What is the Point of Purity? Less of a Mess

For nearly three years we have been a dog-owning household. Our dog Boxer (not a Boxer breed, strangely) is a great fit for our family. His previous owner trained him well in the first fifteen months of his life, and they knew his habits well enough to teach us. He came to us with the disclaimer that he would chew shoes and plastic. He did, and he added library books to his repertoire. Overall, he is a solid dog full of loyalty.
There is one piece concerning Boxer that still frustrates me, but I’m working on that. Boxer, a labrador and shepherd mix, has a long and powerful tail. He becomes very excited when we arrive home, and there are times when you can hear his tail clanging off the dining table legs or the wall or the door – or our legs. I don’t mind his tail specifically, I mind the blood. In the winter, despite our best efforts to help him, his skin grows dry. And, at times, he chews at the very end of his tail which then leaves an exposed area. Because of the force by which he wags his tail, it will leave splatters of blood on the wall. On the doorway. On the curtain. On the trash can. On the side of the kitchen counters. Sometimes, out of a loss of options, we try to encourage him to just sit when we arrive home. I have noticed my sons mimicking me and yelling out, “Boxer! Your tail!”
But Boxer loves to see us, and there is little that would stop his tail. My son Joshua has some designs on a contraption that would hold Boxer’s tail under him, but I am skeptical. So we tolerate Boxer’s tail, especially since it is not all the time, and especially because we understand. At one point as I sprayed down and scrubbed the wall, I thought of the thankless work God does to clean me up. Even my best efforts are a mess. The prophet Isaiah tells us that “all our righteous acts are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) I am, you are, we are – a mess.
Despite my best efforts to be pure, to be holy, I will fall remarkably short on my own. Even when I operate in joy, as Boxer does, and I run about to love and serve and see God, I leave a mess everywhere. Can I teach Boxer to stop chewing his tail in the winter? Perhaps. Can I teach him to stop wagging his tail in excitement when he sees us? Doubtful. Would it help me to shame him for the mess he leaves behind? No. So I simply spray and scrub.
Boxer is smart enough to know when he has does something wrong. He does not, however, seem to be smart enough to stop doing all of those things. Huh. Sounds like somebody I know – me. It seemed to me that the more I focused my thoughts and writing on purity the more difficult purity became for me. Part of my silence in writing came from losing my rhythm. I made sacrifices in the work of feeding my roots to attend to the fruit. In other words, I became so preoccupied with the busyness of ministry work that I neglected the work of a minister – to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.
We will not achieve complete purity on this side. If we could, we would be able to earn our salvation by becoming spotless and blameless ourselves. We are saved by grace through faith. But we should not continue sinning so that grace may abound. No! We are to clothe ourselves in righteousness – not ours, but that of Christ Jesus. Clothing ourselves in his righteousness is a slow work. It requires a different pace than what most of our world expects. We put together 30-day plans, 6 month plans, five year plans, and run.
I recently began a new position and started to think about it in terms of how I would like to leave it for the next person in five years. Then I started to laugh as I wondered, “Did Jesus have a five year plan?” Just imagine what Jesus would have, could have done, with five years of ministry! No, Jesus did not operate with a five-year plan. He knew the end goal, but he achieved the end goal – the will of his Father in heaven – by walking out a life of obedience and purity every day. We would do well to do the same.
About a month ago, we became a two-dog household. Well, a dog and a half. We added a puppy to the mix. I grew up with dogs throughout my childhood, but I do not remember that a puppy was this much work. Boxer has adapted extremely well to the new addition, and the puppy looks up to him for his cues. Sometimes I talk to Boxer about being an example (I wish I were joking about that, but I’m not), and then I think, “What about me? Am I the example that I would want my sons to follow?”
When I was a young parent, someone once shared these words: “Lead the type of life you would want your children to live.” Those are good words, but difficult words.
I have taught my children well, I believe that. They know what is right and what is wrong. They often are commended for their behavior. But have I truly become their example? More importantly, has Christ truly become my example so that when my sons see me they don’t see me? Can they see Christ?
Our puppy is full of mistakes, but he is a joy to have around. And he is already learning at his young age what is right and what is wrong. But will he live that out when it counts? The shredded pieces of various objects I find when I come home would suggest: not yet. The same is true for my sons – not yet. There is much to teach them, but I am reminded how much they learn from what I don’t say. They watch. My father is not a talker, unless you are outside of the family and call his house, then he turns on the conversational charm. Yet, even still, I have learned so much from watching him. I have, in many regards, become more like my father with each passing year. But how am I doing at becoming the Son?
Romans 8 tells us that we are adopted as children into the family of God. We are. Present and current tense. This then, would suggest a new standard. When a child is adopted, they do not live by the rules of their previous home and family. They live according to the adopted family’s rules. That is what we must do, brothers and sisters. We are called to live a life that is pure and holy. You might be a pup in your faith, not knowing all of the right and wrong and how to live. You might be a Boxer in your faith, still messing up in spite of your best efforts. You might be an old dog (which I still hope to see) who has learned how to walk out a life of obedience quite well. No matter where you find yourself, let God wash you clean.
The blood of the spotless Lamb was poured out for you and me. The apostle Peter gives us these words:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart.

