. I choose to go to a buffet for dinner.
*I overeat. I have post-decision regret over the amount that I spent.
*We go home instead of directly to Cadets because Jonathan wants to change clothes.
*I tell Joshua that he will not go to Cadets because his homework is not complete. The battle begins.
*Joshua tells me his stomach hurts and begins shutting down because he is disappointed.
*I am at a loss. I spend the drive to Cadets yelling at God.
*Joshua is barely functional for his homework, and I am exhausted. I had 3 hours of sleep the night before.
*I tell Caleb that he cannot listen to Pandora during homework.
*After Cadets I tell Jonathan he cannot play the iPad because his responsibilities are not complete.
*Every one of the three boys goes to bed silent. They did not even seek me out to pray.
*I have restless sleep. In the morning, I choose to write devotions rather than prep breakfast.
*I don’t like the mess of incomplete housework.
*I reason that my sons need to learn more responsibility, so I put the weight of breakfast and clothing unexpectantly back on them.
*Joshua tells me he is still not feeling well. He is near tears.
*Our drive to school is nearly silent. I tell God I have nothing to be thankful for because nothing good or “extra” is happening.
*30 minutes before I am to spend 12 hours caring for other people’s children, I feel barely qualified to care for my own.
*And then..