-I Peter 1:18, 19, 22
The price God paid for you is one that no one else could afford. He did it to clean us up, to make us worthy of being called his daughter or his son. So now what? We love. We love God; we love one another. We love God enough to give our best. We love one another enough to forgive. We make mistakes, we fall short, we get cleaned up, and try again. All of us face the same question as Boxer does, as our puppy does, as my children do: what will you do when no one is looking? Before you answer that, let me remind you: there is never a time when no one is looking. Learn to live not in fear of doing wrong, not in fear of punishment, but with love and sincerity that offers your best to God.


What is the Point of Purity? A New Beginning

I love Spring.
I love Spring.
I LOVE Spring.
Ok, I think you get the picture. Yes, I enjoy the sunshine. I appreciate the longer days. The warmer weather and increased opportunities to work outside are wonderful. But the strongest argument in my passion for Spring is the new life. Everywhere that you look there are new leaf buds, blooming flowers, and garden planting can begin in earnest.
I grew up as a country boy. And even now, though the years of my life are equally split between country and city, my heart beats for the nature that can be enjoyed in the country. If I really had to think about how to explain it, I would explain my love for Spring as traced back to God’s promise to make everything new.
Winter is harsh. The amount of sunlight is reduced to its least. The temperatures are too cold for most living things. There are very few colors to observe. The nights are long. Did I mention that it is cold? Every year of my life has been in Michigan. I have had to learn how to fool myself in order to survive Winter. As soon as we have the Winter Solstice, at which point Winter has barely crossed the doorstep, I remind myself, “Every day from here on out will be a little bit longer.” Feel free to steal that idea next year.
The Winter Solstice, typically marked on December 21, is the shortest “day” (time between sunrise and sunset) in the Northern Hemisphere. After that day, whether you see it or not, Spring is coming. New life is coming. It will not often look that way. Here in Michigan we have an incredible amount of cloud cover because of the surrounding Great Lakes. We can have snow into April. But new life is coming. And, once that life begins, you almost forget the dark and cold months.
I made such a comment to my sons the other morning as we drove to school. Taking in the scene of trees with blossoms, green grass everywhere, and tulips popping open, I commented, “Can you believe how much this changed in just a couple weeks?” It is pretty incredible. It has been less than a month since I returned from my trip to Honduras. The first week back was rough. It rained every day. I literally did not see direct sunlight for five days because of the cloud cover. But new life was coming.
I know, whether or not I always like it, that the seasons we have are for a purpose. They all work for a purpose. Even the dying of Fall and the death of Winter serve a purpose. They become seasons of preparation as well as stark contrasts to the fullness of life He gives in Spring and Summer. So it is with purity. You may be at a point in your walk where it feels more like the season of Fall than that of Spring. Pieces are crumbling around you. You want to do right but you just can’t. Or maybe your purity walk is like that of Winter. You have become so numb to your choices that you almost wish you could feel the pain of Fall. But new life is coming.
The path of righteousness is like the first gleam of dawn, shining brighter till the full light of day. Proverbs 4:18
God gives us small versions of the big picture every day.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
(Once again, either the iPad is smarter than I know, or God is giving confirmation. The song that just started playing on Pandora is “New Day” by Worship Central. God is a God of technology too, amen? Amen.)
Every day that we awake is his act of mercy toward us. We are dead in our sin. We are helpless. I can no more make myself the way I want to be than I can grow tulips outside in Michigan in December. It just will not happen. Romans 11:32 reminds us, “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” It is his mercy that spares us. His grace saves us and restores us.
I have no room to speak on purity. I fail daily. As recently as yesterday I felt strong anger. Pretty sure a neighbor boy saw it as I scowled and carried my runaway 65-pound dog back home. As recently as yesterday I did not “bounce” my eyes away. In my defense, Spring dresses are a welcome sight to a man who has experienced five months of Winter. See? I want to defend it. I want to somehow be “good enough” or at least “not as bad as.” But we are not measured like a light with a dimmer switch: “Well that one shines a little brighter than that one…” No, this is not God “choosing teams” like the playground. We are the light that is measured by the on/off switch. Do you shine light or not?
Well, Doug, if it is simply a matter of on or off, why did you share that verse from Proverbs 4? I’m glad you asked. Because it is not a matter of our light being on or off. We are the equivalent of a light bulb. There is no light in us until the Light is in us.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
We need a Savior. Not optional. And in order for this promised light, which remains in us through the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), to shine in the world, God has to clean us up. That is why I shared the verse from Proverbs 4. As God begins to reveal your impurity, you will see things that previously had been in darkness – the Winter of your life. Every day we see this. The sun rises and begins to shine. At its height and in its brilliance, we see things that we had never seen. If you don’t believe me, compare your home’s windows at midnight and again at noon. (No fair cleaning them before you compare.)
God wants to reveal your impurities. Not to shame you, but to redeem you. He wants to reclaim those parts of life that have been consumed by death. There is no need to fear the light. God exposes so that he can bring new life. As you walk along a path of righteousness, more and more will be revealed. And, by God’s grace, more and more life will come.
You will never grow if you remain in darkness. But, I pray that as the sun wakes you this morning, you are reminded of God’s promise to you: He makes all things new.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for my words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5

New life is coming.


What is the Point of Purity? Bigger Purpose

Would you rather swim in clean water or dirty water?
Silly question? Why? I see people swim in dirty water every day. I have done it myself. And then we wonder why we feel awful and can’t see very far. Well, maybe we should stop throwing so much garbage in the water.
Think about it. God gave you, gave me, gave everyone a clear purpose: love God, love people. And then we spend most of the day loving ourself.
As I think about it now, I can not wrap my head around how absolutely selfish I am. My day, by and large, revolves around me and my needs. It revolves around my comforts. My desires. My ambitions. Yuck. That’s some dirty water.
Certainly that can not be God’s intention. I wonder if Peter would have stepped out of the boat to meet Jesus on the water if it had been a calm, sunny, summer day. Seriously. I say that because I know me. Peter had already seen some pretty incredible things by Jesus, but maybe the fact that it was night and the wind was against the boat made it more likely that Peter wanted to get out. He could not find comfort where he was, so his option was to find it with Jesus.
Yesterday was a beautiful day where I live. The sun was shining all day. It was the first true warm, even summer-like, day of the year. All of the plants, flowers, bushes, and trees are blooming and growing. Simply gorgeous. Now, if someone had invited me out on a boat yesterday (no one did, hint, hint), and I saw someone walking on the water, I know what I would have done – stayed in the boat.
“If it’s you, Lord, why don’t you come here?”
Don’t we do that? We sit around, or swim around, in our dirty kiddie pool and wonder why Jesus wants to give us the ocean. It’s not that God can’t or won’t use you in your brokenness, but why do we have to make it so difficult for him?
This point was made and well-said at a recent retreat: “When we want to emphasize something, WE PUT IT IN ALL CAPS. When God wants to emphasize something, he repeats it.”
Well the words “stumbling block” appears 11 times in the New International Version of the Bible. Consider the first one:
Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19:14
Remember the parable of the lost sheep? Remember that the shepherd left the 99 who were found so that he could find the one who was lost. In other words, you sheep, stop making your request for a refill at the trough to be the most important thing. There is a sheep who is lost. And your approach to purity can impact those who are lost. The blind do not see. The spiritually blind need to see the truth. The truth is that God is pure. God is holy. And he sets his children apart to be the same. Stop swimming in the dirty kiddie pool when God gives you the ocean.
There is a bigger purpose. A purpose much bigger than you or me. A purpose that is infinite in nature. And we will only see a glimpse of that while we hold these bodies of flesh. But we will see more if we stop polluting our water.
To say that you know everything about your spouse or loved one is foolish. To say that you have “experienced” God is foolish. These are ongoing journeys. God desires to have you know that he knows everything about you. And he loves you. That is why he gives you the ocean.
Gideon saw a bigger purpose. Judges 6 tells us that Gideon was threshing wheat in secret. He was protecting what God had given him. But Gideon was called to a bigger purpose – God’s purpose. Gideon, with something more like a student body than an army, defeated an oppressive nation. But Gideon had to remain pure to do so. He could not pollute the purpose with his own desires.
It can be overwhelming, really. To consider that the God who created the universe, watches over all of it night and day, wants to use you. Or me. But he does. We are the instruments of grace he has chosen to use. And when he calls us to step out of the boat, or the kiddie pool, we need to keep our eyes fixed upon him. How we walk is important. Others may see us and wonder why we would make the choice that we have. Our only purpose is to point them back to the One we follow. When God called Ezekiel and gave him a vision, God said, “And whether they listen or fail to listen – for they are a rebellious house – they will know that a prophet was among them.” (Ezekiel 2:5)
Whether they listen or not. You are not responsible for another person’s salvation. You never could be. But you are responsible for your walk. And your walk should be pure. A pure walk allows for a bigger purpose.
Peter made some of the best mistakes in the Bible. He is one of my favorites to study. And even Peter, the walker on water, was a stumbling block. He saw incredible miracles. He walked on water. But he was pretty sure that Jesus was not supposed suffer and die. Peter began to rebuke the Lord. Don’t we do that?
“No, Lord, that’s not how it’s supposed to go.” “No, Lord, I am not called to love just one person.” “No, Lord, that’s not the task for me.” “No, Lord, you don’t understand. This is my favorite show.” “No, Lord, I only get drunk on Fridays.” “No, Lord, she’s just a friend.” “No, Lord, it’s how I cope.” “No, Lord…”
Do you know how Jesus addressed that with Peter? Let me refresh your memory:
Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23)
He did. We do. I do. We have to change our perspective. We have to see farther. We have to see bigger. And you will see farther when you get out of the dirty water in the kiddie pool. (Do you know what kids do in there? Gross!) Swim in the ocean for a while and then, listen carefully, start walking. The same faith steps that Peter was called to make is extended to you. Rise above your circumstances. Fix your eyes on Jesus. You can see even more when you are above the water of life.
Jesus reinstated Peter in one of the most beautiful acts of reconciliation ever recorded. Peter, stumbling block Peter, denier-of-Jesus-Peter, was told in love: “Feed my lambs,” “Take care of my sheep,” “Follow me!” (John 21:15, 17, 19) The same is true for you and me. We have to admit that we have been stumbling blocks. But today is a new day. You are walking on water today. Fixed on Jesus, we must walk purely in order to take care of the sheep – the blind, the lost – and follow Jesus.
No more kiddie pool.


What is the Point of Purity? No Foothold

Let me start off by saying this: I could have just as easily made cats a positive piece in this illustration. I had to choose. So I apologize, cat lovers, but cats fit the impure portion of this illustration rather well. Don’t take it personally – the cats don’t.

Last summer I purchased a new bed. More accurately, I purchased a new used bed. And that new used bed did not completely fit up my old, narrow stairway. After not much debate, I made the decision to relocate my bedroom to a room on the main floor. I was generally happy with this change save for one detail: our two cats liked my new bed as well. In particular, they liked being underneath it. I did not like that they liked that.
In fact, it became one of their favorite places to go. If my bedroom door was mostly shut, but not latched, they would pull the door open in order to go in my room and under my bed. Given the size and placement of my bed, I had no way to shoo them out. Also, I could not always tell if they were in my room or not. Thus, the quandary: if I closed my bedroom door, would I be keeping them out or keeping them in?
Finally I resolved to solve this problem and purchased three under-bed storage containers. Only after doing so did I realize that I was still stuck. Because of the six-to-eight inch gap between the mattress and the footboard, the cats would still be able to get under my bed if they were in my room.
On the day that I was attempting to solve this problem, I decided to tackle the project all the way. I moved the mattress and the box spring in order to vacuum underneath my bed. When I moved the box spring, I noticed some extra weight and a bump. The extra weight and bump in my box spring was, in fact, one of the cats. Whether the lining at the bottom of the box spring was torn at the time of purchase or not I do not exactly recall. But it is now. And that was all the room that the cats needed to find, for them, a very comfortable and safe place to be.
You may be reading this and wondering how this is even remotely connected to purity. If the dots are not quite connecting yet, allow me to explain. In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul exhorts the readers – and us today – on how to live out our faith. Speaking in particular on anger, verses 26 and 27 read as follows:
In your anger do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
(Side note: either this iPad is smarter than I realize, or God is giving me confirmation. After looking up those verses in different versions on the web, I went to open the YouVersion application of the Bible. Those verses popped up as the verse of the day.)
If you climb at all, you understand the properties of a foothold. It is something that is used to position and propel yourself further toward your goal. Therefore, if we give the devil a foothold, we are giving him something that he will use to position and propel himself closer to his goal. What is his goal? To steal, kill, and destroy. Destroy what?
Not what, but who.
And that who is you.
You see, when it comes to purity, we may allow ourselves to believe something is “not that bad.” Or that engaging in an impure act “isn’t hurting anyone.” Those are not your words, those are the words of your enemy. Even if you do not believe in Christ and you claim the devil as your ally, he is your enemy. He plots your destruction. The problem with any act of impurity, with providing a foothold, is that it cannot be undone. You cannot unsee. You cannot unsay. You cannot undo.
If I leave my bedroom door open and unattended, I cannot vouch for my room being cat-free. The only way that I can maintain a cat-free room (short of transfer of ownership, which is in the works) is my constant vigilance. The same is true of your purity.
Suppose that you, as a man, find yourself looking longingly, lustfully, at a woman who is not your wife. You may believe that it has hurt no one. But how do you intend to erase that image? This is not Men In Black, that image is there. And whether you are married or not, the enemy will use that foothold to work upon that selfish desire that has been sparked. The desire is to know, or to have, contact with that woman. Or a woman like her. Or a woman who looks like her. Somehow, you will seek to satisfy that thirst that was initiated. What you will be doing is drinking a drink that will not satisfy.
Or suppose that you, as a woman, initiate a conversation with a man who is not your husband. Though the surface appears innocent, the underlying motive of your heart is to know him and allow him to meet your emotional needs even though he is committed to another woman. But your goal, because he met your need once, becomes that he will meet your needs more often. Because again, just as with the man, a thirst was initiated. A foothold was given. And the enemy is one step closer to his goal of destruction.
The only way that I could establish a cat-free room was to do a clean sweep. And even then I had to prod and poke the cat to leave. There was no initiative on the cat’s side of the deal to leave the space it had found. I had to uproot the area and maintain constant vigilance afterwards. I am now at almost a month cat-free.
The same is true of purity. If you are not in a relationship, your confession needs to be before The Lord and to others who will help you in your walk. Do a clean sweep. There is a group of men at a local church who regularly meet to discuss this very issue. They are frank and forthright because they know they have to be. Any act of covering up is simply allowing the foothold.
If you are in a relationship, you should be striving to create a space where the honesty of your struggles and successes is welcomed. I assure you that you cannot keep it hidden. If it does not come out directly, it will certainly come out indirectly. You cannot hide a cat in a box spring forever. Maybe it shows up in your irritation that then becomes anger. Maybe it shows up in your failure to communicate with your mate. Maybe it shows up in you not wanting to spend intimate time with your mate. It will show up. I promise you.
The verse from Psalm 51 reminds us that this walk is a process: “Create in me a pure heart, O God.” Anything that is created takes time. It will take crafting. But everything that God created he also declared to be “good.” This would be the same.
I would safely wager that the enemy has established a path for your destruction as it relates to purity. I would safely wager that there is a foothold within your life where the enemy has begun his entrance. And he is in no mood to leave. So what do you do? You knock him down. And when he begins his climb again (he will), you knock him down again.
Speak truth over your life. Remind yourself that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Remind yourself that you are in Christ Jesus. Confess to one another. Confess to God. Ask for and receive the power of the Holy Spirit to guide you. Ask for and receive forgiveness. Ask for and receive grace.
And give grace.
And give forgiveness.
One of the things that we, or at least I, have a tendency to do is find fault in those who do what we once did. How quickly we forget. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. Whether you can see it or not, those you encounter and must give grace to are made in the image of God – just like you. They need grace – just like you. They need forgiveness – just like you. They need help – just like you.
So once you make a clean sweep, guard the door of your heart. Be vigilant. Ask for help. The last thing that you want to do is accept defeat when it seems that the enemy has nearly succeeded. The enemy doesn’t stand a chance. You are always, always, a mere five letters, two syllables, one name away from victory:
There’s just something about that name. The enemy may have a foothold. He may have climbed close to victory. But Jesus is King of the Mountain. I am just as certain of that as I am that cats do not belong in box springs. Be vigilant, brothers and sisters.